Preservation of Life
Story 8 of Tales of The Wandering Blacksmith
by Vaughan W. Smith
Vincent paused before the giant doors. He had never been to this part of the city before. It was deep in the Military District.
“Don’t worry Vincent, you did nothing wrong.” Sylas gave him a reassuring smile. But Vincent could still see the apprehension in Sylas’s gaze, the tightness of his jaw. The fact that he had been summoned to a Military hearing was bad enough, the fact that it had been months coming had been worse.
Why now? Why not at the time if they needed to hear from me?
Vincent nodded, and thrust the doors open. The large room was almost empty. It looked how he expected a courtroom to appear. There was a bench at the rear with a Military official sitting there. Rows of benches were aligned in a left and right side. On the right there was Captain Brady and a woman that Vincent didn’t recognise. She had short brown hair, and a full uniform. On the left he observed a weedy little man, also in uniform. The man beckoned him over.
A woman stood up at the far end of the room and spoke clearly to them all.
“Judge Preston presiding over this hearing. Please rise and acknowledge His Honour.” The others in the room stood, and Vincent and Sylas continued over to their front bench. They gave the Judge a short bow and sat next to the weedy man.
“The name’s Henderson. Have you been briefed?” he asked.
“No. What’s this about precisely?” Vincent said. Before Henderson could answer the Judge banged his gavel.
“We are here today to hear testimony on the safety and status of one ‘Vincent’, apprentice to Sylas. Begin.”
The woman next to Brady stood.
“Your Honour, I am officer Karen Davies. We are moving that Vincent be conscripted into the Military effective immediately. He cannot be allowed to remain a civilian, the danger is too great.”
“Understood. Make your argument,” Judge Preston said. Vincent looked at Sylas with horror.
“Did you know about this?” he whispered.
“We suspected. But the whole process has been quite secretive,” Sylas answered. The noticed a glare from the Judge and didn’t offer any more.
“We call our first witness, Captain Brady.” Karen waited while Brady made his way up to a witness box next to the judge.
“Captain Brady, you were involved in the last significant Blight battle, is this correct,” Karen said.
“And you were assigned to protect and escort the attending weaponsmiths?”
“Yes I was.” Brady smiled nervously.
“Can you relate what happened when you found Vincent.”
“I found him attempting to assist another weaponsmith, who had been injured.”
“Injured by what?”
“A Runesteel dagger.”
“Very well. And what happened next?”
“A Shade entered the clearing we were in. I offered my horse for Vincent to escort the injured man away from danger. But the horse spooked and ran off with the weaponsmith, leaving us alone with the Shade.”
“Did you attack the Shade?”
“Yes. I attempted to defeat the Shade, or at least create a diversion so that Vincent could also escape.”
“And did he?”
“No. He attacked the Shade.” Brady spoke quietly. Karen looked up, waiting for more information.
“What happened next?” The judge prompted.
“He killed the Shade. Stabbed it through the heart.”
“Killed a Shade, that’s quite impressive.” Karen’s voice lilted up. The next few words were very matter-of-fact. “With what weapon?”
“A Runesteel dagger.” Brady answered slowly, and then looked horrified. He shot Vincent an apologetic look.
“A Runesteel dagger,” Karen repeated, emphasising the words. “The very same weapon that injured the other weaponsmith?”
Vincent started to rise up but Henderson kept a hand on him.
“Don’t appear aggressive or argumentative,” he hissed. Vincent shrugged off the hand but remained seated.
What are they trying to do here? This is ridiculous!
“I couldn’t say if it was the same weapon exactly.”
“It was incredibly dangerous nonetheless. No further questions.” Karen nodded to the judge.
“Captain Brady you are excused,” Judge Preston said. Brady looked like he wanted to speak up, but he swallowed his words. As he returned to his seat he mouthed ‘I’m sorry’ to Vincent.
“Next we call Vincent to the stand,” Karen announced. Vincent hesitated. He didn’t like the implications of this hearing.
“Just go, be cooperative,” Henderson urged. Vincent rose slowly, and avoided looking at Karen. It would be better not to glare at her. He walked around to the witness box and sat down.
“Vincent, how long have you been in Valrytir?” Karen asked, approaching him as she spoke.
