Forge of Kingdoms (NSFW) - Chapter 37

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Forge of Kingdoms (NSFW) - Chapter 37

#1 Post by Neutral Smith »

Forge of Kingdoms
(rewritten)
This is basically the same story as the 'original' Forge of Kingdoms, but some parts are rewritten, some parts added (especially in the first chapters, merged a lot), things removed and things changed, but most of all better formatting. Every person gets his/her own new line :mrgreen:
'New' chapter 21 is a merge of the 'old' last chapters 30 and 31, if you are curious. And I go on after that. But it might take a very long time to write new chapters.

I know it's still not perfect, but I enjoy the writing part too much to care about that.

Warning! this story will contain a lot of naughty things, not suitable for minors, work, people with a weak stomach etc.
Adult content, sex, sexual abuse references, gore, alcohol abuse, alcohol abuse references, drugs references... I tried to make it as safe as possible to read, but some things are just important for the storyline.

This is still a work in progress, things may and will change, read the 'changeblog' at the bottom of this post to see what I have changed. Most of the time added chapters :)

Feel free to post comments, English is not my native language, and I know I will make some mistakes. And also if you want correct other wrongs (in the storyline), but I think I will just explain why I made those choices. I do have a social life, there might be some time between your question and my response.

8<---------------------------------------------------------------------

List of chapters:
* Chapter 1: Leaving home
* Chapter 2: Strong shoulders, helping hands
* Chapter 3: The Inimal Village, part 1 and because it was too big to fit in one post the second part
* Chapter 4: The Inimal Village, part 2
* Chapter 5: Preparations
* Chapter 6: Work to do
* Chapter 7: Going back home
* Chapter 8: Wolves on the road and because it was too big part 2
* Chapter 9: Back home again
* Chapter 10: Partner, father
* Chapter 11: A Feral
* Chapter 12: Visitors
* Chapter 13: Little boy, big city
* Chapter 14: Behavior
* Chapter 15: The Neutral Vulpine village
* Chapter 16: Border crosser
* Chapter 17: Grounded
* Chapter 18: The mission, part 1: Saving a life
* Chapter 19: The mission, part 1: Kill and live
* Chapter 20: Back to Schotenburg
* Chapter 21: Freedom
* Chapter 22: A new, strong friend
* Chapter 23: Trouble
* Chapter 24: The Kings
* Chapter 25: I'm not an adviser
* Chapter 26: The end of a beginning
* Chapter 27: Cold
* Chapter 28: General Nonsense
* Chapter 29: Not Safe
* Chapter 30: Diplomatic Solutions
* Chapter 31: Arriving and Leaving
* Chapter 32: The Academy of Things
* Chapter 33: Troubled North
* Chapter 34: Pieces
* Chapter 35: Training
* Chapter 36: Work
* Chapter 37: Taking care
* Chapter 38: Not a runner
* Chapter 39: Delivery
* Chapter 40: The West

------------------------------------------------------------------------>8

I am not Tolkien or an other very creative writer who can come up with a completely new language, so I stick with the languages I know. Dutch is my mother tongue, English is a good second, and German and French are also languages which are taught at schools in Holland. (and I'm supposed to know some of it)
Spoiler!
That 5th language is Welsh, I don't speak it, just copy-paste from the internet.
The world.

Here is a short description of the world this story takes place in.

It is a non-magical world, 4 kingdoms, two of them are at war, the Humans and the Inimals. A 'Neutral Zone' has been put in place, because there were still a group of Humans and Inimals living in peace together. The protagonist (he calls himself Smith, but this is not his real name) was born there. Smith is a 'normal' human male, at the beginning of the story approx. 30 years old. Normal human, not all-knowing, no super-human powers or skills.
Every war has it's victims, and Smith is no exception. This history is an important factor in the story of Smith, I won't spoil his entire background, but he is the only human survivor of his village. Let's just say he has a case of what we could call PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder) and a bit of sexual abuse damage.

Short description of the different kingdoms and their main inhabitants:

Human: Just human, can do anything, but excel at metalwork.
* Spoken language: Human, but sounds like Dutch (Nederlands)
If every relevant character can understand the language the text will appear as "<I totally get it>", if not everyone can understand it, it will be like "Ik begrijp er helemaal niets van."
* Life expectancy: 80 years
* Inherited monarchy.

Inimal: Intelligent Animal; Felines, Canines, Vulpines and Bears, Badgers and other species, or put simply: larger carnivores
* Spoken language: Inimal, but sounds like English
* Life expectancy: Canine 50 years, Feline 40 years
* Chosen monarchy, the ruling king and queen choose a pair (preferably an Inimal love-couple) of successors from a different species.
* Short history: somehow a single Inimal king united all the species.
Main species and what kind of role they prefer:
* Feline (Cat, Tiger, Lion, Cheetah, Leopard, Ocelot etc.): Woodworkers, cattle, solo fighters. Current king is a Lion.
* Canine (Dog, Wolf, Hound): Stonemasons, pigs, group fighters
* Vulpine (Fox): fine arts, poultry, archery
* Bear: Engineering, very strong but don't like fighting
* Badger: Administration
There are more Inimal species, but these are the most important
Not to be confused with animal, animal is the name of the 'rest', large herbivores like cows, sheep, pigs and deer, or rodents like mice, rats and squirrels, and of course birds, reptiles, fishes and amphibians. (and anything else that crawls or swims around)
Inimals can go feral after a traumatizing event, this means they go to a more primitive survival-driven state of mind. Inimals who had always lived closer to nature (Tigers, Wolves, Foxes) have a better chance of survival.

Elfique: Elves, wisdom comes with years, and they are old.
* Spoken language: Elfique (or Elvish), sounds like Français (French)
"{this is the quotation for the Elvish language}" or "Je ne comprends pas qu'est que vous dites."
* Elves do not die of natural causes, but are not immortal (they can be killed, or die of starvation).
* Chosen monarchy, but somehow the last king died, and now they are waiting for 'The Restless One', an Elf who has seen a lot of the world and has done many good things and jobs in his life, and who has a lot of life-experience.
* Elf de la Forêt: Forest Elf, live in the forest, close to nature
* Elf de la Vallée: Valley Elf, live in a valley, take pride in their knowledge
Spoiler! only open if you want to know the truth
Why become stronger if you can weaken potential enemies by letting them fight each other?

Bergvolk: Mountain People, technological traders.
* Spoken language: Bergs, sounds like Deutsch (German)
"[and this is for the Bergvolk]" "Was sagen sie?"
* Life expectancy: 60 years, but reaching that age and dying of a natural cause is rare.
* Kobolden: Small but strong, the working force
* Ork: Medium size, thinker
* Troll: Big, strong, heavy work. Excellent technical insight.
Spoiler! only open if you want to know the truth
Why weaken countries if the inhabitants can be wealthy customers? War between them interferes with trade.

Monetary system
Simple monetary system. Somehow in history both Human and Inimal kingdom decided to use the same material and size for their coins. They have not always been at war, normal healthy thinking civilian population does not know why their kings are at war, and don't care where their coins are made, as long as they can use them to buy things.
1 small copper coin is what we see as our smallest coin. For Americans and Europeans that will a cent.
10 small copper coins ('small copper') have the same value (but not weight) as 1 big copper coin ('big copper')
10 big copper coins have the same value as 1 small silver coin ('small silver')
10 small silver coins have the same weight and value as 1 big silver coin ('big silver')
10 big silver coins have the same value as 1 small gold coin ('small gold')
10 small gold coins have the same weight and value as 1 big gold coin ('big gold')
10 big gold coins have the same weight and value as 1 small gold bar ('small bar')
10 small gold bars have the same weight and value as 1 big gold bar ('big bar')
Gold bars are very rare, and have no practical use in everyday life. Normal people prefer to use silver coins to buy the things they need.

Education
Humans and Inimals both have schools where their children are taught how to read, write and calculate, and some basic things about the world around them. The rest they will learn from 'masters', who will teach them their profession. Humans who are going to make things that can be transported have to hand in a 'masterpiece' for the Human king. Most of the time a subordinate of the king will receive the masterpiece and declare the apprentice 'master', but sometimes the Human king will do it personally.

Military
Both kingdoms have armies, but they differ in their numbers. The Human army is much larger, but with less trained soldiers. No heavy equipment like siege towers or even horses, Inimals have learned to attack those first. And no heavy armor, because the Inimals run circles around them when they use that, armor slows them down too much.
Inimals used to have a more specialized army, every kind of Inimal has his (and sometimes her) own role in the army. Common Cats and Dogs are 'normal' soldiers, with a shield and sword, but the other kinds are more specialized, more adapted to their physique and habits. But somehow the king wanted his army a bit more of an 'equal opportunity' army, everyone can (and must) do everything.

Unlike the Humans the Inimals have a training school for elite soldiers, 'The Academy', where they are trained in battle tactics and even the Human language (and some other things) to fight the Humans who outnumber them.
Humans get a more basic training, they learn by survival and from the mistakes of others.

Inimal weapons are inferior, but lucky for them there are some Human smiths working in the Neutral Zone who don't care to which side they sell. But the Felines consider the Human made swords too heavy, and the physical stronger Canines are too vain to use them. Only the Red Brigade (elite group of Fox archers) use Neutral Zone made arrowheads.

Some Humans like to wear Inimal fur, for insulation or just 'fashion', the fur of some species of Inimal is worth a lot of money. They see Inimals just as an other kind of animal, inferior to them.

8<---------------------------------------------------------------------

Changeblog:
* April 9th 2015: finished rewriting, and now publishing. I intended to do it on April 1st, but I noticed some mistakes.
* April 9th 8:50pm local time: and done. Back to writing.
* April 18th 11:45pm: finished a chapter. Next two are 'almost' finished, but they are referring to each other, and I want it correct.
* April 27th 8:50pm: finished another chapter. Chapter 24 is halfway, because a lot has changed in the setting. Might take some time.
* May 11th 10:00pm: changed some little things. 'Chapter 20 in-two-parts' is now chapter 20 and 21. I try to keep the chapters between 8 and 12 pages when you print them in 10pt Arial, although there are exceptions, like chapter 12 (barely 7 pages) and chapters 3 & 19 (13 pages). Chapter 'new order' 25 is almost done. I bought an aquarium, and that is really time-consuming to set that up :roll:
* May 25th, 7:00pm: Finally. That took a lot of time. Aquariums are really time-consuming. I was planning to 'keep one chapter complete while writing the next', but following chapters are short chapters with some side-stories. It's getting crowded :roll:
* June 17th, 9:00pm: That was time consuming. Next chapter might take a lot more time, because I only know WHAT will happen, but the HOW part is not clear.
* October 11th, 9:15pm: Season of boredom has started again. And writing. Not quite happy with chapter 27, but it'll have to do.
* December 14th, 9:00am: That took a long time. Next chapter might take a whole lot of time, because I only know what will happen, and the summary for it is just one sentence.
* January 3rd, 10:30pm: Never thought I would write this chapter this fast. And this was not even in the summary, but it does prevent some future plot-holes.
* February 24th 9:30pm: Another one. Inspiration is draining. Fun. :|
* June 19th, 9:00pm. Finally, chapter done. I intended to finish this before march 21st (spring equinox, same time of year as in story, just as 'longest night' is at December 21st), but I was not very bored, so very little writing. And something different: Wow. More than 2000 views! |D (although a few hundred will be my own for editing and reading)
* October 16th, 10:30pm Let's say I was really busy in real life :shock:
* June 16th, 2017, 11:20pm VERY not bored :shock: <- need an even more shocked smiley
* September 3rd, 8:45pm, finally, another chapter. I have the feeling that I'm at 2/3 of the story, and I strayed a lot from the summary I have made before starting the writing. Where do all those horses come from?
* October 30th, 10:30pm, More horses. And me losing inspiration for names.
* November 4th, 3:00pm, Chapter 35 and chapter 36 were 1 chapter when I wrote it. Became too large, had to split it, and now the parts also have grown.
* November 4th, 3:00pm, All those stupid mistakes I saw when I read other chapters. There are no months, only 'moons', and 1 Big Silver equals about $10,- in our world, now I want to fix all those errors... :( But the first thing I want to do is create a timeline, so I can keep track of days and seasons... I thought chapter 36 is set around the summer solstice, but I haven't checked the amount of days that has passed since the spring equinox (start of the year at the Academy)
* March 15, 10:50pm, that has taken a very long time. And I really need to revise old chapters... After everything is done. Timing wrong, distances wrong, prices wrong... Maybe even some mistakes with names.
* June 6, 9:00pm Yay. Another one. Not the way I intended it, but it doesn't break the thing I had in my head when I started.
* April 22 2019, 10:00. That has taken a very long time. Especially the last few paragraphs. Rest was done in December, but the 'arriving at the capitol' part took too long because I am very busy with other things.
* December 26, 8:40pm. That took also a long time. Busy busy busy with my life. I have the feeling of 'a few more chapters and done', but given my writing speed that could take a few more years S:P
If it moves but shouldn't: Duct tape. If it doesn't move but should: WD-40. With a hammer everything fits, and if it still doesn't fit: bigger hammer. If it can't be fixed with a hammer it's an electrical problem.

