The Contests and a Dark Surprise

by Oberon Snowcat

I woke up early in the morning as the sun just began to creep through the curtains in my room. I slowly pulled myself out of bed in a most languorous fashion before I stretched out to my full length and yawned. The stretch and yawn routine felt good in the morning, just like sharpening my claws felt good. For some reason the feline in me enjoyed those sorts of activities. Once I had those things taken care of I got dressed in my full combat armour and collected my weapons, including the new monster bow that I had finished the other day. I also made a point to grab the other bow that I had also managed to finish. I slipped it into a soft brown leather case right beside a quiver full of arrows that I had made myself. Once I was satisfied that I had everything I headed out of the Keep and down to the Festival Grounds where I knew that Misha would be either in his FADGER booth, or down at the archery range practising his aim and range work. I found him just as he was apparently getting ready to leave the booth to Will Hardy.

“Ho Misha! How are you this fine morning?”

“Good morning Oberon, how are you doing?”

“Oh pretty well.” I carefully un-slung my own brand new monster of a longbow and held it out for him to look at. “What do you think of this new bow that I finished last night?”

Misha took the bow from my hands and carefully examined it. “Powerful and impressive.”

I smiled. “No magic in this bow except for my craftsmanship.”

“This bow’s almost a foot taller than I am!” The fox exclaimed.

I grinned and then picked up the other bow, the one that was still in its brand new case with its quiver of arrows at my feet where I had concealed them before I had called out to Misha, and held them out to him.

“Misha this is a small token of my gratitude for what you have done for me since I got here in February.”

“I’m..I’m...touched.” he took the bow out of my hands gently, but I could tell that he was thunderstruck. “Thank you. This is beautiful and amazing!”

“It took me more than three weeks to make, and there was a period of more than a month and a half when I didn’t get any work done on it at all.” I touched the ogre thumb that hung from the middle of my necklace. “I was doing something else at that time.”

Misha nodded his head. “I am glad to see you back to making weapons.”

“As opposed to using them?”

“Yes.” He answered before he walked around the counter and patted me on the back, though I hardly felt it through my heavy armour.

“Well I do enjoy using them.”

“As long as you don’t use them TOO much, there is more to life then fighting and killing.”

“I know there is but I’m glad that you reminded me of that fact.”

“With little Guy around I have the feeling that you will be kept busy away from your weapons.” Misha joked.

“Well I do want to do more work around my forge, when I have the time. Wouldn’t you like some armour like this?” I rapped my knuckles against my left breastplate to demonstrate my armour.

“I’m happy with my armour, but can you make some armour for George? The old jackal needs a new set.” the fox asked. “Something fancy and well decorated.” I raised my left eyebrow and ear before I replied

“I’m not all that good at fancy. My armour tends to be stark and utilitarian, though I can try.”

“Fair enough, As long as it’s solid and dependable. I can have some gold and silver decorations added to it.”

“Solid and dependable is exactly the kind of armour that I make. Let me guess who is going to decorate it." I motioned to Will Hardy who had just stepped behind the counter of their booth. "Will can do the decorations, if I pay him adequately."

“What are you going to have me doing now?” the old badger asked.

“Help decorate some armour.” the fox explains

“The armour that needs to be decorated isn’t -.”

“It’s hard to explain Will but I think that both of us can do it. I’ll have the metals in time and you can apply the gems.” the fox added.

I looked at both the fox and the badger before I asked Misha, “Does George know about this or are you going to get me his measurements so that I can make this armour?”

“This I want to be a surprise. A gift for him.” Misha explained. “I should be able to give you his basic measurements.”

“Can you get me precise measurements, I can’t make the kind of armour that I make with just basic measurements. I need as many precise measurements as I can possibly get.”

“I can get them for you easily enough.” Misha answered. “I’ll just take a set of his clothes.”

