Hammer Struck

by Howard Faxon

Caution: This contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Consensual, .

Desc: : an ancient reaver of the times before the mongols becomes an agent for the great lady. He learns and gains many powers through his times spent fostering the dwarven folk. Eventually he comes upon his limits and is terrified by what he may become.

I have been trying to figure out what happened since I was placed into the cave. My parents named me Gregorii. Gregorii Schiff. I grew up as an Avar, learning the ways of battle at the hand and knee of my father and his brothers. I learned early that there was a treaty in place since the time of my grandfather, one that limited our moving south, over the Dan river. We raided across the river for cattle and wives whenever the signs favored our cause. I was a freeman, just as my father was, but my skills with the hammer brought me to the smithy at a young age. I learned to find ore, crush and melt the bronze, skim the dross and pour tools in clay molds carefully dug in the ground. I could swing the hammer and the axe with the best of the warriors and for longer than they could. I had to or I could not be a smith.

I must have been about four hands old when we went on a long raid. My father's health was failing from living a hard life while I was well into my prime. We crossed the river at night to avoid the river patrols. We made our way south to the next range of mountains then turned east. We had to swing north again to miss the foothills which had guard posts every day's march. Finally we came to a giant lake that I could not see across. The air smelled different. Not good, not bad. Just different. between the waves I dug my hands into the gravel beach and brought up hand fulls of stone. I saw glints in there that wasn't water. I found bits of metal and chunks of a strange orange substance that was light, yet hard. The others laughed at me as I waded down the beach, kicking the gravel back and forth, looking for more metal.

That had always been the doom of a smith. Never enough metal, never enough coal.

We had exercised our curiosity and turned north along the coast to eventually return home. About two weeks later we came to what we believed to be the Dan river, emptying out in a great fan. We turned inland again, now watching for what we could seize. I was getting older and was constantly ribbed about having wed my forge as I had no wife.

I suppose that we had thumbed our noses at our southern neighbors a bit too long. They came at us from three directions, many on horseback and many more on foot. We were but three hand fulls and regarded it as a compliment. We knew enough not to let them get between us and the water so that we had a way to break off and retreat. The only problem was their war leader knew enough to get us involved in melee and block out way to the water while it was out of sight. Once we knew that we were surrounded we pledged to do our best for the gods. We fought in waves, day then night then day again. Towards the second evening even I was getting a little tired. A storm was quickly blowing up and it refreshed me. I had my rhythm, swinging my sword and shield. A huge man came at me with a big double-bitted man killing axe. It slid off my shield and I chopped him under the arm with my tree limbing axe, the only weapon that I had left. He bled out in front of my eyes. I reached down to take up his axe as the enemy drew back, seeing me with his fearsome weapon. I shouted out my best bellow and started running for where I'd seen someone with a crown or circlet sitting a horse. The crowd around him panicked which kept him from fleeing. I cut down the horse then cut off his head. I raised my axe to the sky. It was the last thing I knew for what I later found to be a very, very long time.

When I woke I HURT. Everything from my hair to my toenails yelled at me, and everything in between joined in the awful chorus. I groaned and covered my face with my hand. It was then that I knew that something was wrong. My hand felt wrong. My face felt wrong. My jaw stuck out. I had a big goddamned nose and my eyebrow stretched across my forehead. I had high cheekbones and sunken eyes. I was lying on a rock slab somewhere. It was pitch black. I could hear water off in the distance. I was suddenly thirsty as hel. I struggled to my feet and almost fell on the floor. What a joke--me, a big, strong smith not able to get up off his ass. When I did manage to stand up I noticed that my arms were nearly long enough to touch the ground as I stood. I nodded. They would give me quite the reach in combat and help enormously at the forge.

