"Anather comes ta take ye place, pup," Doane said lazily. He was stretched out on the landing before his cave one fine autumn morning as Shanku came in to work for the day.
"Oh?" she asked as she landed.
"Ye were a pleasure ta wark wi', but it's time ta share ye," the dragon said, and added. "Scoot o'er a bit, pup, ye're in me sun."
"Where am I to be 'shared' to?" Shanku asked as she stepped to the side.
"Th' nex' step in glass, accordin' ta dwarves," Doane gestured absentmindedly. "Dey make jewelry from some o' me glass baubles."
"Why not use real gems?" Shanku asked with a gesture and added hastily, "No offense."
"None taken," Doane chuckled. He closed his eyes and stretched out to a different position. "Gems be hard to come by some days, and dey cost too much far some folk."
"So glass is cheap alternative?" Shanku asked with a grin.
"Aye!" Doane opened his eyes at the sound of quick footsteps. "Ah, she comes! Shanku, meet Arloda Shimmerstone. She'll be ye new supervisor."
Shanku turned curiously to find what she assumed was a dwarf. Aptly named, Shanku mused. This must be how the Highlands feel around me. Not even four feet tall, a husky woman with green eyes and thick, red hair strode toward them with quick, purposeful steps. There was a braided "crown" at the top of her forehead that circled her head and two braids below each temple. She wore a loose shirt, a leather apron over her clothes, and leather gloves and shoes on her hands and feet. She came to a stop before Shanku and looked her up and down as she stroked her chin.
"Ye'll do fer now. Coom along," she turned around briskly and started to go into the cave.
"What'll I be doin' wit ya? Millin'?" Shanku asked as she fell behind the dwarf.
"Bah! Rookie's work!" the dwarf spun around suddenly. "An' unlike wi' lazy dragons, ye'll actually work under me."
"Ye flatter me, dwarf," Doane lifted his head lazily. Arloda waved him away with a pfft.
"Ye'll clean me anvil, fetch me hammer, tend me fire, and pack me wares!" Arloda spat, jabbing a finger into her other palm on each task.
"What precisely are ya?" Shanku asked, a bit intimidated.
"Brightsmith by day, blacksmith by night!" Arloda said proudly and strode off into the cave.
"Save me, Doane?" Shanku begged the dragon with clasped hands.
"Nice knowin' ye, pup," Doane laughed and laid his head back down for a nap until his new charge arrived.
Shanku swallowed hard and chased after the dwarf.
"'Brightsmith'?" She asked cautiously.
"Silver, pup. Ah work in silver when Ah can. Mostly Ah'm stook wi' iron, thus, Ah'm also a blacksmith," Arloda said and lead Shanku deep into the mountain. She stopped a few levels down and turned into a room with ornate carvings around the door. It was a modest forge with a fireplace and large bellows connected to it, an anvil in the center of the room, tables along the walls, and tools of all sorts hanging on the walls and tables. Shanku was admiring the architecture when Arloda thrust a leather apron toward her.
"Put this on," Arloda said as she tossed it at Shanku. "Ah don' need another flamin' hairball like last time."
Shanku stood perfectly still, her eyes wide in shock while she clutched the leather apron. Dear Algod, what have you gotten me into now?
"Why else d'ye think Ah needed a new assistant, pup?" Arloda paced away with her hands clasped behind her back. "Coom, coom, quit yer dallyin'. Work ta do!"
Shanku winced and put the apron on over her pinnafore as Arloda grabbed a metal bar with a pair of tongs.
"Man th' bellows! This hunk o' metal is useless!" Arloda yelled.
Shanku grabbed the bellows and began to pump it up and down.
"Easy, easy!" Arloda snapped. "Too hot and ye rurn it!"
Shanku tried to slow her pace appropriately.
"Pick up th' pace! Fire's too cold!" Arloda snapped again.
I don't tink the last one left by accident, Shanku narrowed her eyes at the dwarf. Just as she was beginning to figure out what rhythm Arloda wished for her to proceed at, the dwarf suddenly grabbed the tongs away from the fire.
