Hana walked the dirt road, further and further into the village. She was on high alert, though she saw nothing suspicious close by, she was also a woman, alone, and kept her wits about her and senses heightened. She inquired as to where a blacksmith could be located, and a withered elderly man, obviously suffering from acute strabismus, said there was one off of Pigot Lane, at the end of the narrow main road. Hana watched her step, striding determinedly in the direction the man had pointed her. Her boots avoided stepping in the fresh horse dung and waste that the villagers had left in sporadic piles along the curbs. She had to stand right underneath the signs to read the weather beaten, run down marks indicating the road name. Considering where Hana had travelled, this hamlet was fairly well populated and kept. There was an inn, tavern, and a limited market. Not six days prior, Hana had passed through a ghost town, covered in thick fog. The only sign of life she had seen there was a raven squawking threateningly at her from the windowpane of an abandoned hovel. Following the old man's directions, Hana found Pigot Lane, walking gingerly toward the smithy. The building was stone, with the wooden roof. The slats in the roof bowed alternatingly. Something about it made her apprehensive. Hana felt her arms and the back of her neck prickle as she approached the place. She frowned as the looked the door; the tarnished sign simply read "Metals". Hana took her chances anyway, keeping her only remaining sharp knife in her belt as she paused, and knocked on the door.
The knock sounded louder than she thought she had knocked. Hana waited; there was no sound for a moment. She glanced at the windows on either side of the door, and saw a faint light somewhere behind the right one. Then footsteps, heavy ones, inched closer and closer until the door opened with an indignant jerk. The man who opened it was tall, at least to Hana, who stood at barely 5"4. Hana noticed his large hands, dirtied by work and riddled with little nicks and cuts all over the knuckles. She took a step back, intimidated slightly, but stood tall and looked him right in the eye. The man narrowed his eyes for a moment, seemingly not expecting to see a woman at his door. He exhaled, exasperated, and bellowed, "What is your business here?" He shook his head, tired and flustered. "I'm through for the day. Come back in the morning. I'll resume work at daybreak." He was about to close the door on her, but Hana stopped him holding the door insistently. Speaking just as forcefully, she replied, "Wait, sir, if you please, I need these sharpened. This is the only place with a smithy I have come across in over a week's travel. I'll be gone as soon as you finish. I have a few small trinkets with which I can pay and I will not trespass on your time further." The door was open just enough so his figure did not block her view of the shop. Hana noticed a very small fire, and what she assumed was his work table. The forge must have been somewhere in the black. The aroma of sweat, burning firewood, and hot metal filled her nostrils. The man rolled his eyes a bit, but then caught Hana's again. They lingered on her a little longer than made her comfortable, but Hana remained as composed as she could. She could not deny, beneath all the dirt and grime he was ruggedly handsome. He scowled at Hana, briskly wiping his hand on a rag attached to his belt.
"What would you need knives for?" he snapped.
Now Hana took a threatening step forward. Why would he ask that? "I pick my teeth with them," said Hana, stone faced. He noted her sarcasm, and raised his brows ever so slightly at her. "I need them to cut things, obviously. I also, on occasion, use them to kill." She looked him right in the eye again, fuming this time. The man held the rag in his slightly raised hand for a moment. But a glint in her eye made him think she probably was not joking.
"You don't give up easily, do you?" The corners of his mouth curled up, hinting at a smile.
Again Hana scowled. Was this insolent stranger mocking her, again? She couldn't think of a good retort fast enough.
He nodded his head towards the inside of the shop. Hana did not move. "Come in. Please. Forgive me for the harsh words. It has been a long day." To show Hana he meant it, he stood with his back pressed against the door, opening it for her.
