Castle Roland

Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity

by Bill W


Chapter 8

Published: 23 Nov 15

Sword of Kings: Forged Out of Necessity

by Bill W
Copyright © 2014 by billwstories

A Time For Concern

After leaving Kieren and going off on their own, the two young elves burst across the street and bolted into the baker's shop. The enticing aroma of the freshly baked breads and pastries filled the air. It caused their mouths to water and their stomachs to rumble, as their minds busily raced over the possibilities that awaited them.

Once they were inside the shop, they were able to see rows of breads, with each type displayed in a separate wicker basket. They could also see piles of fruit-filled tarts stacked beside a tray of hot cross buns, which the baker had just removed from the oven. The owner eyed the boys suspiciously and rapidly moved toward them.

"May I assist you?" he queried, since he was afraid they might attempt to pilfer some of his wares.

"We would like two hot cross buns each, please," Garreth answered, without hesitation.

"Do you have any money?" the baker asked suspiciously, before parting with his goods.

Romaric thrust out his hand, which was holding the coins Kieren had given him, to prove his intent in this matter. The baker smiled at the youths and they quickly exchanged the required fee for the items. Once the baker had the money, he selected the buns and gave them to his waiting patrons. Now that the boys had acquired their desired treats, they left the shop, while slowly savoring their recently purchased fares.

As they finished the first of their selections, the boys paused to peer through the open window of the candle-maker, whose shop was right next door. The shelves of his stall were lined with candles of various shapes and quality, but they also exhibited a wide variation in the length, thickness, color and texture of candle imaginable. The boys then poked their heads further into the opening, as they strained to see what else might be hidden within and peered around the room. They finally located the shop's owner, who stood in the far corner, busily working on another batch.

The boys gazed intently in his direction as he poured hot wax into a series of molds. He was very careful to ensure the wicks were suspended to the bottom of each tube, while leaving enough showing so it could be ignited when put into use. Once this task had been completed, the tradesman moved his new creations to a rack, where they were allowed to cool. It wasn't long, however, before the duo had seen enough of this activity and decided to move on.

The two friends now munched on their second treat, as they meandered down the street and looked through the windows and doorways of the other shops. They continued on in this fashion until they were eventually drawn to the sound of music. It was coming from inside another archway, which was located slightly farther down the lane. Once they reached the location, the boys peered through the window and quickly discovered this shop belonged to the musical instrument maker. As they moved in front of the doorway, their gaze instantly fell upon a young man, probably in his early twenties, who was strumming joyfully on a lute.

It appeared as if this musician was auditioning the various items for possible purchase from the master of the shop. The minstrel was gleefully testing the tonal quality of each instrument in the collection by playing a tune, first on one and then another. As he did this, he listened carefully to each note as it came out of the lute, so he could determine which one sounded best. Seeing him doing this, the elves concluded he was searching for that one elusive masterpiece that each musician hopes to find.

The boys quietly slipped inside and stood perfectly still, as they enjoyed the free, impromptu concert. After a few minutes of standing around, they moved to an out of the way spot and sat down on the ground. They then stretched out their legs and got comfortable, as they leaned back against the wall. If anyone had been watching, it might have appeared as if the elves were settling in for a lengthy stay. Since they had already satisfied their sweet tooth and eased the rumblings in their bellies, the duo had no desire to leave quickly in search of other delights. Instead, they relaxed and savored each note and every chord the musician offered, as if it were the first one they had ever heard.

During the time they had been listening to him, the troubadour noticed the boys seemed to be truly interested in what he was doing. As he moved from one instrument to the next to test its quality, he noted and appreciated their attentiveness. The elves were not only listening to the various tunes he was strumming, but they were also swaying with the beat and truly enjoying his efforts. Impressed, he finally spoke to them.

"Is there anything special you'd like for me to play?" he asked, and this caused Romaric to look at Garreth before he answered.

"No, sir," he replied. "We were just enjoying the songs you were playing."

"But you must have a special song you'd like to hear," the musician pressed, moderately surprised by their lack of a suggestion. "There must be some tune you enjoy better than the others."

