Chapter I

Part I
The Sword and the Stone

It was just before the crack of dawn on a calm morning in Enghor. Much of the city stood still, for a majority of its inhabitants rested their heads for a few final moments before they began their day. Overlooking the mountainous settlement from the rear was the king’s castle. From this vantage point, one could see every nook and cranny of the entire city, which stretched down the remainder of the mountain to the level ground far below. One could see past the exterior walls of the city and gaze upon the vast fields that extended their hilly contours to the horizon. The walls themselves protruded from the base of the mountain and secured the city to it. A city of stone, Enghor was, truly, a part of the mountain, just as the mountain was a part of it.

It was not long before the sun slowly began to peek over the distant horizon, shining its rays onto the quiet city. This silence was broken, however, when the castle bell tower rang once, twice, three times, then four, five, and six. It was around this time that many awoke from their slumber, but in one small shop adjacent to the castle wall, the irrefutable clank of steel on steel rang out in accordance with the bell’s tolls.

It was in this establishment of stone and wood that Gomerick, a tall, strong man of thirty-two years, and one of the city’s finest smiths, was busy forging his latest project: a sword for the king’s son, Rigoberto. He was one of three smiths selected for the job, as he, the castle blacksmith, and a bladesmith, whose domicile resided closer to the entrance of the city, were to each individually craft what was to be the finest sword in the kingdom. In the end, Rigoberto would be presented with the three swords and choose the one of his liking. It was considered an honor to be given the opportunity, so only the creator of the chosen sword would be rewarded, but it was to be handsomely. It was this prospect that had Gomerick working like a man possessed.

Gomerick was already in the midst of creating the blade within the course confines of his work room, for he had spent day after grueling day heating and hammering steel to form it. However, this step was completed by midmorning, and his body was at last granted a reprieve, for it was time to normalize the blade. In essence, the steel would be heated and cooled evenly in order to reduce stresses built up within the body of the blade. An oft introspective man, Gomerick used the time it took for the steel to slowly cool in the air to reflect. This was far and away his most prestigious project, but even this did not replace a feeling he had begun to experience in recent moons. It was a longing for something more.

This thought had little time to come to fruition, though, for a soft voice called for the lone smith from the other room, “Gomerick, are you busy?”

Gomerick turned to see a young child standing in his doorway, holding a red apple.  “Amalrich! What brings you here?” He stood up to greet his small friend, and gave him a hug.

“I brought you your favorite. But don’t tell my parents; they don’t know I brought you one.”

Gomerick smiled and ruffled the boy’s hair. “Well thank you; and worry not, my lips are sealed. ‘Tis funny you chose to come when you did. I was nearly ready to make my way over to your parents’ shop.” The two stood in silence for a moment before Gomerick sighed, shook his head, and smiled as he added, “I imagine you would like a break from serving food, would you not?”

Amalrich nodded and asked, “Do you suppose I could maybe watch you work on that special sword for a while?”

Gomerick gestured to the sword behind him and replied, “I would be more than happy for you to, but alas, I must wait for it to cool.” He bit into the apple as the boy frowned. “Although, I see no problem in letting you watch after I grab a bite to eat. By then it should be ready.”

Amalrich beamed and started dancing around as if he were about to wet his trousers.

“This is on one condition, however. Your parents must grant you permission first. Understand?”

Amalrich rapidly nodded his head up and down.

“Excellent. Follow me.” Gomerick led the boy out of his shop and the two made their way down the cobblestone road to the boy’s parents’ shop. Like Gomerick’s, their shop was located along the exterior of the castle wall as well. By now the city was wide awake, and the streets were filled with men and women performing their daily tasks. Merchants lined the castle wall and scurried about selling their goods, while simple residents casually followed the flow of traffic and stopped at whatever shops struck their interest. Tourism was a commonality in this part of the city, as King Wilhelm’s castle, home to one of the most prominent men in all of Friedünn, stood but a few paces away. While only those with official business could make their way within the gates, travelers and residents alike regularly flocked to this higher class district for a chance to meet royalty and take in the sights. It was a rarity to meet anyone of importance, but it never hurt to eat at some of the finest eateries in the land as consolation. For the majority of those whom were unable to afford to dine with the wealthy, there were smaller shops to satisfy their appetites, and it was at places like these that Gomerick preferred to eat; not for a lack of funds, but rather to keep his head in the right mindset for his line of work.

The two reached the small, wooden shop and found that it was bustling with customers. There were but a few tables in the cramped quarters and they were packed full, while an innumerable amount of people buzzed around the front counter, trying to quickly grab food for their families. Gomerick had finished his apple and tossed the core aside before entering so as to avoid letting Amalrich’s parents see. They maneuvered their way through the entrance into a sea of hungry patrons, and made their way to the counter.

Amalrich’s father, Ermin, spotted his son and yelled over the crowd, “Where have you been? Your mother needs you in the back!” He then spotted Gomerick and shook his head. “Back at Gomerick’s again?” He turned to Gomerick. “I hope he didn’t slow your work as well.”

“No, no, Ermin, it’s quite alright. I was actually on my way here when I ran into him.”

