I awoke early in the morning and sat up in my bed. It had been four days since Misha and my other friends had dragged me, kicking and screaming, to the realization that I couldn’t live the rest of my life alone. The person who had actually helped me the most was in fact the person who was responsible in a way for my presence here in the Keep.
Today I had promised him, the former Knight of the Order of the Protector and now juvenile wildcat morph, that I would take him out to view the festival today. I didn’t really have to do much of anything for the next month because both George and Misha had quite bluntly told me that I was to take a vacation from patrolling the valley up north, so I intended to take full advantage of this vacation that they had given me, but for today I was going to take advantage of the first day of the Summer Solstice Festival, tomorrow and the next day would be when the real fun would begin because that would be when all of the contests that I was going participate in were going to be held. On the last night of the Festival I had been invited to the Duke’s Summer Solstice feast, which was taking place in his main banquet hall. I think it was Misha who was responsible for that very short notice miracle but then again all of my friends knew that I was formally the Clanlord of the Sundering Stone Clan and therefore a nobleman of some rank.
I looked in my small wardrobe and finally selected one of my nicer black vests with a chasing of silver and gold thread around the seams. Compared to what I was planning on wearing to the feast this was actually quite understated. The rest of my clothing was actually fairly similar to what I had been wearing ever since I had arrived at the Keep. The only difference was the fact that this time I was dressing for appearance instead of for utility. My swordbelt was one of my more fancy ones with subtle, yet elegant, stampings in the black leather. The highlights on the belt were emphasized with sapphires and gold and silver thread. As was my custom the Claw of the Dragon, a short sword, and a dagger were in plain sight attached to my belt. The last things that I put on was my gold and silver edged black velvet red lined cloak, my signet ring, which I had only recently taken to wearing again, my most recent macabre lutin thumb necklace, and my silver and gold circlet, which I hadn’t worn in thirty years. This circlet was subdued compared to my other circlet, which I planned to wear at the feast in two days.
Once I was properly dressed I left the room and headed for the room where Father Hough and Guy DeHarancourt lived so that I could pick up the young cat. For some unknown reason he had undergone two of Metamor’s three curses. One of those curses had turned him into a wildcat morph and the second one had reduced his apparent age to that of a young child. For his mind the strain had been too much to bear and it had cracked and shattered, leaving the young wildcat morph with the mind and appearance of a very young child. As soon as I knocked on the door it was opened from the inside by a boy of about thirteen years old, in his hands he was holding a towel and I could tell from the expression on his face that he was a little frustrated with his charge this morning. I bowed my head in respect
“Father Hough. How are you this morning?”
The boy looked at me slowly before he replied, “I am having a real difficult time this morning getting that boy dressed for the day. For some reason he’s been trying to evade me all morning long, ever since his morning bath in fact. It wouldn’t be such a problem if he had the form of a slightly older child, but as he is so young that leaves me with no real choice.”
I nodded in understanding and just then I was tackled in the legs by Guy who was tearing around the room stark naked. I picked him up and turned to Father Hough and said, “I believe that this is something that you’ve lost.”
Father Hough nodded and then with much apparent effort took Guy from my arms and headed into one of the other rooms in the apartment to dress Guy for the day.
Five minutes later Father Hough came back into the main room with a medium sized bag over his shoulder and Guy toddling along in his wake. He shook his head before he said; “I wish that he would choose an older age because taking care of him right now is a challenge.”
I nodded my head and took the bag from Father Hough before I bent down to pick up the child and headed out of the room. Now that I had Guy in my custody for the day I quickly made my way out of the Keep, through Euper, and down to the Festival grounds where numerous tents and pavilions had already been put up and opened.
My charge was a feline and at a similar level of change as I was therefore I knew that there were certain foods that his body wouldn’t accept. I stopped at a small stand that was selling meat pies and grabbed three for a two crescents and a silver penny. Once I had the meat pies I saw down at a nearby table and gave one to Guy while I consumed the other two. As soon as he got the meat pie he made an absolute mess of trying to eat it, getting pastry and filling all over his muzzle and shirt. I tolerantly shook my head and used a damp cloth to clean off his face before we continued exploring the festival.