I squinted in the dark. Slowly, slowly I began to see features. I was in a cave somewhere. There were chests all around the slab I had been laying on. They were for later. I really wanted that water! I followed my ears until I found a pool with a little rill falling into it. I dipped my hands in and brought the sweet, sweet liquor to my mouth. I hawked and spat to the side, then coughed out what must have been a handful of what looked like coal dust. I washed my hands, arms, face and chest in the water, then drank again. It looked like I was glowing. I held my hand open to the ground. I could see the gravel by the light my hand gave off. I smiled. I'd never need to fumble in the dark again. I washed the rest of myself, including the hair that somehow had grown to fall down my back to my hips, and my beard that did the same. By the look at the club hanging from my crotch I didn't need a weapon. All I had to do was to threaten to ... Nope. Not even funny. As I found my way back to the slab I woke on I mindlessly braided my beard and hair to keep them out of the way. A smith couldn't afford wild hair anywhere lest they be laughed at for big bald spots caused by their inattention at the forge.

Back at the slab I cast open the various chests to see what was left me. Most were full of ingots of metal. I slapped my hand to my forehead. This was a king's fortune. I closed the chests and peered around, looking for what else had been left, either on purpose or by chance. My axe and shield lay near where my head was, and that huge fucking war axe that I had taken in combat lay near where my feet were. At one side I found my pack and was thankful. Within were my hammer, tongs, fire kit, travelling gear and some spare clothing. I opened it to find all the food dried to powder and my spare clothing was sized for a man two feet taller than I was, and much slimmer. Well, I had breeks to keep my ass off the stone and an over shirt that I could cut down to my knees (once I split open the sides). The belt was much too short. I had to resort to a piece of rope.

I was getting hungry. I searched about the cave. I found a path that led away from the spring, past the slab and ended at a pile of rock. I began putting them to one side. I wasn't in the best of moods when I came upon a stone plug that filled the entire passageway. Somebody didn't want me getting out. Fuck them. I brought out my hammer and started tapping around on the stone, which I found to be quite sound, then on the surrounding stone. I was lucky to find some rotted areas, or seams. I could almost see how they angled. I used my bronze limbing axe as a chisel (poor thing!) and followed the seams, loosing great shelves of stone from around the plug. I had nothing else to do but sleep, drink, pee and work. Within three days I had enough space opened up to squeeze past the blockage. I found nothing but smaller stones wedging the plug into place on the other side. Someone had carved many runes into the face of the cave a long while ago since they were well worn. I slowly made out the words.

"Lightning struck a warrior lies never dying ever sleeping always cursed always blessed beware the day the sleeper wakes."

What the hel? I felt hammer-struck not lightning struck. I had been re-shaped, and that was the work of a hammer.

I looked up into the stars of the night sky. I could see the grass blades beneath my feet as if it were an overcast day. I looked about for landmarks so that I would not lose my treasure or safe holding. A few rocks and pulled-up bushes hid the opening quite well, as far as I could see. Once supplied with a blanket, some heavy cord, a knife, my fire kit, a weapon and a leather bag full of sweet water all in my pack I went off looking for break-fast.

I found a stream where I retrieved several stones the size of my fist. I turned upstream and waded in the water so as not to disturb the game coming down to drink. I took a wild hog that way. Once it was gutted and cleaned up I hauled it back to the cave. I had noticed a deep depression that appeared very dark to me and felt quite cold to my skin. I cut the pig into sections, then took them down into the pit. I kept back the skin. One could always use leather.

I went out with my pitifully beaten axe and gathered firewood, as well as some slender green wood for making a drying rick. I wanted to preserve some meat for carrying with me.

I thought about all that wealth in the chests. I realized that no sane man would go about with that much wealth and not have the necessities of life as well. I went back through the chests and piled them against the wall of the cave to keep them both together and sorted. I came upon a chest of linens, bowls and table wear. The linens were hopeless, rotted away. I smiled and kept the remains. If twisted and braided they would make fine lamp wicks. Some of the bowls were obviously intended to be used as lamps, some as cooking vessels, some as drinking vessels. The brass table services needed a good sand bath to get rid of the green, as did the vessels. I could clean some suet from the pig into lard with boiling water. My tongs would serve me well. I looked for an awl but did not find one. I used my tongs to break away a tine from a fork then polished it sharp against the floor. This I used to fashion a bag from the pig skin to hold the finished lard.

