Levy crouched low on his wildly galloping horse. Branches swatted him across the face and chest. He glanced back. The wolves were still following. He had shot several before he ran out of arrows. He thought there were about seven of them. Levy and the horse burst into a small clearing. Grass grew tall in the meadow. Levy turned back just as they reached the far side. He had been right: seven.
Levy Barel was the son of the mayor of a village near Dargon, a city a little to the south. He was a blacksmith by trade, and just about everything else by choice. He had just escaped from the clutches of a minor lord, who had been coercing him into building siege engines for a small war. In the process of escaping Levy had managed to make a breach in said lord’s keep, and that lord had pursued Levy into the wilderness. Levy had been riding for two days before the wolves had found his trail.
Levy lifted his gaze to the far trees. There was a path on the other side of the field. Levy urged his horse on faster. The exhausted beast responded weakly. The wolves kept up easily. Soon the path dipped, running a few yards below the lip of a steep slope. Levy drew his sword. To his left the slope dropped down, disappearing into the trees. To his right, almost level with his face, was the top of the slope. Levy knew the wolves would try to move up beside him. He would have to fight them off. He just hoped his horse had the strength to not fall.
He glanced quickly to his left. Through the treetops he could see that he was in a valley, with a lake in the bottom. He was not far from the lake. If he could somehow use that to his advantage…
He never got the chance. A flash of gray was the only warning he got before one hundred pounds of hungry carnivore hurled itself at him from the top of the slope. Levy smashed the wolf’s skull with his sword, but its body threw him off his horse. The impact knocked Levy’s breath out, and a moment later he blacked out when he cracked his head on a tree trunk.
The next thing Levy knew he was rolling down a slope. He threw out his arms, and managed to slow himself to the point where he could get his feet under himself and slow to a jog. His head was throbbing, along with the rest of his body. He felt his body with his hands. He seemed intact, but all his possessions, including his knife, were lost on the slope above. He could still hear the wolves. He continued to jog down the slope, in hopes of reaching the water before the wolves reached him. He could see the trees thin out ahead, and the underbrush thicken. As he approached it, he could start to hear the sounds of canine feet on the slope behind him. He started to run.
He reached the undergrowth just as the first howl reached his ears. He tried to crash through, but part of the way through his foot caught on something. His still-pounding head spun as he pitched forward. He crawled forward, out of the undergrowth. He looked up, and saw her.
It would have been hard to tell which of the two was more surprised. The last thing Levy expected to see in that wild area was a young woman, dressed in flowing white. Judging from the expression on her face, the last thing she expected was a battered and bleeding stranger. Both, however, could hear the running animals following close behind Levy, and both took what they thought was appropriate action. Levy continued to try to reach the water, and she took her ornately decorated staff in a firm, two handed grip.
When the first wolf burst from the bushes, she caught it with a sharp blow to the head. There was a sharp crack, and the animal crashed to the ground. The next animal caught her backstroke, and also dropped. Neither moved after that. The rest of the animals were more cautious. They formed a semi-circle around the two humans. While the woman stood, braced for more action, Levy levered himself up. He glanced around for a weapon. Pulled up on the flat beach was a boat. In it were some long pieces of trimmed ash. He grabbed one, and turned around in time to see her strike another wolf with her staff. He realized that the decorations were made of multicolored metal. He could also smell a strange smell in the air. The other four wolves did not want to fall back. Levy leaped out at one of them. He swung the ash branch, and connected with the animal. The staff returned bloody. The wolf staggered. He swung again, and it fell. He heard a now-familiar crack, and started to turn. Then the world exploded in black.
When light returned to the world, Levy found himself lying on something soft, in a cedar-scented area. He opened his eyes, and promptly closed them again when a wave of pain took over his head. He tried to soothe the ache with his hand, only to develop a world of others the moment he tried to move. He finally realized that his entire body hurt. It was then that he finally allowed himself the luxury of a groan.
