Keep of Conversations

by Oberon Snowcat

This morning I had to deal with two different issues. The first was the fact that my incompetent patrol commander was trying to get rid of me because I hadn’t followed her orders to the T even though those orders would probably get me killed.

The second issue was the fact that the last time I had left for patrol I had, in a fit of frustration, ripped the Snow’s Tinsmithy sign from the wall on my way to where I normally ate breakfast. Now I would have to deal with an irate Samoyed because of that action. Some days it just didn’t pay to get out of bed.

I slowly climbed out of bed and stretched out feeling all of the muscles in my body as I did so. I yawned hugely exposing all of my teeth to the air before I finally stood up. By the bed there was something new that I had never seen before. It was a tall post of wood that stretched from the ceiling to the floor. At first I wasn’t really all that sure of what it was meant for and then I looked at my hands and I remembered something about the cat that I had owned for twelve years back home.

Like most well to do Kelmar youths I had been able to afford to have a real version of my spirit guide. That snow tiger was what my current form was based on. When I had owned him one thing that I had been forced to do was to always have a post of wood, available for him to stretch his muscles and sharpen his claws on.

I reached up to the ceiling with my hands and extended all ten of my hand claws, hooked them into the wood post and pulled down.

I don’t know what it was about doing that but for some reason that really made me feel good.

With all of my little things taken care of I quickly got dressed, since I wasn’t going out today I could dress in lighter more casual clothing, not that there was a big difference in what I wore.

Once I was dressed I made my way to my usual mess facility that I ate at. As I sat down I noticed a lithe tawny black spotted form moving through the tables to sit down by the door. The grace with which he moved was something that I quite easily recognized. The form which this person had been graced with was definitely feline, though his form was much smaller than my own. Then again the rat knight Sir Saulius was definitely an indication that even a small warrior could be very dangerous under the right circumstances. I continued to eat my meal while just watching what the other people in the room were doing.

When I was finished my meal I put my dishes on the counter where they were supposed go, and then headed towards the door.

As I passed the door the cat, a cheetah I now recognized said, “Good morning newcomer I haven’t seen you around here before.”

I looked over at him before I managed a reply

“I usually have my breakfast a little earlier. But, this morning I had some things that I needed to take care of.”

He nodded before he held out a hand-paw and said, “My name is Sir Edmund Delacote of the Order of the Protectors.” I glanced at his shirt and noted the small gold cross that was stitched in just above his heart.

“I am Adòn Naharél of the Sundering Stone Clan from the Kelmar Clanlands.” His eyes registered some puzzlement before he finally managed to ask

“Can you tell me where that is?”

“It would be hard for me to explain sir, but suffice it to say that it is a long way from here, or for that matter any place that you would recognize.”

He nodded before I asked him, politely if I could be on my way; I had things to do and people to see.

He nodded his head before I wished him a good day and headed back to my apartment where I got dressed for my meeting with the Patrol Master. The last thing I put on was the two shoulder medallions that identified me as a Bladelord of the Bronze, these medallions were made of polished bronze with the engraving of a crossed hammer and sword below a circle of four stars surrounded by a wreath of oak leaves.

As soon as I was properly dressed I headed towards the George’s office. When I got there I recognized the figures of both George, the jackal morph and of Barbara the female soldier. I stepped to one side placed my arm across my chest and bowed my head in respect.

Barbara quickly took a position in front of George before she said, “Sir this man is disrupting my patrol; he’s insubordinate, negligent in his duties, and reckless on the field in combat.”

“What did he do Barbara?” George quietly asked the woman “Give me the details.”

“He charged an enemy force against my orders to the contrary. I was forced to bring the rest of the squad in to follow him so that we could ensure his safety. At the end of the fight we had to recover him because he had collapsed for some unknown reason.”

At that point I had to speak up before she sullied my name too much “Sir we were under fire from a well positioned enemy who was under cover. They had the high ground; the only way to get them out of their hiding place was to attack them.”

George seemed to ignore my comment and asked Barbara “So Oberon here attacked them without your orders?”

“Sir he attacked them against my orders.” She almost shouted.

George fixed the woman with a glare before he said, “What were you going to do Barbara? Just sit there and let the enemy shoot arrows at you.”

