Authors: D.K. Holmberg
opyright © 2016 by D.K
Cover by Rebecca Frank
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siran Lareth looked
at the hard lump of lorcith sitting unshaped on the gleaming anvil of his shop, thinking of all he had been through to get that single hunk of metal. He no longer noticed the bitter bite to the air of the smithy from the lorcith, not like he once had. There were many things he no longer noticed. Since leaving his family, he had changed much. Nearly dying did that to a person.
He crouched in front of the anvil, studying the lorcith and wondering where in the Ilphaesn mines it had come from. Each nugget he worked made him think back to the time his father had forced him to serve there, the attacks he had endured while serving penance for his ability, even from the boy Rsiran had left behind who shared one of his gifts.
He could already feel the lorcith pulling at him, demanding a shape. He had to patient, though, and wait for it to tell him what it wanted to become. That was one of his abilities, a gift of his bloodline: he could hear the lorcith sing to him.
With a sigh, he set the lorcith aside, knowing he couldn’t give it the time it needed. As much as he longed to heat it to glowing red, slowly work the shape from the ore, a nugget of this size could take nearly the entire night to forge, and he didn’t have time, not if he was to meet with the others as planned.
Yet… something about this piece drew him.
Knowing he should not take the time, Rsiran could not help himself. Lorcith was in his blood. And the others knew he would be late; he rarely arrived at the same time as Brusus or Haern. Before he fully knew what he was doing, he heated the small lump of lorcith and began working it with the hammer. The ore sang to him with a quiet voice, and he quickly folded it into a longer shape as he listened to it. As usual, Rsiran didn’t fight what the metal demanded of him, letting it fill him with a vision.
His father had spoken of controlling the ore, of learning mastery over lorcith. That had been part of the reason he had sent Rsiran to Ilphaesn, as punishment for his inability to control the lorcith, rather than succumb to its demands. Instead of learning how to master it, Rsiran allowed it to speak to him and became more attuned to it, better able to listen. Some might say the roles were reversed, and the lorcith controlled him.
The work did not take long. A pattern emerged that delicately spiraled in a lacy sort of charm that reminded him of the flowers Jessa wore. Under the influence of the lorcith, he envisioned it hanging from a necklace. After it cooled, he brought it to the long table cluttered with his other forgings. This would not have the same market as the knives or the sword he’d made, but he had another purpose for it anyway.
Then he checked the dwindling stack of lorcith near the forge. Eventually, he would need to Slide for more. Doing so meant visiting the mines and risking the others who mined at night, including the strange boy. After everything the boy had done to him, Rsiran still feared him, but would not put him in danger; nor would he risk being discovered by others who mined at night, He’d heard them, but did not know their location. And taking from anywhere else in Elaeavn would shine attention on himself that he didn’t need, attention from the miner or smith guild, or worse, the ruling Elvraeth family.
He glanced at the forge. Coals glowed a cool orange, but he didn’t bother to extinguish them. There was a time when such a thing would have terrified him, but having lived under the fear of his father’s berating, the constant reminder that he wasn’t quite good enough—that he would never be good enough, he’d had to find his own way to survive. Had he listened to his father, he would never have listened to the singing of the lorcith, never learned the lessons the ore itself taught him about forging, skills many of the master smiths had not even learned. Perhaps his listening was the reason his forgings fetched such a premium.
Never in Elaeavn, though. He did not dare risk that, not after what he had been through. Besides, Brusus managed to export most of what he forged and Rsiran could keep his cut. An arrangement that had worked out well for all of them.
The rest of the smithy looked little like it had when he first acquired it. The hole in the roof had long been fixed; one of Brusus’s contacts had spent days patching the hole so that water no longer dripped into the smithy when it rained, threatening to damage the iron and copper he had stored here. Rsiran had swept and mopped the floor, repairing the few floorboards that had splintered over time. Brick painstakingly repaired left the walls sturdy. Had the smithy been in any other part of the city, he knew it would have been busy, journeymen and apprentices working the forge, the sounds of hammers on metal filling the air, a heavy smoke hanging over everything like it once had in his father’s shop. But had the smithy been anywhere else in the city, they would never have found it empty.
