Granite is formed of three different minerals: quartz, feldspar and mica but it is not any of them. Quartz is light and captures the sun, granite is dull, though it glitters. Feldspar is soluble in water, while granite will just sink. Mica cuts easily into layers while granite is solid, breaking but not splitting. Despite what goes into it, granite is itself. While it might bear attributes of its formation it defines itself by itself.
The knocker knew this, knew all about rocks. His name was Kernowite and, like the rest of his clan, he lived underground, mining the rocks and investigating the movements of the earth. He was happy, in his way, for he found joy in his surroundings, but he was also lonely. He had a large family that spread out through the tunnels but he still felt unfulfilled in some way. The older people of his clan tried to tell him it was natural, that he was young and looking for a way to define himself, but while that made sense it didn’t help. So he decided that if he needed to find something he would.
Every day he would leave his house, a small cave with a beautifully painted green door, and start walking the tunnels that had been carved below the land for generations. He would examine the walls, seeing the sedimentary layers of sandstone, measure the stalactites growth rate in the limestone caves, anything to make a discovery, to be noticed. He knew that what he was looking for would be found somewhere over the clay horizons.
It was as he searched the furthest reaches of the tunnel network that he found the girl.
First he heard the sobbing, echoing past him. He was used to all the sounds of the underground, from the gnawing of worms to the knocking before a collapse, but he’d never heard this before. A bubbling sound, like a river trapped in one place, unable to escape. And yet also like a wildcat, caught in a trap and furious about it. It was only when he rounded the last corner and saw her that he knew what it was.
There must have been a cave in, this tunnel was close to the surface, and she must have fallen in. It wasn’t hard to work this out, by the clumps of soil scattered around and the sunlight stabbing from the roof. The beams of light lay across a human girl, huddled in a sad heap on the floor, and glinted off her bronze hair that was bound tightly back. By her side sat a sheathed sword.
“Hello?” he said, edging round the corner. “Are you ok?”
The girl scrambled up at his voice, pulling out her weapon and pointing it at him with a trembling grip. She towered over him, his head only coming level with her waist. But he didn’t care for the danger, didn’t even notice it. He had eyes only for the blade.
It appeared to be made of bronze, but what the alloy was he couldn’t tell. It shimmered and heat seemed to roll off it. A chemical reaction to the air? Or something else? Something about it called to him, awakening his curiosity.
This was it, he knew. This was the discovery that would give his life meaning.
But first he had to make sure that his life changing discovery didn’t end it.
He held up his hand and stepped back. “Woah, careful there. I don’t mean you any harm.” He tried very hard to sound non-threatening, though he hadn’t met any humans before.
It seemed to work. The sword dropped and was returned to its sheath. “Sorry,” the girl muttered, her voice hoarse.
Kernowite waited for her to say something else but it seemed that was all he was getting. He tried again. “How did you get here?”
She gestured upwards. “I fell.”
Once again he waited for more information but once again it appeared he would be waiting in vain. He found himself at a loss.
He was saved by a rumbling. Not from the roof of the tunnel, signalling further collapse, but from the girl’s stomach.
She looked at him embarrassed but he just smiled at her and pulled out his lunch. “Would you like something to eat?”
She fell upon the meal instantly, not caring if it was poisoned or not. Kernowite watched as his mushroom sandwiches disappeared down her throat and tried to work out his next move. He had to separate her from the sword somehow but she was bigger than him and he didn’t have a weapon. Maybe once she was asleep he could get it? But he couldn’t just leave her here. She could wander off and he might never find her again. Not that it looked like she had anywhere to be.
“Are you lost?” he asked after his lunch had been completely devoured. She looked at him and, again, nodded.
He nodded back at her, relieved. “Why don’t you come home with me then?”
The girl thought about it for a moment then agreed. They walked in silence down the tunnels until they came to the bright green door of his home. She followed him as he opened the door and beckoned her inside.
The inside of every knocker’s home is different. All are hollowed out of the earth, with rooms built on as needs and desire demand. Kernowite had a living room that opened right off his door and three rooms that branched off of that: one for cooking, one for cleaning himself and his belongings and one for sleeping. The living room had a fireplace, with a flue to the surface carved with great care and effort. The rest of the room was covered in rugs and tapestries to soften the hard rock and pride of place was a great couch, facing the fire. Kernowite pointed to it.
