Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Iron Lily (Part 2)

Halthor looked around Aleric's house slowly, attempting to impress to memory each sight before him before his gaze fell on Aleric. The man himself was busy filling a pack with food. While Halthor was willing to pack his own goods, Aleric insisted. Sitting on the table between them was an iron headed hammer. Heavy enough to possibly carve stone with a decent chisel, Aleric's favorite hammer bore a mark on it that was different from what Halthor had seen on any other tool that Aleric owned. A stylized lily was impressed into the side of the head of the hammer, a mark that looked more fitting for a nobleman's goods than a builder's tool.

Halthor had asked Aleric where he had gotten the hammer many times in the past. Aleric always put the conversation off to another day. Now, with Halthor leaving on the next day's dawning, the question was forgotten from Halthor's part but pressing on Aleric's mind. Aleric glanced at the hammer on the table. "My father received that hammer as a gift," Aleric said, hastily looking away when Halthor's attention turned to him. "It was given to him by a man who was in the king's service and bore the mark of the stag on his right wrist," Aleric continued, shifting a few items in the pack so that he might fit a small leather pouch of herbs and spices into it, "On that day, my father killed a man. It was a crime that should have had him hanged, except for the fact that the man my father killed proved to be a spy. My father caught that man from the south on the verge of defiling the king's daughter. The king's bodyguard caught my father with his hammer in hand and the spy laid out at his feet, stone dead. The princess plead for my father's life."

Aleric looked over at Halthor. "My father was a man who was in the wrong place at the right time. He was a journeyman who had come into the stables looking for his master. When he saw what was happening, he pulled the man off of the princess and drove his hammer between his eyes," Aleric's voice had dropped into a low, troubled tone as he spoke, "The king's chief adviser came to him in the chamber where the guard kept him. He brought word of royal pardon and a reward. When my father left the palace, he bore this hammer and the epithet of 'the avenger.' I thought this was a story that my father told to entertain me in the evenings."

Aleric's hands settled upon the pack. "Aleric the Avenger became a master builder in his own right," Aleric said with something that sounded almost like regret, "When the king was in need of a man to build a new bridge over Sweetwater, he sent for my father. When he was in need of someone to rebuild the wall at the river's edge, he sent for my father. I was a journeyman when that wall was finished. Twice as wide and just as high as the ones about the palace, the west wall was the first of the six built around the city. My father planned them all. He died before they were finished." Uneasy silence built up between Halthor and Aleric.

"My wife died in childbed," Aleric said, "I married her in a desperate effort to forget your mother. And then ... Then you came to me and I had an heir." Aleric looked over to Halthor, his eyes shining with unshed tears. "I was ready to take this hammer and avenge her. Your father is the spawn of the darkling prince himself. But I couldn't leave you with no one in this world or let you go back to that man to be killed. Sigrid was the kindest, best woman to have walked this world. Now she lives on in you."

Halthor took a step around the table towards his master. Aleric held up a hand and his journeyman apprentice halted before he drew closer. "You speak as though you're never going to see me again," Halthor said, "I will be back when the autumn leaves fall. I ..."

Aleric's voice was harsh as he said, "You will not be in my home again come next winter. I will not see you after this." Halthor's expression turned pained. Aleric's frustration bled out of him as he sighed. "I am an old man, Halthor," Aleric said, "I haven't lost my wits yet. I haven't grown weak, yet. But I am old. The priestesses of the Good Mother have told me that my death draws near. They have always spoken true. Tomorrow will be the last time I will see you in this world. This is but the first of the signs they had given me."

Halthor replied, "This is not a sign of your doom. You misunderstand them. Their soothsaying is cryptic and can mean anything." Aleric's expression hardened as frustration returned to his gaze. "You're not as old as you say you are," Halthor continued gesturing towards him, "You have a bit of frost in your hair, and your beard if you let it grow, but so do many men. And they live to an old age."

"Halthor," Aleric said sharply, "Be quiet and listen." Halthor restrained the urge to argue with Aleric further. "This is no mere hammer. There is something queer about it. Every blow struck with it is true. Strike with any chisel and you can carve even the hardest stone. Be careful with it. I would argue that my father's good luck came from it, though in my youth I thought it was his hard work and the king's favor," Aleric explained, "I am sending it away with you. It will keep you safe on your journey. Though sending it away will be my doom."

Halthor looked at the hammer on the table. "Take it," Aleric said after an uncomfortably long silence, "It is the first of the tools I have for you." Halthor looked at Aleric, ready to argue he was not ready to be a master builder. Aleric reached over and put a work hardened hand on Halthor's wrist. "You are ready and I am old. You can not go south a journeyman. The guild here has been eager to name you among their number. They'll do it in your absence. It is better you leave with the tools you will need and the title than returning to Starhaven with out them and my work to finish," he cautioned. Halthor sighed. "Go, sleep. I haven't much need for it anymore," Aleric said. Halthor recognized that his master, his adoptive father, would not permit further discussion, though Halthor said next to nothing.

As Halthor mounted the stairs up to the second story where two small rooms waited them, a bed for each hidden in their gloom, Aleric watched him. Aleric looked down at the leather sack. He tugged on the straps over it and nodded when he found they resisted his hardest pull. "Three days," Aleric said sadly, "Gods willing he will be well to the south before he gets the pangs of homesickness." The master builder looked about his kitchen. His heart was heavy and pained. His blue eyes glanced up at the ceiling where he heard Halthor cross the room to his bed.

Silent tears for the grief that was to come to the young man that refused to leave him but by a king's order rolled down Aleric's cheeks. He then brushed them away before briskly setting to work packing the next bag for Halthor. Aleric opened a chest that sat near the door. He pulled out the heavy linen wrapped parcel. As he set it on the table and uncovered the tools within, Aleric wondered if his father worried over the tools he gave him at the end of his apprenticeship. Caught in such maudlin thoughts, Aleric was up late into the night.

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