Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity
by Bill W
Copyright © 2014 by billwstories
Copyright © 2014 by billwstories
As Kieren and the others drew closer to the castle, the walls began to tower over them. Since the boys had only seen the tree dwellings of the elves prior to this, they marveled at the size of this mighty citadel. Kieren was equally impressed with the massive materials that had been required to build this imposing structure. The individual stones used in its construction were so large that each one dwarfed the next. He quickly realized that if one of these blocks should become dislodged and fall, it could easily crush him from existence, along with his mount and possibly a few of the others in the same instant. This made the castle appear both impressive and intimidating at the same time, so Kieren was looking forward to exploring it.
It was mid-afternoon when they passed through the main gate and Kieren was even more impressed than before. He couldn't fathom how such a structure could have ever been breached, even though he knew Madumda's warriors had once managed to get inside. As they passed through the Great Gate and came into the Outer Courtyard, Kieren was even more in awe. He sat frozen in fascination at the sight of the enormous structure that stood directly opposite the entrance, because it was by far the largest edifice he had ever seen.
The exterior of the building was supported by equally immense buttresses, which ran along its length and helped to keep the heavy walls upright. These devices also added to the building's impressive air and gave the impression of being the bared ribs from the carcass of some gigantic animal. After studying the structure for a few seconds more, there was absolutely no doubt in Kieren's mind that this edifice was the center of all of the political and social functions held within the castle.
Eventually, his gaze wandered away from the main building and moved over to its equally impressive neighbor. There, standing with the same regal splendor as its counterpart, stood the Cathedral. It had many impressive features, beginning with the two tubular spires that extended heavenward on either side of the huge central doorway. There were also grandiose statues carved at regular intervals across the exterior of the building and depicted the various gods worshipped within. Located just above the main entrance and strategically placed between the two spires was an enormous, circular window. It was constructed from multiple panes of multicolored glass that had been arranged to display the image of the chief and most powerful god. From within the sanctity of these very walls, all of the religious pomp and circumstance of the nobility and upper classes transpired and every religious edict issued in Tarolia had its origin.
Kieren's mind was reeling as he contemplated the vastness of such a stronghold that was capable of housing these two colossal structures, but there was much, much more. As he continued to peruse his surroundings, the teen was overwhelmed by the unending distractions of sights, sounds and smells that now assaulted him from every direction.
First, he noticed there were numerous smaller buildings lining the castle's inner walls. Off to their right was a sign signifying the enlisted men's barracks, which had soldiers continually meandering in and out of its entranceway. Just beyond the barracks was the stable, with its variety of noises and odors. This made Kieren thankful the wind was blowing from his rear and toward the stable, and not the other way around, because it kept the stench from his nostrils. This journey had already supplied him with more than enough chances to smell the horses and their excrement.
Looking to his left, Kieren spied the guardhouse and next to it a sign indicating the officers' barracks. He quickly noted this structure was not nearly as busy as the enlisted men's quarters and appeared to be more ornate. He concluded it probably also had individual rooms for the various officers to use, as opposed to the large open room the enlisted men shared. The officers' barracks was most likely better furnished as well, even though it served just a fraction of the number housed in the other lodging. This merely helped to convince him that the old saying was obviously true. Rank DID have its privileges.
Kieren now turned and noticed the rest of the party was slowly ambling on their steeds and moving toward the stables. Since he didn't wish to get left behind, he urged his mount to follow and soon caught up with them. The others had already begun to dismount and stretch, so he quickly leapt down from his saddle as well. He then bolted over to where Beraut stood, with Garreth and Romaric eagerly following his lead.
"Beraut," he began to ask his temporary guardian, "would it be all right if the three of us went to explore the rest of the castle? Please?"
"I don't think it's a good idea," Beraut advised him, somewhat gruffly.
"Oh, come on," Romaric begged. "Can't we just look around for a little while?"
"I'm not sure the castle is any safer than the area we were in this morning, even though the threats may be slightly different" the wizard replied.
After saying this, Beraut spotted King Dylan and General Daveel discretely signaling him, so he decided to see what they wanted. Slyly, he moved over to where the other two stood and began a whispered conversation with them.
"Beraut," General Daveel began, "I think the lads could roam safely within the castle, as long as they stayed on the main thoroughfare. The fort is heavily guarded and any attempt to harm them would be quickly dealt with."
