April 7th, 2023
There was an increasingly pervasive rumor growing in Rome that if you needed metal goods for cheap, there was a skilled blacksmith living in one of the more well-worn streets of the reclaimed city. The rumor had some truth to it. There was indeed a blacksmith working out of a garage in a part of the city usually reserved for fresh refugees and he was occasionally known to give away small things to those in need. A girl in need of a leg brace for her injuries, a bicyclist who needed his frame repaired, a pipe for the new water system patched up properly, all of these were seen to by the nameless Blacksmith who lived out of his garage. All of them he did without pay and often admonished those who tried to repay him. Of course, he also had something of an attitude. Those coming to him seeking favors or needless repairs for heirlooms were met by a brusque and occasionally unpleasant attitude. He wasn’t one to undertake projects, he would say, nor was he a simple handyman to do needless chores for others. Not many people knew precisely what his criteria was, though many knew that if a Ranger came to him asking for a weapon he would slam the door in their faces, often quite violently.
The Blacksmith would do favors for those that needed them; he didn’t take projects; he didn’t make weapons. Those three things were the only details people seemed to agree upon. People didn’t know his name or where he came from (he spoke clearly but with a very unusual accent), and when asked he would rarely give a straight answer, usually preferring to dismiss the question entirely. Many said that his hatred of small talk was the fourth known thing about him though people still debated on that.
None of was going to stop one woman from knocking on his door around noon on a clear and sunny day. She was on a very important mission after all, one that wasn’t about to let a gruff old blacksmith stop it.
Her name was Thalia, and she was dressed for somewhat warmer weather but showed no sign of being bothered by the chill. She even seemed to have tanned a little. She kept her long jet black hair bound up in a ponytail and the sun shone in her bright green eyes. Her almost perpetual smile was on her face as she banged on the garage door. It was closed at the time but she wasn’t about to be fooled; she knew he was in there and she wasn’t taking no for an answer.
After nearly ten minutes of banging, the door finally slid upwards with a clatter.
“You know…” the blacksmith said, as he looked at her from the other side of threshold. “All that banging isn’t doin’ any work endearing me to ya.”
“Then you shouldn’t be so hard to reach.” Thalia smiled, as she slid inside like the wind before he could protest, leaving him to stand annoyed at the entrance.
His garage and makeshift forge was full of old and well-worn machines. The walls and floors were clean but the signs of heavy use was plenty clear, the stone itself stained with years of soot. It was an odd thing that such a new forge should look so well established, but Thalia was something of an expert on odd things. In the corner was an old turntable softly playing music in the corner, the ill-shaped look of it obviously noting a machine cobbled together from spare parts.
“I’m open when I’m open.” He said, folding his arms over his chest, giving Thalia a good look at him.
He wasn’t built like a traditional blacksmith. He was a relatively tall and somewhat lanky fellow, though his arms and chest still bore the necessary strength and thickness to work with metals. His hair was a bright platinum blonde, almost white in color, and he had light blue eyes the precise color of the midday sky.
“I have some work for you.” Thalia’s smile remained firmly on her lips. “And though I know what your reactions going to be, it’s a big project as well.”
The blacksmith groaned. “I don’t see why you people keep thinking I’m the kind of man you need…”
“Because you’re the best smith and engineer in the city.” Thalia smiled at him, undaunted.
“And what have you gotten into your head that I should be doing?” The Blacksmith asked, sitting in a huff in his old and battered chair.
“I have made a proposition to the senate and received provisionary approval for it.” Thalia said.
“Regarding the construction of a radio transmission and receiver tower in the city.”
Her smile only seemed to grow as the blacksmith arched his eyebrows.
“A radio tower?” I don’t fix cars and you ask me to make something that big.”
“Not all by yourself.” Thalia said. “You would just design and supervise construction.”
“That’s still very literally a tall order.” The blacksmith shrugged. “Not my kind of job, besides I’m not an engineer, there’s probably someone better at building radio towers somewhere else in the city.”
“There really isn’t.” Thalia’s smile grew less cheerful and more sly.
“You’ve checked them all?” The blacksmith asked suspiciously.
“Don’t need to check, I know you’re the best.” Thalia pulled a rolling chair over to sit across from him, crossing her legs and matching his defiant posture.
“You’re a lot of talk.” The blacksmith snorted. “No wonder the senate liked you, I’m sure you buttered them up real nice.”
“Oh I did.” Thalia nodded. “But this isn’t talk, Mr. Smith.”
“Not my name.” The blacksmith frowned.
“Oh I know it’s not.” Thalia idly ran a hand to brush aside her black bangs. “I know your real name after all.”
There was a pause in his breath, an emptiness in the air that was just long enough for Thalia to know she was right.
“I thought you were just some fool with a dream.” The blacksmith said, his expression growing ugly. “Now I know you for a liar.”
It was Thalia’s turn to frown now, an ugly expression that didn’t fit her face at all. “I’m a lot of things but I am not a liar.”
“Prove it then.” He snorted.
