Journeyman Alzri had spent very little time around the glass smiths in his two turns at Igen Hold. He'd seen the small pottery workshop maybe twice, and never seen inside their kiln. Newly assigned to Southern Boll, he had to ask for directions twice before he located the outer workshop. The metal wheels distracted him, clay-stained as they were and driven by a clever foot-pedal, but after a few minutes of investigation he remembered his mission continued out the back in search of the kiln. Even coming from a particularly hot, steamy day outside, the outbuilding's dry heat slapped him in the face as he stepped inside and pulled the sliding metal door shut behind him.
Cooling racks on the walls were filled with finished glazed material, ready for sale, while the single brick structure of the kiln itself dominated the room's center. A metal rack on wheels sat to the side of the kiln's open doors and women's voices filtered through from somewhere on the other side of it. Well, a woman's and a girl's.
"We keep records for every firing so we can see how much heat you need for what kind of effect. Do you understand?"
An obedient girl's voice, high and suspicious: "Yes."
The woman's voice continued patiently explaining. "And do you see how the liquid in this column is higher than the other? That's how hot the kiln got this time."
"That's really hot."
Alzri grinned and rapped his knuckles on the metal door. "Hello!"
"Come on back," the woman called, so he threaded his way between shelves to the kiln's open doors. Journeywoman Tirmia was his height but lanky; the girl with her was barely of apprentice age, very short and wearing her curly brown hair tied back with a piece of string.
"Good evening, Journeyman," the girl said brightly, looking up at him from where she sat on the floor beside the kiln.
"Good evening. Good evening, Tirmia. I didn't know you had an apprentice."
"Not yet," Tirmia said cheerfully, offering a hand to shake. "Korley, this is Journeyman Alzri. He's a stone smith and he'll be helping us fix the kiln."
Alzri nodded, smiling back at the girl. "You said it wasn't hot enough?"
"It's very hot," Korley told him.
"It's very hot but not as hot as we need," Tirmia corrected her. "Nor holding constant temperature throughout the firing. I've checked the records and I think it's structural, but I can't find the problem."
Alzri reached for the notebook she offered and flipped through the pages. Tirmia's handwriting was tiny, every fingerwidth of the paper used, but intolerably neat in the same way as his, in the way of most smiths. He was pleased to see it, and said so. "This is good record-keeping."
"Thank you," she replied, handing a pair of tongs to Korley. Alzri glanced at her again, surreptitiously taking a closer look as she directed Korley in removing the blocks of wood which formed shelves.
"Is there a secret to the shelves?" Korley asked her. Tirmia nodded and opened her mouth to speak but Alzri, trying to be both friendly and funny, interjected with his first thought, “Make sure they don’t fall down?” and a loud laugh.
"That's the idea," Tirmia agreed, pursing her lips. "Korley, you'll get different exposure of the heat to the glazes depending if there's a fingerlength or five between pieces and wood blocks. That’s why it’s going to be so important to begin your own recordkeeping -- each firing gives you more data so you can begin to correlate input variables and the resulting patterns."
Korley accepted this with a small nod and deftly reached in to remove a vase, placing it on the metal cart. Thunder rolled in the distance but she didn't even look up.
"It seems like we've had storms every day since I arrived," Alzri remarked, watching them at their work. "Is this common?"
"Throughout the rest of the summer," Tirmia told him absently, stepping around him to start accepting kilnware from Korley so the unloading would go faster. "It's why we're so green."
"I came from Igen Hold," Alzri said. "The green is sure a nice change."
Tirmia sat back on her heels and looked up at him. "Journeyman, I know where you came from. We were introduced at the last Market Day, and you told me then. Do you mind taking a look at that notebook and giving me your expert opinion?"
Well, he'd been told she was direct, but really, that was so abrupt as to be nearly rude. Alzri frowned, gesturing with the notebook. "There's no need to be sharp about it," he said. "By the time you empty that kiln it'll be dark, and tomorrow's Thread. I'll be busy on ground crew."
"We'll both be on ground crew," she reminded him. "Every hand in the Hold helps."
"Well that's true. I just meant, I can't really take a look today."
She stared up at him with a very unfriendly face but didn't say anything.
"Shards, Tirmia, can I talk to you outside for a minute?"
"Let's." She rose, pushing the wheeled cart nearer to Korley’s unloading efforts, and followed him out through the labyrinth of shelves. Now he understood the use of the covered walk between kiln and workshop to shield them from the pelting rain.
