Dawn came slowly. Or maybe my anxiety was getting the better of me. I paced anxiously as the sun rose, and then settled into the bushes to watch. The man rose shortly after dawn, and I became increasingly nervous as he puttered around the cabin, and then went to the barn for an hour. Finally he went into the forge. A moment later he ran out, clutching the bracelet and looking around suspiciously. When he was looking in my direction I stepped out into the clearing and waved. He started walking towards me, and then stopped abruptly, his hand falling from where he had started waving back.
He was a fairly strongly built man, with a deep tan, full beard and shaggy brown hair. He wore a leather apron over his plain clothes.
“Hello.” I waved again.
He said something in his unknown language, staring at me in shock. I took a few slow steps ahead and he reached for the knife on his belt.
“I need your help.”
“Why you come?” He spoke slowly, with a heavy accent.
“You understand!” I shouted it a bit too excitedly, and he unsheathed the knife.
“I'm not here to fight.”
“How you come? How cross the river?”
“Followed you. How do you know this language?”
“Old language. From before big war.” He held up the bracelet. “Where did you find?”
“Across the river, at your camp site.”
“You crossed river? How?”
“The same way you did. Across the tree.”
“More goblins there?”
“They cross river?”
“No. I don't think they can.”
“Forbidden. You strange goblin. Talk lots.”
“Yeah. The others are idiots. I am trying to get home.”
“Where is home?”
“Don't know that. This land of Huroa. How did you get here?”
“I woke up here a few days ago. Are there wizards here? Magic? I think a wizard did this to me.”
“Wizards?” He muttered a few words in his other language. “Fucking wizards.”
After a long sigh he sheathed his knife. He pointed at me sternly
“I’ll be good. My name is Kurt.”
“Do the other goblins cause trouble for you?”
“They steal. Eat chickens. Sometimes attack wagons.”
“You said that goblins are forbidden to cross the river, why?”
“Gods did. Forever ago. Only other gods can lead war, but they always go back after. Did a god send you here?”
“I don’t think so. I don’t remember meeting any gods. Am I safe here?”
“Maybe. Go. I need to work now.”
“Can I help?”
He thought about it for a few moments, “No, you scare Hlurasha.” he pointed to the barn and muttered something before letting out a heavy sigh. “Come.”
I followed him over to the forge. He grabbed a small shovel and tossed it into the pile of ash on the cold hearth, and then flipped open the lid of a crate in the corner. It was half full of ash and chunks of some kind of slag. From this close it was apparent just how much larger he was. The top of my head might have been up to his elbows.
“That in there.” He pointed from the ash in the hearth to the crate.
“Okay.” I shivered as I felt something almost like my ears popping from an altitude change.
Jordan left, letting the door swing shut behind him, walking off towards the barn where I could hear the wooden door open and shut.
Now that I had more time to look around, I had an appreciation for how organized he kept it. Not that I had any actual blacksmithing experience beyond watching some videos, but there was an order to it. Given how chaotic the last few days had been, it was nice to have something with structure to it. The bellows and a rack of tools were to the left with the anvil just beside the hearth, a large basin of water to the right with a small window above, work bench beside and crates and burlap sacks stacked under it. The hearth itself was made of large stone slabs with a small brick chimney on top.
My ear swiveled around again, making me flinch. I still was not used to that. Quiet, slow, footsteps were heading back from the barn. I tensed, then took a long sniff, smelling only Jordan and that goat thing. He was headed to the window, not the door. Probably to catch me if I snuck out the back. This was a test then.
The stone hearth was too high for me to reach from the ground so I used the anvil beside it to climb up and looked around. The ash box was too far away to just toss the ash into. There was however an empty, and already filthy, bucket under the bench, so I jumped down and put it on the ground under the hearth. This would have to do.
I shovelled the ash and weird chunks of melted stuff off the edge into the bucket, and then jumped down and dragged it over to the ash box to empty it into. The box wasn’t very large, so if there was this much ash it must need to be emptied every few days. Or at least that was what I thought, but as I dumped the ash in it just seemed like the contents were shifting around a bit without anything more being added. I used the shovel to dig some out, filling the bucket right to the brim, and again it seemed like the amount in the box didn’t change. Maybe this was like the way goblins could eat more than should actually fit inside their stomach.
