The ping of the worn hammer echoed across the compound. Sed shook the sweat from his forehead and drops sizzled on the dull-red iron band he was shaping, a collar strong and heavy.
“She’ll not be rid of this one.” He dove the metal back into the ticking coals readying the strip to receive the first hole punched in its end.
Old man Creston leaned back against a nearby post. “Iron won’t hold her but a day, maybe two. Without a core o’ silver runnin’ through, she’ll be rid of it soon enough.”
Sed motioned the man over to hold the punch to the end of the collar, ready to receive the blacksmith’s penetrating strike. “She’ll come out of it. It’s just mind-fits. Nothing more. You and the Council been spending too much time in Borrowest’s library.”
The hardened punch drove through the band and Sed flattened out the ragged edges of the hole. The mist from the river had yet to lift; the cottonwood trees encroached upon the smithy like shrouded watchers, witnesses to the makings of imprisonment.
“Not a scratch on her, yet the last two sets of shackles rent and tossed aside,” the old man offered.
At Sed’s nod Creston set the punch to the other end. The hammer struck and the sound died hollow.
The ends of the collar were bent to tabs and Sed aligned the holes holding it up with tongs to gauge the trueness. “This time we’ll rivet the ends with the chain pinched between.”
Creston frowned, tossed the punch into the tools bin, and wiped his forehead with a rough canvas sleeve. “No silver, no chance.”
“Tell the Council we’re ready.” Sed plunged the collar into the water bucket where it hissed and spit. “And make sure Nesta’s hands and feet are well tied this time.”
Nesta’s chin lifted and she stared straight into the blacksmith’s eyes, her own, honey-gold eyes clear and guileless. “We can lose this place, Sed. You and I, we can head north, maybe west where Mother Earth still enjoys due respect.”
“Shh, Ness. Wear this collar. Suffer their fears for the time being. Some fresh calamity will steal their minds from you. Then…”
She lowered her eyes and Sed noticed her familiar, melancholy look. Nesta, her tangled chestnut hair weed ridden and stringy, then leaned her head to the anvil. Sed adjusted the collar and the first link of the twenty foot chain so that he could hammer the rivet smooth. He’d taken a bit of cottenwood fluff, free of seeds and gently tucked it into her ears, the pinging, so close, would drive anyone mad.
Borrowest’s mayor, the buttons on his vest straining to pop, his eyebrows combed vertical, his thought to lengthen his pudgy pie-tin face, held up his hand. “As sentenced by the town council of Borrowest, you, Nesta Vie will be shackled in the square for a period of thirty-days for your original crime of conjuring dark spirits and subsequent crimes of escape from prior punishment. Smithy, you may proceed.”