Joffrey Marcus ProFile

Posted: November 1, 1998 in Writing
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Joffrey’s mother died in bearing him into the humble house that his father had erected next to his place of work: his forge. Holding his only son in one rough arm as he brushed tears from his eyes with the other, Emmanuel Marcus bid his one true love, Miriel, goodbye and strode back to his smithy. Joffrey was raised by his father in the heat of the forge and to the sound of a hammer meeting steel.

He was a big child, one that was remarkably so. Emmanuel himself stood a little over six feet tall, but even he was unprepared for the growth of his son. Joffrey was six years old when he first lifted his father’s hammer, and nine when he forged his first weapon, a mace that fetched a pretty price at the marketplace. His father was tough on the young Joffrey, being bereft of a wife, and so many of the household chores fell upon his son’s broad shoulders.

Joffrey was cheerful, and quickly set about completing most tasks that he was assigned. Against his father’s wishes, Joffrey attended the weekend school, led by Yorl the Wanderer at the Church at the far end of town. Emmanuel set about loading Joffrey down with more chores than he could manage to accomplish, but somehow Joffrey completed them all with time to spare, probably on account of his size and strength, and Emmanuel, though he built his forge as far away from the Church as he could, didn’t have the heart to forbid his son to go strictly because he said so. Joffrey learned his own version of spirituality from the gentle Monk Yorl, who couldn’t help but notice the huge youngster slipping into the rear of his makeshift classroom. Joffrey never spoke unless he was required to give an answer.

Yorl stopped him at the end of one of his last classes that he was to teach, and Joffrey apologized for his size taking up so much of the class space. Yorl studied him for a moment, and then said: “But with such a huge healthy body, you must have an equally proportioned heart.”

Emmanuel was tough on his son, but loved him dearly. During the fall, when the leaves’ colors were changing and it was near Joffrey’s birthday, he could hear his father in his bed across the room talking to his wife in his sleep. He asked her forgiveness, but for what, Joffrey couldn’t fathom. One day a week, and it never was the same day twice, Emmanuel would be awake when Joffrey rose from his bed, and would tell him not to stoke the fire in the furnace, and they would go walking or fishing in the nearby forest. These excursions were happy times for Joffrey, but as he grew older, he realized that his father was most comfortable in his home, hard at work on one piece of metal or another.

Joffrey’s childhood was also hard at times; as soon as he was big enough to assist his father, he was apprenticed to him, learning the ins and outs of the blacksmithing trade. His father, good man that he was, rarely lifted his sight from the metal when he was working, and failed to notice that his son, though talented at the work, was starting to cast his own steely eyes past the palisade that was the wall of the village, to the forested mountains beyond.

An old man of the village brought an odd request to the Marcus smithy one afternoon in the heat of summer. The forge was a virtual inferno, heat waves shimmering and dancing in the sunshine, when the old man stepped into the workplace. He commissioned a mighty two-handed sword; a strange request in this time of peace. Emmanuel refused the offer, though the pay would have been more than he would have made the remainder of the year. After the stranger left, Joffrey asked his father the reason why he didn’t make the sword. Emmanuel’s reply was that he didn’t like the man; there was something not right about him.

That night, Joffrey crept out of the house to find the strange old man. He, too, knew there was something unique about him, especially the way that he had walked right into the blast furnace of the forge at midday and didn’t even break a sweat. He found the stranger at the edge of town, outside the gates, under a tree with his back against a huge boulder.

“Young Marcus,” said the stranger, “You are much like your father.”

He gestured to a place across the fire from him, and Joffrey sat down. “My name is Goibne, and I, too, was a blacksmith, like your father,” continued the old man, “And I see that you will also follow in your father’s footsteps and become a smith.”

“Why do you want such a big sword?” asked Joffrey cautiously, “I don’t even know if my father has made one before.”

Goibne laughed and ended up coughing. Spitting into the fire, he grimaced and looked at the boy from under a bushy eyebrow.

“Your father not only knows how to make big swords, young Marcus,” Goibne said, “He knows how to use one as well.”

Joffrey was shocked. His father? A warrior? Goibne regaled Joffrey for the rest of the night with tales of adventure and sorcery, battles, romances and honor.

Joffrey crept home as the sun was rising in the East.

The next day, Joffrey rose to stoke the forge’s fire in preparation for the day’s work. His father was already awake, his face grim.

“Where were you last night?” he demanded of Joffrey.

Joffrey, unable to lie to his father, told him the story of his meeting with the stranger outside the gates of the town. His father’s face grew stern, and he admonished his son for leaving the palisade. Joffrey took the lecture; he had noticed that his father was holding a crisp piece of parchment.

“Joffrey,” Emmanuel said to his son, noticing his gaze, “You know I can’t read these damned things. Since your mother is gone, you’ll have to tell me what it says.”

Joffrey started to read the message; it was a summons by the Lord of the Land to military service in the North, where the Bugbear Legions were again active and threatening the homes of honest peoples. Emmanuel explained to his son that if the North fell, it would only be a matter of weeks before the Bugbears were knocking on the gate of the palisade of the village, and that he must go.

“You must run the smithy now,” said Emmanuel with a sad look in his eye, “You are a Marcus, and the metal runs in your blood. Now go attend to your chores.”

His father did not appear for over three hours; Joffrey spent his time straightening the smithy and putting the finishing polish on a few completed items for the market tomorrow. When his father returned, he did not look like Emmanuel Marcus. Dressed in a gleaming coat of chainmail, with a mighty two handed sword strapped to his back, his father looked like the warrior that Goibne had told him about only last night. He was accompanied by several other men from the village, also dressed in suits of armor, but none looked as fine as his father. A rush of pride came to young Joffrey.

