The flames sputtered on the two candles Cairbre set on each side of his newspaper. Unable to sleep, he seated himself ahead of it and ignited his carved pipe. Fiery embers smoldered as he breathed the smoke and started on the morning columns. After some time, he started to sense himself growing drowsy and considered returning to bed until dawn. He strengthened the tie of his burgundy robe around his waist and rose, ready to extinguish his candles, when a pounding on the front door startled him upright with round brown eyes.
Abigeál crept down the hallway with another candle lit and examined the home as she went. When she came upon her husband, she hissed, "What is that?"
He pointed to the door and raised an index finger to his lips as several of their boys came sneaking down the attic stairs and streamed into the kitchen to see what the matter was. When the pounding stopped, Cairbre snatched his shotgun where it lay propped against the inside of a closet and moved toward the head of the house. He peered through the peep hole, and behind the curtains beside the door. Seeing no one, he switched on the outside light and heaved at the dense door. Abigeál screamed.
Eagan was nailed to the wood by his ebony coat, leaving his arms and neck to droop down as one may appear when dead. Callum raised his arms vaguely to keep his brothers behind him as Cairbre kneeled down beside Eagan and raised an eyelid and counted his pulse.
"He's bloody drunk," he pronounced curtly.
"Is that all?" Abigeál breathed with surprise.
"Stench of whiskey corresponds with it."
Cairbre rose and snatched the nails out of the wood with gritted teeth and rage to drive his strength. Eagan slumped down, but Cairbre thrust an arm under each of his and dragged him into the home, then released him to drop onto his back the moment he was in the door. Cairbre stepped over him and slammed the door shut, locking it before pivoting around to the rest of his sons with a wave of his arm.
"Get!" he snapped, scattering them all to return to bed.
"Shouldn't they bring him with them?" Abigeál suggested.
"He got himself here. He can get himself up to bed when he's ready."
The sun rose to scatter the mist and spread across the silver heavens, then spread warmth and emerald colors across the lush hills. By noon, the skies warmed into an aquamarine that encouraged the remainder of the boys to leap over their brother and outside to play in the crisp sunshine. Eagan peeled his eyes open and squinted above him. His muscles were as tense as dried meat, but he managed to plant one palm on each side and shove himself up. He gingerly clasped each arm around his midsection and closed his eyes as he considered whether or not he should throw up.
"Look who almost got up in the morning."
Eagan squinted at Cairbre as he rose out of his chair and approached. Each creak of the wood pierced his temples, but he maintained his composure.
"You and I are going to have a discussion, where I will speak and you will listen. You are the least productive member in this family. You can either start working under someone else at a profession you have some affinity toward, since you seem determined to avoid any work here, or you will leave."
Eagan seethed as he peered over his shoulder at his brothers running outside, snarling, "Make me."
Cairbre started toward the kitchen. "That is exactly what I would do, except that I am going to watch you disappoint me first. You have by midnight to secure yourself a job," he said as he disappeared. "And you should at least appear to have showered, or else I do not suppose anyone will hire you."
"I am going to make you regret this deal!" Eagan shouted after him despite the pain that pierced his temples and made his skull seem about to explode. "You will not make me leave!"
He knew he could not operate without sleep, so he climbed up the ladder to the attic and cast himself onto the plaid covers of his bed. By the time he rose and showered and strode out of the house with a slam of the door, it was the middle of the afternoon. He stood beside the first main road he came to and reached out his arm in an attempt to ask someone to give him a ride.
He muttered to the drivers of what may have been twenty cars that passed him, roaring with rage after the last one until the razor edge of his voice seemed to scrape his throat.
Primroses peppered the area beside the street. A blackbird skipped along the earth behind him as an azure car peeled out of the gravel road across the way and sped past him. Countless cars seemed to pass by until a bearded man in a crimson station wagon swerved aside and waved him closer.
"Saw you on me way to the market, saw you again as I came back," he explained when Eagan climbed into the passenger seat. "It was starting to get depressing."
Eagan expressed his gratitude and explained where he planned to go. The man maneuvered his car in a sharp return onto the street and continued toward town, articulating his astonishment toward some of the local crimes, his apprehension toward the economy, and the antics of his parrot Pete. He veered around each right and pivoted around each left and eventually screeched to a stop downtown.
"Should start raining again by tonight, mate," the man said as Eagan climbed out and slammed the door shut. "Keep yourself warm, now!"