"Yes, Beraut," King Dylan added, "I'm afraid they'll just be in our way until the council meeting tonight. It also means they will probably be insufferable, especially if we don't allow them have some enjoyment. Besides, they are just boys to most onlookers and we haven't been here long enough for anyone to conclude they might be worth following."
"Yes, I suppose you are correct," the wizard replied simply. "But then again, I've never raised a child, such as the two of you have done."
Having said this, Beraut walked over to where the boys stood commiserating with each other. Once he had their attention, he informed them about what King Dylan, General Daveel and he had agreed to.
"We have decided to allow you to take a quick tour of the castle," he announced, to the boys' immediate delight. "This is only if you agree to stay on the main pathway, which runs completely around the castle. That way, we won't have to worry about you getting lost or wandering somewhere you shouldn't go. I will also need you to promise to meet up with us again in front of the main building before sundown. Will you agree to those restrictions?"
The boys responded immediately, both in words and with nods of their heads. Satisfied with this compromise, they hurried away, eager to see what they might discover.
The lads quickly darted away from the others, before Beraut had a chance to change his mind. After leaving the stables, they raced along the pathway that ran toward the rear wall of fortress. Their curiosity was piqued and they couldn't wait to see what treasures might be found within this remarkable structure.
The first place they reached was the shop of the blacksmith, which was just beyond the stable. It rang out with the echoes of the craftsman at work, as the short, barrel-chested artisan plied his trade. He was currently pounding his hammer against a strip of metal he was working on, as he slowly shaped it the way he desired. Dum-da-dum, dum-da-dum came the repeated clanging of his hammer against the anvil, as the blacksmith banged out his own melodic lullaby to his craft. The boys watched intently as he painstakingly pounded out a new pair of horseshoes, which they instinctively knew were meant for one of the mounts currently housed at the stables.
"Whoa, look at his muscles," Garreth commented, with a look of envy on his face.
"Yeah, he's really built, but that looks like awfully hard work," Romaric announced. "I don't think I would want to work THAT hard just to get his muscles," he concluded.
After Romaric said this, the other two quickly chimed in their agreement. After a brief stay watching this man continue his labor, the trio soon tired of the repetition and moved down the street.
As the boys continued to travel, they turned down the back alleyway, which ran parallel with the rear wall. As they did so, their nostrils were suddenly filled with a sickening odor, which was apparently emanating from the next doorway. The trio soon identified this smell with the treatment of the various hides in the tanner's stall. When they got close enough, they could see the tradesman was busily working on a pelt, although they couldn't quite make out what species of animal it was from. As they observed the man engaged at his craft, their eyes began to water from the fumes that were produced by the acids and other liquids he was applying to the skins, as he prepared the leather.
"What is that smell?" Garreth choked out. "It's making my eyes burn."
"Mine too," Romaric responded, as he wrinkled his nose and lifted his hand to cover it, in an effort to keep the stench from entering his nostrils. "It's got to be from that stuff he's using on the hides. How can he stand it?"
"I don't know, but it looks like he's using it to remove the fur," Kieren pointed out, while scrutinizing the tanner's actions.
"Yuck!" exclaimed Romaric. "Let's get away from here before I start throwing up."
Kieren and Garreth glanced at each other first and then hurriedly turned away from their friend. It was all they could manage to do without breaking out in laughter over Romaric's reaction. Even though they thought Romaric's comment was quite funny, they decided to go along with his request, because neither one of them wanted to see their friend vomit. Instead, they took him by the arm and guided him down the lane, as they slowly began to distance themselves from the tanner's stall.
The boys hadn't gone very far before they encountered the shop of the wheelwright, who was busily preparing a strip of wood. It was apparent he had been soaking the length of lumber in a vat for some time and was gradually shaping it for his next project. Carefully, he was molding the dampened piece of lumber into a circular arrangement, which meant it was probably destined to become a wheel or part of a barrel.
Although Kieren wasn't particularly intrigued by what the wheelwright was doing, he decided to study the man, who was at least three hands taller than the blacksmith. This new tradesman had nearly as powerful a build as the blacksmith and his well toned muscles rippled across his upper torso. His giant biceps tensed with each movement as he plied his trade and he used his skill and knowledge to ensure the proper results. This large man worked with both wood and metal, so his shop was filled with a variety of tools for both purposes and the floor was littered with scraps of every kind.
