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The Master of the Forge

I remember the day their giant animals
Lurched into Camelodunum - one beast
Each to fill my eyes. And the sound
Of their fleshy horns made me think
They were trumpeting a Roman charge. I was a child -
Had never seen elephants, nor have I since.

But the Roman show wasn’t over - still ahead
Were baths and temples - archways built high
To let big Roman heads pass underneath. So many
Things from so many lands you had to wonder
How their minds could keep it straight.
And there were oils and jewelry and swords -
Workmanship I didn’t understand the quality of
Until I moved in to become the master
Of Presutagus’ forge. Look at me, boy,
Straight into these two black sparks and not
The ones dying on the floor. They put on a good show,
Those ones - in the air, that is.
You have a lot to learn.

My last apprentice - why, he couldn’t keep it straight -
The Roman designs from our own. Didn’t know
Why there were differences in style. Look at the hilt
Of this sword. This is the sword I used
Against the Romans once. Cut a man in two.
What a piece of art! The clean hard lines -
No, wait. This is a Roman sword. Hand me that other -
The hilt with the gentle flowing lines. Yes, much better.

You see, I used to like all things Roman - thought only gods
Could ride such great beasts, that only gods could smell
So sweetly clean. But the beasts were dumber than I thought
And the gods could belch and stink if you watched them
Long enough. And a queen came
Who made me believe in the art of our swords,
The roundness of our wheels - no matter
That no chariot could rise to the height of an elephant.
I fought for her because she had eyes of destiny -
The kind that glow because they can already see
The distant place over the horizon where they're going.
Her voice was strong and sexy... what? Oh, you'll
Understand in a few years. I wanted to follow her
Because she was everything I believed I should be.
Or it could be that's how I remember her now.
What's the difference? - how I remember her
Is how I want to be. Get your foot away from fire, boy!
Can't you tell when somebody's got
Something important to say to you?

We fought to save our way of life -
Those wavy lines you’ve put by accident
On this Roman coin. An Iceni horse over Latin words.
But the old art, I suppose, is in your very blood.
These days, with so many artisans from all the tribes
No one will see anything here but idiosyncrasy.
Put it with the rest - a Roman will spend it for all its flaws.
We false Iceni might as well make false Romans out of them.
And let that new sword cool a little more - give the elements
A chance to breathe strength into it. Then
You can dust away the last of the ashes
From the new sharp edges they encrust.

That smell - there? Of metal being born.
That’s one of the things I look forward to
Now that there are no more wars for me
And only my art. Sometimes, boy, I dream
I’m holding a sword whose hilt feels made
For my hand and when I look at the design
I see something I’ve never seen before,
That no one has commissioned but my heart
And that I can’t remember enough of yet to make.
Its art and blade are for a deeper war
That no one in my dream has been
Brave enough to declare.