Tristan’s hammer came down on the hot metal with a flash of sparks. Each hit gave it a bit more shape, a bit more life. With each strike, it started to resemble the sword he had imagined versus the chunk of near-molten metal he had drawn from the mold.
Less sparks. Less give. The metal was cooling too fast. He needed to finish before it got any worse. He’d already reheated and refolded the metal so many times. If he didn’t work it just right...
No sparks. Just metal on metal. The hammer ricocheted off the cooling steel. With a sigh, he tossed the unfinished sword into the barrel of water next to him and left it there. He couldn’t work on the damned thing anymore tonight.
The shop around him was empty. It was well past midnight and everyone in town had probably retired hours earlier. Even old Hagon, who always found some reason to stick around when Tristan was working, had finally gone to bed after hours of waiting. Tristan himself should have given up long before, but he just couldn’t let himself go. Not until the blade was just right.
But it wasn’t right.
He had been toiling away for hours. Heating and reheating, hammering away and grinding away bits here and there. It just wasn’t right.
Why couldn’t he get it right?
Tristan gripped his hammer tighter. He desperately just wanted to throw it. Somewhere. Anywhere! He wanted to scream and break things. To just throw up his arms and curse the gods that invented the very concept of blacksmithing and whatever piece of shit lord that requested the damndable piece of metal that was giving him so much trouble.
But he didn’t.
He wouldn’t let himself.
It wasn’t his shop to throw things. Not his tool to break.
He set down the hammer and stepped outside. The air was cool and brisk. It felt good. He was soaked in sweat and his shirt was dripping wet and covered in grease and metal shavings. It clung to him in the chill night.
“Boy…” said a familiar, gravelly voice from the darkness of the house nearby.
“Hagon. I thought you were asleep.”
Hagon didn’t bother to respond. He stepped from the shadows of the house and into the weak light streaming from the open door of the shop. The mountain of a man was covered in scars and burns that were hard to make out in the dim light, but his shock of short white hair stood out like a beacon. His one good eye glowered at Tristan in the darkness.
“Why are you still working, boy?”
Tristan turned back to look at the open door to the shop. Why was he still awake? Why was he so focused on finishing that damned sword?
He felt like his mind was racing yet little of it was a coherent thought. It was all just noise. A loudness in his mind that wouldn’t ebb. That made no sense and only worsened as he focused on it. His hands were trembling and his palms felt cold and clammy, like they’d been dipped in ice water.
“I can’t get it right, Hagon.” He said, his voice cracking.
Hagon stared at him quietly. Waiting. He was always waiting for something more.
Tristan felt the anger and frustration boiling up inside him. Felt fresh sweat accumulating on his brow. He felt his heart start to hammer like he was running. Running for his life. Why was it pounding so hard? Pins and needles began to run down his fingertips and up his legs.
“Every time I try, I mess it up.” Tristan said weakly, his eyes locked on the shop. “I keep messing it up.” He didn’t dare to look at Hagon. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t!
Tristan felt like a hand was tightening around his throat. Like the weight of the question and his own incompetence were strangling him. He could feel his heart beating even harder and he found himself struggling to breathe through the pounding.
“I DON’T KNOW!” Tristan snapped, trying to catch his breath.
All at once, he felt as if his heart was trying to rip itself from his chest. He was gasping for air and he felt like the world was spinning around him. Tristan closed his eyes. It was all he could do to keep the world upright.
All the while, Hagon watched him quietly.
Finally, without saying a word, Hagon stepped into the workshop. He doused the flames and extinguished the candles. A few moments later, he stepped back out and pulled the doors shut, locking them as he did.
“Enough.” He said gruffly. “Off to bed with you.”
The words made no sense. Tristan found himself just staring at Hagon. Could he not see what was happening to him? Did he not care? Help me! He screamed inside. Make it stop! Why won’t you make it stop?! I’M DYING OLD MAN!
Despite all this, no words came out.
“Boy?” he asked, with just the slightest hint of concern.
All at once, the world went black and Tristan felt his knees begin to buckle under him. The last thing he heard sounded like Hagon screaming his name.