Lancelot Du Lac packed his knapsack, washed up and headed out of the inn in East End in hopes to find a blacksmith today. While he went nowhere without his sword, the testing for the Knight’s Trials had not required him to use it on the field. He practiced still, but besides the muggers who seemed to think his sword was for fashion like so many Parisians, there was no real fight in Paris.
It was a tad unsettling.
In any case, his sword was in desperate need of sharpening at the least. The bit of sharpening he’d managed to do on his own and his fumbling knowledge wasn’t enough. The woman at the inn directed him to the Black Hammer, a small forge not too far from where he was staying while sneering at the amount of seasoning he’d poured into the cheap broth she’d served him. It’s enough to cover up the fact that the meat he’s added is jerky, the vegetables are some horrid left over from the inn’s cellar, and the broth was mostly water. Until he knew for certain how long he would be staying in Paris, it was a reminder to not get comfortable.
He stepped into the Black Hammer and while he hadn’t been in many forges, he knew that there was something off about it. For one, no one addressed him as he came in. He could hear the sound of men at forge but couldn’t see a single woman among them.
“You need something? We don’t do free consultations.”
Lancelot closed his eyes and gave the owner of the nasally voice a tight smile. It wasn’t the first time since he came to Paris that someone assumed that he either had no money or would steal from them, and he knew it wouldn’t be the last simply because of the way he dressed. With his bag on his shoulder, sword on his belt, and clothes worn from days on foot, he looked like a common vagrant.
“I need my sword sharpened. Of course, I intend to pay for it.”
The man looked him over, from his travel-worn boots to his low, dagger cut hair, scruff, and dark caramel skin. He could practically hear the man’s disdain for him and wanted to punch him in the face.
“The German will sharpen it for you.”
Lancelot blinked and looked around, “Is that the blacksmith’s name perhaps?”
He rolled his eyes, “Of course, not. He’s just a German forge hand. You can’t miss him.”
“Well, then I’ll assume you’re the German,” Lancelot scoffed, “Are you an idiot?”
The man growled, “Italian, being difficult–”
“I am Zephyrinian,” Lancelot cut in, glaring at him, his hand on his sword hilt and gripping tight enough to remind him not to give the man a demonstration of the difference.
Italians were known for a very specific fighting style, Zephyrinians were known for their speed and strength, their fighting style was more of a medley of movements rather than adhering to any one school. After all, no two people of Zephyrine fought the same way, not even in families.
It wasn’t an insult as Italy was a great country and a territory of Zephyrine. It was just annoying to be called something you weren’t, to be judged based on your features rather than your actions– especially by a man who didn’t seem to be able to act at all.
“You would do well to remember that, and perhaps rather than stereotyping an entire country of people, you would be so kind as to direct me to this man and give me a name.”
“Percival,” the man grunted, “In the back.”
“Thank you,” Lancelot turned away from the man and wondered what on Earth was wrong with the people of Paris that they threw around countries of origin like insults and expected no fight.
He walked through the rows of blacksmiths, asking for Percival. Each blacksmith directed him farther away from the rows of regulators until he reached the back of the forge where the air from the open entrance did not reach. Lancelot bet many forge workers who worked at the back of the forge complained of dehydration and passed out from heat stroke several times throughout the year. Standing at the last regulator along the back wall was a large man placing large, dimly glowing wheels into the open casing of a regulator. Lancelot slowed to a stop to simply watch the man work for a moment.
His eyes swept over the schematics lying on the work table next to a small blowtorch and the other, smaller dimly glowing disks that looked like they belonged inside the casing as well. More than his apparently capable hands, Lancelot watched the clenching of muscles in the man’s back, accentuated by the sweat-soaked fabric of his light tunic. The man’s frame was larger, taller, and broader than Lancelot’s. The brace he wore was darkened with sweat and accentuated his waist, as did the apron tied around his hips and clung to the curve of his full ass that looked to have been built over several years or uphill trekking. His thighs stretched the fabric of his breeches and pressed against the seams with each movement. Lancelot wondered for a moment if he was as firm all over as he appeared.
