After the first lesson with Aria, Ian realized learning Common would be easier than he initially anticipated, especially since he could follow Aria’s teaching without breaking a sweat. Every once in a while she would get distracted and follow bunny trails, but for the most part, it went surprisingly well.
Since Aria needed to go to the Visitor Center around midday, she bid farewell to both Ian and Bianca before leaving. Now, the time had come to learn blacksmithing. Grinning from ear to ear in expectation, Ian practically skipped to the back door of the forge since Gaelan instructed him to use it instead of the front door. Along the way, he noticed smoke billowing from a smokestack above the building.
As the door creaked open, sunlight illuminated the dimly lit forge. Smells of smoke, metal, and coal filled his nostrils. The air around him rippled from the excess heat.
Inside, he found a shirtless Gaelan using the bellows to stoke the flames. Blue-tipped orange flames flickered within the forge made of brick and stone built into the same wall as the back door. With each press of the bellows, Gaelan’s bulky muscles bulged and heaved. Noticing the man’s iron biceps, Ian looked down at his own arm and wondered if it would look the same someday. However, that ridiculous farmers tan needed to be avoided no matter what.
Before long, Gaelan noticed Ian’s presence and put away the bellows. Wiping away the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief, he jokingly accused, “Finally decided to join me, did you?”
“Yeah. Aria’s lesson just finished. And, just so you know, she’s a far better teacher than you,” Ian replied, grinning.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Gaelan said, waving him off. “Listen, it’s hot in here and always will be, so let’s focus on the task at hand for now. We can crack jokes later.”
“Uh, sure thing,” Ian said, slightly thrown off since he had expected Gaelan to snap back in a joking manner. However, it seemed the man took the forge rather seriously and did not consider it a good place for shenanigans.
“Alright,” Gaelan said with an instructive tone, “for now, just watch my movements. By the end of the day, I hope to have you understand what it means to stand in my forge.”
In response, Ian simply nodded. From what he could tell, he needed to take this as seriously as his mentor.
“I’m going to form a chisel to show you some of the basic movements,” Gaelan explained. “Make sure you pay close attention since I’m going to have you try your hand at this as many times as I can whenever I don’t have orders to fill. It’s best to learn by doing. It’s how the Dwarves taught me, and that’s how I’ll teach you.”
He learned blacksmithing from Dwarves?! Awesome! Ian thought, thoroughly impressed. Based on lore from Earth and even his encounter the other day, Dwarves probably took the top spots in the blacksmithing industry of Regnoras. Although it may be slightly cliche to think so, Ian figured it was fine since Dwarves were pretty awesome.
Then, Gaelan said, “I already used the bellows to increase the strength of the fire. Fire needs air, so you’ll be using the bellows more than most of the tools in here. I’ll show you how to use it later. It’s quite simple.”
Gaelan proceeded to grab a small steel ingot from a crate using a long pair of tongs held in his left hand. “Although you won’t get burned due to your High Fire Resistance, it is still important to do this the proper way. Using your hands to stick the metal into the flames can cause impurities every once in a while. I know since I tried it.”
“High Fire Resistance?” Ian asked, stuck on the unfamiliar term.
“It’s one of your Gifts. I guess I forgot to tell you about them. Ask me about them later.”
“Fine… wait, did you mention sticking your hands into the fire?!” Ian exclaimed. Even with resistance, would that not cause pain?
“Don’t worry about it. Anyway, don’t interrupt me from this point on. Just watch and listen,” Gaelan said with strong conviction. “A lot of people think it might be fun to take out stress on the metal while forging it, but accuracy is most important. Randomly putting in strength leads to low-quality products.”
That made sense. Actually, Ian himself had thought about how fun it could be to swing a hammer at a piece of metal. Apparently the job would be different from his initial expectations.
From that point on, the two remained silent. First, Gaelan began by heating the steel within the raging flames that lit the room with an eerie glow. As soon as the metal touched the fire, the flames converged around it, supposedly at Gaelan’s urging since small black particles floated around him. While watching the process, Ian wondered what type of Gifts his new mentor had.
The flames heated the metal until it turned red, then orange, but as it began to turn yellowish-white, Gaelan pulled it from the fire and set it on the nearby anvil. Awestruck by the process, Ian carefully observed as the man swung forth with very practiced movements. Although Ian was not capable of discerning it at this point in time, Gaelan struck the piping hot metal at a consistent pace in particular spots. Whenever the metal began to cool, he stuck it back into the fire and repeated the process.
Later, the metal took on a shape close to that of a chisel, but it still needed a few adjustments. At this point, Gaelan clamped the metal to the anvil and expertly molded it into a perfect chisel. Dark Matter danced from his hand to the chisel and a few particles collected within it. Slowly, the remaining particles dispersed and Gaelan released the chisel from the clamp. Now all it needed was a handle.
Using tongs to hold up the metal which was still piping hot, Gaelan carefully inspected his work. Grimacing, he clicked his tongue and said, “It’s a bit low quality since I focused more on letting you see the process, but it will have to do as an example piece for now.”
“That’s low quality?” Ian asked. “It looks perfect.” Honestly, it looked more sturdy and usable than any chisel he ever saw back in the tool stores of Earth.
“It could certainly sell for a decent price to any person that would not use it to make a living,” Gaelan replied, “but it is by no means a masterpiece that could last many lifetimes. It would be a disgrace to sell this in my name, or even my shop.”
