The Heartsmith

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In the city of Cormeum, life was thriving. The markets would be busy from dawn till dusk, with no exception. Everyone in the city knew each other, in some way or another. But in the middle of the bustling crowd, Imbris watched her former fiance walk away and felt as though the world was caving in on her. He had found someone else? But our wedding was to be next week! While her former fiance walked away, all Imbris could do was stand there and watch. He had said that it didn’t seem as if she loved him, and that he was only now realizing it. She hobbled towards a white stone wall in the hopes that it would provide her support, hoping its light pierced deep into her heart. As she leaned against the wall, she slid to the floor, the dirt road staining her red dress.
“Are you okay?” a dark-skinned young man asked her as he crouched in front of her. All Imbris can do was stare at his soot stained face, because she was sure that if she spoke she would start crying. She managed to shake her head as she felt the tears well up in her eyes.
“Your name is Imbris, right? Come into my workshop, you’re right next to the door anyways,” the man said. His face showed his discomfort, but also his compassion. “Come on in, I’ll unlock the door,” he said as he unlocked the thick oak door, perhaps two metres away. As he entered the workshop, he gave her a faint smile. With that, he disappeared from view.
Imbris stayed on the ground for a moment longer before picking herself back up. With nowhere left to go, she entered the man’s workshop. Inside, a rich oaky smell permeated the room. The man was crouched by a large stone forge in the back of the room, feeding it with some wood and bellows. Workbenches lined the walls, many of which were cluttered with tools of various shapes and sizes. As opposed to the shining white stone walls that invited people in on the outside, the walls on the inside were lined with wood and provided a sense of belonging. Along the right wall stood a sturdy looking ladder leading up to a second floor that overlooked the first.
“Pardon the mess,” the man said, still turned away from Imbris, “I wasn’t expecting to open shop today. I hope you understand. Please, take a seat.” He gestured at one of the stools at an empty workbench. Imbris walked numbly to the stool, and as tears began streaming down her face, the man worked quietly. Moving from bench to bench, he tinkered with the items on each before returning to the forge. Grateful for somewhere to cry that was away from the open market, Imbris barely noticed the steaming hot cup of tea placed in front of her.
After some time she stopped crying. The familiar shade of sunset plastered the workshop windows, and the room was now toasty warm with the forge blazing in the back of the workshop like a wildfire. The man still hadn’t said a word after Imbris had started crying. He sat quietly, working at the workbench directly across the room.
“Thank you,” Imbris whispered as she wiped her eyes. “I’m sorry I took up so much of your time, I probably slowed down your work.”
“Don’t sound so glum, all I offered you was a cup of tea. Honestly, I was going to make one for myself anyways, so it’s no bother. In terms of work, I haven’t been able to sell anything for quite some time, so there isn’t quite any work to hinder.”
Looking around the room, Imbris couldn’t quite tell what the workshop was for. She recognized some of the tools on the workbenches, which included screwdrivers and pliers. But some looked completely foreign to her, almost as if they were pulled from someone’s imagination.
“What’s this workshop for?,” Imbris asked as she sniffled, “I’m sorry, I just can’t tell from looking around.”
The man giggled sheepishly, “I’m a heartsmith. I don’t think there are many of us around. It’s a hard job.”
“What’s a heartsmith?” Imbris asked inquisitively. Despite having lived in Cormeum for all her life, she couldn’t recall anyone mentioning anything about a heartsmith.
“You don’t know what it is? I’m not surprised, a lot of us have been going out of business lately. I hate to ask this, but have you ever had your heart broken?” the man asked, he still had not disclosed his name.
“Just before I came in actually…” Imbris replied. She could feel the tears coming back as she thought about her former fiance.
“Heartsmiths repair broken hearts. People usually drop off their heart for repair and pick it up some time later. Of course, we can make new ones as well, but finding the materials to make a new heart is difficult. With the factories producing heart templates, it’s putting heartsmiths out of business; because why would people spend the money to repair a heart when they could buy a completely new one?”
“Do you think you can repair my broken heart?” Imbris asked, in disbelief at her luck at meeting this man, “Also, what is your name? I’d like to thank you in advance. My name is Imbris.”
“Oh! Sorry about that. I completely forgot that I hadn’t introduced myself. The name’s Ferrus. I can take a look at your heart and see what I can do, but I can’t make any promises. Repairing hearts ain’t very easy. Do you mind if I take a look?” Ferrus asked as he gestured to her heart.
Imbris brought her arms to her chest as she came up with second thoughts. What would she have to do for this man to look at her heart? If she had to take off her clothing, then this was a very personal matter indeed. Perhaps she would be better off finding a female heartsmith.
“I can see you’re having second thoughts. Don’t worry, the process to look at and remove hearts is relatively simple. I just need you to wear this special shirt.” He told her as he held up a plain-looking black shirt. “The washroom is in the back,” he said as he pointed at the back right corner of the room.
Taking the shirt, Imbris marched to the washroom. How simple this was! To look at and remove someone’s heart just with this black shirt? She was surprised she had never heard of a heartsmith before, this was amazing!
After changing, Imbris returned. The top of her red frilly dress hanging as low as her white apron. She hadn’t brought a change of bottoms, and Ferrus hadn’t provided a pair. The shirt was fairly tight, and while she couldn’t tell what it was made of, the shirt felt uncomfortable.
“Sorry about the squeeze, but if the fabric isn’t close enough to your heart, I won’t be able to see. Now then…,” Ferrus said as he lowered his goggles from the top of his head. The lenses had a red-tint to them, almost like the colour of a heart itself. “Now, this might be uncomfortable for you, but I’m going to have to look at your heart,” He said as he glanced at her chest.
Imbris could feel her face turning a shade of red as she said, “It’s fine,” and glanced to the side. How strange it was to have a stranger examine her.
After what seemed like an eternity, Ferrus took of his goggles with a sigh. “I don’t know what the problem is, but I just can’t seem to find a heart. I’ve had trouble locating hearts before, but I honestly believe that you no longer have one! Do you have any idea where it could be?”
Imbris spent several minutes thinking about where her heart could have gone, then she remembered something her father had told her as a child. When she was a child, her heart had been diseased. It was a difficult time for her family, and her parents couldn’t find a doctor who would operate at a low cost on a diseased heart. After searching the entire city, Imbris’ father had found a doctor who was willing to operate, but had no hearts to spare. The price of a heart had been outrageous back then, so Imbris’ father agreed to remove the heart and replace it at a later date. Her parents had died when Imbris was 7, and Imbris had been living in foster homes since. She never did know if her father managed to get her a replacement heart.
After explaining all this, Ferrus stared at the wall, lost in deep thought. “I’m sure that for a person who has been without a heart for so long, you managed to get used to it. And learned to love without one. But a love without a heart is hard to sustain. The heart was removed expertly, so that is the only conclusion I can think of.”
“Oh…” Imbris said, looking downtrodden. Her wedding had been called off because she never had a heart to begin with. Her fiance deserved something better than a heartless woman.
“I can help you though! I’ve made quite a number of hearts over the years, and they all turned out spectacularly! I’m sure we can find one that fits you,” Ferrus said desperately, hoping the girl wouldn’t cry again. He led her up the ladder to the second floor, where barrels of hearts lay in rows.
“If you want to try out some hearts, the shirt opens up where your heart is supposed to be. Like a small door. The door is seamless, but if you just press on the area it’s supposed to be in, the door will spring out. Try out some hearts, but leave them in this basket when you’re done. I’ll need to do some minor repairs to make them brand-new again.” He said as he pointed out a basket near the top of the ladder.
“Thank you,” Imbris said, tears in her eyes. This heartsmith seemed so friendly and helpful. She was sure to recommend him to anyone else who was in need of a heart repair. Hours passed as Imbris tried heart after heart, none of them fitting, none of them feeling right. After going through a barrel full of hearts, she was forced to leave that night without finding one that fit her.
“Can I come back tomorrow to try out some more hearts? I’m sorry for bothering you so much.” Imbris asked.
“Feel free to drop by anytime! My doors are always open. I’ll see you tomorrow then.”
And with that, Imbris exited the workshop, confident that she would find a heart that fit her the next day.

-- --

The routine continued for an entire week. Every morning Imbris would stop by the heartsmith, trying on hearts. She would go out to the market to buy lunch for the two of them then try on more hearts in the afternoon. She never did manage to find one that fit her. However, it soon dawned on her that Ferrus had done a lot of work repairing the hearts that didn’t fit her. Imbris proposed many ideas to make this up to the heartsmith, but he would deny all her offers and continue to work. He wouldn’t let her stop trying on hearts until she was satisfied.
One day, Imbris proposed an idea. Despite Ferrus’ adamant refusal, she finally managed to convince him to let her make it up to him.The two made a deal, Imbris would help the heartsmith sell his hearts during the day, then would try on hearts in the evening. While the hearts wouldn’t sell fast, she would continue assisting the heartsmith until she had sold the number of hearts equal to the number she had tried on. But being the man he is, Ferrus refused to let her work without pay. After a long discussion, Imbris managed to convince Ferrus to pay her in a different way. In lieu of payment, Ferrus would provide food and shelter while Imbris sold hearts.
It was quite the sight, to see a short slender girl standing in the middle of the market, selling hearts. No stall, no sign, just a basket full of hearts and a voice. Imbris’ red hair caught everyone’s attention. A speck of red in the sea of black and brown market-goers. Her maid-like red dress only helped her to stand out more. Many days, Imbris would not sell a single heart. On the days that she did sell, her customers mentioned keeping the heart as a novelty, to see what a brand new heart felt like.
No matter how little she sold, Imbris never lost heart. She was determined to make up the work she created for the heartsmith. Very rarely, perhaps once a month, Imbris would encounter someone in need of a heart repair. She would direct them to Ferrus, helping him find customers. To her, it was all worth it. The months spent trying to sell hearts would pay off whenever Imbris could manage to direct someone to Ferrus.
Imbris became well-known in the market. The guards would turn a blind eye to Imbris selling without a permit, and she would cause no trouble. Wandering the market, she became friends with each vendor. And yet, despite her friendliness, Imbris still did not have a heart. She could feel it now, how different she was from others. She had always thought that it was a quirk of hers, but she could now tell it was because she lacked a heart.

A year after starting her work for Ferrus, Imbris was striking up a conversation with a cake vendor. The cake vendor said that she had some extra strawberry cake that would need to be thrown out, and gave it to Imbris. Elated at the thought of being able to surprise Ferrus with a cake, she went back to the workshop at midday.
Imagine her surprise when she found Ferrus taking parts from his own heart to repair others’.
“FERRUS!” she exclaimed, hurriedly setting the cake on the table, “What are you doing? Are you using your own heart to repair someone else’s?”
Ferrus turned around quickly, attempting to put his heart back, “If you have a healthy heart, pieces will eventually grow back,” He argued.
“But your heart has so many scars! How long have you been doing this to yourself?” she asked. Imbris could only imagine the pain that Ferrus went through as he removed parts of his own heart. She began crying as she remembered all the people she sent to Ferrus who were in need of heart repairs, “Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“I’ve never actually told anyone. While many heartsmiths use parts they acquire to repair hearts, mine is special. Think of it like a universal heart, one that would fit anyone. They’re exceedingly rare, and I’m lucky to have one healthy enough to grow pieces back.” He explained, “Parts for hearts are expensive, and to be truthful, the only reason I’m still in this workshop is because I paid it off long ago. It’s not something I’m proud of, but this is the only way for me to make a living. My parents left me with a lot of debt, and it’s something I need to pay off.”
They argued deep into the night. Imbris trying to persuade him to stop, and Ferrus reasoning that he needed the money. In the end, Imbris lost the argument. Ferrus had been doing this for more than half a decade, ever since he had start apprenticing as a heartsmith at the age of 16. He’d always managed to do it in secret, his masters never finding out. They would be amazed at his handiwork, because it was perfect. While some of that perfection may have come from Ferrus’ skills, his heart had played a large factor. If he were to go out of business now, he’d be arrested for contaminating hearts and would never be able to pay off the debt.
One thing Ferrus didn’t mention was how the pieces of his heart grew back. You wouldn’t think that a man living on his own with a failing business would have a lot of heart. But before Imbris showed up at the workshop, Ferrus hadn’t been able to grow pieces back quickly. He hadn’t been able to make repairs with his heart and his business had been steadily declining. The more time the two of them spent with each other, the closer Ferrus’ heart was to healing normally. Neither of them knew it, but their care for each other kept Ferrus’ heart healthy, and that allowed him to grow pieces back.