"None that we can think of," Romaric informed him, as both teens smiled. "We're happy just to sit here and listen to whatever you play. We've enjoyed everything we've heard so far."

Romaric's comment was the elf's attempt to reassure their benefactor of their sincerity.

"Well I am glad to hear you find my efforts enjoyable, but are you certain you don't have a favorite song I haven't played yet or one you might like for me to play again?"

The boys quickly looked at each other and then toward the minstrel, before they shook their heads to let him know they could think of none.

"In that case," he responded, "I've decided that since you've been so polite and such a good audience, I will play a special little tune just for you."

The young man then began to pluck out a lovely melody, which he soon accompanied with a sweet vocalization. It was a song about a beautiful young maiden who wasn't allowed to marry the man of her dreams, due to her family's disapproval. It was a pitiful verse, but it ended joyously when her lover returned to steal her away to another kingdom, where they lived happily ever after.

The young elves applauded heartily when the entertainer completed the song. Even though the young musician smiled appreciatively in recognition of their gratitude, his attention was primarily focused on the instrument he had just used. He was once again holding the lute close to his ear, so he could listen attentively as he strummed a few more chords upon it. He was carefully judging to see if it was the instrument he wanted to purchase. A few seconds later, his smile broadened and it appeared he had found the lute he desired.

The elves waited patiently for the minstrel to finish what he was doing, since they didn't want to seem rude by interrupting his current efforts. However, just as soon as he lowered the lute and appeared satisfied it was the one he was going to buy, the boys began to pelt him with questions.

"Where did you learn all of those wonderful songs?" Garreth asked.

"I just finished my apprenticeship here under one of the finest master musicians in the kingdom," the young man replied.

"So what are you going to do now, since you have mastered your trade?" Romaric wondered.

"I have only finished my studies, but I'm still far from mastering my profession," he replied, "I merely came here to purchase an instrument with which I will begin my career, since I will no longer have access to the ones at the guildhall. I think I have just found the right one, so now I will start traveling from town to town. I will perform at the various locations the guild sends me, because that is how I will make a living. I have a couple more obligations to fulfill at the castle first, but after those have been completed, I will be setting out on my own."

"With your ability, you'll soon be rich and famous," Romaric remarked, but his comment caused the young minstrel to laugh.

"Famous? Well maybe someday, but musicians seldom get rich," he mused. "In our profession, we may live with and work for others who are wealthy, but I have yet to learn of any such performer who became affluent himself."

"Then why did you pick this trade?" Romaric wondered, and this comment drew a puzzled expression from the troubadour before he answered.

"I chose this profession because I love music," he explained, simply. "What other reason could there be? I love to play and I love to sing, but most of all I love the looks on people's faces when I finish one of their favorite tunes. By choosing to do this, I can do what I really enjoy, so I will be happy for the rest of my life."

"I'd say that was a good enough reason," Garreth added. "What is your name?"

"Daimon. And yours?" the musician answered.

"I am Garreth and this is my friend, Romaric."

The three of them then shook hands and exchanged a few other comments, before Daimon announced that he had to leave.

"I would love to stay and talk longer, but I must be on my way," the young man apologized. "As I mentioned earlier, I still have a couple more duties to perform as an apprentice before I leave this wonderful city to begin my career, and one of those is to be held shortly. I am to play at a banquet this evening and then another one a few evenings later, so if you will please excuse me, I must get ready for this event."

They then bid each other farewell, but also added that they hoped to run into each other again some day. Before he left, Daimon paid the shopkeeper for the instrument he had selected, which was the one he had used to play the final couple of pieces for the elves. Once this had been accomplished, he strode out of the shop and quickly disappeared down the street.

Garreth and Romaric remained in the shop for a short time after Daimon had departed, so they could look at the different items on display. They didn't stay very long though and soon exited the shop, because they quickly discovered the thrill of the place had disappeared when Daimon left. As they emerged from the building, the pair meandered down the dusty little street until they chose their next stopping point.

This new location was even more to their liking, because they had chanced upon the location of the castle's confectioner. Suddenly recognizing the bonanza that awaited them inside, the boys bolted through the entranceway and moved quickly up to the counter. It was lined with jars and trays filled with treats. There was sugre candy, maple cubes and other goodies they didn't recognize, as their eyes continually darted from one treat to the next. After perusing nearly everything in sight, they finally settled upon that one special treat they had been looking for, a tray of caramel-covered apples.

