Time had died.
A thick, palpable energy hummed in the air as the vibrations faded, leaving his body cold and numb. The tuning rod in his hand slipped from his grasp as he fell to his knees and retched. The air was thick, and alight with an invisible, sparkling energy.
He looked up at the inverted, pale bell he had struck just a moment prior, and a cold chill ran down his spine. Wrapping his arms around his shivering frame, he closed his eyes as a sharp pulsing wormed its way into his head.
He put his head to the ground and breathed deeply, struggling to regain his senses. After a few moments, the strange symptoms began to recede, only to be replaced with a growing sense of dread.
Something was missing.
Something was wrong.
Raising his head from the ground, he craned his neck and listened, eyes shooting open as he realized what it was.
Silence. The furnace, the birds, the breeze, and the distant laughter of his son, all gone. All around him – silence.
“Triv,” he called, his throat scorched and dry. “Son, answer me.”
He tried to stand, but met unexpected resistance from every muscle in his body. By the Sun, what was happening? With a loud grunt and a shake of his head, he forced himself to stand, but immediately collapsed back to the ground as the very earth seemed to shift under his feet.
His strength faded and his vision blurred, the humming energy around him bringing a new wave of nausea.
No. He must get up. He had to find his son.
Renewing his resolve, he pushed himself to his feet and took one shaky step forward. He grit his teeth. He could do this.
Staggering to the open doors of the foundry, he scanned the field outside. No movement. No Triv.
The house. Triv must have gone back to the house.
Every step brought new pain, and the pounding drum in his mind grew louder until he thought his head would split in two.
There. A small figure lay prone in the grass. His son.
Never had he run faster, all pain forgotten as he neared the child. But relief turned to anguish as he knelt next to the still body. He wasn’t breathing. Pulling his son into his lap, he cradled his body as tears formed in his eyes.
“Triv, please. Breathe!” he cried, shaking him, searching for signs of life. “Please.” He pressed his face into Triv’s and wept, holding his body close.
No. It was a lie. This was a dream. It had to be. He only needed to wake. To wait. Everything would be all right.
An eternity seemed to pass, and still Triv did not move. With every passing second, his hope began to fade. Tears streaming down his face, he lowered his son to the ground with shaking hands. What could have…?
He stood and faced the foundry, eyes narrowed, breathing shallow and ragged.
The bell had done this. He didn’t know how, but he knew. The bell had done this. It had silenced the world. It had killed his son.
Eyes red with hatred, he sprinted across the remainder of the field and burst into his house, gaze resting on his war hammer resting against the wall next to his bed. He snatched it and ran back to the foundry, racing through the open doors.
With a blood-curdling scream, he lunged forward; hammer in hand, vengeance in mind. The hammer arced over his body, striking the bell on the curve. The whole foundry shook with the impact, and he gasped as the ring reverberated from the walls. He fell to the floor, body convulsing.
The world around him started to shake and darken, and in that moment he knew he had lost. He had failed his son.
Sercher groaned, ears ringing and the taste of dirt on his tongue. Confused and coated in sweat, he pushed his face away from the ground and sputtered. He shook his head and looked around.
A soft creak came from above, and he looked up to see a gently swaying inverted, white bell that hung low to the ground from the rafters.
What had happened? Why had he fainted? Despite his best efforts, Sercher couldn’t recall anything more than dark and hazy memories. He gripped his temple, trying to force the mental fog to clear.
The aching in his head turned to waves of dizziness, and he eased his body against the wooden post behind him. A small gleam caught his eye, and he turned his head to see his file and rod in the sand next to him. Yes, he had just started to tune the bell; hardly strenuous enough to induce fainting.
With a determined breath, Sercher stood, clapping the dust off of his hands. He ran his hand along the curve of the bell beside him. Little by little his focus returned, and with it, a growing sense of unease.
His eyes widened as his memory returned, and he recoiled from the bell, tripping backward over a heavy object in the process. There, beside him, lay his war hammer.
“Triv,” he called, racing to his feet, ready to tear out of the foundry.
He stopped short. There in the doorway stood the small frame of an eight-year-old boy. Sercher hesitated, a wave of relief crashing over him. Rushing to his son, he picked him up and embraced him. “Where have you been?” he asked.
“Playing.” Triv answered after a moment.
“In the field?”
Sercher released his son and lowered him to the ground, and breathed a silent, ecstatic prayer of thanks to the gods. He hadn’t lost his boy.
“Papa, a bit ago, I felt really strange,” Triv said.
Sercher’s relief vanished. “Strange? Strange how?”