“That should work just fine Misha. How long until you need this armour to be completed? The reason that I’m asking is because there are several things that I want to do for the next month. I also have my duties when I get back to the Keep. There is also the object of how much you are willing to pay me for this suit.”

“I want the finest quality. Money is not an issue here. And two months or more is a good enough time limit.”

“I should be able to turn out one of my better quality suits in that amount of time. It will follow my standard composite pattern of construction featuring hardened leather, chain-mail, and several strategically positioned plates. However the cost will be considerable, I would estimate that it would be close to a hundred and fifty garrets or if you prefer seven hundred and fifty suns.”

Misha nodded. “I can afford that.” He said.

I nodded my head before I asked, “Misha I see that you are about to head out to the archery field to get some practise. Do you mind if I come along, since I have to get a few shots with my new bow in myself?”

"Sure. You're welcome to join me on the range." the fox answered.

I grinned and then turned and began to stride to down the makeshift street until I reached the archery range and pulled out my bow and began the difficult task of stringing the bow.

Misha watched me string my monster of a bow before he asked, “Just how powerful is that bow?” He asked me as he strung his own weapon.

“Oh roughly three hundred and five pounds, give or take a pound or so.” I replied in a nonchalant manner.

“THREE HUNDRED?” he asked surprised. “That’s incredible! I’m lucky to pull one hundred and thirty pounds.”

“The bow that I designed for you has pull of one hundred and fifteen pounds. I wanted your new bow to be a practical weapon of war and not just a decoration.”

“Good! That is what I need. That powerful tiger body of yours will let you shoot an arrow twice as far as anyone else.”

I nodded my head silently before I asked, “Why don’t you try out your new bow?”

“I intend to,” he says and slowly strings his new weapon. Slowly he hefts it and nocked an arrow. “Powerful and smooth.”

I watched him for a moment before I pulled out one of my four and a half foot long arrows and nocked it before firing. This bow was definitely close to my limit when it came to a bow that I could use. I watched as Misha pulled back the string to his new weapon and released. The arrow flew straight and true, thunking down in the middle of the target that was set up two hundred yards downrange.

“Is everything you use massive or oversized?” Misha asked looking at the large arrows that were sticking out of my quiver.

I laughed as I finished my draw and released. I watched as the arrow over-flew the target and kept on going for a least a hundred more yards before thunking down into the turf.

“Impressive! Very impressive. Just beware of where those arrows might land,” he pointed out.

“I built this weapon as a competition weapon. Otherwise I will use my two hundred and fifty pound draw weapon.”

“There are very few people who can beat that range except for a few of the more powerful morphs.”

“I intended this weapon as my ace in the hole.”

“Oh? What do you mean?”

“How many people are going to be here that will be able to draw this thing at all?”

“Well the distance event usually draws around a hundred people. The accuracy competition a little more.”

“Of those hundred how many will have the strength to pull a three hundred pound bow?”

“One or two perhaps. There is an elk I know who pulls a two hundred pound bow that I know of.”

“How is his technique?” I asked letting a little of the concern that I felt show in my voice.

Misha shrugged. “I’ve no idea. But last year I beat him with a more powerful bow of my own. I pulled a mass of muscles in the process and couldn’t shoot for a month.”


“I used words a lot more powerful that that!” he laughed. “But I did win.”

“Well this year I intend on winning.”

“I believe you will win, but it might be a tough fight.”

“I always look forward to a competition, otherwise what would the point be?

“True! I am going to try the accuracy contest too but Caroline will probably beat me as she usually does.”

“Personally I won’t enter that competition, I’m just not quite that good of a marksman.”

“Caroline and Padraic are the best archers in the Keep. There certainly are the best in the Long Scouts.”

“Personally I use my bow and atlatl to whittle down the odds before I go in with my swords. They are my best weapons, though I can use an axe or a mace in a pinch.”

“Caroline and Padraic can and HAVE killed people at some incredible ranges. Their skill is scary sometimes.”