I didn't seem to need much sleep. I ate when I needed, drank when I needed, slept when I needed and used the bushes when I needed. I kept no calendar or track of the days while I worked. Why? What would it gain me?

I was thinking about that cave and the fact that I had no forge. It came to mind that I had not fully explored the cave and did not know where the smoke went from the fire. I began exploring with my left hand never leaving the wall. To this day I have no idea where I went and how long it took. I seemed to be taken to places that should not be there, that smelled of dry dust one moment and rotting forest floor the next. I came upon an opening filled with pumice and bits of rotten trees. I used my axe and fingers to tear it open, revealing a short passageway into a broad domed chamber with a shelf to stand on, dropping away into the dark beyond that. The wind constantly howled up past me, tearing at my clothing. An anvil the size of a king's bed stood at the edge and a river of molten fire dropped down into the vaguely visible depths below, illuminated through the smoke and fire by the stream of white hot lava. I thought to myself 'this is a forge fit for a god. I am not a god." I turned away, back across the shelf, back to the passageway. I heard a tremendous crash behind me. The ground beneath my feet shook a bit. Once securely braced within the passageway I turned to see what had happened when I retreated. There was nothing left but the chimney and waterfall of white hot lava. If I, in my pride, had stayed then I would have been annihilated.

Quite rattled, I continued exploring. I stopped after a while to eat some dried meat, drink a bit of water and wind up in my blanket for a little sleep. Upon rising I continued. I did not guess, I did not anticipate, I did not attempt to encourage fate as to what would happen next.

Something flipped through my mind, pausing here, dashing there, exploring elsewhere. I stood stock still, not quite knowing what to think about the sensation. When I continued I came upon a heavy wooden door with an arched top. I pulled it open and slowly eased my way within.

After walking down a passageway with a bend in it I found myself in a grassy glade. There were jagged, young mountains rising all about me. I could see in the moonlight that a tall waterfall in the distance splashed into a large pool. That fed a stream that cut the valley and led away somewhere.

A forge made of huge stone blocks was laid against one of the cliffs beneath an overhang that protected the working area. A strong breeze blew up from within a crevice in the side of the mountain, blowing across the firebox. I walked about the glade. Someone had brought in slabs of rock to fashion a two room cabin against the cliff side near the forge. There was no furniture to be found within it, but a small fireplace was built into one end and a deep counter lay built into the walls surrounding the fireplace, hip-height on me and nearly four feet deep. A ways away lay a privy. I looked out at the sky and did not recognize any of the star formations. Someone, something somewhere was playing games with me.

I was not a toy to be played with. I felt something like despair, something like fatalism as I stripped and sat outside the cabin. I sat down to sleep. When I awoke, I sat there a while, then did my best to fall back asleep. Despite hunger and thirst, I forced myself to fall back asleep. It was a beautiful place to die.

I woke lying in a quiet pool of the stream, warmed by the sun. I was weak from lack of food. I crawled back out of the water and slowly made my way on all fours back to the wall of the cabin. There I curled up and went back to sleep.

I awoke in the arms of a huge being, covered in short silvery fur. She had the eyes, ears and mouth of a cat. I felt her dugs pressing into my back. She said nothing yet I heard a voice.

"Do not try to die again. I am more patient than you are. You were brought here to be tested to see if you had the right balance. I suppose that it is only fair that I have been tested as well.

I have found a race that needs guiding. You have been shaped to be their teacher. They are born, live, breed and die deep within the mountains like animals, yet they have a language that has been handed down to them from father to son. They rarely if ever see the light of the sun. They forage only at night. I have brought you here to give balance to their lives. They live under ancient prophecies that have become curses through narrow-minded interpretation.

Near here is another cave that backs onto an enormous hard coal seam. I shall have your metal and more moved here. You must practice with the new metal. You must learn to call it, sing to it, listen to it. The tempering and quenching of it will teach you a new art. Another close cave will lead you to a long mountain valley with a broad floor and good water, designed for hunting and the raising of crops. Many more such valleys are close to that one. Teach yourself, find the others then teach them. This is your task. This is your doom." I fell asleep in her arms.

