The Gift

(For Michael Curran)

A fine layer of soot covered Kenna. In most places, it was light enough to just make her appearance dingy, like a view through a smokey window pane, but some spots were more marked. A black streak across the right side of her forehead where she had brushed some of those loose strands of brown hair back, a smudge on her left forearm of unknown origin, and her hands. The texture of her skin from her wrists down to her finger tips stood out starkly, with tiny black and grey lines spidering over her surface. Her nails up to the nail beds were black – just black, not even grey anymore.

The late autumn air nipped, but the breeze was light enough it was hard to notice unless you stood in the open air for a while. Then, a chill sunk to the bone. But Kenna wore no cloak. Her shirt did not even have sleeves. Though she wore heavy boots coming up to mid calf, thick breeches, and a leather apron that fell to the tops of her knees.

One final tap, then she dropped her hammer on the anvil. It pinged as she turned the hook, inspecting it from all sides. It was finished. Dunking the hook, tongs and all, into the quench bucket, steam rose with a hiss. She swished it around a few times, before removing it, and paused – her hand hoovering near the newly forged metal before she removed it from the tongs with her fingers. It was a simple scroll with a leaf whose stem wound around to create the loop for fastening. With a subtle smile, she tossed it into the finished pile with many others like it. She checked the fire, crackling and smoldering in the forge’s fire box before moving back to the quench bucket and plunging her hands in. Giving them a quick rub down, she removed them and slung the excess water off before drying them on her breeches underneath the apron. Turning, she strode out of the forge and into the shop front.

Dirk and Bürk had already finished a working lunch with Una, a girl about Kenna’s age, who ran the shop front for the smiths. Plans for a special commission sprawled over the whole table surface. Dirk was the Master Smith. Kenna honestly did not know how old he was, but his braided white beard and mustache nearly reached his ankles. His age showed only around his eyes, as his facial hair concealed the rest. Age spots dotted his large nose, the space between his beard and eyes, and his hands, but his amber eyes were alert and sharp and missed nothing. He could tell from across the forge if a tiny item was asymmetrical, and asymmetrical was unacceptable. Bürk was Dirk’s nephew. He was older than Kenna, nearing middle age. He too had a braided mustache, beard, and hair. It was a dark chestnut color that reminded Kenna of ripe, red oak acorns. His hair was not as long as Dirk’s, but it still fell to his belly, and Kenna imagined it would be so long by the time he took the title of Master Smith. Both men were roughly the same size with Bürk being less than a hand’s breadth taller. Una was Kenna’s best friend. She was slight for a Drordian, darker skinned, had shining black hair, and was a perpetually slow eater. Kenna was beginning to believe she was interested in Bürk, though she adamantly denied it when Kenna had confronted her a couple moons back.

Retrieving her lunch and water skin from a locker, she kicked an empty nail barrel over and rolled it over near the group. Kenna righted it and sat, dropping a parchment wrapped lunch in her lap. Uncorking her water skin, she drank deeply, a stray trickle running out of the corner of her mouth when she tilted the vessel prematurely. Bürk and Dirk were in deep discussion about how to divide the requirements of the next commission between them. Una paid careful attention as she chewed delicately. No one could ever accuse her of missing details. She was perceptive and quite “in the know”, Kenna had come to realize, because she paid attention. She would help keep the smiths on task later.

Kenna unwrapped a chunk of brown bread, cheese, and an apple. She had procured all of them, wrapped up, from a stall three spots down early that morning as the purple phases of sunrise crept over the horizon and the moon and a few bright stars still gleamed in the west. The food was plain but hearty and inexpensive. It reminded Kenna of home.

Dirk and his smiths (only the three of them) spent three to four moons of the year working out of the Tingana Market and Faire – a permanent marketplace about three days journey northeast of Orya, half a day’s journey off the main road. Most of the folk who utilized the faire were Mykarian or Drordian. Though travelers of all sorts of races were certain to stop if passing through, and artisans and merchants of many races routinely rented stalls. There were only two smith stalls on the property, and smiths from all over rotated through over the course of the year on a strict schedule. The autumn months were considered peak season, so Dirk and company finished the year there, an arrangement made possible by his reputation. The year was coming to a close with the Winter Solstice a little more than a moon away. Soon the faire would close for the season, and the group would travel back to Orya, deep in the Minnona Mountains. They would be home in time for the holiday.

