Profession: The Blacksmith
Achim was so excited. This was an amazing, wonderful day, to say the least; the beginning of a presumably marvelous journey. He was almost jumping around, leaving his parents’ house to go to the smithy of the city. It took everything from Achim’s dad to make the Maester Giltbert agree to take him under his coveted wing. The two of them were friends since childhood, luckily for Achim, who, at almost 15 years old, considered it was high time to think about his future. The young man wanted to be a blacksmith. An apprenticeship was the perfect way to learn, especially with the help of the best blacksmith in the city!
To learn from Maester Giltbert would be an invaluable experience. It would be perfect. Achim could see himself learning so much, all day long, watching his mentor’s every move with the iron and the steel. Forging, welding, heating, shaping it the way it had to, and finishing it with his own personal touch. To work with his hands, making something so beautiful as a shield or a long sword has been Achim’s dream for the longest time. And so, eager to turn his dream into reality, he started walking in the smithy’s direction. It was a beautiful sunny day; the perfect one to make his first steps in the profession, and absolutely nothing could go wrong.
In front of the smithy, Achim just stood there, astounded. Despite his reputation of being grumpy, Maester Giltbert was a legend, from this city to the next and the next, and… He was the only one still around too. There was a time when there was quite the competition between several blacksmiths in town and beyond, but it was all over. Maester Giltbert was the best, once and for all. He had a big and steady clientele, all for himself, and he took really good care of them. He was a perfectionist and it showed in every single piece that he did. That’s why Achim was sooo happy to have the chance to learn personally from him. Looking down from the banner, Achim finally saw his Maester, working in his forge. He was heating a piece of iron, close to his furnace. Achim came forward, all giddy for his first day. It was finally happening!
Giltbert looked up and sighed: “I guess you’re Robert’s son… What’s your name again?
– Yes, that’s me! Achim answered, too fast.”
Stepping forward his young apprentice, Robert frowned, looking puzzled.
– Did you… take a bath for the occasion? You’re all clean and proper. Giltbert asked.
– Why, yes! Yes I did. It’s an important day for me!!, said Achim, already too eager to Robert’s taste.
– Ok, ok… Could you calm down a little bit?
– Yes of course. All you want, Maester.
– Do you know anything about blacksmith, the forge, or any resource that we use?
– Not at all!, Achim said all smile, standing tall, as if he was proud of his complete lack of knowledge.
– Well, I guess we should start there. We have a long way to go, then…” Giltbert answered, a little frustrated by the turn of events. He was now responsible for this boy, and what an “interesting” experiment that would be. His friend Robert, Achim’s father, would owe him. Big time!
Giltbert and Achim started with the basics: the resources. There was the iron, the steel, the metal, the charcoal (for the furnace), the silver, and some others. They had to go to the mine, the quarry, or the lumberyard to find them all. They could always go to the market but it was more expensive. But Maester Giltbert preferred dangerous expeditions to the mine or the lumberyard, anyway… “Well, said Achim to himself. Let it be a dangerous profession from the get-go!” The young man was ready for anything, as long as he would be learning from the best Maester. And he was all excited when Giltbert asked him to go and find the best metal he could find at the nearest mine. Maester Giltbert was pretty sure it would take Achim a day or so. At least, he would have a little peace and quiet, for a while… Teaching was much more demanding than what he originally thought. And when Achim left the smithy, only to come back a mere couple hours later, the Maester looked at him and couldn’t believe it: the young man had done what was asked of him. “Well, thank you Achim, said Giltbert, half admiringly, half pissed. This is very good metal. It’ll make a beautiful piece to work on tomorrow.
– Really?! said Achim, smiling from ear to ear. You like it, sir?!
– Yes, I do. You’ve done very well.”
After that, Achim was even more grinning, his cheerfulness getting even more so on Giltbert’s nerves. So the Maester felt compelled to slow down on his praises, just to avoid his apprentice’s buoyant spirit more than necessary.
The next morning, first early ray of sunlight, Achim was at the smithy, arriving there even before Maester Giltbert could finish getting dressed!
“Hi, Maester! said Achim, grinning and standing tall.
– You’re early. said Giltbert, barely able to contain his impatience in the face of such over eagerness.
– Of course, I’m early! No time to waste! So?… What are we doing today?
– We will start by calming ourselves before anything else, Giltbert answered, a little grumpy. I’m not even sure I’m awake, yet.
– Okay, then, said Achim, as smiling as ever. I’ll calm down.”
