Piece III - A

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Clover, Celia, Hana and the rest of the apprentices were at the cottage beside the smithy for noon break. The girls sat together on a four-sitter table. On the other hand, the boys gathered around the remaining tables. Everyone ate a simple meal of bread and water, ignoring the heap of mess opposite them.

       Bricks and clay were huddled in one corner. Four sacks of coal sat on top of a brick pile. They would only use those in the final weeks of their apprenticeship as coals were expensive in their town. Spare buckets stacked on the other corner, some of which contained steel scraps. 

        "I wish our workshop is near an inn," Celia said before she took another piece of her bread. The staple food of Greendale was hard to tear, rough on the tongue and tasted bland. "I want some soup."

        "You should have brought some jam from your father's goods then," Hana said.

        "Would you like some goat cheese?" Clover offered Celia a slice.    

        "Thank you Clover!" 

        After a few moments of silence, Celia spoke again, "I wonder why master does not let us do real blacksmithing." The female apprentices were stuck at working on the bellows, collecting firewood and tidying up the workshop.

        "How many female blacksmiths do we have in town?" Hana said.

        "I don't know. I have not seen one," Celia said.

        "See..," Hana emphasized her point.

        "Do you think no female blacksmith ever lived in our town? In our land?" Clover wondered.

       A boy, the one who created the blade yesterday, approached their table. "Excuse me young ladies," Rowan handed a chunky cut of cured meat. "Have some. My brother brought them from his trip."

        "Food of royalty!" Celia took the offer instantly. Sumptuous juice secreted from the meat with her every bite. 

        "Have some too." Rowan offered Clover and Hana. The two extended their gratitude and helped themselves. 

        "You did great yesterday!" Celia said.

        "But the blade broke," Rowan said.

        "Even so..." Hana said. "Have you received early training?"      

        "Oh, no. No early training for the blade." Rowan took a small piece of ore from his pocket. "Just this."  Light emanated between his fingers as he clenched the ore in his fist and focused. When he opened his hands, a minuscule steel sword rested on his palm. The girls stared at it, wide-eyed.

        "You can morph?" Clover said.

        "Any rock into steel," Rowan said. "However, they are only good as ornaments." He offered his art piece to Celia. 

      The girl remembered her encounter this morning. 'Was Rowan the hooded figure from the river?'

     "Turning ore into steel is no craft," Leon, the small boy working on the anvil yesterday, said. "You can't see the effort and dedication in it."

        "Are you jealous of my ability?" Rowan said.  He received no answer. Leon headed back to the smithy. "You have such a big mouth for such a small body!" Rowan had opened Pandora's Box. 

        Leon marched back to him. "Let us see, who really has a big mouth." He took his water skin and poured its contents onto the ground. Leon opened his hand, as if holding a big apple, and whirling wet dirt rose.  The motion ceased and muddy mixture solidified when he grabbed on it. Leon turned water and soil into a marble club.

        "OooOah!" the remaining apprentices said.

       "I see you can morph too." Leon genuinely impressed Rowan. The bigger boy reached for the contents of the pouch on his left side. With one hand stroke, the powdered ore spilled out and turned into a short sword. 

                                                                                 --------

Mister Thatcher struck his donkey when he saw the master blacksmith leave the vassal's manor. A meeting among Lord Petrarch, master craftsmen, and town soldiers had recently ended. Mister Thatcher only intended to give a ride to his friend but he ended giving two more. When they were finally along in the wagon, the older man asked, "How are the apprentices this year?" Mister Thatcher asked.

        "They are slow." The master blacksmith folded his arms. "Yesterday, one lad thought he could make a fine blade with just morphing."

        "Oh, ho ho ho." Mister Thatcher took some dried prunes from a pouch hanging around his neck. "I don't agree with you. That art can make great things!" He offered some prunes to his passenger. 

         The master blacksmith extended his hand to the old man, accepting the dried fruits. "Aye. But that was years ago...Back when cigar was still legal in The Land." Mister Thatcher pulled the horses a stop as the wagon reached the foothill of Lush Mountains. To the right of the wagon, a narrow path stretched up to the site of the smithy.

          "Thank you for the ride ol' man!" The master blacksmith said before alighting. Mister Thatcher smiled and nodded.

                                                                              ---

       "Did you not learn from yesterday?" Leon bent his knees and pulled the club to his right side, ready to strike if provoked.

     "The powder contains a special element." Rowan held his sword, point on the ground. "This won't easily break." He wondered if a small boy like Leon can swing the club. He already struggled in lifting it.  "Fight! Fight! Fight!" Their fellow apprentices, except Celia and Clover, cheered. 

        "Why are you cheering?" Celia asked Hana.

        "Umm, you know..." Hana looked for an excuse. "I'm just going with the flow!"

        "Clover! Let us do something to stop them." Celia nudged Clover.

      "We cannot do anything." Seeing how the boys crafted their weapons, Clover became interested in knowing the limit of their abilities. "Master will be here soon. Let's just hope that they won't get badly injured when he arrives." Her words surprised Celia.

       Honestly, the two did not have any clue what to do next. Both did not want to badly hurt each other but both were hyped by their fellow apprentices' cheer. Rowan thought he need to satisfy his audience. On the other hand, Leon was fuming about Rowan's mocking. 

         "Come on!" One fellow apprentice said. "Aren't you men?!"

      Rowan lifted his sword and lunged for Leon's cheek. He thought he'd lightly cut his opponent's cheek and that would be enough. Leon's arm became duller by the minute but despite that, he lifted his club and prepared for his opponent's attack. He deflected Rowan's smite when a huge animal emerged from the bushes. A pack of four monsters came rampaging at the duel.

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