The Making of a Masterpiece

The clamor of war could not reach this place, deep in the bowels of this grand castle. Yet, the craftsman was aware of it, as he was aware of his leathered hands. He knew from the scent of death that seeped in from the walls holding off the moat. He knew from the food that had gone from putrid to unfit for dogs. He knew from the faces of the men that held the weariness of warriors on the losing side. The smith smiled and sang as he fixed armor and weapons for them, trying to cheer them, but it never worked as well as he hoped. He knew very well that if they didn't survive, he would be another corpse rotting in the moat.

One day, when the fighting had calmed down for a moment, the lord himself came down to visit the craftsman. He was a mighty leader, and kept his face a mask of encouragement. This day, however, his mask had a few cracks. His eyes were blacked holes on his pale face, and the stench of worry clang to him. "How is it coming?" he asked as he always did, a slight quaver in his voice.

"I am almost finished, my lord," the craftsman answered. "Are you ill?"

"Thou hast been unfinished for weeks," the lord replied. "I am not ill, but I fear that we all will be. Art thou not ill, who works day and night? Are Fays free of the burden of weariness?"

The craftsman shook his head slowly. "A Fay I may be, but free of the burdens of the world I am not. I feel weary as well."

"Alas, if a magical thing is tired, then our taxed death approaches!" The lord suddenly turned and grabbed the Fay craftsman's arms. A maniacal gleam shone in the lord's eyes, and he shouted, "You must finish before the sun sets! For when my doom approaches, I will slay one thousand before they take my home!"

The Fay man turned away and brought the sword to him. He said softly and calmly, "I need the finest leather you can spare, my lord. The grip is all that is left."

Before the lord could answer, the quiet was shattered by the horrible sound of a ballista's stone striking the wall. The entire castle shuttered for an instant before the outer wall that held off the moat came rumbling down, the screams of the men caught in it were lost in the death cries of the falling stones.

The Fay smith and the lord stood silent for a moment, wincing at the sounds. "The crafts of Fays are said to be miracle workers, blessed by God," the lord whispered. "Your master claimed you are a student of Weyland himself!" He ripped off his heavy leather vest that served as light armor and shoved it into the Fay's hands. "What use will this be with such a weapon?"

The Fay snatched the leather up without voicing his doubts. He started working almost too quickly for the lord's eyes to follow. The Fay began to sing in a language that was long lost, as though that was all he could do to subdue the fear within him. He tore the vest apart and cut the good leather into strips. The lord looked on in wonder at the odd grace that came with the Fay's speed as he set the leather in water and stretched it with strength not found among men.

The wet hide made rhythmic slapping sounds as he braided it. Like an odd counter-melody, it seemed to sound in time to the Fay's voice. One thousand enemy soldiers marched above. The music was maddening; the Fay's fingers were making a rhythm of hope to the beat of doom. He finally sewed the leather into place, and all movement and sound ceased as the Fay held out the sword for the lord. The lord reached out to take it, but the smith pulled back a moment.

"My lord, I cannot promise miracles. This sword is a tool and is bound to the one who wields it for whatever intention. It is not a soul in itself!"

Ignoring the craftsman before him, the lord grabbed the sword quickly, accidentally cutting the Fays hands. The Fay cried out sharply as the blade sliced through the hardened skin as though it were air. He stood for a second, watching his hands as they bled freely. The lord stared in dismay as the Fay closed his eyes and fell to the ground, limp as bit of worn rope. The sword gleamed in the lord's hands and his dismay turned to awe. What a powerful thing!

The beat of doom resumed like the beat of a heart, deep and steady. Suddenly a new voice joined the melody: a scream like a wildcat from the mountains and wails of the mice caught in its deadly silver claws. The whines of arrows joined in, making percussive thumps as they hit their targets. Then there was silence; the instruments left to rest; the song completed.