Romaric immediately inquired about the price of the items, since he was hoping to buy three and then take one of them to Kieren. Unfortunately, his heart sank when he learned they were a little short on funds. Garreth could tell something was wrong, so he asked Romaric what the problem was.

"I don't have enough coins left to buy three of the caramel-covered apples," he answered.

"Then what are we going to do?" Garreth wondered.

"Well, I guess we can either buy two of them for us and not worry about Kieren," Romaric offered, "but that would be kind of rude. After all, he was the one who gave us the coins in the first place. Other than that, I guess we'll just have to choose one of these other items. What do you think we should do?"

Before Garreth could respond, the confectioner offered them another option. He had overheard their predicament and thought he could help out. Since the items they were interested in buying were some of his more perishable stock, because of the apples inside, he need to move them more quickly than most of his other wares.

"I'll tell you what," he began. "Seeing you seem like very nice boys and you're trying to do something decent by buying one for your friend too, I would like to offer you another possibility. Since I heard you say that you are a little short of money today, would it help if I offered to sell you three of the caramel-covered apples for the price of two?"

Both elves eyes lit up and they enthusiastically began to nod their heads in agreement. They were marveling at their good fortune, because this would definitely solve their predicament. They were also overjoyed by the prospect that they'd be able to purchase the item they desired the most. Romaric immediately handed the man his coins, and once they had secured the treats, both boys thanked the confectioner numerous times for his generosity.

As they exited the shop, they licked their lips in anticipation of savoring this tasty treat. Once they were out in the street, they stopped to debate which direction they should go next, in order to find Kieren.

As soon as Kieren exited the fletcher's shop and spotted the mercenary checking him out again, he waited for a rather large group of people to walk by, so he could use them to shield his departure. He very carefully positioned himself in such a way that these others obscured the ruffian's line of sight and he managed to slip away unnoticed. He then moved quickly down the street and quietly popped into one of the next shops he came to, while hoping his ruse had worked out the way he wanted. Once inside the shop, he moved into the far corner, against the front wall, where he disappeared in the shadows. He was trying his best to make sure no one would see him if they quickly peered through the window or doorway, as he stood absolutely motionless.

Kieren also fought to control his breathing, which was currently rapid and ragged due to his mild fright. It almost appeared as if he had just competed in a race around the interior of the castle. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest and wondered if it was beating loudly enough for others to hear. After a few tense minutes of worrying that he might have been spotted ducking into this stall, he realized no one had peered inside looking for him. Feeling slightly more confident, he began to relax a bit and decided to glance around to determine where he was. He quickly recognized he was in an area filled with an accumulation of bolts of cloth, which had been dyed in various colors and woven in a multitude of patterns. This led him to conclude he was in the tailor's workshop.

As he visually inspected the shop, Kieren noticed the owner was eyeing him suspiciously and intently, as he attempted to figure out what the young man was up to. It was fairly obvious the craftsman had stopped what he had been doing when Kieren entered, since he was still leaning next to a swatch of fabric that had a half-traced pattern on it.

"Are you all right?" the tailor asked, showing concern.

"Yes, it's just that this big guy was following me and I got scared," Kieren explained, as honestly as he dared.

"Ah, there are some shady looking characters lurking about and watching everyone," the tailor sympathized. "I'm not sure why he was watching you, but I can understand why you were trying to get away from him."

The tailor's comment made the teen feel slightly better, since the man had stated that he understood his concern. It also made him wonder if he might have given this stranger too much information. Although it seemed highly unlikely, it was still possible this guy might be in league with the mercenary who'd been watching him. If so, he had just let the tailor know he'd figured out what the other man was doing. After thinking about this some more, Kieren concluded he would have to be more cautious about divulging so much information in the future. He had to do this just in case there were others working with the brute that had been following him.

After he finished talking to the teen, the shop owner went back to work. Once he finished tracing out the pattern, he carefully cut along the chalk outline and then began to stitch the pieces together. The material he was working on was a coarse fabric that had been dyed a deep brown, so it appeared to the boy that he was making it into some sort of work clothes.

