Chapter 1

The sound of approaching horses carried through the trees and into the open window of the smith's hut. One blue eye peeked open groggily and a small sigh escaped her slim frame. 'Already?' she thought, 'Maybe they're just passing by...' Her eyes slid closed again, but a moment later she groaned as the noise was definitely coming closer. She pushed back her sleeping fur and threw a leg over the side of the bed. Hoisting herself up to one elbow she pushed her tired body the rest of the way up into a sitting position and stretched. "Ugh...I have to quit with these eighteen candlemark days....they're killing me." Shoving some stray strands of jet black hair behind her ears, she reached over to her chair and picked up her leathers. Slipping them on she hopped over to the basin and rinsed her face. Her head instinctively turned towards the window as the riders came around the bend in the road.

"Son of a bacchae!" she cursed. "Of all the days..."

She recognized the adornments right away...the Queen was here.

She quickly pulled on her boots and made a beeline for the door of her hut, slapping out creases in her skirt as she ran. She made it out the front door just in time to gather herself and kneel, as the horses slowed to a stop in front of her.

"Hail Rose, and a good morning to you."

"Good morning my Queen. Tis been too long a while since I have seen you 'round here. How may I be of service today?" replied the smith.

"There is no need for that kneeling crap with me Rose." Varia chuckled slightly as she dismounted. Walking up to the smith she continued, "We've known each other far too long for such formalities don't you think?" They grasped each others forearms in greeting.

Rose noticed the other rider tethering the reins of the horses to the hitching post in the yard and called out, "A fine morning to you as well Princess."

The Queen's consort nodded acknowledgement and joined her betrothed in front of Rose. "And you as well my friend."

Varia smiled. "We dropped by this morning to ask a personal favor of you Rose."

"A favor? Surely it would be my honor." Rose grinned. "What ya be needing today?"

"Well..." continued the Queen, "I was wondering if you might be persuaded to craft me a new sword?" Varia glanced at Rose and smiled warmly. "I'm in need of excellent craftmanship, and you my friend, are the best I have ever seen."

"You are far too kind my queen." Rose replied with a slight blush. "When will ya need the item by?"

"Two weeks time. I know that isn't a whole lot of notice, but with all the joining preparations, I nearly forgot about it." Varia frowned. "I'm sorry, but I just couldn't get here any sooner."

"That's not a problem at all. I'll have them for you before you leave." A pause, then the smith looked up at the Queen. "Have an idea of what ya want? Hilt design? Length and width?"

Varia scratched her chin. "I haven't really thought about that much either...I just know my blade is about wore out." She chuckled. "Maybe an animal design for the hilt or something. Blade standard, plus one and one half finger lengths. I need it light, strong, deadly and with a bit extra in the reach."

"I think I can come up with something. I'll get to work right away." replied Rose with a slight bow of her head.

"Thank you." replied Varia. "We'll be seeing you soon Rose."

Rose thumped her chest with her fist as the queen and her consort mounted up. "Fare thee well my friends." She smiled as they kicked their horses into a gallop and rode off. She turned and headed towards her barn. Reaching it she threw open both double doors and strode in. Her trusty bay gelding greeted her with a soft snort.

"Good morning Bart, I trust ya were comfortable last night?" She scratched his nose and was rewarded with a loving nuzzle. "I'll be takin' that as a yes." Chuckling, she walked over to his feed trough and filled it. "After breakfast, we'll go for a nice ride eh? I need to make a trip to the mountain to mine some of that new ore I've been playing around with." Indeed she had come across the stuff entirely by accident, not even realizing it was metal ore when she had first seen it come tumbling out of the mountainside. She had tossed it aside and only gave it a second glance when she saw the sunlight reflecting off it while it lay on the ground. Since then, she had run numerous tests on it, finding it to be stronger than the usual metal the amazons used to craft their weapons. It would be perfect to use to craft the Queen's new sword.

Her stomach rumbled, so she headed back to her hut, grabbed her bow and quiver and headed out into the forest to catch her breakfast. Not a half candlemark later she arrived back home with a nice fat rabbit slung over her back. She started her cooking fire in the pit and proceeded to deftly skin the hare. Spitting it, she placed it over the fire and left it to cook while she made her morning tea. She glanced upwards. It was going to be a beautiful day...bright sunshine and not a cloud in the sky. She sighed softly, for as much as she loved the quiet peacefulness of her home, sometimes she felt a bit lonely. Her mind drifted back to happier times...six summers in fact, back to when everything was perfect in her life. She had been so in love with Ariana...they had made plans to be joined in fact. And then one morning she had woken up, and her lover was gone. She hadn't wanted to believe it at first, but then had found the small box sitting on the table. Contained inside were all the things Rose had given Ariel over the previous six moons...all the little gifts, the tokens, the commitment ring she had crafted herself. Her world had fallen apart that morn, and she hadn't been the same since. There had never been an explanation or an apology, and the smith had been left to wonder what she had done to cause it all to happen. Indeed it must have been her fault because in her eyes Ariana would never do something like that without at least telling her why. As it was now, Rose had never had any kind of closure on the matter, and for that she unknowingly continued to punish herself with solitude.