I could sense Jordan still lurking outside the window, and deliberately did not look in that direction. Instead I dumped the bucket of ash back into the box, and then went back to scoop up the last bits that had fallen on the brick floor. When that was done I put the shovel back on the rack it had come from.
Then I sat down and gave myself a vigorous scratch behind the ear, until I heard Jordan creeping back towards the barn. Then I started poking around.
The burlap sacks under the bench were filled with chunks of what looked like coal. The crates were filled with a variety of metal ingots of different colours and shapes. They all had some letters stamped into them, probably the "new" language.
The basin of water seemed to be running low based on the light dusting of ash on the wood, so I took the bucket over to the well, rinsed it out with clean water, and then hauled it over to the basin. Carrying a bucket of water nearly half my own size was pretty tricky, and Jordan came out of the barn as I was waddling across the yard. He grabbed the bucket with one hand and took it from me.
Just like with the ash box, the water in the bucket didn’t actually increase the amount of water in the basin. It did however look noticeably cleaner now. Something was clearly weird with containers.
Jordan looked around, and nodded.
Again, the strange feeling of pressure and popping happened in my head, but felt better this time. I smiled, and must have shown too many teeth because he side-eyed me.
“I can help with more.”
“Don’t you have...goblin things to do?”
He went over to the bench and started grabbing some things, muttering in his other language. A large book on the bench turned out to be a ledger, though I couldn’t read any of it. He counted the nails in the box on the desk, and then grabbed a box of short wooden sticks and dried grass.
“Start fire, like this.”
With a bundle of grass in the center, and a stack of wood around it he grabbed a flint and steel hanging from the tool rack and effortlessly sent a spark into the grass. It burst into flame from just one strike. Putting the box back onto the bench he hefted up a bag of coals.
“Coke. Needs fire first. Burns slow” He started to shake out the coke around the fire, most of it on the side opposite the bellows.
“That looked easy.”
“Is hard. I’m good.” He went to the bellows and slowly started moving it up and down. After a minute he used a thin metal bar to scrape some coke into the pile of burning wood. “You, do that. Slow.” He pointed to the bellows.
It was too high for me to reach alone, so I brought the bucket over and flipped it upside down to stand on.
Jordan scooped some more coke onto the pile, which was now shooting up some impressive sparks. After correcting my speed a few times, he brought over a box of ingots and used some tongs to insert them into the fire. This hearth could fit four ingots in the fire at once. In short order they were glowing red and he lifted one over to the anvil and started hammering.
This process only continued my suspicion that something was truly weird about this place. With every hit of the hammer the entire ingot changed shape, not just the area that he struck. In four quick hits he had formed the ingot into a long and smooth rod. He put that back into the fire, and then grabbed a tool that looked like an axe head and inserted it into a hole in the anvil. When the rod was hot, he pulled it back out and used the new tool to neatly cut off a section with a tap of the hammer. He grabbed another tool that had a hole in the head from the rack and inserted the rod into it, and then snapped off the end. With the rod back into the fire he hammered the piece in the tool, and with one hit it blurred and formed into a small pile of perfect nails. He tossed them into the crate and then grabbed the rod to make another.
It had been only a few minutes, which I was pretty sure was a lot faster than smithing should have taken. In short order he had used four ingots to make a dozen nails.
“Good.” He used a pencil to mark the ledger once the nails were finished, and then we moved on to the next item.
Over the next few hours we also made a batch of hinges, door latches, and small handles for a cabinet. Each filled a crate, the order quantities looked like a perfect fit. He explained that the other men would be coming back with the cart tomorrow to pick this load and take it into the city for sale.
We took a break for lunch, Jordan picking several things from the garden to make a salad, and a large pot of stew that started bubbling far too fast to make sense, but smelled great.
"Here. Put on." He opened a chest and pulled out a spare set of clothes, which was tattered and twice my size, but as I put it on it shrank quite a bit until it was only slightly baggy. They were just a brown cotton set of pants with a plain leather belt, and a short sleeved shirt. He didn’t offer me a pair of shoes.
