Dulcet swung tirelessly, the muscles of arms and shoulders rippling as she drew music from the anvil with each blow. She worked steadily to to curve the hot metal into it’s intended shape. Sweat slid down her neck revealing fair skin beneath the soot. She laid down the hammer and stared at the small split head shovel with a critical eye. The curved part at the fore that would pin down a spiker-clam’s neck wasn’t perfect but it was pretty darn close. She felt a flush and looked around quickly to make sure nobody saw the big goofy smile she was surely wearing. I’m getting better.
In Illia, where the guild was strong, she would not have been able to work without an apprenticeship. Here in Hemmer, the largest of the five Islands of Farish and nearly two thousand leagues from Illia, unlettered craftsmen and merchants were tolerated as long as they did not directly compete with the letter holding members of a guild.
It wasn’t easy making a living amidst the squirming maze of streets between the harbor and the salt mire. Unlike those who lived on the hill, people here scrabbled and scrimped to survive. Many would never have the money to purchase guild services. So they made, or stole or traded for castoff items gleaned from the dumps. Most simply would do without. Dulcet’s growing skill had started to bring people in for simple utilitarian work and repairs and she was beginning to hope things would change for the better. She just wished she had access to more metal. Scrap and bog iron were plentiful enough to allow her to make small items, and effect repairs, but not enough to do anything bigger.
She shook her head at her worrying. A few months ago she was struggling to get enough to eat. Now she had a bag with some coin hidden in the rafters, and a few items she’d earned in trade which she could use or sell. The shovel blade and the pair of hinges she’d repaired for the tavern would net a few more coins. She’d deliver them and pick up a little food. Maybe get a couple of those dried sausages her father liked…
She wouldn’t ruin this day by thinking about him. She grabbed his old jacket. The sleeves crudely hemmed to fit her shorter arms but the shoulders were broad enough and she had sewn two straps to the sides which allowed her to belt it at the waist. It was an ugly thing. Still, it was warm and it allowed her to hide her unusually muscular arms and the old scars and burns left by her work. She slid her finished metal work into an old carrying harnesses, one that Tebo had outgrown and given to her, then lifted it onto her back. The weight pressing down on the bruises on her back, caused only slight discomfort. Despite her intentions to avoid thinking about her father, Dulcet recalled his rage when she told him she had no coin. His addiction to glim had made him unpredictable. He had struck her repeatedly with a broom handle until it broke on her back then looked up with the splintered end gripped in his hand. Surprise filled his face, then self-loathing as he saw the unshed tears in his daughter’s eyes. He’d dropped the wood as if it were a piece hot iron, grabbed an old hammer, and run out into the street. She knew he’d try to sell the hammer but didn’t care anymore. After he left, she’d burned the remnants of the broom, and with no one to witness, sobbed quietly.
Dulcet sighed as she let go of the memory, then stepped onto the street. Her breath puffed out in tiny swirling clouds. She slid her calloused hands into her pockets. With her head down, and walking as fast as she could. She angled towards the market area near the docks, picking a route that would allow her to avoid as many people as possible. She’d learned to be cautious. But she did have a few friends. Without meaning to she angled her path towards the harbor. I wonder if Tebo is at the market, she felt the flush rise to her cheeks at the thought. Slag! She hoped the cold would mask the red flush before she got there – though Tebo probably wouldn’t even notice. He was as dense as a kley sometimes. A cute kley… she thought as she stepped over an icy puddle. A sudden shiver, unrelated to the cold, coursed up her spine as she thought of the mindless monstrosities that had once been men. No such thing as a cute kley.
Dulcet stepped past a section of fused rocks, the bones of an ancient city beneath her feet, and quickened her pace into the market.