Part Twenty-Six August 15, 2016
The second year master’s beard was groomed and thick with dark brown hair. He liked to flick his long, tousled hair as he sat lazily against the chestnut tree. Beady eyes looked at Bran and the others with bird-like intent. A long nose that went straight out but slanted down sniffed with congestion. The Master’s suit was filled out with short arms, short legs, and a big belly. Master Rennell pushed them forward. “Master Barrage, these are your new students.”
“Thank you,” Master Barrage said dismissing Master Rennell with a sniffle. “Gather around children,” Master Barrage said authoritatively.
Bran saw Master Rennell lean close to Jordan’s left ear, and heard him whisper, “Behave.”
The new Master eyed them impatiently. “Sit down!” he shouted. Peter and Sheen sat down. Jordan slowly stepped closer to the Master, and took his time sitting. He sat cross-legged, mimicking the Master.
Bran began to sit down when he felt Master Rennell’s hand on his shoulder. “You still have to see Master Kadar, Bran.” Bran nodded and left for the blacksmith shop. “Good luck Bran,” Master Rennell said, before heading off in the opposite direction.
Bran looked up into the sky and saw how dark it was. He ran towards the shop.
As he reached Ballard’s guardhouse he noticed rain falling in the swamp. He stepped delicately onto the bobbing logs. Twice one of his feet almost slipped into the muck. Inside the shop Master Kadar was already pumping the bellows. Bran shook his head to get rid of the rainwater.
“About time,” the Master grumbled. “I still have some brass from last year. Try not to waste it, I don’t have much copper to smelt with zinc to make more.” Bran grabbed his apron off its hook and walked over to the Master. “We’re going to be here all night and maybe into the next day,” the Master stated. “Some of the Residence’s basins have holes that need brass plugs, and, since this is a new year, the campus is low on string whirls, frets, and pegs.” Bran could see small cylinders of brass, and elongated basins about half as wide as the length of his arm and about as long.
“I’m not that familiar with their construction,” Bran replied.
“You’ll learn,” the Master said as he put down the bellows and began hammering a plug. “Watch how I fix the holes in the basin. I’ll want you to take over while I start on the frets.” The Master broke the piece of metal he was hammering in two. Using a prong in either hand he placed the tips of the pieces into the furnace. When the pieces were red hot and about to melt, he placed one piece over the hole in the basin on the inside and one on the outside then released the prongs. As the metal began to cool over the hole he put down the prongs and grabbed a special hammer with a small axe blade. He pushed the inner piece in place while he struck it. The excess metal came off. He repeated the procedure on the outside. Again the metal broke above the hole.
“Do the best you can. A residence man named Alvin said he can grind the metal down and coat the inside with zinc.” The Master put a large clamp over the aperture of the basin and dipped it into the water. The metal cooled completely. “If you find it still leaks after you’ve finished covering the hole, heat up some more iron and repeat the process.”
Bran just finished plugging the last basin when dawn began to peek through the shop’s one window. A beautiful sound pierced through the air. He put down his work and listened more intently. Someone was playing a flute. The notes were long and wispy, as if the wind were flowing through the different holes.
“It’s morning,” the Master grumbled. Master Kadar’s voice sounded dry and gruff, “That’s Hammel playing his flute. Try to ignore it.”
“But–,” Bran started to reply.
“Exactly,” the Master warned, “its hypnotic.”
Bran shook his head to break the trance the flute music was having on him. One by one he placed each basin in the cooling bucket. Grunting with effort he lifted the water-filled basins up and looked for leaks. He found one basin with a leak and began reworking it.
He tried the basin again for leaks and found none. “The basins are done,” he said.
Master Kadar coughed and rubbed his eyes. “Good. I’ve done enough frets so I will get you to help me with the pegs. Now,” the Master began as he wiped sweat from his forehead, “it takes a good eye to make pegs. So what I want you to do is heat up the bronze and form it as best you can. When you have the basic shape give the key to me and I’ll use the grinding wheel to perfect its shape.” The Master went to a corner of the shop where a canvas tarp lay. He pulled off the tarp and Bran could see a large grinding wheel attached to a chair and two pedals. The Master pushed the grinding wheel with his hand, it turned easily. Next he sat down and began to pedal. Satisfied that the grinding wheel worked the Master got off.
From a drawer the Master took out some old keys. “This is the shape you want to cut out of the bronze sheets. I suggest you heat the bronze, but go easy on the bellows, we don’t want it too hot.”
“Aren’t the keys threaded?” Bran asked.
“Yes, I have a device to do that. Just make the form, I’ll do the rest.”
Bran pumped the bellows experimentally. He placed a small piece of bronze into the furnace and watched it melt. He let the coals cool down and tried over and over again until he found the right heat. When the bronze was soft enough, he took it out and with a snip cut it into the form of the keys. His first attempts were poor, but the master took them anyway. As the day began to grow brighter he made better forms. Eventually exhaustion flowed through his body. The shape of the key he was cutting became blurry. The Master made gruff noises of dismay as the form of the keys became less perfect.
“That’s enough,” the Master said with a weary cough. “Come back tonight and we’ll finish the pegs. It will be a short night. Just sleep, don’t even bother with your lessons, the night after tonight will be long again. The Lady Bard’s need strings for their lyres.”
The sunlight was so bright he wasn’t sure if he could sleep. He stood waist deep in Cleansing. Across the water he could see some of the Lady Bards. His body urged him to swim over to the other side. The desire grew so bad he actually submerged himself up to his neck as if preparing to cross. Instead he stood up again. His left hand moved slowly up to his chest where he could feel the necklace. His fingers slid down the links onto the warm surface of the blue and turquoise swirls of the jewel. A wave of sadness swept through him. He slumped forward, exhausted and aching. Just across the water were the missing halves of men. He clenched his fists. His body wanted to enchant them, caress them, and seduce them. But something stronger than his physical being denied him. Something so inner, so large, it could not be swayed by desire. He slumped farther. He let go of the jewel, letting its natural warmth heat his chest. Utterly exhausted he grabbed his clothes and headed in the direction of the blacksmith shop where he knew he could find shade at the edge of the campus.