The sharp clanging of Ian’s new hammer echoed throughout the shop upon striking a small slab of piping hot metal clamped to the anvil. Beads of sweat dripped from his face and bared upper body with each swing. Starting from the break of dawn, Gaelan began teaching him a new technique called peining used to spread out metal with the rounded side of the hammer. Now, several hours into it, he felt like he was beginning to grasp the concept.
“Not bad,” Gaelan called out over the bang of the hammer and the roar of the flames. “Maybe you’ll get it right by the end of the year!”
The humorous jab threw Ian off just enough to strike the wrong spot, resulting in a deformed metal handle.
“Thanks a lot…” Ian groaned while grabbing his shirt from a nearby table in order to wipe sweat from his face. Dabbing away the perspiration made him realize just how much his beard had grown out since arriving in Regnoras. Several of the coarse hairs poked his hand through the fabric.
“You need to be focused enough to not get distracted by such a small comment,” Gaelan retorted. His lips curled up into a sly grin.
“Haaah… Of course I do…”
Suddenly, the bell for Gaelan’s shop area rang. The sharp metallic sound briefly startled Ian since he only heard it a handful of times over the last few days.
In response to the bell, Gaelan stood, stretched, and said, “Guess I’ll head up front.” He stepped through the doorway connecting the two areas but poked his head back into the smithy area and said, “Hey, Ian, you come up here too. It could be good for you to see how I handle it.”
“Alright,” Ian replied. Once his mentor left the room again, he stared at his failed product and sighed. Despite his desire to grasp onto the idea of always being able to rectify his mistakes, he could tell that the disappointment of failures still weighed heavily on his mind. Hopefully he could conquer that mindset over time. With a shake of his head, he cleared his thoughts and returned the tools to their proper places on racks or hooks attached to the walls. As soon as he finished, he threw on his sweat-stained t-shirt and pushed open the creaky wooden door leading to the shop.
A few paces ahead, he saw Gaelan speaking with a man he recognized, much to his surprise. Coincidentally, it was the same man who led the hunt for the werewolf Ian encountered on his first day here. In contrast to their first meeting, however, the soldier guy wore simple clothing and leather clogs. It certainly gave a different impression than the shiny armor from before.
The man noticed Ian as well but no hint of familiarity shone in his eyes at first. Instead, he simply raised his brows in surprise, faced Gaelan, and asked, “You take in apprentices now?”
“Not exactly. He’s kind of a special case,” Gaelan answered. “His name’s Ian. Ian, this is Blake, a fairly regular customer of mine.”
“Ian?” Blake asked, tilting his head slightly. “That sounds familiar…”
“Hello again,” Ian said, nodding courteously. He switched on his customer service mode almost instinctually.
“Ah, you’re that guy from the woods the other day,” Blake said, snapping his fingers in realization.
“Oh, you know each other? Man, Ian, you really get around for someone without any friends,” Gaelan said, grinning from ear to ear.
Bastard… Ian thought. He barely managed to maintain a polite smile as he said, “I believe it’s been a little over a week.”
“Yes, during the hunt for that werewolf,” Blake said, nodding.
“Oh, so you crossed paths with Blake’s unit back then,” Gaelan muttered as he recalled the conversation from before their trip to Earth.
Probably shouldn’t mention I forgot his name… Ian thought.
“Still… it surprises me that you actually took in an apprentice after so many years,” Blake said, turning his attention to Gaelan. “I mean, you denied quite a few prominent people over the years. Can’t imagine many of them would appreciate your decision.”
“Since when did I ever cater to their whims?” Gaelan retorted, chuckling briefly.
“Besides,” Gaelan added, this time more seriously, “I didn’t have much of a choice with him.”
He’s mentioned that before. Is he just referring to Dark Matter?
“What is that supposed to mean?” Blake asked.
“Not much. Just some personal stuff. He does an alright job, though,” Gaelan said, noticeably dodging the question. “Now, you said you needed your armor repaired?”
“Ah, yeah.” Blake picked up a sack by his feet. The contents clinked together when he lifted it. “If you could do so, I’d really appreciate it. The last few months have really taken a toll on it.”
“It’s no problem at all,” Gaelan said, taking the sack. “It’ll certainly be a good opportunity for teaching the lad a few things.”
“Uh… is he good enough to help with that?” Blake asked worriedly, and rather understandably at that.
“Certainly. Wouldn’t have said so otherwise,” Gaelan replied, assuaging the man’s concerns.
“Alright, then. When will it be done?”
