Women’s Work

by Carmel Rechnitzer


“You know, my dearest Heidi, I always considered us birds of a fabulous feather, “ said Claude de la Roche. “Two peas within the same proverbial pod, as it were.”

To master blacksmith Adelheide Schmidt, those words were more jarring than accidentally striking her hammer down on her thumb. Instead of bruised flesh, she was left with a bruised ego. What possible similarities did they share? In the vaguest sense, they were probably both about the same height. They both weighed about eleven, eleven and a half stone. But she was tall for a woman, and had muscle to spare. Claude’s height was aided by inch and a half heels and a three inch powdered wig. If you took off his myriad, bejeweled rings and heavy chain of office, the mayor would lose two stone in an instant.

“I’m not sure I follow, Mayor de le Roche,” she said.

“Heidi, please! Call me Claude. I’ll die of stuffiness if we resort to titles!”

“Of course, Claudy-bear,” she said, trying to find a nickname as obnoxious and childish as Heidi.

“Truly, you’re a riot!” He declared, and moved to slap her arm with camaraderie. She cocked her eyebrow, and he thought better of it.

“I only mean to say that we are both artisans – and your smithing is as much an art as my poetry – with a unique appreciation of the divinity of the feminine,” Claude explained. “We both hold a reputation! We both live in antithesis! Famous womanizers who nonetheless have a penchant for melancholic, obsessive pining.”

No, Adelheide decided. These sentences were the conversational equivalent of being hit with a hammer. These sentences actually, physically hurt to hear. She didn’t know which end to approach his little monologue. She settled on, “I take your meaning, but I suspect we love women in notably different ways.”

He laughed, as if she’d told him a joke. Theus damn him, that was supposed to be an underhanded insult. Shamelessly, he took her arm in his, and began leading her into the depths of the Mayoral Estate. The fanciful halls were full of priceless art, and she had the chance to appreciate none of it. Instead of looking at the tapestries and paintings, she fumed.

Ever since childhood, she’d always had a roiling furnace burning in her core. Her mother had diagnosed her with an excess of yellow bile and prescribed a strict diet of minced whitefish, salt, and plain bread. This had done nothing to calm her humors, and she’d been an absolute terror of a teenage rebel.

She’d fled home, and earned a place as a smith’s apprentice by stubbornly [pestering a dour blacksmith for sixty consecutive days. The fire of the forge called to her – offered her kinship. The rhythmic music of hammer against anvil was the only thing that soothed her constant temper.

That same fire reignited in the depths of her stomach. Why had the Mayor called her here? Who told him about her “womanizing?” Who, within the damnable walls of this forsaken City, knew about her many short and disastrous romances and dared to describe her constant tragic breakups as “womanizing?” These questions generated confusion and embarrassment – feelings she simply fed to her furnace until they alloyed into even more fury. Smithing wasn’t going to be enough this time. Today was the day she finally murdered someone. Whomever had put her name in Claude’s ear was about to receive one hundred consecutive hammer blows directly to-

“You’re probably wondering why I’ve graciously invited you here, to my grand new home,” Claude’s sing-song voice wedged itself into her ear.

“Indeed, Claudi-bear. I want to know why.”

Still holding onto her arm, he stopped in his tracks and turned to face her. Adelheide hadn’t expected him to, and continued for another two accidental strides. To her amazement, Claude survived being wrenched forward. He gave a gooselike squawk of surprise, but years of dance practice allowed him to instinctively recover and stick the landing.

She expected him to chastise her. Tell her off for being inconsiderate and angry. Instead, he just laughed, as if she’d told a joke. “Birds of a feather!” he repeated. “Truly. I also get completely lost in my moods, my dear Heidi. When I’m formulating a poem – or caught in forlorn lovesickness – it’s as if a stormcloud has lodged itself behind my forehead. The rain, the thunder, the barometric pressure! It’s all consuming.”

That caught her by surprise. She liked his metaphor. She didn’t want to like it. Finding actual kinship with Claude was enough to turn her stomach. But he seemed to understand. Seemed to have something primal and loud lodged inside him, just like she did.

“I get a fire. In the pit of my stomach,” she admitted.