The station wagon sped away, and he leapt back as it passed. Then he raised his eyes and evaluated the various shops and businesses in the downtown area. Where would he want to be spending his time? Which enterprise would he want to be a part of them? Not a single one, he realized immediately, and cursed repeatedly beneath his breath in a stream of mist.
Eagan peered down the street to the right as a young woman with straw hair to her shoulders and scarlet lips rushed up the street and kissed him.
"You were blacked out last night before I even got the chance to say how much I enjoyed that party," she smiled and smoothed back his strawberry blond hair. "By the way, you never did give me your name. All I know is that Leander said you're quite the firecracker."
Eagan snorted and shook his head with a smile. "Maybe at the one on Monday," he shouldered past her and continued to stride down the street, disappointed by the hollowness of that kiss even as it matched every single one they shared at the party.
"See you then," she called after him.
Stores and restaurants were crammed with people, but not one appealed. Eagan knew he would be a bull in a china shop at every business, not that any would probably hire him. He kept traveling even after the downtown area disappeared into homes and grasses. A magpie skipped along the street with him.
At one point, he lost his temper and drove his knuckles into a street lamp with a roar of pain. This earned the stares of a couple painting their house.
Eventually, houses were more sporadic and fields were more vast. He came to one made of brick in the middle of a rather ample patch of grass with a couple of ash trees and surrounded by a dark stained wood fence. A metal sign dangled at the edge of the fence opening to the dirt drive that said Blacksmith.
His shoes made prints in the mud as he traipsed down the dirt path. There was a small brick shop beside the right of the house, and this was where Eagan directed himself, as the clattering of metal could be perceived from where he was.
As he appeared at the open door, he saw a wiry elder man slamming a hammer down on a flaming-hot steel rod on the horn of an anvil. He knocked against the opened wooden door. "Excuse me."
The man stopped hammering and turned, clad with a leather apron. "Hello, lad. What do you want?"
"Looking for some work. Got any I can do?"
The man chuckled to himself and shook his head. "Son, I have been looking for an assistant here since I was seventy. I am nearing ninety now, and I have yet to find anyone good enough. What makes you believe you're qualified to work here?"
Eagan raised his shoulders. "If you have work, I'll do it."
The man raised his silver eyebrows. "So you would learn on the job. Well, son, let me make a deal: stay here until evening and help me make something, and I will decide by the end whether or not you have the potential to become a blacksmith."
Eagan gave a single nod. "Yeah."
"Robert Samson," the man removed one leather glove and reached out to shake his hand.
"Eagan McCallister," he accepted the grip with a single pump. Samson stared down at their clasped hands with a surprised whistle.
"Banged yourself up a bit, have you?"
Eagan stared down at his scraped and swollen knuckles. "Lost me temper on the way here."
"Hate to see the other lad."
"Well, he's tall and dark and lights up at night to help people find their way around."
Samson snorted. "I already like you," he said and waved him closer. "Come over here and I will show you some precautions before we get started. And if you violate these, you could easily be injured. And if you're somehow unharmed, I will harm you meself."
After an explanation of tools and safety measures, Robert Samson retrieved a heated iron rod and pointed it at his potential journeyman.
"You gonna listen to what I say?"
"Have to do anything, right?"
"Right," Samson moved beside him, the smell of coal and smoke with him, and reached toward a rod with a hole. "We are going to make a tenant on the end of this heated rod and square the shoulder up with a monkey tool."
He worked as he explained what he was doing, then commanded Eagan to start hammering the heated rod on the anvil horn to draw it down and create indentations around it. Meanwhile, Samson heated two delicate shards of metal in his forge and clasped them together with his tongs. When he darted toward their heated rod, he ordered Eagan to hammer them against the rod until they were welded securely together. Eagan clamped his teeth shut to avoid cursing the punch of pain that accompanied each clang. A wire brush was used to clean the metal. Then Samson retrieved dense sheet metal discs. He showed Eagan how to crosspien them and cup them and curl the edges down.
"Get the monkey tool again," Samson said, and showed him how to drive the refined discs down onto the tenant. After heating the tenant again, he riveted the addition down with a ballpien hammer. He and Eagan each curled the discs around themselves with scrolling pliers, while Samson snapped, "Use some finesse! Stop wanting to get the job done immediately. You want to work with me, you have to produce quality, not speed. Enjoy the project a bit more and stop rushing to leave. You can do better."
