© Don Ferdinand

published in ANVIL Magazine, December 1997

Aravon had no cause to feel apprehensive. The chill autumn air carried the sweet smell of fresh-cut hay and the bird songs told a tale of avian feasting. Winter was on the way and with it the promise of spring.

Aravon's farm in the mountains had prospered. The barn was full of hay and corn and the root cellars had not a single corner left to be filled. The sheep and cows were fat and healthy and all the fields and gardens were cleaned and plowed and fertilized, and waiting for the spring planting.

The pack horse that Aravon led through the settled low country was laden with some of the finest work the warrior- blacksmith had ever produced. The contents of the pack baskets represented the work of an entire summer. The cool mornings were spent at the forge, the ringing of hammer and anvil producing the fine forgings that only needed judicious file and finish work to gleam like polished silver.

Though the swords and daggers were mounted in precious metals and sheathed in elegant leather and rare woods, the real value lay hidden in the heart of the steel. No blade made by Aravon had ever shown a flaw or failed its owner in time of need. The same could be said of the more common tools the smith produced. A chisel, an ax or a work knife made by Aravon was the pride of any craftsman's tool chest.

Aravon had been selling his wares in the City of Falcons for several years. There were many shop owners in the city who would buy arrowheads, knives and cutting tools from no other smith. He could never keep up with the demand for his work. Today he would not sell these wares to his usual vendors. Today he would establish a small table under a great spreading of oak branches on the outskirts of the city.

This grove of ancient trees had been the site of many gatherings through the years and the City of Falcons took great pains to keep the forest floor free from brush and brambles. Most of the great religions of the city gathered here on holy days and the grove had seen more than one political assembly.

There would be other blacksmiths, silversmiths, goldsmiths and coppersmiths all under the banner of the Great Guild of Metal Workers. Many craftsmen at this convocation would be showing projects; on which they had been working for the past five years - the time of the last Metal Workers' Fair. Some of these artisans would have small workshops under the trees and demonstrate their skills to potential customers and their fellow metal men as well. It was a chance for Aravon to talk to his fellow smiths and trade information. He would also talk to the users of his wares and find out their wants and needs when they put their hard-earncd gold and silver on the table. He had worked hard for the last five years and he was looking forward to this assembly of his pews and patrons; it was high time for some celebration.

Aravon had no cause for apprehension, but he felt it just the same and the war horse between his legs felt it through him. He stroked the horse's neck and spoke in a soft voice, "Steady, Shuko. The trail is smooth and the weather clear."

The hairs on the back of Aravon's neck had been placed there by the One Maker for a reason and when those hairs rose and fell, he paid attention to them. That faith in his warrior's sense had saved his life often in the past and it spoke to him now.

Though Aravon could see no trouble or fix a direction where danger might appear, he felt a vague discomfort. He shrugged his broad shoulders and decided that his unease was due to excitement over the coming fair. It was well after sunset when Aravon rode into the oak grove. The moon would not rise for another hour and the stars glittered in a sky of inky blackness. Under each of the huge oak trees men had pitched tents and were cooking over small fires or on iron braziers.

He began looking for the tent of his friend Tong. This was not the name his parents had given him. If anyone knew his birth name, they did not feel safe using it in his presence. Tong was the largest man Aravon had ever seen. Though he was even-tempered and slow to anger, no sane man would want to produce that emotion in him. His name came from his profession of making specialized tools for other metal craftsmen of the Guild. Founders, tinsmiths, armorers, and all men who did not work iron preferred to have their tools made by ling.

Aravon and his mounts were tired and the assembly in the grove was vast this year. He decided to unload and bed down and seareh for his friend in the morning. As his foot touched the ground, he heard a familiar voice of Tong in the darkness.

"Aravon - over here. I have hot tea and I have saved you a large bowl of goat stew."

Not a stone's throw away stood Tong next to a large brown tent. He had already started in Aravon's direction and as he walked forward in a broad, shuffling gait, Aravon's face split into a wide grin. In the year since Aravon had seen him last, Tong had grown even larger. Though the food was excellent, it had been a long ride and Aravon was starting to drift off to sleep halfway through his second bowl of stew.

Aravon woke to the sun shining on his face through the branches of the oak trees. He saw his friend Tong cooking cereal and dried fruit over a small fire. The smell of mint tea brewing drew him to the fire like iron to a loadstone.