“Just under a year.”
“And you’ve been working with Sylas and Mason, the renowned weaponsmiths?”
“Why did you come to Valrytir?” Karen said, focusing her eyes on him. Vincent felt quite nervous. His hand fidgeted.
“Uh, a friend recommended it to me. He said it would be a good journey.”
“A good journey? Isn’t that an odd thing for a blacksmith to do?”
“It is… not the most usual thing for a blacksmith to travel.”
“Have you always been a blacksmith?”
“What did you do before?” Karen leaned in, her eyes alight.
She’s fishing for something. But what?
“Nothing. Blacksmith is my first occupation.”
“How long ago did you start blacksmithing?”
“A few years ago.”
“A few years. So, you’re not exactly a boy are you? What were you doing before the last few years?”
“Nothing. I lived with my father.”
“And your father’s occupation?” Karen pressed. Vincent sighed.
“I don’t see how that’s relevant.”
“We are trying to establish your character. You are a very dangerous individual.” Karen looked to the judge.
“Answer the question,” Judge Preston said in a grave voice.
“He was a wizard.”
“A wizard. Have we heard of him?”
“Tell us his name.” Karen’s eyes were practically dancing. Alrion looked down at the floor.
This is such a mess.
“Granthion,” he said softly. Karen drew in a breath and stepped back. She turned away for a few moments, before speaking again.
“How did you become in possession of the Runesteel dagger that night?”
“I forged it myself.”
“All by yourself? How did you learn?”
“Sylas,” Vincent pointed to his master, “gave us all a book to read. Then I spent all night working on the dagger.”
“This is the dagger in question.” Karen strode back to her seat, retrieving the dagger from a leather satchel and holding it up. “And this is an appraisal done by our expert Blacksmith, Balzar.” Karen walked back, waving a document triumphantly. She presented it to Vincent.
“Read this line please.” Karen pointed out a section. Vincent cleared his throat and spoke.
“This is an exemplary demonstration of the craft of forging Runesteel. It could not have been made by a novice blacksmith.”
“Ah-hah!” Karen said, snatching the document back. She started pacing around the room.
“So let’s summarise the facts of this case. Vincent is the son of a great wizard, took up the profession of blacksmithing at a late age, and journeyed all the way here. Once he arrived he managed to win a spot in the city’s most elite smithing workshop, and when first introduced to Runesteel managed to produce an item that was of peerless quality. Then he was present when another weaponsmith was grievously wounded by Runesteel, and a Shade killed.” Karen paused looking at Vincent, and then the judge.
“We move that weaponsmith Vincent be recorded as being too dangerous to be loose in the city of Valrytir. We request that he be transferred into the care of the Military, and assigned to the master smith Balzar for supervision.” Karen quickly added more. “He is also to have security detail on him day and night until we are satisfied that he is not a danger to our great city.”
“Request granted. Take him into custody.” Judge Preston banged his gavel. Vincent felt the whole world start to close in on him.
How can this be happening?
“It’s not all bad,” Sylas said as he walked with Vincent.
“In what way?”
“Well, you’ll be working on your smithing, that’s for sure. They’ll probably give you a lot more Runesteel to work with. That’s something.” Sylas hesitated, looking for more words. Vincent forced a laugh.
“Yes, well that doesn’t account for much if I don’t have my freedom does it?” Vincent looked around and noticed three guards trailing him, in addition to the one leading the way. They were off the main streets now, going through back alleys that were off-limits to civilians. He was being taken deep inside the Military district.
“It’s just political. These new developments with the Blight, the changes in the Shades. It has them scared,” Sylas continued.
“In my experience that makes people harder to deal with. Less rational.”
“Yes, yes. But they will come to rely on you. You’ll earn their respect, and slowly their trust as well.” Sylas searched for the right words again. “ Vincent, you must try and ignore all these theatrics. Do a good job and build relationships. That will get you your freedoms, little by little.”
“Has this happened before? Do you get stuck in the Military forever?”
“I’ve only heard of it once before. You’ll have to ask him about it.”
“Balzar.” Sylas looked apologetic. Before Vincent could say anything further they had arrived at a large metal door. There were two guards posted outside.
