Murray Karash stepped back from his son and ran a critical eye over his armor. “Swing your arms around like this,” he told him, demonstrating.
Horace Karash, called the Smithson, nodded from behind his visor and windmilled his arms obediently. His armor moved easily and silently, without any telltale squeaks or groans. It didn’t catch or rub despite his vigorous movements. Murray would have been surprised if it had, he was the best smith in the twin cities of Thorginbelt and Gryreflex, maybe in all Fleyniria.
“Good. Now, bend over at the waist as far as you can.” He watched carefully, nodding thoughtfully to himself.
For most of the morning, they had been going through this, testing the armor, making sure it fit and functioned perfectly. Murray was determined to give his son the absolute best suit of armor possible for his adventures around Gaia with his friends and had spared no expense.
Horace finally straightened up and threw back his visor with an armored hand. “Whew! Hot in here,” he laughed happily.
Murray nodded. “Aye, that it is, and well I remember. But I’d rather be hot than dead.”
“Naturally,” his son said reasonably. “I wasn’t complaining, just commenting.”
The fires from the nearby forge glinted off the polished metal, sending bright flashes of light in every direction when Horace moved or shifted position. The flashes had attracted the attention of several passing children and they now sat huddled in the door, eyeing the armored figure worshipfully. Horace, well aware of his audience, missed no opportunity to strut and pose for them. The sound of their ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ was music to his ears.
“Let’s see how well you can fight in it,” his father said.
Horace grinned broadly. “I can fight like a fiend,” he boasted loudly. He winked at his miniature fans and slammed the visor down with a clang. He whipped his two-handed sword from its sheath and took a fighting stance.
Murray nodded quietly to himself at the ease of Horace’s movements. “Good, good.” He picked up his own two-handed sword, shouted, “Defend yourself!” and leapt to the attack.
Both men were huge, verging on the gigantic. Muscles were layered upon muscles on both of them and the family resemblance was obvious even to the most casual observer. Murray’s snapping black eyes and midnight hair were duplicated in Horace. Both sported bushy beards, a royal nose, and stood well over four cubits. Their weight was unknown, but strong chairs creaked and groaned when they sat in them.
Murray was wearing several pieces of plate over a suit of chain, in contrast to his son’s solid covering. But his greater skill and experience made up for the difference in armor and the battle was equal. The two of them came together with a horrendous crash, steel on steel. A lesser man would have been knocked senseless by the impact, but they merely grunted and surged harder against each other. Their swords glittered in the sunlight, almost invisible so fast were they swung to and fro.
The sounds of their battle attracted people from every direction and within moments a huge crowd surrounded the two men, cheering and laughing. As the fight continued, a ferret-faced man began taking bets on the outcome and the crowd grew louder and more boisterous, urging their favorites on to greater and greater exertions. The ring of steel mixed with human shrieks grew louder until a patrol of guardsmen, alerted by the noise, came to see what was going on. They relaxed when they saw the reason for the crowd and the noise, a few even placed bets of their own.
Almost before anyone realized what was happening, the fight was over. A blur of motion, a ring of steel, and Horace’s sword clattered to the ground. Murray’s sword was at his throat and he froze. The tableau held for a moment, then Murray’s sword tip dropped and he stepped back, straightening up.
“There’s more to fighting than just strength, lad. A lesson you’d do well to remember.”
Horace picked up his sword and sheathed it smoothly. “Have I ever failed to heed your teachings, father?” He threw back his visor, revealing a sweat streaked face.
Murray grinned at him. “Only when it comes to girls.”
“Those lessons I prefer to learn on my own,” Horace laughed.
“As did I when I was your age.”
They grinned broadly at each other, threw their arms around each other’s shoulders, and turning toward the crowd, bowed deeply together. The crowd cheered them roundly then began breaking up, some collecting their winnings, others shaking their heads over their losses.
“Come, your mother will want you washed and cleaned up for lunch. And we haven’t much time.”
“I’ll be done before you know it.”
Suiting actions to words he threw off his armor and raced to the washroom. There was a huge wooden tub with a spigot over it. He twisted the knob and steaming water began filling up the tub from the cistern over his father’s forge. They were one of the few families in the city to have an almost endless supply of hot water and his mother insisted they make use of it.
True to his word, he was done washing in short order. He dried himself off and threw on a clean tunic and pants. He slid on a pair of sandals and let the dirty water out of the tub. It gurgled behind him as he left the room and bounded down the stairs, taking them two at a time.
