Threshold Chronicles Presents: The Final Lesson By Jason C. Hodges

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This is a short story I am entering into a writing contest. I thought it would be nice to share it with you all. It is all my own creation. I hope you enjoy it.

The Final Lesson

Entering the house just before sunrise Jesse prepared coffee and toast for Mathius. Wheat bread from Fran Mills bakery, two small squares of butter no more and a cup of Elspeth’s finest coffee brewed slow, black. Served in the same battered metal cup Mathius refused to throw away. He walks up stairs all the way to the end, the only door on the right side of the hall. Knock twice pause and enter. “Good morning Mathius”, Jesse announced himself. “And yes I have brought your cup”, he laughed. Turning to greet his master Jesse finds the room empty. Bed made, pillows beaten to a nice fluff and the coverlet folded neatly at the end of the bed.

Crossing the room quickly, his boots echoing off the old plank floor Jesse places the tray of food down on the nightstand near the bed and finds a plain piece of paper neatly folded on the pillow with only his name on it. Unfolding it he finds a message written in a non to steady script of what could only be Mathius’ handwriting.

Today you will receive your final lesson. The old cold stove at the back of the house, holds another letter. Take it to Major Higgens. Do not read it. He will give you money and a list. Follow the mayor’s instructions and return here. Bring all that you have to the smithy.

                                                                         Mathius

It was finally going to happen”, Jesse thought to himself. His heart racing, hands beginning to sweat. Today was the day”. After all these years of work, it would at last be done. Hours spent toiling in the heat of the smithy. From traveling to far off lands, shoveling coal, pumping the bellows and learning about ores and all such things that dealt with forging steel. Jesse knew this last lesson held the meaning of all Mathius had taught him. And just as always he would, “Obey without question. Learn all that is asked of him and execute his duties swiftly and accurately with skill and integrity”. This is why he was chosen. Jesse would do as the letter asked and have his final lesson.

Now, laden with a small cart pulled by an aging gray donkey provided by the mayor, Jesse made his way back to the smithy. Once the large square structure resembled a black box used to shine boots. Well that’s what he was told. As far as he knew this was home. Open on three sides it sat against stone wall at the rear of Mathius’ house. Inside were the tools of a black smith’s trade. Hammers of various sizes and weight, pinchers and files, wedges of every shape to punch holes into metal or wood, three wood staved barrels two filled with water, hot and cold. The other filled with oil. Giant hooks hung from the ceiling and the walls. Most of these were horse shoes, scythe blades, wagon wheels and other metal items used by farmers, carpenters and the like. And what would a blacksmith be without anvil.  A monstrous piece of four hundred pound black metal, flat on one end with an oval butt at the other and completely flat and level on top; perfect for pounding and shaping steel.

Mathius waited in the back end of the smithy. Die cast molds for molten metal lay to each side of the furnace. A pile of coal stacked high to fuel the fire and the bellows to keep the fire raging. This was the heart and life of a metal smith. The coal. The bellows. The fire. And that primal molten iron. With these he and Mathius could make anything. Anything. And that they had. They forged everything imaginable; from metal toys for children to black iron stoves for the baker. Jesse had hated making those. So much more heat is required to forge black iron, and black steel.

But today was the day. Today would be different. That one piece of steel that lay apart from all the others would finally see completion. It was a strange thing Mathius had started him to making it so many years ago. In the beginning Jesse had not known what it was. Time working at the forge changed that. What was odd was that every piece that went into the making of this strange object held a special significance. Mathius never said why they went to such lengths to acquire these rare supplies. Although Jesse did suspect a great many things of his old, deranged master; always talking of mages and blade masters and the like. All the towns’ folk took it in stride. No one ever paid Mathius any attention over his “stories”. Frank Mills the town baker, a rather rotund, flour covered man, made it plain to Jesse that his master had a love for honey wine and fancy stories. What Jesse did not say to anyone was that Mathius had told him these stories all his life. For every cart wheel mended, every nail pressed out, not a day went passed that Jesse did not hear one of these so called, stories. And Mathius had always been sober while working the forge.

It became worse when they began to travel seeking these rare ingredients to what Mathius called Jesse’s life work. Each artifact lay in a different town or city. Yes that is what they were, artifacts not just supplies. On some occasions Mathius would have them live in a city for nearly a year looking for one thing or another. Jesse didn’t mind. Not many people from Daunch got to travel. And fewer still went into the cities with all the strange people and the buildings with giant towers and fluted spires. People from all over the world; elves, dwarfs and exotic folk with dark skin braided hair and tattoos covering them.

In one of those cities called Lancaster, ruled by Queen Dzion and home to the Lancaster Republican Guard, made Jesse never want to return to Daunch. Many townsfolk from Daunch teased him about wanting to become a Republican Knight or working for an important master blacksmith in a city. But Jesse was satisfied working for Mathius. For the most part, that would have been fine if he had never met her. With hair the color of the sun resting on her bare shoulders eyes like blue sapphires and a figure carved from the master artisans of Gammut and smiling at him from the balcony across from the forge in Lancaster. All he need do is look up from his work and there Maria would be. Her golden hair catching the rays of the sun, full supple breasts and round hips to intoxicate a man more than the strongest brandy. He could think about her all day. He could that is, if that insistent banging would stop.Hot sparks stinging his hands yanked Jesse back to reality. Maria, her fine hair and statuesque figure gone, replaced by the heat of the furnace and the smell of hot metal and coal. “What the bloody hell are you doing Jesse”, Mathius roared. “This isn’t a tavern hall where you can hold up a bloody wall sipping a cup of ale, boy”. Jesse looked up from the bellow to find his master standing over him two ten pound hammer in his blackened, castled hand. Bare armed with only a leather apron covering him Mathius was still an intimidating sight. At 86 years of age one could still see the muscle that lay under his weathered skin. Not stooped over as many men his age but full of vigor and strength. His short cut white hair gave him a look of and old soldier, not a blacksmith.“This is the beginning of your life’s work, not a pair of bits for a mule”. Pain and stars followed that last sentence. He hadn’t realized the old coot had struck him. Mathius grumbled something else, although all Jesse caught of it was, “women”, and “bloody dim witted”. He was happy enough not to hear the rest. The stars and pain began to subside, but the ringing in his head would not. Did that crazy old man hit him with the hammer handle? The handle was a much better alternative than the metal sledge itself. There was nothing to do besides get back to work.

