Book Nine in the Zaria Fierce Series
Summary in a Nut-Shell: Four master smiths compete to win Zaria’s commission for a weapon as great as the Drakeland Sword. The daunting task is nearly over, but the testing is just about to begin.
A promise made is a promise owed.
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Working Draft Excerpt:
Every smith from the merest apprentice to the loftiest of masters stood inside the vast cavern for the Guild of the Gyllenhammar Flame. All the forges in the great hall were cold. No flames lit them from within, no one worked on their projects, and even the guild’s weather-wyverns were absent, having been temporarily relocated for the event.
The crowd was abuzz with the promise that today would reveal another weapon as fine as the Drakeland Sword. Gossip and rumors ebbed and flowed throughout the crowd until nothing of the truth remained, except that Princess Zaria had commissioned the blade and that she and the Master Gyllenhammar were the only judges.
From his vantage point near the stage with the others, Christoffer could see that Zaria still looked a bit nervous. He gave her a thumbs up for encouragement. Her smile was faint and distracted. Her fingers twitched, playing with a small ball of purple magic.
The four smiths stood behind four tables, poised and ready for the start of the judging round to the competition. Their pieces hidden by large white sheets of cloth and Christoffer couldn’t wait for them to be revealed. Aumak stood nearby Ranja’s station, offering moral support and bursting with pride.
Above them on a raised metal catwalk stood Aumak’s grandmother, the Master Gyllenhammar. She surveyed the commotion below with a regal air, her thin white hair coiffed in a twist. The blue robes she usually wore had been swapped for golden ceremonial ones, and the golden hammer she wore on a chain to mark her rank lay hidden in the folds.
“All right, settle down, settle down,” she commanded with an imperious flick of her wrist.
Those closest heard and quieted, but those in the back hadn’t noticed. She stomped hard on the grate beneath her feet. The loud reverberating clang caught everyone’s attention and they stopped talking at once, turning to face her with eyes lit with feverish excitement. They trembled and waited.
She made them wait a minute more, before placing her hands neatly on the rail in front of her. “That’s more like it. I trust you’ve all heard the rumors over this past week. Some of them are even true.”
That caused a few titters in the group. She waited for them to fade. “Today is an historic day. After a thousand years, the Under Realm has once more commissioned from Malmdor the making of a truly exceptional blade. One to match the vigor and vivacity of the Drakeland Sword, to be wielded by none other than the princess herself.”
The smiths erupted into cheers and wolf whistles, stamping their feet and hollering in dwarvish pride. Christoffer joined in with some polite clapping. He wanted to get past all this boring stuff and get straight into the testing. Why did everyone turn the coolest things into the most drudging with their yammering?
Soile continued when the silence returned. “She joins me today as judge. If the Flames’ offerings past muster with me, Princess Zaria will then have her choice amongst them. The chosen smith will have the honor, prestige, and glory from such a commission and get to name the price or forfeit from the princess.”
“I hope it isn’t something we can’t afford,” Aleks said, apprehensive. “We after all, still have to contend with the contents of the witch’s envelope. That’s two promises of unknown stipulations, other than we must pay what is requested of us.”
Geirr glanced at him. “Are you worried that the requests might overlap?”
“It has occurred to me.”
“That witch wouldn’t do that to us,” Christoffer said confidently. “She’s too canny for that.”
“Plus, she likes to get her way,” Henrik stated. “She wouldn’t want to share her forfeit with another.”
Filip waved to Zaria, getting a shy wave back, partially hidden by her dress. He grinned before looking at the others. “Have you ever noticed that the witch’s trade terms are a string of tied together bits of logic?”
“Like she sees something up ahead that we don’t?” asked Aleks wryly. “I’ve noticed that, too.”
The blond teen nodded. “If she’s not been wrong yet, I think we can trust she won’t be wrong now on what to ask us for. We can surely pay it.”
“But can we pay the Flame that wins today?” Aleks asked. “That I’m not too sure on. We don’t know their characters or what they truly want out of this competition.”
“I suppose we’ll just have to wait and find out when the time comes,” Christoffer said pragmatically.
“Nothing we can do about it until then,” Geirr agreed.
Henrik tipped his head toward the smiths on stage. Under his breath, he said, “They’re starting.”
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