His family, although not exactly noble, was better off than most of the people in Gryreflex or the capital across the river, Thorginbelt. His grandfather had been part of a party of adventurers who had driven a tribe of giants out of the Blue Mountains along the Tagil Sea. His part of the giant’s hoard had made him wealthy overnight. He’d planned ahead and bought several hundred acres of prime farmland then, hired people to farm it for him.
Murray had added to the family holdings when he’d gone adventuring himself. He’d spent several years with some of his dwarven friends in the Rampart Mountains above the Northern Kingdoms and learned more about metalworking in that short time than most people learned in a lifetime. He’d brought back a dwarven forge and built his shop in the better part of Gryreflex, eventually earning a reputation as the best armorer in Fleyniria. Even the King paid handsomely for his services. Now it was time for Horace to add to the family honor and fortune.
He was ready. His friends and he had already formed an adventuring group and Mira had lined up a job for them as guards on a trade caravan. It was somewhat below his station but his fighting prowess ensured he was ready for it. Horace’s father had trained him well in the noble art of war and chivalry, as evidenced by their recent match. His mother had taught him his letters, etiquette, manners, and an appreciation of the finer arts. Oh yes, he was ready for any and all situations that might arise on the road.
The only irritant was his father’s insistence that he venture forth with only a handful of gold pieces, a totally unreasonable position. What was he supposed to do for lodging at night? Sleep on the ground? And what about other expenses? What was he supposed to do about those? It was quite a problem and he resolved to speak to his father about it again before he left. It was just too preposterous.
He pushed open the door and stepped into the cool, marbled hall. Lana, the maid, curtsied quickly and went on with her dusting. He smiled briefly at her and strode down the hall toward the dining room where his parents would be waiting for him. He heard them talking in low murmurs before he got there.
“Are you quite sure, dear? What about emergencies?”
“Suzan, the boy has to learn how to take care of himself sooner or later. If he’s able to buy his way out of every situation he’ll never learn,” his father rumbled.
“I didn’t say enough money for every situation," his mother replied testily. “Just enough for emergencies.”
“But how much is that?”
There was a long moment of silence. Horace hung back, just outside the door, listening intently. Apparently, his mother realized how unreasonable his father was being on this subject as well as he did. He hadn’t known that before.
His mother finally spoke up again. “A hundred gold pieces would be about right,” she said slowly.
A hundred? Why not give him nothing and be done with it? A hundred wouldn’t last any time at all.
“Hmm. Well, maybe,” he heard his father say. “We’ll see about it. Right now, where is he anyway? He should have been here by now.”
Whoops! That was his cue. He silently backed away from the door then walked noisily into the room. He leaned over and kissed his mother on the cheek. “Hmmmm. What smells so good?” he asked brightly, giving no indication he’d overheard them.
“Andrea cooked fresh rock cod with chestnuts for you,” Suzan told him. “Remember to thank her for it before you leave.”
“Yes, mother,” he said dutifully, sitting down at the table.
Murray offered a perfunctory prayer to the gods and they dug into their food. Horace munched away with particular relish, savoring his last home-cooked meal for the next – who knew how long. While they ate there was little discussion, the silence being broken only by the clink of silverware.
Afterward, they moved to the sitting room, Horace and his father lighting up their pipes, and his mother nursing a small glass of wine imported from the wine country of distant Munros on the eastern shore of Namak Lake. There was a lengthy silence that was finally broken by Murray.
“Have you decided what route you’re going to take?” he asked.
Horace nodded. “Jon laid it all out for us several weeks ago. We’re going to make a big circuit of Gaia and eventually wind up right back here,” he answered, telling them about the various stops and checkpoints Jon had set up for them along their route.
Murray puffed thoughtfully on his pipe for a minute. “I see. And what will you be doing to earn your way?”
Horace hesitated briefly then, plunged in. If they didn’t like the job they’d found, maybe that would induce his father to cough up more cash. “Mira says that she got us hired on with the Seven Thumbs Trading Company as caravan guards, as far as the Northern Kingdoms anyway.”
Almost immediately he knew it was the wrong thing to say. His father’s face lit up like a lantern at harvest time. “Fantastic! That’s the same kind of job I had when I first went adventuring too. You’ll love it!” he beamed enthusiastically. “You tell Mira I’m as happy as can be. She really came through again.”
His father had been a caravan guard? Horace felt his heart sink like a rock. Now there was no chance at all of getting more money out of him. He cursed inwardly, trying to smile back at his parents. Boy, just wait until I get my hands on Mira, he thought grimly. I’m going to give her a piece of my mind for sure. Every time she turns around she does something wonderful Dad approves of, and I’m getting sick of it. Just wait until I get my hands on her, just wait.