“You can sleep here for now.”
The girl nodded then went to sit on it. She towered over him but the roof was still higher than her head, if only just. Not sure what to do the knocker decided to make dinner. When he came back a little bit later he found the girl asleep on the couch, holding her sword tightly like a teddy bear. There was no way to separate the two without waking her, despite how exhausted she was. Kernowite stood and thought about it.
The next day when they were both awake and he’d made breakfast he offered to let her stay with him for a while. She just nodded then went back to eating.
Poor thing has been through something terrible, he thought to himself. But maybe if she stays here for a while she’ll trust me enough that I can get a look at her sword.
A few weeks later and he had to admit that he was wrong. He’d been anxious about inviting the girl to his home but if he didn’t make an effort he barely noticed her. She tended to lurk in corners, her face gradually turning paler while away from the sun above. Occasionally she cried but mostly she just sat, staring at nothing, drained of energy and lost in her thoughts. She’d talk when spoken to but only to answer basic questions. The one time he asked about the sword she’d told him that she made it and nothing more. When he asked her how, exciting to have the maker right there with him to share their process, she clutched it to her and backed away. He immediately apologised and the matter was laid to rest but he could feel it hovering over them for the next few days. There was no way she was going to tell him the secret.
So instead he built her a forge, hollowing out a room in the rock further down the tunnel, closer to the surface and away from his home. He cut in ventilation, worked and traded for an anvil, tools and materials, and had got it all set up while she haunted his home. Then, once it was finished, he just led her there.
“I know it feels like you just want to lie about and do nothing, wallowing in whatever drove you here but that’s not good for you. I thought you might like to start working again.”
She just stared at him and around the room before turning and walking home. But the next day she spent a little time in it, idly fiddling with the tools, examining the anvil. After a week the first tap of a hammer came singing down the corridor to his home. A week after that she’d made a new cooking pot out of bronze and after that there was no stopping her. She spent all her time there, working on one project or another. Despite the fact that he’d built it Kernowite found himself banned from it, but she was keen to show off everything that she worked on. None of them seemed to have been made using the same process of heat infusion as the sword but he couldn’t deny that they were masterfully made.
The girl was changing along with her work. She began to talk more, never about anything important but about life in the lands above. She would make jokes and occasionally burst into song. He would, in turn, tell her all about the rocks and minerals that made up their underground realm, how to identify them and what their different properties were. The home became cosier and Kernowite found himself waiting each day for her to come back and show him what she’d made.
He began cutting out a new room of their home, just for her. He’d spend the days on it while the girl worked in the forge, making her own tools, knives, and little trinkets. They passed the time companionably, growing closer together.
Then, finally, she told him of how she’d come to be there.
The tale came in short, halting sentences. She talked about deer, about monsters who had invaded her village and how she’d dealt with them, becoming a monster in turn. By the end she was sitting in the middle of the floor, holding the sheathed sword close to her and sobbing. Kernowite stood watching, unsure of how to comfort her. Finally he leaned over and wrapped his arms around her.
“I’m so sorry that happened,” he told her. “I wish you’d never been put in that position.”
She nodded, swallowed her tears then got to shakily to her feet. “Well, now you know so I’ll be going.”
He frowned at her. “Why?”
“You’re not throwing me out? You don’t think I’m evil?”
He drew back so she could see the astonishment on his face. “Of course not! You made a mistake, yes, but it was a mistake. You aren’t defined by what you do at any one point. If you continued to kill people that would be wrong but you won’t. I hope.”
He felt he was making a mess of this but kept talking, hoping he could express what he meant in the avalanche of words.
“The things you did were evil but that doesn’t make you evil. You obviously regret it and aren’t going to do it again. As long as you try to be better than that, to help people instead of hurt them, which you do, how could you possible be evil?
He looked up at her helplessly, hoping that he wasn’t making everything worse. He expected her to break back into tears or yell at him or something. Instead she said the last thing he expected.
“Would you like to see how I made my sword?”
He swallowed, then nodded. “Yes please.”
“Ok,” she smiled at him. “I’ll show you.”