It had been a good year. Dirk had made more profit than anticipated. About a moon prior, he even considered an early return home, but some large, last minute commissions had presented themselves and persuaded him to stay. Dirk prided himself on delivering what his patrons requested before they expected it. The group would remain until the faire closed. To date, Kenna had not been asked to work on the commissioned projects. Rather, her charge had been to keep the shop stocked while Dirk and Bürk devoted their time and skills to them. Kenna was pleased with the arrangement. She got to show off some of her newer skills, and she had to replenish items in a way that kept up their inventory while not creating a surplus for the journey back home. This meant she worked on a variety of items during the course of a single day, keeping all of her skills sharp and staving off the monotony of repetition – a luxury she was not always afforded. She half smiled as she ripped the bread.

“All’s well?” Dirk’s deep bass voice broke her chain of thought.

Looking up from the bread chunk, she replied, “All’s well.”

Dirk nodded. It was a gesture for which she had come to be grateful – an indication of trust and confidence. No questions about supply or demand or required resources. Just acceptance of Kenna’s ability. She had come a long way in the four years she had been an apprentice.

How it had all come to be still amazed her. With a stone cutter father and a mother who was a respected tapestry weaver, Kenna inherited the aptitudes of an artisan, and it was expected she would follow in her mother’s footsteps. But try as she might to enjoy the click-clack of the loom, she just did not care for it, and this had shown in her work. As a child, she was always drawn to the forge a few blocks from home. Frequently, when she had gone missing, her mother found her lurking outside watching the smiths and their apprentices work. At twelve, she swiped one of her father’s old rock hammers, found a secluded place outside the city in a shallow cave that had probably belonged to a bear at one point or another, dug a pit for her fire with a slate rock, and bargained with one of the youngest apprentices for some scrap stock, a small striking plate, and the smallest billows ever made. It cost her lunch for six moons, most of her free time washing the young man’s clothes, and the aggravation of his flirtatious advances for years following. But she had something to work with, and every spare moment she could muster was spent trying again and again to coax the metal into the forms she saw in the forge. Then one day, four years later, Bürk found her.

He was returning from the mines with ore, heard the ring of her hammer, and sought its source. Startled and fearful of her secret being discovered, Kenna remained silent for a long time while he inspected her work and make-shift forge. Bürk was from the other side of the city and unknown to her, and she really did not know what to expect from him, as she had obviously taken to a craft that was traditionally off limits to her sex. He asked a lot of questions about where her tools came from and who had taught her. Finally, after he explained who he was and how impressed he was with work produced by a homemade, in-ground forge and a scrap rock hammer, she introduced herself and told her story.

Her parents were not thrilled. Becoming Dirk’s apprentice meant Kenna spent most of her time living in a rented room on the other side of Orya. It meant she traveled to the faire every Fall, but though it was not their preference, they chose to support her when they saw how much she loved it. Finally, in the smoke, flame, and red hot iron, their daughter had found that spark of passion that fed their own work. She was where she belonged.

The shop bell tinkled, calling Kenna out of the past. She took a bite of cheese without looking up while Una called out a cheery, “Good afternoon. How can I help?”

“Hi.” The voice was male. “I’m looking for a holdfast.”

Kenna paused mid bite. A holdfast was not an item typically requested at the faire, as the clients were, for the most part, not craftsmen or artisans themselves but rather people engaged in all sorts of other occupations. Many of the wares sold tended toward the decorative rather than functional – though Dirk always insisted that any item coming out of his shop be fully functional even if decorative. Hooks, cutlery, candle holders, racks, household tools, nails and screws (fancy ones with pyramid heads), chandeliers, gates (as was one of the commissions they were staying for), a few blades, axes, and even war hammers (ones not really meant for war or a real warrior). This was the norm. A holdfast was an artisan’s tool. Kenna raised her head.

