It was an odd day in February for Percival. It was still cold enough to wear a coat, but it was the first time since he started working for Le Belle that he felt anxious enough that he could not step foot outside without a sword on his person.
He gave in to his instincts after it was clear that the feeling would not go away and strapped his sword on his back. He gathered his blacksmith portfolio, his letters of recommendation, and his own tools before heading towards the palace. Greeting the knights at the gates, Percival walked towards the sound of hammers hitting metal.
The door of the forge was open letting out heat from the rows of regulators, and he walked in. It was as grand as he expected. The floor alone was the size of several buildings, and there were rows of blacksmiths at their stations working. Near the back of the large room was a collection of three regulators that were too familiar to be comfortable.
So it’s true, he thought a little proud. The Royal Forge Master used a Leonhard regulator.
He probably should have been a little ashamed that he felt so proud of one side of his family, but given the number of family reunions that ended in Leonhard versus Lang arguments, he figured it was well earned. He was Leonhard blonde and blue after all.
“What do you want?”
He turned at the gruff voice addressing him. The man was clearly French from the way his hair was tied out of his face. He had the same air about him as several other French people did when speaking to him.
Pushing away the urge to punch the man on principle, Percival forced himself to answer calmly, “I’m here to apply for an apprenticeship.”
The man blinked and laughed, “You? This is a French forge, and we don’t hire Germans.”
He blinked as the man went on ridiculing him. The words eddied around him as something lifted its head as if scenting the air for blood at the back of his mind.
What is that? Percival wondered feeling it becoming more and more attentive. Tension grew up his left arm, and he felt the urge to draw his sword on the man grow as the man continued to speak. What he said, Percival didn’t hear consciously, but given that he felt his lips twitching towards something like a snarl, he knew it wasn’t good.
“Why don’t you take that fire poker on your back and go back to Germany?”
A low growl rumbled from within his chest, and in his eyes, he saw a man that had been dead for a little under a year now who had the nerve to start talks about giving his sisters as sacrifices to ease the storm. He remembered the sword in his hand, snatched from the pile. He remembered that it should have been too heavy to wield as it had been his father’s sword, but it felt nearly feather light. He’d pressed it against the man’s neck and–
Percival snapped out of the memory and looked down at the Frenchman who stared up at him in terror. The clatter of his brace and toolbelt sounded and seemed to echo through the foyer with the sound of the year-old fires, the gasps, and the man’s racing heart.
He realizes that his lips are twisted into a feral snarl, teeth are bared, and he can see his own glowing eyes reflected in the man’s eyes.
They’re wolf eyes, yet it isn’t surprising enough to make him relax and lower the blade. His arms shake with the effort of his restraint and he can smell the blood collecting on the edge of the blade from where his sword cut just below the man’s skin. The runes of old glowed dangerously along the length of the blade with the same unearthly color as Percival’s eyes.
He felt his arm press forward and heard the man’s heart jump and take off at a faster pace. His mouth open to scream, but no sound came out. Percival can practically see the man’s head flying away from him. He can hear year-old screaming and the sound of the wind that still rushed through the trees of the Black Forest.
“A Zweihänder to the neck,” a young voice said sagely drawing Percival’s attention away from the man’s face, “And I don’t think he’s afraid to do it. Would be a total mess to clean up.”
The man swallowed again and trembled as a small hand landed on Percival’s arm gently and he felt his mouth relax into its usual neutral expression. Slowly, the runes in the blade lost their glow and he could only see his face reflected in the man’s eyes. He drew back and lowered his blade slowly. Turning his head away from the man that he was about to decapitate, he looked at the owner of the young voice.
The young woman couldn’t have been older than fourteen with rich brown skin and curly hair twisted into a crown of braids. Her eyes made him think that she could have been much older as they reflected a knowledge and worldliness far beyond the age he assumed her to be. She was a young woman who lived in a reality that was sometimes too harsh for her age. He could understand that and felt at once that they were kindred spirits.
“Easy, he’s an idiot, but he’s not worth jail,” she said as he sheathed his sword and the man in question trembled, “Go on, let this be a lesson to you and all of your French-ness.”