“Thanks. Do all clothes fit everyone?”.
“Yeah. Clothes that don’t fit would be dumb.”
I couldn’t think of a response to that. We finished the meal without much more talking. The interior of his cabin was quite cozy, just on the bare edge of being cramped. Bundles of herbs dangled from the rafters, with shelves and cabinets lining most of the walls.
When he had washed the dishes Jordan pulled out a pipe and again lit it with a single strike from the flint and steel.
“Fast work. Usually takes all day.”
“Glad to help. How long have you been a smith?”
“Since end of the war. Nine years. Awarded land.” He used the pipe to point at a small medal and ribbon on the wall above another set of clothes that must be a military uniform, but I thought it looked like what a hotel bellhop would wear.
“Was that the “big war” you talked about earlier?”
“No. Big war was…” He puffed the pipe thoughtfully, “thirty eight years ago. I was just a boy. Janabosi from south invade Huroa. Many dead, our king dead. Now new flag for everybody. Long live great empire.”
“Are there many wars?”
“Every time noble balls drop. Should be another in three or four years. Then I get rich making swords.” He laughed at his own joke.
“Same everywhere, I guess. Do you live alone here?” The mix of smells in here was faint, from what I could tell there was Jordan plus the two men who brought the cart, and two unknown people who were faint but had spent a lot of time here up until recently. At a guess another man and a woman. I didn’t know if he knew what goblin noses worked like, and didn’t really want to outright mention it.
“No. I have family.” He didn’t seem happy about that line of thought, so I let it drop.
“Can I help you tomorrow? I want to learn.”
“Help is good but never heard of goblin smith. Never heard of goblin cross river alone either. Maybe you be first. I teach you tomorrow.” A sense of pressure popped behind my eyes, a tension, almost an expectation. Jordan didn’t seem to notice anything.
We sat quietly for another few minutes. The pipe smoke stung my nose, but I was getting used to it.
After a while I asked the question I dreaded the answer to.
“Do you know of any magic that brings someone from the other world?”
“Gods came from other world. You not a god. Not shiny enough.”
“Have you met a god?”
“Yes. In army. Huora lead war. Old god. Very shiny. Lost war when servant gods disappeared.” He shrugged.
“How many gods are there?”
“Many. They come and go, sometimes they die, sometimes they come back. They start lots of wars.”
He glanced out the window and let out a slow puff of smoke.
"It is late."
“I will come back tomorrow. Thanks for the food.”
I left the cabin and headed back to the forest, where I had left my metal book buried. I glanced around nervously, even though I didn’t actually think anyone was watching. I had something I wanted to try.
Reaching ahead, I pawed at the air, making a flurry of gestures.
“Menu. Open. Escape. Start. Command. Inventory. Status. Help. Log out. I want to speak with the manager.” I tried every gesture and phrase I could think of.
Nothing happened, but by now I was convinced.
All I had to go on was that weird feeling of pressure behind my eyes that had happened earlier. I sat on the ground and tried to focus on it. It slipped and wiggled away from being able to recapture. I knew it was there, now that I thought about it, but I didn’t know what its importance was.
After a while I gave up, it was giving me a headache. The people here didn’t seem aware of the weird things that happened to them. Would I be different? Even if my suspicions about these “gods” were right, it just raised more questions than before.
Shaking my head, I stood back up and started pacing back and forth. I had one more idea to try. Searching around the undergrowth I searched for a straight stick and after a moment of concentration cleanly snapped it off at the length of my forearm. Next I started looking for an appropriate rock the size of my fist. Squinting at it, I took the rock and pressed it onto the stick. Like the ingots had, the rock and stick shimmered slightly and changed shape. Improbably, they combined and left me holding a stone hammer. The tension in my head throbbed and then popped again, leaving me a bit woozy.
“That answers that.”
I looked up into the sky, which was just approaching sunset, and held my middle finger up. I took the time to point it in all directions.
“You see that, assholes? Take a good long look and get me the hell out of here.”
I slapped the hammer to my hip and let go of it. It dropped to the ground and almost crushed my toe.
“At least give me a magic inventory!”
I picked it up and stuck it through my belt. I stomped back to my hole, exhausted and pissed off.