Prior to weaving their way out of the alehouse and towards the forge, the elves and their minders eat a hearty lunch to soak up some of the drink they have consumed. Then Daven leads Tric Manu and Hepalonia through the dwarvish fortress and back across the wide plaza where they talked with Trigadur. They head through a different archway than the one that Heppa saw trolls through. As they walk, Daven proudly points out finely-crafted arches and impressive buttresses. Port, a far more introverted dwarf, remains quiet.
“That is most impressive,” Tric acknowledges. “Does it keep out the naga?” Daven laughs, saying that naga would have to be pretty desperate to drag themselves across all the miles of stone just to die on the axe edges of dwarves. “Of course, of course,” Tric agrees, making a mental note that naga must fear stone.
Since Daven seems open to conversation, Heppa asks, “What was the rod on Trigadur’s back? Was that a tool of some sort?”
Daven hefts his spear and says, “It’s a tool just like mah spear is!” Heppa is confused because she saw no edge on the item. She supposes it is a bludgeoning weapon. Daven shakes his head with a smile. “Na. After we show ye the forge, maybe then we can show ye what a thunderguard’s weapon does.”
Tric is intrigued and privately wonders if they throw bolts of lightning or just make loud noises. As he mulls this over, his cousin politely thanks their escort, and then Port opens the heavy doors of their destination.
“Here we are in the forge,” Daven announces grandly. “As ye can see, many dwarves are poondin’ their hammers on metal…” The forge is in a large, sweltering room with a glowing red firepit in the center. Most of the dwarves are working at anvils, while others operate bellows. Many forge stations are devoted to weapons at various stages of production, all being prepared for Merriver’s order. However, some dwarves are crafting more mundane items like nails and shackles. Tric presumes the latter are for the trolls Heppa saw.
Tric looks around to see the arrangement for quenching, as that could be the source of contamination. The cooling water is contained in a large trough fed from a spout. It does not directly flow back into an underground river. Ah, but where do they dump it? he wonders.
Hepalonia, meanwhile, is distracted by the people themselves. There is a mix of facial hair here. Some workers have mustaches like Daven’s blonde one, while others have lightly-haired faces like Port. And there are also impressive beards. Regardless of the hair situation, the faces all have one thing in common: they are all glistening with sweat from the intense heat.
Curious about what aging looks like for non-elves, Heppa takes note of the fact that some of the dwarves here have gray hair. Most of those have impressive beards and, as far as she can tell, normal-looking teeth. Maybe gray hair and lost teeth are only age markers in humans? Or maybe Connie and Marvin were just yanking my vine about teeth falling out as human age, she thinks. The gray-haired dwarves appear to have positions of authority, often overseeing or advising others who in turn respond respectfully. Daven steps up to one such presumed elder and introduces the “elvish emissaries” in his charge.
“Oh! Elves gettin’ ready tae fight in a war, as well?” the master smith Garbor asks as he guides the party over to show them a variety of blades at different stages in the production process.
“You can never be too prepared,” Tric answers noncommittally, but Heppa states openly that their purpose is to investigate issues related to water. Garbor assures them that the gray water is reused to irrigate their fungus farms. “So you pound all this metal… What do you do with the pieces that are left over?” Tric asks. “The dross, as you call it.”
“There is nae a whole lot left over because the folks that handle the ore refining dae such a good job. Ye need high quality materials tae make high quality weapons.”
Tric pulls out his knife and shows it to Garbor. “This is an elvish-made knife. Now, I know you’re about to tell me it’s inferior, but can you tell me what makes it different from that knife that you’re making?” Tric knows very little about elvish metalworking. He cannot even think where they would get their metal from.
Garbor takes the weapon and looks at it. “This is nae an elvish-made knife. It’s a human-forged one. Possibly yer people have been tradin’ with them.” Heppa asks how he can tell, and he leads them over to an armoire. The doors open to reveal row upon row of knives of all sorts, as well as other bladed weapons with more specialized purposes, like a main-gauche that would pair with a rapier. Some pieces look dull, clearly intended just to parry or capture a blade. Others have well-honed edges that could slice on the merest touch. Tric’s eyes glaze over at the sight of so many similar items; it makes him think of his father’s rack of dowsing rods. Heppa, however, is excited at all the new information coming in.
