Hot Under the Collar

by Oberon Snowcat

When I got back to the Keep with my escort, a ferret morph who's name was Finbar, the first thing that I did was head for the baths.

There I could take care of the dirt that was still in my fur from when I coated myself to avoid detection while I infiltrated a lutin encampment a couple of nights ago.

My clothing was also in need of cleaning since they were also dirty, partially because of my dirt trick, and partially because of the time that I had spend on the trail.

As soon as I lowered myself into the water it turned black as the loose dirt began to be wash out of my thick fur. I used my hands to softly massage the fur to try and get the rest of the dirt out.

It was at that point that Drift, the white Samoyed morph that I had met on my first full day of being conscious came into the room and took off his clothes before he slipped into the water.

He looked over at me and then his ears went back before he said, "You know Oberon you are crazy. To go offending Misha like you just did is probably one of the stupidest things that you could've done on only your second day here."

"I think that I understand that now and I will have to do something to assuage his temper."

"My first piece of advice to you is not to go out there and do something foolish again. That's something that is bound to get Misha's tail in a knot but, what you can do is simply respect the rules around here and operate to the best of your abilities."

I nodded somewhat distractedly as I tried to get some of the dirt out of the fur on my neck ruff.

He noticed the dirt and then asked me "Why is your fur so dirty?"

I grinned at him, confident that he knew what I meant in the gesture before I replied, "While I was out there I had to infiltrate a lutin encampment and I needed some way to avoid detection. In the winter that wouldn't be a problem but since its spring and the all of the snow is already melted I kind of stand out in the bush."

Drift nodded in seeming understanding while I struggled to get the dirt out of my thick fur.

When I was human I had used this trick many times in the past to conceal myself, but now it seemed that using that trick was something that I should only do under the direst of circumstances. The reason was because it was such a pain in the tail to remove the dirt when the time came.

Drift looked at me as I struggled with the dirt before he asked me if I had any brushes and the sort for grooming my fur.

"No I have yet to get any of them but I can assure you that now I will make a point of it."

"Well there are some brushes here at the bath that you can use for the time being but I would advise you to get your own as soon as you can."

“Thank you for the information” I told him before he left and I continued to clean out my fur.

It took me another hour and a half to get all of the dirt out of my fur and restore it to its pristine black and white striped appearance. Once I was satisfied with my appearance I made my way back to my apartment to get dressed. I also spent some time exploring a door that I hadn't seen the first time that I had been here, though I may have just missed it. Behind the door was a fully equipped forge with all of the implements that I would need to make any kind of weapon that I could imagine. In one corner there was the firebox itself with the bellows and the flue leading up and out of the room. In the middle of the room were two troughs, one contained water and the other contained oil, they were both used for tempering swords and other bladed weapons. There was also a box of clay in the corner and all of the various tools that I would need to do the job correctly. In a bin beside the firebox was an assortment of ten iron rods that I would use to make anything that I wanted to.

As a Blademaster of the Gold I was highly skilled in the creation of Kelmar weapons. Being both a Blademaster of the Gold and a Swordmaster of the Black I was, in fact, considered a Bladelord of the Bronze. Bladelords were the rarest type of Kelmar Warrior with their numbers naturally limited to less than one hundred per generation. Most Kelmar Warriors excelled in only one discipline, either the creation of Kelmar weapons or the use of them; however bladelords were skilled in both the creation and utilization of weapons. It had been roughly thirty years since I had had any chance to practice my skills as a Blademaster of the Gold.

I would take this opportunity while it was here. However, right now I had something else to do, I needed to get some food, and I needed to purchase a grooming kit so that I could keep myself looking presentable. I put on a lighter belt that I had been storing for a long time and attached my single-handed sword, short-sword, and heavy dagger to it before I grabbed my favourite black cloak before I headed out to take care of my errands.

I actually had to go into the town of Euper to find a kit that would fit my needs and it cost me a fairly large amount of money considering that it was just a collection of brushes. The total that the merchant forced me to pay was a moon and five crescents. His reason being was because the set was particularly complete and he complained about my coins because they were from the Midlands and not the same weight or purity as the coins that were from the Keep itself. I grumbled about the charge all the way back to my room, but as soon as I began using my own tools I appreciated the cost, even though it had been high.

Once I was completed a proper grooming of my fur I went down to my usual mess facility for lunch before I went back to my room.

Now that I had eaten I was ready to begin work in the forge. I took one of the bars of iron and placed it on the anvil and began to beat on it with my largest hammer.

The first step in making a Kelmar Sword was to cold fold the metal one time before even starting to use heat to fold it a further nine times. The folding increased the blade's strength though it did have a tendency to make the metal more brittle. Giving the weapon a core that was made out of more flexible steel that had only been folded the first time without heat would also solve that problem. The final, and key step, in forging a Kelmar sword was the tempering process, which utilized metal straps, clay, water, and oil to make the edge as hard as possible. I was starting from scratch and so had a lot of work to do in the next couple of weeks

As Misha reached the Keep he thought about the mission against the lutin raiders that he had just led.

