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Fire Maker

In the days before the flood the Aswal Plain was a desert. It was a poisonous barrier separating the fertile crescent from the Nile river basin. It was so great an area that the entire eastern half of the Mediterranean Sea is needed to cover it.

Beneath the Mediterranean Sea and south of Greece there lies a volcano. It was called Antallis Peak and it was home to those who gave rise to Minoan Crete.

“By the great god Antallis!” exclaimed King Theosadartis, “I am famished!”

The king was behind a berm to protect himself from attack. The king had enemies in the west because his ancestor King Antallis had fed upon their pigs when he led his people east.

“Antallis wasn’t a god, my lord,” corrected Pateramon, “He was your grandfather.”

“I am the king,” insisted Theosadartis, “If I choose to honor my ancestor as a god it is my right.”

“It is nn..nnnn..not your right, my lord.”

Pateramon was once a priest but he left the temple in search of a greater truth: steel. He had become a maker of it. That was his worth to the king.

Behind the berm was a forge. Lumps of coke kilned nearby kept it glowing night and day. The fire did not die because it would take days for another to grow as hot.

“What troubles you?” asked Theosadartis, “You never stutter but for some terrible event that is about to befall us.”

“You must humble yourself, my lord.”

“I would not hear such words from any other man,” frowned the king.

“Which proves my point!”

“I forbid,” Theosadartis replied, “No, I ask you to quit calling me lord, grace, majesty, highness or any other epithet. How’s that for humility?”

“What am I to call you? I can’t call you Theosadartis! You are the king but you cannot make yourself into a g..g..god.”

He stopped talking long enough to stoke the fire. He needed ore. There was plenty in the mines at Bilfrost, named by those who shared their pigs with Antallis, though it could not make a blade like one from the Caucasus. Caucasian steel was the best in the world but Caucasians were not the best makers of it.

Stone age steel was mostly a hit or miss affair and in the Caucasus it nearly forged itself, but take away the volcanoes and the means for making steel went also. In other places, such as the Aswal desert, everything was provided except a hot enough fire.

Those who made hot fires were greater than shamans. A shaman knew the properties of useful plants, but a fire maker knew which rocks burned and which did not and which ones burned the hottest. They kilned coal into coke and were expert potters. They bowed to no one but the queen, or in this case the king. Theosadartis looked to the desert. What was out there? What was at it’s other end? What should he tell his mentor? When should he tell it?

“You have something on your mind,” spoke the fire maker.

He did, and Theosadartis wondered how Pateramon knew it.

“I have what you need,” he announced.

Gesturing, the king bid his bearers approach. They carried ore of a pure sort.

“Where did you get this?” marveled the sword maker.

“It was found in the White Mountains,” explained the king.

They were the western peaks of a four hundred mile ridge that would later become the island of Crete and at their base was the brajz, a place of boiling pots and terrestrial fire.

“Who else knows of it?” asked Pateramon.

“I imagine everyone knows it,” smiled the king, “I saved telling you for last.”

Fool, thought Pateramon. He dared not to say it and he didn’t really mean it, but the young king had a lot to learn.

“I advise you to secure the brajz,” he said, “When it is known that ore of this quality is found near boiling pots you will see the need for discretion.”

“I have erred somehow?” wondered the king, “I judged there was no way to keep such a secret from our enemies. My boast has made it clear I do not fear an attack. I have already ordered the brajz secured and a guard of archers is stationed there now. I have left the mines unguarded lest our presence reveals their location.”

Perhaps, thought Pateramon, the boy wasn’t as big a fool as he at first seemed.

“Tell me about this rock, my lord,” the fire maker asked.

“Berber the Bow Maker found it,” he replied, “I inspected the cave myself as soon as I was told. There are more littering the floor but none as large or as round.”

“It has been worked,” observed Pateramon, “The marks are faint but they are there. My lord, take me to this cave.”

The road to the White Mountains was perilous. One had to cross the savanna before coming to the brajz. From there one walked because a trustworthy mount would not enter. Then the walker must climb several thousand feet from the floor of the brajz. There were no roads but sheep trails yet the ore had to be gotten to where it could be worked. It was a feat of engineering not beyond the abilities of their Gimric neighbors.

The Gimric had built nearly everything out there: bridges, roads, sheep pens and cattle yards. They built with wood and trees, both hewn and unhewn, with mud and straw in bricks and daubed on lathe, with earth and stone and bronze, but they did not make steel.