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Chapter 1 - Leaving Home

#2 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 1
Leaving home


The letter with the permission to come finally arrived at the smithy, brought by a female Cheetah.
"<That's about time. Finally I am allowed to go to that Inimal village to learn something about their symbolism!>" the smith and owner of the smithy shouted to an other man who was hammering a sword at the anvil. He turned towards the Cheetah. "How much do I owe you?"
"Four small silver." the Feline replied. She was clearly impressed by the busy smithy.
"You are expensive, but here's six." the smith said while he handed over six silver coins. "It is a clever agreement with the smith in your village, letting me pay for our correspondence, but I'm in a good mood today, see you soon." he added with a tone of friendliness in his voice.
"What do you mean?" the Cheetah replied while she looked at the coins.
Of course, that was a reply the smith could expect. The smith smiled. "Well, I finally got permission to come to your village to become your village smith's apprentice. It's always nice to learn something new, and maybe with putting some correct Inimal symbols on the things we make here we could sell some more to your kind. That's why I'm saying 'see you soon'. I know I can't keep up with you, your kind are always running while I prefer to walk… How far is it for you? Two days? I think it's going to be a five-day walk for me." The smith sounded really excited. The other smith had finished his hammering and momentarily glanced at him.
"Yes, two, if I start running now. Otherwise I have to spend an extra night in the forest… I can't run in the dark." the nimble Cheetah replied while she was already at the door.
"Oh, sorry for delaying you then. Goodbye." the smith answered with a slight smile on his face.

"<Don't we make enough money already?>" The other smith who was now again at the forge to reheat the sword asked. "<I mean, the war is still raging, we got some nice orders from both sides in the past. Royal Guard on the Human side with shiny steel swords, Red Brigade on the Inimal side with a lot of sharp arrowheads, and I don't see any reason why we should be doing something else in the future. It's impressive what you have achieved in a few years, what you have built here would have taken decades if this were in the Human kingdom.>"
The first smith bowed his head. "<You know why I put this smithy here. It's because this is a neutral zone, I really don't care which side wins the war, I'm Human so the Humans will spare my life if they win, and if the Inimals win they will spare my life because at least I am not hostile towards them, and I can provide them some fine tools for their woodwork. I almost feel like I'm one of them. I don't want to choose a side.>"

The other smith walked towards the anvil to do some hammering again. "<You didn't mention the Wolves, I know you don't like them, but they are among our best clients, although not every Wolf wants to use a Human looking sword… I don't know, I thought the Inimal village where you are heading is mostly Canine, you are taking a risk.>"
"<You do know we have a problem with the influx of Human refugees, those of the so called 'Religion of the One True God', or whatever they call themselves, and those men who prefer sex with other men>" was the evasive answer from the first smith. He turned briefly to two other men working in the smithy "<… and sorry, no offense Robert and Willem…>"
Robert nodded. He knew that the smith he was working for was friendly… or at least appeared to be friendly to everybody, not seeing the differences between Humans and Inimals, and also not seeing the differences between Humans. He liked him. Willem ignored everything, and was concentrating on his work, grinding and filing a metal bar.
"<I mean, I really appreciate the hard work without complaining from those religious zealots like Willem, and the artistic qualities of those man-lovers like Robert over there, they attract a lot of customers and some of them want to use metal in their art, but an abundance of Humans scares away the Inimals. There really must be going something wrong in the Human kingdom if all those Humans voluntary are coming here to this dangerous region.>" was the again evasive reply from the first smith.
"<Well, I admire your tolerance towards the other Humans, you really tried to send Robert for learning that artwork, but the Inimals are just too scary… or must I say too hairy?… for him. And I know you don't have a problem with non-reproductive sex yourself, you once told me you really liked those Felines in your youth, and I think you just want to go to that Inimal village to have some fun yourself. You've been dry for almost ten years.>" the second smith replied while he momentarily looked at the hammer he was holding. He had some other hammering to do than he was talking about.
"<Yes, that's a thing from my youth, I still have the scars on my back from some of those Felines. But I met the woman of my dreams, got her pregnant. But the Wolves took them… my wife and unborn child… away. I think that I'm just too scared to get another Human woman pregnant, and have to relive those moments again. This smithy also produces swords for the Humans, and that makes this smithy again a target.>" And after a short pause to regain his breath "<And it's still impossible for me to get a nice and soft and above all willing Feline pregnant… But no, I don't want to relive my youth again.>" the first smith shouted again while he was walking towards the workbench where Robert was working on some intriguing piece of art. The other smith was just making too much noise for his liking.

"<Cats enough here, if you want to!>" the second smith shouted after some time of hammering, while walking towards the slack tub for the final cooling of the sword. Shouting because it was Willem's turn to make some noise with his file. His own hammering work was done. The sword only needed a little bit of sharpening, but that could be done when there was a client for it.
"<Ugh, Cats. They seem very gentle, but those mollies really turn into beasts when it comes to sex. They really scratched my back, as deep as their claws could go. I really prefer Tigers or erm… is she gone? Cheetahs.>" The first smith spat out the first words. But the second part of his sentence sounded a lot friendlier.
The second smith looked up from examining the sword in surprise. Willem had finished filing the rod, and the smithy was silent again. "<You like Tigers? You never told much about your youth, but this surprises me… I mean, they are very stubborn, if not rude, and they don't really care if you get hurt, but really, Tigers?>"
"<You'd be surprised. They change as much as Cats do when it comes to sex.>" the first smith replied while he looked at the sword the second had in his hand. "<Is that an ordered sword, or just for stock?>" he added after a short pause with a smile.
"<Stock.>" was the short answer from the second smith who was also examining his work.
"<I really can't tell if that's going to be a Human or Inimal sword from this distance. Good work, very… neutral.>" the first smith replied while he was walking towards the door again. He had seen enough of Robert's work. Ugly, impractical, but some people pay a lot of money for such a piece of scrap metal.
"<Neutral as usual. Good for stock. Numbers of orders are indeed declining… I still can't get is as sharp as you can, but it's good enough for me. I don't have to shave with it.>" the second smith replied. He sounded relieved, another blade finished. Almost time for lunch.
The first smith was almost at the door, ready to leave, when he turned around again. "<And what about your love-life? You are always chasing the women, but I don't think you actually have caught one as long as I know you.>"
The other man flung the sword he had made around to test the balance of it, careful not to let it slip out of his hands because the sword had no grip yet. "<Almost got one… but you ruined everything.>"

Robert also had finished his work for the morning, and stood up to get his lunch. "<She said that Smith had a pretty face. She was more interested in Smith than she was in you Frank… Well… She was interested in Smith, until he dropped his pants at her request… You were already with your pants on you ankles.>" He barely managed to get the words out of his mouth. He giggled a bit because of the memory.
"<Hmm… you are correct Robert. But at least a metal version of some part of me ends up inside a woman, mine was… and I assume still is… bigger, larger, longer and fatter. And it was ready to go.>" Frank, the second smith, replied with a grin.
Smith, the owner of the smithy looked from Frank to Robert. "<But she will think of my face, smooth and shaven… Just a silly question Robert, if you have to choose between me and Frank, who do you prefer?>"

"<I prefer Frank, he is just more male than you are.>"

"<Why is that?>"

"<That is because Frank has a beard. I like my men… rough.>"

"<Well Frank, you heard it. If you want to attract females of the Human kind you must shave your face. Now you only attract the males.>" Smith spoke with a teasing tone while he put a hand on Frank's shoulder.
"<And my legs?>" Frank almost sounded shy. He did not like this kind of conversation.
Robert smiled. A friendly smile only he could have. No wonder the female customers always came to him first. "<That's up to you… My friend and I like it here because we can be what we want to be. Two men who are in love with each other, and you accepting it. It's a pity those religious people don't like it, but thank you and Uwe for making it very clear that if they continue their crusade against us one of us has to leave, and since we buy and use a lot of metal for our art it has to be them to leave if they start to fight us again, despite the fact that most of them produce food for the king… I think you are correct, the world outside the Neutral Zone is not a pretty place to live, and this is the best of the bad places we can live… Just be like one of us Frank, and the women will be at your feet.>"
Frank nodded. "<Good advice. I am really envious of your friend, he really attracts all the beautiful women, he gets to touch them and cut their hair, but he is not interested in them, and I like women, but they think that I am disgusting.>"

Willem also had finished his work, and came standing next to Smith, Frank and Robert. He was a bit of a difficult person, but Smith wanted to keep him in his smithy because he was a professional workman. "<That conflict between us was a few years ago. In the Human kingdom we are both persecuted minorities, and if we both get our own land we will be run over by others. God just wants us to live together here. Stop mentioning it!>"
Smith was becoming angry at his two employees again. Always bickering about their differences. "<It's not your god or whatever you call him wants you to live together in peace. It's me. A simple Human. And I do not want this kind of discussions in my smithy. This is neutral ground, and you are all working for me. Outside the smithy you can do whatever you want, as long as you don't scare away the customers… No Humans running around naked, not even the attractive women… sorry Frank… and no preaching.>" Smith lifted his hand and slapped Frank on his shoulder. "<And you are ugly Frank, it's not just something you think.>"
"<I think he is attractive.>" Robert interrupted, standing too close for comfort for Frank.
"<Aww… come one Smith, don't be cruel.>" Frank spoke with a tone of disgust in his voice while making a step backwards to gain some distance again from Robert. "<I like it when the attractive women run around naked. When was the last time they have done that? Must have been before I came here I suppose. And thank you Robert. I do not think you are in turn attractive for me… I made a little mistake once. When do we enforce the rule that men also can not wear dresses?>"
"<You are not a woman Robert, you just want to be like one. But yes, despite my beliefs you do look good in a dress. I thought that you were just a perfect woman for Frank. Please keep that dress, that was really funny.>" Willem spoke with a soothing tone. Never angry, but somehow he got a lot of people angry at him, because he was always including his god in the things he says.
"<Right, he thinks like a woman, outside the smithy he wears a dress like a lady, and he says that I am attractive. So, I am attractive. His friend also has a beard.>" Frank finally said after an uncomfortable silence. He wanted his lunch. And something to ogle at, instead of three other men.
Smith also made a step backwards to see Frank again. He hated it when he could not see the people who he was talking to. "<That's a well maintained beard Frank, it does not look not a single bit like yours. You still have some crumbs of your breakfast in it. Or is it yesterday's dinner? Did you think that he uses those scissors and razors he buys and lets you sharpen only on his female clients? I don't even know his name, because he always heads straight to you to talk a lot and then buys a single item.>"
"<My friend is really envious that I work here and not him. And now I am really lucky with Smith gone for a few weeks, then we will have plenty of time to work on your woman skills. Have you paid attention on how Smith treated that Cheetah messenger?>" Robert spoke while he was making a step towards Frank again.
"<No, she was just an ugly Cheetah. No way I could go for that."> Frank replied, again making a step backwards. He almost was with his back against the anvil. Silently he wished this conversation was over.
Robert remembered again that he was not Frank's type of interest, and politely made a step backwards again. "<No silly boy, that is not what I meant. He treated her with respect… I once heard a story of a boy who was defending an ugly girl, and they lived happily ever after.>"
"<It did not end very well for that boy… But I think that Smith does not want to hear that story.>" Willem interrupted. He noticed the tension between Frank and Robert, and tried to distract both of them.
Smith shook his head. "<No… Well, I have to go. Gather my stuff, and say goodbye to the rest of the village. I don't think I'll see you after lunch… And don't get angry at the Cat, he is not lazy, he is just efficient. He is much faster with making the grips for the swords than we can produce the blades and metal parts of the hilts. Maybe we could use an extra pair of forging hands. But that is something for when I get back. I see that there are already two grips on his workbench. Good for him, somehow I don't think you will even see him today. No Human can work that fast with wood, and still with that accuracy.>"
Frank nodded. "<Yes. Nobody likes Cats, but he is the only Cat I like. Good worker. You really astonished me Smith, by choosing him to work in this smithy. But you know the Inimals like no other Human does. You really know their strengths and weaknesses… I really feel sorry for the Wolves when they buy metal from you. Vain and you know it.>"
Smith nodded and grinned. "<And they pay for it. There is a reason why the Wolves pay more… Well… time for some food. Last time in my own house. And no, I won't leave any piece of meat behind to crawl away this time.>"

Smith finally walked towards the door to leave when Frank caught up with him, also to leave the smithy. On his way towards the door he had put the blade on a workbench with some pieces of wood and sawdust where Chris the Cat used to sit. "<Are you going to take your… crossbow… I mean your armbrust with you?>”

Smith stopped and turned around a second time. "<No, I do not want to see those weapons, or at least something that is inspired by it, in the hands of those Panther assassins, that really would disturb the balance. I do not want peace… Not yet. I just take my sling for hunting and a sword for defending with me, along with some cutlery, I still don't like eating with my hands and tearing the meat with my teeth. See you in four or five weeks, I can't tell how long it will take to learn something new.>"

Smith finally went through the open door and turned around after a few paces outside it for a final time to face Frank. "<And don't burn down the smithy while I'm away>"
Frank saw that the path to the outside world with the women was finally free of obstruction. He hurried to the door, getting away from Robert and Willem, who followed on a walking pace. He stopped when he saw that Smith was blocking his path again. "<Aww, come on, that happened only once, and that was my smithy. Stupid apprentice, putting hay next to the forge.>"
Smith patted Frank on his shoulder. "<Hay is for Harold, at the stables. He must feed the horses of visitors with it… Your old apprentice is the farrier now, am I right?>"
Frank nodded. "<Yes, my old apprentice is now the farrier. He really loves horses, but also in the wrong way.>"
Smith shrugged. "<As long as he does no harm he can do what he wants. A mare for him is a free woman for you.>”
Frank grinned a little. "<Harold has forbidden him to restrain the mares. Harold cares for the horses, and I think he is just waiting until one of the mares kicks that pervert. But that is not my problem, I also can shoe the horses… Have a safe journey, it's a pity the horses don't like you. How many have you had? Five?>"
Smith shrugged again. "<Too many. I have lost count… Frank, you are in charge until I return. Take care, and goodbye everybody!>"
The rest of the men nodded. They understood. Robert waved.
Finally out of the smithy Smith went to his house which was next to it, to eat something and to get his already packed backpack and to fill his canteens. He could have used the door between the smithy and his house, but he preferred not to. That door gave him the feeling that he could never leave his work.

