[Vasque] stepped to the [battle] suit and ran his fingers over first the plastron, then the sheared metal along the cut…. Hansen couldn’t judge the status of the smith and his apprentices. Vasque wore a gorgeously-embroidered tunic—though there was a cracked leather apron over it. Even the youths were dressed rather better than many of the warriors.
“Not much of a suit,” Vasque said. “Dilmun’s work, I wouldn’t be surprised, and he was never much.”
“Dilmun’s good enough to dress the Lord of Thrasey,” said Malcolm. “And as for this suit, there were three arcs on it together before it failed.”
“On a good day, I suppose Dilmun might be all right,” Vasque admitted grudgingly. He took the severed arm from the slave and worked the elbow joint with his hands as he peered at the cut. “Well, we’ll see.”
The sleeping youth groaned loudly and threw out an arm. After a moment, his eyes opened. The other apprentice helped him sit up on the couch.
Vasque handed the arm back. “Go on, boy, go on,” he said to the apprentice, making shooing motions with his hands. “There’s king’s work to be done.”
He turned to the slaves. “Lay it down by the couch, you. I’ll take care of it now.”
As the slaves laid the damaged suit full-length on the floor, the two youths positioned the [severed] arm by it so that the cut ends joined. Vasque himself stepped outside. He came back with his leather apron laden with bits of ore.
“Might need more than this,” the old man muttered, “but I think not, I think not….” He arranged his chips and pebbles around the severed arm with as much care as a florist creating a wedding bouquet…. [Then] Vasque lay down on the couch…. One of the youths took a polished locket on a thong from around his neck.
“Keep back, boy…,” the smith murmured.
His eyes, focused on dustmotes dancing in the light, glazed and closed. The apprentices watched with critical interest, while the slaves gaped with amazement as great as that which Hansen tried to conceal….
Vasque was shuddering in his sleep. Hansen gestured toward him. “Is he any good?” he asked Malcolm in an undertone.
“You won’t wake him,” said Malcolm in a normal voice, as though that were the only reason someone would want to discuss the matter in a whisper. “And yeah, he’s very good.”
The veteran smiled impishly. “Almost as good as Dilmun, I’d say. You’ll have a suit to be proud of.”
…The ore shifted around Hansen’s suit. The chunks on top of the pile slid as dust puffed away. As Hansen watched, a fist-sized lump he thought was magnetite crumbled as though in a hammermill. Bits of it drifted down through the interstices of the pebbles beneath it.
One of the apprentices bobbed his head in approval. “Look, he must be four centimeters away from the join,” he said. “Great extension!”
Malcolm sniffed. “The important part,” he said, ostensibly to Hansen, “isn’t how far a smith can reach through the Matrix for material but how well he stitches the result together. That’s the craftsmanship that keeps you and me alive, Lord Hansen.”
“That and skill,” Hansen remarked coolly….
Half the gravel piled on the shoulder of the battlesuit powdered and slipped to a flatter angle of repose.
Vasque shuddered like a swimmer coming out of cold water. His apprentices stepped toward him, one of them with a skin of wine or mead, but the older man waved them away. “There!” he gasped. “There, Lord Malcolm. Tell me about Dilmun now.”
“Although,” he added as he got to his feet and only then accepted the container of drink, “I checked the whole suit while I was in the Matrix, and it’s not so very bad after all….”
“How do we test it?” Hansen asked. Malcolm smiled.
“I get my suit,” he said, “we go out to the practice ground … and I see just how good you are, laddie.”
It wasn’t an especially nice smile; but then, neither was the grin that bared Hansen’s teeth.
— Northworld, Chapter 10