I slowly rose to make my way back to the cabin where my pack lay. I thought long and hard about what I had been tasked with. I slowly ate my dried meat, then folded a pallet and slept on the cabin's shelf with my pack for a pillow.

After I rose I circled the pool, to pull out dead limbs to dry for firewood. At one side of the water I found cattails. I cut them to weave storage baskets and gathering baskets from the reeds, nearly mindlessly as I had as a youth. Each day I returned to cut more cattails, to find them replenished. I gave my thanks and continued. With six poles driven into the ground in pairs I built a mat loom. Using cordage, a lifter bar and a beater bar, mats made from green or dried reeds can be fashioned that can serve as doors, roofs, walls, bedding, blankets and furniture. I wove a small amount for my current usage, then hung as many reeds as I could forage to dry for later use. I managed to flip a few large fish out of the pool onto the shore where I baked them in clay.

I found the coal cave. There I filled my baskets and brought them back to my as-yet unused forge. I continued to weave baskets and harvest coal until my arms and back ached. I slowly regained my strength. I cold-hammered my axe back into shape and gave it its edge back. Cold hammering bronze makes it harder, tougher.

I found the hunting and farming valley that was promised. I left it for later. I needed seed, tools and patience to make it fruitful. I had little of any of that at the time.

I passed out of the door I had dug to the outside world. I took along several small gathering baskets, a handfull of mixed coins from the chests and a blanket worn as to cover all but my pack. I noticed that the coins were of various sizes and mixed metals, some bronze, some silver and some, the smallest, were of gold.

By purchase, hook or crook I was going to find salt. I needed it desperately.

It was muddy, the early spring of the year. I had difficulty seeing in the bright sunlight. I took a piece of leather and fashioned small slits in it, then tied it across my eyes with a few short thongs. I must have looked the very travesty of a man. I was short, wide, dark and stumped along like a walking boulder.

I came upon a trade road next to a river. Could it have been the old Dan? No. I recollected the words of the old one. I had been transported elsewhere. I took careful note of my landmarks then followed the road down river. I lived on game and water for some weeks until I came to a large town. It had no palisade about it, but a stone wall. Impressive! A lot of work had gone into that wall, as it was twice as tall as a man. I knew that it was thick and strong enough to support platforms because I saw men's heads and shoulders standing behind it. I followed the road along to a gate where guards were letting people through.

"What is your name?" I thought it better to make something up.

"Eric the smith."

"Why do you come here?" Stupid man. To trade. Why else?

"Supplies. Trade." He looked me up and down. He must not have thought much of me because he let me through without any more questions.

Once within the gates I spotted many children, filthy and ill-dressed, sitting in the dirt at the edge of the street. They all watched carefully. I motioned an older one over to me. He was almost as tall as I was. With all the greedy eyes about I did not wish to show coin.

"I want a load of salt and a mule. Take me to where I can buy such and I promise payment."

"What payment?"

"A bronze the size of my smallest fingernail." I held out my hand for him to see. He turned and walked away. I did not know that we had a contract until he impatiently turned his head and motioned me to follow. I shrugged and followed behind. I kept my eyes open and my hand on the haft of my axe. If I were led into a trap it would not be me doing the dying that day. I did feel a bit naked without my shield though.

He must have been an honest fellow as we stayed by the widest of streets. I soon found myself in a cobbled courtyard half surrounded by corrals, sheds and warehouses. Yes. This was where I wanted to be. I paid off the youngster who appeared very happy to not have been scalded in the deal. Before he left I asked, "Where can I find food and shelter for the night? Is there anyplace close?"

He nodded, happy with his new wealth. I realized then that I had overpaid. Oh, well. He nodded at one street leading off between two warehouses. "There are several places down that street that cater to the carters and the traders. Go down a block before you pick one or they'll skin you."