She rolled her eyes in contempt “I was planning on pulling back and then attacking them through the rocks at the end of that section of trail, not straight up the rocks like this idiot here did.”

I shook my head before I commented “How were we going to pull back? We were under intensive fire from a concealed, prepared enemy who was holding the high ground.”

George looked at the Lieutenant before he asked, “How were you going to pull back? and pull back to where?”

“I was planning on pulling back to a point where we weren’t under fire before ascending the rocks to roll up their position.”

I shook my head in exasperation “How were we going to back the wagons up ma’am, push them while we were under fire?”

“I see,” George said calmly before he turned his gaze on me “And you Oberon. Did you ever consider that frontally attacking an enemy is suicidal?”

I shook my head, this time in negation “There are times when the only reasonable thing to do is to attack. Besides I’ve attacked much worse targets than a bunch of under-trained bandits.”

“But there are times when all you can do is withdraw.” The jackal countered

“Sir when you have a valuable caravan to guard you have to try and save the caravan. If it was just me and the rest of the squad I would’ve been happy to retreat, but there were other people who were counting on us to protect them from this group of bandits.”

After considering both of our testimony George looked up and said, “I think that I’ve heard all that I need to hear.”

The woman seemed to smiled in triumph before she asked indicating in my direction “What are you going to do about him?”

George looked at me and then said in a firm voice “Oberon, from now on you’re being reassigned to another unit.”

I nodded slowly “I hope that the new patrol can take advantage of my skills and experience in combat.”

Barbara also said something “I hope that you can give me someone half-way competent to replace his worthless hide.”

George looked at the woman with narrowed eyes before he replied “I’ll see that you get what you deserve. Dismissed.”

She turned on her heel, something that I could no longer do considering the fact that my heel bone ended at a point that had formally been about half-way up my calves, and left

“Oberon you stay. I need to talk more with you.”

“What is it you need to talk to me about sir?”

“I am going to reassign you to a new unit. One who’s people I trust to make good use of your skills, I also trust these people to do the right thing. You’ll probably see more action with them because you will be sent into areas that are a little more hazardous.”

I slowly smiled; my tail and ears both reflected how I felt. It was going to be good to get out to where the real action took place. I had had enough of being on patrols where there wasn’t anything to do. Then I remembered something “Thank you sir, I have one favour to ask of you. There is a young member of the Lieutenant's patrol that I’ve been training, and I would hate to have to end his training because I’m no longer available.”

His ears perked forwards and he asked, “Why?”

“The boy has shown some promise sir and I think that his potential would be wasted in his current position.”

“All right. I’ll have him reassigned along with you.”

I nodded “I would appreciate that sir. What should I do about the upcoming trial of that hysteric that I captured back on the last patrol?”

“That’s not really your problem. You’ll be contacted when the trial is to start. But that is Thalberg’s problem, not mine.”

I slowly laughed before I stated, “Personally I would prefer not to be involved, but I guess that isn’t up to me is it?”

He shook his head before he replied, “You are involved. After all you helped capture him.”

I ruefully scratched my left ear “I don’t really remember all that much about how I captured him. You see I was under the influence of the Kelmar Blood Rage, a rare ability among my people that allows those who possess it to become fighters without equal.”

“Still you will have to speak, but I doubt you’ll have to say all that much. A fanatic like that usually can’t stop preaching their hatred of all that is different.”

“I have encountered their kind before and I can tell you that I hold no love for them. In the past I’ve been driven from good paying jobs because of them.”

George nodded slowly “I’ve killed many fanatics like him, both Follower and Lightbringer.”

“Well I can see that we both share a dislike of fanatics and incompetents.”

He laughed at that “At least they tend to get themselves killed fairly quickly.”

“Yeah don’t you know it? Well if you don’t mind sir I’ve got to go out and do a little training out on the practice field. After all I don’t really want to get rusty.”

“Fair enough. Be back here at eight-o-clock for you new assignment.”

“Yes sir.”


With that order I turned and left the room. As soon as I reached my room I put on my armour and weapons before I headed out to the practice field were I began to practice.

Today though I took a weapon that I had never had a chance to use before. It was a bow that I had made a long time ago when I was trying earn my rank as a Blademaster of the Red. Unfortunately I had never been able to draw the weapon because it had the idiotic draw strength of 250 pounds. However, now I believed that I would be able to draw the weapon because of the changes that I had undergone.

