It is said, in Duaren lore, that when Fulkan forged the earth his twin hammers of light and darkness beat the iron at the center of all things. Each blow drew forth a note. Each note became a living thing. All that are, that were, or ever will be, are counterpoints in an eternal symphony just beyond the ken of mortals. Yet there are a few, who through great suffering, diligence or virtue have their ears pressed tight against the veil. They hear more than the single ping of their existence and so are granted the power to alter the arrangement of a portion of that transcendent music unto salvation or utter destruction.
– History of the Daughters of Alfhira, The Third Age, Vol 1
In Illia, where the Guild was strong, she would not have been able to work without an apprenticeship. Here in Thracos, a thousand leagues from the capital, 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 their own as best they could, or stole or traded for castoff items gleaned from the dumps. Most simply did 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 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 were crudely hemmed to fit her shorter arms but the shoulders were broad enough for her and she had sewn 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 pressed down on the long bruises on her back, causing a dull ache. Despite her intentions to avoid thinking about her father, Dulcet recalled his rage when she told him she had no coin. His addiction to moonflower had made him unpredictable. He had struck her repeatedly with an old tool handle, raising and lowering it like the apprentice blacksmith he had once been, until it broke on her broad back. He’d looked up then, with the splintered piece of wood still gripped in his hand. Surprise filled his face, then self-loathing as he saw the tears in the corners of his daughter’s eyes. He’d dropped the wood as if it were a piece of hot iron from the forge, grabbed an old hammer, and run out into the street. She knew he’d try to sell it but didn’t care anymore. After he left, she’d burned the remnants of the stick, and with no one to witness, finally allowed herself to cry.
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 turned 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 hide the red before she got there – though Tebo probably wouldn’t even notice. He was as dense as a cley sometimes. A cute cley... 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 cley.
Dulcet stepped past a section of fused rocks, the bones of an ancient city beneath her feet, and quickened her pace into the market.