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There are six blacksmiths in Redwood. One is off the list by default, because he’s Vivi’s biological father. I’ve already checked the four others. Their engraving is terrible. Learning from them would only hurt me.

“Little kitten, just because he’s in the commoner’s district doesn’t mean he’s cheap,” Mark says, he gestures toward the weapons on display at Harold’s Hard Knocks. “The minimum price here is one gold, for a dagger made by his apprentice.”

I look around at Harold’s wares. The items on display are leagues beyond everyone else in town. Most swords in the other shops seemed to barely have an edge or had clear imperfections in even their polish. Every single weapon in Harold’s is razor sharp and you can see yourself in the blades from the high polish. They must dust them daily.

I reach out to lift a thin sword with engravings all up the flat of the blade.

“Hey!” A voice booms.

I stop and look to the counter, a large man even wider than Julian is glaring at me. His muscles ripple as he moves and his short white hair contrast his tanned skin.

“Use a cloth when picking that up, I don’t want your dirty mitts to mark the blade,” the imposing man says.

“Here,” Julian offers a small clean white cloth.

I take it and lift the blade off of the shelf. Julian places a hand on my back to steady me as I underestimate its heft in such a small package.

“Thanks,” I reply.

“Jules,” the man calls out.

I see Julian wince in the corner of my eye and I smile.

“Julian, you dirty beast,” Julian counters.

“What’s a man like you taking orders from a little shit like that?” The old man says, “Did you get drunk and knock up some poor lass?”

Julian says nothing, but glares at the old man.

“Bhahah! I’m just teasing you little whelp.” The old man smiles, “You should have seen your face.” He slams his fist on the counter, “It was like you were wondering if you had knocked some poor lass up.”

I ignore the side banter and return my focus to the sword. I can only guess through the cloth, but my instincts tell me the engraving should cut 10 no 15% better than without it. That can be the difference between winning and losing.

“Sir, what does this engraving do?” I ask and take the sword to his counter.

“It kills people,” the old man says in a steady dark tone.

I look at him and raise my right brow, “My instincts say it makes the blade more effective in cutting, by … 15%?”

“25%, it’s engraved on both sides girl,” He says. “Name’s Harold, and you are?”

“Anessa,” I reply as I flip the sword over. Of course, my guess between 10-15% was right at 12.5%. Add the other side’s engraving and you get 25%. I’ve only dealt with arts on a flat surface, on one side, so it hadn’t occurred to me.

“What brings you to my store Anessa,” Harold asks, “You look too pampered to be interested in swords.”

Harold’s not wrong that I’ve been pampered the past five years, but it makes me frown to hear it.

I lay the sword on the counter and turn my head to the side, “Do you offer engraving lessons?”

Harold looks me over and evaluates me, “Not for you.”

“Why?” I ask.

“You feel too weak,” Harold says.

I place my hands on my hips, “What do you mean, too weak?”

“You nearly fell over when picking up a twelve pound sword,” Harold says, turning his back to me, “Go home.” He walks into the shop behind the store.

I duck under the counter and follow him into the back.

“Twelve pounds is heavy for a short sword!” I complain.

“I said go home,” Harold says, he hesitates, “If you pass out, it’s not on me, but you’re not getting a lesson.”

Harold walks over to one of the workbenches where a scrawny kid in a white sleeveless shirt is working with a long piece of metal topped with a rounded wooden handle.

Harold sighs, “Sam, start over. We can’t use that.”

Sam looks up at him with a questioning green eyed glare and continues his work.

“You’re continuing even after he said you can’t use it?” I ask.

“Practice,” Sam says, nudging the engraving tool along.

Alongside the dagger is a blueprint for the engraving. Sam has made a number of mistakes in the engraving based on the look of it. The intent of each section is labeled and he has the intent right. It brings me back to my initial work with Sir Orris where he said the energy channels are less forgiving.

“Sam, these parts,” I tap on the blueprint, ”are backwards.”

“Master said the intent is the most important, so it doesn’t matter as long as that is right,” He huffs and looks down on me, “what would you know, you’re a spoiled little girl.”

What did I do to him? I’m impressed he can handle the heat without trouble. I’m dying in my three-layered pink robe. I look at Sam and his clothes are worn and patchy. His pants look like the next hole will cause them to fall apart entirely, patches or no. I compare my clothes to his and feel a bit guilty.

“The energy channels on arts make the difference between an art that works, and an art that can blow up in your face,” I say. I point to the sword, “This part says how the essence should flow along the blade when working to sharpen a sword. if you go the wrong way, you may end up making it blunt instead.”

“Master never told me any of this,” Sam says, waving his hand at me as though shooing a fly.

“Because you refuse to ask,” Harold pipes in, “you took a few lessons and seemed to think you knew it all.

“Honestly, if you don’t improve your success rate, I’ll have to find someone else.” Harold demands.

“Then I will save you the trouble,” Sam says. He looks at me and snorts as he starts to walk out. He stops at the exit, “Looks like you have someone else right there.” He points at me, “I’d like to see her do better than I can.”

“Ah, there he goes,” Harold says.

“Did I say something to offend him?” I ask running through what I said to him in my head.

“No, he’s just had it rough. I gave him a job as a favor to a friend, guess I still owe him a favor.”

Harold looks me over again, “Come here tomorrow at the same time, we start later in the day so it’s cooler.”

This is cooler? If I have to work in this for more than an hour I’ll pass out just like he said.

“Wear something more appropriate for this kind of work,” Harold says. He grabs a few of the tools Sam was working with and some flat metal discs. He hands them to me. “Practice with this. Be careful not to jab yourself with the graver as you finish a line, it really hurts. Focus on copying the intent from the this blueprint.”

“What do I owe you?” I ask.

“Owe me?” Harold replies with a smile, “You’re my apprentice, meaning you work here now.”

“I just want some lessons!” I complain.

“If you can get Sam back in here, I’ll give you some lessons.” Harold replies.

“What do you pay?” I ask.

“Nothing,” Harold says and pauses, “until you meet the mark.”

I groan, what did I get myself into?

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Allen Clark Copeland, Jr.

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