Levy paused. The voice was beautifully feminine. He tried again to open his eyes, but shut them tight once more. A cool, smooth hand settled on his forehead.
“Can you understand me?”
“Uuuhhh…” It wasn’t quite what Levy had in mind, but it was all his tongue would produce. He swallowed and tried again. “Yes, I can understand you.”
Something cold and wet was placed over his eyes. “How are you feeling?”
“Badly. I hurt all over. It hurts to open my eyes.”
“I accidentally hit you with my staff. I couldn’t wake you up after that, and I’m afraid I dropped you a few times getting you back to the house. I’m sorry.”
“‘S’all right. What of the wolves?”
“The last two ran off. I left the others there. They’re probably eaten by now. The wolves are hungry around here.”
“So I see.” Levy pushed the cloth aside and forced his eyes open. The light stung, but he wanted to see who he was talking to. “Who are you?”
Seeing her charge taking an interest in life once more, the woman leaned back in her chair. “My name is Sarah.”
Levy looked at her and at their surroundings. She was clothed in a light blue dress, and the room was a rather large one, of well-dressed logs. Light was streaming in slatted windows. It looked like morning sunshine.
“What time is it?” Levy tried sitting up. Blackness threatened to swallow him again, so he leaned back again.
“Mid-morning. I brought you here yesterday. You’ve slept since then. You should sleep some more.”
Levy’s head was really hurting by that time. “Maybe you’re right.” He closed his eyes, and relaxed.
Levy awoke later on that night, in time for supper. Sarah served pot-au-feu in ornately carved bowls. She and Levy ate quietly, using shiny steel spoons. She cut the bread with a beautiful knife, also of steel, with a handle of wood and intricately wrought gold and silver.
Levy picked up the knife after she put it down. “This is beautiful. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen work quite like this. Where’d you get it?”
“I made it. I made all these things.” She waved her hand at the table utensils.
“They’re very nice. Where did you get the steel?” Levy knew that steel was not easy to come by, even for someone rich enough to be a goldsmith.
“My father made it.”
Levy looked at her, slightly startled. He had only ever seen steel being made once, and that was in Dargon.
“I would like to watch him work. Do you think I could?”
Sarah bowed her head. When she raised it her face was sad. “I would like to see him work again, too. He’s been dead now three years.” She looked out across the table, avoiding Levy’s eyes.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t know.” Levy thought for a moment. “Who else lives here?”
“I live alone.” A strange thoughtful expression came over her face, as if she just then realized that she was alone with a stranger.
“Alone? Is there anyone else around here?” asked Levy. A woman living alone in the wilderness was unheard of.
“No, we, that is, my father, made sure of that. He, didn’t want anyone around here.” She looked away again. Levy realized that she had not wanted to tell him that, but that it slipped out. He prudently changed the subject.
“What of your mother?” Levy guessed that Sarah was about twenty.
“She died when I was young.” Sarah brightened up at the change of topic. “I do have three brothers. They don’t live too far from here. The nearest is only three days riding away.”
Levy looked out the window. The last of the sunlight was fading from the hilltops. “I suppose it’s time to go back to sleep.”
Sarah stood. “After your adventure I should think you would want to sleep some more.” She put the bread into the cupboard and started gathering the dishes off the table.
“I’m afraid that compared to some of the things I’ve gone through lately, that was merely exciting.” Sarah looked at him.
Levy helped her gather the tableware. This brought more strange looks from Sarah. Levy noticed her expression.
“I don’t like to be a burden when I’m a guest in someone’s home.”
She shook her head. “I’m just not used to seeing a man do women’s work.”
“When you’re not married, it’s all your work.” Levy had turned to carry the dishes to the tub, and did not see her next expression.