He was 'home' again.
Smithy, home… village… It had been a long time since he had left it the previous time for a longer trip. Almost three years. Delivery for a customer in the forest which earned him a lot of money. Well… After that customer tried to kill Smith in turn to leave with his metal. Ordinary robbery. Stupid mistake. Unfortunately for that customer Smith knew how to fight. And Smith had an old habit to loot corpses. Fresh or old, he had lost his respect for the dead. Almost nine small gold. And he could sell the swords, shields and daggers again. Must have been for a large gang of Humans. Must not have been the smartest gang, sending only one person to take the delivery. 'Meet me at the big oak at the bend of the creek.' He did not even put up a serious fight.
And now a long walk again. But he needed to make this walk. Orders were declining, and he needed something new to learn. He knew that the Inimals were fond of symbolism, and despite his youth in a mostly Inimal village he had never taken the time to learn it. He hated what he was going to learn, the symbols to put on weapons that will end up killing Humans, but he could easily ask a big silver more for a tiny bit of work. 'Vengeance' on a sword for a Wolf. Vengeance for him in the form of two extra silvers in his pocket.

The backpack didn't contain much, only the needed things for a five-day walk and a four-week stay at an inn. His leather apron and gloves, but also some sharpening stones and other small tools he thought that were useful for a Human blacksmith in a strange smithy. And to leave behind as a gift for the smith there, because he knew it was not a wealthy village he was going to. The Inimal village he was going to was in a remote area of the Inimal kingdom, and little traffic to and from that village to change that.
He did not need much cooking equipment, only two small pans, although the Bergvolk produced some of the best cooking pots. Cooking pots large enough for a big family were just too heavy to be carried around on foot, although Günther wanted to give a few for free. 'Kostenlose probe!' he said. Yeah right, he just wanted to advertise his foundry, and the products the Bergvolk made there. He would have taken them with him if he owned a horse, but he did not own one, he did not like those animals, always too dependent on being fed, and they could die. And always pranced when he tried to ride one, or even got close. And the Inimals think that horses are there for their meat. Not a good combination if you plan to stay a few weeks in an Inimal village. Especially not a good plan to go there with a borrowed horse and its owner wants it back in one piece and alive. Or did the Bergvolk also want to offer a free horse? He doubted it, horses are far too expensive, and they couldn't be made in a foundry.

Time for a final tour around 'his' village. Started with only the smithy and his house, allowing the customers to stay in his own house, cooking their food, they slept in his beds, he had made his house larger than a single human male would have needed, with a few extra rooms, not for a wife and children, but for paying customers, but eventually the village started to grow.
Some other people came, tired of working all day for little pay for the Human king, Human refugees with habits that were frowned upon, Inimals who fled the Human kingdom, but did not want to live completely surrounded by Inimals, some of them could not even speak the Inimal language any more, deserting human soldiers, although no Inimal soldiers, they are very loyal, (if he only could get a few of those on 'his' side…), but most of all people Smith did not have a bond with, like he had with his old friends from his wandering after the loss of his wife and unborn child.

First to build his own house was François, the 'Elfe de la Forêt' or 'Forest Elf', to whom he had told his story, well, cried his story, and 'lost his tears' over his loss. Instead of sadness there came bitterness. Bitter, cold and calculating was what he had become.
That Elf had sworn to protect him, but Smith didn't want to be protected as a child, he wanted to live. But the Elf wanted to stay, and began working as a woodworker, and a rather good one, he really made the Feline and Vulpine Inimals, who really were famous for their skill with woodcarving, drop their jaws. "Au revoir" to him. You were always there to protect me, and you wanting to stay at home this time gives confidence, you know I will be safe. “À bientôt!”

And then Uwe, an honest Ork of the Bergvolk, who became an innkeeper. True neutral, and most welcome. Finally someone who could take over the guests. An Inimal innkeeper would scare away the Humans, a Human innkeeper would scare away the Inimals, but an Ork… not Inimal, not Human… was perfect, and he quickly became fluent in both languages, and learned the tricks to appease all of his guests with some help of the Kobolden who were his cooks and waiters.
Famous for their food, a true mix of Human and Inimal, and they were always fair and righteous, never a fight in their inn, despite the mixed guests. “Auf wiedersehen!”

Then some time later Jacques, the 'Elfe de la Vallée' or 'Valley Elf' showed up. Jacques had been an Elfique blacksmith for over a hundred years, with a lot of skill, but a lack of raw strength. He wanted the Human smith to use his strength and anger to make a pollaxe for the Bergvolk king. The Human has done that, and the Human left with the pollaxe to go to the Bergvolk. Somehow the Elf knew that the Human had returned to the Neutral Zone, and the Elf became 'restless', and wanted to do something new. And became a tailor. In the Neutral Zone. In Smith's village.
'Vêtements Elfique', Elfen clothing… Smith had no sense of 'fashion', but those 'men loving men' men really liked it. And people from all across the Human kingdom came to buy those silly clothes. Most of them were females, dragging along their husbands for their protection and especially their purse. Some of them had even traveled over fifteen days on horseback just to buy some clothes. Smith did not like him, but nonetheless "Au revoir." to him.

And finally there was Olaf, a Bergvolk Troll. The friend who had helped him build his smithy. And the rest of the village. At a glance he seemed a bit dim-witted, but in fact he was an excellent builder, keen eye for small details that could become a structural problem, and extremely strong.
And always in a good mood. "Auf wiedersehen!" Smith shouted when he spotted the Troll who was working on the foundation of yet another building. School or something, Smith didn't know and didn't care, the village had grown too much. If it was no danger to the relative peace there was in this part of the Neutral Zone the new inhabitants could do what they wanted.
"Tschüss!" the big Troll replied.

Finally out of the village, time to walk a longer distance than he was used to. It was late spring, the weather was nice, and Smith could have the few weeks without income, he had plenty of money.
The walking did not feel strange, when he needed some time to think about his work he walked around the village. But this time it was different. Tonight he won't be sleeping in his own bed, but in his tent. Lightweight Vulpine. Always choose the best if you have the opportunity. And he has.
Living in the Neutral Zone gives him the opportunity to buy the best of both kingdoms. Every species had their own specialism. The Felines produced the best beef and are the masters of carpentry, the Canines produced the best pork and famous for what they could do with stones, the Vulpine for their poultry and the finer artwork. And the Humans with their metal, and second best at everything else.

Finally… alone.
It was a strange thing not to be working with metal, and not thinking about metal for the following weeks… Well… maybe some basic forging, but nothing that needed thinking of metal. Lots of learning. Symbols and their meaning.
Past few years were hectic, more orders than he could handle, but he was lucky Frank and the rest of his men were not apprentices, but also a master smiths. But now the stream of orders was slowing down, giving him time to do something else, learning to make things of beauty instead of bringers of death. The Human king had other problems, and the Inimals concentrated their attacks more to the south, even further south than his old village, they seemed to respect the old and new Neutral Zone. Lucky for the smithies further south, the Human army needs a lot of new recruits over there. And you can't let Human soldiers fight with their teeth and nails.
Smith smiled, yes, bragging about the things he had done with Felines in the past was not a smart thing to do, it just had to come back in his face. Since his wife had told him she was pregnant he did not have sex with others any more. Well, not as far as he could remember, the time with the Bergvolk was a bit of a blur. Beer, apfelkorn, schnapps… he remembered waking up next to a smiling Ork woman, but he could not remember what has happened between the time he took his last sip of his drink and… damn it… he could not even remember what that drink was… and waking up with a headache and a dry mouth. And vomit all over the place. And of course that smiling Ork woman.

It was a good time with the Felines in his old village, from the beginning when he learned that his penis was not only for peeing but there were also other things that were much nicer to do with it, the Felines were interested. They had something they called 'heat', and that meant they wanted to have sex, but if they had sex with an other male Feline male they could get pregnant. And with a Human boy they could have all the sex they wanted, without the risk of getting pregnant.
The boy rapidly learned how to satisfy those Felines. They were quickly satisfied, and when they are satisfied their mood changes, but the boy also learned to delay the satisfaction of those Felines, and to extend his time of fun.
There were many different species of Felines in his village. There were Cats, he hated them, always rough, never caring about their claws and his skin. The male Cats also hated their women, and always sought the weaker victims for their raping. There were many Felines with a cat father and an other feline mother. During their conception their mothers were captured, tied, poisoned, sleeping… but they never wanted to be a mother of Cat offspring. Then the Leopards. He did not like them either. They wanted to sit on top of him with their tails swatting in his face. Not nice.
And then there was the Lioness. A special case. She wanted it 'different'. Not sexy at all. He wanted to see the face, she did not. Short, bristly hair, almost like a Wolf. Smith smiled. He once used his finger to satisfy her. He guessed she never knew because she could not see it. He was lucky she didn't like it rough, 'Oh, you are bending my tail'. Well excuse me, it is not that long that I could satisfy you from behind without touching the tail. So he gave her the finger.
And of course there was the Cheetah. Also a special case. Liked to be on top, but after satisfaction immediately fell asleep. On top of him. And he had to find a way out without waking her up, because when she woke up when she did not want to she was moody. And had claws. But later he just went gently for a second time. He had nothing better to do with her asleep on top of him.
His best memories were the Tigresses. A bit rough in their manners outside the bed, but nice and soft, and cuddly, in bed. He could spend an entire night in bed with them, and finish in the morning. He once made a mistake to wet the fur of one of them during the night. She was annoyed at first, but she forgave him, he was still young and inexperienced, and she wanted it, he did not ask for it, but it just came.
And the half-breeds? Most of them never reached maturity. Killed themselves out of shame, or simply died because their mother abandoned them.

Memories of a good time. Not the best time, but a good time. The best time were the eight months between the announcement of his wife that she was pregnant, and the minute before the encounter with the Wolves. Smith stopped for a moment and closed his eyes. No, he did not want to remember this.
And now on his way to an other village. Pure Inimal, no Humans.
He considered his chance of sex at almost zero, those Inimals saw Humans as enemies, in his old village it has taken a lifetime, well, thirteen years, of living there to gain their trust, four or five weeks is just impossible. Nice joke Frank, but I'm going there to learn something new, not to practice the things I already know.
But things can change. It has been over ten years, you just can't keep living in the past, and let the past control your future. Human males living with Human Males, and having sex with each other is relative normal in his village, so why should a Human male living with a female Feline and having sex with her be strange?

The sun was setting, time to set up camp. Plenty of wildlife here. More than around his old village. He won't be traveling with an empty stomach. On a small open field in the forest he killed some rabbits with his sling. It felt good to use that tool again.
The first night in the tent felt a bit odd, with only a mat and the blanket between him and the hard ground, but nonetheless he fell asleep with ease. And with a full stomach.

It was a new day, a full day of walking, instead of a half day of waiting and a half day of walking. He ate the stale bread he had brought along and the leftovers of the rabbits he had for dinner the day before. Meat in the morning, he chuckled. The Inimals only eat meat, only with a bit of seasoning and sometimes a potato, carrot or some mushrooms, but at least they know how cook it properly, although he didn't know what species the innkeeper would be. He hoped it would be a Canine, preferably a Hound, they really know how to grill meat.
Oh, how he missed his old village and the feasts they had. Not that 'his' current village was bad, but that was all thanks to his effort. If he wanted a feast he was the one who had to pay for it. The feast a few years ago was marvelous, people who had been there still talk about it. He had earned so much money he had to give a large feast to spent some of it, but the villagers turned the feast into a 'Local products festival', with all kinds of products that were produced in the village and the fields around it.
The result? A few high representatives from both sides, Inimal and Human, who were officially at war, who were in his village during that festival were so impressed with the quality of the meat, vegetables and fruit they wanted the Neutral Zone to become a supplier for their kings. And they got drunk together, without a fight. And more money for the village. And above all happy people.