“Give me three days. Oh, and bring some of your mother’s muffins when you come back.”
Bowing slightly, Blake said, “Thanks for this.”
As the man left the shop, Gaelan turned to Ian, held out the sack full of armor, and said, “Let’s get started.”
Later in the afternoon, the heavy thud of a large hammer striking plate metal resounded within the small smithy. The smells of burning coal and metal wafted around the two men. Flames crackled in the forge nearby, almost creating a music along with the offbeat rhythm of the hammer.
“Alright, now here,” Gaelan instructed after pointing out a specific point on the steel armor resting between them on a short stone table. Leather was grafted to the surface of the table to prevent scratches on the armor.
At Gaelan’s instruction, Ian swung the heavy two-handed hammer over his head and straight onto the exact spot with all his strength. Meanwhile, Gaelan himself kept the piece steady by holding it with tongs in both hands. Supposedly, this style of smithing was used for bigger projects and generally required an assistant who would be called a striker. Even while filling the role, Ian wondered how many mistakes he would have made if they didn’t practice for a few hours beforehand.
A few more strikes later, Gaelan raised a hand to stop him and began inspecting the armor. While the man did so, Ian stepped back and rested the large hammer, which looked similar to a sledgehammer, against the nearby scrap table. Instantly, Gaelan said, “Don’t put it there. The scraps might get on it.”
“Ah, my bad,” Ian replied. He carried the hammer to the nearby wall and leaned it there instead. Then, he sat on the closest stool, placed his hands on the back of his head, and took a few deep breaths. To be honest, he felt glad to be done with the strenuous activity.
“Alright, looks good,” Gaelan said as he stood and carried the armor over to a clean table. “Didn’t take nearly as long with you here. Thanks for showing up.”
“Who are you, and what did you do with Gaelan?” Ian asked, smiling.
“What kind of question is that?” the man asked, raising a brow. Apparently, the joke went right over his head.
“Haaah… It’s just something of a joke since you’ve never expressed thankfulness for my coming here or anything,” Ian explained.
“Oh. Haven’t I? I’m sure I’ve at least said something positive…” Gaelan muttered, rubbing his chin. Then, he dropped the thoughtful attitude and added, “Besides, jokes aren’t funny when you explain them.”
Of all the things that had to be the same between our worlds… Ian thought with a roll of his eyes. In an attempt to change the subject, he said, “I can’t imagine doing this alone. I mean,” he wiped a layer of sweat from his forehead and held out his now sweat-drenched hand, “look at this. This is insane.”
Gaelan shrugged. “It’s difficult, but doable. Now, what do you say to a break until my friend shows up to train you?”
“Oh, yeah. I forgot about that…” Ian muttered. His head drooped at the prospect of even more exhausting activities. Despite his weariness, curiosity caused him to anticipate meeting the person who would train him.
“By the way,” Gaelan said, “I’ll warn you now, but he’s a bit of an oddball.”
“Uh, okay. Not really sure how to take that.”
“You’ll understand when you meet him. Now, let’s go grab some food. My stomach’s been rumbling since before we started on this thing.”
Ian nodded and followed his mentor all the way to the kitchen. Briefly, he felt surprised to not see Bianca there but then furrowed his brows and wondered if such a thought could be considered rude.
Meanwhile, Gaelan rummaged through the cupboards looking for something simple to eat. The sound of footsteps descending the stairwell stopped him after the third cupboard, though. Moments later, Bianca appeared in the archway and looked between the two with a confused gaze.
“Um, do you want me to make……… something for you?” she asked. For a few seconds, she paused rather noticeably upon noticing Ian’s shirtlessness.
This time around, Gaelan noticed his daughter’s gaze, stared at Ian, and ordered, “Go put a shirt on.”
“Oh, forgot I took it off… and aren’t you shirtless as well?”
“It’s fine for me.”
Shaking his head, Ian couldn’t help grinning in mild amusement. Apparently it was totally fine to traipse around without a shirt anywhere but in Bianca’s presence. Of course, he knew the fallacy in such a thought. Just a few days immersed in the culture of this world showed him that a man with no shirt would be treated no different than a topless woman.
While ascending the stairs, he noticed Bianca’s eyes glued to his upper body. He struggled to prevent his lips from curling upward. Behind him, Gaelan called out, “Bianca?”
Immediately, she flinched in surprise and tore her gaze away from Ian. “Ah, um, yes dad?”
“You offered to make something?”