Levy awoke the next morning feeling stiff, but otherwise sound. Sunlight was coming in through the slats, telling him he had slept late. He got up and looked around. Sarah was not in the house. He stepped outside. He had known from the views out the windows that the lake was nearby, but it soon became obvious that the house was built on an island. The island was a small hill sticking up out of the middle of the lake. The house was built near the top. The boat he had seen was docked at a neat pier hidden in a small cove just below the house. The house turned out to be fairly large. When inside he had only seen the main living room/kitchen, with two doors leading off it. One door he knew led to the room Sarah slept in, the other was a covered walk leading to the privy. Now he saw that the house was almost a hundred feet long. Levy’s parents were fairly wealthy, and their house was only thirty feet square. This house was over three times larger.
Levy started to walk towards the back of the house. He had gotten almost to the back when he came across an open door. From inside he could smell hot metal. Levy stepped inside. At first he couldn’t see anything, but as his eyes adjusted he could see a reddish light coming from further inside. He took a step towards it, and fell over something hard and heavy. Metal objects clattered to the floor. He heard a gasp, and sudden light blinded him.
“Who’s there?” It was Sarah, sounding frightened.
“It’s me, Levy.” Levy picked himself up out of the debris. The light revealed a neat smithy, with an incongruous pile of metal scraps just inside the doorway. Sarah poked her head around from behind what seemed to be a wide brick pillar. She was holding her staff. She stared at Levy for a long moment. He could see that she had been deeply startled, and that a glimmer of distrust was playing on her mind. Then she relaxed her grip on her staff somewhat and stepped into view.
“You startled me.” She smiled then. “Come. I’m working.”
Levy followed her around the pillar. It turned out to be a small forge. Her workbench held a half-finished piece. Levy studied it for a moment, but couldn’t quite tell what it was. Sarah smiled when she saw his puzzled look.
“I’m not sure myself what it’s going to be yet. I started it out to go on a knife handle, but I haven’t made a staff for a long time. I may put it on a staff end.”
“Did you make this?” Levy had picked up her staff, which she had leaned up against a nearby bench. It was about four feet long, wooden with the bottom and top capped with metal. The bottom was a simple steel cup, but the top was not. It was almost a foot long, gold and silver, with large crystal inlays. It was intricately decorated in woodland motifs, although in places it was worn almost smooth.
“I made some, and my father made some. He was getting sick a lot, and he said I should carry a stick to protect myself when in the woods. He insisted on helping design the headcap.”
Levy hefted it, and smacked it against his hand. It was sturdy, and quite heavy. His arm twitched when the metal touched his palm. He repeated the action, harder, and was surprised when his entire right side convulsed. He almost dropped the staff. He gave Sarah a shocked look. She smiled back.
“That was one of father’s secrets. He had many of them. He said that when you hit that kind of crystal just right, strange things happen.” Levy carefully leaned the staff back against the bench.
“Where do you sell what you make?”
“I ride to a town a few days away. It’s not the closest, but father insisted I go there, so that…” She stopped abruptly.
“So that what?” Levy again sensed she was holding back.
“He just insisted I go there.” She bent over her work.
Wanting to change the subject, Levy looked around. There was a table with some completed works on it, knives, plates, cups, spoons, and other household items. He noticed the lack of the usual swords, daggers, and pieces of armor. The largest blade was suitable only for kitchen work.
“Did you father teach you smithy?”
“Yes. He was a very good smith. All the people around knew his work. We lived very well.”
“How do you get by now?”
She sounded cheerful. “I have everything I need here for the most part. I only sell things when I need something I can’t make or grow myself, like fine fabric, or salt.”
Levy started to bore of the conversation. “I’m going to look around, O.K.?” Levy started for the door.
“All right.” Sarah continued with her work.
Levy picked up walking where he had left off. The woods pressed close to the house on the north and east side. When Levy rounded the south-eastern corner, however, he was in for a surprise. What he saw belonged in a large city, not on a hillside in the middle of a wooded wilderness. He saw wheels and derricks, pulleys and bellcranks, pipes and carts, and most of them moving. For a long time all Levy could do was stare.