He was tall and had a slim, athletic build, but he took up space – a lot of it, and Kenna was unsure why she got this impression. He wore brown breeches, a blue shirt, and a greyish green cloak that was flecked with saw dust and wood shavings in tiny, thin curls. The leather of his boots appeared thin, soft, and flexible. His hair was long and straight and the color of new corn silk. The top half of it was pulled back preventing it from falling in his face. With high cheek bones, fine features, no facial hair, and slightly pointed ears, she knew he was Eldinn. Then, she saw his eyes, as he surveyed the shop – blue like the weld fire or the sky near her cave forge on a clear Fall day. And now, he was looking at her.

“We don’t have one in the shop right now,” Una explained. The young man’s gaze shifted back to her. “It’s not something in demand here at the faire. But I know Kenna can make it for you.”

He looked back, and his eyebrows raised, “Kenna?”

She nodded, wrapped her food back up, and set it by the bucket. “Diameter?”

“Holes in the bench are the size of a copper.”

She nodded again, while mentally running through her afternoon project list. A holdfast was not a hard tool to make, and she had the required stock already available. She considered standing but did not really need any more information, so it was not necessary, and she wondered why she had wrapped her food back up, as if they would have to seriously go over specifications for an item so simple. “I can do it today.”

“Thank you.” He smiled.

“Sure.” She watched him watching her and found herself wondering what he thought. Having not made the acquaintance of any other female smiths, she knew she was a bit of an oddity, but despite the occasional incredulous stare, Kenna rarely chose to think on it. Dirk accepted and taught her, and that was all that really mattered. And no matter what a client’s first impression might have been, Dirk’s reputation meant the clients would give her a chance. Then, her work spoke for itself. But now, here, she was wondering what this strange Eldinn thought. The realization spawned an odd feeling she could not quite nail down. “Come back at close. I’ll have it ready.”

Now, he nodded. “I’m Huon, by the way. I’m a woodworker. Our stall is the last one before the cottages.”

“Not much of a walk to work.”

“It’s out of the main traffic, but it has its perks.” He winked. “I’ll see you at dusk.” And turning, he left the shop, his movements so fast and effortless that he almost seemed to vanish.

Kenna reached for her lunch and surveyed the shop. Una had already rejoined Dirk and Bürk at the table, and the men had not for a moment directed their attentions away from their planning. She finished her lunch quickly. Adding the holdfast would not be challenging, but it would take time, and she did not want to fall behind.

Over the course of the afternoon, he showed up several times in her thoughts – while making a batch of letter openers and again when working on the candle holders and, of course, when she actually made the requested tool. Each time, his presence in her mind took her off guard as she found herself mulling over his grin, his voice, his eyes, and wondering how an Eldinn woodworker ended up in an out-of-the-way western market so far from home. Each time, she shook her head, as if, like a dog ridding its coat of water after a swim, the motion would shake him out. But despite these efforts, she still made the last minute decision to forge the holdfast’s beak into a leaf shape, since the Eldinn were deep forest dwellers.

He arrived that evening while Kenna was heat treating the tool. Una entered the forge with Huon close on her heels, and when Kenna told them it would be just a little while longer, Una stepped aside, instructing Huon that it was fine for him to wait at the door, as long as that was where he stayed. Despite having already turned back to the fire, Kenna’s heart quickened at the presence of an audience and especially so since it was he who watched her work. Her own body’s response annoyed her. But the rhythm of pumping billows and the heat surge that resulted brought her back to task.

In the moment, she decided to give the new tool a clean with the brass brush. She was fond of the finish it created. Fumbling through the tools hanging on the bench, she could not find it there. Abandoning the billows and leaving the piece in the fire, she searched through a tool bag across her work area. Then in another. It was in the latter. A frustrated sigh escaped her lips as she made her way back to the firebox. She checked the color of the iron, snatched it out with tongs, and rapidly brushed the holdfast, scattering sparks with each stroke. Satisfied, she crossed to the oil cauldron positioned between the work areas and plunged it in. Flames shot up as it entered the oil. Kenna counted off the time in her head then removed the tool, slinging the excess oil back into the vessel. She placed it on a wool felt pad on her bench and wiped her tongs off with a rag that lay beside it. Having returned the tongs to their hook and the brush to her bag, she glanced up at Huon.