He took a deep breath, marshalling his thoughts, and said, "I didn't want to say this in front of your girl, but you're not really being very helpful."
Tirmia looked taken aback. "Journeyman, I asked for a stone smith to take a look at our kiln and see if you can see something we can't. That's my records book, the kiln's right there, and you haven't even asked to see kiln's design. Much less the kiln itself."
Nodding, Alzri could see she'd missed the point of being friendly. They'd barely just met! "It's really too late to take a look tonight."
"It's light for another hour at least," Tirmia countered. "And I asked for you yesterday."
"Smiths are hardly at the beck and call of-- well, we're very busy."
Exasperated, Tirmia crossed her arms. "Yes. I'm aware."
"I didn't mean--"
"Just come back in and see what we've got going here. Take a look and we'll talk, day after tomorrow."
"All right." He didn't really know what else to say. They returned through the racks to where Korley was making good time at her work. Alzri handed Tirmia her notebook and watched Korley for a minute, looking at the impressive metal door on the kiln. "The important effects are going to be occuring inside," he said, "Because of the heat--"
"Yes, I'm aware of the effect of firing temperatures on a variety of materials," Tirmia snapped. Alzri gave her a sideways look. This girl was cracked.
"How long does it take to cool?"
"It'll stand empty all night so it'll be ready in the morning, but as you said, we'll have Thread. Even starting at dawn, it's a given that we'll lose the afternoon to groundsweeps. The Hold usually throws a feast in the evening to celebrate."
Alzri had a sudden thought, based on what he remembered hearing about her from his peers. "Do you think your dragonrider will come around?"
Tirmia's brow furrowed and said sharply, "Excuse me?”
“Blast, Tirmia, it’s not a secret. Your brownrider from Fort, the broken one. I was just asking.”
“I have no idea, Journeyman. And I'm fairly sure he considers himself the Weyr's dragonrider, not mine, and speaking of Thread tomorrow, Journeyman, my apprentice and I have to finish our work and fasten the hatches before dark. Korley?"
"Yes, ma'am." The girl reached for another block of wood. Tirmia gave Alzri a direct look over Korley's head.
"Day after tomorrow, Journeyman. We'll give this another try."
"Of course." Alzri felt rather lost. "Thank you. I'll just... let myself out."
"Do. Korley, stop a breath and look at the process. Is that top shelf going to stay up there if you keep twisting here and there beneath it? Are you a tunnelsnake?"
Korley inspected the insides, chewing the inside of her lip. "Noooo..."
Alzri escaped, feeling embarrassed, resentful, and thoroughly at a loss.
It was days like that one, when the thunderstorms started at dawn and showed no sign of diminishing, that Tirmia missed the cool, dry, overcast skies of Telgar. By Faranth, she’d even take the endless, scorching summer afternoons of Igen’s desert. She hung up her outer jacket in the small studio and pulled on her coveralls, then walked along the covered walk to the kiln's outbuilding as she mentally organized her day.
Having Korley around surely did make the time go faster, bringing to the work an extra pair of hands and an enthusiasm Tirmia hadn't realized she'd been missing. Her journeyman study at Igen Hold had been intense but thoroughly adult; the four recent Turns at Southern Boll had been fairly solitary. Korley brought a child's eye for delightful details that recentered her in the fundamentals of her craft.
And now, along came Journeyman Alzri with his frustrating inability to concentrate on the work. She hoped his patronizing behavior was temporary, as it often was when her peers in the stone and metal crafts first encountered women running their own workspaces, but she resolved to mention Alzri to Master Benet if it continued.
In the meantime, she put on a cheerful face and kept an eye out for Korley. Their arrangement of daily teaching was still new enough that Korley could never follow a particular schedule of her own. Her mother and brothers set the routine of the cot and, though her parents were supportive, Tirmia and smithing were a distant second priorities.
Soon enough though, Tirmia could see the youngster pelting down the pasture road through the downpour. Breathing hard, Korley skidded to a stop under the covered walk and flailed her arms to shake off the water. It was a wonder, Tirmia thought, that she and her enthusiasm could both fit in their tight workspaces.
"Good morning, Journeywoman!"
"'Morning, Korley. You look like a dolphineer."
The girl joined her in the kiln room, oblivious to her dripping. "I told my father about fixing the kiln and he thought it was a great project."
"That's a good sign." Tirmia snagged a towel from the stack by the door and tossing it at her young charge.
Korley caught it but frowned. "I don't mind the wet."
