An excerpt from my WIP. A usual day at the forge working as children of the government.
|The heat from the fire burned Claire’s face. It was comfortable, familiar, and the brightest part of her life.
Make that the second brightest.
“You’ve let that sit in the forge too long.”
Claire looked to the iron in her hands. It was glowing a heavenly white, blinding as the sun itself. She cursed. The barrel of water next to the forge hissed as she threw the scrap iron in.
“Here,” Fabir held out his hammer, “you’re better at sculpting anyways.” Claire narrowed her eyes at him, but took the hammer.
“What’s bothering you?”
“Claire, you never make mistakes when it comes to blacksmithing.”
“I was under the impression that I never made mistakes.” She smirked at him.
Fabir shook his head but laughed. He gently laid an almost yellow piece of iron on the anvil, quietly waiting for her to tell him what was wrong. She contemplated lying to him rather than telling him she had another nightmare about her parents. The topic never failed to ruin the day for them, but he would see right through her lie, and that would make him infinitely sadder then having to think about the parents neither of them had. Claire decided to avoid the question altogether and began hammering the iron into a longsword instead.
“You know I’m not usually one to press for answers,” Fabir said, moving the iron out of Claire’s reach, “but I don’t think I can let this one slide.”
“We’re supposed to be sculpting pole axes today, not longswords.” Claire raked her fingers through her hair and slid to the floor. The sizzle of rapidly cooling metal sounded unbearably loud to her ears when Fabir tossed it in the water. He sat down next to her, and she looked to his face for comfort. For the first time, Claire noticed that his eyes we’re not entirely brown. A breath-taking burst of green outlined his pupils.
“Claire.” She shook her head, attempting to clear the fuzz that was beginning to take permanent residence in it.
“Sorry, Fabir. I feel like I haven’t slept in years.”
“You haven’t been sleeping?” The look of concern on his face made Claire feel guilty about keeping things from him, even if it was to keep him from hurting, too.
“Yes and no.” He patiently waited for her to elaborate. Claire sighed.
“I’ve been having nightmares.” His eyes grew sad and knowing.
“About your parents?” She nodded.
“Claire…” Out of nowhere a whip shot out and slashed Fabir’s cheek. A thin trickle of blood ran out of the fresh slice in his skin.
“You two! Get back to work!” Claire jumped up and moved for the guard holding the whip, the thought of denting his unmarred plate armor being the only thing on her mind, but Fabir caught her by the wrist before she had taken two steps. The guard sneered at them.
“Now.” He said. Fabir retrieved another piece of iron from their pile and placed it in the forge. It took all Claire had to pick up the hammer and not swing it into the side of the guard’s skull.
“Good,” he said as he strode away. Once he was out of sight, Claire reached up and wiped the blood from Fabir’s cheek. He gave her a small smile.
“Do you find it ironic that,” Claire started, “in old fairytales, the knights’ in shining armor were the ones who saved women and children?” Fabir scoffed.
“Yes. Yes I do.” He paused before continuing. “Should I even ask how you’ve gotten these books filled with fairytales because the only books I get are manuals from The Duke on how to be a better blacksmith.” Claire laughed.
“Probably not,” she replies. Fabir’s eyes lit up again as he chuckled. Claire loved to make him laugh, and she hated it when he was anything but happy. It was amazing that despite them both being Children of the Government, slaves for The Duke, they managed to laugh so often. Somehow, despite the grim circumstances with which they daily found themselves in, they were both okay because of each other.
“Secrets don’t make friends, you know.”
“You couldn’t stop being my friend if you wanted to.” He gently grabbed her by the chin and gazed into her eyes.
“You’re right. I couldn’t.” Claire wrestled her face out of his hands. She loved Fabir, but she couldn’t possibly think about being in love with him. It was hard enough to care for someone when you never knew if they would be there the next day, much less to be in love with them. Luckily, he understood, though she knew that didn’t stop it from hurting him. He laid another piece of iron on the anvil.
“Remember, pole axes.”
“Thanks.” She hoped he could hear the sarcasm dripping from her tongue, though she was thankful that he’d made a joke.
Claire hammered the nearly molten metal into a pole axe then cooled it in the water. She handed it to Fabir to grind while she heated up another iron bar. When it was completely sharpened, he took it over to attach the handle and polish it. They continued working like this for a while, with Claire sculpting and Fabir polishing. After they had forged about ten axes, a high-pitched whistle sounded through the room.
“Dinnertime,” Fabir said. Claire frowned. “What’s that face for?” He asked her.
“Fabir, have you ever actually tasted the food we eat?”
“I try not to.”
“Yeah, well, I can’t help but to taste it. Plus, I hate having to leave you.”
“You’ll see me soon.”
“Alright.” Fabir gave her a quick hug before joining the swarm of guys heading to their mess hall. She felt almost melancholy as she watched him disappear. Slowly, she walked to the girls’ mess hall. None of the ladies seemed as eager as the guys to go to dinner. Maybe women’s taste buds were more sensitive then men’s, Claire thought. While she was contemplating this, something dark brown smacked her in the face. It was too soft to be a whip.