"What can you tell me about this gathering of metalworkers?" asked Aravon.

"There is a good deal of gold and silver being traded for those with good stock to sell. I have seen no new methods or materials. Then ;we some new faces this year and most of our old friends are here again. Tong fell silent for a second or so, as though he were not sure what to say. Then he began again. "There is one new face that I think you should see for yourself."

Aravon's right eyebrow raised slightly. He knew that Tong would say no more and that he must wait until he was shown Us person and could form his own opinion.

After first meal, Tong led the way through the oak trees to where a young man had set up a forge and was making a large ax before a crowd of about 30 potential customers. He first cut a footing piece of iron from a six-inch wide bar of 1/4-inch stock. The ends of this billet of iron were widened to form the blade of the ax. The space between the blades was then wrapped around a mandrel to form the eye. A piece of carbon steel was placed between the iron blades and forge welded into a one-piece bit of iron and steel. The surface of the axe was cleaned with a wire brush and the edge trued with a file. It seemed to Aravon that the work could have been done in fewer heats and that the blows of the smith were inaccurate. Even so, the work was clean and well formed. Aravon did not see how this could have been done.

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Once the ax head was finished, a handle was installed and the smith placed his mark on the work. The smith used a steel stamp with his mark filed onto the end. The stamp was placed on the side of the ax and then struck with the polished face of his forging hammer. This action left Aravon in open-mouthed amazement. Aravon also placed his mark on his work this way, but he kept an old hammer for this purpose. This was the only hammer to strike a chisel, cutter, or other forging tool. He would never have used a forging hammer for such work. Striking cold steel this way would place marks on the hammer's face that would be reproduced in reverse on the work being forged. It Would be repeated on the surface of the hot iron with every blow of the hammer.

When the fee for the ax had been paid, Aravon stepped forward and extended his hand. "I wish to welcome you to the gathering. This is my good friend Tong. I am Aravon."

The young smith stepped forward and took Aravon's hand in a firm grip. "I am called Perlon. I thank you for your welcome."

I have never seen a hammer like the one that you use. How did you come by it?" Aravon asked.

Perlon hesitated for only a second and said, "I was taught as an apprentice to make the hammer. It was the only hammer that my master would use."

"May I be permitted a closer look at it?" Aravon asked.

Perlon's eyes narrowed with suspicion, but he sensed that the warrior before him could be trusted. He shifted his hold on the handle to a grip near the head of the hammer and extended it. He did not release his hold when Aravon wrapped his hand around the end of the haft. The handle was made from wood of a deep red color and seemed to be hard and dense. It was long and slender with a knob at the end. The hammer head was double faced and weighed about three Pounds. One face was circular and convex. The opposite face was square and flat with edges that were gently rounded. Both faces were polished to a high luster. There was no mark or blemish on either of them.

"It is an excellent piece of work. We will not keep you from your customers. Perhaps you would like to join us for our evening meal. We will eat at the hour of the first stars; is that time convenient?"

Perlon hesitated again, but nodded in agreement. "Until then," he said.

As they walked away, Aravon said to Tong, "I fear that a terrible thing has been done. I think that our new friend is in great danger. I will tell you when I learn more."

Aravon spent the day talking with customers and taking orders for future work, but Perlon's strange hammer was always in the back of his mind.

When Perlon arrived at Aravon's camp, the wares had been cleared from the low table and placed in the pack saddles. The table was set with a bowl of lamb stew, dark bread, and bottles of wine, tea, and spring water. Tong was putting oil lamps on the table when Perlon arrived. He walked into their camp carrying the strange hammer in his right hand. His smile and easy ways made him welcome in any gathering.

Aravon found himself liking Perlon. He laughed easily and usually had something interesting to say. Though he found himself liking Perlon, he watched every move that his guest made

Perlon drank and ate bread with his left hand. His right hand was always on the haft of his hammer as it rested in the crook formed by his crossed legs. The only time his right hand was not on the hammer was when he used that hand to eat a spoonful of lamb stew During those moments, he kept the hammer in his left hand.

The evening passed in pleasant conversation about the many things that happen to men who share lives of fortune and adventure - the close calls they've had, the opportunities they missed, women they had loved (and usually lost) and all the times of their lives both good and bad. They did not discuss the arts of the blacksmith.

The meal had been completed. They were on their second cup of a rich red wine made with plums and honey. Aravon and Tong leaned back against their saddles, and a pack saddle had been fetched for Perlon's comfort.