Hana walked in, cautiously. She paused for a second, about halfway to the door's end, looked up at the blacksmith, and rolled her eyes. He watched as she leaned down and in a flash, pulled a long dagger from her pack, which she had lowered to the ground. Then she took a short but jagged blade from a leather forearm band. She removed the last somewhat sharp one she possessed from her belt. The whole time, the blacksmith watched as Hana purposefully laid each one on the rectangular unevenly surfaced wooden table. When she was done, twelve blades ranging in size from the length of her forearm to the length of her thumb were out. He wondered how she could conceal that many, let alone use them all.
"How long will this take you? I don't want to use up too much of your time, sir. I can see you're clearly terribly busy," Hana said, mockingly furrowing her brows. Then she reminded herself to ease up on the insults. Why stoop to his level? She was there to have her blades sharpened and go.
The blacksmith, who had been standing on the opposite side of the table, arms crossed, looked at her again, another one of the longer glances that caught Hana a bit off guard. But she looked back. She could not look away.
He walked forward and picked up the longest blade, running his thumb across the edge and then admiring the detail on the handle. The knot work design caught his eye. "You won't be killing anything with this, ma'am. It won't even leave so much as a cut." He showed her the thumb, no fresh cuts on it, barely raising his brows to prove a point. Looking through the rest, he told her, "I can work on these right now, if you wait here, I can have them done for you by morning. What is the name for the account? He grabbed a small book from the ledge above his fireplace.
Hana frowned. She watched him open the book, dab his quill in an inkwell also on the ledge, and look at her, waiting for an answer. Why would he work all night? "It's Hana. I can go find a room at the inn…what's your name, sir? I like to know whom I am doing business with. "
The blacksmith finished writing up the details of the job in his book and closed it, held it in his brutish hand for a second, and looked at Hana. "It's Thorin," he said, looking straight into the fireplace. Then he turned to face her, took two slow steps toward her and stopped. "My name is Thorin. Do not trouble yourself going to the inn, there's little chance of suitable vacancy. I can tell you it's also not the safest place for a woman, alone. As I said before, you can stay here 'til morning. I won't bother you except to hand you the finished blades. I swear it." Thorin did not look away. Neither did Hana.
Hana had spent night there, though she had reservations. How did she know she could trust him? He did not have what she would call a kind countenance about him. Thorin did indeed work mostly through the night, and as Hana tried to make herself fall asleep, she opened her eyes periodically to see him sitting at a worktable back in the forge, rapidly sharpening a blade. Then he would stop, look over the piece, run his fingers over it, and begin again. She was so tired from her travels; she should have fallen asleep immediately. Her feet throbbed, even with her boots kicked off. But she did not go to sleep so easily. She flopped onto her back, resting on a rickety wooden bench underneath the front windows of the small house. She counted the cracks in the withering wood beams. Thorin….Thorin. What sort of a name is that? Did he have any family? This must be where he lives, or at least where he spends a good deal of time. Hana had lost track of how many she spotted when she leaned her head over slightly, to glance at the blacksmith. She realized the scraping, tapping, and buffing sounds had stopped. He had fallen asleep, slumped over the table. Hana could hear him breathing all the way across the tiny hut. Eventually she rolled over onto her side, back to him, and listened to the sound of an owl somewhere outside the window just above her. Fatigue claimed her and she fell asleep.
Warm, dusty sunlight shone on Hana's face the next morning. She opened her eyes and gave a sidelong glance upwards, not focusing on anything, recounting the events of the last twenty-four hours. How did I arrive here, she thought, flexing her toes. They still hurt with her boots off, long numbed from having been constricted for days at a time. Then she realized she felt warmer than she had when she had finally fallen asleep. A heavy wool blanket covered her. Hana did not bring this with her. And she had not retired for the night with it. Had Thorin covered her in the night? Then Hana sat up, bolt upright. The smithy was silent, except for the sounds of the morning outside. She got up off the bench and looked round, tentatively walking toward the forge. He was not there. The only other place was a very small room off of the forge, barely twelve feet square. A long bed stood against the windowless wall. On a small ledge above the bed were a couple of candles, and a neatly folded blanket. Beside the bed were a pair of boots, seemingly huge compared to her own. Hana stood in the doorframe, and surveyed the tiny space. He probably did not have a family, if this is where he lived. She had to go outside and find some sort of food for the day, but wanted to let him know she planned to return to collect her blades and pay him. She found a crumpled bit of paper beside his bed, and managed to flatten the creases out a bit. Walking to the main room and borrowing the quill above the fireplace, she wrote, "Out in the woods. Will return to collect my blades and repay you. Need to hunt and wash up. – Hana." She left it on the old table in front of the now extinguished fireplace.