Ermin could tell Gomerick was stretching the truth for his son, as it could be seen in his face, but he replied, “Alright, well feel free to accompany him to the back and grab some food for your troubles if you’d like.” He immediately went back to serving the frenzying customers.

“Thank you.” Gomerick gestured for Amalrich to lead the way.

When they did reach the kitchen in the back of the shop, Amalrich’s mother, Irma, was scrambling to keep up with preparing bread and stew. She noticed the two enter and greeted their guest. “Hello, Gomerick.” Gomerick smiled and she immediately turned to Amalrich and scolded him, saying, “And what made you think you had permission to run off like that? During the busiest time of day, no less, and to go bother this poor man, who I’m sure is quite busy as well. Get over to that stew and start stirring.”

Amalrich scampered off and Gomerick approached the boy’s mother. “Really, Irma, he was no trouble. Believe it or not, I was on my way to come purchase some food when I saw him.”

He attempted to hand her a gold coin, but she shook her head as she sliced up a loaf of bread. “No, no, no, I’m not taking that after all the times you’ve watched after Amalrich. Amalrich, get a bowl for Gomerick.”

“I insist. Besides, it’s typically him that watches me.” He spoke lightheartedly, but his good intentions were thwarted by Irma’s cold shoulder. Amalrich handed Gomerick a bowl and he took a sip of the steaming stew. “Ah, that is just what I needed. I must say, the owners of this place sure know how to brew a stew.”

At this, Irma smiled sarcastically, rolled her eyes, and asked, “What is it you want, Gomerick?”

Gomerick smiled, too, and replied, “It isn’t necessarily what I want … ” He paused as Amalrich exited the kitchen to bring fresh stew and bread to the front. “ … but what your boy wants. He’s growing up as quickly as ever and his interests lie far from this shop, as I am sure you’ve come to realize. Stop me if I sound forward, but I would like to show him more of what I do.”

Irma replied promptly. “I apologize, but I must interject. I’m afraid Amalrich isn’t ready for a commitment like that. Sure, he’s interested now, I’ll give you that, but boys his age are interested in swords and daggers one day and mixing potions the next. Besides, his father and I need him here.”

“I understand, but I must persist. There will always be his elder brother, Hendrick. He will do fine in taking up the family business in the future. I have spoken with him on many occasions and he seems intent upon following in his father’s footsteps. Amalrich, on the other hand, as much as you do not wish to hear it, is different. He shows promise in a craft that receives tremendous respect—not to say that running a restaurant demands less—and you owe it to him to allow him to find his own path. I do not intend on smithing forever, and I would be a much happier man if I could pass on a fraction of my knowledge to the boy before I cease.”

Amalrich’s mother bowed her head and, without looking up at Gomerick, said, “I shall speak with his father, but I believe it is time for you to go.”

“Very well.” Gomerick bowed and, before exiting, added, “I appreciate the meal. It is fine indeed.”

He walked into the main service room and Amalrich noticed his departure. “Gomerick! Where are you going?”

“I must return to my work, just as you must to yours. Your parents need you here for the time being.”

“But what about me coming over to watch you work?”

“Remember our deal? You must receive permission first, and your mother said you need to help with the shop so long as it remains busy. Speak with her when things die down.”

Amalrich’s heart sunk as he somberly replied, “Okay.” He went back to serving food with Hendrick, and Gomerick took his leave.

Gomerick spent the remainder of the day working on the prince’s sword. The blade had sufficiently cooled, and just in time to be heated for the next step. He steadily placed the blade above the scorching fire before him until it was red hot, then slowly lowered it into a bath of water to cool it. It required a remarkably steady hand to submerge the blade evenly, but it was a dance that Gomerick had performed countless times. The resulting sound of water boiling in a flash and turning into steam was music to Gomerick’s ears. He performed this step—quenching, as it was called—in order to strengthen the alloys in the blade.

The subsequent step was to temper the blade by heating it again, but at a lower temperature than before. This procedure slightly reduced the hardness of the blade to ensure that it would not become too brittle and fracture under stress in the future. However, Gomerick had recently developed a method of tempering that he liked to call differential tempering. It was much more tedious, but allowed for the edges of the blade to remain harder than the rest of the body. He had yet to perfect the practice, but knew it was befitting of royalty. In Gomerick’s eyes, there was no question as to whether or not he would try. He provided heat squarely down the middle of the blade in accordance with a fuller. As it warmed, the colors of the steel eventually began to fluctuate, and Gomerick attentively awaited the precise moment to remove the blade. This moment did not take long to arrive and, when it did, Gomerick knew he had achieved something special. The colors cooled as consistently as they ever had, and the double-edged blade was left with a remarkable groove down its center. Taking a seat, he allowed his adrenaline to subside. He was so engrossed in his work that he had not noticed that night had descended upon the city. As he took a deep breath, the fatigue of working so intensely began to creep in. In almost no time at all, his eyes grew weary, and his face long. It was time to call it a night.