"We've seen similar things done back home, so let's find something else," Romaric announced.
It was obvious the two elves were beginning to grow bored with the tour of the various shops, as judged by their body language and other not so subtle signals. The pair repeatedly swayed uneasily from one leg to the other, whispered to each other, continually cleared their throats and eyed Kieren impatiently, while hoping he'd catch their drift. After several minutes of these antics, their young leader signaled he was ready to move on, so his two friends decided it was time to let him know their true intentions.
"Look, Kieren, across the street there's a bakery," Romaric stated, eagerly. "Let's go over and see what they've got good to eat. You have money, don't you?"
Kieren reached into his small pouch and dug deep for what might be there. Eventually, he pulled out what he found and graciously held out his hand toward Romaric, as he offered him the meager contents.
"I only have a few coins, but you are welcome to them," he stated, as he placed them in Romaric's palm.
After thanking his friend for his generosity, Garreth and Romaric began to move toward the new shop. They expected Kieren to follow, but when he didn't, they turned around and confronted him.
"Aren't you coming with us?" Garreth wondered.
"No, I want to continue looking around a little more," Kieren informed them. "I'll meet you at one of the other shops farther along. Is that all right with you?"
"You mean you don't want to get something sweet to eat?" Garreth asked, mildly surprised. "Those meals we've had over the past couple of days were kind of pathetic, so I was hoping to get something a little better. Are you sure you don't want to join us?"
"I'm sure. I'm really not hungry, but you two go ahead. I'll find you later," he assured them.
The elves agreed to this plan, so Kieren turned away from them and moved down the street, in the same direction they had been heading. He hadn't gone far before he saw something inside another shop that interested him. In this stall there was a large variety of footwear on display and the cobbler was silently stitching up another pair of boots. However, it was not the artisan that caught his attention, but his eyes were instantly drawn to a very soft looking pair of deerskin boots that were draped across the counter.
As he began to visually examine this item, the soft leather of the footwear and comfortable-looking fur lining consumed his every thought. Kieren quickly discovered that he desired to own this pair of boots more than anything else he had ever wanted. Boldly, he walked up to the shoemaker, who hadn't been paying him very much attention, and made his inquiry.
"Excuse me, sir, but how much for these boots?" Kieren asked, while holding up the pair he was interested in.
The tradesman looked up, mildly startled, since he had been totally consumed with what he'd been doing. Eyeing the lad suspiciously, he finally responded.
"I'm afraid you'll find that pair to be quite costly," the cobbler advised him. "You might want to select one of the other, less expensive items instead."
Somewhat offended by the shop owner's comment, Kieren persisted until he was given a price.
"Promise you won't sell them until I get back?" he pleaded, once he had the information. "I have to go ask for the money, but I'll return once I get it."
The cobbler eyed him questioningly; since he didn't believe the lad could come up with such an amount.
"I will not sell them before sundown," he promised, "but I will not hold them longer than that."
Having secured the man's pledge, Kieren left the shop, while contemplating how he was going to approach Beraut about this matter. He had only gone a short distance down the pathway again before he was once more distracted from his thoughts. It happened when he discovered something even more interesting than the boots.
This time, he stood gawking through the unshuttered window of the armorer's workplace, as he strained to see everything contained within. After a brief, but disappointing, attempt at 'window-shopping,' he edged his way toward the door. Just as he was about to enter, the teen was brusquely pushed aside by a group of soldiers. They were obviously in a hurry to enter this establishment.
"Out of the way, you young toad," growled the apparent leader of the group, as he shoved the boy aside. "We have business here."
Kieren immediately hugged the outer wall of the building and stayed out of the way until the ruffians were completely inside. However, once they were no longer a threat to him, he peered around the doorframe to see what was so urgent.
"Have you repaired my mail coat," the leader bellowed, "or do I have to go on my next assignment unprotected?"
"Your mail is ready for you, sir," the shop owner responded, unfazed by the man's tone. "It was badly mangled though and I had to replace several links that were beyond repair."