He would have expected some preparation, some gathering of exotic ingredients but she just got up and walked right to the smithy. He followed as she started shovelling coals into the forge, turning and asking, “I’m going to make a hammer, if that’s ok?”
He nodded, beside himself with excitement. Then she began, Kernowite watching closely so see how her method differed and got the necessary reaction.
First she heated the forge, piling the coals high and pumping air into the centre until it glowed hot.
She took some bars of bronze from where they sat at the wall. He’d been there when they’d made them and knew that they were pretty standard bronze, mostly copper with some tin. Was it a way of heating them?
The bars were placed into the forge until they were soft and pliable. But nothing unusual happened until she pulled them out and placed them on the anvil. Was it some sort of technique in beating them?
The hammer rang on the bronze beating it into shape but, though the girl was talented, it was just like watching any other blacksmith.
What could be different?
Then she reached up and cut off a bit of her hair.
He stared in horror as she dropped it onto the hot metal, beating it into the bronze with concentration and focus. Soon a bronze hammer appeared, with a heat that would last long after the dousing, and he knew it was a fine tool. But it didn’t matter.
“What do you think?” she asked, gazing at him with a pride that slipped away when she saw his expression. “What’s the matter?”
“Magic,” he said bitterly. “All this time it was magic. I thought it was some new property of metal, something that would help us all. But no, just a quirk of nature.”
“Does that matter?” the girl asked haltingly.
“Of course it matters! I thought I could replicate it, duplicate it! This was supposed to be my big break, the discovery that was going to change my life. It could have changed society! But instead it’s just a trick done by a little girl.”
The words felt wrong as they came out, hurtful and poisonous, but once said words cannot be unsaid. The girl looked at him, then turned and ran from the forge. Kernowite stared after her and tried to sort out his feelings.
They were all jumbled inside of him, like a pile of rocks dumped at the entrance to a mine. So he did what he always did with rocks; grade, examine and order them. In this pile went the anger. After all he’d put into the girl, looking after her and caring for her, he got nothing from it. In another went guilt. He’d said things that he hadn’t really meant and had hurt her.
He paused after that. Had he really not meant it? He dug deeper into the guilt, cracking some of the rocks open to see the crystals within. He thought about the time they’d spent together, the joy he’d come from having her around. Then he looked again at the two piles next to each other.
And the pile of guilt was much bigger than the pile of anger.
It was only then that he saw what he had lost. But maybe there was a way to get it back?
He had to make this right. After stopping off at his home to pick some things up, he took a deep breath then went searching. Finally, many hours later, he found her again where he’d found her once before, at the end of the tunnels, lying in a ball around her sword and sobbing. He walked over to her, tapping her on the shoulder until she looked up at him with red rimmed eyes.
“This is sand,” he said, pouring the grains into a heap on the ground. She looked at it and then at him, confusion plain on her face. It only grew as he dropped a rock on top of the pile. “And this is sandstone. Sand becomes sandstone.”
“Hence the name.” Her eyes were still red but he felt a spark of warmth inside him. At least she was talking to him.
“Hence the name. Sandstone takes time and lots of pressure to become sandstone. It’s still made up on the same minerals but it’s different. So that’s why…”
“Why is it always about minerals and rocks with you?” the girl shouted, suddenly angry. He took a step back as she rose up in front of him. “It’s all you care about! When I thought…” her rage was interrupted by a sob and she crumpled down again. “I thought you cared about me.”
“Do you think the sand knows when it becomes sandstone?”
She shot another look at him. “What?”
“Sand spends all that time changing but I think that it doesn’t know it. I bet it doesn’t even know that it’s become sandstone. But one day, something happens and its reactions change. Then it realises that it’s become something new. I know that’s what it was like with me.”
He sat down across from her, the sand and the sandstone between them. “I invited you into my home to try and discover more about that sword and the metal that makes it up. I’m not going to lie to you about that or try and change the past. But it is the past. You are more precious to me than any metal ever could be and I’m so sorry it took me this long to realise that.
“You can leave, if you want, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure you can set off safe and well, to a good place. But if you still want to, you can stay with me. And no matter what you decide, you’ll always be welcome here. And… and I’d love to adopt you as my daughter.”
She looked at him, he looked back and for a terrible moment the future seemed uncertain. Then, hesitantly, one hand still gripping the sword, she asked, “You’d really want me as your daughter? Despite everything I’ve done, all the people I’ve hurt?”