“Tools are a bit scattered here. The space is small. Not enough room to hang everything. The forge in Orya is different.”

“Ours isn’t the same as my home shop either.”

Kenna returned to the bench and held one hand near the metal. Determining it cool enough, she began wiping it with the rag, picking it up with her hands to ensure any excess oil was wiped away. “You paid Una?”

“I did,” he replied with a toothy smile.

She handed it over to him, and he took it from her, turning it over and over, inspecting the diameter and the flatness of the beak. He smiled as he traced the beak’s leaf shape, and his fingers explored the texture of the finish.

“Thank you. It’s beautiful work.”

The left corner of her mouth arched upward. She blushed a little, feeling self-conscious with every heartbeat. “It’ll do to keep your wood from walking away from you.”

“It will,” he said and, smiling, left the forge while she wiped her hands on the rag and marveled at the speed with which he moved.

So she thought about him and wondered what his shop was like long after she had shut her forge down, had dinner at the tavern with Una, and made her way back to her cottage under moon and star light while a wolf howled in the distance.

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In the dim purple glow of sunrise, Kenna spotted him leaning against one of the poles supporting the overhang eave of his stall. Its door was still closed. Clutching her cloak around her as she approached, her breath fogged in soft, white puffs.

“It’ll be warmer inside your stall,” she quipped as she approached. “And you’ll sell more too.”

“True,” he mused, drawing out the final syllable. “But how else was I to grab lunch with you?” He fell into step beside her before she fully comprehended what was happening.

Her heart quickened at his sudden, close presence. “You want to go with me to buy lunch.” Just articulating the notion sounded ridiculous, and she knew her tone betrayed that.

He grinned again – a with-teeth smile that bespoke mischief.

“Exactly. Anyway, I need lunch too.”

Leaves crunched beneath their boots as they made their way to Kenna’s favorite food stall without discussing the destination. He asked about where she was born and how she became a smith, and she asked about where he grew up and how he became a woodworker. The acquisition of lunch took a bit longer than normal for Kenna, a fact she did not notice until she arrived at the forge. She was still earlier than Dirk and Bürk, as was expected, but Una greeted her with suspicious regard.

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She was shutting down her forge that evening when he turned up in the doorway again. Una escorted him to his spot and cast Kenna an inquisitive glance before heading back into the shop front without a word.

Huon praised her work. The holdfast worked perfectly and was just what he needed. She knew the others heard and that he knew they did too. She thanked him for his kind words and the good report.

Then, he requested a chisel.

She flashed him an incredulous look. “Why on earth are you so bereft of tools?”

“I’m good at what I do, and I ask hard things of my tools,” was his reply.

Modesty was certainly not wasted on him. She found it grating, but she invited him in to go over the specifications. When they finished, it was twilight, Dirk and Bürk had long since departed, and Una was waiting for her at the tavern. Kenna locked the stall door as they left, and though Huon was meeting friends elsewhere, he wanted to walk with her to her destination. She could think of no reason to refuse. The night had turned frigid, but Kenna’s cheeks felt continually flushed, each heartbeat was a painful squeeze, and her hands tingled and pricked because they were damp. Despite the fact that all these feelings grew more intense the closer he drifted to her, she liked that he stayed close and resented that she liked it.

As they approached the tavern, he halted abruptly, and she turned back. He stared at the ground before him.

“What is…?”

It was a paw print – five giant toes with tiny holes above them, a stocky ball, and a long heel.

“Bear.” Kenna smiled. “Don’t have those in Eloglenn, do you?”

“No, and I have yet to see one here.”

“You still might this year. They’ll bed down for the winter soon though. Probably looking for a last minute treat.”

Just the thought of the bear this track must belong to pleased her.

“You like them.” His flat tone stated fact rather than asked a question.

“I do,” she agreed. “They’re strong and playful. They don’t mind being alone. They spend their whole lives just being bears, and they’re formidable if you cross them.” She paused. “I feel home when they’re near.”

He nodded and moved on from the track. Kenna stepped up onto the tavern porch. “Thanks for the company,” she said.

And once again he flashed that with-teeth smile. “Good night.”