Even the shelves had been cleaned, wiped down and now cluttered with his work. Pieces that he had forged over the last few months, each carefully made and inscribed with his mark. It still felt strange to him to think of it as his work.
“Are you coming?”
Rsiran turned and saw Jessa leaning over a long table near the back wall, closely examining his recent forgings. Some were crafted from lorcith, but Rsiran preferred not to use the metal too freely. He had not heard her come in, but he never expected to. Jessa was one of the most skilled sneaks in Elaeavn.
“You don’t sound convinced.” She smiled at him as she brushed a loose strand of her shoulder-length brown hair behind her ear. A flower with long petals colored grey and green tucked into her shirt. Her head tipped forward slightly as she smelled the petals.
Rsiran suspected he was the only one who noticed how she did that. Of course, with all the time he spent with Jessa, there were many things about her that only he noticed.
He wiped the sweat from his brow and waved a hand toward the bin of lorcith. “I could stay here all night and work if I wanted. Brusus wants…” He trailed off, trying to decide what it was that Brusus wanted. Knives were easy to sell, and they had an established market, but lately Rsiran hadn’t been able to make many knives. Decorative items were valuable, as well, but not nearly as much as weapons. Elaeavn smiths would not make weapons; doing so was not only forbidden by the guild, but by the Elvraeth council. “He wants more,” he finally finished.
Brusus hadn’t revealed why he needed the knives, only that he could sell them. That made Rsiran worry about his friend. Who did he owe? And how much?
“If it’s too much, you should cut back. This was never supposed to be hard on you. Besides, Brusus has his debt paid off.”
Rsiran wasn’t certain that Brusus had, but Jessa often had a blind spot when it came to him. “Not hard. And nothing I don’t enjoy.” Rsiran found peace while working the forge. A place where he knew he fit. Strange that his father had tried for so long to keep him from it. “Just that Brusus has committed to more than I’ve been able to manage. You know I don’t want to disappoint him.”
Jessa laughed and stepped toward him. As she neared, he smelled the light scent of the flower she wore, the sharp scent of the soap she had washed with, and the other scent that he recognized as her. Somehow, in spite of no longer noticing the bitter scent of the lorcith, he always managed to notice how she smelled.
She grabbed his hand and squeezed. “You don’t have to do this yourself. I don’t think anyone expected you to do as much as you have.”
He shrugged. “I haven’t done anything I didn’t want to.”
Jessa watched him, reading more into the comment. Both knew the toll the last few months had taken on him. Not just in learning how to use his abilities, deciding that his gift of Sliding was not the dark ability his father wanted him to believe it was, but in learning how to listen to the lorcith, learning that he could move it through that connection. That gift had saved them both, but Rsiran still hadn’t fully dealt with the consequences of what he’d done.
A man had died because of him. Because of his ability. And not just any man, but one of the ruling family of Elaeavn. An Elvraeth. And another had seen him, one he suspected part of a rebellion. Only… nothing had come from that attack yet.
That part was the most important. The thin man from the mines, the one with the scar on his head. Why had
been in the palace? And with Josun?
They were questions that plagued him, and no answers came.
If not for Jessa, Rsiran didn’t know how he would have gotten through it. Of course, if not for Jessa, he would not have been in the same situation.
At times, part of him wondered if perhaps his father had been right. Had he spent more time in the mines, he might have learned mastery over the lorcith, might have better learned to ignore its call. Instead, he learned to listen, to use its song to help him create forgings that he would never have managed on his own. But had the price been too high? What did it matter if he learned to create such works if he sacrificed the life of another to do so?
“There was no other choice,” Jessa said softly. She touched his arm, running her hand down it in a comforting way.
Had he not known better, he would have suspected that she Read him. But Jessa’s gift was Sight. Perhaps she saw the tension Rsiran felt in his jaw, the way the muscles in his neck clenched every time he thought about what had happened over the last few months. He wondered if he would ever get over it, or would he forever struggle with those memories and the nightmares that came with them?