-- --

Returning early one evening, some years after after beginning her work for Ferrus, she found him repairing a man’s heart. The demand for heart repairs had gone down over the years, and Ferrus only managed to keep his shop open due to the remarkable hearts he produced. He’d become more popular and could now afford to buy pieces of hearts to use in his repairs.
“Is that heart from the man I sent you a couple days ago?” Imbris asked.
“Yeah. This one is pretty damaged. I’ve fixed it, but my heart hasn’t managed to fully heal after last weeks’ repair. I don’t know what will happen once this heart leaves the shop.”
“Can this man wait at least a week? It isn’t good for your heart to be in such a state.”
“I’m afraid not, apparently he’s planning on getting married this weekend. I did my best with the pieces I had, but I had to use some pieces from my own heart. He visited me yesterday, he even brought me strawberry cake! Apart from you, none of my customers have ever brought me cake. Who would have known he’d pick my favourite, and from the vendor I usually go to no less.”
At that moment, a young man entered the shop, “Oh! Ma’am, I didn’t know you were here! Thank you for recommending me to come to the heartsmith!” He said as he saw Imbris.
“It’s the least I can do, I owe a debt to the smith anyways,” Imbris said as she smiled.
“Hello sir! Your heart is finished!” Ferrus told the man.
“You did it, heartsmith!” He exclaimed as he picked up his heart. He carefully examined the heart, clearly satisfied with the work.
“Of course! I told you I’d fix it didn’t I?” Ferrus replied, hands on his hips and a triumphant grin on his face.
The man quickly ran to the washroom to put on the black shirt and replace his heart. Slowly making his way back, the man had a wide grin on his face, “It’s amazing. I can feel my heart overflowing with love.”
“Really? That’s great!” Ferrus replied, hand clenched over his chest.
“Yes, I’m sure my fiancée will be happy.”
“Oh… I’m sure she will…” Ferrus said as he hid his disappointment. He never knew what he wanted to expect from one of his customers after a repair, but he always knew that he was hoping for something more.
“I hope to see you at my wedding?” the man asked Ferrus excitedly, hand on his shoulder. “Of course, the girl is invited too!”
“... Of course.” Ferrus replied, hoping he didn’t sound too downtrodden.
“I must go and express my newfound love for my bride, I owe you two very much,” the man said as he excitedly exited the shop. Imbris and Ferrus watched him stroll down the street with a bounce in his step, before he finally disappeared from view.
Ferrus sat down on a stool and clutched his chest, the tears springing to his face. Repairing this heart without his own being fully healed hurt tremendously. But even though he didn’t get a reward that satisfied him, he wouldn’t have known what to ask for.
“Poor heartsmith!” Imbris exclaimed as she rushed to his side.
“Now that the parts of my heart are so far away, I can feel the damage I have caused by doing this rushed repair.”
“Why do you always share pieces of your own heart with others? Even if you have a good heart, that is no excuse to injure it so much! You should have made the man wait, imagine if your heart was injured even further!”
“Look who’s talking! How come you sell hearts, even though you don’t have one of your own?”
“You know it’s because none of these hearts fit me,” Imbris said as she looked away, a pout on her face. They remained in silence for a few moments, with Imbris looking to the wall, and Ferrus looking at her.
He then realized just how bad of an insult he had thrown at Imbris, and he regretted it deeply; but Imbris didn’t leave. She remained there, motionless, as she stared at the wall. Any regular person would have stormed off, furious at the insult Ferrus just used.  Only then did he realize what had been keeping the two of them together for so many years. Words unspoken, but feelings that were shared. A feeling of gratitude, and something deeper. With that, he decided to make the riskiest move of all.
“I see…,” Ferrus said quietly, “Then maybe… Would what’s left of this heart fit you?” He said as he pulled out his heart for Imbris.
“You’re giving me your heart?,” Imbris asked, a look of disbelief in her eyes as she clutched her chest.
“Yes. If this one is alright with you?” Ferrus said as he looked down to the ground. How difficult it was to look into her eyes right now, her expression unusually unguarded.
“Thank you, heartsmith!” She exclaimed as she tackled him in a hug.
From that point on, the two shared a heart. Their relationship would eventually flourish, and with the parts from Ferrus’ heart, he would manage to construct a new heart for Imbris. Did the heart fit? Well, he is the heartsmith after all.






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