Shortly after I got up, on the morning of the first day of the spring festival, I got dressed. I wore my cleanest kilt and vest as well as one of my more elaborate swordbelts, and finally my ever present black cloak, though this one was made of black velvet with red interior.
Once I was properly dressed I placed at least fifty garrets, a couple dozen suns, and a few other small coins in my belt pouch before I headed out.
I stopped at the mess hall to pick up a little something to tide me over until I had a chance to get something more filling down at the festival grounds.
On my way out of the keep I banged into the thrice dammed Snow's Tinsmithy Sign. This must've been at least the twentieth time that I had managed to bang my head into this sign.
Sooner or later I was going to bang my head on that thing when I was a bad mood and then it would probably end up being chucked halfway down the corridor by an irate feline.
Once I was passed that sign I quickly made my way out of the keep and down to the grounds where the main festivities were taking place. I wandered around the tents looking at some of the wares that were on display.
I was completely flabbergasted when I arrived at a tent that had a sign that said FADGER and standing behind the counter was someone that I wasn't expecting; the fox scout Misha Brightleaf, standing behind the counter. I glanced at his waist and was mildly surprised to see the weapons and belt that I had given him a little over two weeks ago.
“What's this about Misha?” I asked him.
He pointed to a pair of clocks sitting at the counter and then replied “I make the interior of the clocks and Will Hardy, the Keep jeweller, makes the cases that my parts go into.”
I looked over at medium sized carved wood case clock with a few tasteful gold and silver details and said, “I've seen a clock like that before not too long ago when I was serving a Baron in the city of Komley though his was a little more elaborate.”
“That clock was a special commission that the Baron ordered from us for his manor house in the city. This clock on the other hand wasn't ordered and is currently for sale here though I would warn you that it isn't all that cheap.”
“Well the last time you visited my place you saw my horde and you commented that I didn't have a taste for the finer things in life so I might try and break that habit here and now.”
The fox nodded and his one remaining ear twitched and the look in his green eyes was almost predatory as he said, “This clock is an excellent bargain at two hundred and twenty Suns”
This was always the part of getting a contract that I had always enjoyed, the bargaining over the price.
I replied by saying, “I'll give you two hundred”
“Two Hundred! For such a piece of artwork?”
“Two hundred and one, but if you think that you're going to get any more out of me you're joking.”
“Ak! Why don't you just take my purse and make it a real robbery.”
“You Insult my honour fox.”
“You insult mine cat! But as I consider you a friend I'll suffer and accept a mere two hundred and one.”
I reached into my belt pouch and pulled out a handful of coins. I counted out forty garrets and one sun which I handed to the fox
“Can you have it delivered to my room?”
“You rob me of a decent price and now you want me to deliver it to you? I will do it for the price of twenty extra suns.”
"Twenty Extra Suns!! You'd think that I wanted it to be hand delivered by a valet in a special coach. I just need it delivered in such a way as it still works and looks like it does now. I’ll give you five."
“Five? I won't even let it off the counter for less than fifteen.”
“Come on what do you think I am, a bottomless well of money? I'll give you seven suns and not a copper penny more.”
“You have a chest full of coins. I might consider it for 10 suns.”
“I might need that money for something else, you ever think of that? I'll give you seven suns and a moon”
“I have to eat and put clothes on my back and you are stealing money from me. 8 suns.”
“You are pretty well off for someone who is destitute. I'll give you seven suns a moon and five crescents.”
“Don't let my looks fool you. Seven suns, a moon, and 7 crescents.”
I stuck out my hand and said, “You are a most astute bargainer Misha, I admire your skills.”
He shook my hand firmly and replied, “Thank you. And so are you.”
I let go of his hand and then looked at the rest of his merchandise before I said, “I'll be in my place at roughly four-o-clock so that would be a good time to drop it off.”
Misha nodded before he asked me "Are you going to enter any of the contests? I'm trying my skills in the archery contests. As usual."
“I don't think I will this time. However, in the next festival I might get involved, this time I just want to see what is available.”
“You should try. You'll do well in the sword fighting. You will wind up facing the most powerful and skilled fighters in the Keep.”
I looked down at the sword sheathed at my side before I replied, “Right now I'm not really dressed for sword fighting.”
“So? Go get dressed. It is all with blunt weapons anyway. No one gets seriously hurt.”
“You mean that I will have to use weapons that won't balance like my own?”
“We can't afford to have people hurt or killed. But remember everyone is going to have to use the same unbalanced weapons.”
“That might even things out. Will I be able to use two swords if I want to?”
“Yes. What weapons you use is up to you. Sword and shield, axe and shield, two swords, or whatever you want.”