I found a factor by looking for a signboard on one of the warehouses. Once allowed in by the guards I asked for four mules with pack saddles, two to be loaded with good salt and a third with cracked dried grain. I also wanted a bushel of seed wheat to be placed in smaller bags and distributed among the animal's loads. We haggled on a price, then I added a silver to insure that I would get healthy beasts able to pull a plow for five years or so if they were well tended to. I contracted to pick them up early in the morning of the second day. We signed a contract and I paid him half his due, the rest to be paid upon receipt.

I went shopping for iron pots and other cooking furniture, a good piece of rope to pull the rock away from the cave entrance, A plane, bits and a brace to make pegged furniture, an empty mattress that I could stuff with grasses, canvas to make clothes as well as cover the cottage openings, a few buckets and several good wool blankets. I would need twine for many things so I bought out what several vendors had. I bought enough sacks to let me load my purchases on the fourth mule. I spotted a vendor selling dried-up wrinkled apples from the last year's harvest. I bought several pounds worth to make friends with the mules.

I made a special trip to where I heard the ring of hammers on anvils. There I bought steel tools to replace my bronze ones. I needed a hammer, tongs, several punches and chisels a small vise and a fifty pound anvil. While there I also bought shovels, a pick, scythe blades and a pitch fork.

One smith was a blade maker. He had some done some very nice work. I bought a long knife in a sewn sheath from him. I wanted to examine it to see what he had done, and I needed a short-sword. I couldn't go around swinging an axe in town, after all. The soldiers frown on that, thinking that you're hunting on their private territory or something like that. All this fit into a barrow cart that I took back to the factor for safe keeping.

I paid the landlord of the Sheaf of Wheat for a room that I wouldn't have to share and a locking door. After visiting the room I realized that I had bed-mates after all after lifting a corner of the mattress and seeing things moving. I was not amused.

I found an apothecary not to far away. There I purchased a big jar of burn salve, a pound of peppers, a dozen candles, a quarter pound of sulfur and a small glazed dish, all for a silver. "Bed bugs bite?"

"I'm not going to give them the chance to try."

"Better air the place out for an hour before you sleep or you won't want to be in there, either. Beat the bedclothes and shift the mattress before fuming the place."

"Yep. I've done this before. Works good on bearskins, too." We parted with a wave.

Once back at the inn I set a chunk of sulfur the size of a small walnut on top of the dish. That went under the bed. Then I cocked the mattress to expose the supports and stretched out the bedding on the floor. I lit the censer and left with my pack over my arm. It didn't need sulfuring. I sat at a table slowly drinking beer, or ale, or whatever the hell that came out of his barrels. I soon heard coughing and wheezing as a few people came down the stairs. They started getting all indignant and complaining until I told them that I was killing all the bedbugs. Then it was all smiles and I got a few free beers. It didn't seem to hit me like it used to. I just got a little happy and stayed that way.

When I noticed evening creeping up on us I went up to throw open the window and door. Back down stairs I ordered my meal, ate, used the privy and went back up to beat the stink out of my bedding and go to sleep. I hammered a wood peg between the knob-side of the door and the frame to keep it closed. I was not bothered during the night.

In the morning I dressed, packed my gear and went down stairs. I wasn't about to leave my valuables alone and undefended in a strange city. If I owned something, it was going to stay that way until I had something to say about it. I did strap that big knife to my waist, under my blanket.

I had the entire day to explore. I had a few things that I wanted to buy but I had all day to find them. First came a trip to the privy and breakfast.

Two big guys tried to kill me on my way to the crapper. I guess that they never heard that you don't try to bushwhack an Avar without expecting to lose some people. With my new longer reach I snaked out that fancy new knife to cut one of them up high inside the groin. He was down and dying before he knew it. The other one tried to block my blade, but he caught my forehand across the temple which sheared through the front of his skull. I wiped off the knife and admired it again. Damn. Nice work! Then I raided the bodies for loot and weapons and pissed on the both of them. I did up my breeks and went back inside.

I was eating my sausages and bread with a short beer when all the yelling started.

"Who's gonna pay to get rid of the bodies?"