“I don’t know. Just really sleepy.”
Sercher ran his hands through his thick, brown hair and thought for a moment. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong. But nothing could be done now. He would get answers later. For the time being, he calmed his nerves and forces a smile. “Everything’s ok. Don’t worry.”
Triv nodded. “Will you need my help soon?”
“Yes,” Sercher nodded. “Now in fact. Put on your smock. We’ve got a bell to pour.”
Triv stood at the handle, ready and waiting for the order from his father.
He nodded and pulled the lever next to him. It squeaked and groaned but refused to move.
“Need help?” Sercher asked.
Drawing his lips into a frown, Triv looked at his father, afraid of seeing disappointment, but in Sercher’s face he saw only pride. “No. I can do it,” he said with renewed determination.
He grimaced and pulled the lever, willing his muscles to bulge out like his father’s. It wasn’t long before the metal rod gave way, opening the door to the housing above the furnace. He watched in wonder as the liquid alloy oozed through the opening and down the short track before cascading into the bell mold. Triv grinned, his glittering eyes reflecting the molten falls. He felt it in his bones; he was born to be a bellmaker.
“That’s enough,” Sercher called over the flames, face illuminated by the light of metal and fire. Taking a deep breath, Triv pushed the lever back. Little by little, the metal door groaned to a close, stopping the flow of scalding metal from its belly.
He turned to his father, trying to catch his breath. Pride swelled his chest when received a nod of approval. Wanting to see the result of their hard work, he leapt off the small platform and laughed as his father snatched him from the air and placed him on his shoulders.
“Wow,” he whispered, gazing into the glowing mold.
“Good job, Son. This one will be beautiful,” Sercher said.
Triv breathed in, filling his nose with the scent of metal and fire. Here in the foundry, he felt safe and filled with purpose.
“What next, Papa? Another one?” he asked as Sercher set him back on the ground.
“No. That’s it for today. Let’s go home. Aren’t you hungry?”
Triv’s stomach gurgled at the mention of food.
“Guess that answers that, huh?” Sercher laughed.
Triv followed his father toward the foundry doors, but stopped as they rounded the large, inverted bell near the entrance. “What about this one?” he asked. “Did you tune it?” When no answer came Triv turned from the bell toward his father. “Papa?”
“Tomorrow.” Sercher’s eyes were grave, and he turned his head away, leaving Triv to wonder what he had said. “Come on. Let’s finish up.”
An uncomfortable silence filled the foundry as the two bellmakers quenched the furnace, checked the molds, and put away the tools.
“Papa, are you ok?” Triv asked quietly.
Sercher froze, hung his head, and sighed before turning with a large smile on his face. He snatched his son from the ground and placed him on his shoulders, eliciting a squeal from the young bellmaker.
“Of course, just hungry is all. Ready for dinner?”
“Yep!” Triv wrapped his arms around his father’s forehead, steadying himself as the two of them exited the large double doors and traversed the small field separating their home from the foundry. “Papa. I have a question.”
“Why are we making so many bells?”
“Would your rather go back to making ladles?” Sercher asked.
Triv made a face. He hated making ladles. “No. Bells are my favorite. We just never used to make this many. Now it seems like we’re working on new bells every day.”
“Tell you what – how about we eat, then I’ll tell you,” Sercher said, setting Triv down at the doorstep. He pushed open the simple wooden door and stepped into the cottage. “Start a fire and get the pork from the hole, please.”
“Yes, Papa,” Triv said, grabbing the tinderbox from the corner. It wasn’t long before a cozy fire filled the house with its warmth. As soon as the fire was stable, he ran outside to the meat hole and lifted the metal lid to access the fragrant treasure inside. Only one piece of cured meat left. His father always frowned when hearing that. He pulled the pork from its lonely position and closed the lid.
“Last one, Papa,” Triv said as he reentered the house. But instead of the expected worried expression, his father surprised him with a genuine smile.
“Hey, how about we go to the market tomorrow? We can get more pork and maybe even a pie.”
“Really?” Triv’s eyes lit up as he placed the meat on the table.
“Why not? We’ve made lots of bells, including the one in the town square. I think we can afford to treat ourselves, don’t you? What kind would you like?”
“Strawberry!” Triv shouted, his father’s happiness pouring into him.
“Strawberry it is then. Anything else?”
“A new sword?” Triv asked, shooting a sad glance at his current weapon leaning against the wall.
“A new sword?” Sercher repeated. He followed Triv’s eyes to the forlorn, humorous weapon. “And what’s wrong with that one?”
