Ruru is a young forgehand desperately trying to support his younger sister. Yet when three of the Renith, travelling mages, end up in his village, he begins entertaining dreams of being like them. Caught up in politics and genocide, his world crumbles around him when the living magic does not choose him, but his sister. And when their travels lead them to the discovery of the Renith's dark secret, who will be protecting who?
It was an unpleasantly warm and surly morning from the moment the sun rose, decided Ruru. The late summer had heralded the brunt of the sunshine, and the forge, though outdoors, was facing south into the sweltering heat. Without a breeze to propel their spirits, the younger apprentices had quickly become tired and overheated, leaving Ruru to sweat in the forge while they doused themselves in the nearby lake.
It was all right for them. They had families to support them, not a family to support. His sister was not a burden to him, but she would be seventeen this winter, and their parents had left them next to nothing. She would need a dowry at some point. It was somewhat shame-faced that Ruru admitted that his sister had no suitors as yet. There had been one or two last year, one local and one traveller, but neither of them were suitable in Ruru’s eyes. Still, it was early days. He still had the rest of the year to find someone for her; there was no need to rush these things. Lyote was an agreeable, well-mannered young woman - not beautiful, but nor was she displeasing to the eye. Ruru had made sure that she had received a proper education, had worked his fingers raw for three summers to afford it. It would cost him all his earnings this year to make a decent dowry for her.
Ruru grimaced as he lay down his tongs. This was his last year of apprenticeship, and there was no guarantee that he would find a job elsewhere. In honesty, it had been generous of Cockley to keep him on for so long; even in such a small village, there was always a surplus of apprentices (they usually kept it in the family). Their village was by no means isolated - there were several growing towns nearby - but again, there was no guarantee of a placement, as forgehands were hardly something of a rarity in these parts.
Drawn steadily back to reality, Ruru glanced down and realised that he had closed three iron rings around each other rather than the usual two. He cursed under his breath. It was at this moment that one of the younger apprentices returned, clothes sodden and hair dripping wet, but considerably cheerier than earlier that day. Ruru, on the other hand, was not in such a bright mood. “Back already?” he snapped.
Carseike nodded, either oblivious to the sarcasm or merely used to it. “Gerrias’s gone to the Hen, chasing some business. Says he should be back late this afternoon.”
“Right. No doubt in some drunken stupor that will prevent him from doing work he wouldn’t’ve done anyway.”
Carseike shrugged, absent-mindedly fingering the iron chain draped across the table. “He might bring us some decent business, at least. I’m fed up of boring fixes and six-day jobs.”
“They take six days because you two are never here to help!” Ruru glared across at him, but Carseike was avoiding his eye, even now staring wistfully out at the mountains. “If you were here to get jobs done quicker, we might get more business.”
“We might,” Carseike murmured, still facing away, “but it wouldn’t be as interesting.”
“You never stay long enough for boredom to set in anyway. I’d report you both if Cockley wasn’t around here less often than you.” It was an empty threat, and both of them knew it. They might as well have been discussing the weather. “So who’s down at the Hen, then? Travellers?” It wasn’t rare for travellers to come through Kerydunn in the summer months, as the mountains were hard to pass during winter, though their jobs were scarcely more interesting than those of the villagers.
Carseike turned to face him at last, shaking his head as he did so. “Three of the Renith,” he said, eyes gleaming. Had Ruru still been holding his tongs, he would have dropped them.
“Here? In Kerydunn?” Ruru’s eyes widened. “Why?”
Carseike shrugged. “No clue. I’ll work on the chain for a bit if you want to go and look. Bring Gerrias back with you when you come.” Ruru nodded and gratefully removed his apron, leaving it by one of the benches. As he walked through the market to get to the inn, he wondered whether the elder of the two apprentices had matured over the summer without him noticing, or whether the good weather simply made him more bearable.
It took Ruru just over twenty minutes to reach the inn, though he could usually make the journey in half the time. He squeezed past the broken door to find the main room crowded with people. Carseike had mentioned only three of the Renith, though he could have been wrong, for there were many people inside whom Ruru had never seen. He crossed paths with the blacksmith from the town to the north, and several other people whom he knew, including Cockley himself (so that was where he’d been all day), who Ruru quickly ducked into the crowds to avoid.
A large group of men were gathered in a circle around a young woman in a hat, listening attentively. From the look of her clothing, Ruru knew that she wasn’t local, though she winked at him as he caught her eye. Even with the reasonable guess that she was one of the Renith, he couldn’t locate the other two, for there were no other such circles visible amongst the crowds. Still, he was able to get close enough to this one to hear her speak; indeed, she beckoned him over. He might have listened to her tales of far-off lands, of long-lost treasures and long-forgotten peoples, for hours. Might have, had he not seen Cockley rise from his seat. A flicker of disappointment crossed the young woman’s face as she saw Ruru get up to leave, and he made his apologies as he hurried toward the back entrance.
By a stroke of luck, he found Gerrias sitting in the garden, drinking mead with another young man (who at the very least was old enough to). A hurried explanation before Ruru alarmedly grabbed his arm, began dragging him back through the marketplace, hoping that none of the raucous sellers would call out to them by name, taking the longer route that Cockley never took, but taking it faster and with more determination, pressing onwards, not pausing for so much as an extra breath until they could see the forge within sprinting distance.
They arrived there a minute before Cockley, with just enough time for Ruru to catch his breath while Gerrias explained to Carseike what had happened. So it was that, by the time Cockley had strolled into the forge with a boomed greeting, all three young men were working at a furious pace, aprons tied around them, tools in hand, their sweating and red faces put down to the heat of the forge and the day. For the hours that Cockley watched them, the young apprentices worked unceasingly, chains clinking and trembling as they were dragged mercilessly through the forge, one iron ring attached after another. It was a most tiring day, Ruru thought, and he was glad that Cockley hadn’t the sense to question an hour’s work producing the same as a usual week. The chain, hundreds of meters long in the end, was finished by dusk, and of a decent enough standard that Cockley let the three boys leave early. He suggested they visit the Hen - there were rumours of Renith there, apparently - and the boys took his advice, trying to conceal the smirks and grins they were exchanging.