"You're going to drip on my notebook, wasting my paper and ruining my records?" Tirmia countered, affecting a stern tone.
"Oh." Chastened, Korley toweled off her hair and squeezed out her blouse; Tirmia handed her a length of tie for her shoulder-length curls, for Korley always forgot her own. Tirmia was sure she had an enormous pile somewhere in her cot. Perhaps, when Tirmia was able to meet her mother properly, she could ask -- or not, for she remembered how wonderful it had been to be a young apprentice, away from family and treated like a young adult, and it wouldn’t be proper to remind her mother that she still had many of a child’s habits.
In any case, their first project was to finish unloading the now-cool kiln, Korley doing most of the physical work while she peppered Tirmia with questions. Tirmia, on the other hand, set to work reviewing her data. Three Turns of Journeywork at Boll had taught her the value of visuals and she used them now to quantifiably work the results for her temperatures, the process, and the layout of the bisque in the kiln. No, the problem had to be structural.
"Can we fix the kiln today?" Korley asked.
"Once I've got these numbers fixed in my mind."
"Didn't you have them all last time?"
"I'm doing them again so I can be sure before I show them to Journeyman Alzri."
Korley made a dismissive sound. "Will he look at them this time?"
"Shrewd girl." Tirmia didn't outright smile but her lips quirked, and she could see Korley's wide grin. "You keep that to yourself."
"I will. Sometimes my mother has to say things a lot to make my father listen."
"How old are you? Thirty?" Tirmia teased.
"No, twelve and twelve months."
"That's right, I remember. You know, I think I'd like to meet your mother."
"Don't you have to meet her anyway before I can be your apprentice?"
"Yes. And you have to meet Master Benet before you can be my apprentice."
"I've met him."
"But he has to meet YOU."
"My father introduced me at a Market Day!"
"Would he remember you if you went up to him and said hello?"
Tirmia waved her notebook at the kiln. "Back to work! How can Alzri check the structure if he can't see the structure?"
Korley turned back to her work without a parting shot, as she always did, which sometimes made conversations with her jarring. Tirmia suspected life in Korley's home, a Hold guard's cot with an older brother following his father into the militia, had accustomed the girl to allowing others the parting shot. In the meantime, Korley seemed to know when she could be impertinent and when to take care in her words, an awareness that made the idea of taking her as an apprentice very appealing.
They worked in companionable quiet then, Korley making only occasional 'oops' noises as she bumped things or arranged them differently. At least, it was quiet until Korley placed the small frontispiece of a commissioned indoor fountain on the rack and paused, flicking the reins on another one of her endless caravans of logic.
"So this kiln is made mostly of brick."
Tirmia nodded absently, rubbing away an errant result with her thumb.
"And we make bricks in the kiln."
"Well, in another sort of oven, but the principle applies."
Korley pressed on, undeterred. "And this kiln got built by just stacking the bricks according to smith plans, which can be done by anybody."
"... well, there's more but that's it in a firelizard egg."
"But if it's that easy, why do we have to ask Journeyman Alzri to fix things today?"
Tirmia hrmed. "Because he's an expert."
"You're an expert, too."
"In glazes and materials and things. Not so much in building structures."
"You said I have to learn stone and metal and glass and ... the other one."
"Star, and you do, and you will. But only enough of them to get yourself in trouble. Every smith has a specialty."
"I like pottery."
Tirmia decided that her calculations were probably correct, or at least good enough to be worthy of a thorough and spirited defense, and closed the notebook. "Can you keep quiet and continue unloading that batch while I talk?"
Korley's eyes lit up: "Yes, ma'am!"
Tirmia smiled and leaned against the kiln, crossing her arms. "Then I'll tell you about the time I was your age, when I wanted to be a stone smith..."
Journeyman Alzri came around in the early afternoon, after the midday meal, dripping from the downpour. Tirmia was mixing glazes in the workroom, stirring in time with the rhythm of Korley's pottery wheel. When she saw him in the doorway, she deftly capped the glaze pot and placed it sefly on the table.
"You okay, Korley?" she asked, glancing at the half-formed bowl on the wheel. "Mm-hmm," Korley murmured, concentrating fiercely. The girl's technique was improving but she still tried to force the clay instead of coax it. When Alzri'd finished his work, Tirmia decided she'd sit down and work through a demo lesson. Perhaps a plate. Maybe a vase. Something different.