“No visitors inside,” the lead guard said. Sylas nodded.
“Remember all that we talked about. Look after yourself. This is not the end.” Sylas held out a hand. Vincent took it in his own, the reassuring grip of Sylas’s handshake helped settle him a bit.
“Thanks. You take care too, and send my best to the others.”
“Of course.” Sylas bowed and departed. The lead guard opened the door and ushered Vincent inside.
Here we go.
Vincent stepped in, finding himself in a narrow corridor. There was minimal lighting so he carefully worked his way down, searching for where he should be going. All he could make out was a light in the distance. As he drew closer he saw that the light just illuminated a simple wooden door. Vincent paused, composed himself, then pushed the door open.
Inside was a workshop. An expansive space with high ceilings and either skylights or ventilation shafts. There were multiple forges, and at one a man toiled, banging on a piece of iron. Vincent breathed in the familiar smells and cautiously walked over to the man. He didn’t want to startle the smith. He stopped nearby, watching the man finish. It looked like he was working on a blade. The smith looked up and smith.
“Vincent is it?”
“Yes. And you’re Balzar?” Vincent held out a hand. Balzar nodded, removed a glove and shook hands. His grip was incredibly strong and firm, as expected.
“I’ve heard about you, terribly sorry about what’s happened. That’s your reward for a good heart and good hands.” Balzar shook his head slowly and sighed. He took off his other glove and set his work aside, moving closer to Vincent.
“Did the same happen to you?”
“Not quite as dramatic. But the end result was the same. I was conscripted in, no chance to object. For the greater good, as it were.”
“Does this happen a lot? Why don’t they take Sylas, or Mason?”
“I’m not sure. Political reasons? Besides, there’s value in them leaving those guys alone. They identify and train new talent…”
“New talent that they can waltz in and conscript,” Vincent finished. “What happens now?”
“You’ll get some commissions no doubt, and a bit of room for experimenting and pushing the limits of your craft. Things have been relatively quiet recently, which is a good thing.” Balzar looked around the space. “Your things are over there. You can set up wherever you want.”
“Thanks.” Vincent wandered over to where Balzar had pointed, and located his hammer , satchel, and other belongings. Precious little, really.
I travel light after all.
He also found what looked like another chunk of Runesteel.
“What’s this for?” he called out.
“You’ll find out tomorrow, no doubt. Let’s pack it in early and get you settled in.” Balzar pointed to a door at the opposite end of the room and Vincent followed closely behind.
I can’t stay here, but I won’t make any rash moves. One day at a time.
The next morning Vincent was escorted back to the workshop. The accomodation wasn’t bad at all, and there were hot meals. But he barely noticed. His mind was distracted. He worried about what they were going to get him to do. There was someone waiting for him.
“Captain Brady, to what do I owe the pleasure?” Vincent said, trying to mask his surprise.
I’m not sure what to make of him.
“I’m here on official, and unofficial business.”
“I see,” Vincent said slowly. Brady continued.
“Unofficially, I’m here to apologise. I had no say in these proceedings whatsoever. To have you treated this way is appalling. You saved both our lives, and I’m sure you didn’t attack the other weaponsmith.”
“I didn’t. It was a deserting solider, who was supposed to be helping us.”
“He’s since… disappeared.” Brady glanced away for a moment before returning his gaze to Vincent.
“Anyway, I owe you a great debt, and my thanks.” Brady bowed.
“And the official business?” Vincent said. Brady cleared his throat.
“I’m here to request a Runesteel sword.” Brady looked quite apologetic as he spoke the words.
“I see. I’ll need more materials, let me make you a list.” Vincent looked around for writing implements.
“I’m not sure I understand, they said you were already provided with Runesteel.”
“I need more. And other things.” Vincent ran through some calculations in his head. “I’m making two swords.”
“Two? But I only need one.”
“One is for me,” Vincent said simply.
“I don’t understand…”
“It’s simple. You want a sword, I haven’t made a Runesteel sword before. This way I can work on an experimental sword, and then make yours with the best parts of what I learn from my one. Doesn’t that sound logical?”
“I suppose so.” Brady spoke carefully. “I don’t have a problem with it, but they make baulk at providing extra materials.”
