Lump of Iron

I’m going to be trying something for the next few posts — how long it’ll last, I don’t know. I’m going to try some spontaneous world-building, just by writing a bunch of stories and connecting them in the same universe. I think each one will attempt to reference a previous episode at least once. That being said, I hope you enjoy this, the first installment of that attempt!

It’s really hit or miss to find a community that has one of the works of the smith Adenso of Theslin. Some of his projects could be found in tiny villages in their own corner of the world; others had traveled over entire continents and vast seas to rest in places the smith had never even heard of before. He had made all sorts of things: orbs that could light up; self-filling drinking horns; mining equipment; farming supplies; telescopes; ships; even a strange, mechanical being which could move about on command. It was really a testament to his skill, that anyone, anywhere could find a use for his creations.

“Of course,” he would often say to those who inquired about his craft. “Sometimes the purpose is to merely sit on a shelf and be beautiful. Certainly it’s not very practical, but the purpose of impractical things are for when nothing needs to be done.”

Whenever he said this, though, the visitor would embark upon an odyssey of questions about the various items that he kept to himself in his little shop. What was its purpose? Why did he keep it? Why not use his works to build up his own empire? His answers were always quick and precise.

“That is a special kind of clock – it not only tells me when it is tea time, but serves the tea to me.”

“That is a golden elephant model, a particular favorite of mine, and no one has ever bothered to ask me to part with it.”

“I have no intention of making my own empire. I don’t need power. I just need the satisfaction of knowing my work is useful, and the joy of making things.”

After all these questions, the visitors would always end with the same one. They would point to the lump of dull iron metal on the smith’s worktable, shapeless, like some kind of art project that was angrily crushed and thrown aside. What purpose did that have? It was not beautiful, it had no practicality.

“It has a purpose,” he would always reply. “I just haven’t been informed about it yet.”

Thesule, Adenso’s apprentice, wondered even more than the visitors when the smith spoke these words. This was probably because he had heard them a thousand times, and because he knew some of the skill and power that went into each project. But while he could see the purpose in some of his master’s strangest, most abstract creations, he couldn’t see any in this lump of metal. He had even tried to throw it away on a few occasions, though Adenso quickly realized its disappearance and demanded its return.

For a very long time, the two of them lived in peace, freely distributing their creations over the entire face of the earth. But, as others would have it, time changed and so did lands, passing from the hands of a good king to those of a tyrant, King Hygasie of Evorion, who peopled his army with men like himself who were angry, spiteful, capricious, and above all greedy. While the war that had effected the changing over of lands had passed around Adenso, he quickly caught the eye of Hygasie, who sent men immediately to his shop.

Of the tyrant’s soldiers, these were some of the most angry, the most spiteful, the most capricious, and the most greedy. They arrived on six tall, arrogant horses, and swaggered into the shop, weapons proudly displayed at their sides.

“Hail, Adenso,” said one, who was clearly the leader, having the largest sword. “The great smith, maker of the swords Casecaron and Esglasa! King Hygasie greets you warmly!”

“It’s rather ironic that you should address me by mentioning my two least favorite creations,” replied the smith. “But carry on. What is your purpose here?”

“The king commands that you serve him alone, and make nothing for any other! Then you are to turn over all your creations that he sees fit to his own hoard.”

“Well, that may be arranged. But, pray tell, what exactly does your master desire me to build for him? Certainly not silver dolls or copper clocks, since he would prefer to keep such things in his vaults, where they would do no one any good.”

“He wants weapons! Not just swords or spears, though, but big weapons to kill many of the enemy! Surely you could provide him with them?”

“Oh, I certainly could, were I ever to desire to build such a monstrosity. But I shall not, because I will never desire to build anything so ugly.”

The soldiers narrowed their greedy little eyes, utterly shocked that someone would refuse the offer. But they weren’t quite so desperate yet as to use force.

“Perhaps you desire payment?” they asked. “The king is willing to give up to a third of his kingdom to you for this.”

The smith laughed. “As if I cared for payment! I do this because I find joy in it, not because anyone has forced me to do anything!”

Now the soldiers were really angry. “Then if you will not serve King Hygasie, you will serve no one!”

With that they drew their swords, advancing on the smith and his apprentice. The two hurried away to the back wall, where some spare weapons stood should a situation like this arise. Thesule was worried, though, since neither he nor his master had any real training with the blade – he hoped Adenso had some other machines to protect them.

As a matter of fact, he did, but they required some time while Thesule continued to keep his distance and the soldiers knocked over the workbench, sending creations, including the lump of iron, clattering to the floor.

“Ready!” Adenso called out, carrying a long tube and a lighted match after his apprentice, who stood opposite the soldiers, the overturned table lying between them all. The smith placed the match in front of the tube’s opening, and fire spewed forth from within, scorching the soldiers. But now the soldiers charged, evading the flame, rushing on at the two men.

Four came at the master, two at the apprentice. However, as they ran, one tripped over something and the other tripped over the first soldier, so that they both landed down on the ground, where they did not move further. They had been in mid thrust as they fell, and Thesule had fallen back as the tips of their blades came within inches of his chest.

The apprentice looked in surprise at the fallen soldiers, realizing that they had both died, having fallen on shards of glass and other tools. But what stunned Thesule the most was that what had tripped them up was the lump of iron. It had saved his life.

And then he realized he heard no sound of battle at all. He turned, only to find the other soldiers dead, burned by the tube pumping gas, and his master, now slumped to the ground, a sword shunted through his chest.

Thesule hurried over, cradling his master’s head in his arms.

“I told you everything had a purpose,” Adenso whispered. “I don’t make junk. But now I must leave, and leave it all to you. Go, and make me proud.”

He closed his eyes, and his apprentice cradled him and wept.

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