The two journeymen walked side by side down the covered walk to the kiln building. Tirmia handed Alzri her records but he barely glanced at the book before he placed it on a rack, opting instead to lean into the kiln's mouth. His examination took only a few minutes, loud loud hems and haws and huhs following him around as he inspected the outside of the structure.
"So the brick looks like it ought to be completely replaced," he announced, wiping his grimy hands on his pants. "Because I really don't see how that's losing so much heat. Do you think it might be your temperature measurements?"
A purely qualitative announcement for a purely qualitative exam. Tirmia sighed, suppressing her frustration. She could've done this just as well. "I baked metal rods to verify temperature," she said firmly. "As well as liquid measurements. The kiln isn't hot enough."
"No change in wood?"
"Journeyman, I know how to troubleshoot. The only thing that's left is the structure of the kiln. If it was a crack I could just repair or replace specific bricks."
Alzri looked offended. "I can't see anything. You might have to just build a new one, then. But that's a lot of work."
"I have Korley," Tirmai said. "And I'm sure if I put the word out, I'd be up to my ears in laborers if Master Benet authorizes a few marks for their trouble."
"About the girl," Alzri said, frowning. "I meant to say, you just let her sit in the workshop by herself?"
Tirmia's first absurd thought was that exposure to Korley should've trained her to handle abrupt changes in topic gracefully by now. Maybe she was just out of practice dealing with men who couldn’t hear the way their words came out. "You disapprove?” she asked sharply. “She'll be out here for the repairs but with all her questions she'd only be in the way while you're discovering the problem."
Failing to discover the problem, she wanted to say, but didn’t.
"Which I just said is probably the wood," he reminded her, testy. "The brick's fine. There's no gaps and I'm not seeing any cracking. But there's nobody else in the workshop and she’s not even of age for the knot."
"The others are at the forge working glass for a commission this morning and there's a seminar this afternoon."
"I'm just-- she's not even properly apprenticed. How can she be making things?"
Tirmia nearly rolled her eyes, but settled for crossing her arms instead. "It's not like stone, Journeyman. I've trained her in the basic process and now she's getting a feel for the rhythm and the clay. Anything she makes or breaks, she just kneads back into another ball for another try. None of it will go to market."
This didn't satisfy Alzri, who continued shaking his head. "I don't mean to step on your toes but it just seems ... inadvisable. What if we have visitors, to see a young girl with no supervision just sitting in there in a skilled craft's workroom?"
"That ‘young girl’ will be wearing an apprentice knot before too much longer, Journeyman, and it’s no different from a young boy we’re preparing for the Hall. If we have visitors in this downpour then she'll holler and I'll go in to show them around." Alzri opened his mouth but Tirmia, angry, cut him off. "You’re new here, Journeyman. You should ask around. I know this business."
Well, that took the wind out from under his wings. "I'm not trying to--" ... and the words from his lips, apparently. "I don't mean to imply you don't know your work, Journeywoman, but we can't have holdfolk wandering in the forge. They might be hurt. I'm from the Hall and the rules are quite clear. Apprentices in the north go directly to the Hall to train."
Tirmia looked directly at him. "I'm from the Hall too, Journeyman. Telgar-born, Hall-trained, Journeywork under Master Ragen at Igen Hold until four turns past."
That brought him up short, that she’d preceded him in the desert. "Well,” he said, but it came out as more of a whine. “Now you're just not making this easy."
"Making what easy?"
Tirmia refrained from rolling her eyes. "This is an apology?"
"I was getting to it!"
Tirmia knew, absolutely knew she shouldn't push further, and yet. Out of nowhere, she wondered where the brownrider N'trien had been these past few sevendays. Her brownrider friend understood the frustrations of fitting in, having been a simple Hold laborer before he Impressed, and he'd treated her as a respected fellow adult once his crush had worn off.
Certainly he'd only ever wanted to learn pottery from her, not tell her how he thought she ought to do it. But two Markets had passed since she’d seen him and this was exactly the sort of thing she’d have liked to commiserate with him about.
"I don't have to put up with this behavior from you, Journeyman," she told him icily, explicitly not acknowledging his attempted apology. "If you're not going to respect my workspace and my knot, I'd appreciate it if you went back where you came from."
"What?! You invited me here!"
"I invited a colleague in a closely related craft, of which I do have some knowledge, to consult. I did not invite a critique of my record keeping, my craft knowledge, and my conduct with regards to my apprentice!" Tirmia felt the thrill of nearly losing control, so she made dierct eye contact with him, focusing all her anger into her gaze as he got angry right back at her:
"Well, I don't have to put up with this! You don't want a colleague, you want some silent drudge to tell you what the problem is in your kiln, the care of which is your responsibility! I'm a journeyman stonesmith. I came over here as a favor."