They cupped the discs and heated the edges to curl them down, starting on the outside and maneuvering their way in. Samson sand-blasted the artifact to give it a satin appearance, then heated and brass brushed it to streak it with golden highlights.
"See that oven?" he asked as he pointed behind him to the rear corner amassed with cobwebs.
Eagan peered over his shoulder at the ancient appliance. "Yeah."
"Preheat it at 450," Samson said. "We're gonna put this in about an hour, and get something to eat in the meantime. Then we can finish 'er up."
Eagan started the oven, and after some minutes, he cracked open the door and was met with a radiating heat. He accepted the artifact from Samson and settled it on the rack. When he returned to Samson, the man rinsed his hands in a sink close to the stove and reached into a paper bag. He withdrew his hands with part of a chicken salad sandwich in each and extended one toward Eagan.
"You earned this."
Eagan accepted his cut of the sandwich and darted his hand out again in time to catch an apple Samson had tossed to him.
Eagan crunched into the apple and meandered out into the sunshine. Blackbirds darted out of the ash trees. Another home and a burgundy barn could be seen on another property across the fields. Samson came up beside him and pressed his shoulder against the opened door frame.
"What made you come up this way?"
"Was downtown and wandered up."
"You must be right desperate to come all the way up here for work," Samson guffawed and crossed his arms as he swallowed the last of his sandwich. "You have someplace to work before?"
Eagan contemplated his words, then answered with an edge of aggravation. "A couple."
"When did you lose those jobs?"
"About the same time as I lost me temper."
"Right," Samson answered. "Well, I don't put up with rubbish here. Character defects, everyone has 'em. But you must act within reason. You must aim to be the best blacksmith to your ability, should you earn approval today," he rubbed his bristled silver whiskers. "You have family?
Eagan answered through his teeth. "Parents and six brothers."
Samson whistled under his breath. "Seven lads must be a load. Most of me family has gone on, but until a decade ago, I had both me children. Me son has gone on as well, but I have me elder daughter. And she has a daughter as well. Mary," he cracked a smile and pointed with emphasis, "is something special. Getting done with college soon, she is."
Eagan ripped another shred of sandwich into his mouth and crunched into the last of his apple, which he chucked as deep into the field as he could. As soon as the sandwich was gone, Samson slapped his shoulder and started back to the project.
The man gathered a bucket of transmission fluid and opened the oven with a pair of tongs, which he used to remove the artifact and quench it in the pail. Then he laid it out to cool and sent Eagan to cut a piece of ebony velvet to glue over the rivet. After all these, rose oil was poured into the artifact and it was sealed.
"Well," Samson said as they stepped back and admired their work, "looks better than I expected."
Eagan darted him a scowl that made him burst out laughing.
"Because you have no experience, not because I expected you to be a failure. Look," he continued and pointed at their completed project. "You have earned yourself a position as a journeyman here. I expect you here five days a week. Keep this as evidence that you are definitely not a failure here."
Rain returned and was showering down on Eagan when he stood at the roadside in the night with his arm outstretched. Headlights almost consumed his vision as a taupe car steered onto the gravel margin and allowed him into the passenger seat.
After the woman spent the drive snapping at her boyfriend on her phone, and then explaining to Eagan the reason she was snapping at her boyfriend, and then apologizing for snapping at her boyfriend, she steered the car beside the street about a mile before his house and continued on.
He slammed the door behind him when he entered the house. His father stood in the room staring at the almost midnight clock with crossed arms and his mother approached with pursed lips and hands clasped behind her back. Rearden sneaked toward the opposite doorway with Liam at his side.
"So can you prove that you are capable of being productive?" Cairbre demanded of his son. Eagan simpered and reached beneath his black coat to extract a detailed iron rose and presented it to his mother, then continued past them with his brown eyes defiantly on his father. With a proud smile, Rearden slapped him on the shoulder as he passed into the kitchen to scrape together a meal.
"I'm proud of you," Callum said with a smile at the table. "Keep this up, and they will be as well."
Eagan managed a wry smile. "This is only day one. Don't be proud yet."
. . .
Waiting on a ride: "Feed the Machine" by Red
Walking downtown: "Two Glass Eyes" by Project 86
Working on the project: "Take It All Away" by Red
Winning the deal: "Who We Are" by Red, instrumental intro only