After an hour walking around the grounds of the Festival I stopped at the FADGER booth where Misha Brightleaf and Will Hardy sold clocks and jewellery. Last time I had seen this booth Misha had been at the booth, but this time I saw a badger behind the counter who I didn’t recognize. Even though I didn’t recognize him I was able to guess that he was Will Hardy. I slowly looked down at him, that was one of my biggest problems, at 7’4” I was taller than most of the people that I had run into so far at the Keep.
He looked up at me before he asked me. “Is there anything that I can get for you sir?”
I shook my head before I replied, “Not really, I’m just looking. Though, I was hoping to run into Misha this morning.”
He nodded before he said, “Misha and Caroline are out enjoying the festival, and each other’s company.” Will answered. “Who might you be?”
“My name is Adòn Naharél, but they know me as Oberon, as do most people who know me at the Keep. This,” I hefted the young wildcat morph in my arms a little. “, Is Guy DeHarancourt.”
Will’s face broke into a smile. “So YOU’RE Oberon. Misha and Caroline have had a lot to say about you!”
“I hope that some of it is good.”
He laughed. “Most of it is.”
“Well I would think that part of the time they would say that at times I can be a stubborn, bloody minded fool, and that would all be true. After all why else would I have a necklace like this?” I indicated the necklace of lutin thumbs that I was wearing around my neck.”
Will shook his head. “You remind me too much of Misha.”
“Is that a problem?”
“I’m not sure. Misha still collects the ears from the lutins that he kills.”
I smiled slightly with my ears, tail, and a little bit of a grin. “Have you seen the new sword that Misha’s been using these days?”
He nodded. “I have. Very nice looking weapon, you made it?”
“Yes I did make it. Actually I am going to make a set like that for the Duke, but I don’t think that I can decorate them properly for a man of his rank myself.”
“Oh?” the badger asks. “You will need the help of a master jeweller like me.”
“If you can decorate the hilt of a weapon like that then I would much appreciate it. Who knows maybe we will have to collaborate in the future as well.” I pulled my short sword from its scabbard on my left side and held it out to him, hilt first, across my right arm.
He took the weapon and carefully examined it. “What do you want on it? Gold? Silver? Jewels, rubies?”
“I would prefer something that is elegant and understated, but at the same time it still has to be a practical weapon. The decorations must not disturb the inherent balance of the weapon.”
“Gold and silver trimming with a few small gems for highlights.” He commented. “We could use mithral if you don’t mind the expense.”
“I know of mithral.” I replied before I put Guy down before I drew the Claw and held it up so that the morning sun glimmered off of the silvery blade.
“Interesting weapon.” He said. “Very fine craftsmanship.”
“Considering the fact that it is three thousand years old.”
“I see.” He said sounding unimpressed. “I am not a warrior like Misha and my daughter.”
“You do know of Misha’s axe?”
He laughed. “Of course! I’ve seen it often enough. I am just not a man that is impressed by weaponry.”
“Well the Claw here is like that weapon in most respects.” I reversed the weapon to show him the large eyeball sized heart shaped faceted ruby that served as both pommel-stone and vessel for the soul of the weapon.”
Will showed quite a bit more interest in the ruby than he had shown for the rest of the weapon. “VERY impressive. I’ve never seen anything like it before. That stone alone is worth a king’s ransom.”
“You can look but please don’t touch. He takes offence when someone who isn’t a member of my family touches him.”
Will nodded and examined the gem closely. “Fine work. Most definitely one of a kind.”
I nodded and then finally brought the weapon back and replaced it in its scabbard before I sniffed the air and said, “I think that I have to go and take care of my charge.”
Will wrinkled his nose. “Agreed. He needs a changing.” the badger said slowly backing away. “I’ve had enough of that for my lifetime. I don’t even want to do that for my grandchildren, when they arrive some day.”
“He’s actually Father Hough’s ward, but he seems to have attached himself to me since that little meeting that I had with all of my friends the other day, not that I mind at all.”
Will laughed. “So I see. He’s a cute child.”
“A cute child, but a little fragrant right now. Oh can I have my short sword back?”
Will handed me the weapon and I slid it back into its scabbard as he said, “I can help you, but to decorate a weapon will take gold.”
“I have plenty of that. The first time that Misha saw my stockpile he said that I could buy Euper with all of the money that I have.”
“Then there is only the matter of cost.” Will answered.
“Well we can discuss it later after I deal with certain matters that are, at present, urgently demanding my attention.”
“Yes! And can you PLEASE go downwind and spare this old badger’s nose.”