"Get out, Journeyman!"
"I'll see Master Benet about this!" he shot back and stalked up the walkway to the workshop.
Tirmia rolled her eyes so hard they hurt, then stood, arms tightly crossed, for the long minutes it took for her heart to stop pounding. Benet she could handle. He’d only ever treated her with professional courtesy. She looked back at the kiln and rolled her eyes again, this time furious at herself. Well, shards. It still needed to be repaired.
Tirmia worked in the wet room through the rest of the afternoon, enjoying the oppressive quiet of the thick walls. This was the room where the unfinished clays were stored to dry slowly, waiting for their last turn round the wheel. She liked the cool damp in contrast to Southern Boll's monsoon season, for the thick smells of the room always brought to mind her Telgar apprenticeship.
She was rearranging the shelves, shaking her head at one young journeyman's hurried work, when she heard voices in the wheelroom. Unwilling to reveal unsightly work to a visitor, she left the unsatisfactory plate on the shelf and closed the door firmly behind her.
To her surprise, Master Benet sat attentively on a stool beside Korley at her wheel, watching her as she carefully explained the different types of clay. When Tirmia appeared, the master caught her eye and lifted one hand to stay her approach, out of Korley's sight, allowing the girl -- the apprentice, if this process continued as well as it had begun -- to finish.
"... and then I must take care not to use too much slip, or it becomes too wet and won't hold a shape. Tirmia had me reclaim the slip in the big basin yesterday."
"She's a journeywoman to you," Benet reminded her, but gently. "But I'm glad to hear she's teaching you well."
"She's a very good journeywoman to me," Korley said, with a charm Tirmia suspected she kept up her sleeve just for these occasions. "I can't keep anything I make, of course, but I wish I could."
"Ah, but that's every apprentice's tale of woe and even I can't bend craft rules. Keep on as you are and you'll get there quickly, I'm sure of it." Tirmia, who had only spoken with Benet rarely, and only in a professional capacity, found herself both delighted and surprised at his kindness.
Of course, she ought not to be surprised. He'd earned the master's posting presiding a liberal southern hold's entire smith population, stonemen and metalmen and potters alike. Faranth knew she'd never want that job.
Tirmia made no move to enter the room as he asked, “Does your mother approve of your spending your time here?"
"She does," Korley agreed readily. "My father and my brothers are all guards. She always says I ought to learn a trade, and now she says, well, she’s pleased I’ve found something I like."
"Indeed,” Benet agreed, clasping both hands around one knee. “Now, I know your father. You understand what I mean when I say he's a lucky man for marrying your mother?"
"Good. Ah, here comes your teacher now, I think." Benet looked over Korley's head and beckoned Tirmia with a quick nod. "Join us, Journeywoman."
"Good afternoon, Master Benet."
"Good afternoon, Journeywoman. Shall we walk to see this kiln of yours?"
"I think so." Tirmia shot Korley a quick smile behind Benet's back, though she expected that he saw it, and followed him down the walk to the kiln building.
"Her father has agreed to the apprenticeship," he said quietly. "Do you have a knot?"
"It's on my short list of things to do," Tirmia replied. "I was coming to see you tomorrow."
"Yes, I expect you were. Alzri came to see me early this afternoon."
Tirmia nodded, pursing her lips, not saying anything lest she harm her case. Benet was already slipping back into his usual gruff demeanor. "Please trust that I understand the situation," he asked, which could have been trite words but the way he said them made her suspect he actually did see beneath Alzri’s complaint.
“I do, sir.”
"Then I'll say to you now what I said when you arrived four Turns ago: I've worked with excellent women in this craft and I bear you no grudge. The ceramics are better for your presence and our reputation for research has reached the Hall. Your position is in no danger -- but we can't have this sniping between journeyfolk."
"Yes, sir,” she repeated. He nodded, left those as his last words on the subject, and together they stepped into the kiln room. He allowed her give him the tour and began to ask the simple questions Alzri should have asked. Tirmia explained the problem and felt gratified when he actually examined her record book.
"This is a difficult decision," he agreed, after they'd both spent the better part of an hour examining the kiln itself and discussing the problem. For the first time in the four Turns at Southern Boll, Tirmia felt utterly competent and appreciated. Both Benet and Korley were treating her as if she was completely trustworthy. It was such a small thing, and yet she felt overcome by satisfaction.