The best Canine friend he had in his youth was a Hound. That Hound had taught him how to use a sling, and together they hunted a lot when he wasn't in the old smithy sharpening things. His friend tracked the animals with his keen sense of smell and hearing, and he, with his stronger Human arms, would use the sling.
Smith smiled, yes, the sling he carried and the heavier steel projectiles in his arsenal were big enough to crack the skull of a wild boar, far better than what he had used for that one lucky shot. Straight through the eye socket of the boar they encountered together.
The problem then was how to bring the boar to the village, it was five times heavier as the sacks of coal he used to carry for his former master, and those were already almost too heavy for the boy he once was. His friend was a good runner, and fortunately his father and brothers were close by to help them carry his kill. That boar was true a feast, but in hindsight he thought his father was just happy he survived the encounter with that dangerous animal.
His father, a strong lumberjack. Smith wondered if he was as strong as his father was. Sure, there were differences, horizontal strokes with a sharp felling axe versus vertical strokes with a heavy hammer, and manning a cross-cut saw, that he also sharpened to perfection, versus the hauling of heavy sacks of coal and the wrought iron. He concluded it would be a draw, he was not his father, and each of them had his own different strengths.
His father was right, the forest was a dangerous place to work, and it was a wise decision to send him to the blacksmith to do something useful for him, sharpening the tools he and his other sons used in the forest. It had saved his life from accidents and attacks from both sides. Inimals who did not know who they were saw them as enemies, Humans who knew who they were saw them as traitors. A shame. He became a true orphan when he was twelve years old, when his his last brother at the age of fifteen died. His mother had died when he was only three years old, his birth was the beginning of her end.

Six years old was the boy he once was when he was sent to the smith in his village, and the only other Human that lived there, and beginning with simple things like sharpening axes and chisels, and then moving on to the more difficult things like saws. And lots of hauling coal and iron, and of course sweeping the smithy. Ah, those were the simple days. Not a worry about the world.
Later he learned how to forge things, beginning with simple things, but soon he discovered he had a talent for making sharp things, not only chisels and other woodcarving tools, but he really had a feeling for weapons. Swords. The war had intensified, and there was a demand for some good steel. His master knew, and he acknowledged the importance of good sword-making. There was some good money in it, and he didn't care he only produced for the Humans. That would their… his… doom.
The younger apprentice didn't care for who he made the weapons. He had made a lot of sharp and still tough arrowheads for the Red Brigade, an elite group of Vulpine archers. And a lot of weapons for the Humans, ending up at the court as the weapons of the Royal Guard.
Some things never change, he is still a supplier for both. Although he doubted that both sides know that he is still the same Human, because he had changed his name.

The loss of his wife and unborn child has sent him wandering. He didn't know where to go, he only knew where he did not want to go. Not to the East, to the Humans, because it felt like they had betrayed him, and not to the West, because the Inimals were now his enemies. Not to the south, there was the war.
He went North, to the thick forests of the no-man's land, maybe there would be some hidden villages where Inimals and Humans lived together in peace.
He did not remember how long he had been wandering, driven by some basic survival instinct. Weeks? Months? Almost like a feral Inimal. No, he had truly become a feral Inimal, something that seemed impossible for a Human.
He was pulled out of his… he didn't know what he should call it… basic instinct?… by a strange cry. "Aidez-Moi!". He did not know what it meant at those days of wandering, but it sounded like a cry for help. He had walked towards the source of the strange cry. It did not sound like an Inimal, nor like an animal. It was a bit Human, but somehow different. What he found astounded him. It looked like a full grown Human, but with a more agile body, and a skin that reminded him of the skin of a Human child. And his clothes were also very different than Human clothes, even the fabric was different, much finer than a Human could ever create. Those clothes were dirty, because the person who wore them was stuck in a waist-deep puddle of mud next to a small creek.
When that strange person spotted the smith he again began to speak in that strange language again. 'Qui êtes-vous?' but before the smith could say '<What?>' the person in the mud suddenly began to speak in the Human language. "<Can you help me?>"
Of course the strong young smith could help him, pulling someone out of the mud was not very difficult, it was only time consuming, because the harder you pull, the more resilient the mud became, if you have to pull something or someone out of the mud you must do it slowly and gently.
Finally out of the mud the strange person told who he was and what he was. His name was François, and he was an Elfique de la Forêt, a Forest Elf. He was not very old for an Elf, 'only' just over four hundred years old, and he had forgotten how fast fallen trees rot. Smith had smiled at that remark, because it takes almost a Human lifetime for a fallen tree to rot enough to break under the weight of someone standing on it.

François had taken him to his village where the young smith had told his story. When it came to the part where he had to tell the story about his wandering he finally broke down and cried. The Elves understood, and they debated for a long time about what they could do with this Human.
He was not one of them, he did not belong among them, but they also did not want to send him back. Finally, after a few weeks of debate where even other Elves came they decided he would be sent further, to the Elfique de la Vallée, the Valley Elves, maybe they could help him with his grief.
François wanted to come along, to teach him about the ways of Les Elfique, their language, their habits and their rules. They were strange, but also very civilized, and they knew a lot and also knew how to use that knowledge. Because of this the young smith did not and now the older Smith still does not trust them, although there were a few trustworthy Elves around, but somehow they were shunned by the rest.
Every society has its rotten parts, and with the Elves there is no difference to that. But why say 'No' if saying 'Yes' could be very interesting. And where else could he go?
So he went to the Valley. And from the first meeting with François he had the feeling he could trust him, and François had made a promise to protect him and help him and his bloodline as long as he could. That would not be very long for François, because he didn't feel safe enough any more to have children, or even a Human wife he had to leave alone when he was away.
Smith suddenly realized he did not have many friends in his village. He only considered François, Olaf and Uwe friends. Yes, he understood now. Walking alone in a forest gave him that insight. Elves live secluded from the rest of the world because they live very long, he had experienced it once with the death of his wife and child, but they would have to go through the same thing over and over again if they become friends with a shorter living person. They see him or her get born, and they will see them die of old age, and they won't change as long as they don't lose a limb. Seeing friends die is not a happy sight, but it could be avoided by having as little friends as possible.

The Elves were very skilled at forging, but they lacked the pure strength that a Human or Bergvolk Ork or Troll has, forging for them just took a lot more time. Smith smiled, because he was told things he did not know about. What in the forest were 'Bergvolk' for kind of people? The Elves wanted to give the Bergvolk king a gift: a pollaxe or a 'merlin' as the Elves called it. And the smith had agreed to help them make it. Their smith Jacques would tell him what he needed to do. He could put all his anger in the blows he would deal to the steel. Every single blow for every single tear over his loss. Smith chuckled, and for a wished dead Wolf, but that could not bring back the ones he loved or could have loved.
It had taken several months to create that pollaxe, and in that time he had learned a lot. What the Elves did not want to learn him, but he learned nonetheless, was to be very careful about what you are saying and what you do not want to tell. Always tell the truth, but sometimes you need to omit some of the details that are not important for the listener to know right away. Those Elves were a master of that skill. There was something more about it, but he could not quite put his finger on it.
Suddenly it came to him: he felt like a puppet on a string those days, he just did the Elves' bidding without questioning, they played with his weakened mind. Sure, they had some things that really played with your mind, beautiful flowers from which they extracted a substance, they told him it was 'beautiful to use', but even in those days, when he wanted to forget, he did not want to use it.
He was not their slave, but he was something like a little bird that Humans in the cities sometimes have for their entertainment. Keeping an animal that is too small to eat in a cage, just for entertainment. Go live in a forest if you want to hear birds. Animals are there for food and transport, not for other things. Feed them, keep them in good housing, and they will be very tasty, and no need for hunting them.

Ah, food. 'Something to look out for' Smith thought when he started to scan the forest floor for traces of animals. It was getting late again.
While searching for edible animals he thought about an other thing about his time with the Elfique: The sense of a struggle among them. There was a very old Elf, over three thousand years old, who had seen the rise and fall of empires, but he somehow had lost his faith in the world, and wanted to leave the rest of the world alone, but others contemplated about the dangers from the outside world, and what could be done against it.
Smith had chosen the side of the old Elf, to the dismay of the younger Elves. He understood: The young smith he had been really was a toy for them. One side wanted to use him as a tool gain the trust of the Bergvolk, and make the Bergvolk over the years some kind of slave to the Elfique and do their work while they could live in luxury, but the old Elf just wanted to be left alone, no others among them. The young smith and the Old One had a lot of talks when he was not forging. Smith grinned at that memory, yes, the old Elf was even called 'Old One' by the rest of the Elfique, not very respectful, but he had simply kept on calling him 'Monsieur', and the Elf had appreciated that, and they had a lot of interesting talks.

There were far less animals in the forest than yesterday. Must be an area where there's less food for them to eat. No, it's not that, lots of berries and deciduous tree with fruits and nuts for animals. Of course, suddenly he realized it, this was Inimal territory, and those Inimals have almost eradicated the wildlife. 'Damn it, I must have killed some game before I entered this land.' Smith thought. More determined he began to scan the forest floor and even the trees for wildlife. A crow sat on a branch a bit ahead of him, looking at the strange fur-less creature with clothes which entered his domain.
Smith regretted that he did not bring his armbrust, the bolt from that device would have flown in a straight line towards it's target, or with a slight arch at a longer distance which he was familiar with. And even a crow is food when you are hungry. His sling would be useless at targets above him, or it would be a very lucky shot. If he misses his projectile would fly beyond the range at which it could be retrieved by someone who did not have a keen sense of hearing or smell. It would simply disappear beneath a few leaves when it hits the ground, and when you miss the rustle of those leaves it's impossible to find it again. 'Oh well, let's eat some fruits of the forest, no meat of the forest today, and up ahead must be a river, maybe there are some fish to catch. And a place to put my tent.' Smith thought, just a few more hours of daylight left.

The sun was already up when the smith finally woke up. He was used to walk long distances, but this time it was different. Maybe it were the thoughts he had the past few days. Thoughts about how he ended up walking towards an enemy of the Humans to learn something new to make a profit.
Ah yes, profit. Gewinn. The word alone simply sounds Bergs. The Bergvolk really know how to make it, with frightening technology. Not the basic hammering a blacksmith did, but wit huge machines filled with molten metal, and huge watermills which powered presses and hammers, and yet with a finesse that is really astounding. Mass producing household items, a tool for every task. 'Not something you would want in your own kingdom' Smith thought, with those cheap products it would be very difficult for normal smiths to compete with that, it would simply render them obsolete.
Allowing Bergvolk into the Neutral Zone was a mistake, but it cannot be undone. You really need to be special to make a profit. Smith smiled. Months worth of hammering on the pollaxe with the Elfique could have been done in a few days with a water powered trip hammer, and with a lot more strength to the blows than he could ever manage. But still most people just wanted a hand-crafted tool, to kill or to create. Hand created items have 'feeling' in them. The love for the art of forging.
But the Bergvolk also brought luxury. Running water, in his house even heated for free if he had used his forge, by an intricate system of water pipes they somehow had linked from the chimney of his forge to the pump next to his bathtub. Always nice to have such a thing that no Human or Inimal could think of. No more walking to a well or the river to get water, or even pumping if you have a pump installed in your house, put it in in a kettle to heat it, and pouring the hot water into the tub, but simply pump the heated water into the tub after a long day of work, and relax. It was an expensive luxury, besides him only the inn had heated running water for the baths, all five of them, and the butcher and some others had only cold water from the rooftop tanks, an other Bergvolk invention, using small windmills to fill a rooftop water tank.

Bergvolk, strange people with strange habits. Strict with the rules, but if you managed to stay within those they were wunderbar. Spilling beer over someone else was almost a capital crime. Uwe was very surprised when that strange Human barely reacted when he tripped and spilled his beer over him. Other Orks and Trolls would have beaten him until he passed out, and when he would regain consciousness again they would beat him again. But this Human had looked up, shrugged, smiled, and continued to drink his beer. That was someone you could trust, Uwe must have thought. Or Uwe had done something else what really wanted to make him run away from his kind and follow that Human.

Same kind of story for Olaf, he had called him a friend, they got drunk together, passed out together, and somehow in his drunkenness Olaf mistook the young smith for a pillow to lay his head on. A big, heavy, drooling, snoring head. Not a nice sight to wake up to for the young smith, but in those days he thought everything that was bigger than you are was dangerous. Olaf was afraid the Human would kill him for sleeping and drooling on him, but he had just laughed, and said that he would have made the same mistake, if Olaf was a lot softer and had a nice furry skin. And so Olaf also became a friend who somehow really wanted to leave the Bergvolk.

Smith wondered: Why did all those Bergvolk migrate to 'his' Neutral Zone. They are relative far away from both their kin and customers, but on the other hand they were very close to the seashore, where on a clear day you can see the mountains on the other side of the water. Maybe there are huge ships he had never seen that bring the ore, different metals and coal. Yes, they must use ships, because their foundry was far too big to be built by those who work there, even his smithy and house has taken almost a year to build. And that was after the time he traveled to and from the different kingdoms to get permission for his and their workshops. Almost three years from 'I'm back' to 'I'm back in business'.

He was lucky to know the secrets of his old village. Only two bodies were there to be found, but he had not dared to look at their remains, but everyone else had left, literally. Abandoning everything, even a few houses were burned down because someone left a cooking pot on the fire. Those secrets he knew were where the people hid their vaults and safes, which he had installed. They were not perfect vaults, but still took half a day each to open them. And collect the contents. Nice starting money. Bergvolk services do not come for free.

Back to the happier memories he had of the Bergvolk. They were ruled by a king, always an Ork because they stood between the smaller Kobolden and the bigger Trolls, and later Smith learned how Bergvolk kings became kings: simply by being a stronger Ork than the ruling king. And the ruling king simply would kill everyone who could become a thread to his reign, so eliminating, or the better word 'exterminating' the competition.
There was a long bloody line in their history. Their favorite method of weakening the ruling king was poison, or just waiting until old age kicked in and putting their son on the throne, in the hope their son would not forget his parents. But there were plenty of Orks who did not want to become a king. Just living the simple life, and enjoying it without a worry. Only worry about the king, that he would not see you as a threat.
The current king had made two impossible games 'To give everyone the chance to be the next king'. The young Smith had only played one of those 'Just to help me with my anger' he had said.

The rules of the game he had played were simple: one hourglass, five Orks armed with blunt sticks and other blunt weapons, and they beat you while the hourglass is running. Never on the vital organs, never on the joints, don't break bones, and no permanent damage. And avoid penetration of the skin, no blood. But a severe beating.
Sounds simple, but if your hands, knees or buttocks touch the ground before the hourglass runs out it's over. If you are still standing when the hourglass runs out you are allowed to go to the next round, you get one hourglass of time to regain your strength, and everything starts all over again.

There are multiple rounds in that game, every round gives you privileges:

Survive one round: Wunderbar, we're just warming up.

Survive two rounds: You are accepted in the Bergvolk, nothing to be ashamed of.

Survive three rounds: You may become a soldier, you know who pain is.
Smith had smiled at that remark, 'Who' pain is… 'Yeah right' was the first thought he had back then.

Survive four rounds: You may become an elite soldier, pain is your friend.
Hello pain. Nice to meet you, you helped me with my anger and helped me forget my mental pain.

Survive five rounds: You may play the next game.

Smith was capable of all five rounds, before he finally collapsed. He had made an attempt to stand up again for a sixth round, but he failed. He did not even remember the normal color of his skin back then, black and blue with bruises was his new skin color. The pain immediately after the beating was not so bad, but it really settled in when he was put in a bed with soft sheets. Laying down hurt, standing up hurt, sitting hurt, he even had tried hanging on his arms in finding a way to avoid anything from touching his body, but even that hurt. Especially when he fell.
The Orks knew exactly where to hit en where not to hit to cause pain, but avoiding permanent or long-lasting damage like broken ribs or head trauma, he did not want to know how long it has taken them to learn those things, en winced at the thought of the 'A little bit too severe, the next one we will hit less hard' victims.

The Bergvolk were not impressed with the pollaxe he had made for them, and now he understood why. The Elfique just wanted to please the Bergvolk, so they would help them in return with their technology. The Bergvolk saw this ruse, and somehow managed to outsmart the Elfique with their centuries of knowledge.
There is a difference between being wise and being smart. Elfique were wise with a lot of ancient knowledge, Bergvolk were smart with inventing new things. Old versus new, always a struggle. They refused the treaty.

Smith tried to remember what he had done to that Ork woman that made her smile. As far as he could remember he was too drunken those days to accomplish anything, but the Human body is a strange thing. It was after the celebration because he was capable of getting out of bed in a normal manner, there were a lot of drinks, did he manage to… Damn it, his foot snagged on a protruding root, he almost lost his balance. Thinking and walking is not a good combination. Nothing broken, except for his torrent of thoughts, which was a good thing Smith decided. He surveyed his surroundings.

Even less edible animals than yesterday, good thing he had caught and cooked some extra fish to eat yesterday, a Human can not live on eating plants alone, that's why cows and sheep exist. Smith chuckled a little. He was a carnivorous omnivore. No meal without meat.

Some time later he spotted a deer. Far too much meat for one person, but in this case it is better to waste and spoil some food instead of not eating meat at all. He slowly surveyed his surroundings again, he was downwind from his prey, good… A nice open space to use the sling, slightly downhill, also good… Knowing how to use his sling… He was taught by a Hound, they are the best. He did not miss.

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Chapter 2 - Strong shoulders, helping hands

#3 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 2
Strong shoulders, helping hands


Smith didn't sleep well that night. Maybe it was because he ate too much the evening before, or the fact that he tripped over a protruding root, something that could have gone terribly wrong, or some sort of premonition of something that could happen today. But it was a new day, and he had the feeling that he was close to where he wanted to go, but he wasn't sure. He knew he was a relative fast walker, compared to other Humans, but by far not as fast as the Cheetah messenger, or even a walking Tiger.
'Two days' was what the Cheetah told him, but it was already noon when she left, he thought she was exaggerating it a bit to deceive the Human he was, and thought it was more like one and a half day for her. Human soldiers would simply carry more food when they were told they would have to spend an extra night in the forest, and that would slow them down a little, giving the Inimals more time to put up a defense. But Smith was no soldier, he could stray from the path to go hunting for food, and he didn't care if he encountered Inimals, as long as they are not hostile towards him. It would even be nice if he had someone to talk to.
He hung the hind quarters of the deer at his backpack, he hadn't eaten those parts because they are easy to hang up on a piece of rope, and chuckled at the thought how he might look with those dangling things. He hoped it wouldn't attract Feral Inimals, because that could cost him his life, with such nice smelling bait. He walked a few paces, and decided to hang the legs a bit higher on his backpack where they would dangle less. It would give his backpack a few stains, but those could be washed off if he had the time to do so. He started walking again.

His former camp site was just a few hundred paces out of sight, when he spotted something next to the path, sitting against a tree. The Cheetah messenger! The Inimal also saw him, and started to crawl away, until she recognized who was approaching her.
"What in the forest are you doing here?" Smith asked, and immediately regretted that stupid question.
"I tripped over a root, and I think I sprained my ankle" the Cheetah answered with a painful face.
"A root, about… an hour of my walking speed back?" Smith replied while looking at her. She was seriously in trouble.
"Yes, that one. I tripped over it, and I tried to continue to hop on my good leg, but I don't think I can go on any further" the Cheetah answered with a tone of fear in her voice, and a bit of a dry throat.
"Well, I regret my first question about what you are doing here in the forest, I could have guessed it was not by choice, and now I am almost certain you must be thirsty and hungry" Smith spoke while he handed over a filled canteen.
"Yes, thank you" the Cheetah said before putting the canteen to her mouth, but without taking her eyes of the deer's hind quarters on the backpack of the Human she was talking to.
Smith noticed it, and he took his backpack off his back without questioning, and started to untie a cooked leg. Was it saliva or just spilled water he saw dripping from the Feline's mouth? Either way, his excess of food would not go to waste today, and he was glad he had taken it with him.
She ate almost the entire leg without talking, only leaving a few scraps of meat. "Do you want this back?"
Smith grinned. "No, this was your turn to ask a stupid question. I still have the other leg left, I now regret burying the remaining parts, you really could have used them." Smith's grin turned into a frown. "I only wonder what I should do with you, I can not leave you here in the forest, that would be very interesting when I enter your village. 'Here I am, oh, and by the way, I met your messenger with a sprained ankle in the forest and I left her there', that wouldn't be a nice introduction, would it?"
The Cheetah smiled. "No, I don't think that would be a very good first impression. You seem to be the friendly type of Human, but that way you won't make much friends."
Smith looked at the Cheetah, and made an estimate of her weight. "I could carry you in my arms, you are not very heavy, but I don't think I could do that for an entire day. I am a smith, I am used to swing heavy hammers, but holding my arms still for a long time is difficult for me. I even have trouble with maintaining the tension with a bow and arrow, I prefer using my sling over those."
Smith thought for a few moments. "I could carry you on my shoulders, the weight of you and my backpack combined are still less heavy than the sacks of coal I used to carry, I only have to watch out for low branches."
"Do you really want to do that for me?" the Feline asked, with a startled look on her face.
"Yes, of course, If I didn't want it I wouldn't ask. Now erm… You first or backpack first? I think backpack first, it will be difficult to put the straps on my shoulders if your legs are already there." Smith said after a short hesitation, and finally lifting up his backpack to put it back on his shoulders.

He walked towards the Cheetah, turned his back towards her, and crouched. "Hop on!"
The Cheetah struggled to her feet, and managed to climb over the backpack onto Smith's strong shoulders. "Are you comfortable?" Smith asked, looking at the nice legs that were slung over his shoulders. A normal cheetah leg on the left, and one with a thick ankle on the right.
"Yes, I'm fine. You are… different." the Cheetah on his shoulders replied.
Smith did not know how to interpret that answer.
"You know, saying to a Human woman she has thick ankles is an insult to her, but in this case: you have a really thick ankle" Smith spoke when he finally stood up when he noticed that the Cheetah on his shoulders had found her position.
"Hey! watch out!" he suddenly heard from above, and immediately ducked again. They were under a tree, and apparently he had forgotten about the lower branches.
"Are you all right up there?" Smith asked.
"Only a few leaves in my face." Was the answer he got with a bit of laughter in the voice. The sound of someone who was happy that she was saved, and now got into the innocent type of trouble.
"Did you damage any of those leaves? that would be very bad." Smith really saw the humor in it.
Her answer came in the form of a slap on his head. "Better start walking instead of continuing talking."
That was a response Smith did not expect. But it was a harmless, playful slap on his head. She meant him no harm. This could become a very interesting walk. Smith grinned.

"I haven't even asked who is on my shoulders" Smith asked after a while of walking.
"I'm Charlene, messenger with a sprained ankle. Nice to meet you, whoever you are between my legs" the Cheetah replied.
"You can call me Smith, smith by profession" Smith said with a tone of pride in his voice. He was indeed a proud smith. Healthy and wealthy. And always on the lookout for more sources of income.
"What kind of smi… oh sorry, my turn of asking a stupid question" Smith heard suddenly a lot closer to his ears than expected. Oops, low branch.
"Well… I'm specialized in anything sharp. Toolmaking, but most of the things I make these days are swords and arrowheads, and being neutral implies that I don't care to which side I sell them. And now I'm on my way to learn something new. I have some others working for me who can do the normal forging as well, I want to offer the customers something different." Smith said while looking up ahead for possible new low hanging branches.
"You are an expert smith, what could you learn from an Inimal smith? Left! Branch… No, branch is left, we must go to the right." Charlene had some difficulty controlling her laughter, the Human who was carrying her knew exactly what he was doing, he was teasing her a little.
"I really hope to learn something about Inimal symbolism." Smith replied with a grin on his face.
"Oh, yes, I remember, you told me that in the smithy, and I heard you talking to that other man while I was emptying my bladder next to the door." Charlene said, while ducking for another low branch that could easily have been avoided.
"You understand Human?" Smith asked with a tone of surprise in his voice. He knew some Inimals from the Inimal kingdom understood and even spoke Human language, but he always thought those were soldiers and spies, who need to understand what their Human enemy was saying. A Cheetah could be an excellent spy, especially for their speed, but she was… of course, she was a messenger, and sometimes had to go to Human territory, and not all Humans speak Inimal.
"Yes, because I'm a messenger I learned your native language, so I can go to both sides with messages… and erm… I think that emptying my bladder next to your door was not very decent of me."

Smith smiled, he was correct, and he now had the feeling he could really use her in his village. Not only for him, but for the entire village. "I haven't smelled it… It might sound strange to you, but my native language is Inimal, and besides Human I also speak Bergs and Elfique. I grew up in the Neutral Zone, in a village a bit further to the south. Me, my parents, brothers and the smith were the only Humans there, the rest were Inimal. I came from a family of lumberjacks, but I became a smith because they needed tools, and the village's smith, my master, was getting older." Well, memories were sad, but telling them could make him omit some of the details, so he continued talking "My parents and brothers all died, and the smith sort of adopted me, I was twelve years old then. He didn't take me into his house, I continued to live in my parents' house but he made sure that I learned what was needed to run a household".
"Oh, wasn't that difficult?" Charlene asked, with a bit of panting in her voice.
"No, the rest of the village was wonderful, they all helped me. Are you in pain?" Smith replied. He had the suggestion there was something wrong, but he could not quite put his finger on it what it could be. Her injured leg was not dangling too much, the meat she has eaten was fresh.
"No, I'm fine, but please continue your story." Charlene said, while regaining control of her breath again.

"How far is it to your village, or, I mean, the village where I want to go?" Smith asked. He wanted to change the subject. He hated talking about his past.
"At this speed, if you keep walking in a straight line and not seeking out every low hanging branch it will be early in the afternoon when we get there." Charlene answered, again with a bit of panting in her voice, but this time Smith didn't notice it.
"Afternoon… wow, I always thought I was a fast walker, Inimals that came from the direction of your village always told me they had walked for four days, and they are a lot faster than Humans, but me doing it also in four days really makes me proud of my walking speed." Smith replied, still on the lookout for low branches.
He did manage to maintain a decent walking speed, Charlene and the backpack were indeed not as heavy as the sacks of coal were and still are. And she shifted constantly to maintain her balance, a thing that sacks of coal don't. There was a bit of wetness in his neck, but he thought that was just because he was sweating a little, you normally don't carry something warm and fuzzy on your shoulders, sacks of coal tend to be cold, and this feline certainly wasn't.

"Yes they say… that because of… the… war" the Feline stuttered.
"Are you sure you are not in pain?" Smith had a slight suspicion about the answer he was going to get. It was not pain.
"I'm in heat, the back of your head in combination with all that looking around you do and my constant dodging of branches is a bit… arousing, and that wetness you certainly must feel is not your sweat." She sounded a bit embarrassed and relieved at the same time.

"Great." That was all Smith could say. He did not know what he had to think about this situation he was in. He could not simply just drop her off and leave her in the forest, but he also had to do something about the smell he was going to get in his neck. "I have a few cloths in my backpack, maybe you can put them in between you and my neck, I don't want to know what other Inimals might think when they smell my neck." Smith said while looking for a good patch of moss to put the heated Inimal on. He grinned a little, yes, coal tends to stay unlit when on your shoulders, but this fuzzy sack of female Feline was hot.

It was a short stop. Somehow Smith had put multiple cloths in his backpack for no obvious reason. Maybe it was because he was used to have fabric around him, in the form of clothing. And taking cloths with him to a village where clothing is optional because all the inhabitants have a thick fur coat sounded reasonable. You can't wipe everything with your sleeves for four weeks.
The cloth in his neck somehow did not feel as nice as the naked female Feline genitals, but at least he stayed relative clean.
"How far is it to the nearest river where you can wash my back?" Fairly normal question given the situation Smith was in. His time of having sex with felines was over, but he didn't want to show her his scars either, but there also had to be done something about the smell.
"We will reach that around noon, and then we could also eat, I'm getting hungry again, and at the same time I have to use the other side of me, and I don't want to do that on your backpack". Charlene looked around. "No, if you take a left turn we come across the river a lot sooner, it's just a few hundred paces from this path" she finally said.
Smith took the first path on the left, and indeed they came across a river, with a much wider path running alongside it.

"Why did nobody tell me about this path? It's a lot easier to follow." Smith asked when he saw it.
"Too dangerous, many robberies take place along this path, a lot of Inimals got killed here, killed by Inimals. They say there is a gang of black Wolves active in this region." Charlene sounded a bit scared, and Smith could feel her looking over her shoulder before he walked into the river and lowered himself momentarily before getting up again and first putting his backpack on the shore with some trouble, the straps were held in place by a nice pair of thighs. The bottom of his backpack was still dry, lucky for him, he had packed his clothes there.
He crouched in front of a large rock in the river to allow the cause of this delay to sit on it, and took off his jumper, and walked towards his backpack to get a clean cloth and to give his jumper a place to dry a bit.
"What… what are those scars on your back? They look like claw-marks." he suddenly heard from behind him.
No use in lying now, he would tell her the truth. Well, the version he wanted to tell. "Cats put them there." Smith simply answered.
"They don't look like fighting scars, did you…"
"Yes, we had sex, and no, I didn't like it. Well, the front part was nice, but what they did at my back was not." Smith interrupted her. This was predicament. He did like the Cheetah in his old village, the Cheetah before him was also nice, but he did not want to force anything, just get his back cleaned, and move on to learn something.

He felt a bit like a child while Charlene washed his back, while sitting on her stone, but he saw it as a sort of punishment for her, you make something dirty, you clean it. Nice and firm strokes, the water was a bit cold, he closed his eyes for a moment. Would his mother have done the same thing, in the same way? He could not remember it, he was just too young when she passed away. His wife was a lot softer when she washed his back, and he was a lot rougher with her in turn. But she also had a lot more fat to her bones, as the daughter of a butcher.

Charlene finished her duty of cleaning him. It felt nice, a pity she wouldn't do it again without a good reason. It was no use to put her on his shoulders again, walk ten paces to a large rock on the shore, and let her sit down again. He decided to carry her that short distance in his arms. He stood for a few moments in front of her, deciding from what side he would carry her.
She just sat there watching him, maybe a bit afraid, he had told her he liked Felines, but finally Smith walked up to her left side, put one arm underneath her knees, made sure the injured ankle didn't hit anything, and the other arm around her back. She put her left arm around his shoulders and brought her face close to his, and gave him a little lick on his cheek.
"Hey, no licking!" was Smith's response.
She did not expect that response. "I thought you like Felines?"
"Yes, I do… I mean, I did… those days are over and I…" Smith had some difficulty finding his words. "Yes, I had a lot of sex with a lot of Felines: Cats, Tigers, Leopards, a Lion and even a Cheetah. I liked most of it when I did it, but those days are over."
He finally said it, but it felt like a lie. He did not have any sex in a long time, afraid of something like getting someone pregnant. A lot has happened between his last time and now, but not the fact that a Human could not impregnate a Feline, just like the old days. Although he was now strong enough to take initiative, he just did not want to prey on a weaker victim like he was to the Felines in his younger years, and he was not sure about remembering all the old tricks to satisfy them. Most of them really liked it when you gave them a nice firm massage just above the tail, but he was not sure if the Cheetah of his old village also liked it. And Charlene is a totally different Cheetah. And he did not want to do it. She was just a messenger, not a lover.

They ate the remaining meat, she hopped towards a few bushes and he also emptied his bladder with some difficulty, and when they were done she climbed back on his shoulders and put the cloth back in between his neck and her.
"Back to the old path, or this one?" Smith asked when he was standing upright again.
"This one, we've lost a lot of time, and although the water was nice, my ankle really begins to hurt again and I really need to see the doctor, and this path is a bit easier to walk, and no low hanging branches. Most of the robberies take place a bit further downstream, we will be safer here." Charlene answered after she had found her position again.
Charlene really was in a talking mood again, but Smith remained silent for the rest of their journey, until they reached the village. He wanted to learn himself, he did not want others to know his past.

They reached the village in the early afternoon. It wasn't a big village, but it wasn't small either. Most of the buildings were made out of stone, with slate roofs, and some of them had thatched roofs, in a very poor condition. Smith didn't have much to compare with, but his old village was a more Feline village with a lot more wooden buildings, so he concluded this village must be more Canine, just like Frank had said.
"Welcome to my village, if you please continue walking you will find the doctor's house at your right side, and the inn on your left" Charlene suddenly said.
Smith didn't even notice he had stopped walking to survey the area. If there is a possibility for danger his instincts still take over, and the fact that this behavior had saved his life a few times before did not want him to change that. This was an Inimal village, far away from any Human. He couldn't see any Inimal, but at this time of day this would be normal, everyone had something to do. Suddenly he saw a Wolf coming out of a house and almost run towards a larger building with barred windows. That must be the law enforcer's office. The Wolf knocked on the door, and a clothed Fox opened. That must be the law enforcer.
'Hmm… Fox' Smith thought, 'Neutral in conflicts between the Canines and Felines, although a Bear would have been a better choice, much stronger in a fight'.
"Please?" Charlene asked again.
"Oh right, sorry." Smith apologized as he continued his walk towards the house of the doctor, distinct with a lot of herbs around it, in a nicely maintained garden.

Smith knocked on the solid door, and lowered himself to give Charlene a chance to get off his shoulders. When he got back to a standing position the door opened, and an older Panther Jaguar stood before them.
"I've got a patient for you, sprained ankle." Smith simply said.
"I know a thousand ways to hurt you." the Panther replied with an angry face as soon as he saw that a Human was standing before him instead of a normal Inimal villager. He looked like he didn't lie. Maybe he even was playing it down a little.
"All you need is one good way to heal her." Smith replied with a tone of suppressed anger. He already didn't like the doctor. He hoped that he would never need him. But at the same time he had some admiration for him, a Feline doctor in a Canine village. And Feline doctors have always been the better doctors, more compassion and more knowledge about the different herbs. But they must like you to give you the best help possible, if they don't like you, you will still be cured, but with a lot of discomfort.
"Please, no war here." Charlene interrupted.
She was the most important person here. She was the one who was in pain. Smith had no pain. No pain yet. But he would be in severe pain if she didn't interrupt.
"I'll be at the inn if you need me, or just want to say 'thank you' to me… You know what, I'll even buy you a meal." Smith finally said, while turning around to go to the inn.
"Can you walk?" he just heard the doctor say when he closed the door. 'Today is indeed the day of the stupid question' Smith thought, and smiled a little.
Smith decided to go straight to the inn, check in, put his backpack and sword in his room, and just sit in front of the inn on the bench that stood there watching the village and its inhabitants from a distance. That was a much safer option than go and walk around the village. One Wolf already went to the enforcer as soon as he saw him, but other Wolves could decide he was an enemy soldier who must be killed.

He reached the open door, and stood for a few moments in the doorway to check his surroundings. He saw no-one, but there was something else missing: the smell of people who have eaten here. No smell of spilled food and drinks in the cracks of the floorboards, only the smell of wet fur. He looked around, across the dining room to the back were from right to left a door with 'private' on it, there must be the living quarters of the innkeeper, stairs to the first floor where the rooms are, a small counter in front of a door with 'kitchen' on it, and a door to the left with 'bath' on it.
Suddenly the door with 'private' opened, and a Dog came through. 'Dog ears' Smith thought, they don't miss a sound.
"Welcome in my humble inn, my name is Diego" the Dog spoke.
"I want to stay for a few weeks, is that possible?" Smith asked, almost expecting a 'no' for an answer.
"A few… weeks? what is your business here?" The Dog blinked his eyes, as if he was thinking about the money, and where he could spend it. No doubt he had a lot of financial worries. But on the other hand it could also be because he had a Inimal speaking Human customer with a very strange request. Or maybe he just woke up, thinking that he was still dreaming.
"Yes, a few weeks, let's say twenty days to begin with, for easy calculation… That long because I want to learn something from your local smith." Smith hated multiple questions in one sentence, it was a technique the Elfique used to confuse you, you really had to think and it was easy to make mistakes in your answers that they could use against you. But these were just simple questions, and he did not have to and did not want to lie. A part of him did not want to answer all the questions, but somehow he always answered every question people asked him.
"Each day will cost four small silver, that is including one breakfast, one packed lunch, and one diner, free use of the cold bath, twenty days will be… eighty small silver, that's eight big silver. And don't be disappointed, our smith is a Cat, he prefers to be lazy instead of tired. What do you want to learn anyway? You seem to be a smith who can already do anything." were the Diego's replies. He did not forget questions either.
"You are not expensive, at the inn in my village the charge is three small silver for a room, but each meal you use will cost you another silver, and packed lunch is six big copper. And use of the hot bath is also six big copper, but you will get a discount if you want the whole deal, then it will be six silver. But over there it's a game of supply and demand, it's always very busy. And what I want to learn is Inimal symbolism, if someone asks for 'I love my wife and my mother' I don't want to send them away with 'I hate my mother-in-law' or something like that. I already know the symbols of love and hate are very much alike, and I want to learn the details."
Smith forgot to mention his feelings about Cats, but he somehow sensed the Cats were not popular here either.

"I have forgotten to mention one more thing" Diego continued, "Once in every seven days the water in the bath is heated, and the villagers can use it for free, they all pay taxes for it. Taxes for the bath, the law enforcer and the services of the doctor. I hope you don't mind sitting in the bath with the villagers. But if you intend to stay longer it could be interesting."
'That's a nice arrangement' Smith thought 'something I can do in my village… Taxes, talking is something I do enough already.'
"And if you want the water heated on any other day it will cost you four big copper." Diego added after a short pause. He was not used to customers, he did everything for the village.
Smith nodded. "Of course. Good arrangement with the village. I'm sure I will talk to the villagers, plenty of time. And it's always nice to see people you don't have to sell anything."
Diego lit a candle. “Let me show you your room.” and they went upstairs.
The floorboards of the corridor creaked a little, the sound of long not being walked upon for a long time.
"We have nine rooms here, two with a double bed, three with two single beds, three with two bunk beds, and one with three bunk beds. Since you are our only guest you may use a double bed." Diego said after he had lit some more lamps in the dark hallway. Dark because there were no windows, only doors. Smith was right, there were no guests here, but Diego didn't have to worry about money either, with an arrangement with the village for the use of his bath.
"I prefer a single bed, a double bed reminds me of someone I miss." Smith spoke after a short pause.
"All right, then you can use this room. Two single beds.” Diego said while gesturing to a closed door. “It has a separate room for the bucket, warn me when you have used it so I can empty it".
Diego got a little key from a small pocket he had on a strap around his waist, and opened a box on the wall with it. It was the key-box. He gave a key on a cord to Smith. "This is the key for your room, if you lose it you pay… I mean I think you are one of the few who can actually make a new key for me, for free. And by the way, you may have noticed there are too many doors in this corridor, some of the rooms have bucket-rooms that can be accessed from the outside, yours is one of them. If you don't want me in your room just lock the bucket-room door from your room-side, I will respect that, if you leave that door unlocked it means I may clean your room when you are away"
Diego just kept on talking, like he was glad he finally had someone to talk to. "Oh, and one more thing: I don't know your sexual preferences, but no sex in the bath, you pay for your room and my normal cleaning routine, anything else is extra."
Smith grinned. "I want to learn new things, not to practice the things I already know."
Diego looked at Smith with a frown. What did that Human say?