He felt a little dizzy as blood vacated his brain. He could almost hear his mother talking about how reckless he could be, just like his father. Whether this was Percival or not, the man could still punch him in the face for openly staring at him, and it would definitely hurt.
He stepped closer anyway.
He did need his sword sharpened and confirmation of if the face was as nice as the rest of him before he continued to ogle him. Perhaps he could pass off his heated cheeks as a function of the same heat that had the man dripping with sweat.
“Are you Percival?”
The man didn’t seem surprised by his question or presence. He turned his head, and as the rest of his body followed, Lancelot’s heart stuttered in his chest at the depth of his blue eyes and the planes of the man’s face that seemed devoid of emotion but attentive. His eyes flickered quickly over Lancelot’s form before answering.
“Yes,” he sounded a little breathless from the heat, “Can I help you?”
Fuck, he was gorgeous, and all Lancelot could do was smile openly at the sound of his voice. Yes, the front looked just as good as the back and would probably look beautiful bent over the working table while Lancelot leaned over him and turned him into a trembling mess.
“I’m in need of some who can sharpen my swords,” he said, “I was told to come to you.”
Percival nodded towards the chair that looked surprisingly new considering all the chairs that he passed. It was anchored in place, and the woodwork looked nicer than the shop should have allowed. At the same time, the forge seemed several steps above all the others in the forge, so he shouldn’t have been shocked by it.
“If you could have a seat, I’ll be done in just a second.”
Lancelot crossed the space to sit. He should be ashamed for how much more he enjoyed this angle, but he only licked his lips and enjoyed the view. The slowly growing light from the regulator lit the sharp angles of Percival’s face and highlighted the flexing of his muscles as he finished assembling it. When he was done, he turned the knob and nodded as the flames grew and ebbed accordingly before coming around to stand before Lancelot.
Gods, why would you do this to me?
Didn’t they know that Lancelot had so very little tact and was insanely drawn to attractive people? Didn’t they know that Percival was exactly Lancelot’s type? Lancelot couldn’t even think around the daydream of Percival getting on his knees before him, his blue eyes soft and wanting as he let Lancelot use his luscious mouth to his pleasure.
Focus, Lance’, he thought as he offered up his sword so Percival could look at it.
He couldn’t afford to mishandle this, no matter how distracting Percival was, nor how long it had been since Lancelot had had a worthwhile time. His father had taught him from a young age how to spot a capable blacksmith. The one at the door had been an idiot, taking in Lancelot’s appearance rather than looking at his sword, but Percival looked at the state of the scabbard first before unsheathing it and laying the blade against the flat of his palm as he inspected it. It hadn’t been sharpened professionally since Lancelot had come to possess it from his father three years ago, but it was a good blade that l had been handed down through the Du Lac family since a time before Spain. He had a feeling that it was forged partially with magic ore on account of its sturdiness, but only a blacksmith would know for sure.
“Your sword is in need of a lot more than sharpening,” Percival said, inspecting the hilt, “But I can sharpen it for you if that’s all you want.”
“How much more will it be?” Lancelot asked.
“I’m not a blacksmith of this forge, so nothing extra,” he said, inspecting the notches in the hilt.
Was that standard?
Lancelot smirked wryly. It seemed that Percival wasn’t really all that loyal to the people who referred to him as the German, or he’d taken a liking to Lancelot. He bet on the first though the latter would have gotten him a lot closer to what he wanted a lot faster.
“I take it your lack of interest in the Black Hammer’s financial success has something to do with the fact that they call you the German?”
“And Dante is a jerk,” he said flatly making Lancelot laugh, “I can have it done for you in about an hour if you’d like to come back.”
Lancelot shook his head, “I’ll wait. Where I am from, you go nowhere without a weapon.”
Percival nodded and set the sword down to begin work on it. Lancelot did his best not to stare too hard at Percival as he worked, nor think too hard about how little was left to the imagination by Percival’s sweat-soaked clothing. He knows though that the old magic of Zephyrine was probably caressing Percival everywhere he looked. Lancelot still wasn’t sure how to stop it from doing that, so he focused on Percival’s hands to watch what he was doing.