The following day, Gomerick worked by fire’s light in the early morning’s darkness. He spent hours grinding and sharpening the sword’s long edges with deadly precision. Sparks sporadically lit up the room along with the steady flickering of flames, and he continued to grind nonstop until he achieved an edge he was satisfied with. It was risky business working in the inconsistent lighting, but this forced him to be all the more focused on the task at hand. When the sun finally did rise, it did so nearly identically to how it had the day previous. By the time the castle bell tolled six times, Gomerick was ready to polish the blade. This had always been Gomerick’s favorite step, as it allowed him, at long last, to admire its lethal beauty.

Gomerick continued to work well into the morning, until Amalrich came rushing in, holding a piece of parchment high above his head. “Gomerick, take a look at this!” he exclaimed.

Gomerick continued to polish the blade and asked, “What is it? What does it say?”

“It’s a declaration by Oberon from the king’s castle.” Amalrich began reading the best he knew how. He was very well educated for his age. The note read:

To the people of Enghor,

I, Oberon, am searching for an assistant. I find myself in need of someone, man or woman, who can help me with the composition of my works, and with minding my quarters. You will be compensated with permanent residence within the castle walls so long as you continue to fulfill the role as my assistant. If you are interested, please return a letter, addressed to me, explaining why you are fit for the position. I shall contact whomever I choose to fill the role.

                                                                                                Best Regards,

                                                                                                      Oberon

“That would be quite the position, I must admit. Can you imagine?” Gomerick’s mind began to drift.

“I know!” Amalrich yelled.

Gomerick snapped back into focus. “Amalrich, I have a very serious question for you. Take your time to really think about your answer.” Amalrich nodded in understanding, and Gomerick continued, “What do you see yourself doing when you’re older? Running your parent’s shop, or something else, perhaps?”

“Well … ” Amalrich started to think as he scratched his chin with his small, bandaged hand. “I would like to work with you. Is that okay?”

Gomerick sighed heavily and said, “You know I would be more than happy to teach you to become a blacksmith or a bladesmith; anything you’d like. The only problem is I would not feel comfortable doing so unless your parents allowed it … ” Gomerick paused when he noticed Amalrich cringe at yet another mention of his parents. “Is something wrong?”

Amalrich immediately put his hands behind his back and slowly retreated. “No, everything’s fine.” He murmured.

Gomerick got up and grabbed Amalrich’s arms. Amalrich initially resisted and squirmed in pain, but eventually held them out. Gomerick gingerly unwrapped them to reveal that they were burnt and bruised, and the damage was fresh. “Amalrich, how did this happen?”

Amalrich began to tear up and Gomerick squatted down to grab a hold of him. The two hugged and Amalrich cried into Gomerick’s shoulder. “We got into an argument. All I wanted … ” He sniffled. “All I wanted was to be like you. I don’t want to work at my parent’s shop. I hate it.” He continued to weep even more. “They said … they said this is what blacksmiths do; they take red hot metal and … ” He closed his eyes. “ … and hit it over and over and over.”

Gomerick patted Amalrich’s back and did his best to console him, but as the boy cried, Gomerick’s anger grew. He released Amalrich and stood up, “I must speak with your parents at once. I trust you understand.”

Gomerick began to walk toward the front door, but Amalrich rushed to block it. “No, please don’t!” He exclaimed. Tears rolled from his eyes. “If they found out I told you … ” He held his hands over his face and bowed his head.

Gomerick paused, knelt down, and lifted the sniffling boy’s chin. “I shall hold my tongue on one condition.” Amalrich raised his gaze. “If anything like this happens again, if your parents so much as lay a finger on you, you tell me.” Amalrich nodded fervently. “Good.” Gomerick stood up. “Now then … ” He placed his hands on his hips. “ … how would you like to learn to polish a sword?”

Amalrich’s spirits were immediately lifted at the thought, and the two walked over to the prince’s blade. Gomerick took a seat and gestured for Amalrich to sit on his lap. He hopped up, Gomerick handed him a thick pair of gloves to protect his hands, and the two spent the next few hours working together to polish the sword. Not once were Amalrich’s parents mentioned.

However, as it approached midday, it came time for Amalrich to leave, as his parent’s shop would soon be flooded with customers. He could not be late. His parents were unaware of his departure, and they would surely be upset already. Gomerick sighed heavily as he watched the boy hastily, yet hesitantly, return to his parents. There was much he wished to say, and even more he desired to do, but he knew that dwelling on these thoughts would prove fruitless. Instead, Gomerick returned to polishing the blade. As he did so, he allowed his mind to drift back to the concept of working for Oberon. It would undoubtedly be a change of pace, and he had already been considering taking a break from smithing for some time now. He had no problem with forging, but it was becoming dull. Alas, Gomerick knew he must finish his current project before any other roads could be wandered, so he cleared his mind once more and continued working. Once polishing was complete, he would need to craft and assemble the handle and sheath.

After a couple more hours of perfecting the blade, Gomerick ceased in order to inspect his work. Right away, he knew there was something missing, but he could not place his finger on what it was. Fortunately, he knew precisely whose brain to pick. As he exited his home, he stepped out into what was becoming an increasingly cloudy day. Cool air swept in gusts, and it was clear a storm was brewing. With a spring in his step, Gomerick set off down the road to a jeweler he knew all too well.