It had gone well and the two remaining forces had been exterminated though it had taken them nearly a week and a half to bring the last of the lutin parties to bay and destroy it. Though he didn't like to have to chase the lutins around the Giantdowns north of Glen Avery he didn't like the idea that there were some lutin raiders still around ready to try and attack the town though it was well guarded, especially considering the fact that Misha's Friend Charles Matthias was living there at the current time. The rat was probably one of the Misha's greatest friends and one of the most fearsome fighters in the Long Scouts. He currently lived in Glen Avery after being sent there in the wake of the Winter Assault that had happened in December during the yuletide.

Now though, Misha was glad to be back at the Keep where Caroline and Madog and his other friends lived. Here he didn't have to worry about lutins coming out to ambush him in the halls.

However his peace of mind was soon disturbed again when he asked about the crazy Kelmar Warrior that had caused all of the fuss in the first place. Just about no one had seen him since he had gotten back. That was just what he needed now; more trouble with that blasted warrior cat, this guy was turning into a major pain in the tail.

Misha scoured the place from the baths to the bar before he finally got a hint from on of the other people in the keep.

The man was an older guard that had worked in the keep almost all of his life. "Well Misha sir, I've seen this guy you bin a lookin' fer off in da baths ever day but that not all, he also come by da main mess to eat his grub but he stay all by himself not talkin' to nobody."

"Thank you old timer I much appreciate the information." Misha was understating the facts quite a bit; he really wasn't in the mood to chase down that blasted cat in the Giantdowns north of the Keep.

The fact that Oberon was still in the Keep was pleasing but there was still one thing that bothered Misha and that was, where Oberon spent his time if he wasn't down in the practice fields sparring with other soldiers. In the end he simply thought about where Oberon was and let Kyia carry him to where the Kelmar Warrior was currently spending his time.

After a few minutes he stepped around the corner in the hall and found himself standing in front of a door that was marked with oddly shaped runes that he had never seen the like of before. He slowly raised a hand-paw and knocked on the worn looking oak door.

I had just finished polishing and sharpening the last of the recently completed new set of weapons which included a new hand and a half long-sword, a short sword, and a new dagger. They were all marked with Kelmar God Runes that helped make them a little better than normal swords made of steel. These blades when properly forged wouldn't rust, dull, or chip making them almost incalculably valuable. I had also created a new sword belt to carry this set of weapons.

As I ran the soft cloth over the gleaming metal of the blade and marvelling at the Hatkarat Watermark on both edges of the blade a loud knocking sounded from the other room. I quickly stood up and placed the new sword in its scabbard and then took it in my left hand as I went to the door. When I opened it I was surprised to see Misha Brightleaf, the fox scout, standing in my doorway with axe in his right hand.

I bowed my head and then said something, which I had been planning to say ever since I had gotten back to the Keep. "Misha I apologize for my actions up in the Giantdowns and I hope that you can see it in your heart to forgive a foolish old warrior's harebrained escapade."

The fox looked surprised before I turned around to where I had placed my newly crafted set of weapons and picked them up. I held the three weapons out to him. I had designed these weapons for his use and his use and his use alone. Though I hadn’t managed to get precise measurements I had still managed to get the dimensions correct. As I held out the three weapons out to him I said. "Sir I have been in the service of many different people and organizations over the past thirty years and I have almost forgotten some of the lessons that I was taught by my teachers in my homeland all those long years ago. As a token of my respect and as a form of apology I would like to give these weapons to you. My gods have blessed these weapons so that they will never to lose their edge or lustre, they will always serve you well in battle. You are probably the first non-Kelmar ever to receive weapons like these and so please carry them with the dignity and respect that they deserve."

He looked stunned for a moment, I could've hit him with one of the two remaining iron bars in my forge and not gotten a more stunned expression out of him then I was getting now. Finally he managed to put enough of his head back together to respond, although his response was still a little wooden. He took the weapons from my hands and then pulled the blade of the sword out of its scabbard to expose the runes and the hatkarat to the light of the sun that was streaming in through on of the windows in my apartment. After a few more minutes of regarding the weapon and gathering his thoughts together he finally managed to say "I am a little surprised that you've decided to give this to me considering what I said out there in the Giantdowns."

"No even though I am shamed by what you said all of those things were true, I didn't know the terrain, I didn't know my enemies, and I didn't know the risks. In truth if I was still under the command of a Kelmar Warlord I would've been in all likelihood been ordered to go remove myself from his sight, permanently."

"That is a little harsh isn't it?"