Since Kieren did not wish to stay in one place long enough to be discovered again, he peeked out the window to see if the coast was clear. Finding nothing that concerned him in the area right outside the window, he moved over to the doorway and peered through it. After scanning the rest of the alleyway, he eventually concluded the coast was clear. He figured this was his chance to get away, so he thanked the tailor for letting him stay for as long as he had, before he darted out of the shop and raced down the street.

Kieren passed the next shop he came to, but then quickly moved through door of the one after that. This time, he found himself in the carpenter's stall. Once again he slipped to a position out of sight, which also caught this shop owner's attention and caused him to address the boy.

"May I help you with something?" he inquired.

"Ah," Kieren stammered. "I was just hiding from my friends," This time he lied, since he didn't want to disclose too much to another total stranger.

"This is not a play area," the craftsman scolded, while flashing a slight frown. "I don't want you running around in here, because you could get hurt. As long as you stay put and don't cause any trouble or disrupt my work, then you may stay here for a little while."

The teen quickly thanked his host and then glanced out the window, so he could study the people in the street. Once he'd finished checking out the passersby, he discovered nothing threatening, so he turned back around to see what the shop owner was doing.

The slender carpenter was busy getting things set up to start a new project. His plans were laid out on the table beside him and various pieces of wood were stacked up on the floor near his location. His tools were either hanging on pegs on the wall or lying beside his plans on the table, as he prepared to begin work.

Kieren watched as the man picked up the first piece of lumber, placed in the vice and then began to make long, effortless strokes across its surface. He was using very sharp blade to smooth the length of wood, in preparation for it to become part of his next creation. The teen understood it was imperative that this piece be as smooth as possible, with no rough edges or any slivers sticking out from it, before the carpenter would use it.

Intrigued by what the man was doing, the lad casually moved a few steps closer to the table, so he could glance at the plans. After looking them over, he discovered the carpenter was beginning to assemble a fine cabinet. This richly designed piece of furniture had most likely been ordered by one of the wealthier inhabitants of the castle and would be used as a symbol of his material worth and status.

As he glanced out the window again, Kieren noticed the sky was beginning to darken and suddenly realized he had to be on his way. He still needed to find his friends and then hurry to meet Beraut before the sun went down.

Using his best manners, he thanked the shop owner for his understanding and then peered out the doorway one more time. After deciding no one suspicious was lurking about, he began to wonder how he was going to find his chums. Just then he noticed Garreth and Romaric walking on the other side of a group of women, so he rushed toward them. He was anxious to fill them in about what had happened since they'd split up, but he also knew they had to hurry if they were going to meet up with the wizard in time.

As Kieren popped up in front of them, the elves gave a startled gasp, before Romaric thrust the treat he'd purchased in his friend's direction. Kieren quickly took it, but didn't begin to eat it right away. First, he wanted to explain what had happened since they had parted from each other.

Regrettably, he didn't get a chance to do this, because Romaric had already begun to tell him about their good fortune in securing the caramel-covered apples. Kieren listened politely, but was unimpressed with what his friend had to say and felt he had more important news to relay. He was hoping Romaric would finish his story quickly, so as soon as the elf stopped speaking, Kieren quickly jumped in and took the opportunity to speak next.

"It's time for us to head back to meet the others," he informed the other pair, "but we have to stay alert. I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure I was being watched. I don't see him around at the moment, but this guy has been following me for quite some time. I'm not sure if he started doing it before or after you two went off on your own, but I spotted him the first time when I was alone."

Garreth and Romaric were shocked by this news and stared at their friend. While the elves were absorbing this information, Kieren's head continued to pivot about on his shoulders, as he scanned the area for the man who had been trailing him.

"Is that why you're carrying an arrow?" Garreth asked next, while staring at the object in Kieren's left hand.

"No, it's just something the fletcher let me make when I stopped by his shop for a while," he announced, in an attempt to explain away the arrow as quickly as he could. "Look, I don't want to tell Beraut that some man was following me though, because then he'll never let us do anything on our own again."

