Disclaimers: Sunda Kastagir isn't mine. No infringement intended; no money made; no boom-boom drunk. (I'm not that crazy.) Written for the 2003 Highlander Lyric Wheel.
Rated: G, PG at worst. And that only because it's Sunda. Enjoy!
The hammer swung down, barely up, down, and farther up in an age-old pattern.
Drop-forged steel rang on red-hot steel pinned against cold forged steel -- again, and again, and again. Ta-tink! Ta-tink! Ta-tink!
The gulls had heard it all before. It had nothing to do with food for them, so they screamed their raucous shrieks and beat wings against the air, off to hunt dinner elsewhere. The black man stripped to the waist ignored the disgusted white birds and continued his work. He’d begun two days before with iron and steel rods, twisting them tightly together with the aid of a vise and his own muscle. Two days of heating them, hammering them, heating them again. Beating steel and iron from a cylindrical twist to a flattened sword blank showing apparently braided patterns of metals and far too wide for a blade... then folding it over onto itself, and beginning again.
Pump the bellows. Burn the charcoal. Watch the metal shift from black and silver to red and black. Hammer it out, fast enough not to lose the heat, slow enough not to break the crystalline structures he was trying to create. Again and again and again, with the weave of metals becoming steadily more complex under his hammer and tongs. The note of the hammer on the steel was slowly changing, becoming more and more clear. It wasn’t singing yet, but it would eventually.
"So you are back."
Sunda Kastagir shifted the blade carefully into the banked charcoal before he turned around. "Good of you to wait until I could stop," he said mildly. "I’m back, yes."
The woman nodded and corn-rowed braids escaped her red headband when she did. "Great-uncle said you would be. You don’t remember me."
That drew a flash of white teeth among four days start on a beard. Kastagir laughed, head back. "The hell I don’t. Marie Noisseaux you were. Whether you’ve married I don’t know, but you were the only one who ever learned not to bother a man at a forge."
Marie grinned, too, a gold capped tooth flashing as she did, but there was a shadow behind her smile. "That was me. Never found another man who laughed like you did, though." She set some thought away as she said, "You still needing charcoal when you come out here?"
Kastagir nodded. "I’d appreciate more charcoal, and some corn meal. Some beer if there’s any to be found?"
"Easy enough. I’ll bring the boat closer when I come back. You can help unload the charcoal, too." She moved to look more closely at his work "Another sword? Did the last one break?"
"No," Kastagir said simply. "I just need another."
She studied the half-buried blade thoughtfully. "Not many things you can need a real sword for. You could grind a steel blank down to look like one a lot easier’n you can do this."
"It would break." He watched her as carefully as she was watching the steel. "Not a good thing when you need it."
" 'Bout like breaking your paddle against the stump you’re trying to fend off. Or your propeller blade...." She shrugged and turned away. "Charcoal, corn meal, beer. Water? Oranges?"
Kastagir pulled out his wallet, passed her five battered tens. "Definitely the first four. Oranges if there’s money and room in your boat left. Still in that pirogue?"
"Mmm," she agreed, tucking the money away. "Put a motor on it a few years ago. Swamps aren’t like they were, Sunda Kastagir. You watch your back. Seminole still know you, but we’re not the only ones moving through here."
"Progress came and took its toll, hmm?" Kastagir wiped the sweat off his face with a red bandana more faded than hers, and stained with salt and sweat besides. He broke the plastic seal on a bottle of water and drained it down. "I thought it was too shallow in a few places for as wet as the year’s been."
" 'Flood control,' they say." Marie laced the words with contempt. "They made their plans, and they’re draining the land. Politicians and whites making their money by forcing us out. Guess they think they’ll find more gold here."
"Florida real estate has been gold," Kastagir pointed out. He was watching the heat of his forge though.
Marie smiled a little. "We forget they think like that. This isn’t gold," she said. The wave of her hand took in saw grass and gently rolling water, salt breeze and soaring eagle, and the heat and humidity and the white wheel of the sun beating down on it all. "It’s just home."
