Osanna watched the white-hot piece of steel skitter off the anvil and reached to catch it without thinking. Closing her fingers around it, she realized she had imagined this before, calculated what it would take to hold the heat-softened edges of the heavy brick in a midnight thought, half-asleep and forgetful of realities.
It was lighter than she had imagined. But she was used to carrying them at the end of long-armed tongs, not seated in the center of her palm.
And it was hotter than she had imagined, almost hot enough to loop back around to a skin-biting chill. Osanna pressed a little harder at the sheets of ice sliding underneath the skin of her shoulder and arm, let it well up through the skin of her palm, turning to bright, liquid smoke. It thickened, filming between her hand and the shadowless metal, protected her calloused fingers with a more familiar heat.
Osanna took a deep breath and looked around the workshop, fires crackling in the tight silence.
Elodie had frozen, holding hammer and tongs against the anvil exactly where she had lost her grip on the steel. Her eyes were wide, too-white against ash-smudged cheeks, and her mouth was open. She had loosened her fingers over her tools, as if she didn’t want to own them, didn’t want to own her hands.
Dagny stood still for the space of one more breath, too far away to have done anything more than turn when she heard the gasp and clatter. She glanced from Osanna to Elodie and back, then took a quick sharp forward.
“Trest, baby, come here,” she murmured.
He tripped out from under Osanna’s hand.
Elodie watched him hurry toward his mother, all brown curls and narrow bones, and still couldn’t move.
Trest buried his face against Dagny’s hip. She held him tight, one hand pressed into his back, one brushing through his hair.
“M’sorry,” Trest said.
“It’s all right,” Dagny assured him immediately.
“Not s’posed t’be playing near the fires,” Trest said. He held onto her breeches tightly, sounded as if he might be crying.
“It’s all right,” Dagny repeated, tone light, bright for comfort. Prying him away from her leg, she picked him, pressed her cheek against his head, though he was getting too big to hold. He locked his arms around her neck. “We just won’t ever, ever do that again. Right?”
Trest nodded against her shoulder.
Carefully, Dagny slid her gaze to Elodie, and the girl nodded too. She wouldn’t make this mistake twice.
“San?” Ashlynn asked from the other side of the room. She was four steps from the other anvil, hammer on the floor behind her, as if she had been running for Trest as well. Osanna smiled at her, a little incredulous.
Ashlynn smiled back. “Do you want to put it down?”
Osanna shifted her thumb away from the hot steel, weighing it in her hand again. Gently, she set it back on the anvil in front of Elodie. Then she flexed her hand, let the ice-white smoke and heat drift away.
There was a long, red line across each of her fingers, and it ached instantly as she stretched the skin. She hadn’t quite been fast enough.
But she had held it.
My friends are thieves! They’ve run off with the first line of this piece to write fictions of their own. Be sure to check out all their stories to see more blacksmiths in action.