The man grabbed his cut brace and toolbelt and scurried away before the young woman looked up at him with a brilliant smile and bright brown eyes, “Sorry, big guy. As much as I would like to never hear his voice again, it isn’t good business to have forge workers murdered. How can I help you?”
He swallowed the wave of nausea, “I… came to apply for an apprenticeship.”
She nodded, “You have a portfolio? The Royal Forge Master is out at the moment, but I can get your file to him.”
He looked at her, but his focus was on the spike of terror that shot through him and his own racing heart. He had thought that his time working for Le Belle and generally interacting with people in Paris would have exposed him to every sort of situation he could expect. He’d even been exposed to general French elitism, and it had never triggered a flashback.
Even without that, he hadn’t even been aware that he could have a trigger like that. He’d never had any sort of violent tendencies when he was younger. His head swam with the memory that seemed to drag several others with it out of the darkness. He remembered well that he’d developed a temper over the course of the trek to Freiburg. It had become almost violent, but it had always been triggered by threats. However, the man hadn’t been a threat. In a fist fight, Percival could have easily taken him, so what was it?
He couldn’t risk being around anyone like that somewhere he wanted to make a name for himself and build his career until he figured out what had triggered it.
With a shudder, Percival shook his head, “Never mind. Thank you for the offer.”
He escaped the Royal Forge as quickly as he could manage and walked to sit in the nearby park to think. No matter how many times he went through the exchange, he couldn’t pinpoint what had triggered him. He sighed. Perhaps, it was just a sign that it wasn’t his time to start work at the Royal Forge.
Percival went to two other forges that gave him more or less the same treatment while offering to buy his sword from him since German swords were in such high demand, but neither of those exchanges had triggered anything in him more than disgust.
By the time he was ready to go home for the day, he was just north of the lower markets where most merchants from other countries mingled. The woman who sold him German sausage for a decent price referred him to the Black Hammer.
He decided to stop in before heading home. It was a small forge, maybe an eighth of the size of the Royal Forge with an owner, Dante, who had the ego the size of a mountain. Dante took a look at him and the sword he carried, but not his portfolio or anything else. Before Percival could even introduce himself or explain why he was there, the man asked him how much he could lift, if he could carry the same weight, and if he could count.
If there was something that should have triggered a fit of rage, it was the man’s questions, yet he only answered. He should have punched Dante in the face, yet he couldn’t find it in himself to do so. Instead, he stared at Dante as the man offered to hire him as a forge hand and pay him a menial wage.
He’d have the opportunity to earn more based on commissions that the blacksmiths gave him or anyone that asked for him by name for work, but that was all. As Dante explained the way he’d structured his business, Percival figured out several things about the man but mostly that he was an idiot.
For someone who had Percival’s skills, it was basically being hired to occupy a regulator. He’d pay him a base fee to do menial work on top of anything that Percival made on his own. Any independent work or work that was commissioned to him by name would be solely his to keep. Any work that was passed on from the blacksmiths to him would technically be his to keep so long as he documented it properly. Apparently, the fates, the gods, or his ancestors wanted him to make a name for himself as a blacksmith before he went to the Royal Forge. It wasn’t a bad idea considering that he didn’t plan on becoming the next Royal Forge Master.
Percival considered the offer and the sounds of the forge. While Dante was an asshole, there was a good chance that he wouldn’t ever feel threatening to Percival. Furthermore, being a forge hand would almost force Percival to remember what it meant to be human, to speak with people and put himself out there by nature of how he would actually make enough to live off of at the Black Hammer. He had never been exactly a social butterfly, but he’d learned from his family how to be an excellent merchant.
Never fear a stranger, Percival. They may have something that you want and vis versa.
Never work for a man who knows nothing, he thought, And never shy away from free advertisement.
There was no way in hell he’d ever consider being a real blacksmith under Dante, but he would take the forge hand position just to have access to the blacksmithing market of Paris and a free, standard sized regulator. The Leonhard and Lang name needed free advertisement in Paris. He could never return to lead his hometown, but he could spread the Leonhard and Lang craft one piece at a time in France starting from the cramped space of the Black Hammer and the back room of Le Belle.