"Whoa! Good, good," she said. Arloda went over to the anvil. Holding the tongs in one hand, she took a hammer in another and began to pound the metal. Shanku roughly shook her head a few times. How that clanging rang in her head! When she finished, she doused the block a trough of water. The water hissed and bubbled, and steam rose up from the cooling block. Then she returned to the fire pit again.
Arloda went between the fire, anvil, and water a few more times. Each time she returned to her hammer, she became softer and more precise with her blows. Finally satisfied, she plunged it into the water a final time. Still gripping the tongs, she carried it over to one of the thick tables along the wall and sat down on a stool.
"Hammer," she said and held out her hand.
Shanku looked at a rack of tools near the end of the table. She picked up a strange tool that had a block of metal at the top which was flat on one end and pointed on another. Arloda took it from her and began to refine the oddly shaped block.
"Chisel," she said and held out her hand once again.
Shanku had a better idea of what this one should look like and chose a sturdy-looking tool with a wedge-shaped end to give to Arloda.
Arloda carefully lined her chisel up and carefully began to cut away some of the block with her chisel and hammer.
"Pick," she said and once again held her hand out to Shanku.
Shanku took the tool that tapered from the handle to a sharp point and gave it to her.
Carefully, Arloda began to whittle out a hole in the top of her creation.
"Scalpel," Arloda said one final time.
Shanku picked up a tool with a small knife on the end and gave it to her.
Carefully, Arloda began to carve lines into the top of the metal block. She made a few more adjustments before taking a piece of twine from a drawer nearby and lacing it through the hole she made earlier.
"Thar ya be!" Arloda said proudly and held it out to her. "Feather jewelry just fer ye hairballs."
Shanku examined the metal thing and was impressed to see it was nicely shaped feather with a broad middle and pointed tip. Arloda had even carved out the shaft and the barbs!
"How much ya sellin' 'em for?" Shanku asked eagerly.
"Somethin' like this? Mmm..." Arloda held it close to her face for a moment. "Maybe a silver coin."
"Yikes," Shanku yelped. "Really?"
"Two silver for glass pieces, and a silver slip for real gems," Arloda nodded.
"What does somebody have to do to earn some money around here?"
"In yer case, apprentice yeself out," Arloda said. "Not many jobs around here unless yer willin' to be somebody's assistant."
"Yeah, like anybody would hire a reputed goat thief," Shanku gave a big shrug.
"If ye do good enough here, Ah'll teach ye how to make yer own," Arloda said.
"Really?" Shanku asked, her ears and wings up in excitement.
"But ye have to pay attention to what Ah do and how Ah do it! Ah ain't holdin' yer paw," Arloda shook her finger at Shanku.
"Aye!" Shanku nodded eagerly.
"And ye better mind Sigrid. She tells me ye ain't mindin' too well an' Ah'll work ya double down here if yer gonna be a delinquent!"
Shanku grimaced and nodded fervently. Surely Arloda couldn't work her any harder than she was already!
The next few weeks seemed to both drag on and fly by. Three days each week, Shanku would spend with Sigrid and listen to the lessons she had to teach. The rest of the week, she spent with Arloda. The heat of the forge was welcomed in the mornings when the air was so cold, but it didn't take long before Shanku was panting like it was the middle of summer.
Arloda monitored them both carefully and took frequent breaks for water. She had nearly worked herself too hard in her youth and a few cases of heatstroke had taught her to pace herself a bit better. Arloda also had to keep in mind that when the Kurach were in their hairy forms, they were unable to sweat and cool themselves as easily as when they were more humanoid like the dwarf.
In the evenings after Shanku worked in the forge, Arloda would take her to her own chambers for a cup of stout Dwarven ale. She would tell stories about her homeland and of massive froges, reknowned smiths, and ancient kings who fought valiently against the dreaded Duergar who lived even deeper in the earth.
"So Kurach aren't the only ones who don't get along with their own kind?" Shanku laughed one evening as Arloda finished a tale about a particularly silly squabble between a dwarf and Duergar over a shiny rock that turned out to be Fool's Gold.
"Ye find that in all races," Arloda waved her hand dismissively. "Drink, drink! Ye've barely touched yer ale."
"I'm not as tolerant of it as you are," Shanku laughed weakly. It didn't take much of it to make her head spin. How did Arloda make it through so many pints each night? Not even Turai could handle as much!