"I guess the guy that told them a trader with coin had a room upstairs." He turned a few shades whiter and backed up into the kitchen while keeping an eye on me. I was sipping on my second short beer when an older fellow, dressed in black leathers with silver shoulder patches walked in and eased down into a stool across from me. He ordered a beer like mine and we sat sipping, just enjoying the morning, you know?

"Had a little excitement on the way to the pisser?"

"Eh, a little. Took out the trash."

He nodded. "Good way to put it." He reached out a hand and we shook. "Hey, watch the landlord. The way he acted when I accused him of putting them onto me, well, the glove sure fits." He grinned and nodded. After he left I took the rest of my stuff down to the factor's for keeping. I took the barrow with me for shopping. I had a feeling that I'd be needing it.

Then I started wandering. I didn't plan it that way, but it was Saturday and the streets were packed. I felt a few fingers searching for my wallet. I left the fingers, just damaged a bit. I found the weavers. Good. I wanted a high quality waterproof hooded cloak or two that would blend into the background. One lightweight, one winter weight. They had a few light and heavy tunics that would fit me as well. The leather workers had good thigh-high boots, gauntlets, belts, pouches, a tunic reinforced with sewn-in rings and a long hooded over-cloak that would stop any wind and was built to wrap around me almost twice, even with a pack on my back. It was made of tanned, dark-dyed deerskin so it wasn't that heavy. I bought quite a few things there along with a couple jars of cream to keep the leather garments waterproof and flexible. Once I figured out what was in the salve I 'd be making my own.

Then I was headed back to the smiths. I wanted a couple big bags of white bitter earth for welding. I'd watched one of them working the day before and that's what he used. I examined his work after words. It made a fine, nearly invisible weld. I also stopped back to visit the arms maker and complimented him on the performance of his work. We stood there for a while examining the short sword after its trial. Not a mark was to be found. We shook hands, grinning like fatuous fools.

I found a book-seller. Now, that was amazing in itself. Most book-sellers were found up near the high-rent district where the guard could be summoned in a flash. I greeted the short slender fellow behind the counter and asked him if he had anything to interest an old smith. He looked at me kind of funny. For a moment I thought that his face looked like a cat's, but I quickly shook it off. Too many fumes, I supposed. That foundry area wasn't any too well vented.

He smiled all the way up to his eyes, which crinkled. He asked me to wait a moment, then turned to the back of his shop, where he disappeared for a bit. I looked around and found a seat to wait in. I supposed that it was a tease, but there was a slender book bound in a smooth silvery material resting on the table. I took it up and opened it towards the center. I saw long runes with hooks at the bottoms. I shrugged and was about to close it, when I found that I was reading the damned thing. It was discussing maker's chants. I flipped towards the front of the book to find recipes involving sand and ash. What the hell was 'glass'? I knew what tin was, but floating glass on molten tin? When he came back with two books I asked him if he knew what glass was. He dropped the books on the counter and lost his breath for a moment, then sat down.

"You can read that?"

I held it up and twisted it in the light. a faint pattern was inscribed in the cover. "Yuh. I don't know how or why, but I can. It talks about floating glass on molten tin in one place."

He looked at me very, very seriously. "The people that wrote that are so long gone that all we have left of them are the books, the books that nobody can understand. But you can. Unbelievable." He shot to his feet. "Do not, under any circumstances, leave. I have something that you should have. I received it long ago and held out hope against hope of ever selling it, much less selling it to someone that could use it. Stay here."

That little man seemed to grow six inches as he dashed back into his shop. This time it took nearly an hour. He returned covered in grime, carrying what appeared to be a finely made chest, grinning like a fool. He gently placed it on the counter. Instead of a key way it held a flat plate holding the top closed. He spoke as if in a house of worship. "If this is what I believe it to be, your thumb on the plate will open it."

I'd never heard of a thumb lock, or even the possibility of creating such a thing. Nevertheless I placed my right thumb flat against the panel. I saw a slight blue-purple flash, then a moment later I heard a loud click. The lid lifted a bit beneath my hand.