Dante looked shocked for a moment that Percival would agree so easily. No doubt he was the kind of forge master that always low-balled on the first offer and made only a slightly better second offer when refused to keep the costs of operation down. He wondered what the turnover for forge hands was at the Black Hammer. His mother and father would be rolling in their graves dying of laughter if they had one.
Never let anyone treat you as less than your worth, they’d say, When they do, make sure they regret it at their own pace.
He didn’t feel worth very much right now. He couldn’t control himself, and he didn’t even understand himself fully, but Dante would regret it in his own time. Either way, the Black Hammer would suit his needs to re-humanize him enough to work at the Royal Forge or pass the time until the fates or gods deemed it time for him to move on.
As a forge hand, he wasn’t given his own regulator but shared one with the other forge hands at the back of the forge that was really the regulator they kept for spare parts. It came with a half-broken stool and was truly inconvenient to use. From what Percival could tell, it was the second oldest station in the building and unkempt.
The oldest regulator stood proudly in the corner as a testament to how old the Black Hammer was. He bet it was the original owner’s regulator. It had been left in disrepair for who knew how long and rust had begun to flower along the curves of the black iron station. Beside it was a finely wrought chair that was bolted to the floor and a collection of black and rusting tools including a large black hammer that he was sure the forge was named after. If the regulator he was supposed to share with other forge hands was broken, he supposed that most forge hands used a blacksmith’s regulator and probably had to pay a fee to the blacksmith for doing so.
Apparently, the other forge hands made the bulk of their money from the tips the blacksmiths gave them when they wouldn’t deign to sharpen swords and handed off menial, but necessary tasks to them. If he had to guess, the forge hands either didn’t have many skills in the forge or simply didn’t have any prospects outside of the Black Hammer. Whatever the case, they all looked at him suspiciously as he was introduced.
Percival gave Dante’s administrator, Signora Aurora Caflisch, all of his work documentation and filled out the required forms. She had remotely Italian features but was too pale to be completely Italian. Percival bet she was at least a few generations removed from her Italian heritage. He guessed that she was from Switzerland from her accent though.
“You’re a long way away from the Black Forest,” Aurora said as they sat in her small office.
“I am,” he said.
“I hope you’re here just long enough to make him regret it.”
“I probably will be,” Percival said.
Aurora handed him a badge and an apron along with his paperwork and sent him on his way with a conspiratorial wink. He made plans to start his first day the next day and sent a message to Anya to tell her that he’d been hired at the Black Hammer if she needed him.
The Black Hammer? What happened to the Royal Forge?
Her handwriting was slanted and written in almost sloppy cursive. He could almost imagine her scribbling it in as she walked around the shop.
A minor change of plans. If you come to request something of me, be sure to ask for me by name.
A few moments later she replied, As if I would ask for anyone else. Dante is horrible!
He would have to ask her more about what she knew about his new employer over lunch one day. He picked up something quick for dinner and headed home. A parcel sat on his porch when he arrived and he bet it was the equipment he’d ordered to build a small regulator by the second fireplace in the parlor.
He carried his dinner into the kitchen and came back to grab the parcel. He set up the regulator on the first floor and found that it was just large enough or him to make smaller objects, and since he doubted that anyone would commission him for a sword, it was perfect.
That night, he sat in the daybed of the second parlor where the second fireplace was and ate as the sun sunk beneath the horizon, whittling until he fell asleep.
The next day he arrived at the Black Hammer as it opened and walked to the second oldest regulator at the back. Wrapping his brace, toolbelt, and apron around his waist, Percival popped the covering of the regulator off to look inside. As he thought, there were pieces missing and misaligned so it couldn’t be used as much more than a normal fire. He’d wondered why the procedures to keeping all of the money he’d earned from work handed off to him from salaried blacksmiths were so straightforward.