"Harsh but necessary, otherwise you would have Warriors who aren't trained as scouts running around in the deep woods trying to find the enemy with no concept for the common good of the Clan Army."

"Are you a trained scout?"

"Not really I was trained as a Kaharatak, a Heavy Combat Specialist, though since I left my homeland roughly thirty years ago I have served as just about everything from a scout, and assassin to a flag level officer in an army."

"If you aren't a trained scout then why did you go out there without anyone else knowing about it?"

"I went out there for reasons that I've already explained. I don't take to well to not having a purpose in any place. Most of the time when I left someone's service I would do so because I perceived that they no longer really had a need for my services and that they were keeping me around simply because they enjoyed having a man of my skills around in case they needed me. Now here I am in a place that I can never really leave because of how I look and they view me in the same way as they did in some of my other assignments."

"Oberon we don't view you that way it’s just that you have to follow the rules here. You need to prove your skills, your loyalty, and your ability to obey orders before I can even think of sending you out there. Even then it will not be my decision as to where you go it will be up to the Patrol Master George to decide."

"Haven't I already proven my abilities?"

"Yes you have proven your abilities to me but I am not the one that you need to be concerned about. The person that you need to impress is George."

I nodded slowly before I asked him how I should go about doing that. "Well for one you can follow all of the rules of the Keep, though with your experience I believe that there are many jobs that would suit you. For instance if you could teach others how to make swords like this one you could probably be the most sought after smith in the Midlands."

"You don't understand I am first and foremost a Kelmar Warrior and that means that I have been bred and trained for combat. My clan, the Sundering Stone Clan was an important clan in the Kelmar Clanlands for the past four and a half thousand years, every single member of the clan for that entire time has been a warrior. I was on the practice field when I was five and a fully fledged warrior by the time I was sixteen."

"That sounds like you didn't have much of a childhood."

"I enjoyed what I had and I made the most of it." Misha looked at me for a second and then shook his head before he commented

"That still isn't much of a childhood."

I didn't say anything more I just nodded my head and thought back to all of those hard years while I was growing up learning from the masters of their crafts. The hundreds of hours learning discipline and swordsmanship, the times that I would spend outside in the grip of the cold north wind meditating on the meaning of the life of a warrior of the clan.

"Oberon are you ok?" Misha's voice brought me out of my memories and back to the present.

"Yes I was just going over some of my memories. Trust me when I tell you that I have a lot of memories." He looked into my eyes and before he nodded and turned away.

"If you don't mind we could go spar again for a while. It would help take your mind off of the past."

I nodded and told him that I would be a while. I had to put on my full body armour, though the leg pieces, and helmet didn't really fit anymore. Once that was done I grabbed one of my belts with a broad dagger and looped it around my waist and attached my normal hand and a half long-sword to the loop on the my left hand side before I reached into the chest at the foot of the bed and grabbed one of my Gatraibvan practice swords and headed out the door towards the inner ward where there was some room for sparring.

In the middle of the practice field there was a large group of young keepers swinging at targets. On the edge of the field watching the youngsters was a grizzled old jackal morph that looked like he had seen a lot of action in his career.

Misha stepped out of the other door and then asked George if he wanted to spar with me.

The old jackal looked over at me where I was slowly taking practice swings with my weapon and then nodded before he went on to go get some armour on.

I wouldn't usually end up wearing full armour but under the circumstances I had decided that it might be a good idea.

"Oberon why don't you have a helmet?" Misha asked me.

"I don't have one because my old one no longer fits and neither do my greaves."

"Well the Arsenal Tower has something that will fit you."

"How can you be sure about that?"

"The tower is part of Metamor Keep and hence is provided with any kind of weapon or armour that you could imagine. Though it doesn't do all that well when it comes to weapons like your swords since there are enchanted to some extent."

I nodded before Misha shouted to one of the young keepers to go get an assortment of helmets and greaves to fit me.

Five minutes later George and then the young soldier came out of the tower, George wearing a brigantine with a shield on his left arm and a training broadsword.

I looked over the assortment of helmets and greaves that the young Pine Marten held in his arms and selected a helmet and a pair of greaves that fit me perfectly. The nice thing about these new parts to my armour was that they matched perfectly the style of my existing equipment.

Once I was comfortable I picked up my training sword and held it over my head in the style that was known as Btrena-Kel-Yukate. Kelmar training swords were actually heavier then combat swords so that if a warrior got used to his training sword then he would find the real thing to be easier to use than the training sword.

George made the first move, a sudden lunge at my exposed midsection but I brought down my own weapon and parried the blow before counter-attacking with a blow of my own to his left side. George's moves showed both an immense amount of experience and his growing age so I took it easy on him. I didn't go too easy though because I still had to prove to the old warrior that I was at least reasonably talented with my weapon. However, what I wasn't expecting was the deviousness of his manoeuvres. He seemed to know any number of moves that were underhanded and just plain nasty.