“Oh, sorry.” Claire looked up to see a brown-haired girl grinning like a fox. Sarcasm was something Claire was intimately familiar with, and she could hear a faint hint of it in the girl’s voice now. Before Claire could reply, she was gone. Mumbling unnecessary comments to herself, Claire continued on to the front of the line. She grabbed an apple and stood there for a moment before she decided it was the only thing worth eating.
“That’s some dinner you have there.” A vaguely familiar voice came from her right. Claire looked up to a girl eyeing her plate. Claire couldn’t help but laugh. “No, seriously, it looks better than what I have,” the girl said. Claire studied her face. She had vibrant blue eyes and a flash of red hair. Her cheeks were covered in freckles.
“You’re in the cell across from mine, aren’t you?” Claire asked.
“You call them cells?”
“What would you call them?” The girl thought for a moment.
“Cells.” She let out a hollow laugh. “Anyways, I’m Gabrielle. I figure I’ll give you something to call me other than that girl across the hall.” Claire smiled.
“I’m Claire.” Claire and Gabrielle walked together to an abandoned table in the back of the hall.
“I didn’t even realize you worked in the smith.” Claire said. “I must never pay attention to anyone but myself.”
“I’ve seen you pay attention to other people.” Gabrielle grinned at her.
“By the smile, I’m assuming you mean Fabir.”
“Is that the guy you work with?”
“Then, yes.” Claire shook her head at Gabrielle. If she was honest with herself, the fact that Gabrielle had taken notice of her and Fabir worried her. If she had seen it, and so had the guard, how long would it be before they were separated? Claire’s brow furrowed. Gabrielle must have been watching her face turn because she grabbed Claire’s hand.
“It’s okay. If they had an idea, you all wouldn’t still be working together.”
“A guard called us out today.” Concern filled Gabrielle’s face, but she quickly smoothed it out.
“I wouldn’t worry if I were you. Everything will be fine.” Her words made Claire’s heart clench. Gabrielle sounded as if she already cared for the two of them, even though they had never spoken.
“Thank you.” Claire said. Gabrielle just smiled and nodded in response. After examining her apple to make sure it was fresh, she bit into it. It tasted sweeter than usual. Claire had just taken another bite when someone screamed. Everyone in the room looked up to see a group of guards pulling two girls away from a table. The apple turned bitter in Claire’s mouth.
“Emily, no!” One of them let out a heart-wrenching cry. “I won’t let you take her!” The girl drew her leg back and kicked at one of the guards with all she had. He stumbled backwards, but three more guards ran over and grabbed her in his absence. They carried her out of the hall, after the other girl. Everyone stared in stunned silence.
“Go back to your food or you can go without!” A leather-clad guard yelled across the hall. The scraping of knives and forks resounded through the room. Claire attempted to take another bite of her apple, but she no longer had an appetite.
“Those girls worked together.” Gabrielle whispered across the table. “They worked right next to me and Nicholas.” Claire didn’t reply. They spent the rest of dinner in silence. When the whistle blew to signal it was time to go back to work, Claire and Gabrielle threw away their leftovers and nodded goodbye to one another.
Claire numbly walked back to the forge, still trying to calm herself. She had seen people taken before, sent off and never seen again, but the incident with the guard today had left her for the first time feeling like she could be one of those people. She would be okay with that. What she wouldn’t be okay with was Fabir being sent off, never to come back to her. The thought was unbearable. She pushed it far from her mind.
“How was dinner?” Fabir appeared by her side while she had been lost in thought. She shook her head at him.
“Is everything okay?” Claire handed Fabir some iron.
“Heat this up for me, would you?” He frowned, but put it in the forge. Claire spent the rest of the night trying not to look at him. When the whistle blew signaling it was time to go home, Claire finally looked at Fabir. The humidity from the forge gave his hair more wave than usual. The brown locks curled into his eyes. He stared at her, waiting for some kind of explanation.
“See you tomorrow,” Claire said. She turned to walk away.
“Claire,” Fabir said softly. She clenched her teeth, trying not to cry for the first time since she could remember. He sounded so rejected, like she had told him goodbye for the last time.
“I have to go.” He almost flinched at the harshness in her voice. He grabbed her hand, and before she could take it away he dropped something in it. She opened her palm. A dried leaf rested there.
“What’s this?” She asked him.
“To help you sleep.” Claire clenched her teeth harder. Her jaw was beginning to hurt.
“How’d you get this?”
“You probably shouldn’t ask.” He replied. She knew it was meant to be a joke, but his voice had no humor in it.
“Secrets don’t make friends.” She said. He sighed then smiled a bit.
“See you tomorrow, Claire.” Once again Claire watched him disappear into the crowd before heading into a crowd of her own.