Author's Notes: Many thanks to Otto's Goat and to Perelleth for the detailed and helpful betas, and to Lynx for sharing some invaluable insight as to the theoretical left-handed sword. I owe every bit of my blacksmithing knowledge to the swordsmithing page of HowStuffWorksdotcom and the wonderful and beautifully-illustrated book The Village Blacksmith by Aldren A. Watson.
Disclaimer: Fëanor, Curufin, Maedhros, and the rest belong to the Professor, not to me.
Lessons from the Forge,
or A Tragedy in Seven Parts
Kurufinwë is walking.
Drum, drum, drum say his feet to the dry earth beneath: softer; slower. Silence. He stands at the halfway point between the place from which he has come and the place to which he is going. He is waiting.
He looks up at the same moment that a speck of whiter white crosses the smudge of horizon. He blinks. For a moment he has seen the seabird for another thing entirely: an instant out of the past, reborn into the future; endlessly turning, turning; silent and devastating, this reign of history.
He is thinking, in this moment, that he should return, content himself with nothing, pass into the realm of night. What has been done –
That is no matter now. It is done.
Still – he is waiting.
He – the smith – knows that there is far more to the forging of a blade than knowing. This is why the smithy is empty. This one thing he must do himself.
To know, one first must want. And the wanting demands waiting, and the patience must come first. Always, this is truth. For what the smith knows, he has learned through much wanting and waiting. This is the path he chose.
He calls in his younger apprentice on the fourth day, and sets him to clearing away the ashes of the old, burnt fire. He still does not know – but he wants. All else will follow.
To him, the smell of charcoal is remarkable only in its absence. From childhood he has known this scent better than that of his mother; fire is a smith's first friend.
He learned to master fire so long ago that he cannot remember who taught him. Can it have been his father, he of the strong arms and stronger will? No, it must have been another; for at the end his father could not control even the fire within himself.
No matter. He has learned his lesson well. He knows, now, as he knows how to breathe, the proper way to use heat itself, to mold and hammer it into submission as he does his iron. The fire must not be too hot, else the metal will melt and be ruined; it must not be too cool, else the blade will not heat properly and much work will be lost. The blade must be heated evenly along its length; else it will crack and shatter when put to the test.
The smith knows that in all things there must be balance. His knowledge is born of long toil; of great hopes and greater disappointments.
After the waiting
comes the wanting; after the wanting comes the knowing. And so a
The next stage begins in its time. Once again, he is philosophical about his work: a bad habit. His father would disapprove. Yet – he is not his father.
In the case of the blade and of the king, the drawing-out is the key to quality. Carefully, subtly, with much overlapping, retreating, advancing, beginning again and again: much work makes good work. The smith will place into this blade all the care he can remember from the days of his mother. Out of it, if he remembers well enough – a solid blade. A solid king.
Now is the blade shaped, and all he pours into it he will receive again, tenfold. Now is the king shaped, and all he pours into him he will receive again, tenfold, thousandfold.
He remembers, now, the first sword he created. It was of wood, as his father taught him. What one can shape from wood, one can shape from iron. It was a good lesson; he has not yet forgotten it.
What he knew then was the simple truth: the sword must fit the hand that wields it. So he knows now, and more: the hand must fit the sword it is meant to wield. As without the push there is no pull; as without the temper there is no strength. The hand and the sword meet each other halfway. Each must bend to the will of the other; else each shall know defeat from the other.
He has already drawn the copper wire, slim and supple in his hands, but this is not its time. First he must return to the wood; for what cannot be shaped from wood cannot be shaped from iron. After this – he may forget the lesson – but not today.
The hilt is a good one, cut from the well-seasoned timbers of those lost white ships. He thinks the king would approve of this, though the brother he knew would not. He has shaped it from what he knows of his brother's hand, hoping it will fit the king's in his stead. For that hand, too, has changed.
A quick change, that: strength to weakness in an instant. Any swordsman knows the way to fight with either hand, with both; he presses his advantage from both sides. The king knows this. It is a technique he has often used; but never this way before. Now he is fighting from the weak side, this king.
And now comes the time, and the test of his work. The waiting, the wanting, the knowing – all is past. Now he will see what he has wrought.
Kurufinwë is walking again.
Into the place of the king he is walking, bearing in his arms the blade he has shaped for his king, the one who was his brother once. It is a sword fit for a king, he knows, and is proud: not for his work but for the one who will bear it; not for his own sake but for the sake of those who will see it borne.
The smith bows his head before his king: in love, in bitterness, in shame. The king stands before him, and he does not look at the sword. He reaches out to the smith with his last hand. He is never surprised, this king.
Later, the king takes the sword in his remaining hand. Copper for blood and for purity; iron for strength; the white wood, hidden beneath it all. He does not know it is there at all. This is his tragedy.
Lately the smith has been discontented. He is not restless by nature, but this place – the strangeness, the sorrow of it – makes him yearn to be gone. Perhaps now, after this last task is done, perhaps they will leave. He hopes.
He sees a certain irony in his situation. He, a smith, so much welded to the place he works; like a plant, then, of iron, he can be uprooted, transplanted, made to thrive in other soils. Yet never the same – never exactly the same, never again. What they have lost cannot be brought back.
So they fade, edges to grey, as the forge fire dies. Ash and dust carried away by a hungry wind; they begin to die slowly, here.