Levy turned around in time to see Sarah burst around the corner of the house. She stopped dead when she saw him standing there.
Levy looked back at the amazing sight. He suddenly saw some order in the mass of hardware. His eye fell on a shack roughly in the middle of the confusion. Above it a derrick held a large pulley. A bellcrank stood nearby, with wooden rods attached to it. One rod disappeared into some tall grass, the other into the building. The crank was slowly rocking back and forth. His eye lighted upon a large bucket sitting in front of the shack. He thought back to Sarah’s hesitancy to discuss the outside world, and to what she had said by the forge. Suddenly he understood.
Levy turned back toward where Sarah stood.
“You have a gold mine here. You don’t want anyone to know, so you don’t sell near here, but several days away.” He saw the acknowledgement in her eyes. He turned back to the shack. “What drives the mechanism?”
Sarah didn’t answer for a moment. “There’s a windmill on the other end of the island. We couldn’t get enough wind here, so Father ran rods across the island. We use it to pump the shaft dry, and to pull rock up out of the mine.”
Levy walked down to the shack. A path ran down the hill to where a large pile of rock had been dumped into the water. Levy looked out across the lake. He stared for a few moments, then walked back up the hill to where Sarah stood, quietly weeping.
“Your father made this lake, didn’t he?”
Sarah silently nodded her head in agreement.
“Tell me about your father.”
Three hours later, Levy leaned back in his chair. Sarah was not looking at him or at anything in particular.
“So he and your brothers built all this over twenty years, right?”
“Yes. Then my brothers left, moved away, and then three years ago, Father died.” Sarah slowly looked around the room. “I still expect to hear him come tromping up to the house in the morning, or hear him singing in the shop. I miss him.” They sat silent for a moment. Then Sarah stood and walked to the hearth, where she poured herself more tea.
“There’s one other thing I miss Father for, something I’ve been thinking about recently.” She walked back to the table, a thoughtful expression on her face. She sat down, and looked Levy straight in the face. “The last batch of steel he smelted is gone. I have gold, and silver, but no more steel. I need steel to make things, and I want you to help me smelt some more.”
Startled, Levy didn’t say anything at first. Steel-making was an art that was carefully guarded. Steel could do things that mere iron would not. The need always out-weighed the supply, and anyone who could make steel would never want for money. On the other hand, steel making was neither easy nor fast. He had not planned on staying in the area for that long. He paused at that thought, remembering why he was even in that area, and realized that he had nothing better to do.
“I’ll help you.”
The next day Levy and Sarah loaded the boat with some food and tools, and headed for the outer banks of the lake. The first place they landed was the place where they had first met. There they collected Levy’s lost goods, including his sword. To Levy’s pleasant surprise, they also found his horse. Levy pulled the saddle off the animal, and put the saddle into the boat. As there was no way to take the horse with them, Levy released it to roam the lake shore. They then headed for the opposite side of the lake. There they paddled up a small river that fed into the lake. They followed it for about a mile. They then pulled the boat up onto the shore, and hid it in a small shelter made of stones. Levy followed Sarah into the trees. They soon reached the bottom of a cliff. There was the furnace. It was thirty feet high, with a water-powered conveyor running up the side. Ore sat in a large pile off to one side. Levy pointed to it.
“Where did you find the ore?”
Sarah pointed up river. “There is a bog a few miles up stream. We collected bog iron, and floated it downstream.”
Sarah explained that the site had been chosen for it’s nearness to a vein of limestone lying exposed in the cliff. Levy and Sarah started digging the lime and hauling it the few hundred feet to the furnace. By evening they realized that it would take several days for the two of them to prepare the charge for burning. They gathered all their stuff, and returned to the island.
The next day they set forth again. This time they packed for a stay of several days. Sarah dropped Levy off on the shore where they had left his horse, and then she started for the other shore. Levy caught his horse, and spent the morning riding to the furnace. When he got there he found Sarah cleaning out a small hut hidden in the trees near the furnace. By nightfall the small house was warm and relatively dry.