Smith walked into his home for the next few weeks and put his backpack and the sheath with his sword down. He walked around the room a little, opening a few closets.
"Yes, those are from the old days, even before the war, when Humans came here more often"
Diego said while he was watching Smith. He was truly happy he had someone to talk to.
"I could have guessed, the only Inimals I have seen with clothes are messengers, soldiers and here the enforcer, normal Inimals have fur and no need to let others know their status." Smith replied.
The good old days… This inn must have been here even before Smith was born. In one of the closets there was a small safe with the key protruding from its keyhole. Not a very solid vault, typical Canine made, if you knew the right technique you could open it in a few moments without the key, but it was sufficient enough to stop someone without that knowledge.
Smith got his purse, took twelve big silver coins from it and put the purse in the vault and locked it.

They went back downstairs, and Smith handed over the coins.
"This is four too many." Diego said after a moment of staring at and counting of the coins.
"I know. Payment in advance for the baths I will take, and maybe there will be another eater coming over, a friend I met along the way here. But when I leave I want the change back, I hate having too much money in one place. If you are looking for me I will be outside, sitting on the bench, enjoying the sunlight and the scenery. Walking around without my sword seems a bit dangerous in this village, although I don't expect trouble."
Diego nodded. “Of course. A human here is a strange sight these days. But we knew you were coming.”

Smith walked outside to sit down, somehow he felt tired, and closed his eyes for a moment when he found a comfortable position to sit in. He has never been this idle in a long time, at home there always was work to do.
This village was very familiar to the village of his youth with his eyes closed. Rustling of the trees, some Inimals talking in the distance, although it was too far away to make anything of the words, and even the… stench of a Tiger who had just taken a dump in the bushes behind the inn. Yuck. Smith really hoped there would come some wind to blow the terrible smell away. He thought of an old joke: How do you prevent Cats from using your bucket-room? Let a Tiger use it first.
Suddenly Smith heard the voice of a very young Feline in front of him: "Are you going to kill me sir?"
He opened his eyes and looked at who spoke those words. A very young Tigress, not even four years old stood before him.
"Are you?" she asked again.
"No, why should I kill you? You are not dangerous to me." Smith replied honestly surprised.
"Other Humans have killed my parents, and they knew I also lived there, but I hid myself and they couldn't find me." the young Tigress spoke with a very shy voice.
"No, of course I'm not here just to kill you. I think you are far too cute to be killed. And in my opinion it's just wrong to kill civilians, Inimal or Human." Smith spoke, thinking about the horrors this young tiger must have been through. He came home when the body of his wife had gone cold, this one must have heard the screams.
"May I fight you then?" the little Tiger asked, assuming a fighting position, with her size and downy hair it gave her a very comical figure.
"Yes, but no use of claws, otherwise I will use some of my strength against you, and that will hurt you a lot. I'm a smith, and I know how to hit hard." It was a bit of a lie, as a smith you let your hammers do the hitting part, but you still have to swing them, but this little Feline did not need to know the details. "Let's see what you've got" Smith said, assuming a defensive position, sitting on his bench, knees separated and bent forward to put his head at the same level as his adversary.

She went straight for his face, and those punches could easily be swatted away, then she went for his chest, but he caught her fists with ease.
"You are a good fighter." the little Feline spoke when she again tried to go for his face.
Smith grinned. "You have a lot to learn young Tiger, for starters: don't stare at the point where you want to hit, I can follow your eyes and predict where you want to hit me. Now use your instincts."
He knew that one day she could kill him in a single blow, but for now it was just fun. He did not want her to hate him for denying her some fun and even some fighting lessons.
The following playful punches came in a barrage. Much harder to defend against, much more Tiger-like.

"Ha! I hit you!"

Yes indeed, one of her many punches managed to get past his defenses, and landed on his shoulder.
"Good, now it's my turn" Smith said with a grin on his face, and began a tickle attack on the little Feline.
He stopped when she almost fell because of all her laughter, it was good to see her happy, but he did not want to get any dirt on her, whoever was taking care of her would not be happy with that. Smith went to an upright sitting position again. The fight was over. He had won.

"Do you want to see how agile I am?" the little Tiger suddenly said while bringing her right foot above her head, her leg along her body while standing on her other foot.
"It's not very decent to show your genitals like that." Smith remarked.
He already knew how agile Tigers were. And what could be done with the adult ones.
"Why… do Humans wear clothes?" This was one curious little Tiger.
"Well, we don't have a fur coat, and our genitals are a lot larger than what is good for us. When Human males run without clothes our… uhm… you know what I mean will slap against our legs and that hurts, and our women have large breasts that also cause pain when running, that's why we have to support them with clothes." Smith did not know the true answer about why Humans always wear clothes, even when the weather is nice, so he made just one very plausible sounding one up.
"Oh… may I see your genitals? you have seen mine." She was a little bit too curious.
"No, you may not. We really don't have rules about showing them, but we have something as dignity and shame, those prevent us from showing our genitals to others we barely know, and we don't want accidentally to see those of others."
Keep on lying to a child Smith, you really have no problem looking the genitals of a woman. Human or some of the feline species, but only those that could be used. He had fantasized much about them and put some of his fantasies into practice in the past, but after the death of his wife only the fantasies remained. Even with Charlene in the forest he had not taken the opportunity. And this one in front of him had to grow to be usable. A lot.
"May I sit on your lap?" The little child broke his thoughts.
"Do you trust someone of the same species who killed your parents?" It just slipped out. He had not thought about this question. It was just an honest reply. He would never trust Wolves, and he thought that this little Tigress would feel the same way about Humans.
"You are different, those who killed my parents are also dead." The little Tigress said while she climbed onto his lap.

Smith suddenly realized who she was. A few months ago Uwe caught a few murderers of Inimals in his inn who were bragging about the killings they had. 'It's a pity the little one got away', one of them had said, and that was the straw that broke the ox, and he had poisoned their food to weaken them and had them brought to this village, the village where he was at this moment, for their execution.

Smith smiled, yes, he had killed the Wolves who had killed his former master, wife and unborn child, and now he was in some way responsible for the death of Humans. Not the first Humans, he himself had killed before, but being responsible for the death of Humans is different than doing the actual killing yourself. Maybe there were more Humans killed in his village that he didn't know of. He really needed a better grip on his village, too many unwanted elements, maybe that's why there are so little Inimal customers, they all get killed on their way to fill his purse and safe, killed by Humans and the Wolves. And maybe some by Ferals.
There really had to be done something about it, maybe with some help of the Human deserters, they have some military experience, and maybe they will want to fight for a good cause. But they were only Human, with their limited senses they could not track criminals or Ferals, only fight on sight. What he really needed was a co-operation between Humans and Inimals. But the Inimals were very loyal to their king, no deserters from that side, only useless Cats and Dogs, he would never get useful Inimal… soldiers? defenders? fighters? Law-enforcers? What name should he give them? Being the Neutral Zone meant that an army of one of the kingdoms is not allowed, and he himself lacked experience to build one and also knew no experienced others in this matter in his village, he only knew how to make the weapons of an army. But he was convinced he would find a way to make a difference, to do something about the dangers around his village and in the rest of the Neutral Zone.

The young Feline on his lap moved a little. Smith looked down. The fur on her head tickled his nose a little. "We haven't even introduced ourselves. You can call me Smith, and what is your name, little one sitting on my lap?"
The little Tiger looked up, finally his nose was free of the tickling that almost made him sneeze.
"I'm Katie, nice to fight you." She tried hard not to grin.
"Katie… I think I will call you Fluffy. Like a piece of fluff, featherweight, no punch, hard to brush away and you tickle my nose" Smith replied now also grinning.
"I'm not fluffy! I only haven't lost my… my downy hairs!" Katie said indignant while hopping of Smith's lap and again assuming a very cute fighting pose again.

But this time it was different. A growling noise came from her stomach, and she quickly put a hand on her chest to muffle the sound. She looked down, a bit ashamed.
"Are you?… Yes… yes you are hungry, we had fun together, and now it's time for you to go home and eat." Smith spoke with a firm voice. Playing with children is fun, but they always have someone who is worried about them, and she could not have survived for months alone, there must be someone taking care of her.
Katie began to cry. "The… the person who… who gives me food is a… away and I… I don't kno… don't know when she will return."
"Then I will give you food this time, I believe we are very close to an inn, and I will sleep there tonight, and I think they also have food. I will pay for it." Smith said, deliberately looking away from the door.
"The door is that way, stupid Human" Katie said, giggling again a bit, and walked through the open door, followed by a smiling Smith. Again a good deed done today.

"Ah, Diego. This is not the one I thought who would join me for dinner" pointing at Katie "but this little one is also hungry. A good meal for her too, but don't oversize it… and erm… do you have a good chair for her? I try to educate her a little about behaving like a Tiger, her fighting is still worthless, but there is some room for improvement in that matter, but I can not make her grow any faster to prevent her from having her chin in her food while she sits on a normal chair."
While Smith spoke those words Katie had already climbed on a chair, and sat upright with her chin on the table. Not a good eating position, you also need to have your arms above the tabletop.
Diego walked towards a corner where a few idle chairs stood, and pulled a chair with longer legs from the corner, dusted it off a little, and in one single movement he moved a normal chair away from the table and replacing it with the higher one. "That is a better place for you, like a queen on her throne." He said while winking to Smith.

Diego went to the kitchen, and a few moments later he returned with two steaming plates with chicken stew.
"Chicken! I love chicken stew!" almost shouted Katie.
"I may be a Human, but I do have a sense of hearing, and I don't want to lose it because of your shouting." Smith said while grinning. Two good deeds done today. The person who was really taking care of this little ball of energy would certainly have her hands full.

The sound of someone on crutches could be heard, and it stopped at the doorway.
"Charlene!” the little Tiger shouted again.
Smith turned around. "Hello Charlene, I have already ordered and paid for food for you. And this little Tiger here seems to know you, and I also have… I mean I see she is already digging in. Please join us and have some food."
"Nyou njow heg?" Katie tried to say with her mouth full.
Smith shook his head. "Katie, swallow your food first, and then talk." Smith turned around again to face Charlene. "She told me you only give her food, maybe you should also have given her some lessons in good manners."
Charlene said nothing, but only smiled. Katie was eating again, and was already halfway her plate. She was really hungry.

"Diego! the one I was waiting for has arrived!" Smith called while standing up to move a chair so Charlene could move over and sit down. She was still a bit clumsy with the crutches, but finally everything was at the intended place.
"I know, that little Tiger is loud, everyone in the village now knows" Diego said smiling. "Good to have some guests, and even better I already have the money to buy the ingredients I need… I'm sorry I don't have any cutlery, I had to sell it a few years ago because I was out of money and I never needed cutlery anyway."
Smith smiled. "No cutlery is no problem, I almost expected it." And he pulled a small box out of his pocket, and from that box taking a knife and a fork.
"Nyou…" and after swallowing her food "You use those things to eat? Why don't you use your hands like we all do?" Katie asked while looking at those strange tools Smith used to eat his food.
"I am Human, and Humans are… erm… strange" were Smith's last words before he also began to eat, just before Katie had finished her plate.

"Do you want some more?" Diego asked, taking away the empty plate from Katie.
"Yes… please." She just couldn't say 'No' to free food.
Charlene smiled. "You are already learning her more in a few hours than I did in months."
Katie sat backwards in her chair, anticipating more goodness coming from the kitchen. After a few moments Diego came back, again with a plate of chicken stew, a little bit less than the previous plate, but the two plates combined were almost as much as Smith has.
"Eet smakelijk" came almost flawless from Diego's mouth.
"You speak Human?" Smith was surprised.
"Een beetje, but I haven't used it in a long time." and he walked away again to let his guests eat.
"Katie, if you have digested your food and want to empty your bowels again, please do it at a place where I can't smell it. You really stink" Smith said when he had finished his plate. He was the last to finish.
They all laughed. Even Diego, who had already covered the source of the stench behind his inn with a heap of sand.

"So you were taking care of Katie after her parents were killed? Now I understand why you were so eager to leave after delivering the letter." Smith asked a few moments after Diego had removed their empty plates and disappeared into the kitchen.
Charlene nodded. "Yes, her parents and I were friends. There are not many non-Cat Felines around here, so we stick together and help each other." Charlene replied with a blank look on her face.
"Wasn't it hard for Katie, losing her parents?" Smith became curious about the way Katie reacted, she does not react in a way you should expect after losing your parents, she just moved on like nothing happened, no grief, no fear, just a playful little child.
"I think we see death very different than Humans do, death for us is just the end of a life, nothing more. If the dead body is not in the way of our daily routine we won't even move it. We will only bury it if the smell becomes too bad, or it attracts too many flies, we just leave our dead in peace. I have taken care of Katie because we are here for those who live, her skinned parents were just… dead pieces of meat."
Those words Charlene spoke hit Smith like a hammer.
"I haven't told you my entire story, but I have lost my wife and unborn child to Wolves… The sight of that almost made me go Feral… I came home together with my former master after I had handed in my masterpiece for the King, and we encountered a group of Wolves… They attacked us, they killed my former master… I had the feeling that something wasn't right, and that gave me some sort of extra strength and stamina, and I killed single-handed all eleven Wolves… When I got home I found them… My wife had less than a month of pregnancy left to go, but the Wolves had cut my child out of her womb, and did all kinds of sick things that leave me in the dark whether my baby would be a boy or a girl… Both beheaded, their heads put on a pole, hearts ripped out, genitals mauled… I never knew someone could be that cruel." Smith spoke with tears in his eyes.
"I'm sure you gave them a beautiful funeral" Charlene said in a soothing tone.
"No, I… I did not… I just turned my back and walked away… Not knowing where I wanted to go, but knowing exactly where I did not want to go… Everyone in the village had fled, there was no-one left… I went north, to the no-man's land and beyond that. I think that you now will understand why I know Elfique and Bergs, I had walked so far I ended up there… I don't even remember how I survived, I just did."