Percival glanced at him occasionally, maybe in curiosity over what the feeling was or in interest, but before Lancelot could let his mind wander too far from the task at hand, a young woman, perhaps about Lancelot’s eldest sister’s age, walked over to them with a haughty look.
“I don’t imagine you’ll be able to do much of anything on this old piece of junk,” she said and looked at Lancelot, “Welcome to the Black Hammer. How did you find your way here?”
Lancelot quirked a smile, “I was referred here.”
“Have you spoken to a blacksmith about your needs?”
“Percival is taking care of me,” he said, “No other blacksmith seemed to be interested in what I needed.”
She turned to Percival and hissed something at him before leaving them alone.
“How is it that you’ve managed not to murder anyone?” Lancelot asked as she left, “Or at least curse someone out.”
“I don’t have much of a temper.”
Lancelot lifted an eyebrow at the tension in his hands. They held the sword and hammer firmly, but not so firmly as to exhibit anger.
“I suppose… a man of your size and stature cannot really afford one.”
“No,” he said, “But I well make-up for it in talent and quips.”
Lancelot laughed, “I am sure. Who was she?”
“The forge master’s daughter and pseudo-manager of the administration. Signora Caflisch is the only sane person in the Black Hammer.”
Lancelot hummed, “The beautiful Italian-Swiss woman in the office?”
“Yes,” he said, “She’ll be who you talk to on your way out.”
“This must be a French way of doing things,” he said, “Where I’m from you pay the blacksmith directly.”
“You can do that as well,” he said turning the blade over and sliding it into the fire, “Most choose not to because it makes them uncomfortable when they don’t tip.”
Lancelot chuckled, “Right. Well, have no fear of that.”
Lancelot made sure to keep his mind occupied by holding a simple conversation with Percival as the man worked. If it was distracting to him, he never said so and spoke easily with him in the heat of the forge.
He was almost glad for it considering that his more lascivious thoughts had only retreated to the back of his mind and was playing hell with his anatomy. Soon enough, Percival was handing his sword and scabbard back to Lancelot.
Too soon, Lancelot thought as he forced the next few questions that skimmed closer to lascivious intentions aside to inspect the sword.
He clenched his jaw as it threatened to tremble with a tender and almost painful nostalgia. The Duc Lac blade in his hands looked like the first time he’d seen the sword hanging up on the wall in all of its glory as if the years between then and now had been peeled, sanded, hammered, and buffed away.
“It is a good sword. I suggest that you only have it serviced by a magical blacksmith if you can manage it,” he said, “I am one, and there should at least be one at the Royal Forge. Depending on where you plan on traveling to next, I may know of a few others.”
Lancelot nodded. It seemed that Percival, aside from being gorgeous, was a blacksmith more than worth his salt. The few coins that would usually be traded for sharpening a blade wouldn’t be a fair price for the work Percival had done on the blade, and magical blacksmithing was another price bracket altogether. He’d known upon entering that a traditional blacksmith would be able to sharpen the blade, but only a magical smith would be able to call the magic in the sword to the surface and service it fully. He glanced to the sign on the far wall and found the amount for sword maintenance. The Black Hammer had no price point for magical blacksmiths which meant that they didn’t know that Percival was one either.
He ignored it and thought back to what the cost of a magical blacksmith servicing a sword as old as his would have cost in Zephyrine. After adding an amount for French inflation, he handed over the amount in Zephyrinian gold. Percival blinked blankly as Lancelot placed the small satchel in his hand.
“Thank you, Percival,” Lancelot said, making sure that their hands brushed against one another as he released Percival’s hand. He watched the jolt of Percival’s body before meeting his eyes, knowing, confident and predatory.
It hadn’t taken much time to realize that Percival was just as interested from the glances over his regulator’s table. Percival licked his lips, and his eyes trailed across Lancelot’s face. His lack of expression was confusing, but there was no mistaking the heat in Percival’s eyes.