I grinned, a particularly vicious expression, before I replied, “I think that the swordsman in the Keep are about to get a pointed lesson in the art of humility.”
“That look on you scares me my friend!” He commented. He continued by saying “I think the other keepers are in for a lot of trouble.”
I laughed softly with the tip of my tail twitching in sympathy as I walked back towards the Keep where I would get changed into my work clothes.
I didn't put on my full heavy belt and double baldric but I did put on my armour, considering the fact that people would be swinging weapons at my body.
Once everything was in place I grabbed my cloak and headed out of the room down to the field where I would be doing a little fighting. When I reached the field I found my way through the crowd until I reached a square that had been roped off.
On one side of the square there was a large tent with a man standing in front of it.
I walked over to the tent and the man looked at me and said, “I guess that you are here to sign up for the swordsmanship contest.”
I simply nodded in acknowledgement before I asked what the prize for first place was.
He shook his head before he replied that we would learn what the prizes were in due time.
I nodded slowly before I told the man that I would go on into the tent.
Inside the tent there were at least twenty competitors all looking over a selection of weapons laid out on a table.
I went over to the swords and slowly began to test each one to check the balance and to see if was something that I was going to be able to use. Finally I selected a fine pair, a two handed great-sword, and a single handed broadsword.
With my selections made I went over into an empty corner and slowly began to practice my forms. I wasn't just planning on being competitive; I wanted to win this contest. It wasn't so much whatever first prize was, but instead the pride that would come with the victory.
As I thought about that I finished my basic limbering up so I dropped down onto my knees and began to meditate, clearing my mind of all distractions so that when the time came I would be able to fight with a clear head.
“Next up we have Vincent, and Adòn Naharél competing.” I just vaguely heard a voice shout.
I slowly stood up and headed out of the tent to the roped off square where we were going to be fighting, Vincent, as it turned out was a large man with braided blond hair and a fearsome expression on his face. In his hand was an equally fearsome looking double bladed axe similar to the one that had gotten me stuck at the Keep in the first place.
As soon as I entered the roped off square the man charged me, hair flying in an obvious attempt to overpower me with his first rushed attack.
I calmly beat the attack aside and began to go to work on him.
Three minutes later he needed some assistance to make his way to the healer's tent where he would be getting his leg set in a splint.
Each time I went into the square and faced off against someone almost pitied them because I was so focused on my goals. What wasn't so great about my involvement in the contest was the fact that I was creating a bunch of full beds in Coe's tent. I didn't seem to be able to beat someone without breaking some bone or other in their body.
The only opponent that really gave me a pause was a frenetic little shrew who wielded her rapier with almost blinding speed. She actually managed to get away from the fight without breaking any bones though she did have a few contusions on her body.
I didn't get away from that fight unmarked either, I was going to feel a few of those hits that she had made in the morning when I got up the next day.
I guess that it was about mid-afternoon when I heard the voice of the man who was announcing each match shout. “Now we have our final match between Adòn Naharél and the ever indomitable Rickkter.”
I stood up slowly, completely centered and calm about the upcoming bout. When I reached the square I found myself facing a raccoon who was wielding a pair of slightly curved sabres, one shorter than the other. I crossed my arms over my chest and bowed my head in a silent salute before I took my stance.
This match would probably prove to be more difficult than the others because this man, or raccoon, seemed to be much more skilled than any of my previous opponents. At first neither of us moved studying one another with calculating eyes.
Finally in a flowing move to the left the raccoon struck at my flank with a lightning quick slash.
I blocked the blow with the shorter sword before I unleashed a counterattack with my longer weapon.
From the way that Rickkter used his blade I could tell that he had probably either been to or learned from someone who had been to the island nation of Yamato.
I had actually fenced a man from that region once before in the past some ten years ago. Now here I was facing an adept at that style of combat.
However, two could play that game as I switched from a power style to a more flowing form known as the striking dragon style. I had had few occasions to use the style but it was one of my favourites in terms of energy conservation and efficiency.
Every time that either of us found an opening we attacked that opening with full vigour.
I didn't use my full strength because I knew that if I used my full strength I wouldn't be able to continue fighting for very long before I was prostrate with fatigue.
As it was I was lucky that between several of the fights I had managed to get some food to provide my huge muscles something to power them. As the fight wore on I could tell that this raccoon was definitely a worthy opponent the likes of which I hadn't faced in a very long time. He moved almost constantly in smooth manner that reminded me of an old Kelmar Swordmaster that I had trained under when I was a boy. It was a good thing that I had trained with him because I knew exactly the response to take to this style of fighting.
As the fight wore one I could see that he was tiring but then again so was I, sooner or later one of us would make a mistake and the fight would be over.