Hana started down Pigot Lane, the dreary sound of the crows following her. She felt her belt buckle to make sure she still had the one sharp blade left. She had a small quiver on her back with six arrows left in it, but always used it as her secondary weapon, as she was not as adept as an archer. Remembering that was all she had, Hana told herself to keep the game very small. Perhaps there would be no game at all this day, just plants. Hana kept her eyes ahead of her, not making any eye contact with the few villagers she passed, though she could feel eyes on her. She passed the tavern as she aimed for the woods, ignoring the rude catcalls of a patron readying his horse out front. The air was brisk and sharp, and Hana knew the season would be changing to winter before too long. She needed to move on soon. After about twenty minutes through an overgrown field and into the fir forest, Hana slowed down her pace a bit, moving slowly and purposefully through the brush. She was careful not to make any sudden movement; as to scare off any rabbits or squirrels she could catch. Hana had perfected her almost silent step, having spent so much time on the move. She peered round the towering firs for signs of possible game. There was not much, besides more indignant ravens. She spotted a large owl looking at her, as if to threaten her for encroaching onto his territory and his prey. It positioned himself to her left, as if issuing a challenge. It suddenly flew off, flapping, without warning. It had been spooked by something. Hana was aware that the ravens had fallen silent. She heard nothing but the faint hum of the chilly wind, which she could see in her breath in front of her. Something made her apprehensive, and it was not the woods. She listened as she stepped in the woods, and felt eyes on her that were not animal. Hana turned slowly over her right shoulder, daring to look behind. She saw nothing. The same owl she saw, now right in front of her on a thin tree branch, continued to stare. The woods were eerily quiet. A sudden screech from the owl and its flapping wings were her only warning. Hana heard the running footsteps behind her, and took off, running deeper into the forest. In a flash she saw the stealthy vagrant, running after her, with somewhat of a hobble. He was not much taller than her, but moved fast for someone so malnourished looking. He was wiry and determined. Hana could outrun him if she did not trip. She leapt over the rocks and fallen tree limbs and could spot a rushing stream in the distance. She was going to climb up one of the lower hanging branches and shoot him. Suddenly, he appeared in front of her. How he had changed course without her hearing she did not know, but he stood in front of her about four meters, knife raised. Hana did not crouch down to grab a rock to throw at him, but if she could back him up to the stream, perhaps he could fall and she could shoot him. He did not hesitate, charging her and knocking her to the ground, slicing her right thigh to disable her. He tore at her clothes, mostly her cloak. She furiously scratched at him, using jerking body movements to her advantage, and spat at him. In the split second he closed his spittle soaked eyes she kneed him hard in the abdomen, cursing herself inside for not hitting lower, where she had intended. She got up and elbowed him hard in the head as he was crouched down on the forest floor, looking at her, enraged. Hana fought without pause. She did not know if all he wanted was her cloak, boots or her weapons. He could rape her and leave her dead and mutilated out there for all she knew. Hana grabbed his knife and turned toward him, her back now to the stream, pushing him back toward the tree. He sprang up, not what she was expecting, and clobbered her on the face with a small rock. She fell to the ground, on one knee, and reached for the knife she dropped when he pushed her against the tree trunk. Another blow came to her jaw; a raw, hard fist rattled her teeth. Her feet kicked furiously as she fought him, her boots grinding into the dirt and fallen leaves. He violently bashed her head onto the trunk, and Hana bit into his forearm deep, drawing blood. She felt her teeth break his skin and did not relent, holding the bite unflinchingly as she crushed down with all her might. His rancid