"Yes, you're probably right about that," Romaric agreed. "We won't say anything if you don't want us to."

Garreth merely nodded his head to show he also agreed with Kieren's sage advice. Once that had been settled, the three of them started their journey back to the where they were to meet up with the wizard.

As they walked, Kieren enjoyed the treat his friends had given him, but his mind was continually wandering over his contact with the mercenaries. He desperately tried to determine when he had first seen them and whether they'd been following him the entire time? He didn't know for sure, so he felt he had to mentally retrace his steps and determine if he had seen any of the men before he arrived at the armorer's shop.

Carefully, he thought back to the first stop they'd made, which was at the blacksmith's shop, but the teen didn't recall seeing them there. Nor did he remember them being anywhere near the tanner's stall or wheelwright's shop. In fact, he didn't remember seeing the mercenaries at all until after he parted company with his friends.

Realizing this, he thought about where he went after he left Garreth and Romaric. That's when he remembered the cobbler's stall, which was just before the armorer's shop, where he first recalled running into the mercenaries. Having figured this out, it began to appear to him as if the encounter had just been a coincidence. However, the recollection of the cobbler's shop reminded him about something else – those magnificent boots.

Kieren immediately took his friends in tow and raced off to find the wizard. Along the way, they rushed by the remainder of the shops and other stalls, before darting past the rows of shacks that served as the servants' quarters. Since they knew their time was short, they never slowed down to investigate any of these other places, even though they secretly might have wished to see more. Instead, they continued on and flew past another collection of dwellings, but these were larger and more richly decorated than any they had seen so far. The trio would learn later that these domiciles were the houses of the lesser officials of the court and the finer the home, the higher the status of the person living there.

Nearly out of breath, the teens finally reached the first of the two large stone structures, where the business of state was conducted. Immediately, they spotted Beraut and moved in his direction. He was busily chatting with King Dylan, General Daveel and another man that Kieren didn't recognize. It quickly appeared as if this man was either arguing with the others or trying to make a point. The lad surmised this because the man's actions made it quite evident he was either highly excited or slightly agitated about the topic.

As the three teens approached Beraut and the others, Kieren studied the stranger and noticed he was quite plump, rather short, balding and was dressed in fine silks. After noting the quality of his clothing and seeing how intently the wizard, King Dylan and General Daveel were paying attention to what he was saying, the lad inferred he must be one of the city officials. As the discussion continued, the man slowly became even more animated and began using many facial expressions and hand gestures to help make his point. Watching him do this inevitably led Kieren to associate the man's actions with that of a spoiled child trying to get his way.

No matter how distracting or annoying this man's antics were they did not prevent Beraut from spying the trio as they moved closer. Without waiting for the other man to finish what he was saying, the wizard cut him off in mid-sentence and summoned his ward to him.

"Kieren, come here, please. I have someone I'd like you to meet," Beraut urged, sweetly.

This unexpected interruption and comment caused the official to turn slightly, so he could see whom the wizard was addressing. Since Kieren was now the center of attention, he hesitantly sauntered toward the wizard, although he didn't really want to meet this other person at the moment. Instead, he wanted to speak with Beraut privately, so he could tell him about the boots. No matter how much he wished to do otherwise, the lad understood it would be best if he did as he was told and not create a scene, so he continued to move toward them.

"Kieren, this is Nathar, the Steward of Leander," Beraut informed him, once he was standing in their midst.

Although temporarily bewildered about the reason the wizard had interrupted their conversation to introduce him, but not Garreth or Romaric, he looked at the other man. Nathar seemed just as surprised by this interruption, but he didn't allow his confusion to cause him forget his manners. Using his best form, he squared his body in front of the young man and made a rather pretentious show of bowing. Watching Nathar's actions, Kieren thought he was making far too big a deal while doing this. The steward dramatically swept his arm in front of his chest, as his upper body tilted slightly forward, but that wasn't all. It looked even more ridiculous and awkward when the man swept the same arm in the opposite direction as he rose.