"I have a suggestion," she said. At his lifted eyebrow, she patted the kiln and said ruefully, "It was here when I arrived, sir. I think it's time for a replacement."
Nodding, Benet shoved his hands in his pockets. "I thought you might say that. What's your plan?"
"We can empty the building and draw up the design ourselves, but I'd like to put out a call for a handful of laborers. Not for a sevenday or two, so we can finalize the designs and put in the order for new bricks. We’ll need laborers to tear down the old kiln, take out the material, bring up the new material from the stoneyard, and build to specification? Myself and a journeyman stonesmith to oversee the work? Most of the hold won't know it ever happened, but the work should go quickly."
"How do you propose to attract your laborers?"
Tirmia met his eyes and said, with quiet confidence, "I'd hoped we could pay them with smith marks from the general fund."
Benet barely gave it a thought before he nodded. "I agree. Pick a date and draft the proposal; I'll speak with the Lady, appraise her of the situation, and also perhaps with Korley’s father. His guards might be willing to pitch a hand. In fact, I think it'll do your apprentice there good to have a brief ceremony before the morning meal, get her badged and knotted. The guards'll come if if it's one of their kin wearing craft colors."
As easy as that. Of course, it would be. Tirmia felt relieved. "Thank you, sir."
Master Benet nodded and they walked together back up to the wheel room, to find Korley was sweeping bits of clay from the corners and chatting with the two journeymen glass smiths who shared their space.
"He always surprises me, too," one of them told Tirmia, once Benet had bid them all a good afternoon and gone.
"What did he say?" Korley piped up.
Tirmia couldn't help but smile at the memory of the whole conversation. "He said we're to build a new kiln, hiring laborers for smith marks, and you've got an appointment this sevenday with the weavercraft."
Korley beamed right back at her journeywoman. "I told you he knew my father."
Though he presided over all smithing at Southern Boll Hold, Master Benet didn't often pay much attention to his ceramics workshop. The small workshop and its connected kiln barn was located on the far side of the small glassworks building, which was itself a walk from the forge and dorms. The few glass smiths who'd made clay and glazes their life's work bore the master no grudge for his absence.
"He's a metal man," one of them told Korley, their probationary apprentice, when she asked why he rarely came around. On that day, Master Benet was visiting the kiln barn with Journeywoman Tirmia. "He'll probably do whatever Tirmia asks; he lets her run the place. He'll let us be just as long as we keep raking in the marks and making a good name for Craft and Hold alike."
"It's not like that everywhere," the second journeyman added. He was called Tabs, a tall man in his early twenties and the youngest of the three. "Some masters lurk in the corners, sure you're not working if your wheel isn't spinning."
Voices drifted in, preceding the master and his journeywoman. Korley hopped to her feet and seized a broom, setting at sweeping her bits of clay from the corners to make a good impression. Master Benet gave her a nod, then bid them all a good afternoon and went on his way.
"I'm never quite used to him," Tirmia admitted to her colleagues after he'd left, wiping her ash-streaked hands on a rag. "He always surprises me."
Korley couldn't bear keeping quiet. "What did he say?"
Tirmia smiled at her. "He said we're to build a new kiln, hiring laborers for smith-marks, and you've got an appointment this sevenday with the weavercraft."
Korley, overjoyed, beamed right back at her journeywoman. "I told you he knew my father."
"Get out, girl! Take the afternoon to help your mother. I don't want to see you back here 'til after the noon meal tomorrow." Waiting until the girl had gone running west toward the Hold, Tirmia turned to her two colleagues, both of whom had pulled up stools to gossip.
"No fall-out from that addled stone-wherry, Alzri?" Leun asked.
"No." Tirmia crossed her arms and settled down on the stool of a wheel. "We'll keep it in-craft, at the most. I hope there won't be another whisper of the matter."
"Well, he's not welcome here," Tabs decided. He'd taken the stonesmith journeyman's affront to Tirmia's competence quite personally.
"Agreed," Leun said, nodding. Tirmia looked at her fellow journeymen and was overcome by a feeling of immense gratitude and satisfaction. She shouldn’t have doubted her place in the shop in the face of Alzri’s arrogance.
"And Korley?" Leun asked, reading her mind.
"We'll have a small ceremony before the kiln-raising so she can wear her knot all day." Tirmia grinned at the mental image, predicting, "she'll be as useful as firelizard, she'll be so proud of it."
