The Promised Land
Story 10 of Tales of The Wandering Blacksmith
by Vaughan W. Smith
Vincent stepped through the underbrush, finding his way back onto the path.
“There we go, I knew it was around here somewhere.” Rohan slapped Vincent on the shoulder and charged ahead.
I don’t know where he gets his energy.
The weeks and months had passed by, and if anything Rohan was getting faster and more energised. His passion and enthusiasm were infectious, though, and Vincent gave a wry smile and picked up the pace.
He’s crazy, but it keeps things interesting.
The path was narrow and looked almost unused, but it did weave through the thick bushes and around the large trees. As they progressed through the forest, Vincent started to see that they were almost to a dead end. Just past the trees was a towering sheet of rock.
“Are we going to have to backtrack again?” Vincent said. For all Rohan’s instincts and knowledge, they had definitely picked the wrong route more than a few times.
“Oh no, not a chance of that. You’re going to love this.” Rohan shouted the words before taking off into a full run. Vincent sighed and pushed himself faster, not wanting to completely lose sight of his travelling companion. True to form, Rohan stopped in front of the stone, admiring a giant crack.
“And here’s our entrance.”
Entrance is giving it too much credit. More like a splinter.
“We’re going to squeeze through there?”
“Of course. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.” Rohan turned briefly to flash Vincent a smile before disappearing into the darkness. Vincent quickly dashed forward to see what had happened. Inside the hole was completely dark, he couldn’t see anything.
Here we go.
Vincent twisted his body and carefully eased himself in. Thankfully the entrance became wider almost instantly. He found a wall with his right hand and used that to guide himself along. There was no sign of Rohan. Vincent spotted a glimmer of light in the distance and slowly made his way over.
Dust shifted under his feet, but otherwise the ground was quite solid. Each stepped was a bit more reassuring. The light grew brighter and brighter, and eventually he realised that it was an exit from the cave. A welcome exit.
As Vincent emerged from the cave, he noticed Rohan sitting on a rock, waiting patiently.
“Did you enjoy that?”
“Not particularly, but it was a surprise.”
“You haven’t even seen the surprise yet.” Rohan jumped to his feet and direct Vincent to venture around the corner. He did so without any fanfare, half curious and half dismissive of whatever Rohan wanted to show him. Vincent stopped abruptly.
“What is this?” he whispered. Down a steep incline was a nicely cultivated plain, with a cute little hamlet nestled at the rear. The presence of the town wasn’t the shock though. It was the throngs of people milling around and the abundant plumes of smoke rising up into the sky.
“This is Moonbrook my lad, and it’s the stuff dreams are made of.”
“Moonbrook? Never heard of it.”
“Any blacksmith worth their salt knows it.”
“I thought Brangtur was the place to be?”
“Oh it is. But this is the testing ground. You win the Moonbrook prize, you’ll win the respect of Blacksmiths anywhere. You’ll get your pick of forges in Brangtur.” Rohan gave Vincent a knowing smile.
“This is actually a pretty amazing surprise. Thank you, Rohan.”
“My pleasure. Now let’s go get you signed up.” Rohan practically slid down the sharp incline and was powering along towards Moonbrook. With a bit more care, Vincent followed close behind
In no time Vincent was signed up and drinking an ale at the local inn, The Moony Mallet. Right up at the bar, he and Rohan were squeezed into the corner.
“I didn’t quite catch all the rules,” Vincent said between swigs.
“There’s way too much fluffing around there. I’ll give it to you straight.” Rohan downed his ale and found a spot on the bar to place it.
“It’s like this. Only unknown or apprentice blacksmiths can enter. They’ll show you a blacksmith’s work and you’ll get five minutes to inspect it before you need to replicate it. The best one wins.”
“What kind of item will it be?”
“Changes every year. You’ll see.” Rohan grinned and turned his attention to the wait staff, trying to get their attention once more. Vincent took another swig of his ale.
It can’t be harder than what I’ve already faced.
Soon enough, Rohan had managed to buy another two ales. Vincent quickly finished the first and began on the second one.