I took a special glove that I had collected from Jack DeMule had made for me. It was designed so that it would prevent me from cutting the bowstring with my claws.

When I reached the firing line I pulled four long arrows out of the quiver and placed them point down on a small stand that was set up for just that purpose. I quietly stood there for a second to center my mind before I grabbed the first arrow, knocked it, pulled back, aimed, and released all in a single smooth motion.

For me that was the trick to using a bow of this power. I repeated the motion four times and then waited for the other archers in the line to cease firing.

Once they did I went over to the target and smiled at the results of my practice. The four arrows were embedded, almost to the feathers, in the butts; each was roughly an inch from the bull’s-eye. That was as good as I got with archery, though without the magical aids that the bow possessed I probably wouldn’t even get that good of a hit rate.

Just as I finished shooting the bow I saw a familiar figure come up to the firing line with a nicely made yew long-bow and begin shooting.

His archery was that much better than my own, but that was to be expected from the leader of the Long Scouts. He looked over at me as I decided that this was as good a time as any to continue practicing with my own weapon. The only way that I would ever get better with it would be through practice.

After a few rounds he looked over at me and commented "My God Oberon just how big is that monster bow? It's bigger then I am! How much pull does that require?"

I grinned at him slowly before I replied, "Oh after I made it about forty years ago it was measured and its 6'3 long and it requires a pull strength of 250 lbs. I was never able to actually use it until now.

I'm glad Jack got me this glove,” I indicated the glove on my right hand “, because otherwise I would be cutting the string with my claws."

He shook his head slowly in amazement before he managed to say "Amazing. I've never seen a bow that strong before."

"Well neither had the Blademasters who were evaluating my work. I actually had to go back and make a different bow in order to satisfy them. This bow has sat at the bottom of my travel chest of many years collecting dust until now. Did you want to try and see if you could draw it?”

He looked closely at the bow and then said, "Oberon that thing is a foot longer then I AM!"

"Maybe I should go grab my other bow, the one that I used to use before I came here; it’s only 5' long"

"Now THAT is a weapon more my size!" He joked.

"It has the same runes set into the metal parts as this one does. Though the pull is only 145 lbs."

He nodded slowly before he said, "I can handle a bow of that pull. May I try it? Shoot a few arrows?"

"Certainly, just give me a few minutes to go up to my room and grab it, though you will have to restring it. The first time I tried to use it after I changed I cut the string with my claws."

“Alright.” The fox answered and went back to shooting his own bow.

I dashed into the keep to find my door barely two feet inside the door. I shook my head and the vagaries of the keep and went into the room and grabbed the bow from where it was laying on a set of pegs near the door. I dashed out of the room just as quickly and headed back for the practice field, which was only a few steps away. As soon as I reached the field I stopped and held out the polished composite bow for him to take a look at. Right now it resembled nothing more than a stave of wood with a piece of metal bound to it with sinew.

“This is a work of art! A true masterpiece. Who made this?"

I laughed slowly before I responded “I made this forty years ago, after my first failure with the monster that I now use.”

"Wow. May I use it?" He asked. "I'd love to try it out. See how it works."

"Certainly Misha, though I don't have a spare string available right now to string it." I handed him the unstrung bow.

He reached into a pouch that he wore at his side and pulled up a tightly coiled up string. "I always carry two extra's with me. It's an old scout trick. Always have spares of everything."

"I'll keep that in mind next time I go out on patrol." I watched as he deftly strung the powerful weapon all the while he said

You have to be ready for anything when you're out along. We Longs are usually a long way from safety."

"Yes, but I don't tend to carry everything I need for a long scouting mission around with me when I'm home. Next time I go out on patrol I plan on packing a little heavier that I normally do. By the way is there some kind of food that will keep this cave of stomach full when I'm out there."

"We have trail rations Oberon. Various meats or fish wrapped up in bread and baked. Not much taste but they are compact, filling and last a long time."

"Well have you seen how much I can eat at one sitting? I have to have some way to maintain this form of mine. When I was human I didn't have to eat near as much as I do now"

“It comes with the form. Maybe you can get the cooks to make you trail rations that are twice the normal size."

"I hope that works because I would like to go out on some of the longer missions that are available. I mean when I was scouting with my old squad I had to supplement my diet with meat that I had caught myself, but I doubt that will be an option north of the Keep."

