It had been a while since he’d been in Arguta’s shop. The furnace blasted heated air and the continuous huff of bellows turned into a roar inside the rounded hall. As soon as he was in he took out his coat.
“Cotton?” Arguta pointed out. “I’m going to make you a premium.”
“I did not purchase it. It’s advance payment.”
“And who parted with something like cotton? Send them my way. Fairy bones, I can strip them of their silver in jiffy.”
“It’s not someone you’d like.” He took seat on a nearby chair as Arguta leaned against her workshop’s table, covered as usual with tools. Her fingers played with a plier as her grey hairs moved back and forth carried by the bellows’ breath. “I am on the hunt on Mastra Verna’s behalf.”
The old smith frowned and tapped with the pliers on the workshop.
“You’re right. I don’t like it.” Her other hand rose to take out one of the steel nails in her hair and she put it to her lips, giving it a kiss. “Thank the spirits not one of them white-clothes ever came here to try and spread their silly tunes. The Fae get rebuked by iron and fire. It has been so before and it will be so forever.”
He politely nodded.
“And don’t give me that! You are annoying, nodding just because you think I’m a silly old coot. I’ll definitely make you pay a premium.” She sat down as well and the Hunter waited for her bad mood to dissipate. Bit by bit, bathed int he golden light of the furnace, the wrinkles on her face began to smooth out. “Still, I appreciate you telling me the truth and all.”
“Can we talk business now?”
She began to make room on the table, pushing away most tools.
“What does our esteemed Mr. Customer need today?”
“First thing first, I have this. I’d like to get it repaired if possible.”
He showed her the knife. She tried the blade with the fingers of her remaining left hand, then smiled as they went to the handle.
“Ohhh, this is industrial. Bane to the Fae. What kind of blade would you like? Iron? I have some good carbonate steel available. Fresh shipment from Visentza.”
“I thought you were going into the forest?”
“I believe I will struggle mostly with beasts.”
“Hmmm… I have heard it’s not going to be a pleasant winter at all. But it’s your choice. Anything else? Surely you did not come here just for a knife.”
“Not at all.” He leaned forward, unhooking another latch on his back, and put on the table what looked like three slim tubes of folded steel.
“Ah, it’s nice to see you again,” Arguta’s golden smile appeared again, like fresh flames on a field of reeds in the firelight. She passed her fingers all over the carabine, unfurling his rifle and taking a good look at each of its pieces. “Tch. Look what you did to my baby. You scratched her all over. And here’s there’s so much gunpowder scum it’s going to take me a while to clean it. You have no respect for my craftsmanship, Hunter.”
“Don’t call me that!”
“Then don’t behave like one,” he replied with a smile of his own. “Also, I’d appreciate it if you were to completely rebuild the carabine. And the powder cage. I need something bigger.”
“Hmm, Verna must have asked you for some special hide.”
The envelope flashed back to his mind, together with the drawing of the sad-looking wolf-girl.
“Something like that. I’m mostly worried about where I am headed, though. The… beast I’m hunting for has been seen close to Fumegai.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to purchase a cannon of mine? Twenty percent off. Thirty, if you manage to bring your sorry ass back from that place!”
“Just the rifle. And some other thing that might come in handy… here, I’ll give you a list.”
“Remember that you just can’t pay with money. What else did you bring me?”
It took some time to come to an agreement on the final price. He had been lucky, in a way. Though the last summer gave little in terms of actual bounty, it had brought him closer to the frontier than he had been in a long long while, and in the half-eaten cities, devastated by each year’s Tide, he found wires, molten ores, engine parts and even bullets. Most of them would not fit his needs, so when he showed Arguta the contains of his sled it warmed his heart how her eyes shone with greed.
“Yes… yes… there might be some passable stuff in there. Bring them inside, dear, wouldn’t you? These old arms are not that strong anymore.”
He chuckled and they spent the following two hours talking about what to keep and what to leave.
In the end he left the shop feeling a lot lighter, in every sense of the word.
“Come back tomorrow for your wares, dear. And if you want to earn something to eat, they’ve been asking for help with the nightshift. I think I saw one of your kind already doing that…”
He nodded, pulling his sled inside Arguta’s workshop.
“Thanks. I’ll look into it. Oh, could you please take a look at this bent blade here as well?”
“Don’t push it. I’ll see what I can do. Leave an old woman to her duty now.” Arguta more or less threw him out of her shop, mumbling something about greedy youngsters.
He watched her go. All these years and her arms were still almost as thick as his own. He ought to make a prayer for her next time he did some bloodletting.
His stomach let out a low growl. And he also had to put something in his stomach.
Thankfully, Trefiumi had its share of good receipts, and soon enough he was walking towards the outskirts of the town, his boots creaking over old tin sheets, holding a cup of chicken soup. His breath spread out in small white ribbons in the cooler evening air. The sun was now just rows of streaked lights peering through the trees.
The flamethrowers squads were far brighter.
They proceeded as usual in groups of three, pointing their muzzles at the low brushes and crimson-tipped shrubs sprouting out the shore’s soft sand.
It was just the tail end of autumn and already they were growing so fast? No wonder they expected a bad winter if the first hints of the Tide already came so far south.
No matter. He had a job to do.
Once the soup had reached its due place in his stomach, he asked if anyone needed him for help with mounting guard. And surely enough, he was soon mounting guard on the town’s edge, perfectly safe thanks to the third-hand rifle they gave him and a couple firebombs.
He appeased them, listening to the fiery cocktail sloshing in its glass prison. These would do little more than a flash and a boom, but might be enough to scare off the smallest of the Eerie.
Thankfully, the city council seemed to have taken stronger measures. He was surrounded, other than the charred remains of bushes and willows, by the din and tin of workers busy raising new metal palisades, stakes and busy excavating dikes where the riverbed allowed it.
“It’s going to be one of those years, hm?”
He doubted this kind of preparations could hold back the forest.
Not if it really wanted to get in.
She had tried to stem the Tide, after all, and…
He shook his head.
Didn’t want to go there.
If this last hunt went well, wouldn’t have to, not anymore.
The Hunter took a long breath and got ready to spend his shift in peace.
At least, out there and so close to the Old Country frontier, he could spend moments like these, alone. Without anyone coming in to ask favors, or talk about the past.
A small moment of peace.
“Hear, hear. I was right, you did come back.”
He turned. Close by, well-dressed, well-fed and looking as polished as ever in her expensive hunting gear, stood a tall brunette woman with stark blue eyes. Her mouth curled in a grin.
“Cloria,” he greeted her with a nod.
“I was assigned to the same shift. Hope you don’t mind me… Hunter.”
Pic by The_Silent