“Well my bow is for long range work, my atlatl is for closer ranges without the noise of the bow, and my swords are for up close and personal work.”

“Everyone is different. The rabbit’s style is to the archer. He believes in the old line One Shot, One Kill.”

“That works for some, but for me I prefer to get in close where I can do more damage. I can kill faster with my swords than many people can kill with a bow.”

Misha laughed. “Padraic would say the same thing about his bow.”

“Someday maybe we should work together, see how many of those little monsters we can take out.”

“A contest of bow versus sword to see who will kill the most? Interesting!”

“In my case its plural, swords.”

Misha looked me up and down before he asked, “Oberon. Just how many weapons are you carrying on you right now?”

“Oh nine, if you don’t include the projectiles for my atlatl and my longbow. Though when I’m out on patrol I carry four more knives, and I replace my short-sword with a broadsword.”

“You are carrying more weapons now then most whole patrols carry. Why so many weapons? Going to fight a war?”

“Well I never leave the Claw anywhere, and I’m going to be competing with my longbow and atlatl. As for the rest, I’m just used to carrying them around with me.”

“Just?” Misha said. “We’re in the Keep surrounded by several thousand fellow Keepers. I doubt you’ll need them all.”

“Sorry it’s an old habit. I can’t break all of my habits just because I have moved to a safe place.”

Misha just laughed. “And people think me carrying just my axe was strange.”

“Well I do admit that I’m probably one of the more unusual people that has come here in recent memory. After all how many other seventy two year old mercenaries do you see here that are in my kind of shape?”

Misha let out a yap of laughter. “You are one of the strangest people here indeed, and considering how strange people are here at the Keep that’s a considerable feat!”

I nodded my head and then put down my longbow and indicated that I was going to go fetch my arrow that lay roughly three hundred and ninety yards away.

“All right.” Misha said and put down his own bow down before falling into step beside me. “I’ll go get mine. I just don’t have as far to walk as you.”

I grinned at his comment and then used my highly flexible tail to reach up and tap him on the shoulder.

Misha looked around to see who had tapped him on the shoulder and to no great surprise sees no one there.

When I saw the puzzled expression on his muzzle I had to muffle a laugh, though I couldn’t keep the tip of my tail from twitching in silent feline laughter. In so doing it tapped him repeatedly on the shoulder.

“I don’t believe you just did that and I fell for it!”

In between muffled chuckles I managed to say, “Sometimes the old ones are the best ones.”

Misha could do nothing more than shake his head wryly.

A short time later we both lined up for real in the competition.

I turned to Misha and said, “May the best man, or rather animal win Misha.”

Misha extended a hand to me and I shook it as he said, “Good luck!”

I nodded my head and then watched as the umpire of the first round of the competition

For me that competition was actually a lot of fun because I had by far the most powerful bow in use in the contest. Even Misha had to concede that he really didn’t have much of a chance against me. Seeing as how last year he had only managed to win by using a bow that was really beyond his own personal limits. My only real opponents were the elk that Misha had mentioned and another cat like myself, though this one was smaller than I was since his pattern was based on a southern jungle cat.

In the last round we all shot impressively but I still managed to get an arrow some fifty yards further than the elk man managed. My prize for winning the contest was a quiver that could hold a hundred arrows without being too bulky.

The next contest that I entered was the spear-throwing contest, and once again I had built some special spear darts and an atlatl for the express purpose of entering and winning the contest. Once again I managed to win the contest, though this one was much closer and I only managed to pull out the victory because of the mechanical assistance of the atlatl.

When I walked up to the tent that held the entry box for my third contest the judge of the contest curtly informed me of the rules against weapons and armour in the contest. This contest was the wrestling contest, and since I wanted to enter this contest I would have to strip down to my kilt so that I could compete in the contest.

I stepped out of the tent and looked around at the stands before I saw someone that I could trust to hold onto my armour for me.