"Up north we have to hunt if we stay for a long time but often we cannot take the time to hunt. So we need to take trail rations."

I nodded and then picked up my bow and grabbed an arrow from my quiver and knocked it, drew, aimed, and fired in my usual smooth style.

From the corner of my eye I watched as Misha slowly drew the powerful bow that I had lent him and loosed an arrow. The arrow flew straight and thumped into the center of the target. "Very nice weapon."

"Since you can hit a target so well can you tell me what I'm doing wrong?"

"All right. Shoot again and I'll watch closely." the fox answers.”

I nodded slowly and then went through the whole procedure again. Knocking, drawing, aiming, and releasing all in a single smooth motion like I had been taught so many years ago.

"You have a slight hitch in your release. That's the problem. It's messing up your aim."

"How do I cure a problem like this?"

"Practice, practice, practice." Misha answers. "Keep working on it till you get it right."

“I guess that I can come down here as often as I am in keep to get some practice.” With that said I drew another arrow and let it fly and the target butts downrange.

He nodded "Nothing but practice can help that."

"Maybe a little instruction from someone who is better at this than I am might help."

"Thank you for the compliment. I'd be willing to help you when I can. "Being a Long would have to come first but I can help."

"I fully understand that sir. I won't be here all that frequently myself because I also have patrol duties." After I said that I went back to my archery, every so often Misha would point something out to try and resolve my problem and I would do my best to follow his advice.

Finally after more than an hour shooting arrows at targets I told Misha that I had some other things that I had to take care of, such as Drift’s sign. As well as my upcoming appearance at the trial of the man who had been attacking caravans coming to and from the Keep.

He gave my bow back to me with another complement on how well it was made and before I headed for my room. This time when I entered the keep I swore I had to run through half of the keep in order to get to my room.

Just as I finished getting out of my armour I heard a knock at the door, when I opened I found myself looking down at a small tan coloured coyote who wore a talbard that marked him as a messenger of the Duke.

“Are you Adòn Naharél?”

I did nothing more than nod before the coyote continued “I have a message here for you.” With that he produced a large cream coloured envelope which he placed in my hand before he dashed off down the hall.

I looked at the envelope for a second before I closed the door and broke the elaborate wax seal to expose the letter inside

Adòn Naharél you are commanded to appear before a duly appointed court of your equals two weeks from today, April 3rd 707, to determine the fate of one Sir Guy DeHarancourte. As the one responsible for his arrest your testimony will be very important to the case of the government.

Malisa Hassan, Prime Minister of The Northern Midlands

I shook my head, I had always hated official business but I guess that there was no way for me to get around this case, after all not only was I the one responsible for the arrest of the defendant, but I was also one of his victims.

Tomorrow when I reported to George, the patrol master, I would have to show him this letter so that I would be detached from patrol duty during the trial, not that I was looking forward to it.

After looking at the note I placed it on my desk with my journal and took off all of my heavy equipment before I went into my forge room to do some work on the bow that I was creating.

The piece of steel that I had left to cool the last time that I had been here was now quite cool and as flexible as I had intended it to be. I carefully trimmed the size of the piece before I picked up a small double handled knife and began to work on the yew stave.

The first thing I did was trim the piece down to roughly five feet long, this bow wasn’t something that I personally intended to use, before I got down to the real work of getting the bow to the right shape and proportions that I needed for it to be considered a proper long-bow. When I had roughed out the shape of the bow, I looked over at my other bow, the one that I had been using for years as a template for this new weapon, though this weapon would be far more finely crafted than that weapon.

Some time later when I had finished the most vital part of the creation of a Kelmar weapon, the incising of the God Runes that gave the weapon is potency; I looked up and found that it was getting dark out.

It was then that I remembered the fact that I still had to go talk to Drift about the sign that I had ripped out of the wall five days ago in a fit of frustration. I wasn’t looking forward to the meeting, but then again I guess that I deserved whatever came my way.

I quickly threw on my favourite black cloak and made my way down to his forge where it looked like he was just closing up for the day.

He looked up and saw me and smiled "Good evening, Adòn. I'm glad you could make it."

"I'm sorry about what I did but that thrice cursed sign has given me a headache every time I've come through here to get to where I have breakfast every day."

