After recovering from his first dragon raid, Coalie returns to the smithy. Chap. 3 Coalie
|Coalie slipped into the forge.Yesterday’s stock of hinges and brackets were gone, along with nails he had made that same day. Kelp, outlined by the light in the hatch, was arguing with a villager.|
“Eelskin, ye know the weapons come first, and I’ve a load of sharpening and repairs that matter more than your hatchet. Stop interrupting my work and get away with you.”
“You have an assistant. Let him tackle the work.” The stranger pointed at Coalie. “Come and relieve your master, he’s more important things to do. Step to it, I’ve not got all day.”
Coalie hesitated; in his experience, only the master smith gave the orders.
Kelp raised his arm, and Coalie saw the silhouette of a colossal hammer. “This warhammer,” Kelp’s voice was flat, “belongs to Chief Hamish, and I’m not handing it off because you have more mouth than brains. This is my smithy, and you have no authority here. Now get.”
The man said nothing but tromped off, and Kelp turned to Coalie. “You answer to me. Tell that to anyone who tries bossing you around, and fetch me if they keep harassing you. Alright?”
“Alright. What do you want me to do?”
“We’re going to mend.” Kelp pointed to an assortment of damaged weapons. “Anything with a string tied on is mine to repair, and the rest are yours. The work order goes from left to right, and when you complete a job, put it on the bench. Any questions?” Coalie shook his head. “Good.”
Kelp returned to the broad axe, and Coalie plucked a long sword from the line. He heated and shaped, pounded and quenched, making the iron do his bidding. Several Hooligans came to ask about their weapons; other than that, neither man spoke, and Coalie worked steadily until Kelp put his hammer down.
“Set aside the axe and drink before you faint from the heat. Go on, and I’ll check your work.”
Coalie dippered water into his mug and drank deep, settling the dust in his throat. After last night’s upheaval, the familiar tools and actions had been balm to his spirit. He had labored without stopping and lost all sense of time. Now his body demanded he drink and stretch.
Kelp hefted an axe and examined it. “You’re no slacker, for certain. You must’ve worked in a smithy a lot of years to become so quick at mending. I expected ten repairs at most, not fourteen.”
“I’ve been working for the blacksmith ten years, and moved up to mending three years ago.” Coalie drenched a rag, then wrung it out over his head. The cool water soaking his hair was a marvelous sensation. “Are they good enough?”
“I’ve no complaints about your work, and am grateful to have you in my smithy. On that subject,” Kelp said, “there’s a couple of things ye must learn about the tradesmen of Berk. Chief Hamish rules the island and tribe, and we follow his direction in all things, as is right. But,” he emphasized the word, “I am the master blacksmith, and the smithy is my domain. I rule this forge as a chief or a king leads in his place of authority. It is my realm, and not even Berk’s Chief can oppose me inside this building.”
“You’re telling me there’s no penalty for disrespecting Berk’s Chief? I canna believe that.” Chiefs didn’t give authority to peasants, no matter what trade they worked at. “‘Tis a fine yarn, but the high ones have the power, and aren’t sharing with we pitiful folk.”
“I’m telling the truth. The butcher has a place of authority, and the tanner, and the baker. We don’t take advantage, but we’re valued enough to have that status. In dreadful times, the Chief can take over, but that hasn’t happened since I was a youngster.” Kelp pointed to Coalie’s tankard. “Keep drinking.”
Coalie finished his tankard and filled it again. Satisfied, Kelp went back to speaking.
“Now, you saw last night’s raid. After one of those, the smithy and the carpenters need extra hands, and call on others for help. Many parents send their youngsters along to we tradesmen to learn basic tasks. A boy who comes to me learns to sharpen, polish, and make nails. The fishermen teach them to gut and scale fish and mend nets. Carpenters send the boys away knowing how to cut and plane wood, and make pegs.”
“It’s sensible, but how does the system work?”
“After last night’s raid, I’d usually have a boy in here sharpening and making nails. You’re here,” Kelp nodded toward him, “so I had a man to help me, but without you, I’d snatch a youngster and hand him an apron.”
“When do the youngsters get too old to help?”
Kelp grinned. “Never. If I called the Lord Marshal here to make nails, he’d do it. We’d hear a lot of grumbling, but he can’t refuse. ‘Tis better to use boys—they’re not as needed as most adults.”
“I’m telling you this because one of these days, you might have to run this place. Oh, dinna worry yourself,” he said at Coalie’s expression, “I’ve no plans to die on ye, but it’s been years since I could take a day off without worrying. I told you I’m in charge so idiots like Eelskin can’t trample you. Once the muttonheads realize you’ve learned they don’t matter, they’ll stop bossing you about.”
“The other thing is, when you take over for me, you can claim help. There’s two boys, age thirteen, who are better at this work. I’ll introduce ye to them.” Kelp took one of the daggers from the bench and polished it while Coalie absorbed the lecture.
“Would I have authority over them?”
“The lads? Of course. You don’t want them making decisions. They can’t think past a pair of long legs wrapped in a skirt, let alone whether the forge needs water.”
In Coalie’s highland home, all authority belonged to the master. The master rarely trained anyone lower than the second rank, and Coalie was ranked fourth. Only if someone above him left or died could he move ahead.
On Berk, he could have authority without mastery. He had boys to teach who were allowed to learn, not just be put at the back of the line to languish.
Kelp had offered him power he’d never have at ho—as part of clan MacKenzie. He might move up to second position one day and learn from the master, but never possess the authority Kelp was handing him on his third day in the smithy.
“If you want me, I’ll do my best.” He thrust out his palm and spat on it. “My oath on it.” He and Kelp shook hands, sealing the promise.
Kelp finished with the dagger and set it aside. “Finish up there, and we’ll close up.”
Coalie returned to the axe he’d been fixing, only to feel Kelp’s hand on his arm. “Finish up the water, young fella, not the axe.”
“I haven’t got it done yet.” Kelp said it himself; Coalie was no shirker, and he wouldn’t walk away from an unfinished task.
“I decide what you do, and I say leave it.” Coalie swallowed the remains of his drink, and Kelp held the door open for him. “It’s time to go home.”
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