“I trust you can sell it to them. Think of the gains for future swords.” Vincent slapped Brady on the shoulder and pressed the paper with ingredients on it into the solider’s chest.
“Very well, I’ll get back to you.” Brady folded the paper and put it into his pocket and left. Vincent watched him go, and turned when he heard footsteps behind him.
“What are you playing at?” Balzar said.
“You disagree with my reasoning?” Vincent asked pointedly.
“No, more curious about your approach. You’re pushing hard right out of the gate. It’s a dangerous game to play.”
“I think they’re desperate, else I wouldn’t be here. They trust Brady, it should work fine.”
“And if it doesn’t?”
“There’s always plan B.”
“Hmph,” Balzar grunted. “What are you really trying to achieve with this extra sword?”
“Once I build it, they’re going to think twice about any movement they make,” Vincent chuckled.
“This will be interesting to watch, at any rate.” Balzar headed back to his forge. Vincent followed him.
“What are you working on?”
“Runesteel sword. They’re in demand, but there’s not much Runesteel to work with. I’m surprised that they’re giving one to Brady. He must have distinguished himself as a good fighter. Generally only the top brass are getting them.”
“Who is it for?”
“You wouldn’t know him. Lieutenant called Watford. He’s rising up the ranks pretty quickly, I don’t think he will stay in the field that much longer. He’s a good political player.”
“Can I see it?” Vincent stepped closer. Balzar nodded and held up the blade. Vincent whistled softly as he appraised it.
“This is remarkable. Really good.”
“That may be so, but I hear yours is something else.” Balzar raised an eyebrow.
“I think they’re exaggerating a bit. It’s probably more that they were surprised.”
“Perhaps.” Balzar set the blade down. “I have a feeling that it will be good working together.” Balzar adjusted his gaze, looking Vincent straight in the eyes. The intensity of his stare was surprising. “Just don’t rope me into any of your schemes.”
“Of course. Just me.” Vincent nodded, his voice choking up a bit. Balzar’s friendly attitude and agreeable nature had something more to it.
That’s a fair request. He’s probably well on his way to winning himself some sort of freedom, or flexibility. I shouldn’t set him back by anything I do.
“I suggest you busy yourself with something, they won’t be back with what you asked for today.” Vincent didn’t bother replying, instead searching the workshop for useful items and preparing himself as much as possible.
The next morning Vincent had a surprise visitor. The large and dominating frame of Mason looked imposing in the tiny room Vincent had been assigned to sleep in.
“Good morning Vincent. Walk with me to the workshop,” Mason said.
Is it really him? Why is he here?
“Good morning. This is a pleasant surprise,” Vincent said, hoping to draw out what Mason had to say. The weaponsmith, however, was quiet. There was no chatter as they wound their way through the plain stone halls to the large room that Vincent was become more and more accustomed to. Once they were inside Mason went directly to the forge and workspace Vincent had been preparing.
“They approved your use of materials, conditionally,” Mason said. He gestured to the supples with an open hand.
“On what condition?”
“My supervision. To ensure you are fulfilling your duties as expected.”
“Why you and not Sylas? He’s been involved in all this.” Vincent watched Mason looking around, checking who was nearby. Balzar was at the far end of the room, busying himself in a cabinet.
“I am part of the Military. It is not well-known, and mostly forgotten, because I made my name with Sylas. But I was a soldier first, and a blacksmith second. In times of peace I was afforded more freedom to expand as a blacksmith, provided I maintained the Military’s interests. They were more than happy to bless the partnership with Sylas, knowing it would benefit everyone.” Mason paused, letting out a deep sigh. He checked again on Balzar’s positioning.
“The arrangement has been mostly forgotten by almost everyone. Even within the Military. But they use their influence when they want, and lord my supposed independence over me at those times to get what they want.”
“I see. Are they really so bad?”
“Not bad, just cautious. And terrified of betrayal.” Mason shook his head sadly.
“What’s the story there?”
“It’s not a story for today. But the loss of the great generals to the enemy has left deep wounds that may never heal.” Mason looked up and say Balzar approaching.
“Hello friend, we have occasion to work together again.” Mason smiled at the smith.