He was in his house of worship. He whispered, "By The Maker." I gently eased back the lid. Within were some twenty rows of tightly packed miniature books, each perhaps half the length of my little finger tall. I gently prised one free and took it out of the chest. By the time I had it in my hands it was about two feet tall, two feet wide and six inches thick. Now, this made no damned bit of sense to me. I gently opened the book to find it filled with diagrams and very regular tiny script, all done in those odd characters with tiny hooks at the bottoms. The pages were almost thin enough to see through. There could have been a thousand pages--or more-- in that book alone. "There is not enough time in a person's life to read so much." I caught him in my gaze. I felt myself almost panting. "You know what this is. I can see it in your face. Tell me."

"It--it--it is a copy of The Library."

"And as a book-seller this must be a near-holy thing to you. To your understanding the ultimate collection of knowledge, yet held from your grasp by your heritage. How cruel."

He sat, openly weeping. "I can only pass it on to another that can make use of it." His lips quavered in a smile. "I shall be known far and wide as the one who assisted in the Great Unlocking. It must serve."

I had a stupid-smart idea. A flash of brilliant foolishness. "How much did you pay for the chest?"

"Oh, it was scandalous at the time. I paid two gold!" I retrieved my wallet and fished about in it. I pulled out four gold tabs and slid them across the counter to him. "Here. To offset your incredible storage fees and lost opportunity in investing that gold."

He gazed at the gold, then at me, incredulous. "What--"

"I am taking the chest with me. There is no question. The only decision remaining is if will you accompany the chest."

He looked at me like an owl caught in the middle of the day. I believed that I melted his brain. I sat him down in his chair and walked back into the store where I found his living quarters. I poured him a cool glass of water and brought it forth. I found him gazing at the gold, trying to make sense of it all. I handed him the water glass. I had to wrap his fingers around it. "Careful, don't drop it. You may injure The Library." By damn, That got his attention!

I caught his eyes once more. "If you were to choose a cart of books that you refused to part with, assembled a travelling kit and arranged for another to purchase your business how long would it take?

He blinked owlishly at me once more, but finally spoke. "A month to select, a day to make up a kit, a week to pack a cart. Four months to inventory the rest of the books. I already have others willing to buy me out. I have two universities, three other book sellers and the city library that all want what I have."

I slipped him four silvers, then I told him, "buy or lease a neighboring property. set it up as a temporary home. Have a secure wagon door put in. Hire a reputable guard. Buy a long covered wagon, but make certain that it is no wider than eight feet, including the wheels. Prepare your books in waxed chests for several month's travel as beasts of burden are not known for speedy deliveries. I shall return next spring for you and for farming equipment. I shall have much to do over the coming year to prepare. So shall you!

I prayed that the Lady would accept an acolyte. One who revered knowledge and learning.

I left with the chest containing the library covered by a canvas sheet. Its quality was advertised with the slightest glance. I bought a few more things for the cabin such as a wool rug, a candle holder and a box of candles. I bought a roll of parchment to oil and cover the cabin windows. It would let in most of the light yet keep out winds and wet. To apply it would require thin splits of wood and nails. The wood had to pinch the parchment and be nailed down all around. In that fashion it would not tear.

My three mules had grown to five. I slept with them that night to get them used to my scent, then I hand-fed them grain and cut apples. We got along well enough to get the job done. They had been adequately trained and were in good health.

Once back at the cave I had some work to do. First the animals needed long-term quarters. That meant that I had to get them sheltered near the fields. The blocking stone had to go.

First I cleared all the stone debris away from the large stone that I had to clear away. Then I took my old brass hammer and limbing axe and the stout rope I bought. Other than that I went nude. I didn't want to catch on anything that I didn't have to. One side was clear enough to wriggle myself in and out but the other side needed some persistent care. I knew it could take a while so I staked out the mules in reach of fodder and water. I stacked their pack saddles near the cave entrance.