“Oh, I see,” Ian muttered, slightly disheartened.
“Make no mistake, though,” Gaelan continued, “there are no mistakes in blacksmithing. If it isn’t good enough, you melt it down and redo it.”
The statement ‘there are no mistakes’ grabbed Ian’s attention. So far during his twenty-six years of life, he had piled up mistake after mistake until it dragged him to the pits of emotional and social anxiety. Therefore, he knew at this moment that choosing blacksmithing as his path would never lead to regret. If ever he made a mistake, all he needed to do was fix it.
I can apply this to my life as well… Ian thought while clenching his fist. Perhaps blacksmithing truly could help him forge more than just a stable income.
“Alright, your turn,” Gaelan said with a cocky grin.
“Uh, seriously?” Ian asked. “I have no idea how you did any of that.”
Gaelan scratched his head and said, “Well, I’m going to give you directions while you work. If it comes out bad, you’ll just have to keep doing it over and over until you get it right. Oh, I subconsciously used Dark Matter earlier, but don’t worry about that yet. I’ll explain that part when you can actually forge something decent.”
“Okay, I guess I’ll give it a shot,” Ian said, shrugging. “A chisel again?”
“You can certainly try, but I’ll be happy if you make something close. Also, use the scrap in the corner so that we aren’t wasting money.”
“Haaah… you could have said that before I grabbed from the same crate as you…”
For the rest of the day, Gaelan directed Ian through the different steps of the process. From what he understood of the explanations, the technique for this type of forging was called ‘upsetting’ which caused the metal to flatten out into a near chisel shape. The first ten or so attempts resulted in abysmal failures, twisted pieces of metal nowhere close to useable. Contrary to Ian’s preconceptions about his new mentor’s attitude, the man never once laughed at or made fun of his failures. Instead, he seriously and patiently guided Ian through the process.
At some point, Ian decided that taking off his shirt like Gaelan would be a good idea, which earned him a thumbs up from the geezer. Sometime around Ian’s fifteenth attempt, Bianca brought them glasses of water. The two shirtless men gratefully downed the liquid in one go. However, Bianca almost dropped the porcelain cups when she saw Ian shirtless. Considering his leaner muscles took shape through modern weightlifting techniques, it would not be hard to imagine the difference between his well-toned muscles and the bulky muscles most of the men of this world had. Even so, poor Bianca did her best not to stare at him too much before leaving. Lucky for Ian, the two men were too busy to notice anything and quickly resumed the hardcore training.
From the start, Ian habitually shied away from the flames. Noticing it eventually, Gaelan grabbed Ian’s wrist and shoved his hand into the flames. After that, Ian quickly overcame his inbuilt fear of burning. In fact, he became so fascinated by the orange and blue flames lapping at his hands that he ended up playing with it for a few minutes. Gaelan simply watched him out of curiosity since witnessing a person’s first experience with magic was considered the same as watching your child walk for the first time. Before long, a blood vessel burst in Ian’s nostril and a splitting headache prevented him from playing any longer. While stifling the blood flow with a cloth, he realized that wielding the flames as naturally as his mentor would likely take some time. After all, learning about something and actually experiencing it were completely different things.
Near the end of the day when the sky turned reddish-purple due to the setting sun, Ian finally succeeded in forging a somewhat usable chisel. Although the level of craftsmanship fell miles short of even Gaelan’s ‘failure’, Ian asked if he could keep it as a memento of his first success, to which his mentor agreed with an understanding grin.
However, even as Gaelan complimented his new apprentice, he considered how quickly the kid picked up the technique. For some reason, he felt like he had just watched someone relearn the process after forgetting it for a long time. Honestly, the kid didn’t just have the Gifts for it, he also had the innate talent, and to a frightening extent at that.
“At this rate, it won’t even take you a month to make small things like this on your own,” Gaelan said.
“Thanks. That was actually really really enjoyable. Is there any way I would be able to take a bath or something, though? I feel like a slug crawled all over me.”
“We have a small tub, but you’ll have to use it last,” Gaelan answered. “Also, slugs don’t exactly crawl. It’s more like sliding.”
“Meh, doesn’t matter,” Ian said. All he cared about at the moment was the fact that a bath awaited him in the near future.
While the two returned to the house, they saw Aella at the doorway. She watched the two sweaty, shirtless men traipse toward the house. Well, at least, she stared at her husband, and with the gaze you might see on a predator eyeing its prey to boot. Ian did his best to ignore it.
“Dinner is ready,” the woman gracefully told them as she spun back around and entered the house.
“Thank you, ma’am.”
That night, dinner passed rather quickly for Ian. Not only did he feel much more at home than the previous night, but he also anticipated a warm bath after a good meal.
Apparently, the family needed to share a bath and would take turns based on parents first, then children by age, and finally guests. As long as he got the chance to clean himself, it was all good either way.
Upon entering the bathroom, he realized the bath water felt lukewarm at best. Grinning cheekily, he put his newly learned Fire Affinity to use and reheated it, although the action gave him a headache. After relaxing for a while, he returned to his room down the hall and plopped onto the bed. As soon as his head hit the pillow, he thought to himself, I need to go back to Earth for a bit within the next few days. Hopefully Gaelan will understand.
Then, with his first day as an apprentice blacksmith under his belt, he pulled the quilt up to his chin and slowly drifted off while mentally celebrating the fact that he finally found something that could bring him some fulfillment in life.