Over dinner, Una would not stop asking questions about him, and the wolves sang more of their mournful songs as Kenna made her way back to her cottage and bed.

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The following day, Huon was not waiting for her as she passed his stall on the way to work. Her heart sank when she noted his absence, but she did her best to put it from her mind. Though she thought of him frequently throughout the day, she chose not to dwell too long on it.

That night, when she arrived at the tavern for dinner with Una, he was there, sitting at the table and smiling as she approached. Kenna shot a stern glance at Una, whose cheery smile and laughing eyes declared she was responsible. Amid music from local musicians and rousing skill and strategy games in the opposing corner, conversation amongst the three flowed like beer and mead. The food was hearty and warm, as was the nearby fireplace. Throughout the night, though her face flushed, Kenna felt chills race through her core when his eyes rested on her in a way she could not quite describe but somehow made her think of racing through the forest under moonlight.

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Some days, he waited for her in the morning. Some days, he appeared at the tavern at night. Some days, he did both.

Each day, she felt him edge closer and closer, and each day, she watched and waited.

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She finished the chisel just before her routine day off. When Huon came to collect it, he praised her work again, disclosed that he had the next day free as well, and invited her to come with him to lunch. Kenna glanced around the forge, feeling quite conspicuous and self-conscious, but no one else seemed to have noticed or cared. She acquiesced.

Around noon time the next day, as she pulled her cloak around her shoulders, she noted the quickening thump of her heart, felt the tingle of anticipation crawling all over her skin, and wondered if this was how a hare felt in the moments right before the wolf sprung. Stop it, she chided herself. She knew these sensations, and the situations they spawned never ended well. The few romantic interests in Kenna’s past came to abrupt ends when her suitors crossed boundaries. They had all crossed different ones in different ways, but she was not long suffering about it. She never fought them, never bargained, but simply told the truth and walked away. And they had all been wise enough not to give chase. Advances were now met with an aloof indifference. She had no time for such foolishness.

And foolishness was just what these feelings were. Huon was so dramatically different from any man she had ever cared about this must be utter foolishness. So what if his tactics were deeply subversive to her indifference. A friendship with a fellow artisan was one thing. Anything more was doomed from the outset.

“How hungry are you?” he asked when she arrived outside his stall.

“I could eat, but I could wait too.”

“Do you want to see the shop?”

She did. She really, really did. “Absolutely.”

The door creaked as he pushed it open, and she followed him inside. It was set up much like Dirk’s stall with the wares for sale in the front and the artisan’s work space in the back. Kenna, in a moment, forgot hunger and even Huon’s presence. All around her were benches, chairs, tables, boxes and chests of all shapes and sizes, racks, wooden tools, cups, bowls, and spoons. She stepped slowly around the shop front. Each and every item was made only of wood. No metal – not even nails or screws. Wooden pegs and intricate joinery held the pieces together. The chests even had wooden hinges. Some pieces were decorative with elaborate carved scenes or patterns. Some were plain but showcased stunning wood grains. Colors ranged from nearly white to almost black, some with hints of red, orange, or purple. Kenna had never realized there were so many colors and patterns of wood.

She was still absorbed in the beauty and complexity of it all when he said, “Come see where I work.”

The smell of raw wood washed over her as Kenna stepped inside the workshop. Stacks of it lined the walls, organized by type, then size. There were three large benches in the middle of the room. Shavings and saw dust covered the floor and the work benches. Kenna scooped up some of the shavings, brought them underneath her nose, and inhaled. It smelled like the forest but different somehow. Since the other woodworkers were at lunch, he let her walk around the work area, touching and smelling.

“So this is where the magic happens,” she mused.

“If you call skill magic.” He smiled.

She spotted the holdfast and chisel she had made on one of the benches. “I do.”

“I’ve heard you have whole homes made from live, woven trees and vines in Eloglenn.”

“The whole city is built that way.”

“Can you do that?” she asked.

“We only do that there.”

She realized he had not answered directly and wondered still if he could do that and what other magic, or skills, he concealed.

They acquired lunch at the soup stall and sat together under a nearby tree drinking from steaming bowls. Chatting and laughing between slurps, Kenna fumbled her bowl but recovered it before more than a mouthful slopped out on her sleeve.