It was a fairly short walk, and as he neared the extravagant shop a beggar approached him from behind, grabbed his shoulder, and spun him around. “I can see with my weary eyes that thou intend to purchase precious stones. Please, sir, spare a coin for a disheartened traveler.” The words came from a middle aged woman hunched over in ragged clothing, who smelled nearly as bad as she looked.

“But of course.” Gomerick replied. He reached into his pocket and handed over a silver piece. “That should get you enough food for the night.”

The beggar bowed with her hands folded and exclaimed, “Thank you, sir. Thank you.”

“‘Twas nothing. Safe travels.” Gomerick smiled and headed into the jeweler’s store. It was a fine establishment constructed of stone; the floor was made of excellent marble, and nothing but the rarest artwork littered the walls. There was even a grand portrait of the shop’s owner dressed in lavish furs hanging above the front counter.

Behind this granite counter, and below the portrait, stood the small man himself. He was inspecting what seemed, from afar, to be a perfectly cut diamond; upon hearing his most consistent customer enter, he lifted up his head, set down his loupe, and, with open arms, exuberantly shouted, “Gomerick, my old friend. What brings you here this day? Oh, I know.” He spun around and pulled out a pallet riddled with precious stones. “You have come for some decorations for your work, I imagine?”

Gomerick approached the counter with a full grin on his face. “Ah, Alonzo, always straight to business. ‘Tis what I like about you.” He leaned over and examined the pallet. “Hmm.” He frowned.

“Is something the matter?”

Gomerick snapped out of his trance, afraid he had insulted his friend. “I beg your pardon? Oh, these diamonds, rubies, and garnets … they are all quite exquisite. However, I seek something different on this day.”

A smirk came across Alonzo’s eager face as if a challenge had been issued. “Always one to make things difficult, eh, Gomerick?”

Gomerick laughed to himself and said, “I suppose so. I was curious as to whether or not you possessed any gems that resemble a fire element. Something out of the ordinary; a gem that makes you feel as though greater forces are at play. I pray all of this makes sense.”

Alonzo set down his pallet of standard, rare stones, and pondered for a moment before snapping back to reality. “I know just the one!” he exclaimed. “If you would follow me.” He signaled for Gomerick to come behind the counter, and, as he did so, knelt down and picked up a trap door. “I sense I can trust you down here. It is here that I cut and polish the stones, and, believe it or not, a short time ago, I came across a gem that I think may spark your interest.”

The underground area was like another world compared to the one above. Rickety, wooden stairs descended into a dirty room with dim lighting. Alonzo’s work areas were well lit, but it was clear nothing else was of high priority; that is, aside from a wooden shelf set up along the back wall. It was to this shelf that the two were headed, and Alonzo made a beeline for a deep red and orange stone placed atop the middle. It immediately caught Gomerick’s gaze. Alonzo pulled it down and held it out in front of Gomerick, who blinked heavily to make sure he was not dreaming. “This is a sphalerite gem.” Alonzo began. “It was given to me by a man from far beyond our lands. It is actually the first I have ever seen with my own two eyes.”

Seemingly glowing with its ever-changing combinations of orange, red, yellow, and black, this singular gem was precisely what Gomerick was looking for. As a part of the sword, it would serve as a reminder to forever be cautious of the fiery Caelus and his minions, and to give remembrance to the once great Enghor who vanquished the demon long ago. Without thinking, Gomerick allowed the five words he knew one should never speak when purchasing a rare gem, from Alonzo especially, slip from between his lips, five words he knew he would soon heavily regret. “I must have this stone.”

Once the phrase spewed from Gomerick’s mouth, Alonzo’s eyes widened, and a sinister grin came across his face. Without hesitation, he replied, “I do apologize, Gomerick … ” He withdrew the gem from Gomerick’s gaze and placed it back on the shelf. “But I had a recent change of heart. I feel this rarity is something I would like to hold in my collection for a bit longer.”

Gomerick knew what was going on, and his face was overcome with shame. He shook his head and said, “And to think I considered our relationship to be far beyond disgraceful ploys such as this. Old friend? It is remarkable to see how you treat ‘old friends’.”

“I suppose I could part with it, for a price, that is.”

“Save your breath, you contemptible worm.” Gomerick heatedly made his way up the stairs, leaving Alonzo behind. “It shall be a sad day if I ever see the likes of you again!” He slammed down the trap door, which nearly flew from its hinges, in a fit of rage.

Gomerick exited the shop into what had come to be the moments before a massive thunderstorm, a common occurrence, considering the recent end of the winter months. Heavy, black rainclouds encroached upon the city from above, and lightning streaked across the sky. Gomerick noticed the beggar woman he had seen earlier. She was hurriedly devouring a loaf of bread before the rain began. He approached her, pulled out a bag filled with gold coins, and said, “How do you feel about completing a minor task for me?”

She froze in her hunched position, looked up at Gomerick, looked down at the coin purse in his hand, and dropped her small meal in astonishment.

“Very good.” Gomerick muttered. It was then that a troubling odor entered the nasal passages of the unfortunate smith. Startled, he dropped the gold and held his arm over his face, “But for the sake of all things good, visit a bathhouse first!”