“Your name, Mister Blacksmith” Thalia’s smile returned, beaming brightly, lighting up the room as if she were the sun itself. “Is Ilmarinen, and you are a very long way from home.”
The silence was much longer now as the blacksmith’s gaze was fixed on Thalia’s eyes, his piercing unblinking gaze trying to look clean through her. Thalia, never one to be intimidated, matched him.
“How did you know? I covered my trail…” His voice grew distant, his gaze wavering before his eyes snapped right back to her. “Wait one damn second…I know who you are! I’ve heard about you in this city, the girl with the radio dream and the scary boyfriend.”
“Scary? Oh no, no, he’s like a puppy.” Thalia giggled. “but you’re not wrong, I suppose.”
“Though it doesn’t answer how you knew who I was.”
“Oh Ilmarinen…” Thalia tutted. “For one you are far too good a person. That girl’s brace you fixed? I got a look at it, you didn’t fix it, you un-broke it. That’s some divine metalwork you did…literally!”
Ilmarinen rolled his eyes.
“Oh come on, that at least was a pretty good pun.” Thalia giggled again. “But I didn’t know for sure until I got here, and that gave it away.”
“What did?” Ilmarinen asked derisively.
Thalia jerked her head towards his turntable, softly crooning foreign folk music. “For one, that meter is distinctly Finnish folk. I know Kalevala when I hear it.”
“Could’ve just been eccentric tastes.” Ilmarinen shrugged.
“It’s also not plugged in.” Thalia couldn’t help but giggle again as Ilmarinen took a quick panicked gaze to the turntable, which was indeed running on nothing but divine energy.
Ilmarinen sighed as he leaned back in his chair. “Stupid, stupid…” he muttered to himself before returning his gaze to her. “So you know me and I know you, what are we going to do about it?”
“Well, I’m not so underhanded as to try and blackmail you, that’s not really my thing.” Thalia said.
“I just want you to know I’m serious.”
“I can see you’re serious.” Ilmarinen said. “The answer is still no.”
Thalia sighed, her smile growing softer but never fading entirely. “Why not? I deserve an explanation at least.”
“Frankly you don’t deserve that, but I suppose I can indulge you.” Ilmarinen said, folding his arms, a grumpy expression clouding his face. “I like my privacy and to do my work in peace. Word gets out I helped build a tower like that and every city project is going to want me in charge of it.”
“You’re a forge god, Ilmarinen, of course they’ll want you…but you’re also a forge god, why not just set up a shrine and retire, maybe bless a few engineers.”
“That’s not how I prefer to do things.” He said. “I’m not the type to delegate, but I also don’t do big commissions, I just want the projects I’d like to take…on top of my privacy.”
“Do it under an assumed name if you have to.” Thalia said. “I’m not here to make you famous…though I certainly could, I’m pretty good at that, y’know?”
“I know.” Ilmarinen retained his solid frown. “And I’m still not interested.”
“This is the weapons thing, isn’t it?” Thalia asked. Her voice grew softer, less pushy, though still with a confident edge to it. She spoke more like an intimate friend than a potential client. Ilmarinen retained his silence.
Thalia sighed. “You think that if you become famous in the city you’ll be asked to make weapons. You don’t care if they ask you to make pipelines or temples or power stations…you’re worried that they might start asking you to design swords and spears or armor.”
“That may have something to do with it.” Ilmarinen said. “Not my thing, left it to Hephaestus and his lightning bolts.”
“It’s not going to happen.” Thalia said. “They can ask but no one can make you build anything.”
“Damn right.” Ilmarinen said. “Capitolina could give me all her riches, I wouldn’t offer up so much as a dagger for it.”
“Then do this project, not just for me, but for you, and all of Rome!” Thalia leapt to her feet, her face like the sun. “I’m not asking you to build a tower of war. I’m asking you to build a tower that will send out nothing but stories and music, all the tears and laughter the people of this city can come up with. It’s not a weapon at all, and you can get another chance to design something beautiful.”
“I’ll…think about it.” Ilmarinen settled on, his words coming slowly and heavily. “It’s a big project, it requires some considerations.”
Still smiling from ear to ear, Thalia dropped a short stack of papers on a clear space of his work desk “This is the specifications we’re going with for now. Peruse them at your pleasure.”
“Ya, ya” Ilmarinen waved her off, as if to ensure he was still only considering the project.
“Hmmm one last thing.” Thalia said, her sly smirk returning. “What are you doing in Rome? Like I said it’s a long way from home.”
“Not really any of your concern.” Ilmarinen said. Then, seeing she would not be dissuaded by that, offered her a shrug saying simply. “I’m looking out for someone.”
At that, Thalia once more had a brief spurt of giggles at his expense.
“And what’s so funny now?” Ilmarinen demanded, but Thalia was already out his door, waving him a cheery goodbye as she alighted down the street.
It’s always a girl, Thalia thought idly to herself as she left the forge god in her wake. From Finland to Rome, the culture is different but some things always stay the same.
The Cities Eternal©2016, Evan Murdoch, Ben Sousa
(( JP Link: https://www.jukepop.com/home/read/9042?chapter=43&sl=903 ))