For the first time, in a long time, there were no dreams, no screaming, and no faces haunting him, just peace and the sound of the ocean in his ears. He woke up rested, his entire body more relaxed than he ever remembered being. The voices were silent, a rare occurrence. He wondered if sex that left him in shock the next morning was the cure for whatever was wrong with him that he heard voices.
Since he could still hear the conversations of his neighbors as if he was standing in their living room, he had a feeling that it was only a temporary fix. He ate breakfast at home and took his usual transit route to the Black Hammer arriving a little later than usual. In the chair beside the workstation he shared with the others was a young woman, no older than thirteen or so. Rich brown skin, gleaming in the regulator’s light, dark brown eyes, and thick curly hair twisted together in a neat gather out of her face. She wore a simple charm in her hair attached to strings of jewels he couldn’t readily recognize in the darkness. Her cloak was well made, better than most people he’d seen in the Black Hammer. It was her gown however that made him think this girl wasn’t from France at all.
“May I help you?” he asked in clear Arabic.
She smiled at him warmly and answered in French, “I’m impressed. Your accent is quite good.”
“You seem to be a long way away from home.”
She laughed, “Not long at all. My parents live in Versailles, and I have spent quite a long time looking for you, Percival.”
“How did you know my name?”
She beamed at him, “I asked around for a man with your description, they told me the German, and after schooling them about stereotyping, they gave me your name.”
“Have we met before?”
“You came to the Royal Forge some time ago looking for an apprenticeship. My father and mother happened to be out at the moment, and you nearly cut a man’s head off.”
He hummed, her features becoming more familiar to him. She had changed quite a bit since that day. She stood up and explained that her father had been looking for an apprentice for quite some time and that, if he had time, he should stop by the Forge with his portfolio and ask for the Royal Seamstress when he did.
“My mother,” she explained. “Usually the blacksmiths and forge hands are the first to see whoever comes in and they’re always bitter at the prospect of adding anyone to the working roster, especially an apprentice.”
“Is it because I’m German?”
“It’s because my father is the greatest blacksmith in France, and he has not ever taken a real apprentice,” she said with a shrug. “An apprentice of the Royal Blacksmith is almost certain to inherit the position when he retires and if not be incredibly hireable anywhere.”
She smirked, “But you knew that when you came to the Forge, didn’t you?”
“Good,” she said and shook his hand. “We’ll be waiting for you, Percival.”
She left then, leaving Percival with an odd sense that she knew something he didn’t. Either way, he took the transit home to grab his portfolio, one that he’d updated with his more recent work for the Le Belle and whoever Anya had referred to him. He was waiting for approved sketches from the siblings and was set to meet them that night for them.
From home, he took the transit to Versailles. He would have just enough time to drop it off before taking the transit back to the Black Hammer so long as everything went smoothly. He arrived at the forge and without hesitating asked for the Royal Seamstress. The blacksmith eyed him but went to find the lady in question.
A woman in a brilliant blue kaftan and hijab rounded the corner. In her face, he could see the relation to the young girl who’d come to the Black Hammer looking for him. In her walk, the rhythms of Morrocco. She smiled brilliantly at him, pearly white teeth and a lovely brown face that seemed to defy the age she must be to have a daughter at least thirteen years old. He guessed that she was from Algeria, and if not, she was from nowhere farther south than Ghana.
“Hello, Percival,” she said.
He nodded, “Hello, ma’am.”
“Zilla,” she said, “I’ll be sure my husband sees your portfolio.”
He handed it over, unsure if perhaps he hadn’t been formal enough in the presentation. Whatever she saw in it, it didn’t seem bad as she smiled, her eyes taking in the cover and cradling it gingerly in her arms.
She told him that the Royal Forgemaster was Leonde Oni, and he would contact him by the end of the day by scrye to set-up a time for an interview this week. He thanked her before turning to leave and head back to the Black Hammer feeling that Zilla, like her daughter, knew something that he didn’t or at the very least hadn’t told her. Either way, he managed to get through the rest of the day at the Black Hammer without event. He met the siblings at the cafe they requested to go over the final designs and get their deposit to buy the materials. On his way home from the market with the gold and jewels best suited to the purpose, his scrye book lit up and chimed with a message from Leonde stating that he should come in on his next off day to meet with him.
Apparently, his portfolio was at least good enough to get Leonde to contact him.
His next day off happened to be that weekend, a few days after his night with Lancelot, and he hadn’t seen the man back at the forge since. There’s a sting of melancholy, longing, but he’d been prepared for it. Falling into a bed with anyone staying at East End, no matter how good they were, was destined to end quickly. They hadn’t even exchanged full names so there was no way to scrye or message him. He didn’t let himself dwell on it as he headed towards the Royal Forge and past the pitch where the Knight Trials entry and exit exams were taking place.
Honestly, if he was being logical, it was for the best. He couldn’t afford attachments. Couldn’t afford an addiction like Lancelot could prove to be. Zilla met him in the foyer, offered him a cookie and escorted him through the forge to where Leonde was looking through his portfolio.
“Percival’s here dear,” Zilla said with an amused smile.
Leonde smiled at him and set his portfolio aside. His eyes widened and narrowed seeing something in Percival, but Percival couldn’t fathom what.
“Hello Percival,” Leonde said. “Welcome to the Royal Forge. I’m Leonde, if you couldn’t guess.”
“Before a sit-down interview, I’d like to see you at the forge for a bit if that’s okay.”
Percival nodded, glad that he’d brought his own tools with him. Leonde led him to a more secluded station at the edge of the forge. It was just a current as all the others with a desk space and chalkboard beside it.
