There was something else in the box after Kelaia lifted the last sword out of the crate. Either that, or straw and cloth wrappings started to clink after a long trip over oceans. Ramsey couldn’t imagine a caking of sea salt that could make so sweet a sound. She nudged it to the side with her toe, and it clinked again, a clipped chime under the groan of wood against the floor. Ramsey flicked a look down at the crate, then up at Kelaia.
She didn’t appear to notice the noise, running one hand down cloth wrapping around the sheathed blade to brush off hanging straw. Unwinding the cloth next, she kept the heavy fabric between her hands and engraved sheath as she laid it on the counter in front of Ramsey.
He didn’t blame her for keeping her fingers away from the shining strings of gold and silver laid into the metal sheath. The thin lines chased each other around, halfway between defining themselves as scales, and wavering as white water waves. It was such a pretty thing. They always were. He held a moment of hesitation before he lifted it himself, feeling the weight in his hands. When he drew it, he drew it slowly, to feel the balance and to echo the thin blade’s grace.
The cool steel gleamed in the sunlight coming in through the window. While the afternoon had painted the floors and walls in deep yellows, the blade held steady as a line of white and silver. Only the end deigned to curve, and even there it was a slow sweep, an elegant nod, not a bow. When he turned the blade from side to side, there was the vaguest mottling, as if the swordsmith had hammered silver fish scales flat with their subtle rainbow variance to make the perfect metal.
Ramsey swung the blade to hear the edge whistle, and watch for any undesirable waver between hilt and blade. It almost hummed. And it held steady. They always did.
He slid the sword back into its sheath.
“Yeah,” he said. “That will do.”
Kelaia smiled at the exasperated awe in his tone. It was poor professionalism, guaranteed to make sure he’d get no haggling out of her, but they’d known each other long enough that it didn’t really matter. She would ask a little more than she wanted for them, and he would give her just a little less than she asked.
“So, you’ll take them all?” she asked.
Ramsey turned to look down the line of swords on his right, and counted them. Eight in all, and they wouldn’t last the month in his shop. And she wouldn’t be back with the next lot for at least six.
“I will take them all,” Ramsey agreed.
“Four hundred a piece?” she asked him.
He leaned forward over the counter without responding. “I would take more,” he said.
Her smile turned crooked, turning up at the left side as she looked at him. “Of course, you would,” she said. “Because they sell better than anything your local smiths can come up with. Four hundred?”
“What are you holding back?” Ramsey asked.
She started to reply. Then she just shut her mouth and looked at him questioningly.
He pointed one finger down at the crate. “What else is in the crate?”
Kelaia blinked. Moving slowly, she knelt down and drew one more sword out of the straw. It was wrapped in the same gray, heavy cloth as the others, and was about as long. Straightening up, she held it for a long moment, holding Ramsey’s eye. She didn’t unwrap it before she put it down on the counter.
“I have three of these,” she said. She spoke, and then she moved, carefully undoing the ties and pulling the cloth back.
There was no silver or gold on this blade. The handle was wrapped with plain leather, and the sheath was a dull metal that couldn’t decide whether it was black or gray. It was almost ugly, except that it still had that sweeping stroke, that delicate curve.
Ramsey looked at the sword, then up at her, eyes narrowed in question.
She didn’t wait for him to pick it up. She turned the sword over once, showing another plain side to hilt and sheath, then drew it herself.
She didn’t move slowly. She yanked it free. There was no whine of metal, no hiss against the padding. It came free in perfect silence, and the blade looked like a shadow following her hand.
The metal was dull and black and did nothing in the sunlight. She turned it, spun it around her hand, held it out in front of her. It never caught the light, but it moved perfectly, with just the faintest hum.
“It’s called a Glintless,” Kelaia told him.
Ramsey took his attention off the blade to meet her eye as he listened, but she was looking at the length of steel in her hand. He waited, while she spun the blade again, but she didn’t look up. If she hadn’t spoken, Ramsey might have believed Kelaia had forgotten he was there.
“There are times when you want surprise,” she continued. “And however quiet you are, sometimes just the light on the end of your blade gives you away. And sometimes that gets you killed. Or it just doesn’t win you your fight.”
Drawing a breath, quiet and long, Ramsey pushed himself up off the counter. She was staring at the black sword, so he let himself as well, listening carefully to make sure this was going where he thought it was.
“So, smiths have started experimenting with what they can do to keep the metal from shining,” Kelaia said. “Mostly, they just make their swords as usual, because they don’t know how to get a metal that doesn’t shine, but does hold an edge. Then they coat the metal in something else. Paint. Scuff. Cloth glued over top. It works, but the coatings chip away in a fight, and you have to keep recovering them.
“Except for the Glintless.”
Ramsey looked up at her again, not surprised when he found her suddenly watching him as well.
“It was an apprentice’s mistake,” Kelaia said. “But they can change the steel in the forge, and it doesn’t chip, and definitely holds an edge.” She spun it one more time, as fast as she could, to let it sing as it cut the air.
“It’s amazing,” Ramsey breathed. He glanced down the curve of the blade again. He met her eye carefully. “You have three?”
“How much?” Ramsey asked.
“They’re already promised to a Captain I know,” Kelaia said. She sheathed the sword with a click, and set it down on its cloth.
“How much?” Ramsey asked again. “I can beat whatever he offered.”
She paused for just a moment as she started to tie it into its wrappings again. “No,” she said. It was more serious than Ramsey had expected.
“I have the money,” he assured her.
“I won’t sell you these,” she told him.
He grabbed her arm to stop her before she put the sword back in the crate. “Why not?” he demanded.
“You really think we would trust something like this to anyone outside Clan?” she asked, voice low.
Stunned, Ramsey looked down at the leather band wrapped around her wrist. He had forgotten, he realized. She walked so easily into his shop, and they talked so smoothly that he had forgotten she belonged to an island and a fleet and an ocean that barred him from entry. He blinked at the twin snakes stamped into the leather. Then he let her go.
“I’m sorry,” she said. She didn’t sound like she was.
He waved it away. “Please. Don’t. Don’t worry about it.”
She nodded carefully.
Turning, Ramsey touched the first sword in the line on his right. “I’ll give you three hundred a piece.”
Kelaia blinked. “Four hundred,” she said.
“Three hundred,” Ramsey repeated firmly.
She looked down, and nodded a little to herself. “Three-seventy-five,” she said.
“Three twenty-five,” Ramsey returned.
She shook her head, at him this time, and looked away. “Done,” she said, and held out her hand.