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Chapter One

In the dim light of the cottage, Kenric stared at the handful of iron nails in front of him. It was all he could scavenge from the smith yard today. Everything else had been sold off for food.

He picked one up off the table and twirled it between his fingers. This was the last thing he and his father had worked on together before his father had disappeared.

If he closed his eyes, he could still remember the feel of his father’s hands as they steadied his. He could still hear his father’s voice as he gently reminded Kenric to look to the fire. Just then a group of village lads had run by. He had looked longingly at them and sighed.

His father had gone over and lifted a shovel from the wall. He brought it over to Kenric. “See this simple farm tool? It takes only a few trips to the fire and a little shaping. If it fails or breaks, nothing much will be lost. It is easily replaced.”

Then his father pulled an unfinished long sword from his workbench. He had been working on it for months. “The sword blade is a whole different matter. It must be shaped over time and takes many turns at the flame. Its strength and balance are crafted by repetition. Lives and kingdoms will depend on its performance.”

Kenric shook his head, confused by his words.

His father had laid a rough hand on Kenric’s head and ruffled his dark brown hair playfully. “You, my son, are a blade. You must put up with years of shaping and training, where other boys will run free. It is a great gift to be a blacksmith, but a burden as well.”

The next day, with no word or warning, Kenric’s father was gone.
The back door to the cottage banged shut, breaking into his memories. His mother came in and hung her shawl on the peg by the door. She turned toward Kenric, her hands clasped nervously before her. “Well, I have petitioned the council for my widow’s portion,” she said.
Kenric’s stomach clenched. “Father is not dead.”

“Perhaps not, but how else will we get through the winter?” Her voice was soft, as if she knew her words would cause him pain.

Kenric gripped the nail in front of him. “Some other way,” he said. He refused to believe his father was dead. He looked down at the nail he grasped in his fingers. “I’ve asked the council to let me reopen the forge. If they say yes, then I can carry on doing some of the small jobs Father taught me.”

His mother opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by a pounding at the door.

She frowned. “Who is calling so late?”

Kenric shrugged. He slipped the nail into his pocket and got up from the table.

When he opened the door, a dark, bulky form loomed before him. “Gormley,” he said, forcing the words past the knot of worry in his throat.
“That’s Master Gormley to you, rude pup. Is your mother home?” The large man shoved his way into the cottage. Kenric balled his fists and took a step toward him.

Kenric’s mother caught his eye and waved him back. Then she turned to their visitor. “Master Gormley. You do us great honor with your visit.”
Gormley smiled, his teeth stained and crooked. “’Tis no social call. I’ve come to let you know this cottage has been declared abandoned. You must be gone one month from now.”

Kenric’s mother gasped, and her hand flew to her mouth. “But it is not abandoned! You can see that with your own eyes! My son and I still live here. We tend the place. Maintain it well. We have honored—”
“There is no man of the house. In the eyes of the law, it is abandoned.”
Kenric squared his shoulders and stepped forward. “I am the man of the house. We pay our rents! You have no cause to throw us out.”
Gormley threw back his head and laughed. “You are not the man of the house! You’re nothing but a scrawny eleven- year-old boy whose father has abandoned him.”

“He did not!” The force of Kenric’s words scraped at his throat. “Something has happened to him.”

“Can ye prove it?” Gormley asked.

Kenric wished he could prove it. Then the law would protect his mother and him. There were allowances for widows with children, but none for families who’d been abandoned. Kenric looked down at his feet. “No. But I’m sure of it, just the same.”

Gormley smirked. “He left the two of you high and dry. You pay the rent now, but just barely. What will happen when winter comes? With nothing to sell at market, how will you survive the long cold months?” The man took a step forward until he towered over Kenric. “Then how will I get my rents?”

Kenric spoke up. “The council is going to let me start up the forge. Then I can do some of the smaller jobs. That should be enough, until he returns—”

Gormley put his hands on his hips and scowled. “Wake up, lad. He’s not returning! He’s gone to seek his fortune elsewhere. Besides, the town council met this afternoon. They will not let you reopen the forge. You are too young. Now”—his cold gaze swept over them—“be gone in one month or I shall drag you out with my bare hands.” Then the large man turned and headed for the door.

Kenric’s hand went to the large nail in his pocket. He imagined driving it into Gormley’s fat belly.

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