A short while later, with Gomerick waiting near the entrance to Alonzo’s store, the beggar returned in a beautifully expensive outfit. Gomerick gave her the nod and she confidently entered the shop during what was the calm before the storm. She took her time in approaching the front desk and looked curiously around the room.

“May I help you, madam?” Alonzo asked from behind the counter.

In the most proper voice she could muster, the beggar replied, “Why yes.”

Alonzo turned to grab his pallet from before.

“Is that you?” The beggar asked as she pointed to Alonzo’s portrait above.

Alonzo spun back around wielding his fine stones, and stammered, rather taken aback, “Why, yes. Can’t you tell? It was anything but cheap to get that done.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.” The beggar began, “‘Tis just, well, I think the painter did you an injustice. You look much better in person.”

“It sounds like I need to pay somebody a visit, but thank you for the compliment, I suppose. How might these do?” Alonzo held out his pallet. “See any you fancy?”

The woman looked at the jewels with a blank face, but her eyes glistened with lust. She shook her head and said, “These simply will not do.” She leaned in closely and whispered, “I actually come because I have heard rumors that you hold even rarer gems in a back room, or something of the sort.”

Alonzo was immediately overcome with suspicion, but as he gazed into the woman’s fiercely innocent eyes, he nodded and gestured for her to follow. As he did for Gomerick, Alonzo led the woman into his covert domain. The woman instantly walked to the shelf containing the sphalerite gem. However, she pointed to a necklace beside it. She gasped. “This is absolutely gorgeous! I must have it.”

“I see you are a fan of emerald jewelry.” Alonzo grabbed the gold necklace and held it around her neck. “I must say, this necklace almost makes you more beautiful than you were before.”

“Oh stop.” The beggar blushed, but merely grinned in an attempt to hide her rotted teeth. “Do you mind if I take a closer look?”

“Not at all.” Alonzo replied. He handed her the necklace.

The beggar pretended to inspect it carefully, and raised her head as if to contemplate whether or not she wanted to purchase it. After a short while, she grinned again and nodded. “Yes. I do believe I will have this one, though I must return home before I can pay you. A lady like myself isn’t one to carry large sums of gold everywhere she goes.”

“I understand completely. If you would be so kind as to put that back on the shelf, we can be on our way.”

The woman reached up to put the necklace back and, as she did so, she could not help but to pause and stare deeply into the sphalerite gem.

A grim look came over Alonzo’s face, and his voice dropped. “Do you take me for a fool?”

The beggar held on to the necklace and spun around worriedly. “I am afraid I know not what you speak of.”

Alonzo slowly approached her and backed her up against the wall. “I know what you are truly after.”

She frantically replied, “Do go on, as I know not what you imply.” She grinned awkwardly, afraid her cover had been blown.

Alonzo put his face right up to the beggar’s, which was overcome with anxiety, and said, “You’re not interested in the necklace.” It was as if Alonzo was peering into her soul, and he continued, “You want that gem beside it.” The beggar gulped. Alonzo then smiled with a friendly smile and concluded, “You were going to soften me up by purchasing that necklace first, were you not? Or perhaps go for some sort of cheaper, pairing deal?” He backed off of her and she sighed in relief.

“Oh, you are good. You caught me red handed. The item that truly caught my eye was this precious, red and orange gem.”

“How do you feel about negotiating a price, right here, right now?”

“That sounds most excellent.”

Alonzo began, “I was thinking, for this extremely rare gem, that it could go, oh, for the tune of 200 gold pieces.”

The beggar’s eyes widened, but she managed to push her amazement into the rear of her mind, slip back into her role, and reply, “You are truly a gentleman, but we both know you can do better.” She gently stroked his cheek with the back of her hand.

Now Alonzo’s eyes widened, and he continued, “But for you? Hmm … how does 175 gold pieces sound?”

“That sounds like a bargain. Are you sure you can part with it for that?” She stroked his hair with one hand as she turned to put the necklace back in its place, slipped the sphalerite gem into her sleeve in one fluent motion, and, as she did so, spun Alonzo around toward the stairs. The two slowly walked up them with Alonzo in her arm.

“I, um … ” He coughed. “ … I believe that would be satisfactory.” He turned as if to get another look at the gem, but the shelf was already out of sight as the two approached the top of the stairs.

“I must thank you for holding onto the gem and allowing me to fetch the sum. I truly appreciate the gesture.”

The two exited the trapdoor and the woman turned to exit the shop. As she did so, Alonzo shouted, “Wait just one moment!”

She paused and closed her eyes tightly. Reopening them, she forced a smile and spun around, “Yes?”

“Do I know you from somewhere? You look fantastically familiar.”

“Oh, I get that quite often actually, but I do not believe we have had the pleasure, as I am visiting from Xyneth. My nephew invited me over for a short time and I simply could not resist.”

“Interesting. What is your nephew’s name, if you do not mind my inquiry?”

“Wilhelm.” She apprehensively replied.

“As in the king?” Alonzo questioned. “You appear far too young for that to be the case.”

The beggar stared eye to eye with Alonzo, who looked on suspiciously, “Clearly not the king himself, but he was named after him. ‘Tis a fine name, very powerful.”