I nodded and then went over and scooped up my odoriferous charge and headed to the far side of the festival grounds where the latrine tents had been placed.
Once that issue had been dealt with I headed back out with him, now thankfully smelling a lot better than before, in the crook of my right arm. He looked up into my eyes and then began to whine, a sound that bore straight through what little emotional armour that I had left and struck my heartstrings. I dug into the bag that Father Hough had given me, and the located a small glass bottle with some sort of pliant nipple on the end. I carefully inserted it into the child’s mouth and he stopped with his whining and eagerly began to consume the contents of the bottle.
He had eaten a meat pie earlier in the day, but it seemed that his body ran through food rather quickly. I smiled indulgently at his appetite before as I walked around until I stopped by a booth that was selling strips of smoked meat and bought five of the strips for my own consumption, since Guy was content with his liquid meal. I was just finishing my second meat strip when I came around a corner onto the main thoroughfare in the small town of tents that had been established in the field and literally bumped into Misha and Caroline. The impact sent both of them sprawling while I rocked back on my feet.
I quickly shifted Guy to my left arm before I offered Caroline a hand to help her regain her feet.
As Misha regained his feet he looked up at me and said, “You certainly know how to sneak up on a guy Oberon.”
I looked at him before I replied, “I’m sorry Misha I wasn’t aware that you were coming down the road.”
Caroline laughed at my comment and then I heard a sucking sound coming from Guy.
I looked down at him and realized that he had consumed the contents of the bottle and now was sucking on air. I smiled down at the boy and gently took the bottle from him, removed the nipple, capped the empty bottle and placed it in the bag before I took a small towel and placed it on my shoulder. Then I patted Guy on the back a couple of times until he let loose a belch that was surprising for one so small.
Finally as I finished the operation Caroline softly said, “You look comfortable doing that Oberon. You appear to have some experience, and for some reason it seems to agree with you.”
I looked over to her before I slowly said in a more sombre tone of voice. “Back thirty two years ago I helped my youngest sister with her daughter, so yes I do know how to take care of small children.”
In my arms Guy had started to purr sleepily and I could tell that he wasn’t all that far away from falling asleep.
“You two look perfect together. Like a father and son.” Caroline commented.
“I don’t know why but I feel much closer to Guy than I’ve ever felt for any other child, including my cousins and my nephews or nieces.”
Caroline smiled. “You two are family,” she said cheerfully.
“Do you ever get used to someone depending on you for everything?”
“It’s part of being a parent,” Caroline answered.
I looked at here with a calculating glance before I carefully asked, “How in the world would you know what its like? As far as I know you don’t have any children yet?”
“I’ve helped raise my nieces and nephews. Doesn’t that count a little?”
I smiled slowly before I responded in an even tone of voice. “I guess that you have the same amount of experience as I did before now.”
“We don’t have any children yet Oberon.” Misha answered. “You want someone with experience speak to Lisa – she has two children.”
“Well Misha are you going to be getting into the competitions tomorrow?” The fox nodded enthusiastically.
“We both are! I’m entering the archery distance and accuracy competitions, and Caroline is doing just the accuracy with her bow. What are you planning on entering?”
“I plan on entering the swordsmanship contest, the spear throwing competition, the barehanded fighting competition, and the archery range competition.”
Misha let out a yip of laugher. “Is there a contest that you’re NOT entering?”
“I think that you’d rather eat a horse then ride it,”
Caroline joked. “I prefer to walk,” Misha added.
“I don’t think that there are many horses that could support my weight, and even few that would actually tolerate me.”
“True, that is the problem with being as large a tiger as you are.” Misha said.
“I’ve been able to get along pretty well so far by simply walking, I don’t really miss riding horses all that much anyways.”
“As a long scout you’ll be walking most of the time anyway, that is unless you are running.”
“I just hope that you don’t intend on me sprinting all out for miles on end.”
“Would you prefer to be crawling through mud all of the time?” Caroline teased.
“Not really. If the lutins pursue me too closely they will find themselves suffering from a serious and permanent condition that is known as DEAD.”
“But what if there are forty of them, backed up by a mage?” Misha asked. “Can you defeat them all?”
“I can if I picked them off one by one. They may find themselves being hunted instead of them hunting me. After all that is how I operated when I was alone out there.”
