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I see the smithy only in my dreams now: the glare in the brick furnace, the dented tools on the walls, and the hulking, soot-covered shapes of my father and my eldest brothers as they work metal. In my ears the hammers still ring and in my mind’s eye I still see the red-hot iron as it is cast into its mold.

Axe-head, arrowhead, hammerhead, plowshare. . . I saw the birth of all over my two eldest brothers’ toiling shoulders, which grew hairier and thicker as they hammered their way through a never-ending supply of metal.

Only my brother Ros-Osel would let me work the forge--and never when the others were around. He showed me how to cast metal and taught me how to hammer it into shape. He stood over me when I fashioned my first iron nail and gave me a nod of approval I shall never forget. I can only imagine how white my smile must have looked in my soot-covered face.

I knew it would never be my smithy; father needed but two sons. My other brothers came of age one by one, and they all went down the mountains and into the wide world never to be seen again. My time to follow them came when three hunters’ sons decided to try their luck in the world below. The boys were archers, and they asked me along because I could help them care for their bows, axes, and knives.

Folks told us to follow a mountain stream that ran by the village from its source--a cold lake with the freshest water I ever drank--down the mountains, through the forest, and into the city of men below. In the city, folks said, there was work, and life would be better.

We left in spring, just before the stream would swell with meltwater and make our descent nearly impossible. It was the first time I ever left the mountains; the safe, sheltered feeling they had always given me made place for a black emptiness that was a spawning pool for my fears. Behind every tree, I saw Trow; in every shape that loomed in the mist I saw Bugganes; and the ground seemed to tremble with the blasphemous dance of the Etter as they tittered and chattered madly in the deep places of the world.

We made our way through the thawing wilderness until the sight, sound, and smell of home seemed a distant memory. Yet I dreamt of my father’s smithy every night. Some of those dreams were of happy returns and embraces; others were sad or filled with pain.

The dreams grew stronger when the trees of the forest thinned and gave way to green hills. They grew stronger still when those hills made place for swaths of fertile farmland, plowed by hard-eyed men nearly twice my size; men who looked upon us as strangers and called us “Cave Alps” or “Mountain Folk”. They let us sleep in their barns and traded our furs and hides for buttermilk, bread, cheese, and coin.

Finally, the dreams grew strongest when I was reunited with my precious soot and smoke--when I laid eyes on a city for the first time in my life. . .


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