“Papa! There’s a bell stuck on the end!”
And so there was. A rather large handbell had found its way onto the very tip of the weapon, rendering it useless for any sort of stabbing or piercing. The sword itself might as well have been an overlong handle.
“And who’s fault was that?”
Triv frowned at his father’s failing attempts to hide his grin. “It was an accident.”
Sercher chuckled and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Son. The blacksmith is gone for the month, and I’m out of the white metal.”
“Can’t you get more from that strange man? When does he come back?”
“No. I wasn’t even supposed to make this one. He wanted all of the leftovers returned to him. And now that you’ve pierced the handbell, I don’t know what I’m going to tell him when he comes to get them.”
Triv grunted and lowered his head in shame. He didn’t mean to put his father his this position. The strange man had wanted two bells, one for his belfry and a large hand bell, and had supplied a limited supply of metal with which to cast both instruments. After casting both bells, there was enough excess that Sercher had taken some to the village blacksmith to build his son a crude, blunt sword.
“I know. I’m sorry. But…” Triv’s lip quivered. “How can I be a hero with that?”
Sercher shrugged. “I’m sorry, Son. There’s nothing I can do. When you’re strong enough to wield an iron sword, I’ll ask the blacksmith to make you a new one, ok?”
“I’m strong enough now! I could swing that one, and it wasn’t even hard.”
“Yes, but that metal was…strange.” Sercher said. ” Much lighter than anything I’ve ever seen. It’s special. It’s…” For a moment, he looked at the floor and his mouth drew into a tight line, but it wasn’t long before he shook his head and his smile returned. “Trust me on this one, Son. Iron is much heavier. But you’ll be strong enough soon. Besides, that one isn’t so bad, is it? I’ll bet if you practiced with it, you could beat anyone with a regular sword.”
Triv sighed. “I guess.” It was hard to play hero when his weapon looked so funny.
Sercher watched Triv slurping up his food and his heart filled with warmth and pride at his growing son. He was a hard worker, and a fast learner, not to mention effortlessly making friends with the local children. Though he had never known his mother, he had certainly taken after her in that regard.
His heart sank at the thought of his late wife. She had never regained her strength after Triv’s birth, and succumbed to illness several months after. He had promised to give his son the life he was never quite able to give him wife, and here he was, eight years later, and the official bellmaker of Teraav. For the first time in a long time he didn’t need to worry about money, becoming a known and respected member of the community in his own right. He’d even received the gratitude from the king himself for his work on the bell that hung in the town square.
Yes. It had been a long, hard road these past eight years, but things were finally starting to come together.
“Papa?” Triv said, interrupting Sercher’s thoughts. “You promised to tell me why we’re making lots of bells, remember?”
Sercher’s eyes sparkled and a mischievous smile crept onto his face. “I did? Are you sure?”
“Yes! You did.” Triv gave a playful scowl.
“Well since you seem so sure, I guess I’ll let you in on the secret.” He stood to his feet and circled his son’s chair. “What I’m about to tell you is different from every other story I’ve told you.”
“Because this one is real.”
Triv finished his food and slid off his chair. He knew the drill. As Sercher told a tale, Triv would prepare for bed, the story usually ending just as he drifted off to sleep.
“So, when you look into the night sky, what do you see?”
“Stars.” Triv responded, walking to the fire and prodding the ashes.
“Yes, stars. And what else?”
“Right. And there’s your answer.”
“The moon?” Triv repeated.
Sercher couldn’t give up the story so easily. Triv had to coax it out of him. It was part of the game. He had to ask questions and outsmart his father.
“What does the moon have to do with bells?”
“Well, if you met the moon, what kind of person do you think she would be?”
“Hm.” Triv thought for a moment. “A nice one?”
“Wrong,” Sercher whispered. “You see, the moon was not always so beautiful. A long time ago, the moon was very ugly.”
“No!” Triv said before washing his face in the basin.
“Yes. She was a regular person, living down here like the rest of us.”
“Who was the moon then?”
“There was no moon.” Sercher lowered his voice ominously. “She was an ugly woman who wanted to be beautiful. So she found a sorcerer and had him teach her magic.”
Triv pulled a warm, fur-lined tunic over his head. “Magic? To do what?”
“To steal the beauty from others and put it in herself.”
“How? What did she have to do? What happened to the people?” Triv asked.
“Nobody knows,” Sercher said, fingers weaving through the air. He smiled at Triv’s wide-eyed curiosity and continued, “She looked far and wide for the most beautiful people in the world and stole their beauty.”
“Did anybody stop her?” Triv crawled into bed and snuggled into the fur blanket.