She tucked the momentary sentimentality -- or softening -- back under and away again, pulling up walls that hadn’t been there twenty-four years ago when a small girl had watched Kastagir hammer out a scimitar from the broken pieces of great sword. The sword had been all he’d had left of a friend; when the forging was done, Kastagir had a new sword, and his sense of humor back. Now hers was almost gone and she wasn’t going to take a transfusion or graft from what Kastagir could see.
He smiled at her, that knowledge lying rueful behind his eyes. Marie nodded slowly in acknowledgement. "Everything changes, Kastagir, and everybody."
"Not always for the better," he rumbled. "Can I help?"
That got a fast smile. "Don’t think so. It’s just life. Grow in places; get rubbed raw in others. Just the way it is." A quick jerk of that proud head indicated the forge and the buried half-finished sword. "Think you can get that thing to a stopping point by sunset?"
Marie smiled, slower this time and more likely to stay awhile. "Sunda Kastagir you said. A proud name, you said. Great-uncle passed twenty years ago, but Momma still makes the best batter-fried fish around and she’d dearly like to meet you. Maybe have you come to dinner."
He watched her, amused somehow by the currents he sensed under her words. Deceptively placid that smile, smooth and untroubled as the swamp outside his forge. "And the tribe might hear I ate at your hearth?"
"Might could be," she admitted. "Might remind them that the blacks fought with the Seminole almost as long as they’ve been calling themselves Seminoles."
"And that you might be dark, but you’re tribe?" Kastagir nodded. "Hush puppies, too?"
"Might could be," Marie said, smile still broad and pleased. "Be back with your supplies in a few hours. You still want the purchases spread out?"
He nodded. "Better that way."
Marie nodded. "Trust the fire to be hot, you always said."
"And don’t blame it for being hot, either," Kastagir agreed. "The metal’s almost ready."
"I’ll be back in a few hours then," Marie told him. "And I’ll tell Momma you’re coming to dinner." She looked around: at the eagle still circling overhead as it waited patiently for its prey, at Kastagir standing near his forge, waiting patiently for the metal to be ready again. "Why do you do this here? It’s hot as hell and all the water can’t be good for that thing. You always bury it in oiled sand when you leave, and don’t come back for years...."
Kastagir just looked at her. "The best weapons come out of heat, and strength, and a harsh land. Osceola knew that. The States damn well found it out."
Marie straightened, strong and proud as any blade he’d ever forged, and Kastagir hoped his words would forge enough strength for her to reclaim the joy she’d once possessed. "Damn right they did." She nodded to him, proud and pleased. "I’ll pick you up an hour or so before sunset, then.
"Shave, why don’t you? You’re going to dinner with two ladies, after all." Marie left amid a roar of delighted laughter, and let it color her eyes and add just that little bit of spring and swing to her step, for his joy and her own.
~ ~~ finis ~ ~ ~
Comments, Commentary, & Miscellanea:
Osceola was a Seminole chieftain, captured by the US in 1837. The Seminole fought three successive wars against the US; a peace treaty was finally signed in 1935. They took in fugitive slaves for years, who fought alongside the other tribe members. Somehow I have no trouble imagining Kastagir making friends there.
Lyrics courtesy of Babnol. Lines used marked with *.
Ever since the days of old
Men would search for wealth untold
They'd dig for silver and for gold
And leave the empty holes;
And way down south in the Everglades
Where the black water rolls and the saw grass waves
The eagles fly and the otters play
In the land of the Seminole.
So blow, blow Seminole wind
Blow like you're never gonna blow again;
I'm callin' to you like a long-lost friend
But I don't know who you are.
And blow, blow from the Okeechobee
All the way up to Micanopy (pronounced: Meh-can-o-pee)
Blow across the home of the Seminole
The alligator and the gull
Progress came and took its toll *
And in the name of flood control *
They made their plans and they drained the land *
Now the Glades are goin' dry
And the last time I walked in the swamp
I stood up on a cypress stump
I listened close and I heard the ghost
Of Osceola cry