“Slopulent,” Huon laughed.

“What?” she inquired with raised intonation between self-conscious chuckles.

“Slopulent: an easily spilled, rich, luxurious liquid,” he clarified.

“Slopulent,” she repeated thoughtfully and grinned as the nuances of the construction revealed themselves. “I’m impressed.”

They finished lunch without further incident. Huon expressed a need for new boots. While he preferred the ones he wore, they proved too thin for Fall and Winter in the mountains, and he asked Kenna to accompany him.

Kenna was having fun – honest fun, so she agreed without much hesitation.

They made their way across the faire to the cobbler, stopping at several stalls along the way to peruse the wares. In one, Kenna found a sturdy leather bag with bears tooled across the top that she nearly bought on impulse but talked herself out of it.

“I still haven’t seen one,” Huon said as her fingers followed their forms in the leather. “I feel a little cheated.”

“There’s still some time yet,” she assured him.

In the cobbler’s shop, Huon found three pairs of boots that appealed to him. He spent time trying the boots on, allowing the older gentleman who ran the shop front to explain the differences among the pairs, and haggling over price. Kenna watched Huon listening to the salesman elaborate and explain, feigning interest in aspects she felt made no difference to him. Even if Huon walked out with a better price than most, the old gentleman was going to feel good about the sale. Huon made shrewd offer by shrewd offer and eventually settled on the boots that were middle quality, but he paid a price more appropriate for the lower end pair.

Kenna smiled when the old gentleman left them to themselves while he wrapped up the boots. “Foxymoron,” she accused.

“Excuse me?”

“Foxymoron: a shrewd person who feigns stupidity.”

“Ahhhh,” Huon grinned. “I really like that one.”

Boots tucked tightly under his arm, Huon shook the old man’s hand, and they left the shop. After meandering and taking the most indirect route, they found themselves back under the overhang of Huon’s stall. One of his colleagues, on his way out, asked to see the new boots, but when Huon opened the wrapping Kenna realized the boots he left with were not the ones he had purchased. Huon’s forehead wrinkled. “These aren’t the right ones,” he muttered. “These aren’t the right ones are they?”

“No,” she confirmed. “That’s the more expensive pair.”

“Good fortune for you.” The other woodworker slapped Huon on the shoulder and continued on his way.

And Kenna watched Huon weighing the options.

“He may lose—.” Then, Huon wrapped them back up and turned back the way they came. “You coming?” he asked her.

“Yes,” she replied, disbelief creeping into her voice.

They were quiet crossing the faire. The old shopkeeper appeared extremely confused when they entered right before close. His face morphed through concern, alarm, and relief as Huon returned the boots. When they left again, it was with the correct boots and the old man’s blessing, “Thank you. Not many would do this. You will have a good life.”

That night over dinner with Una, Kenna relived the scene over and over in her head feeling unable to reconcile the foxymoron with the man who willingly sacrificed “good fortune” to preserve another.

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The following morning, the ease she had felt the day before was once again replaced with apprehension and an assurance that anything more than friendship was futile, but she could not shake the notion that his aim was not the simple friendship of a colleague. Rather, it was something that made her heart race and bone-tingling chills rush through her whole being. Even the thought of him coming closer to her caused the sensations, no matter how he had treated the shopkeeper.

She wondered which corner he would be waiting behind, and part of her wanted him to be behind each one.

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“Slanterior,” Kenna declared, as she released a copper piece balanced on its edge. It rolled down the length of the tavern table and disappeared over the edge. “A slope or lean toward the front.”

Huon laughed as he gulped down a swig of beer. Una had gone back to the bar to request a drink. They never played the game when she was around. It was something reserved for just the two of them.

He leaned in closer to her. “Beholdfast,” he whispered. “Being unable to remove one’s gaze.”

Kenna’s face flushed.

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Kenna and Una opened the shop one morning, a mere two weeks before the faire closed for the season. The air nipped at all exposed skin with more ferocity than it had yet that season. Winter was practically upon them.

“Seriously, what’s the deal?” Una asked, as she unlocked the front door.

