First few pages

Some thousand years ago I was working as a blacksmith in the county of the Cerdanya, in the southern slopes of the Pyrenees. I had learned the art of the forge in my father’s workshop, and I found the job not unpleasant. In fact, at that time you had few options in choosing your way of making a living. I was destined to succeed my father in the trade, because all of my brothers had died before their first birthday. I was also destined to consider the work of the smith as a privilege within that world of meagre harvests and of so many people with neither trade nor income. My future seemed to be written.

   My mother died giving me birth, and my father did not wish to sully her memory –those were his words– with another wife. Every four or five years we moved to a different village, always within the county of the Cerdanya. When we had installed the forge, the peasants ordered from us spades, adzes, axes and other farming tools. But most of our work came from the nobles and the monks, who commissioned from us knives, shears, forks, pot-hangers and all kinds of iron implements. On the day when we had completed all of the orders, we loaded our tools onto the cart and travelled along unknown tracks until we found another place where we could be of service. My father was lame, and he rode on the cart while I led the animals.

   When I turned sixteen, my father taught me to make swords. He had learned the technique from my grandfather, who had learned it from my great-grandfather, and so on back to some obscure forebear who, by all signs, must have been of Germanic origin. From then on I dedicated a large part of my free time –what there was of it– to forging a weapon that was to have no equal in all the world: my sword.

   It will be helpful if I make an incision to describe the method of producing it, as this sword was the direct cause of the sudden change that took place in my life and everything that has happened to me since. The inner part of the blade was made with a rod of steel harder than any known mineral, which my father had given to me. He called it "stone from heaven" and would never tell me where he had come across it. This central part was surrounded by layers of different known steels, soft irons and sharp minerals, combined according to the family tradition. The layers had to be arranged with great patience, before joining them together with fire and the hammer and twisting them to make them bind better. My father told me time and again that the more I struck the layers, the more powerful the sword would be. I used to work on it until I fell asleep over the anvil.

   Between looking for minerals, travelling, working the forge and setting the point, I worked on that piece for seven years. The process included consecrations to the stars and readings of texts in unknown languages. These were constituting elements of the sword of my spit, my sweat and my blood.

   The double edge finished in a slightly rounded point. The hilt, short in a single cross, was crowned by a rounded pommel. In making that light, strong weapon I applied all of the known techniques of the blacksmith’s trade. When it was finished, the sword easily passed all of the tests of fire. When just one test remained, I carried it out of the workshop to look at it in the sunlight. It shone as if it had a life of its own.

   I was still very young then, and I told everyone who was prepared to listen that I was forging the most powerful sword in Christendom. It did not take long for the news to reach Arnulf, one of the knights who fought in the pay of the count. The medieval knights had a very idealised concept of themselves, but in reality they were (as I suppose you know, Your Majesty) what today we would call mercenaries, professional soldiers bought by the potentates. Those knights were as far removed from the image that we have of them nowadays as the gunmen that I met in Colorado just before the War Of Succession were from the ones we see in the westerns. But allow me to resume my story. When Arnulf, the leader of the thieves and murderers of the Cerdanya heard about my sword, he wasted no time in appearing at our forge.

   "How much do you want for the spata ignea?" he asked my father.
   "It’s my son’s, and I don’t think he wants to sell it."

   Arnulf looked at me as if looking at a slave. With a gesture, he indicated that he wanted to see the sword and I showed it to him.

   "I’ll give you ten sous for it, lad."
   "It’s not finished yet, but there aren’t enough sous in all the world to buy it, sire." I replied.
   "We’ll see about that," he grunted as he turned away.

   The next day a merchant arrived in the village. He was tall, very tall. He had a long, narrow head and large ears, and his eyes and cheekbones stuck out. He had a cropped beard that seemed to grow out of his curly, pitch-black hair. He wore an elegant cloak and spent his money freely. That afternoon he came to the forge.

   "Joan, I understand you’re making a sword of great value."

   The merchant’s smile contrasted with the tone of his voice, so contemptuous he might have been spitting out stones.

   "It’s not for sale, sir," I replied, wondering who could have told him my name.
   "You haven’t heard my offer yet..."
   "There’s nothing that can buy it, sir, I assure you."
   "We’ll see."

   As he left, he still wore the scornful grin on his lips.

   I gave neither Arnulf nor the merchant the importance they warranted. The sword was not the only thing occupying my thoughts. I was deeply in love with Emma, a girl of delicate features and rotund body who served in the count’s castle. More than once we had sworn we would love each other all our lives. One evening I made a passing comment about Arnulf’s visit, and she warned me to be cautious of him. According to her, he always got what he wanted and never hesitated to stab someone in the back to do so. I made some facetious comment to seem brave, and changed the subject.

   A few weeks went by. The constant activity at the forge meant that time passed without hurry or anxiety. The day the sword passed the seventh and last test of fire, I wrapped it up in a sack and took it to show Emma. It annoyed me that she did not admire the magnificent weapon. I should explain that my experience with women was minimal at the beginning of the millenium. In time, I realised that scorn for material possessions is one of the rarest of feminine virtues – perhaps I think that because when I became a rich man I ceased to attract sincere women. The fact is that at that moment I did not know how to judge that attitude of Emma’s. When we said goodbye that evening, I denied her the shows of affection I usually gave her.

   Just finished, the sword was already beginning to cause trouble. I found the workshop ransacked and destroyed, and my father lying badly hurt on the ground beside the tongs. He had taken a severe blow in the head and all his body was battered and wounded. His blood mingled with the dross of the iron.