The next day Levy spent cutting wood to fuel the furnace. He cut it on a slope overlooking the river, upstream from the furnace. When he trimmed the logs sufficiently, he rolled them into the water, where they floated down to where Sarah was waiting by the furnace. Levy joined her, and Sarah showed him how her father and brothers had made a device to pull the logs from the water using pulleys and rope. By night several large logs lay by the furnace.
It was quite dark by the time Levy approached the hut for the final time that night. He leaned the axe Sarah had given him against the wall, and quietly pushed the door open. He stepped inside onto the soft dirt floor, and was surprised to see that Sarah had hung blankets from the ceiling to separate the small hut into two halves. A moments reflection made him realize for the first time in at least two days that she was, after all, a woman, and in need of privacy. He quietly arranged his blankets on his mat, blew out the lamp, and fell asleep.
The next four days the two spent cutting wood and digging lime for the furnace. The only time they saw each other was in the morning and in the evening. By the time the eve of the fourth day drew near, the sky was heavy with clouds. Levy had just leaned his axe and maul against the wall for the night when the first drops hit his hand. He stepped inside, and the rain came down.
All night and most of the next day it rained. The river grew too high to use, and water cascaded down the cliff face where they had been digging lime. All there was to do was to sit inside and talk. They talked of steel, and how to make it, and of metal, and of wood, of rock, and gold, and commerce, and politics, and of as many topics as they could find to discuss. Levy found in Sarah a companion who was as interested in life as he was, and who, for a woman growing up in an isolated place, was surprisingly well versed in human nature.
A few hours before sunset the rain stopped. Levy and Sarah ventured out, Sarah to gather some wild food, and Levy to inspect the damage done to their designs. He walked up to the lime pit, and found it a little bigger, but otherwise untouched. He inspected the pulleys and the water wheel, and found them little worse for wear. He inspected the furnace, and his stack of wood, and found everything in good shape. He walked back to the hut as dark fell, with a greater respect for the workmanship of Sarah’s father and brothers. He quietly stepped inside the small hut. His lamp was dark, but Sarah’s was lit. As he stepped into the shack, he saw that the blankets separating her side from his were slightly askew. As he stood there, he could see her through the opening, as she undressed for bed. Quietly, so as not to make any sound, he stepped closer to the curtain. He took hold of the edge with his hand, and, with one movement, pulled the curtain the rest of the way closed. He then undressed, and went to bed.
The morning brought warm air and bright sunshine. Levy stepped out of the hut and stretched. It was such days that made him yearn for adventure. Sarah was still in bed, sleeping in late after the previous day’s inactivity. Levy picked up the axe from where he had set it before the rain started. He discovered to his dismay that the wooden handle was wet. He mentally chided himself for carelessly exposing the precious instrument to the harsh elements. He inspected the axe head, and found to his relief that there was no trace of rust on the metal. When he hefted the maul, however, he discovered that the cutting blade was orange with oxide. Mentally kicking himself, he started for the wood pile, and then paused. He once again lifted the tools to look at them.
Sarah was surprised when she stepped out of the hut to find Levy squatting by the fire. She walked over to see what he was doing. He was holding the maul head in the fire. He had removed it from its handle, and was supporting it with a smaller branch threaded through the mounting hole. As she approached, he turned to face her.
“Come here. I want to show you something.”
She stood beside him, and he turned back to the fire. He pulled the smoking metal from the flame, and rested it on a flat rock. He then lifted a smaller rock with a small depression on its face. In the depression was a small pool of dirty water, that had a crust of white powder around it. As she watched, he dripped a few drops of the liquid on the hot metal. It hissed, and as she watched, the fluid ate a small pit in the iron.
“Now watch this.” Levy said as he exchanged the maul head for the axe head, which Sarah saw that he had also placed in the fire. He dripped the same fluid on the axe head, but when the water was finally evaporated, there was merely a small spot of white scum on the metal, with no other adverse affects. Levy turned back to Sarah, a triumphant look on his face.
