The Smith's Interlude: The man was nondescript, or as nondescript as a man of his musculature could be. He walked down the ramp of the ship, an anvil strapped to his back, a bag with all of his belongings hanging from a stick over his shoulder. He had a beard, thick, black, and long shaggy hair. His eyes were dull, though they darted back and forth. He whistled, a soft melody that slipped from the minds of those that heard it almost as soon as it slipped into their ears. He wasn’t noticed then, and wasn’t noticed later, when he bartered some space in Master Uli’s forge. Master Uli paid him no mind: it was not uncommon for a wandering Journeyman to take up residence for a time, and learn from the local master. Even when the forge-fires danced to life, and the song of hammer to steel began, Master Uli remained focused on his own projects. Iphu was building new walls, after all, and the hinges of the gates would not forge themselves. That night, the strange smith placed before Master Uli a dozen perfect, identical nails, each a forearm length. The perfect nails to hold the hinges Master Uli had poured into the molds, the hinges that would tie the great carved doors to the wooden walls. They were great leaves, the hinges, as the doors would be carved with intricate knotwork of vines. Master Uli saw with pleasure that the nail heads would flatten, when hammered, into the shape of small silver flowers. In the evening, the smith sat in the tavern, a wooden trencher of the thick fish stew favored by the people of Iphu, and the rest of the island besides, and a slab of brown bread. The beer at his side remained untouched. He watched people come down the stairs into the tavern, watched the room slowly fill up, a soft melody on his lips. This place was different than most, he knew, instinctively, though how he did not know. Its people were different. The air was somber, heavier than any inn he had been in before, though, still, no one paid attention to him, a simple traveller. As he ate, he hummed a tuneless little ditty, a swirl of music that lost itself in the smoky air. That night, he dreamed. He dreamed of many things. Of a knife so sharp the world itself was cut with every swing, and a bit of the world leaked out through the cuts, of chains of shimmering amethyst wrapping a giant in a loving embrace, of plowshares that tilled the soil, leaving golden grain in its wake. Of a clasp, for a singing cloak. He dreamed of a city, shining, full of greenery and shady trees, of a river of water pouring from a lake into the sky. The dreams faded in the morning, as they are wont to do. He set up his forge, again. This day, Master Uli watches the stranger. And with every ringing strike of the hammer, every carefully tempered piece of steel, the certainty grows. This is no mere journeyman, no mere learner. This is a master in his own right. For a time, Master Uli forgets his own work, ruins a piece of fine copper as it grows cold across his anvil. His apprentices watch, too, as a finely worked door knocker takes shape. None of them have seen fine metalworking so combined with forgework. Gold heated to just below melting, and drawn through a drilled piece of metal, fine wires, and wrapped and melted onto a cast-iron fish, forming delicate scales. Ceramic powder lightly glued on, melted to create an iridescent enamel of a thousand colors. And, then, at the end of the day, the smith presents it to Master Uli, and says the first words anyone has heard from him. “For use of your forge.” The words are whispered, a voice hoarse with disuse, though still mellifluous. Master Uli nods, and accepts the fish. (So light.) He gives the smith in return a flagon of water. Lake water, as that is the only water in the village. The Smith drinks of it, and his eyes light up. That night, the Smith dreams again, crisper, brighter, clearer than he had ever, even... before that first knife. For three months, the Smith works in Iphu. He does not speak much, but he teaches Master Uli much, and Master Uli teaches him much, as well. Much of the village finds itself recipient of gifts of finely worked metal: new wrought candlesticks in the Inn, which cast shimmering lights over all the walls, banishing the shadows to dusty corners. A great bowl for the council, and an accompanying ladle. A statue of an old man he does not recognize, but who the awakened clearly do. But all this time, it seems he is waiting for something that is coming. Master Uli and the other awakened meet many times, and many times they discuss the smith. They know he is there to help them, they know it. Thier words fill the shaded amphitheater on the banks of the lake of stars, rustling in amongst the leaves, until they could not be told apart from the great white blossoms of the shaded magnolias. That is not the only thing they discuss. They know of the cold clawing in the north. They speak of Kurei, once one of their number, now remembered both in their dreams and in the statue the strange smith made. They know of the raging fire in the south, a hunger that grows ever closer. They see the spinning wheel of leaves that, for now, keeps the flame at bay. They feel the Dreamer, the twin souls, travelling. He draws closer, but his time is not yet. And, one night, in their shared dream, they see a Stag. It wears a cloak, and it is silent. It watches them, and they watch it. For a week, they do so, it’s form growing larger, until it’s antlers prick the heavens, and, after an eternity, it shakes its head, dislodging countless stars. As one, the awakened wake to the sound of distant song, a distant rush of song. From open windows, from ajar doors, they see the falling heavens, endless streaks of light rushing across the skies. The smith is outside, eyes turned up, blazing with light, and they remember that he was in their dream, too. He attended their council, though he did not speak. And, high above, a single voice of the chorus grows in intensity, in volume. It is in harmony with the rest of the voices, but quickly gains dominance, and, in a moment, one of the streaks of the falling stars rushes low above Iphu, striking the ground not too far into the wild woods. The rain of stars continues, tapering off only slowly, the chorus of song ending one voice after another, until again, the Heavens hang motionless and silent high above. The smith leaves that morning, and is gone for a week. When he returns he he is cradling gently in his hands, as an infant, the metal of a fallen star. It is light, that metal, soft, in a way few metals are, but Master Uli sees how it can be tempered, worked, into something as strong as, no, stronger, than steel, and with a beauty unrivaled. Wordlessly, Master Uli and The Smith work side by side. It is a small thing they are working: a clasp. It is beautiful in it’s simplicity, but, as they work, as they quench it’s heat in the water of the lake of stars over and over, Master Uli realizes that he is working the steam as much, if not more, than the metal. And, as he works, he feels the presence of all his kin lending their strength to his. He feels the distant pain of old Kurei, and takes strength from his determination. He feels the strength of young Jush, who is working in the fields, and the quiet focus of Master Abu drinking his tea and reading. He feels the brisk wind on Elou’s face as she pulls in a netful of fish, and the warming sun on Baris’s back as he cuts some grain. He feels all of his kin, and knows them all, and he gives them his strength and they theirs. And with a start, he realizes he feels someone new, someone different, and in a that instant, the dreamers all know the name that belongs to their unknowing benefactor. Alai. He is close, oh so close, and that closeness is enough for them all. With a last ring of the hammer, the clasp is done, and the steam clears, drifting to joining with the clouds in the sky, a gentle river drifting towards the north. The Smith nods at Master Uli, carefully wraps up the clasp, packs up his anvil, walks out the city gates and disappears from Iphu. All is quiet, and life slowly returns to normal. That evening, a group of people walk through the gates of the city. A young woman with red hair and an unstrung bow on her back. A cloaked woman, face obscured by an antlered mask, a shaggy looking youth with small curling horns. And Him. Alai, the man who has lived in their dreams for nearly thirty years.