“No. In fact, she stole so much beauty that one day the stars themselves came down from the sky, love-struck, and asked her to join.”
“She agreed, and rose into the sky to become the beautiful moon we see today.”
Triv scrunched his nose, raising his eyebrows at his father. “Wait, I still don’t understand about the bells.”
“We’re getting there,” Sercher said. “You see, the moon business was long ago. So long that nobody remembers when. Many years later, you were born.” He flicked his son’s nose.
“Hey!” Triv squealed and buried his face in his pillow.
“And not long after you were born, the king and queen of Teraav also had a baby.” Sercher peaked underneath the pillow as Triv tried to hide. “A princess, that they named Dial. She was so beautiful that whenever the queen took her out under the night sky, the Moon herself grew jealous of her beauty. So she sent one of her servants to steal the baby away. Only one person was watching that night and saw the light fall to the earth. The king’s brother, Jax. He has a statue in the square, remember?”
“He had studied the histories, and was worried about the moon, but when he told the king, he was laughed at for believing in myths. But Prince Jax new better. He waited in the baby princess’ room and, sure enough, there came a slave of the moon, dressed in moonlight, eyes empty as a bell without a clapper.”
Triv grabbed his father’s hand. “Oh no!”
“Oh yes. Prince Jax stood between the slave and the princess and fought with the slave, and what a fierce battle it was.” Sercher squeezed his son’s hand, watching with glee as Triv looked at the dying fire in the hearth, no doubt seeing Jax and the moon slave fighting in the dancing shadows of the flames.
“The prince managed to hold the slave back in time for the king and his guards to arrive. The slave knew he couldn’t win so he leapt out the window and disappeared. The king turned to thank his brother, but saw he was badly wounded.”
“But he lived right?” Triv asked, eyes wide with worry.
“No, Son. Prince Jax died that night, and the king knew the moon would not stop trying to claim his daughter. He assembled a team of heroes who have fought to keep the princess safe, but one by one the slave has killed them. Only a few remain.”
Triv said nothing, a shiver running up his back.
“But don’t worry. That’s where we come in. The slave hasn’t been seen for two years, and the king has ordered bells to be placed for every town in Teraav, so if anyone sees any sign of the moon slave, they can ring it to alert the whole kingdom. We, as the official bellmakers, are responsible for making them.”
Triv yawned, a sleepy smile on his face. “Ha. I’ll keep the kingdom safe. I’ll stop that moon slave.”
“Really now? With that odd little weapon of yours?” Sercher said before giving his son a kiss on the head.
“Yep. He won’t stand a chance. You’ll see.”
“Being a hero is more than that, Son.”
Triv’s face contorted in confusion. “More than stopping bad guys? What is it then?”
Sercher paused, before giving out a sigh. “Well, I guess it’s doing the right thing, even when it’s hard.”
“I’m a hero. I’ll keep everyone safe. I’ll do the right things,” Triv mumbled, already somewhere between dreams and reality.
“I’m sure you will, Son.” Sercher smiled as his child fell asleep. He released his son’s hand and went to bed. Soon, everything was quiet, leaving Sercher alone with disturbing images of a still world.
Triv’s eyes slowly opened as a distant, hushed conversation woke him. He yawned and looked around the dark house, lit only by the glowing embers of the banked fire. Nobody. The voices seemed to be coming from outside.
He slipped out of bed and tiptoed his way to his father’s bed. It was empty. Now fully awake, Triv snuck to the window and poked his head through the thick sheet that hung over it. Sure enough, there stood his father, facing away from the house. But there was also another man. One Triv thought he recognized.
The full moon illuminated the strong, broad frame of Sercher, even as the stranger seemed to hug the shadows. One thing was obvious though, Triv’s father dwarfed the other man in both height and bulk. Pressing his ear against the window, he held his breath and tried to listen.
“It was accidental. I mixed the remainder of the material with some copper and was able to make a second hand bell.”
Their voices were hushed, but intense. Triv’s father said something else in a solemn tone, followed by a long silence. The stranger finally spoke, in a dark tone that made Triv shiver, “I said no questions.”
Sercher’s shoulders tensed and he stood a bit taller. Triv began to worry; he could feel the tension even from his hiding place. He scurried to the wall and grabbed his bellsword. He would keep it close in case he had to save his father. By the time he returned to the window, the conversation had continued.
“This metal is full of magic. I demand to know what it is and what it will be used for,” Sercher said.
