2 of 10

Ladder rungs under Max’s feet were barely deep enough for his bare feet to grip the simply straight iron bar set into the curve of the stone drain wall.  The dark tube itself was only slightly wider than Max’s shoulders.  The bottom ended in a larger round tunnel.  Max heard his feet splash into the stagnant water before he could see it.  The cloak he’d left over the entrance suddenly was pulled back.  Max lunged to the side.  The voices topside grew distant.

Max stuck out his left hand and followed that wall to an intersection.  He took that one.  When it dead ended, he looked for any ladders.  He found one, but it only went up to another set of side tunnels half as tall as he was.  At least these were dry, though.  He took the one that would continue his original direction back towards the castle.  Eventually he saw light from above.  Eventually he managed to climb towards it.  It only budged slightly when he pushed.  He pushed and banged on it for a while.

Fingers came through the grille and pulled it loose.  A hand was offered to help him out.  Max emerged into the middle of a black smith shop.  The man who had pulled him out ran a sooty finger over his long gray mustache and frowned at Max’s attire.  Immediately Max was handed an apron.

Max watched in awe as the thick man ignored him, grabbed a bellow’s lever and pumped some air onto glowing coals.  A hot stubborn fire roared at some iron already in the middle of the glow.  When things were ready, thick gloved hands pulled the iron out and applied a hammer to the glowing end.  Sparks flew.  Max judged that the spot by the bellow’s lever was well away from the prickly shower of sparks and positioned himself there.  When the metal had been worked to a stiff and less glowing look, the man put it back in the fire.  Max pumped on the bellows just as hard as the man had.

They certainly made an odd pair to look at, but the rhythmic pace of their silent cooperation blended seamlessly together.  When the man was done, he dunked the steel now shaped into a carving knife, minus a handle.  Through the hissing steam, Max could see the man’s smile was broader than his wide mustache.

The soapy feeling slid Max right out of his apron.

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