“When does it all start?”
“Soonish, I’ll let you know.”
“You knew it was today? All that aimless wandering was to get us here at this precise time?” Vincent said. Rohan gave him a serious look.
“You can’t say that, and still call the wandering aimless. More like a well-planned journey.” Rohan took another deep swig. Vincent chuckled, shaking his head.
“You got me there. A well-planned journey that felt like an aimless wander.”
“Would you have rather it felt like an hour by hour itinerary?”
“You’re making altogether too much sense for a crazy man. Go back to your ale.” Vincent laughed and kept drinking. Rohan slammed down the rest of his drink.
“Oi, finish up. It’s time!” Before Vincent could even react Rohan was dragging him out of the chair and through the crowd.
“A little warning would have been nice.”
“Trust me, it’s better this way.” Rohan led Vincent through the town and up to a tiny cottage in the middle. There was a fair mob of people milling around, and a line of people queuing up at the front door.
“Coming through, easy there,” Rohan unceremoniously thrust himself through the crowd, almost crushing Vincent against surprised people on the way.
“Here’s my contestant, get him in there.” Rohan shoved Vincent forward, and he almost stumbled on the front step of the cottage. A stern woman with greying hair looked him over.
“He’s young enough, where’s his application?”
“Here,” Rohan presented a rolled up parchment with a flourish. The woman raised an eyebrow but accepted the paper.
“Hmm. Well, I suppose technically he qualifies.” The woman gave him back the parchment, opened the door, and ushered Vincent in.
“This is just preparation, don’t worry,” Rohan said as Vincent stepped through the door. He was in a large sitting room furnished with two chairs and a round table between them. A barrel-chested man with a bushy beard sat uncomfortably in the chair, anxiously checking the strength of the wooden legs every few seconds.
“Ah, you must be the last contestant then?” The man said was Vincent entered. He rose with the utmost care and held out his hand.
“I suppose I am. Vincent, nice to meet you.”
“Chiswick, I’m one of the judges. Please take a seat.”
“Certainly.” Vincent eased himself down, his attention now taken by the object on the table. It was a blue cloth covering something.
“Before we begin, your application please.” Chiswick gestured at the parchment and Vincent handed it over. The judge read through slowly and then rolled it up.
“This should be interesting. What you’ll see under the cloth is some materials and an item you must copy.”
“That seems fine.”
“I’m not finished.” Chiswick sighed. “You must choose one material to work in, and you will be able to handle the item for two minutes to take whatever measurements you would like. I will record your choice of material and you will go wait for your turn at the smithy.”
“Does everyone get the same choices?”
“Good question. No.” Chiswick gave Vincent a curious look.
“So there’s a right choice?”
“There are benefits and drawbacks to each choice. I would say there’s only the right choice for you.”
“Very well then.” Vincent stared at the items under the cloth, his curiosity engaged. “Let’s begin.” Chiswick nodded and lifted the cloth.
Vincent was first drawn to the large chunk of Runesteel. He looked back up at Chiswick.
“I assure you this was not pre-arranged. I can see from your application you have worked with it before. Very few competitors will be able to claim that.” Vincent nodded and turned his attention to the next item. It was a copper ingot. It was significantly smaller than the amount of Runesteel provided.
That’s not very subtle, making us choose between a more difficult material and one with much less quantity to work with . What am I supposed to make?
Vincent cast his gaze on the item on the table. It looked like a pattern of rings and bars, all jumbled together.
“What is this?”
“They’re known as Tavern puzzles. Some call them Smith’s puzzles. You’ve not seen one before?”
“No. I need to replicate it perfectly?”
“If you want to impress, then yes.” Vincent reached over and picked up the puzzle. It was wrought from iron with great skill. Each piece was well-finished and balanced. As he held it in his hands he looked over at the materials he was to work with.
“It’s not enough,” he muttered. Chiswick’s face broke out into a broad grin.
“Glad you’re beginning to appreciate this little challenge. A man with your talents would be better of using the Runesteel, no?”