The biggest settlement west of Mycenae was found where the river bent to the north. In the words of the Gimric it’s name, Ullequintethst, meant river bend. North from there was Tenelcyst, meaning pig ford, a reference to Antallis and his habit of poaching bacon.

The Gimric saw the benefit of having neighbors in their debt and offered Antallis a deal. For a haven on the peak they demanded piglets from the stolen pigs: seven of every ten. As a result Theosadartis was tied to the land.

“I must have a sword,” he said, “As great as one that comes from the Caucasus.”

True enough, thought Pateramon.

To any and all, even to the Gimric, Pateramon was a wizard. He had flash powder for every occasion. A council of elders? You want a big bang, a bright light and a little smoke. A military retreat? Go with a big bang and a smoke screen. To entertain? It’s best to have smoke and fire and slip out unnoticed.

“With the sword I make you would free us from this peak?” asked the fire maker.

“I like it here,” the king replied, “I’d rather buy our freedom with steel you make.”

“That is risky, my lord,” replied the fire maker.

“Riskier than living on the edge of starvation?” asked Theosadartis, “Or feeding the best grain to the pigs to pay our debt to the Gimric? This king speaks the language of steel! The best we keep for ourselves.”

“Your plan is larger than you say,” observed Pateramon, “Tell it fully or not at all.”

“Why do we herd pigs?” asked the king, “Because the Gimric have what we need. This ore gives us what they need. With it I will carve a nation and I will defend it with the sword you will make. When you have made it you will not make another to be its equal.”

“I understand,” replied Pateramon, “You want a blade that cannot be broken. It is a plan worthy of a king twice your age, my lord.”

“It doesn’t end there,” added Theosadartis, “We must not be harried on the savanna. I will build a road to River Bend. It will be my road and I will defend it with my sword: the Sword of Theosadartis.”

“It is not necessary to build a road to defend…” Pateramon began, but then he saw the genius of the king’s plan and said, “The road is a reason for the digging. It will keep our true industry a secret from the Gimric. Brilliant, my lord.”

“Pateramon,” he said, “Make three grades of steel: one good, one better and I alone will have the best. The better will go to my guard. The good we will sell at high prices to those Gimric we can trust and when they know we can supply a better grade of steel to their enemies we will have no more problems with them.”

The next week the king sent word to the High Chief of the Gimric that he planned to build a road with rocks from the White Mountains. Why he couldn’t use rocks from the river was obvious. He was frightened of the spirits that lived in the water.

The idea came to him as he watched the Gimric dart in and out of the caves. Not one ventured far inside and not one stayed more than a few seconds. He realized that for all their bluster they were a fearful people. It was a weapon to be used against them, which he made even more powerful by claiming to share their fear.

By mid summer the project was well underway. The High Chief of the Gimric had offered by way of insisting that his people help with the project, and as they were far better engineers than his own people the king accepted. He said he was glad for the help, especially underground, to which he was told the Gimric would not be going into the caves.

By feigning disappointment he let them all believe he was playing out of his league.

It was an instructive meeting for Pateramon and it went like this.

“I do not offer help in the caves,” said Red Fox, the Gimric chief, “Only to laying the road. None of us will join you underground.”

“Great chief,” protested the king, rising to his feet, but unsteadily so, “What befalls a man in the underworld? Perhaps it is something only I know!”

“Young man,” replied the chief, “The day you know what I do not is the day I seek refuge in your city!”

The laughter was derisive in the hall at River Bend. The king had no city. He had a berm on a mountain, a few hundred subjects, a thousand pigs that belonged to the Gimric, an aging wizard from the east and a face full of fear.

Pateramon praised him on the way back to the peak.

“That was as masterful a ploy as I have ever witnessed.”

The king said nothing. He would not encourage such talk.

Theosadartis was not content to be a pig farmer. The blame must go to Pateramon. It was he who sparked the boy’s imagination with stories of the Forge of Hephaestus and the Titans who came before him.

The boy’s father, Triopa, was murdered by the Gimric when Theosadartis was an infant. The crime was so brutal the Gimric themselves sentenced the murderers to death. The killing marked the end of out and out abuse against the people of Antallis, though harassment was still widespread. A road by the riverside patrolled by the Antallean Guard was a popular notion even among the Gimric.

When the king was a boy, Pateramon enthralled him with stories of the Titan Wars and battles fought with flying machines and people from other worlds who lived here in the days before the ice.