“Oh, right…” Bianca quietly answered. She walked into the kitchen, though not without a final quick glance in Ian’s direction.
Ian himself proceeded into the bathroom and washed his face with water from the bucket sitting on the dry sink. A mirror bolted to the wall behind it hazily reflected his beet red face that had yet to cool off from the hard labor. Although the mirror lacked the clear reflective properties that could be found on Earth, it certainly served its purpose well enough. Furrowing his brows, he looked at his shoulders. They looked wider than he remembered. All of his muscles already looked noticeably tougher than before as well. He rubbed a hand across his chest and couldn’t believe how much his muscles firmed up in only a few days. Did the addition of Dark Matter actually have such an effect?
Sighing, he moved onto his room and threw on a clean shirt since the one from earlier was probably still sitting in the smithy somewhere. Then, he walked downstairs again to find Bianca alone in the kitchen making something similar to a sandwich, but slightly different since yeast apparently wasn’t used in Regnoras.
“May I ask what’s on ‘em?” Ian inquired.
“Eh? Oh, just some salted meat and cheese,” Bianca answered. As usual, she somehow didn’t notice him until he spoke to her. To Ian’s surprise, she carried two of the sandwiches to him and said, “Here. One for you, one for dad.”
“Made one for yourself, too?”
“Well, yes?” she replied, tilting her head at the question.
“Anyway, thanks,” Ian replied as he took the sandwiches and walked toward the dining room in order to avoid falling too deep into her gaze. However, he ended up glancing back. When he did, the girl quickly averted her gaze and trotted toward her own food. Ian blinked. Then, he sighed and traipsed into the living room. Since Gaelan was already sitting on the couch, Ian took a seat next to him and handed over one of the sandwiches. In return, the man handed over a cup of water, which Ian downed in a few gulps.
While the two of them munched on the sandwiches, someone knocked on the back door. Because they knocked on the back door rather than the front, Ian assumed the person must be familiar with the Marlow family.
“I guess he showed up a bit earlier than expected, though it’s not all that surprising,” Gaelan said, standing in order to walk over and open the door for the guest.
A man completely garbed in dark clothing and a black cloak stepped through. Along with his clothing, even his leather shoes looked like they had been designed with quick movement in mind. His entire outfit looked well-used, but he obviously kept it as clean as possible. Although he looked somewhat short next to Gaelan, he probably stood close to Ian’s height, but, in contrast, his build obviously trended to the slender side. Strangely enough, a large waterskin hung from his shoulders by leather straps. When Gaelan closed the door, the young man removed his hood, revealing a youthful visage. His hair, gold like rays of sunlight, was tied in a short ponytail that barely reached his shoulders. His bright blue eyes shone with admiration for Gaelan. A bit of blond stubble poked out from his angled chin and an ‘X’ shaped scar on his cheek marred his otherwise handsome appearance. At a quick glance, Ian guessed he and the young man were about the same age.
“Thanks for coming, Edmund,” Gaelan said.
“Oh, it’s my pleasure, sir!” The young man giddily replied.
“Hah! Always the energetic one, aren’t you?” Gaelan remarked.
“So, is this the guy you told me about?” Edmund asked, pointing at Ian.
“Yes. This is Ian, my new apprentice.”
Even before Gaelan could finish speaking, Edmund approached Ian with an astonishingly agile stride, stuck out his right hand, and said, “Hello Ian. Name’s Edmund. Nice to meet you.”
Ian cast off his surprise at the sudden greeting and overly energetic behavior, grasped the young man’s outstretched hand, and said, “Nice to meet you, Edmund.”
Suddenly, Ian realized that the other’s hand tightened. He couldn’t just sit back and let himself be overpowered in a handshake. In response, he also tightened his grip. Doing so gave him deja vu about the previous time he did this with that Allon Smithson guy.
“Hmm… have you never done combat training?” Edmund asked, tightening his grip even further.
“No. Just physical training,” Ian answered, following suit. Briefly, he thought the young man’s eyes darkened, but perhaps it was just his imagination.
Eventually, the handshake reached the point that Ian worried whether the bones in his hand could handle the stress. Right when he could feel his bones begin to crack, Edmund loosened his grip and let go. The guy muttered something before smiling like nothing ever happened. Although barely audible, it sounded like ‘not bad’ or something.
While Ian opened and closed his hand due to lingering pain, Gaelan interjected, “Alright, since you two have met, let’s go ahead and get started.”
“We just ate, though,” Ian mentioned.
“Ah, right. Then… we’ll wait a few minutes and then get started.”