He’s right. But if I win this by using Runesteel, it’ll cement my reputation. In the worst possible way. People only want Runesteel for weapons, and I’ll live a life of making weapons and feeling terrible about it.
“You have one minute left.” Chiswick let his gaze settle on the puzzle.
“Oh, right I should solve this.”
You’ve been wasting your time. Get a move on!
Vincent at first frantically wrestled with the puzzle. But it was strong and wouldn’t yield to be wrenched apart. He had to take a more methodical approach. With very little time left.
You can do this.
Vincent calmed his mind, and thought about the state he had entered into when forging his hammer. The empty, open state of mind that resulted in such a quality weapon. As he felt his mental state shifting he closed his eyes and let his hands run over the pieces.
Thunk. Clink. Clink Clink Clink.
Vincent opened his eyes and saw that the separate pieces of the puzzle were now lying on the table. He looked up at Chiswick and saw the man’s surprise before he quickly masked it with a smile.
“Well done young man. And your choice of material is?”
“Copper.” Vincent watched the look of consternation come over Chiswick’s face.
“As you wish. Go join the others outside and wait until you are called. Good luck.”
“Thank you.” Vincent gave the man a bow and left the cottage. He worked his way through the crowd in a daze, finding Rohan without too much trouble.
“So…” Vincent began.
“Not a word, lad. Ponder over your task, they’ll announce it all at the end.” Rohan clapped him on the shoulder and returned his attention to the cottage. Chiswick emerged from the front door and the crowd quietened.
“All contestants have been enrolled. They will be called in their order of registration.”
Vincent cursed under his breath.
“The first contestant is therefore Mattias.” A grew whoop went up from the crowd, and a red-haired youth rushed up the stairs and was hustled into the cottage by Chiswick. The youth did not emerge again, and in time Chiswick called the next one. So in this way they slowly worked their way through the contestants. But not knowing how many there were, Vincent was unsure how long he would need to wait. He became more tense as time went on, his glances over to Rohan more and more frequent. But his companion seemed to be relishing the delay and was energised by the chatter of the crowd.
Out of the blue his name was called and Vincent looked around in surprise. Chiswick was beckoning him over hurriedly. Vincent made his way through the crowd in a daze, and was hustled through the cottage without any ceremony. Behind the cottage he found a simple forge and anvil, with the basics required to begin his task.
“Your time is limited. Good luck.”
“How do I…” Vincent said.
“I’ll come get you when it is time.” Chiswick gave him a short nod and hurried off.
It’s on me now.
Vincent drew in a breath and calmed his nerves.
You’ve been in competitions before, you’ve dealt with a lot. This is just blacksmithing. There’s no creatures of the Blight to attack you here.
He began. The preparation process was simple, as per usual. The trick was ensuring his materials would go the distance. Even though he had a good memory of what the pieces looked like, he wouldn’t be able to rely on the size of them.
Less material means I have to make them smaller. But they still need to have the same proportions or it won’t work.
With precision Vincent worked through each piece, his usual blacksmith composure and sense winning out. But in the back of his mind was a niggling thought that something was wrong. His rational mind, however, dismissed it as nerves and kept going.
As he reached for the last piece of copper he had saved, Vincent grasped nothing at all. Surprise broke him out of his flow, and he hunted all around the work space. There was nothing more. He looked over the work he had done already. He was short one piece, but there was no more copper to work with. After a few frantic minutes retracing his steps and figuring out each piece, his filled with dread and a sinking feeling attacked his body.
I’ve used it all, but I’m missing a piece.
Vincent surveyed what he had. He wasn’t sure exactly how they would fit together. And now there was one piece missing, he had no idea how to fix it.
You idiot. You should have stuck with the Runesteel. You made a miscalculation when resizing the pieces.
A loud bell tolled a single time and a voice shouted out.
“Five minutes left.”
Vincent racked his brain, looking for an answer.
This won’t be pretty, but I need to do something.
He grabbed his tools and got to work.
