Continued… (for a full list of the parts to Ancient Fire, click here)
(Previously: Lottie convinced the Khentian guard to let Elad in with her. On finding Ulaf, the man the Cloak Girl sent them to and the city’s smith, they arrange an impromptu secret meeting.)
Lottie and Elad trailed after the giant into a secluded shed outside the forge. Wood lined the walls from floor to ceiling, and she could hear the air bouncing around her ears. This was as secret as she could have hoped for.
In quick words she told of the Cloak Girl’s death and the whole story of her adventures. Then she took out the small shard of Fyre and held it out.
“This is all that’s left of it – the tip. Tell me please, can you reforge this into a sword again? Or at least into something I can fight with?”
Ulaf took it and turned it slowly in his rough hands, inspecting it and seeming to ponder over it and the girl before him and her story. After a few minutes, he held it out to her.
“If you would take this back?” he urged, something odd tinging his voice.
Lottie took it and returned it to her bag. “So… can you fix it?” she asked, biting her lip as nervousness bubbled up in her.
“It would be an easy matter. But I have spent a lifetime working with the hottest metals. My hands can withstand great heat. Never in twenty years have I been burned so as your little sword burned me. That will be the only difficulty.”
He stopped, still digesting her story. “So the Cloak Girl is gone. She was a legend, and an old friend. I will do this for you. And I will also forget to tell the king until I’ve finished.”
“Why? Is the king…?” Lottie couldn’t find words to express her thought – outside of something that might be outright treason.
“Well, no…” Ulaf answered slowly. A strange, almost mischievous gleam came into his eyes. “But he is like many kings, bold, impetuous, and has to be burned first before he will listen to wise counsel. He would demand explanations, proofs, ask interminable questions, delaying my work and wasting our time. I do not think we have time to spare for his foolishness. There will be time enough to tell him before you leave.”
“Thank you,” Lottie said, beaming at him. “I’ll forget to tell him too, then. How long will it take before it’s ready?”
Ulaf considered. “No more than two days. Leave your shard on my workbench in the smithy. I will forge it into a sword that is light but also strong, a sword like few others. A sword like Lightning,” he added, looking at Elad with his slow smile.
Elad returned the smile. “Then it will be a good sword indeed. And speaking of which, we need to get some real swords and get to practicing.”
“Tell the king the Cloak Girl sent you, and you will have everything you ask,” Ulaf told them. “He is superstitious and fears her like the plague. You don’t have to remember to mention that she is gone.”
Elad saluted. “Thank you, sir. Will do.”
Lottie pressed his enormous hand gratefully, her own feeling like a young child’s in his. Then they reentered the smithy, Lottie discreetly slipping the shard of Fyre onto Ulaf’s workbench. With a final wave, they departed up the street to the tower.
Ulaf had spoken truly. As soon as they announced themselves, they had an instant audience with the king, who seemed more than anxious to temporarily wave aside his pervious forbidding of Elad’s return, and made them welcome as guests to the tower, offering them anything in his power to grant – they had only to ask it of the servants and it would be done.
Lottie was rewarded at last with a real wash and fresh clothes, a similar set of a long tunic and loose pants at her request. When she had eaten her first hot meal in she couldn’t remember how long and slept hard for a few hours, she got a servant to take her to where he claimed Elad was, in something called a Practice Room. Sure enough, he as there, and the servant left, looking justified. Lottie’s apparent doubt of what exactly a Practice Room might be had clearly injured his sense of professional pride.
The walls were studded with swords in racks and on brackets, along with maces and axes and weapons of all kinds. The middle of the room was empty, except for a low curved table or bench at one end that housed oil, rags, sharpening stones, and other useful weapon-related equipment.
“Real swords,” Elad said, coming over with a sword in each hand. “I got them to give me my old sword Lightning back.”
“Just wait till you start using one of these. You’ll see the difference.”
“Swing it around a little to get the feel of it,” he advised.
“Yeah, of course, sure.” Lottie wasn’t really paying attention. She had again the sense that she’d dreamed, but it was lost. Still it clung like cobwebs to the inside of her mind, refusing to dislodge. She felt she was on the verge of something important, and steadily with each moment that passed she was getting a better view of it, of whatever it was that the dream had put in her mind. She was oblivious to all else.
She swung the sword, vaguely noting how much less clumsy it was and how different altogether. She noticed Elad with his sword assuming the ready position. He was saying something but her mind decided that thinking was more important than listening to whatever it was.
She didn’t even realize what she was doing as she parried his first probing strokes, more out of habit than anything else. She even ventured a few of her own. But some shadow was tickling her mind… something that was fitting together like an enormous puzzle.
A house. A quiet town. A world away from the life she knew. Playing in the sun, eating strange foods, a man and a woman she knew only two well, a city utterly different from any she had ever seen… another life, half-forgotten, half-remembered, now in plain view.
Her sword pointed listlessly out from her, not moving to even attempt a block at the overhead swing Elad was aiming. Her eyes saw another world and another life far away in perfect clarity. It was all there, so strong that she couldn’t believe she had forgotten it at all. Her parents, Jethro and Mika Samara. Cars, trains, and planes. Concrete and asphalt. Parks, department stores, phones, television, computers, credit cards, showers, water bills, apartment buildings, zoos… It was all there, right in front of her, from her first memory to the last.
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