My first forge welding class with Casper Prager.

 

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Karl stopped travelling. He also stopped paying much attention to Gunnar, focusing entirely on Sóley. Gunnar was now free to work at the forge whenever he felt like it, unnoticed, alone, happy. He found a machine grinder operated with a pedal and figured out how to sharpen his knife with it – his third knife, and the first that was almost completely straight. Once he was done, he threw it into a corner, ready to start on the next one, determined to get it right, before realising he hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast many hours ago.

They took turns on the “bed” downstairs. Gunnar couldn’t decide which one he preferred. He felt oddly uncomfortable when sleeping upstairs with his mother, filled with a dreadful feeling that even her snoring expressed anger about something he had either done or not done. The night after, though, he would change his mind and decide that it was nothing compared to the physical discomfort of the new “bed”, which was a mostly flat pile of turf covered with a sheepskin. Also, when he stayed downstairs, his parents fought incessantly, quieter than before, but loud enough to be heard through the wooden ceiling.

“Your nerves,” Karl would say again and again. “Have you been drinking the herbs?”

“Like I’m a fool! I know they are poison! You want to get rid of me, so nothing stops you from seeing the others!”

“There are no others. How am I supposed to prove it to you? I don’t go anywhere anymore, except when I have to go to town…”

“Do you think I don’t know what happens in town?!”

“Nothing, I buy food, other necessities, then come back home as fast as I can.” Karl’s voice was becoming lower and quieter. Gunnar knew what that meant and shivered in his cold bed.

“I don’t believe you! She, they buy it all, then give it to you so you have an excuse!”

“Sóley, you’re being unreasonable. Please try the herbs. Your nerves…”

Gunnar finally dozed off, only to wake up with pain in his neck, his whole body stiff, cold. His left hand, which he slept on, was asleep and the pricks of pain started a moment later when blood found its way back. It was May, but the walls would only become warm for about two days at the end of August. They seemed to always be covered with a thin layer of frozen mold. Tonight he would be sleeping upstairs, where the wooden walls, cold as they were, didn’t feel so… slippery. But that meant he would be sleeping next to his mother…

*

In the morning, Gunnar grabbed a piece of bread and a mug of coffee, then retreated into the forge as quickly as possible. It was becoming his favourite place on Earth. Here nobody ever interrup–

Someone knocked on the front door and the boy nearly jumped out of his skin.

“Is Karl there? I need that axe.”

“Ah, it’s… it’s almost ready, I…”

“He didn’t do it,” said the man flatly. “Tell him I’ll be back tomorrow and it better be ready.” He departed, shaking his head, and Gunnar stared behind him before returning inside and picking up the axe. Its blade was cracked, and when Gunnar squinted he could see the crack was deeper than it looked, becoming thin as a hairline, but still present. Maybe it would be possible to simply remove some of the metal using the grinder…? It would be a bit smaller, but perfectly good…

A few minutes later he had to interrupt his parents.

“Good God!” exclaimed Karl. “You could have lost an eye! What have you done?”

“I was just trying– this man came, and he was asking–“

“Of course he was,” interrupted Sóley. “Your father makes a lot of promises, but never delivers on them. Come here. You’ve got a piece of metal in your forehead, how did you even do that, fool?”

“You can’t sharpen a broken axe,” said Karl, as Sóley huffed, puffed, and put iodine on the wound. Gunnar tried and failed not to hiss in pain. “The edge is made of hardened steel. It’s much harder, hence the name, but it breaks. As you can see.”

“It’s a miracle he can see at all! A bit lower, and he would never see anything again. Because someone doesn’t even–”

“We’re going to do it now,” announced Karl. “Sóley… please try the herbs, at least one time, just to see whether they help a bit. Gunnar and I are going to fix that axe right now.”

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Tuesday, March 19

I haven’t realised how extremely tired I was until my friend, the owner of the Magical Garden and the cabin where I am staying, left me alone. I texted Husby to tell him I arrived and everything was perfectly fine, then switched my phone off and sighed out loud “now I am offline”. This was the first surprise I gave myself.

I ate some bits and pieces, unpacked the essentials, used the gentlemen’s room, then left one lamp on and decided I needed real rest. So I went to lie in bed – there’s no door between the bed and the living space.

I sighed with pleasure as I stretched my aching bones, then decided the lamp was irritating me and I wanted the cabin to be lit only by the fire. I got up, switched the lamp off, then returned to bed.

I sighed with pleasure as I stretched my aching bones, then decided to get up and stop the toilet from doing that thing where you have to push the button again so it stops leaking indefinitely and making noise.

I sighed with pleasure as I stretched my aching bones, then shut my eyes. I opened them a moment later, alarmed, when I heard an odd sound – like a motorbike that’s going very fast, but the source of the sound was moving very slowly. It was an airplane. But the other noise, a louder one, was an owl looking for a one-night stand. I closed my eyes again and only then realised how extremely tired I’ve been.

*

In the last months, I’ve gone through a lot in my personal life, I ended up stuck in a legal dispute, and at the same time I am launching a book. If I had known earlier, I would have picked a different date, but the letter in which life was notifying me that it intended to get really intense must have gone missing. Coming here and getting off the grid for a week right before the book’s release date was probably shooting myself in the foot from the commercial point of view. But only now that I was able to rest have I realised how badly I needed it all this time.

After a while – it was still early – I decided to go for a short walk. To my dismay, I noticed some sort of brutal, bright light that made it difficult for me to do stargazing, so I turned… and faced the moon. It was so bright that I was literally casting a moonlight shadow. I gawked at the shadow, then back at the full moon. It was the only source of light around and no torch was needed. 

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This is exactly how it’s NOT supposed to be done…

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Gunnar found a new reason to live. He dreamt about forging horseshoes, and didn’t even mind that they weren’t swords. His work was now proudly displayed above the door, and the moment Gunnar entered the kitchen his eyes were automatically drawn to the spot until his mother got irritated. At that point he would apologise, pay attention to her for a minute or two, then withdraw into his imagination again. But Karl went away again and there was no way to tell when he was going to return.

Despite the burns, which were not healing as fast as he wished they would, the boy’s hands itched to grab a hammer again. He still had an unfinished nail in his pocket and felt he knew what to do even without his father’s help. Once three days passed without his return, Gunnar found enough courage – or desperation – to ask Sóley’s permission.

“Go,” she said, resigned.

This was too easy, thought Gunnar, confused. There must have been a catch somewhere. Nevertheless, he decided not to wait until she changed her mind, unlocked the door with sweaty hands, then looked inside. All this was his now, at least for a while. He opened the windows, as instructed by his father, then built the fire. His first attempt failed – simply because he was too excited to do it slowly. The boy ground his teeth and forced himself to be patient. The kindling, the crumpled paper. Gentle pulling and pushing of the blowers. Only when the wood was burning joyfully did he put a handful of coal in, then another, until the fire seemed just right. Now he could finally take the nail out of his pocket.

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