Sometime after the council meeting, Leo found himself occupying the carpentry table at Steve’s.
In the air was the sizzling of blue steel in white water, the crackles of red flame on dark charcoals, and the rumble of hammer hoisted above the chestnut hair on black anvil. The building was crazy hot. Wood splinters dug themselves into his back. Yet, when he was dead-exhausted, they were surprisingly pleasant.
Next to him was a pig-tailed, red-head knight in full ironclad. She sat on the ground, one leg upright and the other rested on the hay floor. A large circular shield laid upside-down on her left. A sheathed sword she kept between her legs. Both her hands rested on its cross-guard.
The name was Katherine. Her hobby was crushing rocks and manhood. She came to pick up the gauntlets the master of Ironsmith promised. But, to her dismay, Steve was never one to work with a schedule. And so, there she sat, in the heat, glaring daggers at the forgetful new master.
Leo did not know Katherine well enough to strike a more personal conversation. She was not allowed to comment on the princess’s private matter but she could discuss her opinion on Count D’Amore.
The man was a molester. He would definitely go for the princess if he was given the chance. Katherine hated him. He treated women as trophies. The harder to get, the more valuable they were. The main problem was the princess. Lilia learned all about rulings from the baron…
Katherine cut short her exposition there. She realized she would be infringing the princess’s privacy if she continued.
So she turned to a different story about the time Alex declared he would never make an advance on her. She was too muscular, he said, and sleeping with muscular women felt like sleeping with another man. She had mixed feelings about his declaration. On one hand, she was glad he would not try to get into her pants. On the other hand, she was still a woman and she wanted to be treated as one.
Leo could argue that second point. Nothing good would come out of being treated as a trophy or a mindless, vicious pet hydra. But, to each his own, he supposed.
At one point during the conversation, the constant rumbling of Steve’s hammer came to an abrupt end. A thud erupted as the hammer fell followed by a soft voice calling “Inventor”.
Leo darted his glance at the ironsmith.
Steve lifted his head and slowly swayed to the door. Then, he froze. His hands trembled.
The forge’s wooden door creaked into closing behind a young woman. Her voice was familiar even though her appearance was foreign.
In a light blue blouse so spotless it seemed unreal, frills around the sleeves and smooth, waist-length hair; the noblewoman eyed Steve as she entered. Atop her head sported a brimless felt cap with a vibrant blue feather pinned to the side. Politely, she took off the hat and nodded to greet the forge’s owner.
Then, she walked past him. Her amber eyes drifted towards Leo. She came closer. Their eyes met. It was the most sorrowful gaze among the myriad he had encountered. And this unmistakable melancholy provided the last clue.
She was the witch; the saddest being in Ashlora.
Her warm breath, and cold, slender fingers touched his skin at the same time. Reclining her head to the right, her tender hand reached behind his neck.
“It’s me, the lover you need but never deserves. Why didn’t you come back to our love nest?” she said as her face was a palm-length away from his.
“Dear the pet hydra I don’t need, didn’t I tell you not to rummage my stuffs?”
He lifted the felt cap from her head.
“Please stop. What do you want now?”
Eliot hissed, averted her eyes and distanced from him.
“You’re no fun. I’m hungry,” she said.
“Feed yourself! I can’t take care of you forever.”
She leaned towards Steve who was standing agape behind a black anvil.
“He doesn’t want me. Do you want me?” she asked.
Amidst the steam and ember, the inventor caught glimpse of the ironsmith’s weakest moment yet. The man of fire and steel flustered when suddenly confronted by Eliot. She caught him staring at her in scrutinizing silence. His eyes were fixating on her every movement; almost as though wanting to eat her alive.
Turning to look at her own reflection in a polished armor on one of many racks lining along the grey brick wall, she followed up:
“Is there something on my face?”
“Eliot,” she introduced.
“—Miss Eliot. The name is Steve, just Steve.”
“See, you’re interested, aren’t you?”
“I’m sorry to say this, but you’re not my type.”
“You’re lying. I can feel your lustful eyes all over my body. Now, now, don’t be shy…”
“He was making sure you wouldn’t steal anything,” Leo sighed.
“You’re out of luck”, the knight said, “There’s no use courting a Silverflow master. They are married, to their studies that is. Look at the agriculturist, eighty years of age and a virgin to boot.”
“Don’t lump me with them,” Steve pointed his red hot tongs at Leo, “She’s just not my type, that’s all”.
“Then, what is your type?” Eliot asked.
“Strong, eh, who is not too easygoing and who can take care of herself. Right, like Katherine here,” he said.
Leo could not tell which was redder: the knight’s face, or the tongs that were being pointed at her. A moment later, the ironsmith tried to retract what he had just blurted out.
No use. Spoken words could not be unheard. Written words could not be unseen. And the only thing Leo could do was tapping his knuckle on the carpentry table, raising his hand and proclaiming: