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I'm writing a fantasy story with a human female blacksmith as the protagonist set in a vaguely early-to-middle medieval Europe-like continent.

My protagonist is from a small remote village (of about 400 villagers) in the mountains, and has been apprenticed to a master village since nine. (This master blacksmith is the only blacksmith in the village.) She is remarkably strong in building up her basic foundations quickly, while comparatively slow in doing creative explorations. The master also recognized her talents and was very zealous in training her to be an independent blacksmith as soon as possible.

By the age of eighteen, my protagonist is a blacksmith who is generally good in everything (except tools of war, which the shop does not make because there's very little demand) but a master of none, and skilled for her experience but not quite an expert yet. Also, working in the only blacksmith's shop in the village has worked both for and against her, such as the fact that she had no competition and isn't used to division of labor.

At this point, I'm planning a significant event in her career where she decides to relocate to a larger city in order to improve faster and expose herself to new blacksmithing environments. (I'm aware that such relocation was difficult in real life, but there are reasons that this is not a problem here.) This city has a few blacksmith's shops, and artisans' guilds are not a thing yet. The protagonist is obviously not skilled or wealthy enough to start her own shop and survive in the competition, so she tries to join a local blacksmith's shop. Unfortunately, although all the blacksmiths agree that she's skilled for her experience, none of the shops are particularly interested in hiring a new smith at the moment, especially not a young one who's been working mostly alone.

I'm seeking two advices here.

  1. Is the above story (including the part up to her relocation) plausible? What points are unrealistic or could be improved? Of course, some fantasy elements and the privileges of being the protagonist should be accounted for. Anyway, general remarks regarding the story are quite welcome.
  2. What can my protagonist do to get a job?

This is a big "overcoming a great hardship" arc for my protagonist's story, so I'm trying to get my protagonist to overcome this unemployment issue 1) in a satisfying way and 2) as a blacksmith. (For example, earning the gratitude of a local smith isn't quite a satisfying solution, even though it's perfectly reasonable.) Some external event setting up the stage for a breakthrough is acceptable, as long as the event is a setup and not the solution itself. Refining the story of my protagonist's apprenticeship in order to build a compelling scenario for her relocation and employment is also very much welcome.

Note that she's in a new town, meaning she is currently unable to do any forging unless some shop is willing to let her use their tools. However, if she really must forge something, her old village is just one day's trip away. Though the local smiths would probably let her use their tools after their day's work is over.

p.s.) If anyone knows books or online resources where I can learn about the life of medieval European blacksmiths, I'd be very glad if you can recommend me some. I'm looking for information beyond just what blacksmiths made and stuff, but more like how they interacted with other villagers, how they interacted with miners or caravans to get their metal supply, what kind of occupational hazards existed, etc.

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  • $\begingroup$ If you're referring to cruxification, it doesn't exist in this continent. The people worship god animals. $\endgroup$ – Iroh Jun 9 '18 at 15:14
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    $\begingroup$ Attention VTCers! Off-Topic:TSB means the question is asking for plot advice. Plot advice is story-specific, not world-specific (where many stories can take place). Asking what kinds of jobs are suitable for a particular profession, even though only one character is involved today, is a world-based issue, not a story-based issue. In short, I believe the VTCs are inappropriate. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jun 9 '18 at 21:20
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Blacksmith's were Pretty Valuable

Anyone who could fabricate metal items would have been obscenely valuable in the medieval ages. The king of Prussia once commissioned a set of armor for 1200 gold coins, this was a price several thousand times higher than what the average yeoman class merchant or craftsman would ever make in a year. In historical records we get an idea for the price of things a blacksmith made with a simple helmet equating to that of an entire cow (That's like trading your car for a hat in today's value.) When not engaged in making arms or armor they made..... pretty much everything else. Horses needed shod, nails have to come from SOMEWHERE, and there is always going to be a profusion of common assorted objects that need repaired. Somebody showing up in your shop requesting an apprentice or fellow-craft level position would be instantly welcomed if their skills were up to snuff. That's somebody who can make nails and horseshoes and candle stick holders while you focus on more lucrative but time consuming work.

Medieval Society Wasn't a Very fun Environment for Travel

In the feudal era if you weren't nobility you were basically just varying classes of property for the nobles. Everything from who could marry who to how many sticks they could gather from the lord's forest to burn for warmth was regulated by their local baron/lord/knight/duke etc etc. Travel was only ever done with your local ruler's permission, usually in the form of a letter giving you permission to go somewhere for a very specific purpose. You are your lord's property, and if you are somewhere without his permission you really aren't a person. People can do whatever they want to you pretty much without serious risk of reprisal or punishment. Because travel was so rare people were xenophobic to a very very large degree. They lived in highly insular communities and tended to regard anyone from somewhere else as a potential threat. Women had zero rights to travel what so ever unless accompanying a male. A woman by herself in the medieval period was basically not going to survive. People would either accuse her of being a prostitute or a witch. Not that they were stupid, but it was a good excuse to kill somebody and take their stuff without consequence. Now obviously your character is a female blacksmith, which was not ever something that would have happened in medieval society so it sounds like your medieval society is quite a bit more liberal than what actually existed.

The problem is that travel in medieval Europe was also incredibly dangerous. People tended to travel in groups since bandits were a real risk. These were not the rakish charming thieves with a heart of gold kind of bandits from a Disney movie. These are smelly dirty guys who would hold your feet over a bed of coals just because they think maybe you stashed a few coins somewhere, or maybe just for fun. They were rapists, sadists, and generally nasty people whom the term "cut-throat" was specifically created to describe. While I am all for female empowerment and think having the blacksmith be a woman is pretty neat idea it is impossible to deny that a lone teenage girl wandering through such dangerous sadistic rapist and highway robber infested countryside would do very well. Imagine taking a small town country girl and dropping her off in the worst most violent gang infested ghetto you can find and saying "okay, walk through another 50 miles of this and you're home free!" Granted, she is probably in pretty good shape being a blacksmith and all, but if 4 or 5 people come at you anywhere outside of an anime in which you are the chosen one even a fully equipped and seasoned warrior is going to be totally screwed if caught alone. Even knights traveled with a retinue in those times for this specific reason. The trope of the lone-wandering knight is mostly poppy-cock, knights traveled like big douchey frat boys in an entourage of several dozen servants and their closest bros so when 5 to 15 robbers show up there would be enough swords to scare or fight them off. Peasant and yeoman class generally clumped up into groups of a few dozen and just sorta hoped that there was safety in numbers.

Blacksmithing Was Pretty Unhealthy (spoiler, everything in that era was unhealthy)

Blacksmithing requires a lot of physical exertion. There is a lot of joint and ligament stress as it is a high impact activity. The forges spewed smoke and soot, the fire was hot and one could seriously burn themselves. An accident could lead to maiming or disfigurement, even death. This was an era when the best burn treatment was soaking a cloth in some diluted plant material, cutting yourself, and praying. Infected burns were a real risk, a blacksmith's lungs wouldn't have looked very great, and lets not forget they didn't just work with iron. You would have been making things out of lead, copper, tin, brass etc etc. Heavy metal exposure was also probably a workplace health hazard, and the worst part is they had zero idea what so ever that things like heavy metals were actually harmful. If you got lead poisoning they'd just call it something like "debility" and probably blame it on "bad air" and "god's will"

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for the detailed response. There are a lot of things I can take away. Perhaps the first challenge is to come up with a reason that my protagonist won't be hired in the first place. Oh and since you mention it, yes I'm specifically making this world VERY liberal and safe, which is why I described it as "vaguely" resembling medieval Europe. $\endgroup$ – Iroh Jun 9 '18 at 15:53
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    $\begingroup$ The easiest way to explain why she couldn't be hired is with guilds. In later medieval period very strict and heavy handed laws were placed on who could make what, how much, and for whom in some regions. Maybe the local blacksmith guild simply demands that she perform some sort of initiation and pay dues to them before she is legally sanctioned to work. $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 Jun 9 '18 at 16:03
  • $\begingroup$ There actually were female blacksmiths. Most of them were widows of blacksmiths who continued their craft. Also most witch hunts happened after the middle ages. $\endgroup$ – Taju Jan 16 at 9:58
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Many crafts in many medieval, continental European countries were on a guild basis. A young boy (mostly males ...) apprenticed to a master who taught him until the apprentice convinced the guild that he had qualified for journeyman status. The journeyman wandered around, doing little bits of work for different masters to learn how things were done in other workshops. At the end of that, the journeyman became a master himself, with the right to set up shop and train apprentices.

  • The guild would be rather upset if a newcomer in town started working without guild membership.
  • Your character would also be rather old to start as an apprentice, but a clever master might realize that she'd really be a catch -- she would work as an apprentice, get paid as an apprentice (mostly room and board), and deliver at least journeyman quality for the time until she could take her own journeyman examinations.
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She is recruited.

Your protagonist is /comparatively slow in doing creative explorations./. She is probably not the sort to give up her good thing and set out into the unknown.

But she might be induced to do so. A traveling group of mercenaries has need of a blacksmith to accompany them because theirs has fallen ill or has been injured. They recruit your character to come with and take care of their smithing needs on the road. The ill smith is still alive and with them, and when they return to their home city your protagonist picks up his portion of work in his smithy.

This offers a route for the character to leave her home in the first place and some energetic storytelling on the way - these mercenaries are not at all like her townsfolk. The character of the injured elder smith offers a segue into the city and also a mediator between your character and the old smith's apprentice, who holds down the fort when the boss is on the road. The apprentice can be yin to your character's yang - nearly her opposite and so they complement each other, attract each other and greatly irritate one another.

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"The protagonist is obviously not skilled or wealthy enough to start her own shop and survive in the competition, so she tries to join a local blacksmith's shop. Unfortunately, although all the blacksmiths agree that she's skilled for her experience, none of the shops are particularly interested in hiring a new smith at the moment, especially not a young one who's been working mostly alone." Forgive me, but BECAUSE she worked mostly alone, she's got the experience another blacksmith could use. Especially if said blacksmith's an elder one and needs someone to take over the shop. So, yes, she can look around for the typical 'crazy old guy' that no one works to work for and start from there with a paternal figure to teach her some technique she didn't know yet

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  • $\begingroup$ Oh yes... I forgot to mention. I'm moving my protagonist to a bigger town because I'm specifically trying to have my protagonist step out of working alone and start working in a group. So while this is a perfectly reasonable approach, it kind of goes against the point of having this relocation story arc. Thanks for the insightful answer though. $\endgroup$ – Iroh Jun 9 '18 at 15:20
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If a war breaks out, a blacksmith might choose to accompany the army as a camp follower, especially if business where they are isn't very good and/or they're ambitious. It's a hard life, obviously, but there's plenty of work and (if the looting's good) a lot of coin going around. Having a nest egg like that could make it a lot easier to set up in an unfamiliar city when the war ends/the army disbands/she musters out.

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