In the end, the teen assumed this pompous toad was what the adults would call a 'boot-licker.' This meant the person would basically grovel and kiss the boots anyone with more power or authority, while doing whatever else the person requested of him. Kieren quickly assumed this man must be in awe of Beraut, King Dylan or possibly both. Even though he thought such behavior was pathetic, the young man knew there were plenty of people who would do such things and fit this dubious description. Kieren, however, never planned on being one of them.

"I am pleased to meet you," Nathar addressed Kieren, once he was upright again. "Any friend of Beraut is most definitely a friend of mine. Welcome to Leander."

The teen now felt the man's comment had just confirmed his prior observation. It was the wizard who apparently intimidated him and whom he was showing off for.

"Thank you, sir, and I am pleased to meet you as well," Kieren lied, before looking toward Beraut.

The lad hoped he might now be able to find a way to signal his mentor that he need to speak with him alone, so he could discuss the boots. However, when Beraut noticed his ward's expression, he thought it was just the boy's way of questioning who this man was.

"Kieren," Beraut began, as he attempted to clarify the point, "ever since the death of King Orthilue and his family, none of the others with royal blood were eager to step forward and fill the void. Madumda had made it perfectly clear that he was planning to destroy each of them as well, so they did not wish to move to the top of that list. The other heirs felt that if they accepted such a highly visible position it would make them the next target for the Dark Lord, so they declined the opportunity. To fill the void, it was decided the stewards would be in charge of the capital in the king's stead, although they would not assume all of the king's duties or be granted all of his power.

"Before that fateful day, the stewards had always assisted the king and were charged with taking care of many of the daily tasks of running the castle. The only difference now was that they would assume total control of these duties until a new monarch was crowned. They don't have any authority over the rest of the kingdom and are merely responsible for the operation of the capital city and the welfare of its inhabitants. To do that, the stewards enforce the local laws and mete out punishments for any infractions that happen within the castle's walls. They also have limited authority over the surrounding communities that have pledged allegiance and support to the capital."

Kieren listened politely, but he was more intent on being able to ask Beraut if he could borrow enough money to buy the boots he had seen earlier. While he waited, he also nodded and smiled at their host and even extended his hand to clasp the other man's arm in friendship before they finished. He had no idea why he had been singled out for this honor, because Beraut had not introduced Garreth or Romaric to this man, but now that the formalities had been completed, the teen tried to get the wizard's attention again.

Unaware of Kieren's current desire, Beraut continued speaking with Nathar and the others, but he was also able to observe his ward's continuing antics. The young man couldn't seem to stand still and the wizard was becoming very annoyed with this distraction. When the boy began to flash him hand signals and other not so subtle gestures, Beraut decided he'd seen enough.

"Did you sit on an ant hill, possibly need to use the privy or is there something else you require?" the wizard asked, with a touch of sarcasm in his tone.

"Ah, I just need to ask you something," Kieren stammered, slightly embarrassed by the way he had just been addressed. "It's sort of a favor."

"Speak up, then. What is it you wish?" Beraut stated in reply, but this time there was a tinge of gruffness in his voice.

"Uhhh," Kieren stammered, before beginning, "When I was making my way around the castle earlier, I found the most magnificent pair of boots at the cobbler's shop. I would like to purchase them and wondered if you would be kind enough to lend me the money temporarily. I promise to pay you back after I return home and get the money from my parents."

Even though the wizard was giving him a disapproving look, Kieren didn't stop. He went on to describe the footwear in great detail and enthusiastically pointed out the reasons these boots were so special. He excitedly explained that he thought "the boots would be so comfortable that I could walk forever and never get a blister from them."

Before the lad had a chance to finish relaying his tale, however, the wizard began to scowl and then finally cut him off.

"Kieren, this is not the time nor the place for such frivolous desires," the wizard stated, in order to end the conversation. "We have a great deal of business to attend to this evening, so we haven't the luxury of worrying about purchasing an item of negligible worth. You must understand that we have more important issues to deal with than individual desires. I'm afraid things such as this will have to be ignored for the time being, because there are far greater and more pressing matters on our plate that need to be addressed first."

Crushed by this mild admonition in front of the others, Kieren slinked into the background. Discretely, he moved behind Garreth and Romaric and then remained quiet, as the elders continued their discussion.

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