“Its purposes are my own,” the stranger replied. “You were tasked with making the bells, and you couldn’t even manage that. Though I have but one bell, I will pay you what I promised. Here.” The stranger tossed a small pouch in the air toward the bellmaker.
Sercher caught the bag, but let it drop to the ground without opening it. “If you don’t tell me what’s going on I will destroy the bell.”
The stranger paused for a moment before speaking. “This would be a grave mistake.” His eyes moved past Sercher, and Triv felt as if the man’s gaze was fixed on him. He shuddered and pulled back into the shadows. “One with dire consequences.”
“A man can only take so many hints at violence before he starts to feel threatened,” Sercher growled.
“Indeed so,” the stranger said.
Sercher paused. “Leave this place, before I see you as a threat to my family.”
“As you wish,” the stranger said. “But the bell comes with me.” The man turned on his heel and started to walk away. Triv sighed in relief but gasped when his father’s fist flew through the air toward the back of the visitor’s head.
The stranger turned and effortlessly ducked beneath the blow, pivoted toward his attacker, and sent a punch of his own into Sercher’s ribs. A resounding crack rang through the air, and Sercher stumbled back in shock. He grasped his side and grunted in pain, but quickly straightened himself and glared at the much smaller man. Just as he was about to take a step forward, the stranger snatched a dagger out of his cloak, causing Sercher to stop in his tracks.
“I suggest you stop and think about what you have to lose, Bellmaker.” The man’s knife gleamed in the moonlight. “Think of your son.”
Sercher stepped backward toward the door, trying to shield his house from the dangerous man. When he spoke, his voice was low and defeated, “Go. Take it.”
The knife disappeared back under the worn, silver cloak. Without a word, the stranger turned and continued his trek to the foundry.
Triv wondered how the man hoped to carry the bell out of the foundry alone. His father needed chains and horses to lift it onto a cart to be delivered, and he was twice the stranger’s size. His thoughts were interrupted as his father turned, and burst through the door, his arm clinging to his side and an angry, determined look on his face.
“Papa?” Triv said, watching his father reach into the corner beside his bed and pull out his large war hammer.
Sercher rushed to the corner beside his bed and grabbed his large war hammer leaning against the wall. He returned to the door and looked at his son with a dark expression on his face. “Stay here.”
Clutching his bellsword, Triv swallowed and nodded. He could only watch in fear as his father left the house and sprinted toward the foundry. A wave of panic washed over him, and after a moment he ran to the door, weapon still in hand. He took a timid step into the night, his hand shaking as he renewed his resolve and followed his father.
Sercher reached the foundry, and stood by the door, hesitating. Triv stopped and dropped low into the grass to avoid discovery. A moment passed, only the gentle breeze daring to break the night’s silence. But then, the door opened. Triv couldn’t believe his eyes. The stranger stepped out of the foundry, carrying the massive bell in his bare hands. Seizing the opportunity, Sercher swung his hammer, connecting with the stranger’s side. The bell dropped, and the man flew a small distance before landing in the grass in a slump.
Sercher looked back and forth between the still man and the large, white instrument that had fallen onto the ground. He took a deep breath, raised his hammer, and brought it crashing down on the bell. A sharp clang pierced the night, and Triv covered his ears. Again his father raised the hammer, and hit the bell with all his might.
Triv watched his father strike the bell over and over, and before long a large crack started to form on the curve. The crack grew with each collision, until he was sure the bell would shatter. Sercher raised his hammer as high as he could, ready to finish the job.
Out of the corner of his eye, Triv saw something move. A pale, gleaming light shot from the stranger’s resting place, and by the time Triv looked back at his father, there stood the stranger, shimmering with a pale light of his own, knife buried in his father’s chest.
Everything was still. The night completely silent except for Triv’s breathing. Sercher’s hands trembled, the hammer still above his head. Triv could do nothing more than watch in disbelief as the weapon fell from his father’s grasp and thudded to the ground. The stranger withdrew his knife, and Sercher fell forward to his knees before slumping to the earth.
“Papa!” Triv screamed as he raced to his father. He saw the stranger’s head turn at his approach, his eyes empty and gleaming. But he didn’t care. He slid next to his father, dropped his bellsword, and took his father’s hand.
“Triv,” Sercher breathed out, blood pooling underneath him. He turned his gaze to his son, and sputtered.
Triv’s vision blurred as the life slowly vanished from his Sercher’s eyes. Tears ran down his cheeks as his shaking hands gingerly touched his father’s face.
“Papa?” Triv’s body convulsed as pained, agonizing sobs rocked his body. Oblivious to the world around him, he buried his face in his father’s neck and cried.