He looked back, trying to show with his eyes how serious he was, how much he loved her. “Of course.”
Then the sword was tumbling through the air, and her arms were around him, holding him tight as it clattered behind her. They were both weeping and Kernowite felt his heart fill.
Eventually they drew apart and stared at each other. The silence was a precious thing that he didn’t want to break, unsure of what would happen next. In the end the girl was the first to speak. “So what would it mean to become your daughter?”
Kernowite smiled. “We’d give you a new name and you’d become part of my family.”
“A name?” She looked at him suspiciously. “What sort of name?”
“We’re named for the rocks and minerals we most resemble.”
“So why are you called Kernowite?”
“It’s green, like my eyes. There’s a little bit of iron in it and a little bit of poison. But it’s not as hard as other minerals.”
She sighed. “I guess my name will be Bronze.”
He laughed, he couldn’t help it. “Of course not.”
The look of confusion that flitted across her face forced him to explain. “Bronze is a metal, hard and unchanging. Oh, sure, you can beat it into a different shape but you’re nothing like that. You’re clay.”
“Clay is useful. You can make lots of things from it. It’s adaptable and can change to it’s surroundings. No man is metal, stuck as one thing. There’s lots more to us than that. Look at how much you’ve changed since you’ve come down here. And you can always change, again and again, into whatever you want to me.”
“So what should my name be?”
He looked at her and smiled. “How about Kaolinite?”
She hugged him again, tightly. “Kaolinite it is.”
As she held him tight, tears streaming down both their faces, Kernowite couldn’t help but think how lucky he was. He had found a life changing discovery after all. He had found a daughter.
Kernowite was happy after that. He and his daughter lived and worked together, in the forge, and finishing up cutting out her new room. He was so proud of her, of how she took every day as an opportunity to learn something new, and he took great joy in telling her all about the rocks and minerals that made up her new home. But, like clay, he couldn’t help but see how she was changing. She was growing up, getting taller, broader, and the roof that had once been above her head was now a constant hazard. She had to walk carefully, making sure not to bump into the ceiling or the walls.
Eventually the day that he’d been dreading came. Kaolinite came to him, looking solemn. “I’ve got to go,” she told him. “Thank you for all you’ve done for me but I need to stretch my legs, go out in the world where I belong. If you’re ok with me leaving?”
He just smiled and presented her with the travel satchel and tools that he’d bought not long after accepting her as his daughter.
“You’re always welcome here,” he told her and they hugged, both of them weeping just like when they’d first found each other. And then she was gone and he was once again alone.
Years passed unnoticed in the dark. He kept busy, still scouting the tunnels, still working in the forge that they’d built together. He missed his daughter terribly but he came to accept it. I told her to be clay, he thought, to be change and to mould herself to her circumstances. I did the best I could.
She was out there and she was happy. That’s all that matters.
And then, one day, there was a knock on his door. A warning of catastrophe, he thought, going to answer it. Or just a nosy neighbour?
It was neither. His daughter stood there, fidgeting nervously beside a woman wrapped in furs and a small girl with floating, white hair.
“We needed to go where the storm couldn’t find us. Can we stay here for a while?”
Kernowite stood there for a moment, taking her in. She’d somehow managed to grow even taller, her face was more weathered and she was dressed differently. But her eyes still shone and in her expression he could see that, even if somethings had changed, she was still the same.
Moreover he could feel the connection that had formed between the three of them. The way that Kaolinite kept smiling reassuringly at the woman in the furs, who stood as if alone against the world but who held the young girl’s hand tightly through her gloves. The girl, who keep staring at the ground but would occasionally look around, a bright spark in her eyes. Three people, so different, joined together and making something more.
A family of granite.
His smile was a crevasse, almost splitting his face. “Of course, of course, come in!” he cried, seizing Kaolinite and guiding her inside. The others followed and he closed the door behind them.
There were practical questions to address, how they’d all fit into his home, whether he’d have to start working on more rooms and how long they’d be staying there but he didn’t care. For the moment there was movement, hugs, dragging chairs closer to the fire, pulling out mugs of tea and biscuits, introductions. Problems would come later, for the moment there was only joy.
His daughter had returned.