The steel hummed happily under Elara’s hand as she ran the polishing cloth over the bowl of the ladle. She held the ladle up and examined her distorted reflection in the steel. That morning, her maids had exclaimed in dismay over the shadows under her eyes–she had not slept well the night before–but she had waved away their ministrations with paints and ointments. Instead she had hastened to the forge, to the only solace she had found since the elves had slain her family and brought her here to be their queen.
Elara heard a complaint from the steel, a small one, and turned it. Her reflection wavered as it crossed a small ripple in the bowl. She glanced at the forge then shook her head.
“Cold, I think.”
Elara set the ladle over the horn of the anvil and selected a hammer. Carefully, she turned the ladle until its voice in her mind told her she had the right spot. One, two, three taps of the hammer and the steel almost sighed in relief.
When Elara raised the ladle to examine her work the marks left by the hammer obscured her reflection but the steel was clearly happier. She turned to a polishing wheel and began to pump the treadle.
“Highness?” The voice of one of Elara’s guards came from the doorway.
“What?” Elara said without looking up from her work.
“The human, Corden, is without. He begs audience with your highness.”
“Very well. Bid him enter.”
“As your highness wishes.”
Elara turned her head, catching the guard’s eye before he could withdraw. “Bid him enter alone.”
The guard hesitated. “But…Regent Odarin…”
Elara frowned. “Must I explain every time? This speaks to my choice of consort. No one may interfere. And he is no more threat to me today than he was yesterday.”
The guard’s sigh was clearly visible from where Elara stood. After a moment, he nodded. “As your highness wishes.”
Elara returned to polishing the ladle. Shortly thereafter Corden entered.
“Good morrow, Your Highness.”
“And good morrow to you, Lord Corden.”
“I see your project is near complete.”
Elara held up the ladle and examined the result of her handiwork. A few swipes of the polishing cloth removed the grit from the polishing wheel and the steel underneath shown mirror-bright with no rippling in her reflection as she turned the ladle.
Elara turned and held the ladle out toward Corden. “A gift for you.”
Hesitantly, Corden took the ladle. He held it up to examine.
“It is beautiful. It seems a shame to paint such work.”
“Why paint it?” Elara tilted her head.
“Such a ladle is meant to be used, not kept oiled on a shelf merely to look at. I would hate to see it rust.”
Elara laughed. “The steel is happy. Happy steel does not rust.”
Corden looked from the steel to Elara and then back again. “That is an orkish trick, making steel that doesn’t rust without magic or careful cleaning and oiling.”
“You have heard my tale, have you not.”
“There are rumors, of course.”
“They are true. I was raised by orcs. I learned to work steel from them.” Elara shrugged. “The elves do not understand, but I can hear the voice of steel, what will make steel happy. Most steel has no particular calling but when it does–” she tapped the ladle. “–it will serve willingly in that form. It will not break unless abused and it will not rust.”
“Then I am honored, truly honored, by your gift.” Corden clutched the ladle to him and bowed.
Elara smiled. “What brought you to me this morning?”
“I have received word that my father is ill. His secretary bids me return with all haste. I had hoped that you would grant assurance of respect for the neutrality of Thorgrim’s Reach so that I might depart on the morrow.”
Elara laughed sourly. “They call me queen but I am in many ways a prisoner. I can promise only that I will speak with the regent and urge him to grant you such assurance. What weight my voice carries, I will lend to you.”
“Then you have my thanks, Highness. And for the gift as well.”
At Elara’s gesture of permission, Corden departed. Alone once more, Elara turned to the stock of iron in the back of the smithy, looking for steel that called the form it desired. But no weapons. She would not forge steel weapons for the elves to use against the orcs. She would not.