Maggie ignored Frey’s call, dragging her weapon case out of the temple. She paused, just for a moment, to consider if she could knock down the statue of the Leannán Sídhe with tools on hand. The claymore strapped to her back might make it through the stone, but it risked chipping the metal, so she shook her head and kept walking.
“Maggie!” Frey repeated, stepping out of the temple. “Stop!”
She stopped, whirling on the captain. “What?”
“You cannot abandon us like this.” Frey stalked up to her. “We need you on this mission. We need the information that Leanna has, and—”
“I don’t care!” Maggie was loosely aware of the way her shouting was causing a stir, attracting attention from the fae in the street. It didn’t stop her. “I came into this job wanting one thing, and you want me to throw that away!”
Frey didn’t shout in response; her tone was deadly calm. “I don’t know the agreement you set up with Blanche, it wasn’t my business, but you made a deal with Aunt Leanna on our behalf, and then you spat in her face and walked.”
“My assessment was over,” Maggie said, turning to glare at the statue that was looming over them. “She’s not worthy, she doesn’t deserve a sword from me.”
“Because she was holding back?”
She wheeled on Frey. “Because my legacy is not a game!”
The rest of the team was watching from the temple’s entrance. A few other supplicants, come to seek a trade with the Leannán Sídhe, were watching from behind them.
Fine, they can hear this too.
Maggie reached back and seized the handle of her claymore, drawing the blade, turning it sideways so it would catch the light in Frey’s eyes. “What is this?”
Frey was quick enough not to answer with the obvious. “It’s your passion.”
Maggie turned, snapping at a stranger walking by. “You. What’s the greatest sword in history?”
There were a couple answers that would have been reasonable, but she got the one she wanted. “Excalibur.”
“What did it do?”
“Uh… It protected Camelot?”
“Right. And who forged it?”
That got her a blank stare.
“Thanks,” Maggie said, though her tone was so harsh that the stranger just looked nervous. That she was holding up a massive broadsword probably didn’t help.
Frey cut in. “Wayland the Smith.”
“Alright, you know that, but where was he born? Who did he love? Why did he die?” Maggie asked, turning back towards Frey.
“Eh…” Frey didn’t have an answer.
“Do any of you know?” Maggie demanded, looking past Frey at the team, the supplicants, even turning to see if there were any history buffs watching the argument. Nobody had an answer. “Of course you don’t, because nobody cares about the smith. All they care about is the sword.”
Frey looked back at the temple. “What’s your point?”
“This sword isn’t just an object,” Maggie said, leaning her claymore forward. “It’s me. My legacy is only what I make, and when my time here is done, nobody’s going to remember Maggie, they’ll only remember the swords.”
Darius stepped forward. Apparently, he wanted to shove his foot into his mouth. “So make more. More swords, more chances to be remembered. What’s the problem?”
“What, so the steel I make can be so cheap and plentiful that it’s cluttering up pawn shops?” Maggie snapped. “You don’t understand how this works.”
Frey swallowed, her gaze darting down to the sword on her hilt. Maggie wasn’t exactly being subtle with her disdain at the moment. “Maggie…”
“I don’t blame you for buying that sword. You didn’t turn my predecessor’s legacy into a joke. You just got the spoils after the fact.” Maggie looked down. “It just shows that nobody’s going to protect my name if I don’t do it myself.”
Vera snorted from the doorway, stalking up to Maggie. “This is crap, you know.”
“I didn’t ask you,” Maggie said.
“What matters more?” Vera asked, raising her hands and making air quotes. “Your ‘Legacy’, or those kids we saved today?”
“Those kids didn’t ask me to throw away—”
“Who cares about them now?” Vera asked. “Sure, they’re safe today. But if we don’t get the information we need from our Auntie, and we get slaughtered down there as a result, who’s going to save them next time?”
“You don’t need that information. Darius said that we’d killed most of the nest, and—”
“Darius is fine and all, but he’s not thousands of years old and he doesn’t have the best knowledge of ancient powers this side of the mortal world. He’s kind of winging it.” Vera glanced back at Darius. “No offence, pal.”
“We don’t have any reason to distrust his intel right now,” Maggie said. “Even taking into account that he didn’t know about the queen—”
“Hah!” Vera stepped right up to Maggie’s face. “You don’t believe that. I can tell.”
Maggie didn’t have a response. Vera wasn’t wrong.
“Fine,” Maggie said, holstering her claymore and turning to her cello bag. Grabbing the zipper, she yanked it with a lot more force than was strictly necessary, opening the whole pack. “Fine.”
Frey took a step back, putting a hand on the hilt of her blade. “What are you doing?”
Maggie looked at her options, but there was really only one good choice. She took one of the two paired swords, taking it out and tossing it on the ground. “Give that to the Leannán Sídhe. It killed a Petraform queen, that’s got to be enough legacy for one piece of steel.”
Frey hesitated. For a moment, Maggie thought she might try and talk her out of it, but she didn’t. She just picked the sword up off the ground and waited.
“As far as I’m concerned, this settles our bill. Tell Blanche I expect to be paid in full, for my work, and for the sword,” Maggie added, not looking back as she zipped up the bag. “And if you ever need a fifth member for your team again, call someone else. I’m done.”
