The forge was oppressively hot, and the crippled boy pumping the bellows wore nothing but a loincloth. His misshapen, skeletal legs were exposed and dripping sweat, like the rest of his frail body. The fire glowed red and black, and so did the exceptionally long sword that the armorer was working on. He had been working on this same sword for a fortnight now: heating and hammering, reheating, honing, reheating. He had etched words with the greatest care into the fuller of the blade just below the hilt, and with bronze wire he had inlaid the etching, hammering and melting the bronze into place, before scraping away and collecting the excess for reuse. The hilt had been wrapped in bands of twisted wire to give it a secure grip, and the disk of the pommel had been fitted with two large enamel medallions commissioned from a master craftsman in the Street of Goldsmiths. Now the sword was almost ready; he heated it one last time.
“Are you still here?” a female voice called loudly and impatiently from the entrance. “Your dinner is getting cold.”
“I said I’m almost done!” the armorer answered crossly.
“It’s that same damn sword you’ve been working on all week, while all the other orders stack up!” his wife complained. “Why waste your time on something so fine, when what this city needs is as many weapons as possible—cheap and simple—that’s what we need now. It’s too big for most men, anyway,” she noted professionally with a glance at the fully three-foot blade, “and who can afford a fine sword with bronze inlay in times like these?” she grumbled.
Her husband only grunted in answer, grasped the sword in both leather-gloved hands, and thrust it deep in the vat of water. A loud hiss and a jet of steam erupted from the vat, and then he stepped back with the sword in both hands, admiring his work. His crippled son gaped in wonder at the marvelous weapon his father held, his eyes aglow with admiration.
“Come get your supper,” the armorer’s wife ordered the boy curtly, then turned and disappeared back into the kitchen. The boy picked up his crutches, but rather than lurching for the kitchen, he swung himself beside his father to join him in admiring the sword.
His father smiled at down at him and showed him the blade. “Can you read that?” he asked.
Sven craned his neck and bit his lip, but then he smiled up at his father. “Defender of Jerusalem!”
His father nodded. He then gestured with his head for the boy to go get his meal as his wife shouted again from the kitchen.
The kitchen opened right off the forge, using the same chimney for the bake oven, but in summer the family fled the heat to eat in the cobbled courtyard behind the forge. Here a wooden table was set up, flanked by two wooden benches. Chickens pecked between the cobbles while a cat sauntered over to beg for leftovers. Two little girls waited wide-eyed for their mother to bring out the evening stew.
The armorer’s wife clunked the heavy iron stew pot down on the table and reached out her hand toward her daughters. “Don’t just sit there staring. Give me your bowls, girls!”
Sven dropped his crutches beside the end of the bench opposite his sisters and used his hands to move himself to the far end, where a wooden bowl waited for him. He handed this to his mother as soon as his sisters had their portion. He was very hungry and he spooned the thick barley, onion, and carrot broth eagerly into his mouth, burning his tongue. At once he started sucking in air to cool it.
“Stop making those sucking noises!” his mother snapped with a deep frown.
“Leave the boy alone,” her husband countered, coming up behind her. He had removed his leather apron and was wiping his hands dry on the front of his cotton tunic, and although he had “washed” his hands in a bucket of water after leaving the forge, they were still black with ingrained dirt.
“I don’t want my children eating like pigs!” his wife retorted indignantly.
Her husband sighed. She was probably right, but he found it hard to criticize his crippled son. It was bad enough that he had to work so hard. They had sold all they had to pay for the trip to Jerusalem eight years ago, right after the accident. It had been a hellish trip, and his wife had miscarried a child on the way. It had taken almost eight months to reach Jerusalem, and by then they were nearly destitute, but they had still believed that a miracle would happen. So they had followed the Via Dolorosa on their knees with Sven between them, praying at each station of the cross for Christ to have mercy on their child.
There had been no miracle, and no money to return home. So Godwin had taken work as a journeyman (although he was a master at home), and his wife had worked as a laundress, hoping to save up money for a forge of their own. That wasn’t easy, not after the girls were born, and things had been going from bad to worse until Easter four years ago. That was when Godwin met an armorer, one of the Christian craftsmen from neighboring Syria who had answered the King’s call for settlers. The man had just had a falling-out with his son-in-law, and after seeing Godwin’s work had offered to make Godwin his heir. The only condition was that he work in his forge and look after him in his old age. Just being able to live here over the forge had been an improvement, but it wasn’t exactly independence. As the Syrian aged he needed more and more care, so Godwin’s wife had to give up working in the laundry. To make up for the loss of that income, Sven started working the bellows. Yet Godwin found himself learning new skills and techniques from the Syrian, which he had combined with his knowledge from home in Oslo. The Syrian had finally died four months ago, and they had barely had time to celebrate the start of a new life of independence when the disaster at Hattin struck.
Godwin sat down and handed his bowl to his wife. She filled it and then filled her own bowl before sitting down beside him. “Just why have you been working on that fancy sword?” she asked in a less querulous voice, now that they were all getting their supper. “No one ordered it, did they?”
“No,” Godwin admitted, “but when the Baron of Ibelin got Salah ad-Din’s safe-conduct to come to Jerusalem, it was on the condition that he come unarmed. He had to leave his sword behind.”
“I’m sure the Baron of Ibelin has lots of spare swords,” the armorer’s wife told her husband in exasperation. Godwin was such a dreamer! It had been his idea to come out to Jerusalem to cure their Sven, and look where they had ended—trapped in a city that was about to be besieged by heartless heathens!
“None with the arms of Ibelin on one side of the pommel and the arms of Jerusalem on the other, and inlaid with the words ‘Defender of Jerusalem’ in bronze,” Godwin answered proudly.
His wife gazed at him, appalled. “Why did you do that? No one else will buy it with the Ibelin arms in the pommel!”
“I don’t want anyone else to buy it. I’ve made it for the Baron of Ibelin, and I’m going to take it to him tomorrow.”
“You’d better ask a fair price—or you’ll get stuck with it!”
“I’m not going to charge him,” Godwin answered, jutting out his chin in defiance of the protest that was sure to follow. “I’m going to give it to him.”
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish