Book excerpt

Black Blade Blues

Sarah Jane Beauhall

J. A. Pitts



THE WARRIOR KING STOOD ATOP THE HILL, THE LIGHT OF A new dawn cresting behind him. His pompadour, tall and proud as a cockscomb, blocked the sun, casting his face in shadow. Tiny shafts of light sprayed from the crystals adorning his glowing white armor. The ebony blade he held above his head drank in the light, casting a halo around his upraised hands.

“I declare this land free from oppression,” he called. His voice rang. “I claim this, my birthright: this sword, made from the shattered horn of Memphisto, and handed down to me from my father, and from his father before him. With this I cast the goblins from this land.”

He swung the sword to drag it across the rocky crag and shower sparks down upon the goblin horde at his feet.

Instead, I watched the sword strike the ferrocrete stage and snap. Fully one-third of the blade ricocheted toward the goblins, who scattered, squealing.

Actors are so stupid—not supposed to actually hit the stage. That’s what special effects are for.

“Cut!” Carl called. Carl was the director.

JJ flung the sword to the ground, sending the goblins into full retreat. “Stupid, useless props!”

The overhead lights came up, and the soundstage appeared, shattering the image of a vengeful King of Rock and Roll and his mighty sword of doom.

I love my job.

“Everybody take fifteen,” Carl said into his megaphone. “Sarah, do not kill the actors.”

Several of the stagehands chuckled and cast sideways glances my way. I counted to ten. Honest I did. At least seven, I’m almost positive.

Seventeen extras in horrid rubber goblin suits began to waddle out to the lot, lighting cigarettes, their large costume heads under their arms.

I stormed over to JJ. “You idiot! You aren’t supposed to actually hit the stage.”

“Damn thing’s too freaking heavy,” he whined. “Can’t we use a lighter prop? Maybe one that doesn’t break?”

I knelt down, looking at the pieces. For a moment, I wanted to pummel JJ with the flat of the blade. I’d only likely bruise him. Likely.

Behind me, Carl sighed. “Do we have another black sword?”

“No,” I said. Here goes a second career down the toilet.

“Well, it’s too damn heavy,” JJ groused. “Maybe you can make one out of Styrofoam or something.”

I just stared at the back of his sweaty, overstyled head as he sauntered toward the gaggle of women waiting along the back of the soundstage.

With a sigh, I picked the sword up firmly by the handle. The broken blade lay forlornly on the rocks. It was a bad break, snapping midway to the tip. Be a bitch to repair this one. Reforging a sword was tricky business.

I do the blacksmithing thing for a living, so I had some idea what I was talking about. Being prop manager here was my night gig.

Not like I’d planned this life. I took welding in high school, and loved working with metal. I went to college to get away from my family—well, mainly my father—but didn’t find any satisfaction in it. Da was convinced I’d come home after college and fit the mold he wanted.

The blacksmithing school I went to saved my life, frankly. My father wanted me to get married and squeeze out half a dozen puppies, be a good homemaker, adore my husband, go to church. . . . I’d rather gouge my eyes out.

My farrier school gave me a reference to Julie Hendrickson, the blacksmith master I work for. She’s supercool, but the pay doesn’t cover all my bills. Student loans really add up.

I found the movie gig by accident. Carl hassled me at a local science fiction convention. He thought it was cool I was a blacksmith. We chatted—ended up he made movies, needed someone who was creative at making things, and here I am.

My two careers meshed together pretty well. Julie had no problem letting me use the forge after hours as long as I covered the expenses and cleaned up when I was done. Tonight’s wages would cover fixing the black blade, and maybe help me afford to make a few more for the upcoming conventions.

Cons were a good place to sell weapons. Everyone who showed up wanted to be a hero, or be rescued by one. I was only too obliged to support the fantasy. Whatever made people happy, ya know? Of course, I’d be on my own for this effort. Julie was a farrier, and a good teacher, but her weapon skills sucked.

Which was a shame, actually. You could make a decent amount of scratch if you had made good weapons or armor. There was always someone willing to buy a cheap sword, but the real money was in the collectors and the cosplay folks. They liked the real thing. Costume players—cosplay. Anyway. They wanted to look the coolest, have the best accessories. I did my level best to fill that niche. Most shows had crappy knockoff weapons made in Pakistan, so I had a market.

But this sword, my black beauty, she was a special blade, not some beater we used in the Society or used to play dress-up. The Society for Creative Anachronism folks would never risk their precious weapons like this. Reenactors were crazy authentic, and treated their gear better than their spouses in some cases. The group I ran with—Black Briar—they were on the normal end of loony. Still, they thought I was nuts to risk a blade of this quality on a movie shoot.

Maybe they were right. I never should’ve risked the black sword here with ham-fisted JJ.

I carried the broken blade into the props cage and gently placed the pieces into the crushed velvet nest I’d hand-built for it. Who knew the case was better constructed than the blade?

“We won’t need that sword again for a few days,” Carl said, walking up behind me. “Why don’t you take tomorrow off, see if you can repair it?”

Closing the case, I snapped the latches and hefted it up by the handle. “I’ll do what I can,” I said, smiling at him. “Plus, there’s an antique auction in Seattle tomorrow. I’m hoping to get over and see if they have anything interesting.”

Carl laughed. “You’re quite the weapons nerd, Beauhall.”

I stuck my chin up, tilting my head to the side. “You making fun of me, boss?”

He stepped back, hands in front of him, palms out, laughing. “God, no. I would never tease a blacksmith. I mean, with arms like yours . . .” He trailed off. “And any woman who collects swords, no chance.” He gave me his best Boy Scout grin. “Too many sharp pointy things to be concerned about.”

I smiled. He was cute, in a baby-faced sort of way. Not a bad director, either. More Ed Wood than Woody Allen, but his films didn’t make me want to hurl. “All right, boss. I’ll see you on Wednesday then?”

“You’ll be bringing me a new ebony blade?”

“We’re still doing wide-angle shots?”

“Yes, close-up shots aren’t until next weekend.”

“Okay, I’ll have something you can use.”

He grinned, but said nothing further.

I gave him a moment. “So, I’m not fired?”

“Not today.”

“Great,” I said. “We’ll see how Tuesday goes.”

Jennifer, the DP, came over shaking her head, complaining about the lighting. She was one of those high-maintenance photography directors who was worth every minute of time she sucked out of Carl. She’d have him tied up forever. The hangdog look on his face as I snuck away almost made me feel sorry for him.

Thing about Carl’s films: most of the shoots happened after hours because nearly everyone had a day job, just to make ends meet. Tonight’s was no exception. I had arrived here in Everett’s industrial area, north of Seattle, around six forty after a hard day at the smithy. A quick shower at home, some decent clothes that didn’t smell like smoke, and a drive-thru meal in me—I was good to go.

Carl worked a deal with the city to keep costs low so we shot from seven until midnight on good nights. Tonight was not a good night.

Excerpted from Black Blade Blues by J.A. Pitts.
Copyright © 2010 by John A. Pitts.
Published in May 2010 by Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

J. A. PITTS is a graduate of the Oregon Coast Writers Workshops and holds degrees in English and Library Science. Black Blade Blues is the first in a fantasy series featuring Sarah Beauhall.