"Her father's Guardfolk," Tabs put in. "We should invite them. Toss a few marks their way, make us a big happy family."
Nodding, Tirmia drew up yet another mental list. "I'll be in after the noon meal tomorrow," she said. "Don't burn down the barn while I'm gone." Laughing, plotting ways in which they could burn down the barn with no one the wiser, the three journeymen got up and went to make kiln-raising plans.
The low whispering of his roommates woke Journeyman Alzri before dawn on the morning of the kiln-raising. He eased his eyes open enough to see by the faint glimmer of glowlight; pulling on the dirtiest of their coveralls, his roommates argued about whether to wake him.
"No telling what Tirmia'll do if Alzri shows his face, much less opens his mouth."
"I agree. Let him wander down on his own?"
"That cot to the south, are those hides for their brickwork on the desk? Leave them where he’ll find them. That’ll give him a day-project, let him save face."
"I wish. I left those hides with Master Benet."
"Well, I'll ask Benet today what he thinks Alzri could do instead. I'm sure he'll be at the raising."
"With a new apprentice to badge and knot? Surely."
"Leave Alzri here, then?"
"Easier for all concerned."
Alzri, fuming, lay silent until they'd tiptoed past and pressed the door shut with a soft click. He threw his bedclothes back with a sudden burst of anger. He wasn't sure how he'd got off to such a bad start at Southern Boll and that made him utterly furious at being unable to begin fixing it.
His recent conversation with Master Benet had been met with indifference. His roommates seemed too busy with the Holders to include him and they didn't even ever fill him in. Perhaps he should send a letter north to the Hall at Telgar; but no, he hadn’t kept his connections close over his two turns at Igen.
Selecting a pair of soft shorts and a thin shirt, Alzri went out for a morning run in hopes he’d think of a solution. Well, he could stop by his desk for the papers for that little cot’s brickwork needs later, but he decided to check with Master Benet instead, to look conscientious and contrite, and surely come out of the day much improved in Benet's estimation.
Guardsman Korletal tied off his shoulder cord and went in to wake his daughters. It was just dawn on the first clear day in a sevenday that'd begun with Threadfall and continued with rolling thunderstorms; finally, a clear day had arrived and so they could get on with business. He and his oldest daughter would have time to eat and dress before his fellows would gather and go up to the kiln-raising. He'd expected to have a moment to look at Korley before he woke her, to remember her being knee-high and wild as a dragonet, but he should've known better.
Korley lay on top of the covers, fully dressed and wide-eyed. "Is it time to go, Daddy?"
She'd always been her father's girl, Korletal thought with a smile. "Well, it's definitely time for breakfast," he told her. "And as soon as Rocher's here --" her brother of fifteen Turns and already an apprentice guard "-- with the others, we'll walk up together. Give you a proper sending-off."
Rolling out of bed, Korley pushed her curly hair out of her eyes and fairly ran past him into the main room. Her sister sleepily blinked at him from her own bed. "Daddy? Do I have to get up, too?"
"Sun's not even up yet, girl," he told her gruffly. "You can go back to sleep."
"It's too early," she agreed with a yawn, and did.
Korley met him at the breakfast table, thick piece of jam-spread bread already in hand, more excited than he could remember ever seeing. It'd only been a Turn since his older son had been accepted to the guards' training but then, his boy'd been on the practice field since he could heft a sword.
Looking at Korley now, Korletal sent a mental note of thanks to whomever out there had seen her interest in the claywork and fostered her enthusiasm. She'd been his most frustrating child, his troubled child, so often bored and never willing to compromise, and he'd even sometimes (always privately) worried he'd have to send her to the dragons to get her safely out of the Hold.
Smithcraft would do the trick though: it had everything. The physical work she loved, a subspecialty that required technical detail to fascinate her for hours and days, new research at a hold with a reputation for quality wares, a strong journeywoman to guide her in the details, and a good master to write her references when the day came.
He privately hopedy it wouldn't come soon, and of course it wouldn't for another turn at least, so Korletal found himself deeply satisfied. Sitting with his daughter as she talked quietly at the table, at great length and about everything smith-related, he found himself quite reassured about his daughter's future in the world.
Tirmia didn't mention her relief at Journeyman Alzri's absence as she walked the work-area with Master Benet and his senior journeyman stonesmith. The three laid out lines of rocks under a pink-streaked sky to mark the boundaries of storage areas for new bricks, old bricks, mortar preparation, and temporary storage of the pottery.
