The Mage-Smith Makes a Collar

by Rachel Friedman

The Task

Paul was cleaning his forge when he became aware that he had company. Since his wife was currently tending to her sister and new niece, the only person that it could be was a new customer.

Paul was a blacksmith, and blacksmiths usually had customers. Metal held together almost everything in that land, and what is under strain will eventually break. However, there were many cheaper smithies than Paul’s. A smith who can listen to the whisper of the earth and craft metal into absolutely anything is far rarer, and consequently can charge more for his or her work. Such smithing is dangerous, and the cost can also help keep fools away.

“Do you want something uncanny, or merely strong?” Paul said. It was always best to learn straightaway what the customer wanted, especially if they were unsure of it themselves.

“Both,” the woman said. She wore a long cloak with a hood that covered her face, as if that would successfully conceal her identity. The richness of the fabric alone betrayed her, as did the fact that she had made no attempt to disguise her voice. A long blond braid snaked down from her hood, increasing the futility of her attempt to remain incognito.

Paul didn’t say anything about it. He didn’t want to antagonize a noblewoman and besides, her personal proclivities had nothing to do with him. “Both may be difficult,” he said instead.

“I know. That is why I came to you, Paul of Sariol. I need it made, and you can make it, regardless of your attempts at modesty.”

Paul tried to keep his voice even. “It’s not modesty. Such a virtue is good in its own way, but it can be fatal when dealing with the magic of iron. I merely spoke in warning.”

“Very well. I need a collar to bind and kill a Beast, and you must help me.”

“What type of Beast?”

“It is a foul thing that has been twisted away from its nature.”

“I see.” He did. He did not meet many poor souls who had been so mutilated by magic, but he knew of their type well enough. There were times when death was indeed a blessing. “Very well, I shall make a collar for this Beast. In exchange for forty pieces of gold.”

“Agreed. You will be paid when our contract is fulfilled.”

Paul wished to argue, but caught himself in time. Mage-smith or not, he was still a vulnerable peasant. “Very well. I’ll forge it within a month. Do we have a deal?”

He extended his hand, and she shook it.

Preparation

Paul was beginning to think that he had severely undercharged his newest client for the collar. Getting prime-quality steel might have been one of his more minor concerns, but he hadn’t anticipated it being an issue. Unfortunately, the mage-smith several counties over had been hired to build a steel cage for one of those rare fire-breathing swamp beasts, which meant that he needed all of the prime iron that he could get. Naturally, this had made a limited and expense resource even more so.

It was difficult to make a collar. Metal was malleable in a way, but it would only bend it so far. If you wanted to produce something that was uncanny or abnormally strong, you had to use all of your skills in magic to persuade it, and magic and metal did not naturally mix. Sometimes sacrifices were involved, and the problem with a sacrifice is that no one wants to pay for them.

Given the especial difficulty with collars, it was not particularly surprising for Paul’s wife to arrive at the forge to find him passed out from lack of blood.

“I wish that there was something else that you could feed into the meal,” she said after about a week of this. “This isn’t good for you, and I’m running out of bandages.”

Paul watched as her skilled fingers bound up his latest wound. Those who married mage-smiths usually had a feel for the work, if not the talent, and Meg was no exception. She would no more attempt to stop him than he would to retire, but she could still be unhappy about certain aspects of the situation.

“Don’t worry about it,” he told to her. “I’m almost done. And of all things to sacrifice, a mage-smith’s blood is the one that I can most afford to lose.”

She didn’t ask him what he meant. After all, there were sacrifices of every type. Some mage-smiths had even become mental and used people in their work. Their artifacts came out powerful and dark, and no one wanted to use them unless they too were insane.

“Just be careful,” she said.

Paul gripped her hand with his bloody one. “I will.”

Collar

The woman came back to his forge on the first day of the following month, clutching a brown leather purse and wearing an even more elaborate cloak as a disguise. Paul was not surprised.

“Is the collar ready?” she asked. She sounded nervous and happy about the prospect.

“Yes,” Paul said, with an odd note to his voice.

“What is it?” the woman demanded.

“People are always told that magic will always give you what you’ve requested, if it is worked correctly,” Paul said, in the same strange tone. “I am a very good mage-smith, and what you asked for was what I have made. You should have listened to the tales.”

“What do you mean?” the woman said. There was an edge to her voice.

“There are many types of things that can be called foul, that can be twisted against their nature.” Paul smiled grimly. “There are such things as human beasts, you know. I understand that you are angry that your cousin inherited the family seat and title instead of you, Lady Glyde, but that still does not mean that you are permitted to kill him. Not even if he had a magical accident as a child.”

Lady Glyde’ s purse fell from her nerveless fingers. Her cloak flew off in her flight, revealing a handsome fair-haired lady, whose rather stern face was distorted by sudden terror. That was all that Paul had time to see before she had vanished through the smithy door. There was a strange ringing sound, and the collar that he had just finished forging rose up into the air and followed her. There was a brief, horrified scream and then silence.

Paul sat down on his bench and tried not to shake. He had been a mage-smith long enough to know what he would find when he finally walked outside, but that didn’t mean that he would like it.

The tales warned you to be careful of what you asked for. Why did so few people listen?







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One Response to “The Mage-Smith Makes a Collar”

  1. The Mage-Smith Makes a Collar: Collar | Defenestrationism.net Says:

    […] by Rachel Friedmanread the suite from the beginning […]

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