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  • Jen Williams

An Iron Ghost Extra




Warning! Here be spoilers. If you haven't read The Iron Ghost - the second book in the Copper Cat trilogy - then it's probably best if you read no further. If you have, then here is a short letter from one of the minor characters; it looks deeper into the history of the werkens, the Skalds, and their history with their cold mountain-dwelling neighbours, the Narhl. I wrote this as part of the Copper Cat Correspondence Patreon project, partly because someone once asked me: 'What happened to Barlow, anyway? Did she survive?'


Dear Lord Frith,

I have to say I’m surprised to hear from you. After how everything ended in Skaldshollow, I’d have been shocked to hear from any of the Black Feather Three, to be honest, but your struggles with the mad mage – well, there have been some nasty rumours, if you must know, but I guess you’re a man who prizes learning above the discomfort of bad memories.

We were all lucky to come out of that disaster alive. There are more Skalds left than you might think, and the truth is we owe our own survival through the winter to the Narhl, a fact that has caused more than a few sour faces, let me tell you. Skaldshollow was a nightmarish mess – what buildings weren’t smashed or damaged by the Destroyer or the Rivener were crammed with rotting bodies. Not a pleasant job to clear up, and we were hardly in any state to deal with it. So the Narhl gave us shelter at the command of their Prince Dallen. I don’t pretend to understand their cold politics, but I think they’re going through their own ructions now – it’s been a period of violent change for all of us, I suppose.

But that’s not why you wrote to me. A history of the crafters of Skaldshollow, you called it, but I don’t have anything like that, or at least, nothing as grand. You have to remember that I was just one of Tamlyn Nox’s rock blasters, an underling who blew up what she was told to. Besides which, the Tower of Waking was destroyed. Any histories the Mistress Crafter might have had are lost, and of course Nuava Nox, her apprentice, died too. But what little I know – fragments, mostly, gathered from the memories of the handful of us that are left, and a few scattered documents – I will offer up to you. Things are bad here, sure, but if you three hadn’t killed Joah Demonsworn and banished his demon, there wouldn’t even be anyone here to moan about the bad food and the draughts. So I guess we owe you that much.

It might surprise you to know that Tamlyn Nox’s family were long linked to the werkens and the crafting of them. Nox’s great aunt was the Mistress Crafter before her, and her grandmother before that, and before them, a whole trio of siblings were blessed with the ability to see how the stone must be carved to bring it to life. It was these three – two sisters and an older brother – who pioneered the use of werkens as the tools to build our city. Before them, the werkens were mostly used as simple beasts of burden, but the earth-werkens reshaped this entire landscape.

It was another crafter, not a relative of Nox but a woman called Erine Bayne, who crafted the first war-werken, or at least, what we would recognise as one. She was a peaceful, quiet woman, not the Mistress Crafter at all but an unambitious apprentice who spent much of her time teaching children. Bayne had taken a little group of her youngest children up into the Bladder Wrack – a little patch of marshy land riddled with rivers, I don’t believe you saw it – to show them how the life of the mountain flowed through the rocks there (you called this Edeian, I think). It was summer, a warm enough day, and they were paddling back and forth in a shallow river filled with shining pebbles, hidden by a thick copse of trees. Bayne was on the shore, contentedly heating some food for the little ones over a fire, and did not realise that there were Narhl in the river too, just around the bend and out of sight. The Narhl travel, sometimes, by freezing the water ahead of them, and that’s just what happened: a little tide of freezing ice flowed through the river, trapping two of Bayne’s young charges in the water. They were terrified, especially when they saw the imposing figures of the Narhl walking towards them.

Poor Bayne. Like I said, she was no warrior, and had none of the fierceness we remember Nox so, uh, fondly for. But she did her best, gathering the free children to the fire – fire and warmth hurt the Narhl, I’m sure you’ll remember – but she couldn’t retrieve the two trapped students until the party had passed by. I imagine she was terrified. You have to bear in mind, we didn’t know the Narhl then like we do now. They were a distant people, keeping to the most frozen areas, the highest points of the mountains – they would have been more like shadowy figures from stories to Bayne. She watched them go past, looking down at the children stuck there. One of the Narhl, a young woman, looked over to Bayne and seemed about to say something, but Bayne suddenly found her courage and ran at them, shouting. The Narhl, more confused and startled than afraid, I’m sure, left, and Bayne went to the children, breaking the ice with her own fists.

One of the children was fine – cold and frightened, but perfectly well. The other caught a chill, and within days was burning up with a fever, her horrified parents at her bedside. Bayne was there also, guilt-stricken and desperate to help. Despite all their efforts, the child died, and Bayne went away to her own home and only re-emerged months later, clutching designs for a new type of werken. She had been defenceless, and she would be defenceless no longer.

There are more stories Lord Frith, I am sure of it, but they will take some gathering. I could still find some of Tamlyn’s old papers and designs, but I don’t hold out too much hope. When I have anything more, I will write to you again. Please do pass on my regards and thanks to Wydrin Threefellows and Sir Sebastian.

Regards,

Barlow Ressin-Bayne

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