He looked surprised before he managed to reply "The Keep has you walk past here every day?"

“I don't know why, maybe it has a perverse pleasure in seeing me knock my brains out on that sign."

"Unlikely. Interesting... When that happened to me, the Keep seemed to be suggesting that I was supposed to do something here." He shrugged. "But whatever the case, if you'll replace the sign, I'll see about getting it hung higher. You're not the only one to get clonked by it."

"Why else would I be forced to walk along the same path every day? I'm a warrior not a tinsmith, my experiences with metal working are restricted to weaponsmithing. As for getting you a new sign, I'm not really much one for woodwork, I can craft a long-bow, a staff, spear-shafts, and arrows but as for carving my skills are a bit more limited."

He shook his head "My ranged skills are terrible, so a bow or arrows-" He stops, brow furrowing. Hmmmmm....How are you at making arrows?"

"Well I make all of my own arrows, though it depends on the quality of the components that I receive."

"Misha needs arrows made. Work with him, and I'll replace the sign myself."

"If you want I can make the metal bits, the pins that hold it into the wall."

He shook his head and countered "I already reworked the wall hooks. They weren't too badly damaged.”

In that case do you need any kind of weapon, for your own use, I can make just about any kind of weapon that you can imagine." I demonstrated that by taking the sword that I had sheathed at my side out of its scabbard and holding it out to him, hilt first.

He took the weapon from my hands carefully and looked at the blade before he looked up at me and asked “What's the strongest metal you're familiar with?"

"Mithral, though I don’t have a good supply of it nor the skills to work it. The second strongest metal that I am familiar with is steel which I can work."

Drift seemed to ponder my words again, and then beckoned me inside. He took out a small black book and flipped it open to a schematic of a weapon that I had never seen before. It looked kind of like a staff, but made of metal, with sections that retract into a foot-long cylinder. Two spikes which could be deployed from the weapon when fully extended, one from each end. "Would steel be able to stand up to battle forces at this width?" he asked, pointing to the walls of the collapsible portions.

"It would if I reinforced it with a couple of Kelmar Runes."

"Hmmm. I'll have to think on this," he says as he snaps the book closed and puts it away. "In the meantime, please talk to Misha. He really does need arrows." Drift snorted.

“I'll talk to him next time I see him, probably after my next patrol mission when we go out to practise archery together. He's helping me correct a problem that I seem to have with my release."

"At least you can get your claws out of the way."

"True but your claws won't cut the string if you aren't wearing a special glove" I pointed out laughing

"No, they'll just catch on the string, nearly get yanked out of your hands, and foul my shot rather spectacularly.

"Can't you get one of those special gloves from DeMule that prevents that sort of thing?"

"Would you enjoy getting your claws folded over? I don't.

“Ouch that sounds like it would hurt, but then again what about Misha he’s a fox and yet he can shoot the bow better than I can.”

"He's been shooting a bow since he was five years old. And apparently, foxes can retract their claws... somewhat."

"There is that, though I've been training as a warrior since I was five; however my training was a little more diverse in nature."

He shrugged "That and, well, he's Misha."

“There is that.” I thought for a few more seconds before I finally said "One weapon of his that I admire is that monster of an axe that he uses."

Drift nodded "She is impressive. Most definitely impressive.”

"I'm not much one for axes, I prefer swords personally like the one that you have there in your hands, but if I had an axe like that I would probably change my tune." I watched him as he respectfully tested the sword for balance and weight, but I noticed that he didn’t move with any great level of skill.

"The staff is more my preferred weapon, though I try to keep a sword as a backup. I need the range, but I'm not a particularly good fighter."

"If you want I can probably come up with a neat little sword that would suit you perfectly, custom built to your exact specifications." His ears tip forward. "Okay, you have my attention," he says, offering the sword back. "What do you have in mind?"

"I was thinking that you would probably prefer something along the lines of a single handed sword, similar to this one but with a narrower blade. It would be a handy weapon, quicker on the strike but still fairly strong."

"Strength would actually be pretty important. It would have to withstand swings in my taurform."

"Well I hope that you aren't offended but all of my weapons come with these runes on them," I pointed to the set of four Runes that were engraved on the blade of my sword before I slid it back into its scabbard at my side.

