Laurel listened to her father and went to school, all the while watching him get slower and frailer. She never complained when there was not enough food because he did not complete a weapon. She did not mention the other children teasing her for her threadbare tunic, her hole ridden shoes, her messy hair. Laurel rose every morning with a smile, putting what she could together for her father for breakfast and went to school, just like he asked her to.
When Laurel was eleven, she found her father staring at his forge. It was cool, he had not lit it. He noticed her there, and took to his knees at her feet.
For the first time in her life, Laurel noticed the age of her father. His eyes looked heavy from lack of sleep. His hair was grey and missing in patches, and worst of all, his hands were knotted and worn, scarred from hundreds of burns.
“Laurel,” She would never forget how tired he sounded, how lost and hollow the voice that raised her sounded on this night. “I can’t work this old girl anymore.”
“Can you teach me?”
Rosel, who feared his craft would die with him since he did not have a son to pass his trade onto, was struck stupid. Without his wife, their house had fallen into disrepair. Laurel had taken over best she could where her mother left off. Still, Rosel felt his end was near, orders were taking too long, money was too tight. He was prepared to bear his weaknesses to this tiny eleven year old girl. Instead, he smiled at her.
“There may be enough strength in these old bones for that, Laurel.”
Like a blessing from Balor himself, Laurel learned quickly, and it was easy to see that she inherited her father’s skill, and some of her mother’s as well. As she grew older, her hammer grew steadier, faster. Rosel presented her with a bow and was impressed in the amount of time it took her to string it. She then learned the fine art of making a weapon not only a tool of war, but an art as well. She learned to carve designs, stitch hilts with stories, and use all manner of bone to her liking.
With a tiny laurel leaf carved into every piece she made, under her father’s curved blade, a rumor began spreading that the great Rosel had finally trained an apprentice. Orders began to come in great numbers again.
Rosel watched his daughter grow over his forge, a forge he built with his own two hands. She transformed into a beautiful creature of strength and skill. She had a fiery tongue but the looks of a goddess, when she was clean enough to be seen that is. Rosel became nothing but a figurehead for the great weapons she made, Laurel refusing to leave his mark off every completed project. Her eighteenth birthday came and passed without a single other thought in Laurel’s head. She was consumed with her work. Rosel joked she would never find a husband, even trying to arrange her with their customers. He tried to tell her to leave him behind, he had a good life, but she denied to leave his side.
The spring leaves on the laurel trees had just opened up. Rosel walked slowly under them, admiring their tiny green lives. He walked with a cane now, admiring the day in his elderly step. He didn’t need to worry anymore. Laurel had rejuvenated his craft. His life was simple now. He swept up their tiny storefront and did most of the sales, as Laurel’s sales manner was quite brash. Nobody even knew she did most of the work either. They just assumed in his gnarled hands was the strength to work the forge in ways nobody thought possible. Laurel produced great works of art, and war, which gained attention of many. Antalath, Makkan, Daliquorian, and of course, Calinthian, all knocked on their door.
For all this, Rosel thanked Balor every night. His daughter wouldn’t need to become a maid or seek out an honest knight as a husband, and, when her hands gnarled like his, she could pass his craft on to a son or daughter she might one day have like his father had done before him.
But never in his whole life did he expect the trample of royal horses to startle him as they came across the hill. As the procession continued towards him, the old man seemed to be rooted to the very spot he stood. It was a small group, five horses, four guards and King Ryo himself. With all the speed he could muster, Rosel threw his cane to his side and sat on one knee, arm across his chest in honor. The guards stopped a good length away, King Ryo ahead of the pack, dismounting and petting the mane of the elegant white beast he rode in on.
“My my, I wish to be as spry as you at your age!” King Ryo was a great man. In his first few years of rule he removed large Melyion encampment from the shared northern borders between the Calinthian Kingdom and the Antalath Federation. It had reduced the number of attacks tenfold. Children no longer were rushed inside as darkness fell, knighthood was no longer a guaranteed death sentence. Rosel looked up at the good king. He was tall, but age and time had put some weight on him, still, from under the fine silk tunic was the ripe body of a warrior. His black hair was clipped short to his head, a smile genuinely gracing the rounded face, green, fiery eyes, reflecting a brilliant joy. “Come, rise my good Rosel. I wish to speak to you!”