“I don’t know,” Kenna confessed. “I really don’t. All I know for sure is that I can feel him coming closer and closer, faster and faster. And I don’t know what the outcome will be.”

“Maybe you don’t need to know what the outcome will be.”

Kenna thought of his toothy grin. “Maybe if I knew I wasn’t going to get eaten.”

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“You’re going to be head over heels in love with me in a week’s time,” he told her a few nights later, as they strolled to the tavern after work. “I’ve been scheming on something.”

“Oh okay,” she replied, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Well I guess we’ll see, won’t we?”

He flashed that with-teeth smile. She arched her eyebrows but felt blood pumping through her ears.

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Snow began falling mid afternoon in steady, light flurries that immediately started to accumulate. On days like today, the forge was especially comforting – no matter how much work there was to be done. But there was not much work to be done. Not for Kenna anyway. The faire would close in three days, so she was no longer producing stock items for the shop, in hope that they would sell out as much as possible before the journey back to Orya. Instead, she assisted Dirk and Bürk, performing any number for tasks from making small scrolls to setting rivets to tending fires as the smiths finished the gate.

A dimmer grey outside of the stall announced that dusk was settling when Dirk struck the final blow of the season. With congrats for a good year and strong finish amongst the three, the smiths hung their tools and departed leaving Kenna to shut down the forges.

They had not been gone long when Huon appeared in the doorway with something in his hands. Raking the few remaining coals apart, Kenna smiled then made her way across the room.

And she stopped short, eyes widening.

He held a wooden chest – not one that was particularly large. She could carry it with ease. It had a lid but also doors on the front. Made of walnut, oak, and red cedar, the colors contrasted starkly, especially so in the joints. A cadre of carved bears ornamented the top, marching around the perimeter of the lid, through trees and by mountains. Her two favorite hammers were carved into the top.

She could not find words and had never seen his smile so big as it was when he sat the chest on her workbench.

“Look.” He slid the pin out of the wooden latch and opened the front doors. The inside was lined with pegs and loops – a rack. Removing a pair of tongs from her bench, he hung them in the chest.

Her smile shined as she opened her mouth to speak.

“Wait,” he interrupted, and pulled two small pins she had not yet seen in the middle of the rack, and it opened again. His eyes sparkled when he turned to her.

Her mouth gaped.

“Not done.” There was another set of pegs. Another compartment swung open. “Still more.”

It happened again and again and again.

Kenna stepped to the side and checked the dimensions. She checked the dimensions of the unfolded racks. She checked again. And a third time. She hung a hammer and swung the compartment closed. She hung a tool on each level. All the compartments closed with ease.

Shaking her head, she opened them up again and began hanging tools in earnest. She emptied her tool bags – all of them. Each one of her tools from hammers to tongs to fullers to wrench to files and brushes. Each of them had a space. Each of them hung freely. Each of them fit.

Awestruck.

She had heard of such things whispered in legends around winter fires by old grandmothers and grandfathers. The Eldinn who built living buildings. The Eldinn who built rooms bigger inside than out.

And she closed the chest and turned to him.

He beamed. “Lift it.”

To her surprise, it was not heavy. Not light, but somehow manageable even with every tool she owned hanging inside.

She set it down and searched his eyes.

“How?

“I told you. Skills.”

Kenna did not know what to say. The magnitude of the gift, like the chest itself, felt bigger inside than out.

So she donned her cloak and locked the forge.

Taking his hand, she lead him out into the snow with moon and starlight reflecting off of its surface, lighting their way as they left the stalls, the tavern, and the cottages behind them.

At the border of the wild where the mountains began their climb from the earth to the sky, they passed through to the forest’s edge. And there she stopped him.

The crisp snow stretched out before them, their breath fogging the air around their bodies. Huon opened his mouth, but this time she stopped him bringing one finger to her lips.

And slowly turning to the bear silhouetted against the snow, striding slowly toward a cave in the mountainside.

Huon’s hand tightened in hers, and it was her eyes turn to shine watching him watching the bear.

Then he turned back, pulled her close, and their mouths met, as the bear entered the cave and the wolves’ song echoed off the snow and the cliffs and danced down through the trees.

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