Trapped between two peoples
Erik Tarverro is a half-breed raised as a smith in the human city of Vidran. Hounded for his mixed blood and denied mastery in his craft, he leaps at the chance to join his father’s people in the Sky City of Newport.
There, he learns he is the only heir of an ancient and noble line. His father’s name opens doors and gathers allies, but Erik must still struggle to understand both this strange new culture and his place within it.
Fate will deny him a peaceful understanding, though, as the clouds of war gather – and his father’s enemies have laid their eyes upon his City in the Sky.
Erik Tarverro waited silently in the Guild Hall of the Smith’s Guild. The hardwood seat and simple decorations, fitting for an artisan’s guild, did little to alleviate his tension. Every so-often, his hand drifted down to the sword at his belt and caressed the hilt. His grandfather, recovered now from his long illness, had borne an identical weapon into the Tribunal Room an hour ago. Combined with several other pieces, it was to stand as proof of his readiness to be qualified as a Master of the Guild.
In a gesture too controlled to be a lunge, Erik came to his feet and began to pace. He’d tried not to get his hopes up, but surely this time they’d have to accept that he was, indeed, good enough to be a Master. He was a better swordsmith than half the Masters in the city.
His pacing brought him to a polished shield hung on the wall and he paused, examining himself in it. It was his eyes, he knew. His eyes, with the slant and dark color that his father’s Aeraid blood had bequeathed to him, that marked him as a half-breed. He was short for a human, but not unreasonably so. It was his eyes and face that marked him as the child of an Aeraid. The jet-black hair that he’d drawn back into a ponytail only accentuated the difference.
Erik turned away from his image in the shield with a muttered curse. His father had been as good a man as any of them, for all that he was not human. Who were they to decide that his blood made his son less worthy?
The door to the Tribunal Room creaked open and Erik turned to face it. Five men, dressed in the formal robes of Master Smiths, walked out of the Room, ignoring Erik as they turned towards the back of the Hall, where no mere journeyman could enter.
That was it then. If there had been any chance, they’d have invited him in to speak for himself, not simply left. The grim expression on his grandfather’s face when old Byron followed them out merely confirmed it. Erik met the old man’s gaze, and Byron shook his head.
Three times now, they’d rejected him. Not on the basis of skill – even as a journeyman, people recommended him to those looking for good swords – but merely due to his blood. No matter how many of the city’s smiths acknowledged him, it always seemed that his Mastery Tribunals were made up of the ones that held his father’s race against him.
“Come on Erik,” Byron said finally. “Let’s go home.”
Erik nodded sharply, and slowly released the handle of his sword.
The fading afternoon sun glittered off the blade of the sword as Erik ran through his exercises. The sword hummed through a complex series of parries, cuts and thrusts, inflicting unspeakable damage on empty air.
Why wouldn’t they just accept him as a Master? He was good enough, there was no argument anywhere about that. At least one of the smiths who’d voted today had sent business his way in the past. He was the most respected journeyman smith in the city, but as long as he remained a journeyman, he couldn’t open his own shop. He was left working out of his grandfather’s shop.
He snarled and spun, thrusting the sword into the ‘stomach’ of the dummy in the quiet training yard. Even money didn’t help. He was good enough that he had enough of that, but bribing the Tribunal was nearly impossible, even if it was likely to do any good.
There were simply too many Masters in the Guild who would not allow a ‘mere’ half-blood to pollute the ‘purity’ of their organization. As long as any Tribunal included at least three of them, and there were enough that that was almost certain, he would never have a chance.
He heard the shop bell ring, but he ignored the noise as he slowly and methodically hacked the dummy into very, very small pieces.
Byron hurried into the front of the shop, mentally cursing himself for forgetting that Erik wouldn’t be covering the store this afternoon as he normally did. Stepping up to the counter, he shed the heavy leather gloves he’d been wearing in the forge and looked up at the customer.
“How can I help you?” he asked automatically, before the man’s appearance truly sank in. Almost as soon as the words were out of his mouth, Byron half-froze at the sight of the man.
The stranger was tall, nearly six feet, unusually tall for a human, but bore the same arched cheekbones that marked the Aeradi. He lacked their slanted eyes, however, but both his eyes and hair appeared jet-black. He was clad in a doublet of dark maroon velvet that had probably cost as much as a decent horse. Just about everything about the man screamed first ‘rich’ – and then ‘Draconan.’ The eyes and height declared him a member of the mountain-bound race that bred and flew the great dragons.
He smiled, and Byron hid a shudder. That smile looked like it belonged on something with scales and claws, not a man.
“I am in need of some… specialized equipment,” the man said softly. “I have been told that you have a journeyman here – your grandson, I believe? – who may be able to make it for me. Is my information correct?”
“My grandson is indeed a journeyman,” Byron said. “I am not certain if he will be able to help you, however – he is primarily a sword smith.”
“So I was told,” the Draconan replied with a nod. “I am in the correct place then?”
Byron shrugged carefully. “I would suppose so. If you will wait here, I can get him for you.”
“That would be satisfactory,” the man agreed. He selected a chair and sat on the edge of it, looking as if every nerve and muscle in his body was ready to spring into action, and yet remaining perfectly still.
Byron managed to hide another shudder as he left the shop, heading to the yard where he figured Erik would be. It took only a few steps towards the yard for him to be able to hear the hard thuds of steel on wood. When he stepped out into the open yard at the heart of the compound he’d built around his house, smithy and shop, he found that his grandson had completely demolished the straw dummy he normally practiced on, and had proceeded to attack the heavy wooden pole it was attached to.
The pole was six feet high and nearly four inches thick. Normally Byron wouldn’t have thought that you could cut through it with a sword, at least not without having to repeatedly sharpen the sword, but the evidence suggested that Erik hadn’t really cared. The top third or so of the pole lay on the hard-packed dirt ground, and the top half of the remainder was scarred by sword-strikes.
Erik was sitting on the ground, eyeing the sword which was now stuck deep into the pole about a foot down from its new top. Sweat dripped from the young man’s brow, falling onto the already soaked fabric of his tunic.
“Enjoying yourself?” Byron asked his grandson.
“No, not really,” Erik replied, his eyes not leaving the sword. “It did help with my mood, but I think I’m going to need to re-make that sword.”
“You have four others just like it,” Byron observed.
“Three others,” Erik corrected, gesturing across the yard.
Byron looked where his grandson pointed and saw another sword, from the case next to the one he’d taken into the Tribunal earlier today. Erik had apparently decided to prove the theory that you could break a sword by stepping on it while holding it at the right angle. He’d succeeded, and the broken pieces of the blade shone dully in the sun.
“Ah,” was all Byron said. “Are you recovered enough to be civil? I have a man asking for you in the shop.”
Erik considered for a moment. “Who?”
“Not a regular customer,” Byron replied. “Draconan, rich.”
“Not a regular customer indeed,” Erik said softly, his calm voice belying the destruction around him. He rose smoothly to his feet with the grace of the trained swordsman he was. “I’ll see him.”