Apparently, though the forge hands did the work, the blacksmith would have full rights to the fee because the project would have been worked from a blacksmith’s regulator. For a moment, Percival wondered how much of a cut blacksmiths took from forge hands and how long it had been going on.
With someone like Dante at the helm, how could he have expected anything else? The Black Hammer may have once been a great forge with integrity, but in the hands of Dante, it was nothing more than a trap for workers and clients alike.
He checked the station and made a list of parts he would need before going to the storage room where they kept the remnants of spare parts and tools. He found the mangled remains of the parts he was missing and wondered who tried to repair the regulator and messed the pieces up so badly.
“Who are you?”
He looked up at the source of the voice and found a young woman with mostly French features. She took after Dante around the nose and eyes, so he assumed she was a relative of some sort.
“My name is Percival; I’m a new hire, and you are–?”
“I ask the questions in my father’s forge,” she said and walked over to him with a suspicious look, “You don’t look old enough to be a new hire.”
And you don’t sound smart enough to be harassing me.
“I’m a forge hand,” he said as he set the pieces aside and went looking for the designs of the regulator. It was in an old storage cabinet along with an old blowtorch. He couldn’t believe that there was still one around, but he was glad for it. It meant he could actually fix the regulator in a decent amount of time.
“How did you know where to find that?”
He didn’t bother to answer her as he tested the dial on the blowtorch.
“I know you heard me.”
“I don’t believe in one-sided or pointless conversations.”
“You know I could get you fired,” she said haughtily, “My father has your livelihood in his hands.”
Percival looked at her, “You gravely overestimate your father’s importance in my life.”
Her jaw dropped, “What did you just say?”
Percival watched the flames grow stronger and weaker as he turned the dial on the blowtorch. Satisfied that it was in working order, he set it down on the workbench. He opened the schematics to check the alignment and arrangement of fire sigils on the regulator’s wheels.
“Do you take to harassing new hires every time you meet one?” Percival asked, “Or is it because we’re close in age?”
“For your information, I manage the administration of the Black Hammer, and again, I ask the questions. Where’s your badge?”
He lifted it absently and turned it in her direction. She huffed but seemed content to be quiet and watch what he was doing. He turned on the blowtorch and grabbed a heat-dispersing cloth to wrap his hand in as he heated the largest dilation wheel.
He helped the process along with a bit of added magic until the wheel was soft enough to reshape into a perfectly flat and round circle. He set it aside and worked on the next wheel. The sounds of the forge workers grew louder, and soon, someone walked into the storage room.
“Mademoiselle,” the man greeted, “And… Oh, you must be the German.”
“My name is Percival,” he said absently, “A pleasure to meet you.”
“Right… Well, I have a few swords you can sharpen since you’re the only one here at the moment.”
Percival turned to look at the man and nodded, “Sure.”
He turned off the blow torch and removed the safety key from it. Placing the key in his tool belt, Percival followed the man out.
A few was actually twenty, and the man that brought them in looked to be a trainer of some sort. The blacksmith waved him over toward his station, and the man pushed the cart of swords towards Percival.
“Have at it, German.”
I see, he thought. It seemed that they did, in fact, keep that regulator broken for the benefits of the blacksmiths.
“You seem a bit young to be a forge hand,” the man said gruffly, “Do a good job, boy. You seem new so I would hate to have to get you fired like the last one for mishandling my property. I’ll be back to collect them in an hour.”
Percival found his center and took in the rest of the man’s appearance as he pulled the cart towards the dismantled station and the man left. Percival sucked on his teeth. An hour was nothing if he had a working regulator. He returned to the back room and plugged the safety key into the handheld blowtorch to finish the main regulator wheel so at least the fire would get hot enough to forge. He rolled up the schematic and returned it and the blowtorch to the cabinet he found it in before carrying all of the wheels to the main floor and reassembled the regulator. Replacing the cover, he turned the dial above the fire window and watched the flame rise and fall as he did so. Then, he pulled out his own hammer to tap the length of the blade.