“You should see Della. You look tired. She might be able to give you a draught that can help you sleep.”
He shrugged. “Just the work. It feels like there is so much to get done.”
Jessa frowned at him, her deep green eyes flaring brighter as she studied him. Her brown hair hung around her shoulders, longer than when he had first met her. A face he had once thought angular and harsh now looked beautiful as she worried about him. “Have you thought of bringing on help?”
He smiled, pushing away the dark thoughts that plagued him. He would need to do a better job hiding that from her. Some things he just had to deal with on his own. “Are you offering? I could use an extra pair of hands…”
Jessa punched his shoulder, relaxing as she seemingly decided that he had moved on. “The Great Watcher knows you do well enough with the hands you have,” she started. Rsiran flushed, but Jessa didn’t seem to notice. “But I meant something different. Someone you could teach.”
“An apprentice?” he asked. Jessa just shrugged. Rsiran shook his head. “I’m in trouble enough if the guild ever learns that I have an unsanctioned forge. If I were to take on an apprentice…”
Rsiran didn’t want to think of what would happen. He didn’t need any more attention drawn to him. It was not just the unsanctioned forge that would draw attention to him, but using lorcith in ways that the Elvraeth didn’t approve would do it too. Of course, were the Elvraeth ever to learn of what Rsiran had done to one of their own, his sentence would be much harsher than simple banishment.
“Besides, if we produce much more, we’ll run out of the supply of lorcith. The way it is, I won’t be able to continue much longer with what I have.”
“You think taking lorcith from the mines isn’t enough to get you into trouble. To get all of us into trouble?” Jessa asked. She didn’t say what they knew, all of them including Brusus, about what would happen were the ruling Elvraeth to learn about their access to lorcith. Banishment. Exile. They would become one of the Forgotten.
But the worst would happen to him. That was part of the fear that kept him up at night. “I haven’t been back to the mines since…” He trailed off, finishing the thought in his mind. Since he’d escaped with the sack of lorcith. Since before they had entered the palace. Since before Jessa nearly died.
Jessa pulled him toward her and looked up at him, her green eyes flashing darker for a moment. “You worry too much, Rsiran.” She kissed him on the cheek and stepped away. “Besides, when have the Elvraeth ever concerned themselves with what happens here in Lower Town?”
There was some comfort in that. Della claimed the Elvraeth fought only amongst themselves, with no concern of happenings outside their walls. That had been Brusus’s justification for explaining what happened with Josun Elvraeth, the man Rsiran had killed. Since then, there had been no sign that the Elvraeth suspected that anyone had entered the palace, much less that they’d lost one of their own. There was no evidence that Rsiran had ever been there.
Yet… he still couldn’t shake the uncomfortable way he felt. The Elvraeth might not worry about what happened in Lower Town, but after the friendships he’d made over the last few months, he did. And anything that might put those friendships at risk bothered him. What had happened in the palace had been his fault—his decision—and by revealing that he could Slide, he put the others in danger. And regardless of what Brusus and Della believed, Rsiran had seen the other man, one who might recognize him.
At least the smithy seemed protected. The entire time he had used this shop as his own, he had never seen even a sign of the constabulary. Only poverty and sickness. But that didn’t mean things couldn’t change.
And Jessa was right. He was tired; exhausted as much from the work he had been doing at the forge as from not sleeping well. He just didn’t want to think about adding another person who might learn his secrets, but maybe Brusus would know of someone who could help. Brusus seemed to have connections to everyone in Lower Town.
“Should we go?” Rsiran asked, trying to lighten the mood. “I’m sure Brusus is waiting for you to take more of his coin.”
“I can’t help it that he’s terrible at dice.” Jessa squeezed his hand. “And I made sure the door was locked.”
Rsiran snorted. “As if that matters.”
“Well… not to me. But most aren’t like me.”
Rsiran forced a smile. In spite of having Jessa alongside him, he couldn’t shake the uneasy way he felt. Since the palace break-in, they hadn’t heard anything, but how much longer could that last? How long until the Elvraeth—or worse, those who had been in the rebellion with Josun—came looking for him?