"Tell me this won't affect our Market Day," Master Benet remarked upon looking over the well-crated stacks of claywork.
"Not in the slightest. Sweeprider today will give us a warning on weather for the evening but our friends in the beastcraft brought up a cart of stacked hides to cover the work. As soon as the guards arrive and we've made Korley an apprentice, I'll set them to work. We have another sevenday to prepare for Market, and the only weather that’ll stop work would be Thread.”
"Good." Benet conferred with the journeyman stonesmith at the site of the kiln itself, reviewing the process for the day. Tirmia spotted the group of guardsmen walking up the long path and got Benet's attention.
"Gather 'em in one place," he told her. "I'll be down in a minute."
Having already been reminded to be on her best behavior, Korley rocked back and forth between heels and toes, waiting for Master Benet to join them. Tirmia gave her an outwardly-frosty look but Korley saw the twinkle in her journeywoman's eyes. Korley tried to stifle her impatience, lest she get Tirmia in trouble, but her father hadn't ever seen the kiln or workspace and he'd promised to walk through with her before the work began.
Master Benet cleared his throat and gave a small speech. "We're a small family here, and inclined to keep to our own specialties, but we're a family nonetheless. Any apprentice is welcomed into that family. It takes a Hold to raise a child, and so here, far from the Smithcraft’s Hall, we all must accept our responsibility to raise this child."
Taking this to be a direct stab at Journeyman Alzri's skepticism, Tirmia took another discreet look around for him and found herself disappointed by his absence. He'd surely be around later in the day and she dreaded the first time he'd lay eyes on a properly-knotted Korley. On the other hand, looking at the overabundance of muscled and confident men surrounding them, the little wicked piece of Tirmia couldn't help but look forward to Alzri insulting the girl in front of her exended and, really, heavily armed family.
"Thank you, Captain Loso," Benet finished, "for supporting your men coming down today. We deeply appreciate the assistance. I'll turn it over to you."
Captain Loso, looking young but earnest, said only that it was his pleasure before he gave Guardsman Korletal a nod. As attention turned to him, Korletal felt his hands shaking. He tried to focus on the words he'd tried to prepare. There'd been a speech and formal gathering in the barracks for his oldest son Rocher's joining up but there he'd been around his men. Here, he felt awkward and thick-tongued.
"I'll be quick," he began. "I didn't know for some time that my girl'd got your craft in her head. I should've known something was going on when she suddenly stopped getting into trouble,” and the scattered laughter gave him confidence. “But when her mother told me she'd been over the bridge, over here, coming home with specks of clay and paint all over, I didn't know what to think.
"I’ve never gave smithing much thought, really ever, but I don't know why I didn't. You make our weapons, we appreciate that. I've never had a bad word to say about your craft. I'm not so well-trained, I admit, but I have a great respect for learning. For the making-crafts, especially, you know. Smithing's not what I thought of when I imagined Korley as a woman--" and he paused with an apologetic look at Tirmia, even as he saw knowing nods from the many fathers in the complement "--but I look around here, I see that you all came down to move brick without complaint, and I remember all the things you've invented and built for our Hold and the Weyr up north, and I'm proud for-- well, for Korley having found a second home here with you."
Bolstered by the nods of both his colleagues and the craftsmen, Korletal took a deep breath and tried to wrap it up without sounding like a weeping wherry. "When I, oh, I see your skills and your dedication, I think any man should want that for his daughter. So I thank you. Thank you, Master Benet. Thank you, Journeywoman, for taking her under your wing especially. And, of course, uh, anything you need from me or the guard, anything at all. Don't hesitate to ask."
His finish was met with applause and voiced 'yeah! he's right!' from a couple of the guardsmen. Master Benet nodded his appreciation and Korletal wiped his hands on his trousers as discreetly as he could, willing them to cease their shaking. He'd rather make a violent arrest than speak in public any day of the seven, but it was over now and he thought he'd done rather well. Captain Loso gave him a smile as Korley's journeywoman stepped forward, shoulder cord in her hand.
She handed it to Benet, who went to Korley to properly loop and tie it around the girl's shoulder. Then Benet pinned the smith badge to her chest and they clapsed hands like grownups.
"Congratulations, Apprentice," he told her, and Korley clearly didn't know where to look, up at the master smith or down at her new badge, at the red anvil on white.
"She looks fit to burst," one of the smiths behind Korletal remarked. Korletal felt his own chest swelling up with pride and knew exactly how she felt.