The master smith points out the orcish knives, which are rather simplistic. The metal is not as well refined, and the blades themselves are crudely beaten. Elvish blades tend to be thinner and have a curve to them that the others lack. “And then those are the human-made knives,” Garbor says, gesturing with Tric’s blade. With a few quick moves of his hands he separates its handle from the tang. He holds up the metal now revealed to show them the imprint on it. “Human smiths tend nae tae decorate their blades with their sigils, so ye will only see one if ye take the weapon apart. I do nae recognize this particular maker’s mark, but if ye find others like it, that’s where yer blade’s from. Human knives are pretty decent,” he admits. “Tae be honest, knives are nae oor strong suit. That one I was lookin’ at when ye came in was an apprentice’s work. We need so many of them, but they are nae interesting tae make. People seldom come tae ye askin’ fer a masterwork knife.” Garbor reassembles Tric’s knife and returns it to him. “Now swords, though… We dae nae fight with swords so much oorselves, but they are a nice large canvas tae work oan.”
Heppa draws her sword politely, making sure to hold it in a non-threatening manner, and compares it to the blades in the cabinet. She can tell the orcish ones are quite their own style, but she is curious whether her sword is distinctly elvish in any way. Her blade does not stand out; the hilt is where the artistry lies. The grip is wrapped in leather with ribbons off the pommel, and the quillon is decorated with filigree. She imagines any type of blade placed into such a setting would seem elvish. After some study, she sheathes it again.
“Is there anything you could do to a knife such as mine to make it a better knife?” Tric asks Garbor. “A few quick strikes of the hammer?”
“Well, ye could take better care of it. That’s where I’d start. Sharpen it, aye. But tae really improve the quality would take a bit of time. This is just a utility knife, fine fer cuttin’ ropes and guttin’ animals. Ye could stab someone with it if ye had tae, but it’s really a jack of all trades. If yer goin’ tae be aroond fer a few days tae deal with the plumbin’, I could see what I can dae. Or I could talk tae a runesmith aboot it.”
Runesmith? What would they do? Not ruin it… Tric wonders. As he considers how to ask without revealing his own ignorance, Heppa comes straight out with her question. “What is a runesmith?”
“The runesmiths are oor most learned class of dwarves. They might know something that can coax more oot of this metal than even the best metalworker among us can.”
“Do they make artifacts?” she asks next. When Garbor does not seem to understand, she clarifies, “Is there magic infused into them?”
The master smith shrugs. “I’m nae party tae the secret mysteries of the runesmiths. Some humans ascribe magical powers tae dwarvish handiwork in their stories, but dwarves dae nae need magic tae craft awesome weapons.”
Tric’s take-away from this is that he can get away with claiming that anything could be magical. Garbor is using one of Tric’s favorite devices, the old, “Well, some might say…”
Garbor continues, “Metalworkin’ is oor inheritance. Runemasters may just have specialized techniques. As fer me, I’m content with mah own forge work. I particularly like mentorin’ young smiths—Whoa! Dae nae dae that!” He rushes off to one of his apprentices to avert a fiery disaster.
“So?” Daven asks. “So what dae ye think of the forge?”
“It’s very interesting!” Heppa declares happily.
“It’s hot,” Tric says, “hot as blazes. Like some trails that I’ve walked.”
“Have ye been through the desert, then?” Daven asks.
“Well, some say that I’m a master of those places without water,” Tric shares with mock-humility. Surprisingly, his cousin backs him up, observing that he is famous in their village for this. Tric puts away his utility knife, deciding not to pursue any modifications to it. A knife is not a worthy enough vessel to be the signature gear for his legend. “So,” he says to their escort, “we saw the last phase of the process, where the weapons are finished, as well as where they get ready for transport. But where does it begin? There was mention of a refinery?” Daven points out that it all really begins with mining. “Well, let’s just work backwards,” Tric suggests, “and we’ll see if we have enough time to get all the way to mining.”