She ignored him.
“Maggie. Come down here and tell me what’s wrong.”
Glancing down, Maggie considered disobeying. Cyrus was getting older, and he couldn’t climb up in the shop’s rafters to make her come down. If she wanted to stay up and brood, there was nothing that could stop her.
“Please. I would like to talk.”
That addition tipped the scales. It wasn’t an order; it was a request.
Putting a hand on one of the beams that held up the roof, Maggie jumped down, dropping the twelve feet or so to the shop floor.
Cyrus winced. “Oh, to have young bones again,” he said.
“You’re not that old,” Maggie said, pushing his chest lightly. “You can still toss me around the practice mat easy enough.”
“I don’t have to move much to do that. You exhaust yourself just fine without any input from me,” he pointed out, putting his hands on his hips and leaning away from her to stretch his back. “You’d beat me in a foot race, no question.”
“Then it’s a good thing you don’t need to race to be a swordfighter,” Maggie said. “‘Old man’.”
He chuckled, but wouldn’t be distracted from his initial goal. “So. Talk to me. Why were you up in the rafters?”
Maggie swallowed, looking away. “It’s… You’ve been good to me, Cyrus.”
He got it. “You saw my books.”
“I noticed when you started locking them up,” Maggie admitted. “It got me curious, so… yeah. I lifted your keys. Sorry.”
Cyrus didn’t look mad, but his ears twitched and his shoulders slumped. “I wish you hadn’t.”
She looked at the floor, shuffling her feet. “I know you’re disappointed.”
“Disappointed? No. I just didn’t want you to see that, Maggie. You don’t need to worry about that stuff.”
They were in the red. Even with business slowly crawling its way back, Cyrus’s finances just hadn’t recovered from the crash. Moving to a smaller shop, borrowing money from Hopkins, taking the jobs he sent their way—it had all helped in the short term, but they just weren’t paying the bills. Worse, the war in Europe had made the price of raw materials go up quite a bit, and there was talk of rationing soon if things stuck their course.
“I should leave,” Maggie said. “I’ve got five dollars squirreled away. I can go find work in a factory. Lots of factories are hiring these days, and you’d be doing better without a second mouth to feed.”
“No.” Cyrus put a hand on her shoulder. “Maggie, no. I’m not going to kick you off because of a rough patch.”
“Ten years isn’t a rough patch! You’ve been burning through everything you had to keep me around, and—”
“And I need you here,” Cyrus insisted. “To do the things I won’t be able to. I can’t lift a hammer forever, and someone needs to pick it up when I retire.”
Maggie turned, looking around the workshop. It was a little cramped compared to their old space, but still had the room and equipment for two people to work together without getting in each other’s way. A smaller space, for only one person to work, would have been cheaper.
“What’s it matter if I can help you sixty or seventy years from now, if you can’t afford to keep the lights on today?” Maggie asked.
“I’ve got a plan,” Cyrus replied, glancing out the window. “I’ve… kept a list, for a while. For emergencies.”
Perking up, Maggie faced him. “A list?”
“People who failed their test when they came to me for a sword,” Cyrus explained. “Ones who could fight, but not as well as our usual standards.”
Maggie hesitated. “But—”
“I know it’s not ideal,” Cyrus conceded. “But none of them are amateurs. I sent out letters to some of them already and have four replies. Three of them said yes and sent a check with their deposit. Turns out, quite a few of our cousins are fighting in the war, and even with all that modern weaponry they still want some of our steel to back them up.”
Blinking, Maggie asked, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
He frowned a little. “I was waiting until tomorrow, when the ore I ordered arrives and we can get to work. It was going to be a surprise.”
Maggie did the math in her head. “You said three said yes… Three out of how many?”
“Just the first eight. I’ve got another twenty or so letters I can send, from the most skilled of the failed applicants over the past fifty years. And some more replies might just be waiting in the mail. I only sent these out a couple weeks ago.”
Maggie brightened. “That’s… That’s enough cash to keep us in the black ‘till the end of the year! Longer, even!”
Cyrus nodded. “And if we lower things to just, ‘Beat me in a swordfight’, instead of, ‘Beat me easily’, we’ll be able to bring in new customers, too. It’s enough to turn things around for a good long while.”
“It doesn’t bother you?” Maggie asked, glancing at his eyes.
His ears twitched a little, but he shook his head. “My old standards were half there just because I couldn’t keep up with demand otherwise.” Reaching out, he ruffled Maggie’s hair. “With you around to help, we’ll be able to stay on top of orders no matter how fast they come in.”
Maggie chuckled, but pushed his hand away and straightened her hair with a couple fingers. “Cyrus, I’m not a kid.”
“Anyone born this century is still a little bit ‘kid’ as far as I’m concerned,” he said. “Now, since you know what’s up, let’s get this shop clean and ready for some major production. We’ve got swords to make.”
Chapter Thirteen of this story is already up on Patreon, if you can’t wait to read it! I’m trying to get out a chapter a week, so if you’re patient you can read it here in a few days.