It was George, the Patrol Master. Sheathed at his side was the sword that I had made for him before I had gone out on my killing spree.

I quickly stripped down to my kilt and piled all of my weapons on my armour before I stepped out of the tent and walked over to where George was sitting in the stands. “George could you hold onto these for me? I don’t really trust anyone else in the crowd here.”

“I am honoured.” The Jackal responded sounding amused. “I’ll watch over them most diligently.”

“I would appreciate that very much.” I told him before I placed my stuff in his arms. That revealed my massively muscled white furred white torso.

“You go around bare-chested like that and every female in the Keep will chasing after you.”

“They told me that I had to take off my armour to compete in this event.”

“I know that, but you have a body that a lot of women would die for Oberon. Women will find you very handsome.”

“I wonder why they didn’t find me handsome before I came to the Keep when I was still human? I was, pardon the self aggrandization, quite handsome according to the standards of my people.”

George laughed. “When did you go around back then with no shirt on? And besides most women love cats!”

I rolled my eyes at his insinuation before I turned around and head back towards the registration tent where I signed up for the contest. As I left him behind I heard George laugh again, much to my chagrin.

My first opponent in that contest was a small wiry man with a sneaky look in his green eyes. This was, in my opinion the most difficult kind of person to fight because they weren’t above using devious tricks in order to attain a victory over larger, stronger opponents. This man was no different and he tried numerous tricks, only to find that I was aware of every single one of them. Finally after much tumbling and dodging I managed to corner him and throw him down to the ground and pin him.

My last opponent in the contest was much more of a challenge. He was a well-trained boar of a man; literally, he was a large pig morph with jutting tusks and small brown eyes.

He looked up at me and then snorted and mumbled, “You watch yourself kitty cat I am going to wrap you around my knee with one hand.”

“You should never brag about what you are going to do to your opponents until you have discovered the limits of their capabilities.” With that reply I took up a defensive stance and prepared to receive his first charge. I didn’t really have to wait long because after a moment he charged me with full violence. I met his charge with outstretched arms and then deflected the energy of his charge to the left and past me; at the same time I stuck out a foot and tripped him up so that he landed on his muzzle in the dirt.

He roared in fury, jumped up and tried to grab me with his hands. However that failed and he only got himself into more trouble as I used the energy of his attack against him making him fall down again.

Each time that he attacked me I used his own energy against him flinging him down into the dirt. However, he wised up to my tactics and began to try and trap me in my own counters. That was when the fight began to get more serious. As we fought I could see that this man had his own code of honour, though it wasn’t as strict as my own. We fought for at least five minutes trying to find a weakness in each other’s defences. He didn’t possess my sheer speed or my phenomenal strength, but he did have stamina and a thick skin that allowed him to shrug off blows that would knock down any normal man. Finally he pulled a trick that I wasn’t expecting that put me off my balance and his follow-up move brought me down to the ground. There we wrestled about for a few moments, but I was rapidly tiring because of how long we had already been fighting.

Finally he managed to pin me and gain the victory, though I had given him a run for his money. As second prize I was given a pair of bracers that gave a man increased in endurance to allow him to beat his enemy in hand to hand combat.

When I went up to George and collected my armour and weapons from him he didn’t say anything until I had put on my stuff and turned to head back to the Keep for a couple hours of rest before I engaged in the next competition, for me the most important competition of the day.

Three hours later I arrived back at the Festival grounds, much refreshed after my nap, and much lighter because I was no longer carrying my quiver, longbow, or atlatl. I was now fully ready to compete in the swordsmanship contest and I was determined to win this one. In my arms I carried a pair of specially made swords that I had constructed at the same time that I had made George’s cutlass. These swords were neither enchanted with any Kelmar God Runes, nor sharpened to any great extent however, they were superbly balanced and designed specifically for me.

Since the last contest in the spring Equinox Festival I had been determined that I wouldn’t fight ever again with someone else’s weapons again.