breath clouded her face as he now grabbed at her neck. Hana pushed the heel of her palm into his jaw while digging her fingers into his eyes with the other, to get him to loosen his grip, which was tightening. He smelled of body odor, soil, urine, and rotting teeth. Fight, keep fighting, don't relent, don't tire. He's going to kill you now. FIGHT. Don't die here. Suddenly his grip loosened entirely. He weaved backwards on his knees, and it took Hana two seconds to realize a hand axe had embedded itself in the vagrant's back. Gathering her shaking breath, she scanned the woods ahead of her to see where the weapon had come from. Another assailant? Hana did not think she had the strength to fight another off. Her breath labored, she propped herself up on her bruised elbows to see Thorin walking toward her, intermittently glancing at her and the vagrant, lying on the ground, twitching as his blood slowly soaked the ground beneath him. Thorin looked at the cloven man on the ground, then at Hana, waiting for her action as he took a few more steps forward. Hana caught her breath, stood up, and stumbled on bruised legs over to her attacker, who was lying on his side. She bored her eyes into his, filled with contempt, and wrenched the hand axe from his back. Hana raised it, and delivered three relentless blows to his skull before the twitching stopped and her attacker laid motionless.
She dropped the hand axe, wheezing, and steadied herself on the tree as Thorin walked over to her. She sat down, her back to the tree again, trying to catch her breath. Her lungs burned, chest hurt through the bruises, and her jaw throbbed. Every inch of her body pulsed with pain. Warm blood trickled down the side of her face. She opened her eyes as Thorin sat down in front of her. Hana instinctively recoiled, and he raised his hands in surrender. He waited a moment, looked down and reached for a rag in his pocket, and said, "I won't harm you. I hope you know that by now. He might have killed you. Why didn't you just give him what he wanted?" Thorin reached over and took her hands one by one, turning them over, surveying the cuts, scratches, and bloodied knuckles. He lifted her chin to see the bruises forming where her assailant had struck her on the face and jaw. Hana winced and held her hand up to wave him off. "I did not give him my cloak or boots because… (she closed her eyes to breath) because without them, winter will kill me. For all I know, that might not have been all he wanted." She muddled through the words with staggered breath now, her head throbbing. She did not want to talk. She wanted a large drink of water and the pain that wracked her body to stop. Thorin noticed the large gash in her right thigh, fresh blood oozing from it as her leg constricted underneath her trousers. He looked up at Hana, not hiding his concern for her in his glance at all. He carefully took one of the bits of cloth he had retrieved and went to wrap the wound, when she shrinked back again, startled. She was not accustomed to a man's touch. He stopped, and waited until she looked back at him with a curt nod. He slowly, carefully wrapped the wound, tucking the edges in to the makeshift bandage to fasten it, and looked up at her. There was warmth and humanity in his look at her when he finished, as if waiting for her to say something. He gave her another piece of cloth wipe the blood from her face, and her aim was off. Hana missed most of it, and he raised his eyebrows at her ever so slightly as if to ask permission to help. He held his hand out for the cloth, and Hana gave it to him. Normally she would have hated feeling so helpless, at the mercy of another person, let alone accepting this sort of help from a man. He dabbed gently at the side of her face that had been hit by the rock. "How did you know I was right here?" Hana asked, not releasing him from her glance. She winced with a start as he wiped blood off her. Thorin did not answer at first. He laid the bloodstained cloth next to him on the ground and picked up a different one to wipe her hands. Hana mustered up her strength to sit up straighter. "Why are you helping me? Thorin?" He kept looking at her hands and did not meet her glance. "Because…" He paused for a moment, then looked up at her and stopped. "I saw your note. Because you are alone."