She sighed again as she swirled the tea inside her mug and turned the rabbit on the spit. She shook her head sadly and put the painful memories away once more. She had other, more important things to fret about now. Turning her thoughts to the morning ahead, she mentally figured how much ore she would need to complete the task ahead. Her nose caught a whiff of the cooking rabbit. "Well...best to get on with things then." She removed the hare from the fire and sat down to eat a nice breakfast, since after all....it was the most important meal of the day.

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Rose blew sweaty bangs out of her eyes yet again. She nearly had enough ore for the sword, just a few more hunks and she would finally be done with this part of the job. The cave was hot and muggy, 'Probably a natural spring in here somewhere' she thought. She made a mental note to investigate this development at a later time. She leaned back against the cave wall, uncorked her waterskin and took a long pull. 'Ew gods, even the water is warm!' She frowned and hung it back over Bart's saddlehorn. Turning back to the cave wall, she gave it a good hard stare, picked out the perfect spot to strike it to get the maximum payload for her troubles, then hoisted the pickaxe for the final blow. With a grunt she swung as hard as she could...muscles honed from years of this kind of work bulged as the axe struck the wall soundly and sprayed rock shards everywhere. She smirked in satisfaction at the big metal chunk that fell at her feet. "That should do it." She picked up the rock and stuffed it into one of the oversized saddlebags, being careful to make sure the buckle was tight on it. Grabbing Bart's reins, she lead the horse out of the cavern and into the bright sunshine of midday. Mounting up, she headed off towards home...where the hard part of the task awaited her.

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CLANG. Clang.

CLANG. Clang.

The banging of hammer on hot metal rang through the clearing Rose used as her personal workshop. Four sturdy posts served to hold the large roof over her forge and anvil...just in case it rained. She chose this spot because of the tiny little stream that ran through this end of her land. It ran directly through the shop, which made it easy to cool the newly forged items. To be truthful, this was the one place Rose felt completely at home and comfortable in...a place where she could lose herself in what she was doing and forget all her troubles.

CLANG. Clang.

She had been working and reworking this metal for the past week and a half, each time getting closer to what she saw in her mind's eye for her queen. The smith held the blade up and scrutinized it thoroughly. Her brow furrowed in concentration as her eyes traced every outline for imperfections. Satisfied it was finally as it should be, she set it hilt first into the glowing embers of her forge, for it would soon be time to add the finishing touches to this work of her art.

She stood and trudged over to a large tree stump just outside her work area. This was her place to rest while the metal heated again, which usually took about a quarter candlemark. Plenty of time to catch her breath and cool off away from the searing heat of the forge. Her gaze traveled over to the wide open field and found Bart frolicking at the far end. Sometimes, even at his advanced age, the colt in him would still come out, and this made Rose smile. She wiped her brow with her forearm and blew out a long breath. 'Well, back to work' she thought idly. She stood and stretched out her arms and back, hearing the satisfying popping noises as her vertebrae realigned themselves. "Gods Rose, ya truly need a vacation after this one eh?" She chuckled to no one but herself and walked back inside.

Now the tedious work began....the inlay and decorations. She drew the blade from the forge and carefully set it on her work table. She took a deep breath and began carving into the soft metal. The design had come to her in a dream about three nights before, if it was in fact a dream at all. It had woke her in the middle of the night with an incredible urge to put it on parchment. So she had. She glanced over at the drawing lying on the table next to her and studied it carefully. Turning back to the hilt, she set to work once again...the pattern seeming to come to life under her skilled hands.

Three candlemarks later, she was pulling the sword out of the forge for what she hoped was the last time. She bent down and picked up an small, ornately carved wooden box and placed it on the bench. Opening the lid, she withdrew two shining emeralds. These were delicately placed into two indentations she had left in the hilt, specifically for this purpose. The smith stepped back to admire her handiwork before plunging the entire blade into the cool waters of the small stream. Steam rose from the water, and she left it sit in there for a good length of time. Finally she pulled it from the rushing water and studied the nearly finished product. Now all she had left to do was polish it and sharpen it....and she was going to make damn sure this blade had an edge as sharp as Artemis' own sword when she was done with it. The scabbard had been completed three days ago during her wind down time in the evenings before she retired, so she didn't need to worry about that. She had to admit as she sat down to start polishing that this had turned out so much better than even she had hoped for. The sword was more beautiful than anything else she had ever done, and she was quite pleased with herself. This was a first, since her perfectionist attitude had never let her feel satisfied with anything. 'Guess I'm gettin soft in my old age' she thought. A smile crept onto her face. "As if!" she chuckled and returned to the job at hand.

Chapter 2

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