"It got that way during a little quarrel I had at an inn between here and Cassander," the bully bragged. "It seems a gentleman there didn't like the attention I was giving to one of the wenches and offered to teach me some manners. It will be a difficult for him to do that now though, won't it mates?"
"Yes, especially with all that sod they were placing over him as we were leaving," one of the others added.
He and his associates were howling with laughter at this last remark, while the armorer suddenly appeared a little nervous. Since the armorer wished to get these customers out of his shop as quickly as he could, he handed the man his chainmail and collected the required fee in return. Now that the transaction had been completed, the men turned to leave the shop.
When Kieren saw this, he flattened himself against the outer wall again, as the three thugs left the establishment. As they passed by, one of them turned and took a long, hard look at him. The man also maintained his disturbing gaze for much longer than was either normal or polite. This unnerved Kieren and made him feel extremely uncomfortable, because he thought this fellow was studying him much too closely. After a few more seconds of this intense scrutiny the man moved on, but the encounter left Kieren visibly shaken. In fact, he had to lean against the exterior wall to keep upright, because the experience had been so overpowering that it seemed to drain him of his strength.
Once the three bullies were well away from him, the teen regained his composure and eventually entered the shop. He was still clearly shaken, which did not go unnoticed by the armorer.
"Don't pay any attention to them, my son," the burly old man offered, reassuringly. "They are not soldiers from any of our troops, but mercenaries who are looking to pick up a fast profit by doing someone else's dirty work. What is it that I may do for you?"
"I just arrived at the castle and was looking around to see what was here," the teen announced. "Do you mind if I look at your merchandise?"
"No, not at all, son. Feel free to browse the entire shop," the merchant agreed. "Please, let me know if you want to see anything in particular."
"Thank you, sir. I will," Kieren replied, extremely pleased by the craftsman's gracious nature.
Once he had finished speaking with the boy, the old man went back to work pounding a dent out of a metal breastplate that looked as though it had seen considerable action. As the shop's owner continued to work away, the teen set about investigating the items hanging on the walls and laying on the tables.
He began by studying the different protective devices that had been made by this artisan. He carefully examined the various types of mail and leather vests that were used to cover the trunk of the wearer. He also looked at the smaller pieces, which were used to protect the arms, legs and groin areas. Kieren quickly realized the importance of each item and came to a realization. Even though these devices served a purpose, any of them could be penetrated by the right stroke. Under most circumstances, however, they would protect the wearer from being injured by the less debilitating blows that might be received during a battle.
At one point, the teen picked up a metal breastplate, so he could check out its weight and see how it was put together. He turned it first one way and then the other, as he studied how the pieces had been fastened together. He also examined the thickness of the various sections, because he didn't wish to miss even the smallest detail about its construction.
After checking out the breastplate, he picked up a coat of chainmail and examined it in exactly the same fashion. The owner noticed the boy's intense curiosity and offered a suggestion.
"Why don't you try on some of the items, and not merely look at them," the shopkeeper stated. "That way you can get a different perspective about each piece; one that only those clad in such devices can know."
Kieren did not hesitate and quickly took advantage of this generous offer. Slightly excited, he hurriedly tried on both a chainmail and a leather vest, but his enthusiasm was soon dampened. This happened when the items proved to be far too large for his slender frame. It was due to his disappointment that Kieren decided not to model any of the other protective devices and decided it was time to move on. Before he left the shop, however, he thanked the owner for his hospitality and then scampered outside to continue his investigation.
The teen's mild dejection over the ill-fitting armor lasted only a brief time though. He was able to put his frustration aside when he came to the next business. He had reached the weapons shop and was drawn to the breathtaking display of blades and other deadly instruments inside. The master of the shop gave him a cursory inspection when he stepped inside and then watched the teen a little longer. He did this until he determined the lad was not there to steal anything or cause any mischief.
Kieren immediately began to look around. There were all kinds of bladed weapons, including broadswords, sabers, falchions, daggers, short swords, dirks and stilettos prominently displayed around the shop. Some of them were finely crafted ceremonial pieces or weapons worn to impress others. These were secured behind a protective barrier, because most were laced with gold and crested with valuable, sparkling jewels. The more easily accessible devices were made from unadorned iron and designed to suit the needs of those of less than noble rank or for everyday use.