“Sometimes Oberon you have to use your discretion and just run for safety. I’ve had to do that a dozen times.” Misha explained.
I nodded slowly before I pointed out, “There have been a couple of times when I had to do that, but as soon as I got out of their sight I would usually head up a tree and watch them run by. Once they had all gone a goodly distance I would come down out of my tree and start hunting them again.”
“Of course. I’ve run dozens of times, but never for very long. You always have to strike back at them.”
“That is what I did every time they forced me to run.”
“Good. Always make them fear chasing you. It keeps them from getting too close.”
I smiled in a particularly vicious manner before I asked, “Misha I was wondering if you could make one of your clocks with a metal case so that I can put it on a shelf in my forge. You can understand why wood wouldn’t really work in there.”
Misha nodded. “Easily done. It will no be as well decorated as my wooden ones.”
“Well this clock is meant for my forge. It doesn’t really need to me fancy, all I need it for is so that I don’t lose track of time in there when I’m working on a project. Unless you enjoy banging on my door at all hours of the night.”
“All right, I’ll need to use some special metal – ones meant to withstand higher heats. But it shouldn’t be hard.”
“I would appreciate it very much Misha.” Just as I finished saying that a whine from Guy interrupted my train of thought. He didn’t smell, other than the normal smells for one of his age, so I guessed that he just wanted to be held close. I held him closely but for some reason he wouldn’t stop crying. I tried every little trick that I had learned from my older sister, but it didn’t seem to help at all.
Caroline shook her head and then extended her hands. “Here let me hold him before his crying drives us all crazy.”
I nodded slowly, and then handed the child over before I said, “Caroline for some reason you are one of the few people that I would even think of allowing to hold Guy.”
“I’m honoured.” She said as she gently cradled guy in her arms rocking him back and forth. Soon his crying slowed before stopping completely.
“How are you able to do that?”
She laughed, “It’s a female thing. It will come to you with time and practice, even though you are a male.”
“I will have to learn that skill before he moves in, whenever that is.”
“Everything comes with practice,” she said. “I’m sure Father Hough will help and so will I.”
I nodded my head to her before I replied, “There will probably be times when I will need your help. After all I am just on man.”
“We’re all a family in the Longs Oberon. We help each other,” the fox explained.
I smiled before I took Guy back from Caroline and said, “Well I have to be going. I have some work that needs to get done in my forge, and Misha before you scold me; this work needs to be done. I’ve already been putting it off for far too long.”
“All right, but try and relax a little,” the fox ordered.
I nodded and smiled. “Beating on white hot metal is somewhat enjoyable for me, after all that is why I sometimes lose track of time.”
“Sometimes the best thing to work out your frustrations is to just smash something!”
“I don’t like to work in the forge when I’m angry because I just end up ruining the metal. That is when I prefer to be on the practice field chopping targets to kindling with the Claw.”
“And ruin all of our practice dummies,” Misha joked. “We’ve already had to replace four of them.”
“That is better that ruining hours, if not days of work on a new sword blade.”
“I understand. At least it keeps the carpenter employed.”
I wiggled my left ear in response and then turned and tossed a, “Enjoy your day you two, and have fun.” At the two young Keepers, after all they were much, much younger than I was.
I quickly made my way back to the Keep where I handed Guy back to Father Hough, though Guy protested the switch at the top of his lungs. As soon as I had handed him back I made my way back to my forge as quickly as possible so that I could finish up on some projects that I hadn’t had a chance to work on while I was out killing lutins. The most important was an un-enchanted bow that I had built for the purpose of competing in the long-range archery competition. All that I had left to do on the bow was put the final coat of lacquer on it and test it to see what its capabilities were.
Four hours later I made my way to the practice field with the six foot, seven inch long monster of longbow and strung with a fair amount of effort. Once the thing was strung I picked up one of the twenty-five four and a half foot long arrows that I had made for use with this bow. I knocked the arrow, paused and then pulled back the string, again with a fair amount of effort and released the string with a deep twang. An instant later the arrow completely buried itself into the butt at the far end of the range, not even the feathers were showing. I shook my head and felt a slight twinge of pity for Misha and the others that would come up against me in the long rang archery competition.
Finally later that evening I finished work on my second longbow of the day. This one I was going to give to a friend without charging him. After all I owed him that much. With the bows finished I turned in for the night. I was looking forward to having myself some fun tomorrow at the Festival competitions.