Drift’s right ear flips forward, his left back. "Why would I be offended? What do they mean?”

"They are special Runes that utilize the power of my gods to keep the blade sharp, free from corrosion, strengthen it, and prevent damage."

"Hmmm. I'd have to think about it, Adon. I'm in debt to other gods enough already." He reached up and thoughtfully rubbed the left side of his jaw.

"You wouldn't be in debt to my gods through the use of these weapons. I'm the one that puts them there in the first place and I am the one that has to pay the price for those favours."

Drift nodded slowly before he replied. "Let me think on it, okay? Thank you for the offer." He said before I turned and left the forge and headed for the door. I guess I was pledged now to make arrows for Misha, but that was better than getting in trouble with the watch.

The next day at five minutes before eight I walked into George’s office and stood in front of his desk. He was sitting behind the desk with a silver cup in his hand with his shirt unbuttoned obviously still trying to wake himself up.

“Reporting as ordered.”

He looked up at me before he asked a question that completely caught me off guard “What is your full name Oberon?”

"My full name is Adòn Naharél Sahnat’Haudörn of the Sundering Stone Clan."

“Adòn Naharél" the jackal said slowly repeating the name. "I knew a mercenary down in Pyralis a decade ago. That was you?"

"Pyralis, hmmmm..... I was down there about a decade ago, though I can't recall what I was doing down there."

"You were helping me overthrow a ruler and put his brother in power." He answered.

I scratched myself above the left ear "I think I remember a working with brown haired old battle axe when I was down there, the guy was tougher than old boot leather."

The jackal laughed in a strange almost cackling manner before he replied. "That's the most pleasant thing I've been called in a long time."

"Wait a minute that was you! I thought that you'd vanished into the Midlands after that escapade. Remember how persistent those soldiers were?"

"A lot of people want me dead and haven't killed me yet. A man has to know when to stand his ground and when to run for safety!"

"That was an early lesson that I learned when I was back home with my own people before I was forced to come to the continent to try my hand at the mercenary trade."

"It seems we're both orphans with no home until we came here."

"Well I've been a student of war for fifty-five years and have grown used to it."

"Well here you can be a student of life and settle down to live here."

"It will take me a little time to settle down; I've been on the move for more than thirty years. I've never managed to stay in the same place for more than six months at a stretch and now I have to stay tied down to one place for the longest time in my life other than when I was growing up.”

George gave a short bark of laughter "Well kitty cat now you have no choice but to stay here. The curse had made sure of that."

"Well I can probably make up for that by serving this place as a scout of some kind. You remember back then I was quite competent in that capacity."

"You wouldn't be here if I hadn't remembered how good you were. I hope your skills haven't withered."

"With more than ten years of practice, you think that they've gotten worse? I highly doubt it George.”

The jackal nodded his head. "Good! I'm going to test you to see just how good you really are!"

"Ok do your worst, though I will have to be here in two weeks because of the trial of that fanatic that I captured. This letter," I held out the piece of paper that the coyote had given me ", tells me that I have to be available at that time."

George laughed as he took the proffered letter and placed it on his desk. "Now THAT is the wrong thing to say to me. My worst can be very bad!"

"I'm probably as tough as you are George or else I wouldn't have made it out of Pyralis alive."

"I don't doubt that but I'm still going to test you hard anyway!"

"What about this dumb trial? I indicated the letter with a flip of my hand-paw

"I doubt it will take very long. That fanatic will probably convict himself if we just let him."

"Usually I don't worry about that sort of thing, but for some reason I decided that this one deserved to stand trial."

"He's lucky to be alive long enough to stand trial. Thomas is a fair man. Lesser men would simply hang a fanatic like that."

“His luck started when I simply broke his legs and shoulders instead of sheathing my sword in his guts.”

George laughed again. "I certainly wouldn't have taken him prisoner. I'd just have slit his throat."

“I was just at the end of my blood rage, If I had been at the start there wouldn't have been enough left of him to fill a hatbox.”

"I see. If Thomas decides you might get to see him beheaded."

"That idiot was the one that caused me to be stuck here in the first place."

"And now he is stuck here too and you are the cause. He is liable to be changed by the curse too. Just like you."

"I wonder what he'll turn into, a child? The humility would be good for him."

"An animal would be a better torment for him."

"A woman would probably do him well as well; teach him a few things, that is in whatever time he has left."