Aravon casually asked of Perlon, "Did the sorcerer charge a great deal the for hammer?"

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Perlon started from his seat, the hammer clenched tightly in his hands. He glanced from Tong to Aravon with terror in his eyes and flight on his mind. Aravon stopped him with a motion of his hands; both were extended palm outward. He said in a soft voice, "Easy, my friend, we mean you no harm or discourtesy. You need not answer if you wish not to."

Perlon settled back in his seat. He was still uneasy, but the need for urgent flight was gone for the moment. "How did you know?"

"I have seen such things before," replied Aravon. "Is it getting harder to take your hand from it?"

"It is. I paid a high price to the sorcerer, as you have guessed. It was well worth the cost. In a year or so I can afford a small farm and will be able to find a wife. All this is worth a little discomfort."

At this point, Perlon rose to his feet. "Thank you for your kindness and for the companionship of your table. The sun rises early tomorrow and I will have much work to do. I hope we can meet again. "

The next day Aravon was kept busy at his table. He was well known for the quality of his edged weapons and cutting tools. He sold much of his stock and took several custom orders that would keep him in work for several months.

Throughout his day, thoughts of Perlon and the sorcerer's hammer ran through his mind. At midday, Aravon put what was left of his wares in the pack baskets and closed his table for the rest of the day.

His mind flashed back to his stay at Grayrock Monastery and the afternoon that his friend Quon had sought him Out after a long day of working at the forge. Aravon was preparing for his bath before the evening meal.

Quon's bass voice stopped him in the hall halfway to his quarters. "Aravon, I have arranged for you to study with me tomorrow; there are things you must know before you leave Grayrock. We will meet in the library after first meal. There I will instruct you in the sorcerer's art."

Aravon was too stunned to reply. He went to his bath and evening meal in silence. The next day was spent in the vast halls of the library. Aravon was drilled in every aspect of the sorcerer's art. He was taught how to recognize it when he found it, how to smell it and see it, how to sense it and hear it, and how to avoid it. He was taught never to use it or dabble in its effects. He was shown all the reasons to fear and despise it.

These things came back to him as he took from his kit a small wooden box that held a bar of soap. He shaved several thin curls off the edge of the bar with the knife from his belt and dropped them into a cup. He then poured boiling water over the soap chips and used a wooden spoon to mash the soap into a paste. When the soap had dissolved, more water was added until the cup was half filled with liquid soap. Aravon tested the soap by making a circle with his thumb and forefinger. He placed these fingers into the clip. When he removed them, a film of soap covered the opening. He could see clearly through the soap film and when he blew through it, he produced a bubble that drifted on the faint breeze.

He walked to the place where Perlon was working at his forge, his hammer rising and falling in a regular cadence. Aravon sat quietly under a huge oak tree and gazed Lip into its branches. He willed his mind to clear and his body to be calm. He placed the thumb and forefinger of each hand into the cup and covered them with the soap solution. He then placed the crotch made by his thumbs and forefinger on top of each other. When he drew them apart, his hands formed an oval frame with a soap film stretched over it.

Aravon opened his eyes and looked through the lens that the film in his hands produced. His trance-like state revealed the truth he dreaded and turned his blood to ice water in his veins.

Before him stood Perlon as he removed a billet of iron from the fire and began work. The hammer which had cost him so dearly was gripped in the hand of a one-armed and greenscaled demon. This apparition possessed a massive pair of fanged jaws and they were clenched on Perlon's right arm nearly to the shoulder. As Aravon watched, the demon's jaws moved a fraction of an inch higher up the arm of a condemned blacksmith. The arm of the demon rose and fell as the hammer of disaster pounded out its ringing notes of doom.

Aravon closed his eyes in sorrow. When he opened them again, the soap film was a bubble that floated on the breeze, to the delight of small children as they frolicked on the grass. Perlon was again swinging his cursed hammer.

As Aravon walked back to his camp, the final words of Quon's lesson thundered in his ears. "Do not dabble in the works of sorcerers, Aravon you will surely become ensorcelled."

There was only one thing left to do - the only thing he could do.

There was no help for Perlon; he had sealed his fate when he had accepted a magic hammer that was not a hammer. He had paid a high price for a demon that would consume him.

Aravon walked to the oak tub in his camp. He plunged his arms into the clear, cold water and washed the soap from his hands.

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