But it was obvious for all to see that he wouldn’t; that he just couldn’t. The poor guy was so excited and it was a weird sight for Giltbert to see. He sure wasn’t that excited back in the day when he started in this business. Sure, Achim’s enthusiasm at having Giltbert as a mentor felt a little satisfying. But they had so much work to do and it wasn’t that all exciting. What a strange kid…
But for now it was time to teach Achim. So Giltbert showed him around the forge again. He asked him what were the tools and the various objects that he saw around him. The young man remembered everything; he was like a little sponge. Nothing was lost on him. So the Maester decided to show him what he would do with the piece of metal he brought the other day before from the mine. He explained the orders that he got from his clients to Achim (some shield, gambeson, platemail), the deadlines of every piece, how it worked, etc. He had clients from common people but also from nobility, since there was a castle in the city.
Still, Achim was listening closely, watching his Maester’s every move and techniques. In the middle of the afternoon, it was time to see the different steps of metalworking again. Maester Giltbert wanted Achim to know them by heart by the end of the week. At least visually. So he started the steps; first, there was the heating of the iron piece in the furnace, repeatedly until it becomes malleable. Achim could see the piece turning from a bright red to orange to yellow and then white. Secondly, it needed to be hammered until it could be easily welded and forged at high temperature, into the form of the piece that it would soon become. Sometimes, it needed to be heated again, after being welded with another piece and that’s when the Maester had to be very careful and watch everything closely. Each time, he removed it from the fire to see the color; the piece was exposed to air and could rapidly oxidize. “You need to be careful there. You see? The color can change rapidly if I don’t put it back in the flames.
– Yes, I see. That’s beautiful!
– Someday you will be able to do it too, kid.
– I hope so! I know so! I will make you proud, Maester!
– Calm down, Achim. One step at a time.”
The Maester Giltbert was still feeling a little puzzled. For such a young age, Achim wanted to be a blacksmith really badly.
Then, they had to finish the piece with the right method; it was important. A good and experienced blacksmith knew how to select the finishing touch, based on the metal and on the intended use of the product. Maester Giltbert explained it carefully to an amazed Achim. Paint, bluing, browning, oil, wax, etc. The sun had set when the Maester finished explaining everything to his young apprentice, and it was time to call the day off. Giltbert looked at Achim, who still seemed energetic, and said: “You can go home now. We will continue tomorrow.
– Are you sure Maester? I can stay a little longer if you want me to.
– No, that’s all for today. You need to go home.
– It’s all so interesting. I could stay all night to learn faster.
– No, you could not. No need for that. We have plenty of time. Now, I want to eat my supper and spend time with my wife. Just go!”
The poor little Achim went home, feeling disappointed. He would’ve loved an extra hour of learning. Or maybe two. Giltbert, for his part, went to his home, not worried at all by the thought of having disappointed the young man. Tomorrow would come soon enough anyway.
But Achim suddenly had an idea. His day wasn’t over yet, he didn’t want it to be. Together with a friend, he went to the farthest mine there was in the city. They picked every piece of iron and steel that they could take and came back home, as quickly as possible. Then, Achim gave his friend some coins for the help, and left with their loot.
Going back to the smithy, he knocked at Maester Giltbert’s door. But there was no answer. It was curious, since the Maester specifically said that he would be home with his wife. Achim knocked again. Still nothing. He then decided to look around the house; just to be sure that no one was home, wishing he hadn’t gone to the mine for nothing!
Coming by a window, Achim suddenly heard a small noise, just like a squeak. Quite a strange sound… So Achim looked innocently inside, pressing his face on the window, not knowing that this room was actually Giltbert’s bedroom.
“AAAARRRGGHHHH!!!!! screamed the Maester’s wife.
– What’s going on?! asked Giltbert in his bedroom, half naked.
– Somebody’s watching us through the window!
– I swear! Some kid was staring at us right outside the window!”
Achim squealed a little bit and started to run away from the scene. But it was too late; the Maester had seen him. He was now chasing Achim, holding his pants in one hand, and what looked like a bat in the other one!
“Achim, you little imbecile! Stop right now and come back here if you don’t want me to turn you into manure!”
Out of breath, Achim finally stopped and looked up at his Maester, embarrassed.
“What in hell were you doing at my house? I told you the day was over!
– I am so sorry, Maester Giltbert. I had a surprise for you and just couldn’t wait until tomorrow to…
– But I told you to go home!!
– I am sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you… that way.
– You little fool”, said Giltbert, beginning to calm down in front of the troubled face of his apprentice. “It’s over now. Go home and don’t come back until tomorrow. That will be all.” Achim looked at him, completely relieved, and started to run in the direction of his home.
Giltbert was still looking in that direction, long after Achim had disappeared at the corner. Suddenly, he bursted out laughing. He was still holding his pants in one hand and the bat in the other, giggling at just what has happened. How long has it been since the last time Giltbert laughed like that? He couldn’t even remember. And it felt good. Really good.
Still looking in Achim’s direction, Gilbert suprised himself in anticipating the return of his young apprentice. Maybe it would be good to feel like a kid again. Maybe Achim could teach his Maester to do exactly that. Maybe he, too, could learn a thing or two about smiling and just being happy. It had been a long time…