After only ten minutes I was panting and feeling hot, blasted fur it wasn't really meant for constant heavy activity in this warm spring weather. When I lowered my weapon in a silent request for a break the jackal lowered his weapon before he asked me in a gruff tone of voice. "Are you all right?"

I waved him off before I replied, "It's ok I'm just a little warm right now." I went over to where a jug of water sat on a cobblestone and took a heavy drink lapping at the cold water with a will. The cold water felt so good that I was surprised when I noticed that the jug was empty. I looked around for another jug of water and I found one nearby and began to drink it as well.

"Oberon are you sure that you're ok?" I heard Misha ask me.

I raised my head from my drink and looked at him before I answered, "It's nothing I'm just a little hot that's all."

"Get out of that armour now."

"No I'll be fine just give me a moment."

"Get out of that damn armour you furry fool and into some cool water before you get heat stroke!"

I put the Gatraibvan on the ground and then reached up to undo the clasps on my cloak but my vision was starting to swim. I looked over at the fox and the jackal only to see more than one of them. "Wwwwwwwwwhhhhhhhhhooooooooooo arrrrrreeee yyyyyyyyyoooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuu" I slurred before I hit the ground with my hands. My vision was now seriously degrading, as I tasted the warm stones of the practice grounds. In the distance I heard a voice shout

"Get that armour off of him and get us some water, he's going into heat shock."

At some point someone rolled me onto my back and undid the clasps to my armour and my cloak. An instant later a deluge of pure bliss hit me as someone dumped a bucket of cold water on me. After that everything black as I passed out.

I don't know how long it was but when I awoke I was looking up at a very familiar ceiling. I was in the infirmary again though I couldn't remember why I was here this time. Maybe I got hit on the head because my head was pounding like an Hjaktan War Drum.

"You're covered in fur now Oberon. You need to always worry about the heat. You might want to consider clipping off all that thick winter fur in the summer." I heard a voice say and I managed to look over to and see the visage of Misha, the one eared fox, standing there looking down at me with an expression that I can only describe as a sort of frustrated concern. For some reason this fox always seemed to be saving my hide. Finally I mustered up a response

"Are you out of your mind, I do have my dignity, what's left of it at least, and I will not go around naked"

Misha laughed before he replied. "It’s either your dignity or heat prostration. You HAVE to deal with the heat one way or another."

"Is there any way that I can maintain my dignity without burning up?"

"Perhaps, but it will mean some magic. I made a magic ring for Drift to protect him from the heat of his tinsmithy. I could do the same for you."

"What would I owe you for that Sir?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "A hundred suns perhaps for the metals I'll need. The spell needed is simple enough."

"That sounds simple enough I can give you the money as soon as I get out of this infirmary."

"Good! What do you want? A ring? I'm not a jeweller so it won't look fancy but it will work!"

"Ok but I think that a collar would probably suit me a little better, I could loose a ring in the middle of a battle and then where would I be?"

"All right, it'll be a big collar to fit that big neck of yours. I should have the collar roughed out in a day or two."

"I'll take it easy for now until I get it because I don't want to go through this again."

"You have to think furry now my friend. And remember that long tail of yours. The first time you get it caught in a door you WILL feel it."

"I've been very careful about it and I've managed to keep it out of the way most of the time. I think that my experiences with my Soul Guide have helped me adjust to it though I have put in my own door once and I can tell you that I won't ever forget that feeling, no matter how long I live." He laughed before he shook his head probably at a memory before he told me that I should try and be more careful for the next little while, at least until I got my collar from him.

Shortly after that he left me in the room to my own thoughts, well not precisely because shortly afterwards Brian came up to me and asked me. "Do you know how hard I had to work to save you life Adòn Naharél?"

I shook my head carefully to ensure that I didn't get a headache before I replied, "Not really sir but I will try and make sure that it doesn't happen again."

"You had better because I'm starting to get tired of seeing your tail in here every day."

"You think I always like being here Brian? I have a life to lead and I would rather I didn't spend too much time in the infirmary though my profession does dictate that I will be here from time to time to get patched up."

"I certainly hope not."

"Same here, I would rather not have to spend any time here but it seems that I have still have to adjust to this body."

“Every person in the Keep has had to adjust to whatever the curse did to them but all the same none of them have come in here so quickly after.”

I nodded at the raccoon before I let my head fall back to the pillow to get some more sleep. I knew that when I awoke again I would end up going back to my apartment, without the headache, hopefully the three runes on my back and my inherent Kelmar ability to heal could take care of any issues that arose from my abuse of my body today. However, I was going to have to be more careful about what I was doing in the near future.

"Hot Under the Collar", copyright Oberon Snowcat