17. Not Excalibur

The blacksmith’s apprentice folded his arms. “Making a weapon without a hammer won’t be easy. What sort of thing were you thinking?” He raised his hand and rubbed his chin with a calloused thumb.

The truth was I wasn’t thinking of anything. I had come up with the idea he could make me a weapon just so I could get something for free. I certainly had no plans to go looking for a superior beast. I had visions of talking gorillas hunting me down on horseback with nets.

“Erm, well, what about something with a sharp point? If I could stab it in the eye or the ear I might get lucky and kill it in one shot.”

He nodded. Apparently he knew what I meant even though I was making it up on the spot. He moved over to a box on a table and clinked and clanked through it until he found a metal rod. It looked pretty old and worn, about the length of my forearm. A railing from a garden gate or something like that.

Over the next half hour he heated up the middle of the rod in the forge, pulling and twisting either end so the glowing red part got thinner and thinner until it finally split into two. He doused both end in the bucket of water and now had two shorter rods with pointed ends.

He inspected them both and selected the one with the more pronounced point. Then he heated up the other end, bent and curved it as it became more malleable, until he curved it right over so it looked like a cup handle.

He did this using large pliers. He didn’t have any gloves on or goggles and ignored sparks that splashed onto his bare arms. Health and safety would have had a field day.

Once he had cooled it all down in the all-purpose bucket of water, he took it over to a large grinding stone set up like a spinning wheel, with a pedal to get it up to high speeds.

It occurred to me that if they had invented the pedal and wheel already, chances are someone had also come up with the bicycle. Maurice would be devastated.

Bright, white sparks flew in all directions as he ground the end of the rod to an even sharper point.

When he’d finished, he handed over what was basically a spike with a handle. He hesitated momentarily, but then let me have it.

“It’s made of scrap, so it won’t be missed.”

I turned it over in my hand. It was certainly better than my stick. I pricked my finger with the point and a drop of blood bubbled up immediately.

“By the way,” I said, deciding to press my luck, “do you have any more scrap I could have?”

“Like what.”

“Old nails, lumps of lead, wire, anything like that? Doesn’t have to be in good condition.”

He didn’t look too keen on giving me any more handouts.

“What about the stuff on the floor?” I pointed to a rusty iron nail wedged between the floorboards.

He grimaced at the idea of me wanting trash, but shrugged and said, “Help yourself.”

I got on my knees and quickly grabbed every little thing I could find before he changed his mind, or his boss turned up. I pulled up the bottom of my shirt and put everything I found in the fold. Once I had picked the floor clean I stood up and thanked him.

“You are a strange man,” he said. I couldn’t help but feel pleased he saw me as a man, strange or otherwise. “What is your name?”

“Colin.”

“Co-leen. Even your name is strange. I’m Kizwat—” yeah, I had the strange name “—if you do manage to kill a superior beast, I will keep my part of the deal.”

I nodded. The chances of me killing a regular beast seemed very low, so a superior beast probably wasn’t even a possibility. Still, if I did manage it somehow, I would definitely come back and get this guy his hammer. My own personal blacksmith would be pretty cool.

“One more thing,” I said. “Where would I find rabbits to hunt?”

“If you go east out of town, beyond the wheatfields there are wild meadows. There should be plenty there.”

“Okay, thanks. And, which way is east?”

He pointed over my head. I could see him regretting his decision to help me already. Having got him to the point where he was actually getting annoyed with me, I decided not to push my luck any further and left.

Instead of heading back to the shed, I snuck down the side of the smithy and over a fence into a small piece of scrub land. I dumped the content of my shirt on the ground and inspected my acquisitions.

There were six nails, each at least the length of my finger, half of them crooked and all of them rusty. I did a little foraging and found a fist-sized rock which I used to pound the nails through one end of my stick. I took as much care as I could not to splinter the wood but the nails still had sharp points and went through surprisingly easily.

The result was a fearsome weapon, with vicious-looking barbs. If the nails didn’t kill you, tetanus probably would.

Excited by how well I was doing, I moved on to the leather scraps. I took a square about the size of a large stamp and poked holes in either side using the spike I’d got off Kizwat. I tied a long strip to each hole. It made a little hammock. I grabbed a handful of small stones off the ground and placed one in the cradle.

Spinning it around worked well. Getting it to release proved a bit trickier. My first attempt stayed firmly in the cradle and smacked me on the top of my head. Painful. A few goes later I got it to fly out at considerable speed. In the wrong direction, but still, it would be an effective weapon once I got the hang of it.

I estimated I had enough material to make three more. It was so straightforward I could probably make another couple using the rags left over in the clothes box back at the shed.

The other bits of metal didn’t seem to have an obvious use right now, but I wrapped them up as best I could and headed back. With my rusty nail cub and my sling of infinte ammo, I felt ready to strike fear in the hearts of rabbits everywhere.

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