Rosel barely mumbled out a ‘yes sire’ before King Ryo’s arms were around him, helping him to his feet. He walked him to a nearby bench under the laurel trees and help sit him comfortably.
“My lord. Your kindness knows no limit.” Rosel smiled as King Ryo handed him his cane. “What brings you to my humble shop?”
“I have noticed lately my guard escaping to the countryside to purchase weapons. Beautiful, well balanced, works of art and tools of war. I have come to seek those skills for my own armory. These weapons…” Ryo turned, a guard handed him a pair of bone claws Laurel had recently made. “Are made with the finest skill and highest honor. I hear the man who requested these did so after finding the dying body of a silver sarooth, one of Balor’s favored creatures.”
“Ah, yes, and the creature gave his permission to use his flesh and bone after he sat with the dying king for many hours. She did her best to honor the great beast.”
Rosel laughed. “My lord, there would be no fooling you. This old body could not work a forge or carve such honorable designs.” He lifted his hands, the gnarled ends of his arms that barely opened.” I am simply the old shopkeep of days past. My daughter is the smith you seek.”
Laurel was busy forming a blade. Her brown hair hung in a damp knot on the back of her head, soot and sweat streamed down her face and arms, the breeches and tunic she wore barely had any of their color to them under the blackened mess she made. The cool burst of air on the back of her neck meant the door to the forge had opened.
“Father, this steel is no good. Too much Makkan ore. It’ll never hold in combat.” Laurel lifted the half-finished blade up. I can use it as a kitchen knife or something. Chase chickens with it.” She laughed, a light, beautiful laugh, as she heard footsteps through her giggles. She turned, still holding the blade, only to have it plucked from her hand by King Ryo. Rosel stood behind him with a pleased smile, four guards flanking them both.
“I would watch with great joy to see you chase chickens with this fine blade.” Ryo laughed.
Laurel took in the situation, opened her mouth to speak, and promptly fainted.
“That would be a first.” Ryo blinked, looking at the heap of soot and beauty at his feet. With a flick of his wrist, he commanded his guard to lift her.
“For you, and her.” Rosel laughed. “Come. To the house. I’m sure she’ll wake soon.”
Rosel mopped the soot from his daughters face with a cool rag. His guests were pleasantly enjoying snacks and tea, the same thing he served to waiting customers. He laughed to himself at the way his daughter fainted.
Laurel’s eyes popped open as he swept across her brow.
“Father. Did King Ryo just enter my forge?”
“Did I faint?”
“Has he left?”
“No.” Rosel smiled. “Wash the soot from your hands and come speak with him.”
“After I fainted? I’m an embarrassment!” Laurel squeaked.
“I think your… charm and skills will win his favor, easily.” Rosel laughed and stood, walking slowly to the door. “I believe I still have some of your mother’s clothes. Why don’t you wear some of those?
Laurel watched him leave, the saddest of tones in his voice when he suggested her mother’s clothes. Not just clothes though, a dress. Laurel knew where they were hiding, thumbing the end of a blue-green sleeve.
“I hate dresses.”
Rosel was impressed at how well his daughter cleaned up. Her hair even looked mildly tamed as she was on one knee in front of King Ryo. He laughed and told her to rise and sit, that he heard the brilliant weapons his knights were flocking off to find were her creation.
“I am in need of something as grand as it is combat worthy… I have procured all the proper metals for such a blade, but never could find someone to work it to my liking.” The great king rambled on. Laurel listened intensely. She asked to see what he had, a cache of ingots and gems presented to her that her trained hands and eyes poured over. She fetched paper and a charcoal stick as she roughed out a design, taking measurements to ensure the proper weight and balance, adding that decoration would come second to the workmanship, of course. King Ryo picked the paper up and smiled.
“For all your work, a gracious reward, I promise.” His grin was from ear to ear.
“Accep-“ Laurel started.
“A gift, to Calinth.” Rosel ended. Laurel shot her father a scathing glare, his generosity often cost them a fair price.
“Nonsense!” Ryo dropped the paper and grabbed Laurel’s hands. “This fair woman deserves the best for her work.”
King Ryo left behind the supplies he had, and promised the proper ones they needed would be supplied within the next two days. Laurel thumbed through the flawless ingots and gems with her trained touch. Her father couldn’t stop beaming.