Instead of just attacking the rock wall I put my hands on it and closed my eyes. I began to 'see' the lines of how the rock was built up. The places where the rock was stressed almost shouted out to me. I swung my hammer very hard to hit a place just above my head, about a foot in from the edge. A large piece cracked away from the wall yet held in place. A few more blows using my axe as a wedge to open the fault gave me a separate chunk that I could push away, out of the cave. I looped the rope around the big rock and with the aid of three mules and their pack saddles to distribute the load we got the stone moved out of the hole and to one side.

I was quite happy as I thought that it would be a project for several days.

One by one, I re-loaded the mules and led them through the cave to the area I had envisioned for them. The grass was thick and dark green. It smelled sweet even to me. My limbing axe was still sound enough to use in its original purpose. I cut down several saplings and cut some to eight feet long and buried two feet of them in a broad half-circle butting up against the cliff wall. I made sure that a portion of a stream was within the area that I had marked off. Then I tied cross-members to the uprights, at my shoulder height and high up over my head at nearly six feet. Near the cliff wall I secured a much longer tree. I buried the thick end some five feet deep after tying a rope to the slender end. This would be the support for my gate. I had my 'corral' built by evening. All the mules were within, making themselves at home.

I carried the goods that I had bought to the stone cabin. The library took pride of place in the corner. I wanted some furniture and something to sleep on. The first night was a bit rough, but I stuffed my empty mattress with dried grass that I found at the foot of the cliff. I had bought some oil when in the city and floated a little over my little lantern's lard supply to make it light easier. I knew enough to heat a little sulfur on a flat rock over the fire and wipe twigs in it. When I had a fire almost started in a glowing rag a touch with a sulfur coated twig would give me a ghostly bluish flame that would light my lamps or candles. I spent an hour making enough for several months. It only took a little sulfur to do the job. Too much was difficult to put out. Sulfur scalds hurt and scarred more than most as the liquid sticks to the skin and keeps burning.

The next morning I realized that I had a task that I had to perform above all others. It was early yet in the season. I had to get my potatoes, wheat and beans planted. I spent a day getting a bronze plow hammered together in the smithy, then riveted a steel cutting edge to it. The next two weeks were nothing but hard work as the mules and I plowed and seeded the fertile lowland next to the river. I wasn't stupid--I harvested the good grass from the patch before I turned over the sod to plant. Afterwards I took care of some of my other projects such as rush carpets, a chair and a sturdy table. I pegged all my wood work together. It was quite sturdy and comfortable enough.

My fireplace was missing something. When I gazed into it during the evenings it felt empty, as if it were incomplete. I don't know why but I tore apart the big war axe and formed one of the huge blades into a reflector for the back of the fire box. It still didn't look right. The next day I retrieved it and stippled a mixed human and cat's face into it, much as I remembered the Lady to appear. That night I felt that it was complete. The cabin had a focus.

Two days a week I watered the fields and grubbed out the weeds with a hoe. Between times I studied the metal I had been gifted with and the finished good that I had purchased. I learned to look at the metal in a certain way that let me see the deep patterns within it. I tried to reproduce a few things and failed. I was not discouraged as I knew that I had much to learn. I remembered the other smith quickly chilling his work in a bucket of water after it came from the fire. I tried that, but it left my work brittle. I tried a combination of both. I brought the work to an even low temperature and let it cool naturally. Then I quickly heated it so that the edges came up to a high heat but not the core. Then I dashed it into a bucket of cold lake water and kept moving it about to keep the bubbles from resting on the surface. I achieved my goal. I had a blade that was tough and would not shatter, yet it would take a fine edge that did not dull quickly.

That could not be all of it. I made up some soap out of lard and wood ash to get my hands clean, then opened the library. I studied all the time that I was not hunting, preparing food, tending the crops or caring for the mules. I learned much, though most of what I learned was unusable. I had not the skills, tools nor the stock for the 'Chemistry' though I saw uses for part of it. The 'Optics' confused the hell out of me. I had to come to a meeting of minds with the 'Mathematics' that left me a pitiable wretch, let me tell you. I don't like to think that hard!

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Consensual /