The marshals of the contest checked over the two swords and then one asked me about the two swords on my belt.

“They stay where they are. I will not draw them other than if the person facing me is a real threat to my existence.”

The two marshals considered it for a couple of seconds before they finally acceded to my desires. My first four fights were relatively easy, and this time I didn’t end up injuring people in order to secure my victories. As far as I could tell the contest was going just the way that I had planned it.

That all changed on my fifth fight. This man was almost identical to the way that I had been before I had arrived at the Keep four and a half months ago. Maybe five foot eleven, with dark brown, some would say even black, hair, and the impressive build of a career fighter. When we faced off I looked into the man’s glimmering golden eyes and saw something in them that I didn’t like at all. It was a desire not just to win but also to completely crush his opponent.

I prepared myself for the contest that was to follow mentally before I finally got tired of waiting for the other man to move first and lashed out with my longer weapon. The man moved with uncanny speed and blocked the blow with his sword before he tried to riposte with his long dagger. The fight was on and this one was proving to be quite the challenge. It was as I locked both swords with the man and got in close that I finally realized that I wasn’t up against a normal man. This man’s breath reeked of narrelat, the drug of the Racteganect. This man was an assassin, sent out to hunt me by the Clanlord of the Bleeding Sun Clan.

I kicked him in the chest with my right leg while I stepped back and drew both of my real swords from their scabbards. This wasn’t a contest, this fight was deadly earnest right now and I wanted to win, because loosing meant loosing more than just a little prestige, it meant loosing my life. I weaved the Claw back and forth in front of me I a menacing pattern while the assassin dropped his own weapons and drew those that were hanging in their scabbards from his belt.

Now that we were both armed with real weapons that really could kill each other we started to fight once more, but now we were using Kelmar blade techniques that had been perfected through centuries of constant warfare.

As I fought this assassin I looked around for the other three member of the cell, since the Racteganect didn’t operate alone. Then I spotted them making their way through the crowd with their weapons already drawn and ready for battle.

Just as they reached the boundary to the small square that I was fighting their comrade in they were accosted by three Keepers, Misha with his terrifying black axe, George with his new cutlass and dagger in his hands, and Finbar with a pair of daggers in his hands.

The three assassins paused for only a second before they launched themselves at their opponents in a high-speed narrelat fuelled frenzy.

I would’ve loved to give my friends a hand but unfortunately I already had my hands full with my own opponent.

As we fought I quickly learned his deficiencies and worked to exploit them. For some reason I was even quicker than he was even though he was on narrelat, perhaps that was because the form that I had been gifted with by the curse of Metamor Keep was that of a Snow Tiger, an animal that was renowned in the Clanlands as being able to move like silver lightening. Another reason was maybe because the narrelat in his veins was wearing off and he was slowly coming back down to earth.

Whatever the cause of his lack of speed was I utilized it ruthlessly making lightening fast jabs and feints at his body until he made a small mistake and I took a full powered swing at the hole that that mistake had left in his defences. The Claw sheared down through his chest from shoulder to hip.

With my opponent taken care of I flipped my heavy short sword around and then heaved it at the man who was facing Finbar with a long-sword and a dagger in his hand. By now Finbar was similarly armed with Misha’s sword in his right hand and a dagger in his left. The thrown short-sword embedded itself into the assassin’s side just below the ribs the man clutched at his side with one hand leaving himself open for a thrown dagger and a slash to the throat, though the slash was really just an afterthought since the dagger penetrated the assassin’s right eye and embedded itself in the man’s brain. I whirled and pulled one of my throwing knives out of its sheath and threw it George’s opponent. It struck the man in the back of the skull just as George skilfully removed the head from the shoulders of the assassin.

Misha I looked at Misha who was standing with his axe grounded panting slightly. His opponent was split in two from crown to groin from a massive blow from Misha’s black axe Whisper.

“Misha now do you understand why I carry these weapons with me even when I am here at the Keep?”