There was also a large collection of other weapons, which included lances, pikes, maces and flails. There were several other devices as well, some of which Kieren didn't even know the name for. These were either leaning between or placed across pegs that had been driven into the wall or suspended on chains dangling from the ceiling. The young man was totally engrossed with the quality and diversity of each type of weapon, as well as its destructive potential. In fact, he even involuntarily shuddered a few times, when he thought about how some of these items were going to be used and the lives they might one day claim.
Even though he was intrigued by all of the various displays, Kieren knew there was much more to see within the walls of the castle, so he decided it was time to move on. After thanking the shop owner for allowing him the opportunity to look around, he headed out the door.
After exiting the weapons stall, the teen looked up the street, in the direction he had come from earlier. He wanted to see if he could spot his friends, but instead caught a glimpse of one of the mercenaries he'd run into at the armorer's shop. In fact, the thug was still loitering about, although the teen didn't notice the man's earlier companions. The guy was still staring in his direction, while trying to make it appear as if he were casually looking about. Realizing the man was watching him unnerved Kieren even more and caused goose bumps to form on his flesh. Reacting to his uneasiness, the teen hurried off in the opposite direction, in an attempt to put some distance between the man and himself.
Kieren hadn't gone very far when he came to the fletcher's door, so he hurriedly ducked inside. He was very concerned about what had just happened and hoped he wasn't being followed. After taking a few seconds to calm down, he began to look around. He soon forgot about the man-for-hire in the street, because the shop's craftsman addressed him.
"Good day, young man, and what might I do for you?"
"Ah, nothing, sir," Kieren responded. "I am new here and was just looking about. I thought I'd checked out some of the shops and ran across yours."
Kieren hadn't yet figured out how he was going to get out of this predicament, but as he spoke to the shopkeeper, he noticed the walls were adorned with numerous arrangements of arrows. This craftsman had apparently created these delicately designed masterpieces and artistically hung his wares in a way to best show off the quality of his creations to his prospective buyers. It was obvious to the lad that before him lay the treasure trove of a true artisan.
"Did you make all of these?" Kieren asked, as he began to examine the variety of items on display.
"Yes, I did," the fletcher answered modestly.
"Wow, these are wonderful!" Kieren exclaimed, as he studied one of the finer arrows.
Slowly, the lad began to move along the wall so he could detect the differences between the various offerings. The feathers that lined the assorted shafts had been procured from a wide variety of fowl indigenous to Tarolia, while the tips consisted of varying qualities of both hewn stone and forged metal arrowheads. Those particular items had either previously been sculpted by the stonemason or molded by the blacksmith before being sent here for their intended use.
The price of the arrows varied and depended upon the type and quality of the tip, the variety of wood used for the shaft and the fineness of feathers used in the fletching. The more crudely made projectiles were affordable to even the lowest class of the castle's inhabitants, while the best of these wares could only be purchased by the wealthiest members of his clientele.
The shop owner continued to keep a cautious eye on his visitor. He wondered if this youth was part of the group of street urchins that often wandered in, one at a time, and tried to steal an arrow or two. The artisan quickly noted, however, that this particular young man was better dressed than those he'd had trouble with in the past, although his clothing was quite dusty. For that reason, he decided he wouldn't ask him to leave, but he would watch him just the same.
As Kieren continued to survey the room, he also noticed an assortment of crossbow quarrels, which were considerably shorter than the arrows. He also quickly realized that these showed as much diversity in their manufacture, both in materials and craftsmanship, as the arrows for the standard bows. Since the lad was impressed by the degree of expertise shown in the higher quality stock, he decided to pose a few questions to their maker.
"Sir, I was wondering if I might ask you a question or two?" he stated, which caused the fletcher to look over and size him up before responding.
"Certainly, my boy. What is it you wish to know?" the craftsman eventually agreed.
"I see you offer a wide range of quality in your wares and your best work is most impressive," Kieren stated, while pointing at the display of the fletcher's finest creations. "I was wondering what the most important factors one would need to know in order to make an arrow as fine as these?"
The fletcher appeared both shocked and pleased after hearing the lad's query. He also blushed slightly, since he had been given unsolicited and indirect praise.
"There are many things, my young friend," the artisan answered, "most of which come from years of experience and practice."
The fletcher now looked at the boy, deeply impressed with his politeness and how astute he appeared.