“All the tools you’ll need should be here, let me know if anything is missing, I’ll be right back.”
Percival nodded and rounded the table.
Zilla and her daughter leaned on the balcony’s guard above the station, looking down at him as he looked around, examining the tools there and then the regulator. Leonde crossed the forge to rummage around in a section of sword racks to find one. He came back and held it out to Percival to service.
“No rush, it’s lunch time for me, I’ll be back down when you’re done.”
Percival nodded, “There’s just one thing missing.”
“The regulator’s safety wrench.”
Zilla snickered from above them and Leonde pulled it out of his pocket, handing it over before leaving Percival alone. He set his own bag of tools down and rolled up his sleeves. He set the safety wrench on the emergency valve prepared to turn off if need be and watched the regulator’s sigils light up indicating that it was ready to be used.
He turned the regulator on to the proper setting, put on his wrist and back brace and began to take the sword apart from the hilt.
“Told you he’s a smart one,” Zilla said with a snicker.
Leonde nudged her, kissed Guinevere’s head and picked up a sandwich from the tray to stand beside the two of them and watch Percival work.
“We’ll see,” Leonde said.
Guinevere rolled her eyes, “You were fawning over his portfolio, don’t pretend that you haven’t already made up your mind.”
Leonde huffed. He hadn’t yet, but he was close to it. It was one thing to have a solid portfolio, another thing entirely to pass a simple test of knowledge and safety like that, and something else to have the actual skill to work a sword. The sword he’d chosen had been forged with magic ore in the French style, a special and tricky blend of Italian iron and French steel from Switzerland. It was one of many that had been traded in for a newer sword over the years.
Leonde chose it based on the level of skill that Percival’s portfolio displayed. He could work delicate and rougher work with ease it seemed, his recommendations were all glowing from the people he’d contacted about Percival’s work.
From the setting on the regulator, Leonde already knew that Percival had an eye for origin and makeup which was rare enough as it was. As he begun to dismantle the sword, Leonde was all but sold on Percival’s knowledge of sword making.
“Well, dear?” Zilla asked. “Is he shaping up to be the other apprentice you always wanted?”
“We’ll see,” Leonde said as Percival began to work, leaving the blade in the regulator as he worked on the hilt, cleaning, filing, and detailing it.
He refused to look at his wife or daughter who both smiled smugly. He’d said from the beginning that the likelihood of finding an apprentice good enough in Paris was non-existent, yet here Percival was like a gift from the gods, putting him and his family a step closer to returning south where Zilla wanted them to be.
Watching him, it was obvious that Percival had been wasting his time at the Black Hammer where Guinevere had found him. If he or Zilla had been in the forge when Percival had come to the forge two years ago, Leonde could have been two to three years closer to retirement. As it stood, it seemed that he hadn’t lost any real time even with Percival at the Black Hammer because whatever Percival did aside from work for Dante had enhanced and maintained his skills.
Leonde returned downstairs as Percival finished reassembling the sword and inspected it before swinging it quick and sharp through the air.
The blade sang as if it had only just been forged. Percival nodded and held it out to Leonde for inspection. He made a show of it even as Zilla and Guinevere sighed above his head.
“I can hear you,” Leonde said.
Guinevere let out another dramatic sigh as Zilla laughed, “Perhaps then you should stop playing around.”
Leonde glared up at them, before looking up at Percival who watched him seemingly unaffected. His eyes, however, said he was a tad unsure. He didn’t know what Percival thought of the Royal Forge, nor Leonde, but he knew that Percival knew that he’d restored the sword perfectly, right down to the details on the pommel. By the gods, he hadn’t seen such detailed work outside of his and Guinevere’s work since–
“You wouldn’t happen to be related to Helena Leonhard of the Black Forest, would you?”
Percival flinched, and his eyes lowered, “She was my mother.”
Leonde grimaced at the flatness of Percival’s voice and the downcast of his eyes.
“She and Wolfgang were good people.”
“Good?” Zilla asked incredulously, “Hell-In-A-Basket and the old Wolf were the best.”
Percival looked between the two of them, “You knew my parents?”
Leonde smiled lightly, “I met Wolfgang a number of years ago. Zilla went to school with Helena. We went to their wedding.”
Leonde laid the sword on the workbench and took a seat, “You have her gift at the forge and your father’s eye for detail. I have no idea why you were at the Black Hammer, but I’d love to offer you the apprenticeship.”
“How long of a notice will you need to give Dante, and how much is your severance fee due to him?”
“A day,” Percival said, “And nothing. He only hired me as a forge hand.”
“A what?” Zilla’s brow furrowed with disdain, “Darling, how is that you haven’t run that man out of business?”
“Because the royal forge is only so large, and I haven’t had a formal apprentice until now.”
“You could have had one ages ago,” Guinevere said with a roll of her eyes, “But you’re so stubborn.”
Leonde glowered at them both and stood up to shake Percival’s hand, “Well Percival, we’ll iron out the rest of the details when you arrive on Monday. Is around nine enough time to get here?”
“It’s plenty of time, sir. Thank you.”
“No, Percival,” Zilla said. “Thank you for finally allowing us to prove him wrong.”
“Really?” Leonde asked. “You’re going to do this right now?”
“He has to know what the real chain of command is,” Zilla said shrugging.
He shook his head and returned Percival’s portfolio, “Welcome to the Royal Forge, Percival. Enjoy your weekend.”
“I will, sir,” Percival said, taking his portfolio, grabbing his tools and leaving.
“I bet he’s going to go turn in his resignation right now,” Zilla said.
“Could you blame him?”