How did he know such things? Pateramon never tired of telling people he lived in an eternal moment without past or future. He rarely stuttered when telling the truth of the gods.

“We are the same from day to day,” Pateramon taught him, “It is the earth and sky that change, but I say you are in the same place always.”

Tapping the boy’s forehead, he added, “You are in here, and when that fact is as clear to you as the clear running stream then you will know why the future and the past are pieces of now. Go! Gather wood and think about these things.”

It was a memory forever burned in the king’s mind. Did Pateramon know a lion lurked not far from the fire? Did he know the boy would pass its muster? Such conceit made Theosadartis both love and hate his teacher, yet Pateramon denied knowing a lion was there.

Thinking it part of his lessons the young king stared the beast down with courage that comes from thinking one isn’t in any real danger. Pateramon had called the lion out and he could call it back. He must have done so because the animal turned and walked away.

Still, the boy was trembling when he returned without the wood.

“What is it?” his teacher had asked, “You’re shaking like a leaf.”

“I am sorry, master. Perhaps my courage is not all it should be,” replied the king.

“It takes courage to gather wood?” scoffed Pateramon.

“It took all the courage I had to face the lion, master.”

Pateramon winced. The boy had seen a lion not a half mile from the berm.

“You think I did that?” he had said.

Only then did the lad lose his dinner.

Theosadartis didn’t make the same mistake again. He took nothing at face value. If there was a new wonder to be seen he had no opinion until he saw it with his own eyes.

“What sets me apart, master?” he had asked, not long ago.

“You are the son of a king,” his teacher had replied.

“I am the son of a pig herder,” he answered.

So Pateramon had set down his walking staff and spoken to him in a new way.

“I don’t know what sets you apart,” he confessed, “I think sometimes you have come from the stars, but from which star? Who can tell?”

It was how they spoke now, but the king missed the old days when an answer was an answer and there was little room for doubt.

From Antallis Peak they could see progress being made. Huge Gimric oxen pulled great iron graders that were so big they were seen from a mile away. A few Antalleans were allowed to watch and learn their techniques, but most were relegated to digging in the caves.

The caves yielded their secrets slowly.

“It will not do for me to take interest in the rocks,” the king had said.

Pateramon agreed and entrusted another with their secret: his young daughter, Hestia.

Hestia was just nine years old when they took her into their confidence; old enough to understand the danger and young enough that none would think it came from her. She was smart as whip and quickly learned to tell one rock from another. By her efforts a large load of high grade iron ore was being accumulated behind the berm.

As the road grew ever closer to its destination at River Bend, the industry at the forge of Pateramon went unseen. Fires were stoked, fueled by the coke he had made, that were hot enough to melt ore. The mixture was skimmed as impurities floated to the top. The result was pig iron; the first step along the way to high grade steel.

By the time the road was half way to River Bend the pig iron was cooling into ingots. Each one contained enough for two or three swords. It was a real problem.

“I must have a sword that has no equal!” insisted the king.

“That is unwise, my lord,” Pateramon advised, “Suppose, gods forbid, you fall in battle and the sword is taken from you. How then will the new king defend his people?”

Theosadartis had no answer, though he had asked himself the question many times.

“Who am I to trust?” wondered the king.

“There is one in Thessaly,” replied the sword maker, “He is Cheiron the Old. He alone would I trust with a sword of such value.”

“There is a Cheiron the Young?” wondered Theosadartis.

“Cheiron is an honorific,” Pateramon replied, “It means horse master.”

“The creatures you tell of,” recalled the king, “As swift as Aeolus and as graceful as a cat. I suppose he will arrive upon one.”

Cheiron the Horse Master arrived late in the season when the road stretched all the way to River Bend. Rock was no longer being quarried so the supply of ore dried up, but not before Pateramon had one hundred iron ingots ready to be made into steel.

“How will the Sword of Theosadartis be made better than the rest?” asked the king.

“I will add this,” said the sword maker, taking a small, silvery rock from his robe, “It will give your sword an edge so sharp and blade so strong it will cut through iron or bronze.”

“And there will be none like it?” asked the king again.

“There will be one like it, my lord, or I wo..wo..will not make this thing.”

The king nodded his agreement but his reluctance showed through. Pateramon would not berate him: the king’s dismay at having another as powerful as himself was a good thing.

Cheiron the Horse Master was a tall, light skinned man with a full head of black hair and probing blue eyes. He rode shirtless with a baldric and a steel sword of unknown make.