If he was wrong, Percival’s punch would hurt a lot, but Lancelot decided to be as reckless as always.
“Are you free tonight?” Percival nodded, “Have dinner with me?”
Percival nodded again, and Lancelot grinned, slow and pleased. Anticipation and fantasy skittered around the edges of Lancelot’s mind.
“I get off at six,” Percival said.
“I’ll be back,” Lancelot attached his sword to his belt and smiled at Percival, “See you at six.”
No one should sound like that, Percival thought moments after he’d returned to his senses and found that Lancelot was gone.
He realized moments later that the amount Lancelot had given him was far more than what was listed for any sword maintenance at the Black Hammer. After a bit of calculation, he figured that it was for magical blacksmithing which meant that Lancelot knew quite a bit about his own sword.
Percival bet it was a family sword.
He shuddered, remembering the rush of pleasure through his bloodstream from Lancelot’s touch before someone called his name to bring in more of something he didn’t quite catch. He placed the pouch of gold in his toolbelt, added it to his personal log, removed the safety key from the regulator and walked to the materials locker. He trusted, at least, that he would know what he’d been asked to bring when he got there simply because he usually did.
Plain sword iron is what the person asked him for. He updated the materials log as he measured it and hauled it out. Swiping his badge, the locker closed, and he carried the required amount to the blacksmith’s station. Beside his station were two nobles, a man and a woman, who looked a bit harried. The scent of anxiety and stress was faint beneath the softer scents of their colognes that he couldn’t quite name since everything smelled mostly of metal, fire, and burning wood in the forge.
The two of them took notice of him immediately, and their eyes widened. Percival gave the log to the blacksmith to sign before glancing at the sheet that sat between them. The notes had been written in one of their hands. He bet it was a gift for someone dear to them. Perhaps their mother or some other maternal figure based on the notes. Something pricked at the back of his mind, but he ignored it and prayed that he wouldn’t start swooning like the last time.
“I don’t handle those sorts of requests. I’m not a goldsmith.”
The woman looked crestfallen, “But taking it to the Royal forge would be a nightmare right now and–“
“Not my problem,” the blacksmith said gruffly, “The only goldsmith here is Dante, the forge master, and he doesn’t take requests for anything under a thousand gold francs.”
The man beside her opened his mouth, but she picked up the paperwork.
“That’s just fine,” she said primly, “I’m sure I can find someone with the skill to do it.”.
“I’ll walk you out, Mademoiselle,” Percival offered, “Monsieur.”
She flushed but accepted his hand, and her companion followed behind. They reached the front of the forge soon enough before she spoke.
“Are you a blacksmith here?”
“No. Dante couldn’t afford to hire me as a blacksmith.”
“What does that mean?” the man asked as they walked just beyond earshot of the blacksmith who typically stood in front of the building scoping for potential customers.
Percival had found out days ago that Dante and his daughter paid him primarily to keep an eye on who came in and out and to direct work so they could collect as much as possible from the work of the blacksmiths.
“My name is Percival Leonhard, and Dante could never afford to pay me for the skills I have as a blacksmith, nor would I ever work for him as one.”
Her eyes widened, “Leonhard? Like Helena Leonhard?”
“She was my mother,” he said, “But I don’t want her name to speak for me. I have a portfolio if you’d like to see it. You want something made for someone of great importance to you. You deserve to have a blacksmith worth his salt even without his family’s name.”
“Tell us how you know any of this.”
He met the man’s gaze, “Your shoes and your cloak are from Italy, aren’t they?”
The man’s eyes widened, “Yes, they are.”
“Ma’am, you’re wearing a gown from Le Belle here in Paris.”
“I worked for the Lady Hereveaux to help reopen Le Belle. The broach you’re wearing is one of mine. Any woman who shops at Le Belle and any man who procured boots and a cloak in Italy, or from a place that imports from Italy, would not have come to the Black Hammer unless it was their last resort as the Royal Forge is overflowing with orders.”
“The royal forgemaster’s touch isn’t delicate enough, without time at least, and time is of the essence.”