“Intriguing. Well, I will not hold you up any longer. I hope you can make it back before the storm begins; if not, feel free to come back tomorrow, and I shall hold onto the gem for you.”

“Thank you, and that would be most appreciated. I will see you soon; Alonzo, was it?”

Alonzo froze. “Yes, see you soon.” The moment the woman exited the shop, Alonzo rushed downstairs, muttering to himself, “Not once did I mention my name. I swear, if that gem is missing … ” Before him sat the shelf, in the middle of which was the emerald necklace, and beside which was an empty space. He bolted back up the stairs and outside into the now downpour. “Gomerick!” He screamed, but the only response he received was a flash of lightening and the resulting thud of thunder.

Hiding in an alleyway, the woman pulled out the sphalerite gem amidst the storm. Lost in the gem’s immense beauty, she spoke softly to herself in amazement, “175 gold pieces, all for one tiny stone?”

“Absurd, is it not?” Gomerick’s voice boomed throughout the alley. This startled the woman and she jumped up.

“I demand to renegotiate the deal. You offered but a fraction of the gem’s true value!”

“Maybe so … ” He pulled out a dagger. “ … but when I make a deal, I expect the one I make it with to hold up their end of the bargain, as well.” He tossed another small bag of gold coins on the ground and held out his free hand. The beggar frowned and, after one final look, placed the gem into his outstretched palm.

“I thank you for your service.” With that, Gomerick left the woman in the rain, with her gold and soaked clothes, and returned home.

The deluge from above continued for the duration of his walk home, with wind and rain whipping back and forth relentlessly. Gomerick entered his shop sopping wet as thunder and lightning continuously cracked across the sky. He wished to start right away with his work, but the first order of business was to find a dry change of clothes. He placed the gem on a mantel in the small room in which he slept and, once he hung up his dripping clothes and changed his attire, went straight into his workroom to begin crafting a handle for the prince’s sword. He had a rough cut ready to go, and began to grind it down into a more precise shape. The pommel was elliptic, and a space for the lone gem resided precisely at its apex. For the grip, Gomerick glued and laced shagreen into place to ensure a firm hold. To protect the swordsman’s hands was a cross guard which rounded upward. Gomerick worked late into the night, perfecting the final shape of the handle before resting his head at last. Detailing the piece would come in the morning.

Several hours later, well before dawn, Gomerick began his precision work by inscribing, in the face of the left guard, the words “Victis honor.” In the face of the right were the words “Consilio et animis.” The phrases were drawn from olden times, meaning “Honor to the vanquished” and “By wisdom and courage” respectively. They were phrases that Gomerick held quite dear. He also etched in very light, yet intricate, designs throughout the handle. As a sign of humility, he did not eternalize a maker’s mark in the piece, as many other bladesmiths were known to do. He attached the blade of the sword to the hilt, and wiped everything down. Lastly, it was time to insert the sphalerite gem. He walked to his bedroom and plucked it off the top of the very organized shelf upon which it sat; just as he returned to his work room to clean it, an all too familiar face entered the shop.

“You good for nothing rat!” An infuriated Alonzo cried out. He walked over to Gomerick in a fit of rage, yelling, “I should have your damned head, you worthless piece of horse excrement!”

Gomerick set down the gem and held out his hands in an attempt to calm the intruder. “Alonzo, if you would hold back your frustration for a moment, I feel obligated to give you something. Follow me, please.” Alonzo rolled his eyes and reluctantly followed Gomerick to his personal quarters. Gomerick knelt beside his bed and pulled out a small chest which, after opening it, Alonzo saw was filled to the brim with gold. The jeweler’s eyes lit up. He stammered, but Gomerick began, “There are 185 gold pieces in there; that’s more than a fair bargain for what I hear you were willing to let go of for 175, as it were.”

Alonzo immediately swallowed his pride and stuck out his hand. “I believe we have an accord, but on one condition … never again, and I mean never, pull a stunt like the one you pulled yesterday.”

Gomerick started laughing and shook Alonzo’s outstretched hand, saying, “You’ve got yourself a deal, pal. And horse excrement? Where did you learn such strong words?” He bent down, picked up the rather heavy chest of gold, and plopped it into the arms of his friend, who nearly fell over.

“I don’t want you laughing, Gomerick. I will have you know, if you are too blinded by your hilarity to notice, that I am quite serious. And this may surprise you, but I know how to speak foul when necessary. For your sake, let us hope that this is the last time you will hear such utterances from me.”

“Right …” Gomerick sarcastically replied. “ … I shall see you next time.”

“Very well. It was good doing business with you, my friend. I am glad we could get this settled.”

“As am I.” Gomerick watched as Alonzo struggled to carry the chest of gold outside. He could not help but smile at the expense of the man with whom he had just done business, but the humor was short lived, as he hastily returned to his work.

Gomerick shined the sphalerite gem and inserted it permanently into the pommel. At last, he was able to set down the sword in its completion, not to admire, but to inspect. He knew there would be tiny imperfections that must be wiped clean before he could present the finished product to the prince. As Gomerick examined the sword, his stomach growled with more ferocity than an infuriated dragon and he figured it to be an adequate time to eat. In fear of losing his temper at the sight of Amalrich’s parents, however, Gomerick decided it would be best to eat elsewhere for the time being.