"It is easy to see from your work that you must be one of the finest, if not THE finest fletcher in the land," Kieren added, which caused the artisan's face to reddened yet again.
"I thank you, young sir, for that fine compliment, but I must admit there are several master fletchers who are far superior to myself," the man responded. "If you have the time though, I would be happy to teach you a little of what I know."
Kieren vigorously nodded his willingness to do this and was hardly able to contain his delight over the fletcher's proposal. It was far more than he had hoped for, but he was prepared to absorb every detail his newly found mentor was willing to impart.
"The first step in producing a quality arrow is to select a shaft that is hard and straight, yet somewhat flexible – one whose flight will be true. Then you must locate the perfect balance point, so the tip will not force the arrow downward sooner than absolutely necessary. The final step is to find feathers that are full and of sufficient length for the type of arrow you are making. The rest is merely mechanical: assembling the parts, smoothing, notching, gluing and binding it all together."
"Would you mind showing me how you do it?" the eager lad asked his tutor.
"I would be glad to," the man agreed. "I was just about to begin a special order for a friend who is in somewhat of a hurry. Come over here and I will demonstrate what you wish to know."
Kieren moved over to the craftsman's workbench and listened to his instructor's step-by-step analysis of the job he was doing. The young man was extremely attentive and his mind served as a sponge, as it absorbed every minute detail this expert was willing to relinquish to him. The fletcher noticed how studious the boy was and decided to do something he had never done before.
"How would you like to make an arrow for yourself?" the man offered.
Kieren's mouth dropped open upon hearing this, because he couldn't believe the fletcher was willing to allow him to try this as well.
"Although I would love to do it, I don't think I'd ever be able to make something as fine as what you produce," he replied. "I do wish to thank you for the offer just the same."
"I think you should at least give it a try," the shop owner advised him. "I have a feeling you may surprise yourself by what you can accomplish, once you set your mind to it. I'll assist your effort by telling you what to do, but you'll have to complete the work yourself. You may work beside me, as I make my next arrow, so you can watch what I'm doing at the same time."
Hesitantly, the lad agreed. He was intrigued by the opportunity, yet nervous about having to complete the work in front of an expert at his craft. While doing his very best to impress his host, Kieren painstakingly labored on his project and made certain he met even the most rigid specifications his instructor set for him. When he finally completed his first creation, he turned toward his mentor and sought his approval.
"You did an excellent job, young man," his tutor advised him, while grinning at his temporary protégé. "I wish some of the apprentices I've worked with were as adept as you seem to be."
After hearing his mentor's comment, Kieren swelled with pride. He also took a moment to examine his own workmanship, to determine if it was truly worth the praise he had just received. Still unconvinced, but beaming just the same, he summoned the courage to ask his next question.
"I'd like to take this with me, if you don't mind. How much would it cost?"
The craftsman folded his arms across his chest, before lifting his right hand and resting it on his chin, as if deep in thought. Kieren held his breath in anticipation of his response, since he wondered if Beraut would lend him the money he would need to make this and his other desired purchase. After what seemed like an eternity to the boy, the fletcher began to smile, just before he spoke.
"I think this will be my gift to you," he began, "for showing such great interest in my profession."
Kieren was totally dumbfounded by this pronouncement and momentarily didn't know how to respond.
"But I am willing to pay for the materials I used," he finally stammered.
"There is no need," the fletcher assured him. "It is not often I find such a talented pupil, so it is my pleasure to give it to you. If you wouldn't mind, please inform your parents that I would be happy to accept you as an apprentice, if they have not already pledged you to another guild."
"Oh, thank you, sir," Kieren squealed. "You are most kind."
He didn't know what else to do, so the teen continued to thank the fletcher more than a sufficient number of times. Then, he wandered back into the street to look for his friends. He was still clutching his prize tightly in his hand, since he didn't wish for anything to happen to it. This was definitely something he would value for years to come.
As he emerged through the doorway, the same mercenary who had been watching him earlier was leaning against the wall on the opposite side of the street. The man was once again visually examining Kieren, from head-to-toe, which thoroughly shook the lad.
Not knowing what else to do, Kieren hurried down the street before popping into the next stall he came to. He hoped this time he would finally shake his pursuer.