The fox slowly nodded his head. “These assassins can be really annoying.”

“You’re telling me Misha. You’re not the one who has to keep a constant eye over his shoulder to see if there is an assassin back there behind him.” I replied as I knelt down with the Claw in my hand to remove the thumb from the man who had tried to kill me.

“But this will make me their enemy,” the fox answered. “At least they aren’t as formidable as I had expected.”

“You had that monster of an axe to help you Misha. To people that are limited to normal weapons in the Clanlands these assassins are the deadliest things on two legs, the fact that almost no one survives their attacks only makes them all that much more frightening.”

Misha shook his head. “Axe or no axe I’ve been through far too much to be frightened by a man with a knife. They all die just as fast when you cut them in half.”

I shook my head as I completed the operation and dropped the severed appendage into one of my belt pouches before I cleaned off my sword and stood up. “I know what you mean Misha, for some reason this man here wasn’t quite what I expected either.”

“What do you mean?” the fox asked. “What was wrong?”

“The man I faced didn’t seem to be all that skilled, or at least he wasn’t up to my level of skill. Nor was he as fast as I was expecting.”

“A second rate assassin? Why? Perhaps they are tired of you killing all of their best ones?”

“I’ve only killed a dozen of them so far in the past thirty years.”

“Maybe it’s not that they are getting worse but that you are getting better,” George commented calmly from where he was just standing up from cleaning off his cutlass.

I shook my head before I replied; “I was getting close to the limit of my skills when I left my homeland thirty years ago. After all back then I was a Bladelord of the Bronze and there are only two more ranks of Bladelord that I could possibly become, and usually there is only one Bladelord of the Gold in a generation.”

“So?” the jackal answers. “That was thirty years ago. Trust me you are a very skilled warrior.”

“Are you trying to tell me that you think that I could possibly be a Bladelord of the Gold? That is something that I will never assume until it is confirmed by a Kelmar Bladelord like myself.”

“The nearest Bladelord is thousands of leagues away.” Misha said. “Hard to find one closer.”

I grinned at his comment as one of the judges of the contest came over to where Misha, George, Finbar and I were standing and told me quite bluntly,

“Sir I am afraid that since you drew your real swords you are disqualified from this event. Please leave the square so that we can clean up and continue with the contest.”

Misha laughed. “He does have a point. You got blood all over the nice clean duelling ring.”

I looked at the mess and then joked. “Don’t forget all the dismembered body parts.”

“You really know how to have a wild time.” Finbar comments sarcastically.

I looked over at the ferret and rolled my eyes before I walked over to the corpse that he had killed and tugged to get my short-sword out of the body. “What did you think of that sword that you had to use Finbar?”

“Nice, a well balanced and very sharp blade. But it’s too long for my liking. I prefer a shorter blade.”

“A short-sword like this one?” I asked him holding out the hilt of my short-sword to him, as soon as I finished cleaning the blood off of the blade with the dead assassin’s cloak.”

Finbar took the weapon from me and carefully swung it to check the balance and weight. “Now THIS is the right size blade for me.”

“Would you like me to make you one like that?”

“YES! But I don’t have all the money that Misha has.”

I nodded in understanding before I told him. “I can make a simple stock blade for you that is made to a pattern, much cheaper to make since it isn’t really sized to fit you specifically. Instead it is designed to fit a wider group of wielders, or I could quite possibly sell you one of my older blades that I have in stock. Even though they are older they are still quite serviceable and will serve anyone who buys them for many years to come.”

“I wouldn’t mind an older blade, but I want to see it before I buy it.”

“Of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way Finbar. Tell you what I am also going to give you a discount because of what you and Misha have done for me today and in the past.”

“Good!” the ferret comments.

I grinned and went over to where George’s former opponent was lying on the ground in two pieces. I had to tug hard to get the knife out of the assassin but it wouldn’t budge. “Finbar can you come over to my forge in an hour and I’ll get you all set up with a sword for you.”