Upon his return, Gomerick began creating a scabbard for the sword. It took the remainder of the day to fashion the rough form, and, in the end, it consisted of a predominantly leather body with metal fittings on the ends.

The next morning, Gomerick woke bright and early to etch light design work into the metal fittings. As was the sword, the scabbard, too, was elegant in its simplicity. Gomerick was not one for extravagancies, and the swords he crafted were clean cut with the primary purpose of functionality. In Gomerick’s eyes, the best looking sword in the world was worthless if it was not comfortable in the hands of its wielder and could not cut down the wielder’s enemies. Swords were meant to kill, and this sword could do just that. As for the scabbard, it was made to be durable and protect a sword of such quality for years to come.

Gomerick, once again, inspected his work thoroughly and eliminated any imperfections he could find until it was midday once more. This prospect had Gomerick concerned. It had been an unusual couple of days, for he had not yet seen Amalrich since he learned of his parent’s style of discipline. Gomerick decided it was time to confront Ermin and Irma about what exactly was going on and, with any luck, grab a meal in the process.

It was a fine afternoon as Gomerick walked over to the buzzing shop and waited his turn in line. When he stepped up to the counter, Ermin was overcome with anxiety at the sight of the smith, but managed to force a smile and say, “Gomerick, it’s been too long. How are you today? What can I do you for?”

In an equally fake and forced tone, Gomerick replied, “Yes, I have been quite busy. I’ll have the usual. Also, if you do not mind me asking, may I borrow Amalrich for a bit later on today? I recently finished a sword that I would like to show him. It has been rather strange without him popping in and out; is he of health?”

“Amalrich’s just fine. We’ve been busy as well lately, is all. As for him visiting, I am afraid today looks as though it’ll be another long one, so I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.”

“Interesting. May I see him now?” Gomerick turned as if to enter the kitchen, but Ermin immediately scooted himself between Gomerick and the door.

He held up his hands, saying, “That will not be necessary.”

Gomerick’s face grew grim. “I must insist.” He pushed Ermin out of the way and threw open the door. Irma jumped in astonishment at the sight of him and squealed with worry, while Hendrick dropped a plate of fresh bread before he froze. Gomerick’s eyes looked beyond the two and immediately fell on an unquestionably disheartened boy, who now had a black eye and bruised limbs. Amalrich was hesitant to even lift his head at the sight of his large friend, let alone say anything, though a glimmer of hope could be seen in his young, hazel eyes as he gazed on.

Without speaking a word, Gomerick walked over to Amalrich and grabbed one of his wrists so as not to hurt his still bandaged hand. He led him to the door while his mother and brother looked on, petrified. Before they could exit, however, Ermin burst in, saw Gomerick with his boy, and hollered, in anything but benevolence, “Where do you think you’re going?”

Gomerick released the boy’s arm, clenched his hand into a fist, and placed it promptly into the jaw of Amalrich’s father who, subsequently, fell to the floor like a sack of potatoes. Irma screamed and jumped on Gomerick’s back, but Gomerick effortlessly flung her over his shoulder in a fluent motion, and she fell with a thud beside her husband. Hendrick simply stood in astonishment with his mouth wide as Gomerick stepped forward and looked down at the owners of the shop, calmly stating, “The two of you are unworthy to call yourselves parents.” He shook his head. “An absolute disgrace.”

Gomerick reached his arm back and quickly took hold of Amalrich, who had silent tears rolling down his cheeks. The two exited the kitchen into a crowd of quiet customers who evidently heard the commotion in the back of the shop. One woman who immediately noticed Amalrich’s condition stepped in front of the two as they walked toward the front entrance. She looked straight into Gomerick’s eyes for a brief moment, and hers began to swell. She gave a stern nod of approval and stepped to the side into the open arm of a man, presumably her husband, so Gomerick and Amalrich could exit.

The two returned to Gomerick’s home without saying a word; they had an unspoken bond that transcended any words or phrases that could be used to express this understanding. Gomerick had a small amount of food left in storage, a few potatoes and some salted meat, which he prepared for himself and Amalrich, but Amalrich refused to eat. After a short while of Gomerick dining alone, he said, “I think I have something you would like to see, Amalrich. Wait here.” Gomerick stood up and exited the room.

He returned with the recently completed scabbard at his side, and he unsheathed the freshly forged sword for the prince. It glistened in the light as he held it high, and Amalrich was overcome with amazement. The boy smiled for the first time in days, and Gomerick handed him the sword with a fantastic smile of his own.

Amalrich swung it around like a true swordsman and said, “Is this the one for the king? Wow! When did you finish it?”

“For the prince, yes. I completed it the other day, as a matter of fact.”

“Boy is he lucky! I wish I had a sword like this.”

“Perhaps one day you can make one for yourself.”

Amalrich stopped playing with the sword and held it still. Wide eyed, he looked to Gomerick and asked, “You would really teach me?”

Gomerick nodded and added, “I am afraid my transformation into a cranky old man has already begun; I need a young apprentice like you to do this work for me.”