Laurel rarely worked with gems of such high and delicate quality. It took her many tries to get the weight of the blade just right, to carry light and beauty in the proper fashion, and to be sturdy the whole length through. It was a difficult forge that left her working well into the morning hours many times. It was a grand day that Laurel walked away from her workbench carrying a blade that made her father cry at its splendor. Demanding he help, Rosel made sure the blade shone.
The day came they were presenting it to King Ryo. Rosel admired his daughter from afar. She was leaning on the open windowsill, her brown curls scrubbed of soot and left to dry freely in the cool autumn breeze. Her blue eyes were closed, a smile on her face, the crisp air adding a dash of red to the tip of her nose. The fawn brown dress bellowed out from her waist in a beautiful plume, a pink white gem adorned her hair in the shape of a laurel flower. Rosel could swear he was looking at his wife in her youth.
Laurel perked at the window, she jumped back and her hair fanned around her face. “Oh good, they’ve come! The reward better be worth it!”
“Laurel!” Rosel scolded. He lifted his aging hands to her hair and tucked it behind her ear. Laurel noticed a strange, sad look on his face.
“Come, let us greet them.”
“My lord.” Laurel said from one knee. She held the sheathed blade in her open palms. “Crafted with Balor’s strength and Musa’s intelligence, this blade should be all you have asked of me.”
Ryo smiled as he lifted the blade from her hands. He unsheathed it, admiring the intricate carving and gemwork along the grip, the fine etching in the steel itself, and the sturdy edge. “Simply perfect! I assume it will hold well in battle and you could sharpen the blade?”
“Of course.” Laurel tried not to huff. She would never construct a weapon that didn’t.
Ryo sheathed the blade, tying it onto his belt, taking a step back and forth, enjoying the perfect balance and feel, then quickly removing it as to test it. He smiled and asked Laurel to rise.
“Laurel, your skills are nothing short of godly.” He said, resheathing the blade once more. “It is with the highest honor I would like to offer you this.” Laurel was confused, her father standing at her side. King Ryo smiled at their confusion. “I desire your skills at my call. At the call of my knights. A forge, shop, and home, in the castle town of Calinth.” Rosel’s eyes had gone wide. Laurel was trying to absorb all he was telling her. She was to work for the king, the great royal armies of Calinth. It was the highest honor one could imagine. King Ryo let out a hearty laugh and lifted Laurel’s hands up, and whispered. “This is where you say yes.” Laurel stared at the green eyes that were so close to her. They were like gems in the way they radiated the light of the day at her.
All Laurel could manage was a weak nod.
“Splendid! Now, I shall send for a greater escort for you in time, and provide for you anything you wish in materials. You will be free to take your own clients on the side, of course. Is all this fair?” Laurel still could only nod. Not even her snark could break through the stunned silence she was thrown into.
It was a great rush to pack their things. Rosel lingered on many memories, his wife’s clothes and many of her belongings, as Laurel threw her things into baskets one after another without a thought in the world. It was only days after King Ryo had left that the most elegant caravan Laurel had ever seen arrived at their door. She couldn’t contain her excitement.
They arrived to their new home with two days of travel, a shop front, forge, and living quarters larger than either of them could dream of. Laurel spent days unpacking, letting her father rest in the fall shade. She put a picture of her mother out for him as soon as she found one, smiling and leaving the rest of her things to his command. Rosel took his daughter by the hand and thanked her.
Rosel came inside once the sun had set. Laurel offered him dinner, but he passed, the day had simply worn him out, and he wished to arrange his things. To his bedroom he went, the room his wife’s picture rested, surrounded by crates of things. He closed the door behind him, his wives clothes nearly packaged up, her sewing supplies and treasures all sitting in a basket. Rosel took one long look at them all once more. He could hear his wife’s voice in Laurel’s. She scolded him the same way. He lifted a cloth, a half-finished embroidery, from one basket. The design marked out was of his crest in a field of laurel leaves. Rosel hobbled to his bed and sat. She had been working on a blanket for the child in her belly, before her fingers swelled and it became painful for her to work. He could hear her voice singing softly to the child that she never met.
Rosel fell asleep to the memories of his wife, and passed silently into the night.
Laurel was originally intended to be a background character. I’m so glad she’s grown into so much more. She’s easily one of my favorites to write about since she picked up such an important role in the grand scheme of things. She likes to knock on my head at all hours of the night and tell me what she would say next. Right now though, sleeping at the forge. Lazy beast!