They all sounded like regular steel, so he set the flame to the appropriate temperature and placed four at a time in the flame starting with those that needed the least amount of maintenance. For a while, the only hammer hitting metal in the Black Hammer was his own. It had to be a slow day since not every workstation was active. Before the hour was over, he had finished all twenty swords. The only other forge hand in the building stared at him warily across the forge as did the blacksmith who had handed the work off to him.
He wiped his brow and turned off the regulator. Pulling off the cover, he removed the wheels he hadn’t gotten to finish and lay them out on the worktable beside the regulator. He returned to the back room and grabbed the blowtorch.
When he returned to the main room, the man had returned and was walking towards him.
“I hope you have my swords completed, boy.”
“My name is Percival, monsieur,” he said and pushed the cart towards him, “And they are done.”
He signed the bill with his name and employment ID stamp as the blacksmith inspected them along with the trainer.
“This is quite good work,” he said looking down a blade with a hum, “Perfect. I don’t remember it ever being that straight. What did you say your name was?”
“Percival,” he repeated, “I’ll remember.”
The blacksmith’s jaw dropped, and he glared at Percival as the owner of the swords signed off on the work, walked to the front to pay, and left the establishment.
“Next time use my station,” the man said.
He turned to the regulator’s disks and finished etching the sigils correctly so that the other dials would also work. When he was done, he reassembled the regulator and checked all the settings before turning it off. Returning the handheld blowtorch and came back to the regulator where Dante’s daughter stood with the bill in her hand.
“What’s the meaning of this?” She asked waving the paper at him.
“Is French not your first language?”
She glared at him, “You’re walking on thin ice, German. You don’t sign paperwork.”
“Per my employment contract, I’m supposed to sign anything and everything that I’ve worked on in order to get paid,” Percival said, “ The only exception to that would be if I used a blacksmith’s regulator at which point their signature would be required as well. Surely, you know that.”
She flushed, “You–”
“Or are you telling me not to get paid for the work I’ve done?”
“How dare you–”
“If you are, I know quite a few officials of Paris that will be happy to come in and audit the Black Hammer’s books,” her jaw dropped, and he tilted his head, “Did you expect me to be intimidated?”
She glared at him, “You’re going to make your time here very difficult if you keep up with that attitude.”
“I’m glad you understand that I will only be here for a short time.”
She walked off as Anya walked in, and a blacksmith approached her.
“Hello, mademoiselle, how can I help you?”
Percival shook his head as she asked for him by name, and the man looked confused.
He walked to the front of the forge, “Hello, Lady Hevereaux.”
“Percival!” she smiled at him, “So good to see you. Did I catch you at a bad time?”
“Not at all,” he said, “What can I do for you?”
She followed him to the back of the forge. The blacksmith who had been glaring at him only a few moments prior offered her his client chair.
“Mademoiselle, are you looking for something in particular?”
“Percival,” she said kindly, “And I’ve found him. Thank you.”
The man frowned but remained close enough to hear at least part of their conversation. Anya gave him several sheets of paper for him to look over and color swatches.
“We’re thinking jewel tones, but what do you think?”
The clothing designs were very muted in color, so a heavily jeweled piece would be best in general. He told her that he’d draw a few sketches for her to look at and send them via scrye. She shook his hand and thanked him for his help before leaving. The blacksmith took his chair back.-
“Well, you should turn that over to me–”
“Why would I do that?”
The man huffed and told him that he’d tell Dante if Percival didn’t comply, but Percival didn’t care. Anya’s request could be completed at his own forge at home. He finished his shift for the day and headed home sketching ideas for Anya in his notebook on the transport back.
It took three hours to finish designs that Anya approved of and hash out the details of the order. He figured it would take at least a day to look for the materials in the market and maybe two to finish the entire order, so he gave her a tentative window of a week before it was complete.
A heads-up that I’ve done a little advertising on your behalf, she wrote, and he snorted.
You mean you told people that you had authentic Leonhard pieces and hiked up your prices accordingly.
She drew him a smiling face and wrote, I learned from the best, Herr Leonhard.
Took you long enough, Sie Hevereaux.
[Author’s Note: Herr/Sie are roughly what a student and teacher would use to address one another in German. Thanks for reading!]