“Seriously?” Amalrich practically shouted. Gomerick nodded once more. “Yeah!” Amalrich exclaimed. He jumped up in excitement and nearly took off Gomerick’s head. As Gomerick lunged backward to avoid the incidental strike, Amalrich’s heart dropped, as did the sword. As the blade clanked to the ground, Amalrich sunk to the floor and covered his face.

Gomerick was deeply troubled by the child’s reaction, but forced a smile, ruffled his hair, and said, “You’re fine, Amalrich. You never need to worry here.” Amalrich smiled apprehensively and slowly got to his feet. He picked up the sword and handed it to Gomerick. “Your first official lesson as my apprentice is this … do not swing a sword at somebody unless you are actually attempting to decapitate them.”

Amalrich laughed at Gomerick’s sarcastic tone and replied, “Well then, I did nothing wrong.” Gomerick shook his head and the two laughed. “Is there anything else you need to do to the sword?”

“Nope.” Gomerick replied. “I plan on bringing it to the castle gate first thing in the morning. All I need to do is perform one final inspection tonight, and it will be more than ready; that’s the hope, at least.”

“That’s great!” Amalrich paused and continued to stare at Gomerick without saying a word, but it was obvious he wanted something, for he wiggled his hips side to side and fidgeted in place.

Gomerick sighed heavily and asked, “Yes, Amalrich?”

The boy then spoke so quickly that his mouth could barely keep up, “Can we make a new sword? Not just any sword, though; the best sword ever!”

Gomerick grinned, put his hand on Amalrich’s shoulder, and said, “If you think you’re up to the task.”

Amalrich jumped up and down in elation, shouting, “Yes! I am ready, I promise!”

“In that case, kneel down.” Amalrich obeyed without hesitation and looked up at Gomerick with eyes flooded with anticipation. Gomerick placed the prince’s sword on one of Amalrich’s shoulders, and then the next, saying, “I knight you, Amalrich, as my official apprentice.”

Amalrich was happier than Gomerick had ever seen him. He sheathed the sword, and Amalrich got up and gave him a hug. Gomerick held him tight and, upon letting him go, led him into the work room to begin the process of creating a completely new blade. They worked late into the night, and it was not until Gomerick noticed his partner’s eyes dazing in and out that the two ceased. He walked Amalrich to the bedroom and started piling up a couple of cushions on the floor roughly the size of his new apprentice, who took the opportunity to jump on to the bed instead. Gomerick rolled his eyes, and Amalrich patted the bed for Gomerick to join him. He did, and Amalrich wedged himself into Gomerick’s arm before quickly falling asleep. Gomerick looked down at the small boy and smiled as a father smiles upon his own son, safe from harm for the night. Soon after, he gave way to sleep as well.

It was not until morning that the two were separated. Gomerick woke at the first sign of light and retrieved the prince’s sword. After a quick inspection and final cleaning, Gomerick went back to the bedroom to check on Amalrich. He was sound asleep and looked extremely sleep deprived, so Gomerick let him be. He exited his shop and began the trek to the castle gate. It was a gloriously calm morning, and the sun shined brightly upon the city. Gomerick approached a guard at the gate and said, “Good morning to thee. I am Gomerick the smith, and I have humbly crafted this sword for the prince.” He knelt down, bowed his head, and held the sheathed sword up to the guard.

The guard withdrew the sword and held it high in the air, the sunlight shining off of the fresh polish. He laughed and said, “Is this truly the best you could craft? There is nothing exceptional about this other than the dullness of it all.” He put the sword back in its case and added, “Luckily, there are two others forging swords, as well.”

Gomerick stood up. “I assure you, you are mistaken. I would be astounded to hear of the prince choosing another.”

The guard waved for a courier and said to Gomerick, in a firm tone, “Very well.” He turned to the courier and ordered, “Take this to the king and tell him it is the very best from …  Gomerick, was it?” He handed the sword through the gate and turned back to Gomerick. “I believe you were on your way.”

Gomerick nodded, bowed politely, and headed home. When he returned, he opened the door and noticed, without delay, that something was off. He rushed into his work room and found it a mess; all of his equipment lay strewn about the floor. He bolted to his bedroom and cried out the name of his young companion, “Amalrich?” To his dismay, Amalrich was gone. Gomerick’s head began to spin. He flipped over his bed and screamed in consternation. Despite his reddened eyes, he composed himself as best he could and walked to Amalrich’s parents’ shop, passing by a number of worried onlookers. When he arrived, he saw that it, too, looked as though it had been ransacked. Everything of value had been taken, and Gomerick’s greatest fear had been realized: Amalrich was nowhere to be found. Sinking to the ground in dismay, the troubled smith spotted a wrinkled picture before him; it was an old etching of the boy, his immediate family, and what were likely his aunts and uncles that had been left behind to be forgotten. Disregarding the others, it was the happiness of the youngest member of the family that incited Gomerick to gaze at the picture through watery eyes, pick it up, and place it within his boot for safekeeping. It was a lone memento of the boy he had held so dear. Placing his hands over his perturbed face, and unsure of what to do, it was in this crouched position that Gomerick remained.

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