He gave her a smile full of overwhelming charm and sleaze. Somewhere, in the depths of his eyes, was also a hint of empathy. She shuddered.

He gave a quick wave of his free hand, inviting her to look to the left. The corridor wall was covered in expansive and expensive paintings of nude nymphs and oiled-up heroes of history. It took a moment to pull her gaze off away from the dangly subject matters of the canvas, but her eyes finally settled on the marble pedestal between them. On top of the pedestal was a perfect statuette of a rearing horse, cast in bronze. It should have been the first thing to catch her eye.

Every last detail was exquisite. Whomever had carved the mold clearly knew the ins and outs of horse tack. Every strap of the saddle was in its right place, and in its proper proportion. Each upraised hoof wasn’t just shoed… each shoe had eight nails. The bronze of the horses’ flank was textured to look like horsehair. Without asking, she reached out and petted the diminutive statue. It was cold to the touch, but it felt like hair.

She gave a low whistle of respect. “That’s phenomenal workmanship.”

“Indeed… and wholly irreplaceable. Please be careful when you touch,” Claude insisted. He didn’t need to. Adelheide ran her fingers over the workmanship with the same tender care she used with her pet rabbits back at home.

“The Mayor of Five Sails generally gets murdered, jailed, or run out of town before they have a chance to retire,” Claude mused. “Commissioning art is our little way of leaving something of ourselves behind. The one thing we know for a fact the next upstart politico won’t upturn, overturn, or toss out. I brought you here to make art.”

Adelheide’s face turned red, in spite of herself. “Surely, Claude, you don’t mean me?” She asked. “I’m a… practical ‘artisan’. I make horseshoes. Tools. Work accessories.”

“And you make them better than Theus’ angels could dream of,” he said. “My finest stallion wears a set of your horseshoes, Heidi. Foreign soldiers and noblemen are more interested in his footwear than in his services as a stud.”

“Is he infertile?” She asked.

“Heavens, no! My dear Palomo is as fit as a fiddle. People just love your work!”

“Ahh. Oh. sorry for implying. Thank you.”

A moment of awkward silence passed between them. Claude, apparently, could joke about anything other than his prize horse’s virility.

“Anyways,” he explained, “I want to commission you. You’ll be working as a matched set with another artist. You’ll provide the practicals, she’ll provide the whim and splendor.”

With that, he began to walk her further down into the depths of the estate. Somewhere, the sound of a hammer and anvil was ringing, careening towards them through the hallways. Did the former dungeon-turned-art-gallery really have a functional forge?

As they walked, he failed to fill her in on details. She asked for specifics, and he just waved and waggled his palms. Just asked her to promise to do her absolute best, which left her pride a little ruffled. She would never settle for anything less. When they arrived at the final door leading into the workshop, he finally confessed.

“It’s an indirect commission. I’m asking you, on behalf of a friend,” he said. “Well, on behalf of Solomonia Saburovya. That fearsome woman doesn’t have friends, she has pawns. Unfortunately, she won me the election, so I’m one of her promoted chess pieces. Everyone in the Ussuran district follows that boorish Boar around, like he’s in charge. Technically, though, she was elected District Captain before he popped up here. Solie will give you two the details of the piece. Apparently, she wants you to make some steel masterwork for her dowry. Don’t ask me about it! Ussuran wedding customs are barbaric and I have no idea who proposed to her. Knowing that lady… the man in question has no idea he’s proposing to her yet, either. She’ll show up with your work in hand and let the poor bastard know. I’m just hoping that man isn’t, well… me.”

His fanciful way of speaking was falling away and Adelheide realized the man was nervously babbling. What wasn’t he telling her?

“You’ll be working with Kalla Forsberg. She’s the artiste.”

Ahh. That. That’s what he’d been hiding. She gave a harsh hiss, almost identical to steam escaping one of her kettles. Before Kalla Forsberg had come to town some three years ago, Adelheide had been the most famous smith in the City. The most famous smith within two hundred miles of the City, too. She appreciated that Claude remembered that, but knew he’d been buttering her up with his praise. That Vesten pixie had rolled into town, and suddenly Adelheide had been demoted. Kalla primarily made weapons, and the murderous maniacs of Five Sails loved her for it. Her work received all the yearly prizes that Adelheide had grown used to dominating.