George shrugged. "This Duke tends to be lenient towards criminals. He might be confined for life. The Duke doesn't even HAVE an executioner." George commented.

I looked at him in frank amazement before I managed to reply “Huh. A duke without an executioner, how does he manage that?”

George laughed "Amazing isn't it?"

"It's the first time I've ever heard of a nobleman without someone on retainer to perform that distasteful function”

He nodded slowly "But for this fanatic I'm sure Thomas will find someone."

“Well he would have to find someone who doesn't care either way, I mean there are probably at least a dozen people now who would be very willing to kill him by now.”

"Would you be willing to execute him? Kill a man who cannot defend himself?"

"I certainly would like to but I doubt that my gods would condone the action and nor would my honour."

"I thought so. You are a man of honour Oberon."

I nodded slowly thinking about my own honour, which in the past thirty years had taken a beating because of my profession. "All Kelmar Warriors are supposed to be men of honour; unfortunately that isn't always the case."

"All too true, many, so called honourable men I've met are just cruel and greedy."

"Cruelty and greed are the dominions of the Forsaken Lord of Chaos Barental."

George nods. “Back to the reason you are here. I'll be sending you and your new patrol mates up north. This will not be an easy mission."

"I look forward the challenge"

"A patrol. This time Along Giants Dike. You're sure to run into some lutins or the like up there."

"Sounds like fun, just my kind of mission."

George laughed "A good chance for fighting some lutins."

"The more the merrier, that is up to a certain point, then it, just gets dangerous."

"You are starting to sound like Misha. All you need is the axe."

"I think I'll be happy with my sword, Claw of the Dragon."

"Close enough!”

“What kind of commander are you giving me to now?"

"A tough old soldier. He's someone I trust. You’ll do good with him."

"I certainly hope that he's better than my last commander."

"Oh that he is! He's been fighting since the battle of 3 gates."

“I see. I'll make my own judgements on his abilities when I see him tomorrow when I report for the patrol."

"Fair enough. But you will follow his orders. Where you are going there is no room for doing stupid things."

"I understand that. After all I didn't survive some of those battles that I fought as a mercenary by being stupid."

"I hope that he can take advice if I spot the need to give it out."

“He hasn't lived this long by being stupid. That is why I'm assigning you to him."

“I nodded in understanding before I asked "Is there anything else I need to know about my upcoming mission?"

"Do you have any questions?" he asks.

"Should I pack heavy or light?"

"Light of course. But bring enough rations for a week."

"Ok, by the way should I continue to use my atlatl and spear-darts or should I pack my monster of a longbow?"

"That's your choice. So long as you kill effectively."

“My bow can probably drive and arrow through at least two lutins if they are close enough together”

"So long as they're dead." George countered

"That is true, but the thing is a little overpowered. I like it though because this is the first time that I've been able to use it since I made it more than forty years ago."

"Why did you make and carry a weapon for so long that you couldn't use? Why not get rid it?"

"I didn't get rid of it because it was my first weapon that I made to try and confirm my rank as a Blademaster of the Red. In the end I had to make a second bow to confirm that rank, but my Soul Guide, who I now resemble, told me not to get rid of it." George nodded.

"And now you know why. That bow is a fearsome weapon. The lutins will be afraid of it."

"I sure hope so. The more they fear us the more they will stay away from the area around the Keep.”

George shook his head. "I doubt it. These lutins seem too greedy and stupid to understand the common sense of leaving us alone. All they understand is killing and looting."

"They obviously don't get enough of death if they constantly attack us."

"They breed like rabbits. No matter how many we kill there's always more."

"Who keeps sending them after us? There has to be some reason that they keep coming here."

"Nasoj is the latest reason but they have been attacking Metamor for centuries. They even overran the entire midlands centuries ago."

"Why doesn't someone eliminate that guy and end the threat?"

"Not so easy to do. This mage hides in his fortress and lets other people do the fighting and dying."

"That is the worst kind of leader that I know of; let the others do the dying while he collects to rewards for their sacrifices."

"Agreed. But this one is a lot harder to kill then most mages. We'll get him someday." George says in a cold tone. "He'll pay."

"I certainly hope so."

George laughed. "No doubting that Oberon. Unless you have any other questions you are dismissed."