“Why do I need a new sword?” he asked.

Pateramon inspected the new comer’s blade. It sparkled in the sun and held a sharp edge yet it was pitted, scored and frequently oiled.

“Who has made this?” wondered the sword maker.

“I do not know,” Cheiron replied, “I awoke one day with it lying by my side.”

Of course you did, thought Pateramon, and you’re one with your horse and eat Titans for breakfast.

“I will make a sword that will not pit, nor score, nor need oil,” he said, “It will be a perfect weight for one hand only. Into it’s pommel I will set a Stone of Hephaestus, one so perfect it might imprison a goddess, yet it will be no threat to the hand that wields it.”

“That is generous,” bowed the Horse Master.

“That sword I will make for a king,” Pateramon added, “I will make another, it’s twin but for the stone. This I will make for his protector. When the time comes, I will know it if you are that man.”

Five weeks before harvest, the road was nearly finished. As it was a joint effort of the Gimric and the son of Antallis, a feast was planned: not the normal harvest feast with a main course of Antallean pigs, but an inclusive affair with King Theosadartis as an honored guest.

“This changes everything,” muttered the king.

“It changes nothing,” replied the sword maker.

“If anything needs changing, I’ll be the one to change it,” promised Cheiron.

“I’m curious,” added Pateramon, “How did you plan to show your wealth to the Gimric?”

“On the day of the harvest feast I was going to march to River Bend with an army at my back and demand a fair portion,” answered the king.

“What army, my lord?” asked his teacher.

“I have a general, I have a wizard and I will have three hundred swords.”

“Was I to walk ahead throwing flash powder around and scaring little animals?” chided Pateramon, “Was that was your plan?”

“More or less,” confessed the king, “Have you a better one?”

“I do,” his teacher replied, “Cherion says there is war in the north. The Mycenaeans battle Thrace for control of Thessaly and they are armed with Caucasian steel. There is no chance Red Fox doesn’t know this. The fact that he hasn’t told you gives the lie to your new-found friendship. If you accept this invitation, my lord, do so with guile and deceit. That is surely what the Gimric do when they offer their hospitality.”

“Accept the offer,” advised Cheiron, “and send with your answer a steel sword, newly forged, for the high chief. That, my lords, will change everything.”

By week’s end three new steel blades were ready to be sharpened. Into the best was set the Stone of Hephaestus, hidden in the pommel which was intricately worked. A second was as bright, but they were not identical. One was weighted for the arm of the king and the other for his protector.

The third sword was a bit duller, and it’s edge would be not as sharp, yet it was far superior to the blade that even Cheiron had carried.

“This is a great gift,” said the Horse Master.

“Let us hope that Red Fox receives his with equal reverence,” spoke the king.

Red Fox received the gift with utter amazement. It took a few seconds for him to see beyond the workmanship to understand what it meant. Then he didn’t know what to think.

That he’d been played for a fool was obvious. He had helped to build the very road that made the defense of River Bend enormously more difficult, and he failed to notice the industry on the peak that produced this steel wonder. There was no doubt that Theosadartis possessed an even better sword, as there was no doubt that the old wizard had made plenty of them or he wouldn’t be giving them away.

For all that King Theosadartis had dropped into his hands the one weapon that might guarantee peace with their Mycenaean neighbors to the north.

“It appears that young Theosadartis did know what befalls a man underground. We all heard him. We were all fooled,” said Red Fox, menacingly, “By this sword I will make it right.”

What he meant and what they thought he meant did not agree.

Whatever the plan war intervened. A week before harvest Mycenaean soldiers were seen at the brajz.

“They will need to eat,” advised Cheiron.

“I rather think that’s why they’re here,” agreed Pateramon.

“Shall we kill them in the night?” asked the king.

“If you want an endless war,” answered the horse master.

“We must arm the Gimric,” spoke Pateramon, and his tone said he didn’t like the idea one bit, “but not without some agreements. My lord, consider this. Who is going to herd the pigs when we no longer do so? Who is going to brave the caves for the ore we find? Surely not the Gimric.”

“Say to them,” he continued, “that every Antallean pig herder is a soldier in the army of King Theosadartis. If they want our steel they will offer their daughters in marriage to the soldiers of the king.”

“What?” asked Theosadartis.

“Why?” wondered Cheiron.