She looked up at her companion, and he held out his hand, ”Your portfolio.”
He pulled it out of his pocket with no recollection of how it got there, let alone how it remained so neat. It unfurled itself as he handed it over to the woman and her companion.
“Lang,” she whispered. “You’re a Lang, too?”
“Wolfgang Lang was my father,” he said evenly.
She closed the portfolio and handed it back to him, “When do you take lunch so we may discuss this further?”
She nodded and handed him the documents that she’d given the other forge worker.
“Look over this, and we’ll be back to speak with you at noon.”
He nodded, took the pages, folded them up, and slid them into his toolbelt along with his portfolio. He bowed slightly and watched them walk away. Tilting his head he considered the way they leaned together and spoke quickly like a shared secret.
“Do you think we can trust him?”
“We don’t have much time left, Lil’.”
Siblings, he thought.
The scent of their colognes lingered in his nose, now that they weren’t drowned by the scents of the forge. They were expensive, something only a high-class merchant, or perhaps a noble family would be able to procure in Paris. Whatever their order was, it was sure to be worth at least two thousand francs easy. The blacksmith they’d gone to had been of the standard Parisian variety, probably trained by Dante to take in the appearance on the surface and, thus, never make any more money than whatever Dante deigned to hand them as he usually kept more expensive requests for himself.
It was a shrewd business practice, but more prideful than clever. It would have simply been better to train more of the blacksmiths to handle most kinds of work, always serve as the final sign-off and require a portion of every project that passed through the forge, but Percival wasn’t in the business of helping those who looked down upon him
He turned back to enter the forge. The older blacksmith glared at him, standing between him and the path back to his station.
“Speak up, German, what were you talking to them about?”
“None of your business,” he replied in plain German before walking past him. The man sputtered, growing irritated.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure Dante will sort you out. He and the Mademoiselle have already had enough of you.”
Percival had expected it of Dante, and the man didn’t disappoint. Dante came to his workstation just before his lunch hour to interrogate, threaten, and otherwise antagonize him.
“I could fire you. I could ruin you to work for any other forge in Paris.”
“Is that a promise or a threat?” Percival crossed his arms and shifted his weight, “My father told me not to be bothered by men who threaten to do, but have not the power to see beyond their own egos.”
Dante snorted, “And your father was some great German like you I suppose? Working for pennies.”
“My father was Wolfgang Lang,” he narrowed his eyes as Dante’s breath stuttered in his chest. “I assure you that I, like him, never work for anything less than what I want and what I deserve.”
“L-Lang? That would make your mother…”
“Helena Leonhard, daughter of Hans Leonhard, yes.”
Percival could hear his heart tumbling and smell the regret and disbelief radiating off him. His daughter’s eyes widened in shock a few steps behind him. The man was probably putting together the bits and pieces of his employment at the Black Hammer, how exactly he managed to be the most paid person at the Black Hammer aside from Dante from the day he came to the Black Hammer despite his low base salary. He was probably guessing how much more money he was making while using the Black Hammer as an office.
A part of him relished the idea of Dante screaming at his own stupidity later.
“W-well, why didn’t you–”
“You didn’t ask. Consider that while you’re tallying your books or low-balling your next applicant.”
Dante’s eyes widened; his jaw dropped, and Percival felt a tad vindicated for every time he, or his favorite blacksmiths, had called him the German since he’d been there. The man they had refused to address by name, but rather by country of origin, made more money than them as just a forge hand.
Heaven forbid that Percival ever told Dante that the Black Hammer and blacksmithing wasn’t his only source of income.
Dante grit his teeth and stormed off as his daughter stared at him in something like awe and confusion. Percival felt something like victory watching him. If Dante had bothered to actually interview him when he’d first come to the Black Hammer, then everything would have been different. As it stood, Percival was just a forge hand, and Dante was too proud of a man to ever ask Percival to be his apprentice. Even if the man did, Percival would have never accepted it, and Dante knew it.
He wouldn’t run the risk of firing Percival either for the traffic he brought in.
Serves him right.