Chiswick was expressionless as he took Vincent’s submission. He pointed out a path to follow and then disappeared into the cottage. Vincent took a heavy step forward and followed the path. It opened up into a garden setting with a gazebo and some benches. All of the other contestants were stationed there.
“And here’s the last. What did you get? Puzzle, Sword, or Hammer?” the red-haired youth said.
“See Sainsbury? It’s a pattern,” another smith chimed in.
“What did you forge it from?” Sainsbury asked, focused on Vincent.
“Copper. The other option was Runesteel.”
“Smart choice. It would be really hard to work the Runesteel into such a precise and slender shape in the limited time.” Sainsbury looked thoughtful.
“You seem pretty experienced,” Vincent commented.
“I’m just prepared. I’ve been following this competition, I’ve studied the challenges and quizzed previous participants. They can’t change it that much.”
He’s clever, and it’s a smart approach. He’s probably got this in the bag.
“You’ve got a nice approach, good luck.”
“I won’t need luck, but thanks anyway.” Sainsbury turned and started chatting more amongst the other smiths. Before Vincent could start another conversation there was a loud gong sound.
“That’s us, let’s go hear the verdict.” Sainsbury strode over to a metal gate, opened it, and left the garden. The throng of hopefuls followed in his wake.
I won’t win, but hopefully I’ll do right by Rohan at least.
Vincent waited until they had all left, and leisurely followed along.
The crowd outside the cottage was even bigger now. Chiswick stood with two other judges, a young woman, and a middle-aged man particularly well-dressed.
“Hey’s the mayor,” Rohan whispered into Vincent’s ear. He nodded.
“Now we can announce our finalist,” Chiswick bellowed. The crowd’s murmur died down instantly. “In no particular order, please come up Sainsbury, Fiona, and Vincent.” A wave of applause resounded through the crowd and Rohan slapped Vincent hard on the back.
“Well done. From here on, it’s all good. You’ll make your mark off this result.” Rohan beamed him a big smile. Vincent was still confused, but made his way up to the front. He had already met Sainsbury, and noticed that Fiona was a slight girl with short blonde hair and a determined expression.
“I’m Vincent. Nice to meet you and good luck,” he said to Fiona. She gave him a curt nod and kept her attention focused on Chiswick. When Vincent turned to address Sainsbury, the youth waved him away.
“First, we will present the work of Sainsbury. He was tasked with replicating this Hammer in either Runesteel or Copper.” Chiswick held up an incredibly ornate smithing hammer, inlaid with flourishes and a lightning design. There was a silence from the crowd as Chiswick reached behind him and brought out something else.
“And this is the Runesteel wonder he gave us.” Chiswick thrust out the hammer and the crowd roared appreciatively.
I suppose he’ll be the winner then.
As the commotion died down Chiswick prepared to introduce the next item.
“Second, we present the work of Fiona. She was requested to replace this shield in either Silver or Steel.” Chiswick brought out an incredibly beautiful shield. It was completely circular with a concentric circles design with an emblem in the middle. The crowd went quiet as he reached back to bring out her creation.
“Here is the silver shield she forged.” Chiswick thrust out the shield at the audience. It was a little smaller than the example shield, likely due to the more expensive material. But the detail was perfectly captured. The applause was similar to Sainsbury’s, but a little more muted.
“Isn’t it unusual for blacksmiths to work with silver?” Vincent whispered to Rohan.
“Yes. They offer these specialist materials as a way for candidates to shine. And it creates more excitement for the audience as well.”
Chiswick carefully returned the shield and readied himself for another announcement. The crowd quietened once more.
“And finally we will showcase the work of Vincent. He was asked to recreate this famous blacksmith puzzle.” Chiswick held up the puzzle. There were lots of nods in the audience and a murmur of discussion. Chiswick held up his other hand and the crowd fell silent again.
“He was given the choice of Copper or Runesteel. Here was the result.” Chiswick paused for effect. Vincent could feel the crowd leaning in, excitement bubbling everywhere. He heard whispers of ‘Runesteel’, the expectation already set by the amazing hammer created by Sainsbury.