“Good! I’ll be there.” The ferret answered.

Finally I managed to get the throwing knife out of the skull with a crunch of bone as I wrenched it out. I cleaned it off one the dead man’s cloak before I stood once again and slid it into its sheath behind my back.

“How’s about we all get a bite to eat?”

“Good idea,” George says stepping over the body. “I know of a stand that is selling great chicken!”

“How are their prices?”

“Reasonable, but why should you worry. You and Misha have all the money you’ll ever need?”

“I don’t know, maybe because I believe in getting good value for my money.” I said as I stepped around the split assassin and then followed George as he made his way away from the stands around the square towards the venders’ tents.

“Great! I’m hungry!” Misha said out loud.

I swiftly nodded my own head in agreement as we all began to smell the products of the chicken stand. At that moment Caroline and a female Pine Marten joined us. I had recently seen her hanging around with Finbar so I had assumed that she was his current romantic attraction.

Finbar looked up at me and then said in a serious tone of voice, “This is Danielle the mage and fellow Long Scout.”

I bowed my head to the pine marten and purred, “It’s a pleasure to make you acquaintance Danielle. My name is Adòn Naharél, though most people around here simply know me as Oberon.”

She smiled and then curtsied to me before she replied, “I am pleased to meet you honoured sir.”

“Now how about we get something to eat, my mouth is starting to water.” That much was true, and I didn’t have an easy time keeping saliva inside my mouth as the smells reached a small sensory organ on the roof of my mouth.

“Dinner will me served shortly.” Misha commented. “The Duke does serve a lot of good food.” I licked my lips, trying futilely to keep my slobber inside of my mouth. Instead I only succeeded in giving my friends a full view of my fearsome teeth.

“Lets not keep the ferocious tiger hungry for too long all right.” Caroline said jokingly.

“Hahaha very funny Caroline. If you were as changed as I am you would understand some of the problems that I have to face.”

“Unless you failed to notice I DID change, I’m an otter. I never liked fish till the change.”

“At least you can eat cooked meat without stomach troubles. I prefer my food only slightly cooked to raw.” She shivered.

“Yuck. At least I prefer my fish cooked!”

“Trust me those cooked meat pies that I had yesterday didn’t treat me so well later on.”

Misha shook his head. “Those meat pies were terrible. I hate to think of exactly what type of meat was in them! If it WAS meat at all.”

“I think that they were made with beef, pork, venison, and chicken. At least that is what my sense of taste and smell told me.”

“Just avoid those meat pies,” Finbar warned. “They’re worse than our trail rations.”

“You don’t have to tell me twice. Especially after I spent three quarters of an hour in the latrines dealing with the after-affects of them.”

“Serves you right for eating those cheap meat pies,” Misha commented. “Stay away from those cheap vendors.”

I nodded my head before I said ruefully, “That is probably why Guy exploded so soon after he demolished one of them.”

“NO DETAILS!” Misha ordered. “None! We are going to have dinner.”

“Are you going to be at the Duke’s Feast tomorrow evening Misha?”

“Yes, We are all invited.”

I shook my head before I said, “It will take me hours to get ready for it.” I flicked a dark patch of fur on my left arm that still retained some of my black hunting dye. The dye hadn’t come out during my last trip to the bathhouse but I needed to make sure that it came out this time.

“So? It will be you first chance to meet the Duke.” Misha explained.

I nodded before I grinned at him and commented, “I just hope that his guards aren’t overzealous that night. Otherwise I might not even get in.”

“You intend on carrying as many weapons as you can like usual?” Misha asked. “Couldn’t you limit yourself to a dozen?”

“I plan on carrying three, four if you count the by-knife in the same scabbard as the Claw. Other than the Claw I will carry a short-sword and a dagger.”

“Only three?” Caroline answers. “Don’t you ever carry just one?”

“No. I always have at least three, unless I am having a bath.”

