The Forge Chapter 3

Dval pulled me out of bed early the next morning, and handed me a toothbrush. When I came stumbling back out of the privy he was cutting meat into a pot, and paused long enough to hand me a knife of my own and some vegetables. By the time I was through chopping, he was already working on some dough, taking starter from a covered bowl set on a shelf a calculated distance from the hearth.

We finally got a slice of yesterday’s bread with cheese again for our breakfasts. It was a white cheese, very crumbly and tart, and we washed it down with small mead. The he picked up the pot and the bread-pan, I collected the kettle, and we headed for the forge for a day’s pumping and pounding.

Four solid hours of pumping. At noon, I asked for some cloth or leather or rope or something, and Dval gave me some soft leather. He watched, bemused (but not enough to stop his dinner) as I cut holes and fixed straps. I gobbled some stew as well, washed it down with beer (which they would never have given me at home!) and we headed back to the forge.

I tied the straps onto the lower handle, and scooted my feet into the stirrups. The fit felt right, so I tested the tension. As I pulled the bars together, my feet now resting comfortably on top of the lower bar, Dval shouted with laughter. I gave him my most dignified look, praying that the leather wouldn’t snap loose, and got on with my work. Much more comfortable.

The sixth day I was there, I woke to find Dval boiling water in the house-hearth, in what I would have to call a long white dress. It had yellow embroidery around the neck, red embroidery at the cuffs, and a green design at his toes — which I was surprised to see were bare.

“Ah, good,” he said. “Go in and clean yourself.” Inside the privy, yet another unsuspected door was standing open; by the angle, it backed onto the fireplace. It was fairly warm, too, once I closed the door. A rush of boiling water came gurgling through a pipe into the half-filled tub, and I started to grin. Clean at last! Clean for the first time since I hit the sand so very hard at Apple Island!

Of course there was cold water too! What do you take me for, a lobster?

I found a cedar closet to hang my used clothes in, next to Dval’s, and afterwards put on the dress he’d left for me. A cedar comb put my damp hair in order, and I went out, barefoot, sweet- smelling, and peaceful.

We neither ate nor drank that whole day. Dval sat me down on my bed, produced a small harp, and started singing to me.

Most of the words went right by me at first. I didn’t want to let go of the peacefulness, so I was sitting there cross-legged, doing my meditation breathing the way the erdani taught us, absorbing the room through my skin. It was warm enough, for a change: the fire had been built up with cedar chips, and the whole room was spicy — Dval’s smell, okay then, and I would start to smell like cedar too. The colors in the room began to make a rhythm: brown rafters, white walls, russet stencils, the brown of the furniture, the russet tiles of the stove.

Dval’s voice was burred, like ripe wheat, the melody he was singing repetitive but changeable.

Breathe in; breathe out. Embrace the moment; let go the tension. I worked at it and worked at it, and it seemed that everything around me helped.

Dval came around to a chorus again, and I surprised myself by joining in. That was meditative too: I let the verses flow over me, and the choruses flow through me.

Breathe in; breathe out. Embrace the surroundings; let go the fear. I sang the chorus again, the sun finally coming through the west window onto my face, and let my eyes rest on Dval. He was intent, concentrating on his harp and his singing, his eyes fixed above my right shoulder. Even his beard seemed more flowing, less bristly. The tension tried to take me again, but I had it subdued; I could let it fall away. For the time being.

So that was every seventh day thereafter. Which again proved Paul right: meditation does make desensitization go faster. By the third month, I didn’t have to do any more self-control — around Dval, anyway. His tall customers were another matter.

Tuppence in the change bowl.

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