“Mason? Great to see you. What brings you here?”
“Our troublemaker,” Mason gestured to Vincent and chuckled. “They want me to oversee his work, since he’s requested double the required materials.”
“Hey, I just wanted to make a test sword. Isn’t Runesteel capable of endless reforging?” Vincent said, indignant.
“Supposedly so. I guess you’ll be testing that.” Mason gave him a wry grin.
“Troublemaker is definitely the right word. At least we will learn something from his…experimentation,” Balzar said. Vincent shot them both a winning grin.
I have to make the most of it. I get to work with Runesteel with two master smiths. Maybe I can pretend that I’m here because I want to be. In any other environment, this situation would be perfect.
“Vincent you are dragging your feet.” Brady look even less impressed than the last time he had dropped in. For weeks now he had been visiting almost daily. But his sword was not ready.
“I’m almost there,” Vincent said dismissively. Brady reached out and grabbed Vincent’s arm.
“What’s that?” he pointed to the sword Vincent had been making for himself.
“What about it? It’s a work in progress.”
“It looks like a finished sword. What about mine?” Brady’s exasperation was coming out. He gestured with his hands as he asked the question.
“What I learn on my blade, I incorporate into yours. My definition your blade will take longer.”
“At some point the supposed quality you are giving me won’t matter for anything. We’re mobilising soon.”
“How soon?” Vincent looked up, finally making eye contact with the soldier.
“Fine, I’ll finish.” Vincent waved Brady away. The captain stalked off quickly. Vincent watched him leave.
“I think it’s time you came clean,” Mason said as he approached.
“Even with your process, you could have finished that blade three times over. Why are you stringing it out?” Mason gave him a stern look.
“Have you heard the rumours?” Vincent said softly. Mason raised an eyebrow.
“There’s been a string of attacks. Theft, murder, you name it. But there’s always one common thing.”
“A Runesteel dagger?” Mason said.
“Yes. The Military confiscated it from me, and now it’s in someone else’s hands. That blood is on my hands.”
“And you think if you hand this weapon over, something similar will happen?”
“Isn’t it more likely?” Vincent sighed. Mason put his giant hand on Vincent’s shoulder.
“Brady is a good man. And you’ve done enough to make him prize what you’re making for him. If you’re going to make a weapon, this is the right person to make one for.” Mason paused before adding, “Trust me. I’ve been through this.”
“I hope you’re right.” Vincent walked back to his forge. “If I’m going to finish tonight, I better get started.” He heard Mason’s steady footsteps moving away.
I guess it’s time to finish this. Why do I have such a bad feeling about it?
Vincent stepped back to admire the blade. He had delayed things for his own reasons, but the idea of using his sword as the test sword had yielded results. The resulting blade was the finest one he had yet crafted.
I hope he’s worthy of this, and can keep it from getting into the wrong hands.
The recent attacks with the Runesteel dagger were still worrying. Worse still, the idea that the person might be connected to the Military.
I better not take any chances.
Vincent locked the sword away with his own, in a steel lockbox. It was at the foot of his workspace and didn’t draw attention. He looked up to find Balzar, but the other smith had already departed for the day. Vincent sighed and prepared to head up for a meal. But before he went, he was curious. He walked over to Balzar’s space.
I wonder what he’s working on.
The workspace was cleaned up and packed away. But Vincent took in the tools recently used and consumables organised and in process.
Looks like daggers, maybe a set. And something else. Maybe a great-sword?
Vincent’s musing was interrupted by a sound. It was the main door closing. It always stuck, so closing it properly always resulted in a thumping sound.
I wonder who that is. Is Balzar back for something?
Vincent crept closer, trying to stay hidden. He didn’t want to be caught snooping around Balzar’s things. The footsteps that approached sounded different. Not the usual footfalls of Balzar, and the odd clang or clunk of some materials or equipment. This person was almost silent, padding through the room.
There weren’t many lamps lit. Vincent had difficulty making out the shape. But it looked like a man. A man who didn’t belong.
Is this him? The killer?
Vincent tried to calculate the man’s destination. The way he was moving, it wasn’t balzar’s workspace.
He’s going for mine. This is not good.