Then I saw it, the raccoon had made a mistake, not an easy one to spot or one that wasn’t even all that serious. However, at our level of capability even a small mistake such as a slightly overpowered slash was enough to end the match.
I ducked under the blow and caught it one the blade of my long-sword before I jabbed at him with my short sword and caught him in the shoulder. I quickly withdrew the weapon and saw that even though these blades were blunted that he had sustained a slight injury that was bleeding quite freely.
He stepped back, sheathed the shorter of his two swords, and put his hand to his shoulder before he dropped his guard with his large sword and said quietly “You seem to have beaten me.”
I slowly nodded before I crossed my arms over my chest again and bowed before I replied, “You have given me more of a challenge then I've had to face in many years sir and I commend you on that.”
The raccoon returned my gesture before he responded “You are most effusive in your praise, but to tell you the truth I wasn't really feeling all that good today. Perhaps today just wasn't my day.”
“Don't be so hard on yourself sir you are a great swordsman and I can personally attest to that.”
He headed for the healer's tent where he got patched up before he joined me standing outside in front of the viewing stand.
At the top of the viewing stand was a large brown horse morph in rich clothing. I quickly guessed that this man was the Duke of the castle and overlord of the entire Metamor Valley.
“This spring we here were provided a superlative demonstration of sword skills. In the final these two of Metamor's finest warriors tried to beat each other. Never in my years as Duke of this place have I seen such a display of swordsmanship, but alas the display had to come to an end and we had to have a victor.”
The same crocodile that had kicked me out of the throne room stood up with a large object covered in cloth and said, “This year the first prize goes to Adòn Naharél. It is a shield that was created by a group of Sathmore Mages and Metalsmiths more than fifty years ago on the commission of Duke Thomas's father and is known as the Rampart of Sathmore.” He whipped the cloth off of the object in question. The shield under the cloth was black with silver and gold markings.
When I took the shield into my hands there was a slight glow from the markings on the object. When the glow was gone most of the silver markings were also gone, replaced by a black and white enamelled image similar to that which decorated the small center medallion on my double baldrics. I turned the shield over and slid my left arm into the two loops behind the metal face and hefted it properly with my left arm. Even though it was metal I could tell that it wasn't all that heavy. I bowed to the stand before the crocodile came up to the raccoon with an object that was also covered in cloth, though even I could tell what this object was
“Second prize goes to Rickkter. It is a helmet that was crafted here in our keep by our resident Rune Mage Artificer David and is known as the Helmet of the Just.” The raccoon took the proffered item and placed it on his head to try it out. After a moment he took the helmet off and placed it in the crook of his left arm before he bowed to the stand like I had.
The third place person was the shrew who had given me so much trouble earlier on. She received a pair of gauntlets that enhanced her strength three times; in her case the prize was very appropriate.
Shortly after we all received our prizes we each headed to whatever we were going to do next.
Personally I headed home where I placed my new shield on the wall beside some of my other weapons before I got dressed in light clothing before I headed out once more to watch the other contests.
I was sure to be available when Misha's clock arrived but once I placed it on my desk I headed out once more to see what kind of things I could entertain myself with for the rest of the day. At some point in the early evening I found my way to the Deaf Mule. If anything the 'Mule was even busier than it had been the night before.
I played several games of throwing knives and imbibed deeply in the ale that Donnie was selling. After what seemed like a dozen tankards of ale I was really beginning to enjoy myself. When a loud drunken voice proclaimed
“I think thash they ssshould burn all of she freakssh and shet proper peoplesh to live in thish plashe.”
I turned around to see a large very drunk teamster standing in the middle of room talking to his friends weaving slightly with a tankard in his hand. I stood up from where I was sitting in the back of the bar by myself at a table and said, “Sir I would suggest that you moderate your speech here in the Deaf Mule because you won't find all that many people here who will sympathize with you.”
“Watssh your mouth sshhpawn from Hell.”
My ears folded against the back of my head and a low growl escaped my throat.
“Look atsh thash. He can't even shhpeak like a man.”
I stepped forwards and directed a glance over at Donnie. He was directing a glance at his bouncer, who was a large brown bear morph.
The drunk turned around away from me before he swung around with surprising speed with his fist balled up.
I don't know what happened next but I was seeing stars. I responded with almost blinding speed as the drunken layabout flew through the air with something approaching unnatural grace before he ended up landing on a table and breaking it beneath his weight.
At that point I felt and heard a crash as something broke across my back. From that point foward I don't remember what happened as I simply responded to all of the threats that I perceived.
I wasn't sure where I was when awoke but I had a strange suspicion that I knew where I was when I saw the familiar ceiling of the infirmary spinning over my head like a child's toy. Then my stomach chose that moment to make itself felt as it attempted to turn itself inside out.