Adelheide still refused to meet the woman, or examine her work, out of principle. Well, out of spite. It grated her to stand in the shadow of a younger woman, even if the difference was a mere four years or so. She’d worked so hard for her reputation, and all it took was one wunderkinder prodigy to waltz into town and suddenly ‘poof!” Adelheide’s prestige was gone. Everyone went goo-goo-ga-ga over Kalla’s work because it was meant for foolish pursuits like dueling, instead of practical pursuits like woodworking or cobbling.

“Please give her a chance,” Claude begged.

The fire in her stomach roared. Theus himself couldn’t match the heat of her fury. But she also had debts to pay, apprentices to mind, and a nest of rabbits to feed. Curiosity was also getting the better of her. What was this mystery commission? Was Kalla Forsberg really that good? Could Adelheide use this commission to compare their mettle and prove she was actually the more impressive smith of the two?

Despite her internal temperature rising hotter than the midday sun, she nodded in approval. Claude swung the door open. The Mayoral Estate’s metalshop was expansive, and stocked with more tools, workstations, and materials than Adelheide could ever wish for. It would be a dream come true to work in a place like this – and any amount of torturous time spent with Kalla Forsberg was probably worth the privilege. Damn it.

They stepped inside, and Adelheide’s jaw dropped.

“A stunning beauty, isn’t she?” Asked Claude. She knew he meant the woman, not the workshop. Theus help me, she is. Kalla was geared up, working, and hadn’t noticed them yet. Claude gave a nightingale’s whistle to catch her attention and summon her over.

Kalla looked up from the red hot billet she was in the midst of drawing out. Without a moment’s hesitation, she tossed the metal back into the forge and practically ran over. Adelheide’s breath caught in her throat. She’d never seen eyes so piercing and green. And that button nose, all cherry red from the heat! How did Kalla’s hair – all mixed up with sweat, grime and smoke – settle so effortlessly and perfectly around her adorable, mousy ears? Why was the heat in her stomach careening up into her chest and up to her cheeks?

“I knew it,” Claude bragged.

By the time Kalla made it to them, she’d already discarded her heavy work gloves. Without a hint of self-consciousness, she grabbed Adelheid’s hands in excitement. Did she mean to shake them? Could you shake both hands at once? Adelheide didn’t know. All she knew is that Kalla’s fingers were as rough and calloused as hers. Their palms moved across each other like sandpaper and it made her heart skip a beat. Theus help me, I’m hopeless.

“You must be Adelheide! I’m your biggest fan! I’m so glad to finally meet you!” Kalla said. Her voice came out a bit too high pitched, a little too erratic. She sounded like all of Adelheide’s admiring apprentices had sounded when they first came to her doorstep to beg for lessons.

“Me too,” Adelheide promised. “I’m also a fan. Big fan of you.” Claude gave her a wily, knowing look. “I’m a big fan of your work, I mean.” Adelheide shamelessly added.

“Working with you is going to be the highlight of my year,” Kalla said, and began leading her into the workshop. Had the rivalry truly been this one sided, all these years? Adelheide knew this moment called for shame and self reflection, but all she felt was heat.

The heat in her stomach kept rising and rising. She was almost feverish. Why was she like this, every time? Every short, disastrous romance of hers started the same way. Instant infatuation that led straight to tragedy. It made her wish her mother’s prescription of minced whitefish actually worked. No matter how many times she told herself, this is it! No more mischievous brunettes! The vows and the bland diet didn’t work.

Claude gave a parting wave from the doorway. “Birds of a feather, aren’t we?” he winked at her. “Normally, I’d say ‘don’t work too hard, but don’t have too much fun.’ Not today. Please, for my sake… have far, far too much fun.”

This chapter draws inspiration from the creative influence of GDIAinsley, the winner of the New in Town Salon and recognized as the top-performing new player during that salon. Ainsley, with discerning taste, handpicked two characters from the City Deck, Kalla Forsberg and Adelheide Schmidt, to take center stage in this narrative. Ainsley also proposed the direction of cultivating a blossoming romance between the two characters.

Anticipate the upcoming release of their “experienced” version this year, with both blacksmiths woven together as a single character. This character update celebrates the bond forged between these two artisans.