Vincent crept over to a nearby pillar, using it as cover. He stole glances at the newcomer. The man kept approaching, swinging his head left and right to take in the room and look for threats. Vincent checked for weapons. He had nothing, and no armour. Just his blacksmith apron. He had locked his own sword away with Brady’s one.
Another look confirmed Vincent’s fears. The man was kneeling over the lockbox. He was fiddling with something metal, likely a lock-pick. The lock clicked open, and the man eagerly swung the box open.
There’s no time.
Vincent darted out of hiding and sprinted for the man. The launched into a tackle, knocking the thief down. One of the Runesteel swords clattered to the ground. Vincent desperately struggled to keep the other man down, kicking the sword away. But the thief was much stronger. He shoved Vincent off and went for the sword. Vincent quickly looked for the other sword. He saw it’s gleam and dove for it, retrieving the sword and falling back into a defensive position.
“So this is how it’s going to be,” the assailant said, approaching with drawn sword. A flicker of light illuminated his face. A wicked grin covering it.
“It’s you. You’re behind all this!” Vincent whispered, amazement and shock stealing the strength from his voice.
It’s that solder that stabbed Edvard.
The man laughed.
“Why so surprised? I never realised why men crave these blades. But now I understand.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It’s the power. The effortless way in which you can deconstruct a man. One piece at a time. It’s addictive.”
“You’re a monster.” Vincent’s voice was tinged with horror. He readjusted his grip on the hilt of his sword.
“Monster? Hah. Try Tyrone.” Tyrone kept advancing slowly, never letting his gaze drift away from Vincent’s eyes.
“I’m not defenceless. I’ve been training.” Vincent retreated as Tyrone advanced. The deranged soldier licked his lips.
“Part of me wants to just take this sword and go. It’s what I came for.” Tyrone paused, looking undecided. He shook his head and kept pressing forward. “But, I can’t. The lure is too great.”
“You won’t get away with this.” Vincent realised he was going to run out of space soon. Tyrone seemed to notice as well.
“It’ll be a real shame to waste your talent. I’ll drink to your skill tonight, mark my words.” Tyrone suddenly darted ahead, lunging with the blade. Vincent quickly brought up his own, deflecting the strike. The clash of Runesteel rung out through the room. There was an eerie quality to the sound. Tyrone was unconcerned and launched another attack. Vincent defended again, but had to retreat more.
You need to clear your mind. Stop thinking about how horrible he is.
Vincent pushed away the visual of Tyrone stabbing Edvard, and the other images his mind conjured up of the other victims. He pushed everything out, and focused entirely on the two blades. They were locked in a dance of their own, nothing else mattered.
And he pressed the attack. Capitalising on a slightly mistimed strike by Tyrone, Vincent used the change in momentum to strike out. Tyrone deftly parried, but Vincent didn’t pause, launching into another slash. He felt his mind start to clear, and he imagined the kind of dreamy trance he fell into when smithing.
Beads of sweat started to gather on Tyrone’s face. His evil smirk had faded into a look of concentration. The manic aggression he had displayed earlier was being replaced.
He knows that things are turning.
Vincent pushed harder. His muscles were tired and beaten, having worked extra hard all day. But he didn’t care.
If I falter now, it’s all over. And I would be giving this man two deadly weapons. Never again.
Vincent drew upon all his reserves, trying one last barrage of attacks. Left. Right. Right. Low. Diagonal slash. He saw his opening and kicked at Tyrone’s knee. The soldier’s leg turned awkwardly and he cried out in pain. Vincent adjusted the arc of his next swing, slicing through the man’s arm. His hand and the sword fell to the ground. Tyrone cried out in agony, doubling over and clutching at his bloody arm.
“It’s not over. It’ll never be over,” Tyrone howled, his face distorted with pure rage. Vincent calmly knocked the soldier over with the flat on his blade, and then plunged the tip through the man’s heart.
The same way I killed the Shade.
His composure melted away, and the blade clattered to the ground. But for now, it was over.
Want to read more?
These stories have been through only minimal editing to make them available for free online in a timely manner. Eventually they will be taken down and compiled into a book so please take this opportunity to read the story as it unfolds.