With apologies to Jack Vance...

The apprentices were not happy. Galeth heard them whispering behind his back as he checked the fire. He did not need to glance away from his work to tell that Marne had that old, familiar worried look on his face. After training the boy for three years, he knew exactly how Marne’s brow would crease when he felt that something was wrong, but did not wish to disrespect his master.

He shifted the heavy ladle a few inches so that the starmetal would soften more evenly, and waved to the boys to pump the bellows again.

“A little more attention to the bellows, if you would, dear Jes,” he reminded them. “This is tricky work. Starmetal dislikes melding with baser things. This scarab requires a fire somewhat hotter than we would use to soften fine copper filament.”

He turned away from the raging heat of the forge and looked at the boys taking turns at the bellows.

“Marne, why does your brow wrinkle as if you smelled something foul in my workshop?”

The newer apprentice gave Marne a you’re-in-for-it-now look, but Marne was unafraid.

“I do smell something foul, sir,” he replied. “I smell sorcery of the darkest kind. Irrespective of your exalted position and superior wisdom, I must ask myself if it is right that we so eagerly embrace this commission, knowing as we do that our work will bring no good to anyone.”

"You know, then, what the wizard Camounth plans to do with this golden bug?”

Marne shook his head.

Then how can you be so sure our work will bring no good?”

Marne took the other boy’s place leaning on the bellows, and sweat flew off his chin as he answered, “everyone knows that Camounth is wicked, sir. I don’t have to know exactly what he is doing to know that it is evil.”

“They say you can hear screams from his house all night long,” the other apprentice joined in.

“They say that?”

“Yes, sir.” Both boys nodded earnestly. The smith checked on the state of the gold in the forge. Almost ready. He surveyed the workbench where the mould for the scarab’s body lay, made sure that his tools were all in the proper places, and nodded in satisfaction.

Turning back towards the apprentices, he asked, “I am a lowly goldsmith, and must defer to your intimate acquaintance with the upper crust of Shaltanese wizardry. What, in your opinion, is Camounth?”

Hesitantly Marne ventured, “a wizard?

“It is as I have heard it, as well. A wizard, our friend Camounth. A man, or manlike being at any rate, who performs sorcery and enchantment. A man who works with the darkest elemental energies that weave our world together. One who melds flesh to stone, if rumour serves, and feathers to scales. A man who summons fire from the air itself. And, unless memory betrays me, a member of the Golden Circle. Is that, more or less, what you have heard?”

“Yes, sir.” They both knew that Galeth was angry.

“And what, may I ask, are we?”


“Again, the very answer I myself would have given. We are goldsmiths. Men of hammer and forge, who melt and shape precious metals. Jewellers. Craftsmen. Do you have any knowledge of sorcery, Marne?”

Marne shook his head despondently.

“Are you girded with any of the protective charms, any of the runes that sorcerers often weave into the fabric of their clothing, Jes?”

The other boy confirmed that he was altogether ignorant of the fashions of wizardry.

Am I mistaken, or is this workshop entirely devoid of ensorcelled weapons and amulets of power?”

Both apprentices shook their heads.

“Good, then our esteemed neighbours will finally have a chance to observe at first hand the results of a skirmish between three poorly armed goldsmiths and one of the most powerful wizards in Untral Minla. There will be no interference from extraneous factors, nothing to spoil the purity of the righteous – and brief – melee that will surely follow in the highly unlikely event that I should decide to tell this legendary Camounth that his wicked business is not good enough for our shop. Let me ponder this matter a while. Cease your huffing and puffing there, dear boys, and rest a few moments. Let the bellows stop! Let the gold and starmetal cool while I devise a strategy for the safest way to inform this sorcerer, this vivisectionist, this dark enchanter whose name is whispered in fearful tones from Saltheart Harbour to the Southern Swamp that his patronage is not needed in our worthy shop. But wait, I perceive a renewed vigour in your bellows work! Why do you not stop?”

The apprentices had resumed pumping the bellows with great alacrity. The taller Marne, sweat flying off his brow, grunted a response while Jes took his turn.

“You argue with commendable sincerity, esteemed Master, but I have just recalled the old adage, of Dejali origin I believe, that it is better to finish one job poorly than to start five jobs well. I believe this saying applies to our current situation, with only a minor extension of the basic metaphor.”

The master smith nodded slowly. “Reluctant though I am to abandon my virtuous stand against the tyranny of wizards, on this occasion I will defer to the wisdom of the Dejali. It shall be as you say. Let us finish this evil bug, and curse it at our leisure when we are spending Camounth’s silver in the tavern down the street.”

Other sketches: The Society of Three, Jezi and Calico, Windmawr Market, Protector of the Small...