“I present to you, the puzzle created by Vincent out of copper.” Chiswick thrust out the puzzle, all the pieces disconnected. There was no much response by the audience. Seeing the puzzle incomplete made Vincent’s heart drop.
It didn’t work, they couldn’t assemble it because of the changes I made.
“Would you mind coming up here Vincent?” Chiswick asked. Vincent sighed and made his way through the crowd. He caught questionable murmurs and comments as he walked up to the steps. Once the reached the top, Chiswick addressed them all.
“We would like to witness Vincent assembling the puzzle himself.” Chiswick held out the cloth that the pieces were all sitting on. At first Vincent drew a blank, forgetting exactly what he had done.
Don’t freeze up, just because you’re on the spot. Clear your mind, remember how you did it.
Vincent started with two pieces, slowly reassembling the puzzle. Once complete, he turned it over a few times to make sure it was correctly assembled and nothing would fall off. He handed the puzzle back to Chiswick. The judge eyed it curiously and tugged at a few pieces.
“Intriguing. What you cannot see from down there, is that Vincent has modified the design. When given the challenge of recreating it with less materials, he made a necessary change that actually increased the difficulty. The standard shortcuts no longer work.” Chiswick gave Vincent a curious look, and then handed over the puzzle. Confused, Vincent held it for a few moments, before beginning to unlock the pieces. Once he had finished, a huge roar went up from the crowd. Vincent turned to Chiswick.
“Ah, as expected. You have complete mastery over this challenge.” Chiswick glanced back at the other judges. After a few moments he nodded and faced the crowd.
“And the winner is… Vincent!” Chiswick paused to let the roar of applause flare up and die down a little. “His ingenuity in the face of difficult odds, and creating an improvement to the design no less, show his talent and skill. Congratulations.”
Vincent felt all eyes on him.
I don’t understand. How did I win?
He glanced over at Rohan. The man was wearing a broad grin. Vincent was presented with a medal and more applause washed over him. He shook so many hands that he lost track, and eventually he was back at the inn with Rohan.
“Lad, you proved my faith in you today.” Rohan was beaming with pride.
“I’m still shocked.”
“You have a real talent, and a real ingenuity for seeing solutions. And the reputation you built today will get you in the door at any establishment in Brangtur. Oh you have a fantastic career ahead of you.” Rohan shook his head, a wry smile on his face. “I just wish I could be around to see it.”
“What do you mean?” The warm glow around Vincent faded, his focus sharply back on the present moment.
“Brangtur is not the place for me. I’m going to begin my travels once again.”
“But we came all this way? We travelled the whole world!”
“Aye, we did. And it was a great trip. But we are on different paths, and here our paths diverge.” Rohan sighed. “What an amazing end to the trip.” He stood up from the bar and Vincent rose with him.
“You sure you can’t at least come to Brangtur?”
“Sorry lad, no. I’d just be starting to plant roots again, and it’s not for me. Certainly not in a place like that, once it has it’s hooks in you, you’ll never leave!”
“I’m a little surprised, that’s all. But now that I think about it, I should have expected this.”
“Don’t worry, everything is as it is meant to be. Take care of yourself, and don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” Rohan cracked a big smile.
“That certainly leaves my options open.” Vincent laughed and gave his friend a hug.
“That’s my cue. Safe travels, wherever they take you. And think of me when you reach those gates.”
“I will, friend. Thanks for bringing me halfway around the world. Safe travels, wherever they take you.” Vincent waved goodbye, and in moments Rohan had navigated his way out of the inn.
Now what? I suppose I need to get myself to Brangtur. It was the whole point of this.
The gates of Brangtur rose up in the distance. Great bronze domes, topping rising stone walls, all integrated with a shining array of metalwork.
Oh now this is a wonder.
Vincent stopped walking, he couldn’t help admiring the city, even starting to consider how the metal was forged and fixed to the walls and gates.
Thanks Rohan for helping me here. This is where I need to be, where I can lose myself.
Vincent started off again, taking steps towards his future.