Neither Wood Nor Metal
I walk out of my villa and up to the adjacent one. I’m about to knock on the door when it swings wide open. Now you need to understand something about me. I have no filter between my mouth and my brain. It has to do with my… my condition. So for example I might sit on a bus next to a couple of retirees, and start to talk about gravestones. Or I might ask a fat woman when she’s due, only to realize that she’s not pregnant, merely fat.
The door opens and I have to take a step back in order to meet the guy’s eyes. “Holy shit. You’re one big motherfucker.” He just looks at me. Crap. I’ve offended the Visigoth. Then he laughs. Like a mountain.I must have said something funny.
He extends a hand. “Nidar Greyscale. And yes, I am a big motherfucker.” “Rune, Rune Fallowfell.” I can tell he’s a bit puzzled by my surname. The city we live in is called Fallowfell. My surname is Fallowfell. Which is the kind of story that usually requires an extensive PowerPoint presentation. “You see Mr Greyscale, my legal guardian made me come here. I originally didn’t want to, but I lost a staring-contest. So… do you need help carrying anything?”
Greyscale starts to laugh again- a big booming, rolling laugh. “Come in, come in. Sure, I could use a hand with some stuff.”
We walk down a stairway into what probably was the second living room when Harvarsson still lived here. As he walks behind me, I get a closer look of Greyscale. He’s as tall as I thought, two metres or above. Pale skin. Buzz-cut, like a military. My overactive mind notes that his eyes are green. A piece of trivia flashes through my head; statistically speaking only 2-3 % of the world’s population have green eyes. It’s rare.
He stops. I look around the old living room. It’s filled with… boxes. No that’s not the right world. It’s too new. Too modern. Caskets. Lockboxes. I almost expect John Silver to pop up and claim booty. Greyscale points at the largest of the caskets, a big thing made of some kind of white stone. I grab one end and he grabs the second. Now, while not being a bodybuilder, I do consider myself pretty strong. I have been running since I was ten. I do my push-ups. I do my reps. But even so– it takes every inch of my strength to just lever my side up.
Nidar simply grabs his side of the white casket with one arm and drags it up. I thought he was intimidating with his Ivan-the-Terrible stare, but I feel that something should be said for a man whose biceps is bigger than your thighs. We drag the casket to the upper plane of the villa. Nidar guides us inside what looks to be his office-space. He has a big desk, a laptop on it, and at the very least a dozen invoices lying neatly stacked in a pile on that very same desk. But my concern is the casket.”Geez, what is this thing even made of?”
Greyscale smiles and inclines his head towards the white box. I can’t help it. I knock it gently. It feels strange. He starts to recite a rhyme in a singsong voice;
” The fox found a box of white,
and as was his right
he tried to bite
he tried with might
he asked a knight
but in the end,
he wasn’t bright.”
“Huh. That sounds like a challenge Mr Greyscale.” He nods. I take out a lighter and apply some fire to the box. After a couple of seconds I hold a hand over the area. No heat. I touch it. It isn’t even warm. Hmm.
I take out a key and put it against the unknown box. I put my weight behind the key and try to scratch it. “Well?” I respond slowly. ” It isn’t made from wood- it would burn or atleast smell burned. I don’t think it’s metal- if it was, it would retain some of the heat, or emit some kind of sound when I scratched it. What kind of metal is it?”
Nidar just smiles enigmatically at me. His almost taunting expression makes me wanna hit him. I can feel the beginning of the Fury coming onto me. A hot torrent, which blankets out everything and everyone. I turn around and bite my tongue, hard enough to draw blood. I will not snap at a stranger I have known for less than ten minutes. “You okay there?” “Yeah, just a second.”
I school my facial features into something that resembles calm, and I tell myself that I wasn’t just about to have one of my episodes.
I turn around, and I point down. “Let’s get the rest of the boxes.” Greyscale gives me a inscrutable look, and I spend the following hour helping him carrying boxes all over the house.
With that done….
“Want something to drink?” My first impulse is to say no. Haven’t I been social enough? Besides, I don’t even like strangers. But then again…. I am thirsty. And there is something intriguing about this Nidar Greyscale.
“Yes, please. I am parched.” We retire to the kitchen. He opens the fridge and takes out two earthenware mugs, but not before I see several bottles containing what looks like homemade shine. It doesn’t bother me. The province that we live in, Dalarna, is famous for its independence and its … shall we say screw-you-and-the-horse-you-rode-in-on spirit. We’ve put kings on the throne, and we’ve kicked kings of the throne. Breaking a couple of minor laws isn’t that big of a deal in comparison.
Greyscale is about to hand me a mug when he frowns. “Hey, how old are you?”
“I’ll turn sixteen in December.” “Then I don’t suppose you’d want some of this.”
“What is it?” “Mead, proper mead.” I look at the mug. There was a time when I wouldn’t. A time when I followed laws and rules. A time when I had a family; when an older sister refered to me as the Ogre, when mom would join me on Sunday-runs, when dad would show me how to shoot a rifle. But that time is gone. Long gone.
I accept the mug, and drink. The taste reminds me of honey, with a sugary undertone and something I can’t decide– I guess that’s the alcohol.
I think of the invoices on his desk.”So, Mr Greyscale, what do you do for a living?” “I am a blacksmith.” I blink owlishly at him. He chuckles. “Blacksmith as in a modern artisan-crafter catering to a particular niche, using modern techniques and technology, not blacksmith as in a red-hot forge and the broken shards of Narsil. Although I could do that.” He pauses as to reconsider. “I think.”
Hah, I got that reference.
“That particular sword was reforged if I remember correctly. Does blacksmithing pay well?” Greyscale drinks again. “Well enough. It’s a rare skill these days” He smiles and look at me with an expectant look.” So, you’re sixteen. How’s the gymasium going?” I take a second sip of the mead.”I haven’t started yet. Will start soon though. Less than a week left of the summer break.” I try to, but I can’t quite keep the anxiety out of my voice. “Relax. You’ll be fine.”
I sincerely doubt that. The Accident, as I like to think of it, took place during the beginning of the ninth grade, roughly a year ago. I spent half a year in a pain-filled daze, doing my subjects, accepting condolences. People treated me like I was fine china, and maybe I needed that. But eventually things started to return to normal, eventually the training wheels had to go off. And you know what I realized?
People look at me. Look at my patch. When I go to the store. When I hit the gym. When I am out with friends. Sometimes with pity, sometimes with disgust, but no matter the look- and I don’t need nor do I want their fucking pity.
I swallow the last of the mead in a third large gulp. Maybe I am becoming drunk, because I barge in on dangerous territory.
“You haven’t asked me about my eye. Most people do that within minutes of meeting me. They either see it as a fun gimmick, or if they know the story behind it, they give me condolences.”
“I just moved here, so I wouldn’t know anything about the local gossip. And your story is exactly that; yours. You tell it if you like.” Maybe I am being sentimental, or maybe it’s the influence of the mead, but I open my mouth and the words gush, like diarrhea.
“Okay so here is how it went down….”