“Why don’t I start over?”
“No, just keep going. I’m starting to understand this mess.”
“Right then. So after we arrested him, nothing happened for a few days. You could feel the heat of the townsfolk in the air, you know?”
“Well we kept him in a cell all that time. But all was quiet in the town. People were passive, but there was ever more a lingering hatred towards us. Streets were silent but the air was thick! For a week it was like this.”
“Until the Hammerfall, yes.”
“Do you know who did it? Obviously couldn’t have been him unless he can melt through stone walls.”
“Of course not,” Booker took a breath. “But, no, I don’t know who did it.”
Gideon looked at Booker. “Continue, please.”
“Right, yes. So after that, the whole town pretty much shut down. They all refused anyone wearing gold. Bakers, butchers, or tailors couldn’t be coerced to sell us anything, which was spectacular!”
“When your company eventually let him go, how soon did you defect?”
“Immediately after I saw every townsperson cheer for him coming out of the door.”
“So how did he handle it all?”
“Well, that’s why I brought him.”
Then Booker waited as his old master, Gideon, opened the curtain behind him to poke his head through. After a silent moment, he pulled his head back and nodded back to Booker.
“Right,” Booker said and walked briskly out of the room.
The town of Rock and Pillar’s only well was already busy with the early drunkards clinking their pine liquor over coldstones. Booker had difficulty navigating through the crowd to the front door and out around the side of the gold-clay building. There in the alleyway, Faust sat with a dirty cape hooded over his head looking downward next to the other beggars.
“Come on now,” Booker said.
Faust looked up. “Have we been spotted?”
“No. He’s agreed to see you.”
Faust looked back down the ground again, eyes wider, and took a deep breath through his nostrils and heavy out of his mouth. “There’s no backing out now?”
“There could be,” Booker replied. “But it’d be very rude and I’d be very disappointed in you. So those reasons should weigh heavy on you.”
Faust gave a weak smile and then closed his eyes. “Alright.”
Gideon still stood right next to the curtain, facing directly at them as they returned to the room. His right hand held his left in a servant’s stance. When they approached, he held out his palm to them. He gave Faust a quick glance at his overall appearance, but Booker knew that’s Gideon’s quick first glances were always very thorough. Gideon poked his head into the curtain again and another silent moment later, he faced back to them and gave them a nod.
Booker and Faust approached Gideon and the curtain until they were three feet away. Then Booker got down and sat on his knees, and put his hand delicately on his thighs, his back in a courteous straight posture. Faust sloppily mimicked his gesture glancing up at Gideon to see if he was still receiving his judgement.
Gideon then nodded to both of them and slowly pulled back the curtain.
His arms were covered in bandage wrappings that spiraled from his shoulders all the way down to his finger tips. There was no hair on his head but a long scar that ran across his scalp. The purple under his eyes and the cracking of his lips drained the youth he would have had on his face.
He lay in a makeshift bed embedded in the stone wall of the building. On the siding adjacent to him were hundreds of carvings and scratches that made a mural of illustrations. Rolls of bandages, a basin of soothing oils burning vapor, and broken ornamental toys filled the shelf above his bed.
Booker lowered his head to the young man in the bed. “Thank you for seeing us, your grace.”
Faust nervously followed suit.
“Yes.” His voice sounded as if on the verge of a coughing fit. “The tale you told Gideon has me interested.”
“I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.”
“I hope not,” he replied. “You two may leave now.” He looked to Booker and Gideon.
“Are you sure that is wise, your grace?” Gideon asked.
“There would be no point in him trying to harm me. I’m clearly on my way out.”
Gideon nodded and he and Booker walked out of the room.
Faust continued to have his head down looking toward the ground.
“You don’t need to pay me any pleasantries. There’s no one of stature here.”
“Sorry, I’ve never met any nobility. It’s a great honor to meet one of the lineage of Anlaith.”
Faust inched his way closer to him.
“These people from your village sound to me like they admire you. Even before this...Hammerfall–is it?”
“I was friendly with them, I s’pose. I helped out everyone as much as I could.”
“But now it seems you’re something else to them. Something more than a blacksmith. Inspiring, I would say.”
The man in the bed ruffled through the things on his shelf and pulled out a large rectangular object wrapped in a tattered cloth with broken lace and dirtied embroidery.
“What made your people stand up to the Golden Legionnaires?” the man said.
Faust looked down to the ground, nodded to himself, and look back up to the man. “The truth.”
“We had been told for years that they were there to protect us, to fight for us. That they were our saviors and we needed them. We had been told a lie that we forgot wasn’t true, and because of that they took our identity. I think it took us so long to realize who we were anymore.”
“I watched them publicly torture that prisoner with weapons I made. My own work went into those shackles they dragged him with. My sweat poured into those metal gauntlets they–they used to knock his teeth out. They forced me to put that prisoner out his misery... with a sword made by my owns hands. I–I had become numb to what they used my work for. I had been told all of it was for our own good. But that is not why I became a blacksmith. For us, the people of Saltwell, our work is our life, and if our work is used for evil means, then we lose ourselves.”
“They led you to believe that they were guiding you to what was good for Saltwell?”
“They were torches leading us into darkness while burning our hands.”
“Well said,” the man replied. “One last question. Do you regret that your actions led to the death of the Golden Legionnaire–what was his name–Madrogel?”
“He shouldn’t have died…” Faust said, “Even though he was the worst of them, his death shouldn’t be what ignited us to stand up for ourselves.”
“Good. This country is in need of change, I’m sure you agree. I don’t say that because of what they did to my family and myself. But Ialnem needs to be reforged into something better. And what better than a blacksmith to do that.”
He handed Faust the wrapped box who took the thick and heavy object reluctantly. Faust looked back to the man who returned a nod. Taking off the tattered cloth revealed an even more tattered book, cleary having been rebound several times and now in a once fine but now faded leather cover. Faust opened it to the first page which read in a scribbled handwriting The Account of Anlaith and his Reconquering of Ialnem.
“I hope you learn what you need from reading that. For all of their sakes.”
Faust realized his mouth was hanging open. “I–you want me–”
“I’m sorry, but you’re their best candidate.”
Faust slowly closed the book and turned his gaze toward the ground. He took a deep breath. Then when his eyes returned to the man he said, “Alright. Yes. I’ll do it. I’ll be the one.” He squeezed hard onto the book’s leather.
“It needs to be done the right way.”
“It will be. I–I promise.” His felt his pace quickening, his shoulders shivering, and a rising heat filling his chest.
“Good. You have my blessing.”
He placed one of his bandaged hands on Faust’s head weakly and Faust closed his eyes.
“Be their light, Headhammer. Guide them back from the darkness.”