“Its simple,” replied the sword maker, “Either we absorb them or they absorb us. I do not desire to slowly become Gimric. Do you?”

Pateramon had an ulterior motive he did not make known. The sons of Antallis, few to begin with, were dangerously inbred. A boy like Theosadartis might not have been born otherwise, but there were many more who fared not so well.

A wedding was set half-way down the road to River Bend. Red Fox, the war chief Snagglethorn and Hawk the Druid were accompanied by a score of brightly painted, mostly willing young women and their families.

There to meet them were Pateramon, the horse master Cheiron, who had negotiated the deal, King Theosadartis, himself dressed in his wedding finery, and a score of pig farmers armed to the teeth with Antallean steel.

There were some bruised feelings among the young women, which is why they were just ‘mostly willing’. Pateramon was brutal in his assessment of who did and who did not fit the requirements.

The sons of Antallis were culled in the same way. If there was a hint of disability a young man was deemed unsuitable. As a result just a score were to be married, to the relief of the Gimric who had expected far worse.

Red Fox was more willing to wed his daughter to the King of Antallis than she was to marry him. All her life she had heard they were no better than pigs. Now she was supposed to lay with one! The argument was made and lost but until she actually saw the young man, his tawny hair braided and his beard cut back, his brown eyes peering from a thoughtful brow, his immense size without an ounce of fat, the childish smile in a man’s face lined with age at eighteen years old and the sword gleaming in his hand she did not know that she loved him.

All of the marriages were arranged by Pateramon. He was careful to include striking beauty and access to wealth as part of a woman’s requirements, as he did with the youth of Antallis: all the young men were smart, handsome and well-bred, for pig farmers.

It was very fortunate that Red Fox had a lovely daughter but there was nothing he could do about her intelligence. Her name was River Runs and she was dumb as stump, though she never dwelt on any one thing long enough for the limits of her talent to be fully revealed.

It was not a catastrophe: his own young daughter Hestia carried within her the stuff of a goddess because she was a Titan daughter of Cronos, which is to say she was descended from people who lived before the ice. Pateramon was also a Titan son of Cronos in the line of Iapetus, so they were cousins not closely related. All that needed to be done was for both women to become pregnant at the same time, which wouldn’t be too hard as Bumble Bee Hums was only ten, and switch the children at birth. Even so it would be a long time before the king lay with his queen.

A few days later Theosadartis heard and saw as the Mycenaeans came boldly across the savanna. They came laughing and singing and boasting no doubt about all the food they could eat and how nice it was for the Gimric to slaughter the pigs.

The advance slowed considerably as the steel blades of Antallis caught the sun before severing the heads of the squealing little porkers. Then the pig herders stood over their kills, daring the enemy to advance.

Mycenaeans came screaming across the savanna as three hundred swordsman held their blades to the sun. Hungry to a man the enemy did not turn and run.

King Theosadartis made his reputation that da, and so did his sword, The Sword Of Theosadartis. Mighty Mycenaeans lost their hands to it, and their arms, and some were slit from the belly up, and some were cleaved from their necks on down.

When the battle was won he did not make chase.

“Why do you let them run?” asked Snagglethorn.

“The day is won,” replied the king, “The harvest is yours and we have spilled blood together. They will tell the story of the might of Snagglethorn, and the glory of the Sword of Theosadartis. When next they come, they will come to buy our steel and they will pay gold to share your bounty. That is why I let them run.”

Snagglethorn could only nod, and marvel at the young king’s wisdom.

Six years later two bubbly baby boys were born to different mothers, and they looked very much alike as Pateramon knew they would. Neither Hestia nor River Runs were aware the switch was made. Pateramon shared the secret with one man only: Cheiron the horse master.

“It is done,” he said to the man from Thessaly.

“The king is unaware?” asked the horse master.

“He will not know the difference,” replied the fire maker, “Even so they are both his. Have you chosen a name for your own son?”

“He will be Cheiron like his father,and there the likeness must end,” said the horse master, “If I give him to you will you teach him your craft?”

It was unexpected but not unwelcome. The son of Cheiron was healthy and large like his father and by the looks of it just as inquisitive. He would make a fine Sword Maker.

“I will teach the son of Cheiron the Horse Master,” he replied.

Seven years later two boys were given to Pateramon; one was his apprentice, Cheiron the Young, and the other was Aeolus, the heir to the throne of Antallis and grandson of the Fire Maker, Pateramon the Apostate.

© Mikkel McDow 2008