“So?” Sarah looked puzzled for a moment. Then her face brightened. “Oh| I see. Father made that maul a long time ago, before he changed the formula|” Seeing the look of noncomprehension of Levy’s face, she elaborated. “When I was small he changed the formula for the steel. None of his new steel rusts or corrodes or anything. That’s why we hid out here in the forest. Father was afraid someone would try to steal the secret.”
Levy looked back at the axe head. The edge was shining dully in the morning sun. “Are you going to show me the secret?”
“I probably will. Father didn’t show me how to make steel until the last few years of his life. I don’t know any other way to make it.” With that she turned to the morning’s tasks, leaving Levy to wonder, and to rebuild the disassembled tools.
After several more days of work, two of which were used to burn the wood down to charcoal, the charge was finally ready to go. After digging the lime for the flux, Sarah had woven more baskets for carrying ore, lime, and charcoal up to the mouth of the furnace. The two of them had rebuilt the troughs for the melt to flow into when it was done, and Levy had finished some minor repairs to the conveyor mechanism and the water-powered blower to fire the furnace. Finally all was in readiness, and Sarah lit the fire.
The several hours that followed were anticlimactic, spent waiting for the fire to build. When the fire finally caught, however, Levy and Sarah found themselves the proud parents of a monster. Levy climbed to the top of the furnace, to feed the flame, while Sarah stayed on the bottom to pass Levy fuel and ore. The smoke billowing out of the top made Levy long for an extra pair of lungs, and the heat emanating from the bottom made Sarah wish she could strip off her blouse like Levy could. They fed the fire, checked the mix, and fed the fire some more. The day wore slowly on, as their piles of ore, lime, and charcoal dwindled quickly to nothing.
Twilight found Levy still at the top of the furnace, feeding in the last of the lime. He dumped a bucket of rock into the furnace, and hooked the empty container to the return line. He turned to get the next bucket, only to find instead a smiling if sweaty Sarah.
“You’re the best thing I’ve seen all day.” Levy exclaimed as he helped her out.
“I wanted to take a look, and to help you with the last buckets.” While Levy reached for the next container, she looked down into the dark, smoking pit that was the mouth of the furnace. Levy lifted the bucket up to the chute, to pour it into the inferno, and then stopped.
“Hey| What’s this?” Levy reached into the basket and pulled out a large black crystal. The basket was full of such crystals.
Sarah was grinning from ear to ear. “That, Levy, is my father’s secret.”
Sarah reached in the basket and selected another chunk of rock. This one was greenish in color. “Father found that,” She said, indicating Levy’s crystal, “in an outcropping on the other side of the lake. He thought it might be coal, so he brought it over and tried to make steel with it. It didn’t burn, and he forgot about it for years. This,” she said, tossing the green rock in her hand, “we find in our mine, with copper. Father knew that silver could be alloyed with gold, to make it harder, so he tried alloying silver and things with the iron, to make better iron. Nothing seemed to work, as he told me. He would often tell me this story, when I was young, before I would go to bed. Then one day he tried this green rock, and the iron got harder. He thought at first that it was copper, but he remembered that copper would not alloy with the iron. Then, later, he tried that,” indicating Levy’s black rock, “and the steel wouldn’t rust.”
Levy took the green rock from Sarah, and set it aside along with the black crystal. He and Sarah then dumped the rest of the buckets, containing the different ores, into the fire. Levy then collected his specimens, and the two rode the return line down.
It was black out when Levy finally punched through the baked mud at the bottom of the furnace, and allowed the white-hot steel to pour out into the troughs. He and Sarah then retreated from the intense heat, as the metal flowed out into the molds waiting for it. All that night and all the next day they allowed the metal to cool. While they waited they cleaned the slag out of the furnace and put anything that could rot into the special storage places Sarah’s father had made. Over the next few days they laboriously sawed the steel into pieces small enough to carry and rowed it over to the island. They had just gotten the last few pieces stored when it again started to rain.