I just barely managed to grab the nearby chamber pot position itself before my rebelling stomach deposited the results of the night's drinking into it in a noisy belch that hurt my sensitive ears. When I finished I slumped back into bed, my head spinning and my abused senses pounding away at my skull like a lutin with a rusty knife. As I sat there waiting for death to take be so that I could be spared this pain I heard one of the other people in this part of the room do as I had done and vomit into a pail.
The sound of the person being sick drove through my head in a spike of pain that was reminiscent of a hot sword that had yet to be tempered. I was glad when I finally managed to drop off back to sleep.
Much later on I awoke to find myself in the same room, this time though it wasn't spinning. I did feel nine kinds of awful but at least I could function. I got to my feet slowly because of the pain that was manifesting itself behind my right eyeball.
As soon as I was on my feet I made my way towards the door before I met a guard who held out his hand and said, “You'll have to wait here sir until the Captain of the Watch will deign to see you. You guys caused quite the mess over at the Deaf Mule. I've never seen Donnie that bent out of shape about the condition of his establishment. Hell the lutins didn't cause as much damage as you did.”
I knew that the last statement that the guard made was a bit of an overstatement but I let it stand. Since there was no place else to go I went back to my bed before I noticed the fact that someone had relieved me of all of my weapons.
Normally I would be mad at the sheer effrontery of that move but as I was still very hung-over at this point I really didn't care.
Some time later the guard came up to me and escorted me to the Office of the Captain of the Watch.
The Captain herself was an age regressed female with a no nonsense look on her face. Standing behind me was the large man who had taken a swing at me. He had his right arm in a sling and a look of profound suffering on his face. The Captain looked at the two of us before she said
"You and Mr. Parnell here are charged with drunkenness, brawling, disorderly conduct, and destruction of property. How do you plead?"
I looked her straight in the eyes before I replied with a slight feline whine of pain in my voice “I accept responsibility for anything that I may have done ma'am and I am willing to pay for any damages that I have caused last night.”
She looked at me and then pulled out a sheet of paper from the stack on her desk before she replied, “Well is says here that the total damages to the Mule would cost something in the area of four thousand suns, can you afford that Mr. Naharél?”
“Yes I can afford that ma'am and I will do so as soon as my personal belongings are returned to me. I need them in order to do my job as a scout.”
“Very well you will pay the money, but you will also have to serve Donnie in whatever capacity that he would like you to for four hours on every day that you aren't on active duty.”
I accepted the punishment, since it was only what I deserved.
She then turned her gaze on the Mr. Parnell and said, “Mr. Parnell you are perhaps the dumbest individual I have ever seen in this office in my time here at the Keep. I thought I'd seen it all, but your sheer stupidity of punching a tiger in the nose is something that I cannot begin to comprehend. Since most of your fellow teamsters are all laid up with various injuries, from the resulting brawl I am going to fine you three hundred suns for you stupidity and you are to leave the environs of the Keep as soon as possible. Do I make myself clear?”
The man nodded slowly before he stood up and was escorted out of the room.
I made my own way back to my room where I had to dip into my horde to come up with the funds that I had been fined. When I had finished counting out four thousand suns which I needed to pay the fine.
Once I had the money I got dressed in fresh clothing before I headed back to the office of the Watch where I could pay the fine. The Captain was still sitting in her chair reading some report when I placed the heavy sack of gold on her desk in front of her.
“Here is the money that you fined me to pay for the damages to the Deaf Mule.”
She looked at the sack before she said, “Give that money to Donnie. I will see about getting your things back.” With that said she reached into a compartment in her desk and passed me my sword and dagger wrapped up in the belt that they were attached to.
I quickly slung the belt around my waist before I sighed in contentment before I headed out of the room to the Dead Mule where I could pay Donnie for the damages that I had managed to cause in the brawl.
As soon as I crossed the threshold the large bullish man came over to me and shook his head softly. I held up the sack before dropping to my knees
“Sir I've done you a great disservice by abusing your hospitality last night and I give you this as recompense for the damage that I did. The only other thing that I can offer you is my own hands and my swords.
The bull looked down at me for a second before he replied, “If all I ever wanted was money do you think that I would be doing this? No, the reason I do this is because I enjoy working in a bar. I serve those who live here and visit here and I am used to the odd brawl taking place in my bar, but you and those other people did more damage than I am used to.
As a penance for the destruction that you have wrought on my place you will serve me by going into the back and cleaning off the dishes that are there in the sink.”
I bowed slowly and then headed off to the kitchen, still living with my hangover. As I grabbed the first grimy food encrusted plate from the stack by the sink I vowed that I would never allow myself to ever get that drunk again.