"Bah! None so good as a dwarf!" Arloda bragged and prepared to take another swig. "Especially those demmed ankle-biters."
"Who?" Shanku asked on purpose.
"Gnomes!" Arloda roared and stomped her foot. "Ah hate those gnomes with their pointy hats and curly shoes!"
Shanku didn't let Arloda see her giggle as she went on a tirade about the evils of gnomes and erring fashion sense.
"Well, pup, tomorry be the last day of yer service," Arloda said as she winded down.
"Already?" Shanku asked in surprise.
"Aye," Arloda nodded. "one month on th' morrow. What're yer plans?"
"Haven't decided. I'll likely winter here," Shanku mused. "Head out in the spring."
"Where'll ye go? Back to th' valley?" Arloda asked.
"I don't know," Shanku said quietly and looked into her mug of ale. I still have five seasons of my exile, she thought sadly.
"Well, orf ta bed wi' ye!" Arloda said perkily and raised a finger. "Ye work yer hardest on th' last day wi' Arloda!"
Shanku nodded and stood. Arloda stopped her quickly as she began to walk off.
"Hey, hey! Gimme yer leftovers, pup!" Arloda shouted after her. "No good ale should ever go to waste!"
Shanku shook her head with a chuckle, gave Arloda her mug, and left the room. The dwarven quarters were deep within the same mountain Doane worked in. The past week Sigrid had ceased to personally bring her to Arloda's forge. But Shanku knew she would still be watching and undoubtedly waste no time to apprehend her should she try to escape.
The night was chilly. She shivered against a cold breeze as she came to the ledge leading into the caverns below and looked out over the plains once more toward the direction of Dai and of what was once her home.
She partially withdrew her knife from its sheath and looked at her reflection in it. Shanku squeazed her eyes shut and looked away. How had she let another force her into being this monster again? She resheathed her knife and leapt off the ledge.
It was a long, cold, quiet flight back to her lonely room in the Quarters.
Sigrid's late and my door is unlocked. Shanku thought suspiciously as she poked her head out of her door. To her surprise, Sigrid hadn't come to lead her to the forge this morning. While she had been letting her return on her own, she had never missed a chance to see to it that Shanku started her day in her feral form.
Shanku finally shook her head and took flight. She landed on the familiar ledge and made her way down into the mountain. She arrived in Arloda's forge to find her extending a pair of tongs.
"Hullo, pup," Arloda greeted her. "Today, ye make yer pendant."
Shanku positively squeaked with delight. She quickly donned her leather apron and happily took the tongs from Arloda. She selected a smaller block of metal from Arloda's stash and held it out for approval. Arloda nodded. It was alright to use it. Shanku carefully stuck it in the fire and directed Arloda.
"A bit gentler on the bellows," Shanku suggested.
"Don' let it git too cool," Arloda warned.
Shanku later made her way to the anvil and began to pound on it as she had seen Arloda do.
"A tad heavy-handed, pup," Arloda admonished. Shanku frowned and tried to be even more careful.
When Shanku had gotten it roughly into the shape she wanted, she went over to the heavy table and began to work. Ever so carefully, she chiseled and cut on the bit of metal.
When she finished, she held it out for Arloda to see.
"Whatcha think?" Shanku asked proudly.
"Not bad," Arloda said with her arms crossed over her chest. "For a beginner."
But Shanku didn't care. It may have been a little lumpy, imperfect, and took her a long time to make, but it was a gift from Arloda, not only in the respect that she let her have it for free but also that she trusted Shanku enough to let her do it.
"Yer sentence is now complete. Yer free to go," Arloda made a broad gesture at the door. "Go and seek yer fortune, pup."
"Any idea why Sigrid wasn't around this morning?" Shanku asked as she donned her new necklace.
"You were free yesterday," Sigrid popped her head around the doorway. "But Arloda wanted her surprise."
"She don' need all th' details! Infernal hairball!" Arloda huffed angrily. "Orf wi' ye! Orf wi' ye!"
"Come along, Shanku. Let's find new quarters for you," Sigrid laughed and beckoned Shanku away from the angry dwarf.
Shanku gave Arloda a quick hug and bounded out the door behind Sigrid. She had finally completed her punishment for stealing a goat from the Highland Kurach.