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From Chapter Four of the third book in the "Hannibal's Elephant Girl" series

Tapaz left the other silver work to her father as she began on the armor for Rocrainum.

She began with the wrist guards, getting a feel of how she wanted the artwork to look.

Three engraved plates were tossed to the dirt, one after the other.

Calogo picked them up and dropped them into the smelting pot to be melted and reused.

“This one is very nice, Tappy.” Calogo picked up a fourth piece of engraved silver. “What kind of dog is that?”

“Very funny, little brother. That’s a horse.”

“Oh.” He dropped it into the bubbling pot of silver.

“Make the next plate thicker,” she said.

Calogo made a new clay mold, then pulled the stone plug at the bottom of the flume to pour the orange-hot liquid metal into the mold. Using a clay spoon, he dipped off the slag. After the orange glow cooled to ashen white, he tipped it out of the mold and onto a wood plank.

Using thick squares of leather, he lifted the new block of silver and placed it on Tapaz’s work table.

She tapped the new plate with her small mallet, listening to the ping.

Calogo watched her tilt her head, bringing her ear closer.

She tapped it again and smiled. “Perfect.”

“I’ll make another for you, Tappy.”

Ten days after starting on the wrist guard, she had the engraving of her sixth attempt almost finished. The metal plate was still flat; she would warm it after completing the artwork to curve it to fit Rocrainum’s wrist. Then she’d make a matching second one.

“There he is,” Calogo whispered from near the fire.

Tapaz glanced up to see the officer striding across the market square, coming toward her.

She pulled her long, curly hair back and tied it into a knot behind her neck, then wiped the sweat from her face.

After rubbing her hands on her thighs, she leaned over her work; carving a curling filigree along the edge of the metal. She tried to calm her pounding heart.

“What do you have there?” Rocrainum was just on the other side of her table.

“A shoe for a donkey. What does it look like?” She glanced up at him, twisting her face into a scowl, but she felt her cheeks flush.

He tilted his head to the side, looking closer. “Well, that donkey will be quite happy with such a beautiful shoe.”

She struggled to think of a retort.

“Perhaps,” he said, “it could be curved into a shin guard for him.”

“Maybe. Why are you in Carthage?”

“I came to the slave market.”

“To buy a wife?”

“Maybe.”

She reached for her onglette chisel. “Most men court ladies before asking for their hands in marriage.” She tapped the chisel, cutting a fine, deep line.

“I never learned to court.” He picked up her midsized mallet to examine it.

“I thought it came naturally…to normal men.”

“Those of us who are not normal, purchase a woman, then woo, then marry.”

“A bought woman would make a caustic housemate.”

“If not charming, then obedient,” he said.

“Sounds like you want to marry a dog, or better a cow. Then you would have obedience and milk for your breakfast.”

 “But not much of a bedmate.”

Calogo giggled. When they looked his way, he bent down to stoke the fire.

“Try to buy a deaf mute woman. Then you would have an obedient bedmate without idle conversation.” She reached for the mallet in his hand. “Or backtalk. I have work to do.”

“Yes.” He let go of the mallet. “The donkey is probably impatient for his shoes.”

“He comes braying at me almost every day.”

“Does that make you work faster?”

“No. I don’t mind the braying; it’s the smell that ruins my day.”

He made to leave but then turned back. “You’re going to make someone a wonderful wife.”

“I know.” She tapped on the chisel. “The donkey. He promised to bathe before our wedding night.”

“How thoughtful.” He turned away. “I’ll be back at the next full moon.”

“So soon?”

She folded her arms, watching his back for a moment. “Oh, how I hate that man,” she whispered.

“Really, Tappy?” Calogo tipped another plate from his mold. “We could have a donkey?”