This final piece is one of the smallest parts that had been crafted for this rare item. It was a nearly perfect oval of black steel inlaid with gold, with a hollow center big enough for a goose egg. Jesse did not know what was to go inside the space. Mathius had made him craft every piece. This one was no different. Every piece hand crafted of black steel. Some if it inlaid with a silver metal from the elves, called Mithral. The largest piece was an odd type of ore called Adamant. It had been the most difficult to forge with. In all his days he had never even dreamed of making this. The beginnings of his life’s work would start with creating black steel forged sword.

The making of this weapon was unique among the things he had crafted. Being that is was in fact the only weapon he had ever worked on. They had made kitchen knives and even hunting buck knives, but nothing such as this. “A sword”, Jesse laughed to himself. Of all the things that he could be making, he never imagined this. At that moment he could kiss the old blacksmith. Knights and warriors would pay handsomely for a weapon such a unique. And with Mathius all your work had to be perfect. Something else happened during the creation of this black sword. For each piece crafted, Mathius taught him these strange words. For him the language seemed so strange, yet somehow familiar. Like a face vaguely remembered from a dream. Jessie did not ask what the words were or what they had meant. Asking any questions of any sort during the strange chanting would have gotten his head soundly beaten. But when he was finishing with the shaping of Adamant blade he could feel something flowing through him. Each word flowed between him and the blade. A resonance of a sort. The look Mathius had given him was confirmation that he should be having this odd feeling. A depth to the old man’s eyes he had never seen. And the beginnings of a smile of…satisfaction Soon he found out exactly what that resonance had been. Jesse had learned magic. Now he understood what this crazy old man meant when he said “this would be beginning of his life’s work”. Magic was real, and it would be this that would make Jesse different than every other blacksmith. It had been what made Mathius seem so strange to everyone. Orphaned and raised by an old man that had no children. What was the chance that all this was happenstance? No it was not. Jesse had embraced his life with Mathius without question. In fact he had been the only apprentice to stay with the old blacksmith. All was as it should be. Nothing could change what was happening. “And why should I want it to change”, Jesse thought to himself. I am a blacksmith. A blacksmith that could use magic.

Turning back to his work he placed the ebony oval on the anvil with tongs as he waited for Mathius to bring the sword to him. The pommel would be the last piece to the sword with the capping pin which was also black steel. Placing the pommel onto the handle of the sword was quick easy work. A twist and few strokes to hammer the pin on and the sword was finished. Wiping sweat from out of his eyes Jesse met Mathius’ stare. He knew there had been one more step needed to truly complete the sword. The pommel still held an empty hollow for the final embellishment. “Are you ready boy”, Mathius said in a tone that made Jesse hackles rise? “Yes”, Jesse answered. Laying the sword on the anvil Mathis reached into a pocket of his leather vest and pulled out a smooth black stone the shape of a tear drop.  It would fit just right in the hollow in the pommel. “This time will be different”, Mathius mumbled. “I will give you what to say. Read the words just as I have written them.” His voice seemed heavier, deeper. His eyes shone with a authority Jesse had never noticed before. Or I did and just thought he was crazy. Now I knew what it was. Magic. “Now”, Mathius continued. “You must feel the entire sword. From the tip of the blade, to the pommel pin. You must know it. Be the sword.”  I nodded and the light in his eyes brightened. Handing Jesse both the black stone and the paper to recite from Mathius gave him one last look and said, “Remember the blade. How it felt as you forged every piece with your gift. Do this and you will have gained control of the magic inside of you. And you shall become a Mage Smith”. With that he began to walk away. “Where are you going”, Jesse asked feeling abandoned?  Mathius stopped, turning his head just enough so Jesse could make out a small smile on face. Mathius never smiled. “This I cannot help you with”, he said in a fatherly tone. ”That is why I had you craft each piece. And the final enchanting must be done only by you. This is your final lesson. You have made the sword. Now you must enchant it. Make me proud boy.” With that, Mathius left the forge.

Alone in the forge, Jesse looked upon his creation. A sword forged of Adamant. All black steel inlaid with silver, gold and Mithral.  A weapon of his own making. Now it would become a something else. A thing of magic. The silence of the forge was deafening. All that could be heard was the low flame in the forge fire, and Jesse breathing. “A Mage Smith”, he whispered to himself. “That is what I am.” Hefting the sword in his right hand with pommel up Jesse placed the black stone within it. It made a rasping ring as it snapped in place. Grasping the weapon by its long handle Jesse felt a surge quizzer through him. With his eye on the ebony blade he spoke the words that Mathius had given him. He chanted them. He sung them. And every word was power in and of itself. Jesse called forth his gift and spoke his first true enchantment in creating a mystical weapon. As his voice rose and the adamant blade brightened, Jesse never realized he had never read a word from the page Mathius had given him. He had learned his final lesson.

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