The Dwarfed Apprentice

Gehrlittan the Lesser snarled when he first met me. I was somewhat relieved; I had been mostly convinced of my inevitable metamorphosis into a midday snack, so the realization that Gehr had restrained his initial impetus to ingest me into a mere growl was quite encouraging.

“You,” he huffed, smoke enwreathing my entire self.

“Hello,” I offered. “My name is—”

“I care little.”


I dropped my hand, which I realized had been pointless to offer in the first place, as Gehr dwarfed me. I was not used to being dwarfed, particularly in the sphere of blacksmithing, as the dwarves tended to be the ones being dwarfed, and quite frankly at six-and-a-half feet most of the other human blacksmiths tended to be dwarfed too, at least relative to me. Gehr, however, operated on an entirely different scale, and in reality the term “dwarfed” did not quite capture the amount to which he made me feel like a small child.

All this to say I dropped my hand, since if he had taken it I would die.

“You are here to watch and to learn and not to speak, and certainly not to touch anything,” Gehr growled. He turned and took two gargantuan footsteps away from me, walking in that peculiar upright way that felt so familiar to humans but totally foreign to a dragon’s body. He must have covered fifty feet with each step, and I started sprinting to keep up.

“In the best of times, your petty human troubles would bore me,” Gehr called back. “But as you are well aware, I find it in my best interests to teach you. However, your… construction… may limit you.”

He passed through an opening in the cavernous mountain corridors, and as I followed as close behind as I could manage, I could feel the temperature in the air reach a searing high.

If the hallway we had left was cavernous, there remained no words sufficient to describe the vastness of the dragon’s primary workshop. Gehr flapped his wings twice and launched into the air, crossing a river of flowing molten metal wide enough to fit two barges side by side.

No amount of sprinting could match that.

“Um, Mr. Lesser, sir…”

The dragon whirled back, a gout of flaming rising in his throat. Then he saw me and swallowed it.

“Ah.” A wisp of smoke rose from his snout. “Are you sure you’re up to this task?”

“I don’t have a choice, do I?” I asked. “Neither of us does.”

Gehr squinted at me, a glare of approval in his amber eyes. “True enough, human.”

He flapped back across the molten river, landing with a crash mere feet from me, shaking the ground enough to knock me down.

He reached out with two claws and, with shocking gentleness, picked me up and flew back.

“Here, we will mold, form, shape, and refine. The mountain provides raw materials in excess, for the moment, at least,” Gehr said. “It is currently set up for myself only, of course.”

Gehr set me down on an elevated outcropping of rock on the wall, providing an excellent view of the whole room.

“You smiths of lesser races have such small ideas. This is not an insult, of course, but fact. You work with one breastplate, one sword, a handful of spears. Important work, to be sure, and capable of great things with enough time and hands. But the Walls of Terragoth will fall if they are made from a million tiny pieces by a thousand smiths. Look—”

He reached out one enormous hand and tilted a crucible. A quantity of iron greater than the sum total of all that I had worked with in my life poured into a mold, hissing and spitting with hatred as Gehr coaxed it with flame and bare claw into the shape.

“We need five thousand of these girders in the next year to complete the walls. After that, the armies of the Grand Republic will be at the gates, and they will have their first and hopefully final test.”

He picked up a hammer the size of my childhood home and swung it, banging an enormous sheet into shape with ear-piercing crashes that left me dizzy.

“Ten thousand of these plates will be its skin, its armor, its cladding,” Gehr said, his roaring voice audible even over my ringing ears. “We have one year.”

Gehr lifted the hammer, then set it down. He turned to me.

“If we fail to make sufficient quantities, Terragoth will fall. If any single piece is weak, flawed, fragile, Terragoth will fall. If we succeed, tens of thousands of Terragoth’s sons and fathers will fall. If we fail, that number will be millions.”

He placed both clawed hands on either side of my outcropping and brought one great eye to bear. It was nearly my height alone.

“If we fail, my own progeny will be killed, and the last of the dragons will be taken from this mortal plane,” Gehr said softly. “We must be fast, capable, and above all else, perfect. Are you prepared?”

I did not know. Gehr had been honest and straightforward about the difficulty of the task ahead, but he left one fact unspoken, perhaps because we both knew it:

Gehr himself would be dead within three months, whether we succeeded or not.

I nodded, feeling faint in the heat.

“Good,” Gehr said. “Let us begin.”


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