“I know I don’t want to hear this answer but do you take a weapon with you into the bath?” Finbar asked.

“I usually bring a dagger with me, though I leave it on the bench with my towel.”

“At least you don’t take it into the bath with you.” Finbar commented

“In the bath I have these.” I held up my right hand and extended all five two inch claws from my fingertips.”

“Why bother with the sword at all. Those make a perfect weapon. And you can never lose them.”

“I like my swords, and they mark my status as a Kelmar Warrior. No peasant carries a weapon like these back home in my homeland.”

Misha chuckled. Never underestimate a peasant. A peasant with a simple spear can be deadly.”

“A group of peasants armed with spears and pitchforks coming up against a trained force of Warriors with swords and armour will almost always lose.”

“But a group of warriors who are too proud for their own good can simply charge straight at the spears and get impaled.” Misha explained. “I’ve seen knights do that more than once.”

“Those knights were foolish and stupid, not taking advantage of their mobility, armour, and weapons.”

“Never underestimate anyone.”

“I have seen that before back home. During the Clan Wars there was an engagement where out opponent underestimated our forces. He had his forces charge our main force, or rather our ruse we were able to surround and annihilate them to the last man.”

Misha smiled, baring a lot of teeth. “The stupid die fast in battle.”

I chuckled as we arrived at the chicken booth and George walked up to the vendor. “I was in charge of that battle, and I knew my enemy so I knew that I could get away with that ruse.”

Misha chuckled. “That was an easy victory.”

“I will take any victory, even one so cheaply won as that.”

“Me too.” Finbar added. “Any tactic that works is fine with me.”

I nodded and then stepped up to the counter and sniffed before I asked the vendor, “Can I have some pieces that you just put on the fire?”

“It’s still raw!” The vendor answered. “You don’t mind?”

“If it’s a little raw I don’t mind. In fact well cooked meat doesn’t really agree with my system any more.”

“All right. As long as you don’t want the meat still moving.” He joked as he handed me a large pile of meat on a wooden platter.

“I’ve had a few times when my meat was still warm when I began to eat, as in really fresh.”

The man waved his hand.

“I don’t want to know.” Misha shook his head.“ I like fresh meat but that is TOO fresh for my liking.”

I chuckled at Misha’s comment and then turned my attention to the pile of slightly warm meat on my platter.

Caroline and Misha both sat down near me with their own chicken, which was well cooked. “I like being a fox, but I draw the line at raw meat.” Misha pointed out.

Don’t you ever hunt in your full form Misha?” I asked him after I finished my second piece of chicken.

“No. I do too much hunting as a Long to do more in my leisure time.”

“You should try it some time, I intend to after this Festival is over.”

“Hunting as a fox?” Misha asked. “I prefer to stay in town and have my food brought to me.”

“Misha haven’t you ever tried it. You might never know you might enjoy it.”

The fox shook his head. “No I really have never gotten to like the taste of rats and mice. YUCK!”

“You should spend a few days with me out there, and I promise that there will be more to eat than rats and mice.”

Misha looked dubious at me. “I prefer to stay home.”

“Oh all right, but I could probably show even you a few things about being an animal.”

“I don’t doubt it. You really have taken to being a tiger very well.”

“I had some help.” I said in a manner that told all of them that I was in no mood for them to probe more deeply. As soon as I had said that I focussed my attention on demolishing the rest of the chicken on the platter in front of me. The sounds that emanated from my feeding were definitely not the most civilized in the clearing where the lunch tables had been set up.

“Help from what?” Misha asked curiously.

I looked at him with the cold blue eyes that my soul guide had given me when we had merged and in a glacially cold tone of voice told him. “That is really none of your business.”

Misha stepped back “All right. Everyone is entitled tot his own private life.”

I nodded my head, stood up and told all of my friends that I had some things to attend to in my forge.

Within ten minutes I was back in my own private place where I began to pull out things to get ready for the next day.