I nodded and turned around, headed out the door, and went back to my apartment. I grabbed my bracers, my special glove, quiver full of arrows, and my monster of a bow before I headed to the practice field. When I reached the field I carefully placed my quiver on the ground before I set myself for shooting with the bow.

Half an hour later I was still shooting, and for some reason I had gotten my groups to be a little tighter, but none the less they were still roughly an inch away from my aim point.

"Nice shooting Oberon. There are few people capable of shooting that well." I heard Misha say as he walked up behind me.

"I'm still missing my aim point by about an inch." I replied without a second thought.

"That's good enough for combat Oberon. The shot will still kill your target."

"My training masters back home would tell me to go back and practise more if they saw someone shooting like this. I was never considered more than an adequate archer in the Clanlands."

"We’re not in the Clanlands Tiger," the fox explains.

"That may be true but for me to live up to the standards of a Bladelord of the Black I have to improve my ability to use all weapons."

Misha nodded. "But you have to live up to reality. We need you skill on patrol and not practicing archery."

"I guess you're right, I need to become comfortable with my present abilities, even if I would like to try and improve them."

"Archery isn't your only skill. Besides it takes time to get used to your new feline body."

"I am getting used to this body."

"It takes time. I suggest trying many different things to get the gauge on just what your new body can and cannot do."

"I've already learned that there are limits to my strength and endurance. For instance if I use my full strength then my endurance goes down quickly, in order for me to prolong my endurance I have to limit the amount of strength that I use to achieve a given objective."

Misha nodded. "You'll have to build up your endurance slowly."

"I understand that sir but you do know that I have some limitations because of the form that I have become, I just have to learn to live within those limitations and make the best of any situation that I get into."

"We all have our limitations I guess," the fox said. "But you should always test your limits and expand yourself."

"I know that much, I am after all a Kelmar Warrior and I was taught always to push my limits almost to the point of exhaustion, that way when it came time for a real fight, we would know where those limits are."

"You need to realize also that no matter how strong you are there is someone out there bigger who can kill you. There are trolls and ogres in the Giantdowns that can weight as much as a half a ton!"

"Ouch, they sound like they would be very challenging to take down, though I imagine that it can be done."

"I've killed an ogre alone. I've even helped bring down a giant," Misha explained. "Not something I recommend you to try alone."

"I don't think that anyone would want to take on something that big, though I must have a weakness of some kind. Oh by the way I have an agreement with Drift, the Samoyed who owns the Tinsmithy near my own rooms. Roughly six days ago I kind of wrecked that sign that he hangs over his door, I kept banging my head on that thing every day when I went to go get my breakfast. Anyways he told me that he would replace the sign if I would take his place making arrows for you, if that is acceptable to you of course."

"That sign of his has a life all its own. That is acceptable. The Longs and George’s scouts really need them. We went thru a lot of arrows over the last few months."

I pulled one of my own arrows out and held it out for him to inspect before I replied, "I made this here arrow myself, though the quality of my work will depend on the quality of the shafts, fletching feathers, and steel that I receive to make the arrows from.”

Misha examined the arrow carefully. "All right. Looks good. Very fine workmanship."

"I can probably make about two hundred and fifty of these next time that I am able to devote a full day to being in my forge, though that will have to wait until I finish my next patrol."

"Fair enough! I'm surprised you can make them so quickly. Do you need any materials?"

"Yes I need plain shafts, the fletching feathers, the sinew to attach the fletching, and the steel to make the heads from."

Misha nodded. "How you tried the market? We have some good merchants here. The lumber crews will have the wood you need. And the hunters the feathers and sinews."

"I'll take care of that later today." With that I turned and headed for another part of the field where I pulled my swords from their scabbards and began to go through a number of practise forms.

I spent the next half an hour going through forms before I sheathed my swords, collected my archery equipment and headed back to my room where I left all of my archery equipment behind before I went shopping for the things that I would need to make arrows.

The sun was beginning to go down when I finally got back to my room with the last of several barrels that contained all that I would need to make arrows.

Tomorrow I would be able to go out and do something which I was trained and experienced at doing, for the first time since my unauthorized mission back more than a month ago. That would truly be interesting. I just hoped that the new officer that he had assigned me to was everything that George said he was.

With those thoughts on my mind I went to bed, a very tired cat.