“Father!” said Joffrey, hesitating at the expression on his father’s face.

“I must go now, Joffrey. Be your own man.”

“You’re not coming back, are you?” Joffrey suddenly accused him. The men waiting for Emmanuel shifted their feet uneasily. Emmanuel drew his son aside.

“I shall be back, Joffrey,” he said quietly, “But I go to war. It is every man’s duty, and every father’s nightmare. But it is better that I go than you.” Emmanuel looked at the men who were waiting for him. “I must leave now,” he said, nodding towards the men, “I must take these recruits to the Lord of the Land.” He gripped his son’s forearm in his great leathery hand. “But when I return,” he caught Joffrey’s eye meaningfully, “I will teach you how to use this.” He touched the great sword on his back. Through a mist of tears that he did not want to come, Joffrey watched his father leave the village.

That night, the house was too empty for Joffrey to sleep, so he went in search of Goibne. The stranger was not there.

“He must have left town with the men that my father is leading,” thought Joffrey. He was fifteen years old.

Two years later, Joffrey had accepted that his father was never coming back. He bagan to patronize the pub, and upon occasion, had ended up in the lone cell of the courthouse for several days. News had stopped coming from the North, and the news that had been arriving with the merchants and wagon trains was not good. Then they, too, stopped coming. Low clouds hung over the Northern mountains, and Joffrey began to receive more and more commissions for weapons. A rider from the Lord of the Land came and took more townsmen with him; Joffrey was spared being recruited because he was crafting arms and armor for the war effort. When wagons did come to the town, they bore the dead and dying. Joffrey expressionlessly examined each body, recognizing some and assisting all who needed the help he could give.

His father did come back after summer had passed, and fall was painting the leaves in autumn hues again. He was riding one of the wagons that were returning from the North; he had lost all of his pride and equipment, and had little to say to his son or anyone else. He was missing both his right hand, and his right leg. Joffrey had grown into a man in the time of his father’s absence, standing a full head higher than his father, and almost twice as broad. His eyes held the same steely color, though his father’s were now faded. His long shaggy hair and beard were wild and unlike his father’s or his mother’s, from what the townspeople said, but the strong muscles that he had gained through his assumption of his father’s position at the forge were pure Marcus blood. Joffrey carried Emmanuel through the town to their dwelling, and laid him in his bed.

Joffrey was getting drunk with his father one night, a recurring event since Emmanuel had returned, and the forge was slowly falling into disrepair. There was a knock on the door, and Joffrey rose to answer it. Yorl the Wanderer stood outside, and beckoned Joffrey out into the driving rain.

“There is someone who wishes to see you,” he said. Leading him to the smithy, Joffrey discovered that Goibne had taken refuge there from the rain and was sleeping next to the barely warm forge.

“I am just passing through,” said Yorl, appreciating the size of his former pupil, “But this man said that he wanted to see the Marcus family, and I conveniently knew the way.”

Joffrey felt his heart heave in his chest, once again at a loss of words for his teacher, and settled for giving Yorl a mighty bear-hug.

“My friend,” Yorl smiled and continued when he had caught his breath, “Remember the root of all of your strength always lies in your heart. Hearts speak a truer language than words do. Listen to your own.”

Yorl left him standing in the smithy over the sleeping form of the stranger from long ago.

“Goibne?” Joffrey roused the stranger cautiously. The old man cracked an eye open and appraised Joffrey. “Well, well,” chuckled Goibne, sitting up and blinking, “If it isn’t young Marcus. How is your father?” Joffrey burst forth with the entire story of the war to the North and his father’s sorry return.

“Heh heh heh,” laughed Goibne after Joffrey had run out of words, “Sounds like you’ve lost faith in the only thing you believed in, that kept your family together!”

“What?” said Joffrey, still reeling from his own admission to the stranger.

“This, right here!” said Goibne, patting the anvil that his back was up against, “The anvil, the metal, the fire…”

“How is the forge going to give my father back his leg, and his hand!” shouted Joffrey, his huge hands balling into fists the size of helmets.

“Wait, wait,” said Goibne, putting up a hand gently and rising to his feet, “You did not hear what I, or Yorl, for that matter, said.” The figure of Goibne straightened up fully, and he seemed to shed a burden of many years. “I would like to commission a Great Sword, young Marcus,” stated the not-so-old man in a voice recalling years past, “And I believe that it is long overdue.”

In the middle of the night, with rain coming down as if the clouds were trying to extinguish the fire in the smithy, Joffrey forged an unparallelled Great Sword from a bar of steel that Goibne had drawn, almost magically, from his pack. The rain slackened near dawn, and as the first rays of the morning sun shone over the wooded mountains, Joffrey held up his creation to catch their jewelled light. Nearly six feet long, the blade was extraordinarily light, weighing perfectly some foot and a half beyond the mighty two-handed grip. The crosspiece itself was large enough to gut a man, curving into the blade wickedly. Joffrey hefted it as the sun grew stronger, and he felt his heart find a resolution to his woes.

He turned to Goibne to present him his commissioned work, and he was gone, leaving no payment. Joffrey, still holding the great sword, ran out of the smithy into the last drops of the rain and the new day’s sunshine, searching for Goibne, but, as his heart told him, he had returned to wherever he had come from on the wings of angels. Holding the sword high enough to pierce the last ragged clouds, Joffrey shouted aloud, feeling the strength he had lost over the last few years flood his huge frame, and, once again, he believed in himself.

“Joffrey, where have you been all night?” questioned the stern voice of his father from the house behind him, “Not out with that stranger again”. Something in his manner suggested that he was laughing; Joffrey turned slowly, holding the sword he had forged, to see his father standing, smiling in the doorway, waving at him with his right hand.

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