Later that evening Levy was looking out through the slatted window at the patterns the rain made on the lake. Behind him Sarah worked on an ornament for a spoon handle.
“How often do you see other people?” Levy asked, still facing out the window.
“Not very often.”
Levy walked over to where Sarah was sitting. He pulled a chair up beside her and sat down.
“Don’t you ever get lonely out here?”
“Very.” Sarah looked away for a moment. “Why is it that you never married?”
Levy leaned back in his chair.
“I don’t know. It’s not through lack of opportunity. I have been the object of many young girls’ eyes. I just never had the time to properly court any of them. There always seemed to be better things to do. That, and the fact that I must marry inside my own clan, or lose my inheritance.” Levy noticed that Sarah seemed to frown slightly when he said that. “Have you ever taken a fancy to any men?”
Sarah smiled as she looked away. “Only the one I’m talking to.” Levy blushed a little, and she continued. “I’ve never really gotten to know any others, except my brothers.”
Silence reigned for a long moment. Sarah broke the silence.
“What is the name of your clan?”
“Barel. We come from a man named Eli Barel, who was granted some land by a lord for having saved his kingdom from a war. Eli Barel came from a country away south, one that I’ve visited twice. I could marry one of them, but they are too strange for me, too foreign. What clan or descent do you have?”
Sarah frowned, then stood and walked over to a shelf over a window. She brought down a silver plate, with engraving on it.
“This is my family crest. Father said we also came from the south, but then just about everything is south when you’re this far north. I’ve only once met someone else from our clan, and he had come north just to tell my father that Grandfather had died, and that Father was now the new Elder. Father refused. He said he was too old.”
“That sounds familiar for some reason. I may have met some of your relatives in my travels.” Levy looked at the crest. It was complex, but the main symbol was that of a cogwheel. The more Levy looked at the plate the more familiar it looked, yet without quite revealing its origin to him.
Levy drew his knife. He gave it to Sarah, so she could look at it. On it was the Barel crest, also complex, with a compass on it.
“This was granted to Eli Barel at the same time he was granted the village I come from. Our family had a crest before that, but I’ve only ever seen it once.”
Sarah looked at it for a moment, then handed it back. “I’ve only ever seen one other crest, the one belonging to the mayor of the nearest town. We engraved it on a beer stein for him.” Sarah giggled at that. “He probably sees it every day. He drinks a lot of beer. Listen, I’m tired. I’m going to go to bed now. Sleep well.”
She put the plate back on the shelf, and then walked to her room and closed the door. Levy sat alone and thought for a bit, then, as the last of the sunshine disappeared, doused the lamps and went to bed himself.
Levy awoke the next morning to find Sarah shaking him. The sun had yet to come up, and it was raining very hard.
Sarah looked anxious. “You’ve got to help me. The water level in the lake is rising. We have to open the floodgates, or the dam will be overwhelmed.” She handed him a large overcoat. “Don’t bother putting on your clothes. This is very warm, and you’ll just get hot with the others on. You’ll need this for the rain.”
Levy stepped into the coat and followed her out. They climbed down the hill and into the boat. The dock was already under water. They rowed to the dam. The rain made bailing a requirement, but the wind was to their back, and they made good time. It was just getting light by the time they reached the dam.
Levy followed Sarah up the dam face. The cold and wet had driven the dullness from his mind, and, for some reason, the image of Sarah’s family crest kept running through his head. Strangely enough, the image in his mind was not that of a silver plate, but of a colorful drawing in an old book. Hard as he tried, however, he could not force himself to remember where he had seen the book. He got so involved in trying to remember that he found himself lagging far behind Sarah. He hurried to catch up.
Trees grew on the slope, planted by Sarah’s father to conceal the artificial nature of the structure. At the top was a raised walkway connecting the floodgates, with the first of the two gates a few feet from where Sarah and Levy stepped on the walk. Sarah ran to it and started to crank the windlass to raise the first gate.
“You open the other one.” She pointed to the far end of the walk.
Levy ran to the far end. There he found a similar setup. He seized the crank and started turning, images of paper and bindings still running past his mind’s eye. He hadn’t made more than two revolutions when he was startled by a loud roar. He looked up just in time to see a large section of cliff break off and slide into the water a few hundred yards away. He looked back at Sarah.
“That happens every so often.” She shouted to him. She turned back to cranking, as did he.
He managed to get the gate partway open. Then the whole world seemed to fall out from under him. A great wave, caused by the rockslide, crashed into the walkway and carried it and him over the face of the dam. Levy was submerged. When he surfaced, he found part of the walk floating near him, and he climbed aboard. He looked around. He was floating away from the dam with increasing speed, and was equidistant from both shores. On top of the dam Sarah stood, her hands covering her mouth. He waved to her, to show her he was all right. Hesitantly, she waved back. A sudden dip then threw him on his face. He struggled back to his hands and knees when another threw him back down again. When he finally looked back at the top of the dam, Sarah was not there.
An afternoon three months later Levy was riding through the woods once more. The horse was one he had recently purchased, as was all his tack and most of his equipment. It was nearing dusk, and he saw a light shining through the trees up ahead. Cautiously he approached it. It turned out to be another traveller, relying on a fire to keep the wolves away. The stranger seemed eager for Levy’s company when it was offered, so Levy made camp with the man. The next day, over breakfast, they told each other of their destinations.
Levy told the man only some of what Sarah had told him about herself, but the man was sympathetic to Levy’s plight, and seemed to want to help.
“I’m a trader, but I don’t know of any woman dealing in these parts. I am a little out of my way, though, so I will keep my ears open. Where did you say you were headed?” The stranger paused in the middle of a block of cheese.
“I’m headed for the next village, and the next, and the next, until winter comes, or I find her. I floated for three days before I could get to shore, so I figure she lives in this area. I don’t remember all the tributaries and forks in the river I hit, though, so I’m not sure exactly where to look.” Levy shrugged and stared at the fire, poking it with a stick.
“A woman selling carved utensils, living alone. I’ll try to remember that. Anything else?”
Levy leaned over and grabbed his pack. From it he pulled a piece of fine leather. He unrolled it slowly, carefully. Inscribed on it, in bright colors, was a crest.
“If you see anything with this crest on it, you’ve found her.”
As he held it up for the trader to see, Levy fingered the small signature on the lower right corner. It was the name of the Dargon court historian, who kept family records from many areas, even areas to the far south. While he was recovering from his harrowing journey downstream, and in the weeks that followed, as he worked to earn enough money to buy another horse, Levy had thought hard about that crest that Sarah had shown him. When he finally got enough money together, he had journeyed south to Dargon, where he had found the court historian. Together they had searched the records. It wasn’t until Levy had set eyes on the old book on the top shelf that the memories had come flooding back. By the time he found the correct page, his eyes were almost blinded with tears of anxiousness and joy. Levy hadn’t seen that page for years, since the time when he had made a thorough search of the records at his father’s behest. Levy still remembered the excitement he had felt, those many years ago, when he had at last found the original Barel family crest.
After the trader had committed the design to memory, Levy carefully put it back in his pack, broke camp, and saddled up. After thanking the trader, Levy rode off. The trader watched him go, shaking his head sympathetically. He then went about washing his kettle and breaking camp. That done, he paused for a few minutes to polish his wares and study the goods he had swapped. He was almost ready to put them all away when he stopped cold. He reached down, and with trembling hands picked up a spoon, wooden with an ornately carved golden handle. He stared at it for a long moment, then leaped to his feet. He stuffed the other goods quickly into the sack, tied the sack to his horse, and kicked out the fire. He saddled up, and rode off hard in pursuit of Levy.