The tears in Smith's eyes had dried after a long time of silence. He survived, he suddenly realized his life also went on, his wife and the child that never had a chance to breathe were long gone. You are here for others, for those who are alive. The dead are indifferent about what happens to them or who mourns them.
"I came back here with some new friends and started all over. New location, new smithy, and before I realized it I had built a new village, even bigger than the one I left behind. All I cared about was making money" and looking at Katie "You made me realize there are more people than just me and the ones who work for me. I have a village, filled with people who also have a mind of their own. One of them had caught the murderers of your parents. The innkeeper, Uwe, one of the Bergvolk who have followed me and settled in my village. He heard one of them say 'It's a pity the little one got away', he immediately knew they were talking about a child, an Inimal child whose skin was worth a lot of money, had escaped them… You are the little one who got away, Katie, and I must say: alive you are a lot more fun than as a pair of expensive fluffy boots for some rich woman. Horizontal stripes make them look fat."
Smith's last words had made Katie jump off her chair, and assuming her cute fighting gesture again. "I'm not fluffy! And horizontal stripes don't make you look fat, I am… erm…"
Before Katie could finish her sentence Charlene interrupted: "You are young, and you need to go to bed and sleep."
"Yes, it's getting late. Shall I help you getting up on your feet?" Smith added while he stood up and helped Charlene with her crutches.
Charlene smiled. "You should have seen the grin on Katie's face when she stood in front of the murderers of her parents when their head was cut off."

Katie was already at the door.
"Katie! come here!" Smith called Katie back.
He crouched in front of the little Tiger and looked her straight into her eyes. "Katie, you are the healthy one, I want you to help Charlene as much as you can. If she asks you to do something you must do it, because as you can see she is injured and can not do everything, will you do that?"
The little Tiger nodded. "Yes, I will do that" and she darted off again to catch up with Charlene who was already outside.

"How do you know them?" Diego asked Smith, while closing the front door of his inn.
"Charlene had brought me the message that I was allowed to come here to work, or learn as my first intention was, but you know… Cat smith… and I found her alongside of the path with a sprained ankle, and I carried her the remaining part, and I pitied Katie for being hungry and no-one to feed her, not knowing those two were related, and I'm a nice Human… at least… that's what I think I am."

Smith felt different, he had never spent so much money and asked for so little since his wife and unborn child's deaths, but somehow he was glad he did what he has done. Charlene and Katie needed help, Diego could use the money, Diego's suppliers benefit from it, and maybe some of his money will come back to him when the butcher wants his knives to be sharpened… Smith smiled. Investierung… invest a little bit of money and after a while you get a lot more back. But this time it was not only money he would get back. Also respect and people who like him.

The following weeks he would meet some of the rest of the villagers, he already had made three friends, had seen one person who ran to the law enforcer, and one… well… his first impression was that the Panther doctor would not become friendly towards him. Time to empty his bowels and go to bed. It was indeed a good meal. And a good conversation, that gave him a lot to think about.

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Chapter 3 - The Inimal Village, part 1 (part 1)

#4 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 3
The Inimal Village, part 1
(part 1)

Smith did sleep well that night. The bed was nice, a bit softer than he had at home, the sheets were a bit shabby, but at least they were clean. His sleep had been deep and dreamless, something he really needed after sleeping in a tent alone in a potential dangerous forest and a long walk with extra weight on his shoulders. He did what he had to do in the morning, and was glad there finally was a mirror to shave himself. He was disappointed with the result of his shaving. Smooth as only a smith who makes and sharpens his own shaving tools can be, but somehow he had the feeling there was an other Human staring back at him in the mirror.
He went downstairs, and was surprised Diego wasn't busy making his breakfast, he hasn't been silent when he woke up and did the things that needed to be done, but he could hear a faint snoring sound from behind the 'private' door, and he decided to go back upstairs to put his spare clothes in the wardrobe, no need to leave them to crumple in his backpack. He got his apron and gloves out, and decided to take them with the tools he would need downstairs, no need to go back again to get them, and it was already getting late. His former master hated when he used his tools, he hates it when someone else uses his tools, and he could only hope the local smith would tolerate him using the heavy hammers and tongs, they were just to heavy to drag along. He was in doubt he would take his lock picking set with him, but he decided he would leave them in his room, he was not very handy with them anyway.

When he came downstairs for the second time the kitchen door was open, and he could see Diego working with a frying pan.
"Good morning Smith, I'm sorry I have forgotten I had a guest." Diego greeted him. He was still in a good mood. "I hope you like bacon and eggs, but I'm sorry I don't have bread, we have no bakery here. Grain and corn is for chickens here."
"No problem, I always wondered what the baker of the first bread was trying to accomplish" Smith replied while walking to a large table to put his gear on and sit down at it.
"Yes, and I always wonder what the first Cat was looking for when he discovered that milk from cows was drinkable" Diego laughed while putting the bacon and eggs onto a plate. Lucky for him this was a good guest.
"There are things I do not want to know" Smith said while holding his cutlery ready for his breakfast.
"I see you have already got your equipment here…. ooh nice… sharpening stones, there certainly will be a demand for those, our smith has broken his, I advice you not to lend them to him." Diego said while looking at the items Smith had put on the table. "I am too late for packing lunch, but I will bring it to you at the smithy. Normally people would have to pay in coins for that service, but the payment this time will be sharpening my knives, you won't have to come back here to pick it up."
"That's all right, good time to show the smith in this village how to use them properly"
Smith smiled. This was a clever dog, asking money for bringing the lunch would give him less than he would have to pay to sharpen his knives. And the innkeeper had made a mistake by forgetting he had a guest. He should have brought it for free.

After finishing his breakfast Smith went outside to go to the local smithy to meet the smith for the first time. They had only written letters to each other, only the last letter was brought by Charlene, the rest of them were brought by Cats, and from his side of the correspondence had sent all kinds of Inimal from his village to deliver them. Apparently they hadn't spent the night at Diego's inn, but simply delivered the letter, and immediately went back home, back to the village where they came from, his village. They did not like it here, back home it was much better.
The smithy was not hard to find, a larger building with a slate roof, with a large chimney. The door was still closed. It seemed that Diego was right: the Cat smith preferred to be lazy instead of tired. This could become interesting weeks, Smith liked to begin early, and hated mornings of doing nothing. In contrast to common belief, most people die in their beds in the morning instead of on their work in the forests or on the battlefields.
Smith decided to walk around the smithy to look at how the Cat stored his rough materials. Smith kept his metal under a roof, and his coal in a separate shed, out of the rain and other moisture and of course fire, but here he could not see such a storage. He even doubted this was the correct smithy, this did not look like a working one. He walked back to the front, hoping of seeing someone to ask for directions to the correct smithy.
A Wolf came along. Smith took the chance. “Do you know this is the smithy here? Or are there more smithies here?” Smith asked.
"You are at the correct smithy, but I warn you: the smith is a bum, not as bad as his brother, but still totally worthless as a smith. Even a Human could do better. We all liked the previous smith better, and that was a Tiger, because he knew what he was doing." was the Wolf's reply. Not a bit of hatred in his voice.
"You are aware that you are talking to a Human, right?" Smith was a bit surprised. Had he become so much Inimal that even an enemy of Humans did not recognize him as a Human?
"Oh… I'm sorry I… erm… well, your Inimal is almost flawless, a bit of a Feline accent, but…" the Wolf smiled "you are different. We were expecting a Human who only was only interested in metal, and would have a hard time communicating with us."
Smith smiled as well. "Yes, I know. I grew up among mostly Felines, in a neutral village. Inimal is my native language."
Good thing to know this Wolf was not hostile, but he was also not aware of the fact he had a Feline accent.
"So, you will become our new smith?" The Wolf sounded almost happy.
Smith shook his head. "No, I'm not. I'm only here to learn a bit about Inimal symbolism, but I think your smith lied when he wrote me he could teach me some."
"No, he knows a bit about symbolism, but I'm afraid you will spend most of your time at the forge and anvil instead of his books." the Wolf said while starting to walk again towards wherever he was needed to be.

Finally the smith showed up.
"I'm sorry I'm late, I didn't expect you to show up this early" the Cat apologized.
They shook hands. "I'm Casper, the smith. Mostly the finer work like locksmithing, and doing simple repairs, I just don't have the strength and stamina for the heavier things."
His hands were indeed not the hands of a smith who was used to the heavy work, but finer for the more dexterous work of a locksmith.
"You can call me Smith. And your lack of strength and stamina is no problem, we could become a fine working couple. I have the strength and stamina for doing the heavy stuff, to pay for my education, and you can continue to do your profession. I heard you broke your sharpening stones, and I have mine with me, and already my first client, Diego wants his knives to be sharpened, so I can show you how to use them properly. Sharpening was my first profession that I learned as a child, before making tools and weapons. Human laws forbid me to make weapons here, if the Humans hear I make weapons here in this village I will be executed as a traitor, despite being neutral, so only sharpening, repairing and moving heavy materials are left to do for me." Smith smiled. He was allowed to make weapons here, but he did not want to.
"But you are allowed to make hinges and bars? The law enforcer wants to patch up his jail a little, good stonework and solid woodwork are worthless without good metalwork, and no matter how good my locks are, if the rest of the metalwork of it is not strong enough to hold a Human… erm… I mean a Bear it's still worthless. Let's say we split the profit from the orders we get but you do most of the work for." The Cat's eyes shone almost as the coins he would make of this strong Human working for him.
"I have an even better deal" Smith said "Your orders, your money, no matter who does the work, my orders one third of the profit for you, but I need a resume of the cost of your materials, I think I obtain my metal and coal at a lower price at my smithy because I use larger quantities of it, and I don't want you to lose money because I sell the materials at a too low price and not being able to compensate it with work."
"Sounds like a good deal. You work for me, I teach you." Casper said while opening the door of the smithy "But first things first, you seem very strong, can you move my anvil?" pointing at the anvil in the middle of an open area, with a nice walking and working space around it. "Please put it in that corner" Casper said while pointing to a cluttered corner.
"Next to the forge is a better place for it, I need to work on it. And erm… slack tub for cooling? I don't see one here. Only one lying on its side at the back." Smith replied, he already disliked the lazy Cat. Scared of work, and did not want to be reminded of the fact that he was the smith.
"Oh, that thing… I had to move it outside, it stood in the way of my walking path, and I never used it. Do you want it back in here? It's still watertight, but I have to ask some Wolves to…"
Before Casper could finish his sentence Smith was already outside again and walked towards the on it's side lying tub. It was not the spare slacking tub as he thought.
"You get the water to fill it, and I will move this thing and the anvil to the place where I want them, I will put them where you want them when I leave to go home." Smith said while picking up the empty tub with ease and carrying it back inside.
Casper shrugged. "Well, you are the stronger one, do whatever you want, it's almost lunchtime, I'm going home to eat."
"No, you don't. You have wasted enough time already, and my lunch can arrive at any moment, and Diego wants his knives to be sharpened, and I need water to do that." Smith was really losing his temper with this lazy Cat. Half a day had passed, and no work had been done, and the only thing he learned today was taught by a passing Wolf: this Cat was a bum. He wondered what happened to the previous smith.
"I have a bucket over there, and my well is at the back of the smithy" Casper said while walking out the door and pointing at the corner. "Suit yourself."

Well, this could indeed become very interesting weeks. Time to do something. Smith walked towards the anvil. Well used, not abused, medium sized, he could move it all by himself with some difficulty, no need for a lifting device. He moved the anvil and the slack tub to the places where he wanted to have them, filled the slack tub with water, and looked around for the coal and firewood to lighten up the forge. There was none. Not even a fire-steel to start a fire. Well, he could ask for it later when he really needed to use it.
First a look around of what would become his workplace for the next few weeks.
Standard smithy, the heavy tools had a layer of dust collected on them, smaller tools lying on the workbench, next to a couple of disassembled locks, some weapons on a rack in a corner. Smith walked towards the weapon rack. Some Wolven swords, most of them damaged beyond repair.
Wolven swords are sharp like a razor, but very brittle, too much carbon in the steel from not being hammered enough. If you manage to hit them at the correct place in a fight they simply shatter. He had shattered some of them with the sword of his fallen master. His sword at those days was much lighter, some of his Tiger friends had taught him how to sword-fight when he was a kid, and they preferred much thinner blades for cutting, easier to maneuver and much faster. But also easier to blunt if you don't maintain the edge. There were also a few of those on the rack that could use some sharpening. Smith saw that they were made by a very skilled smith. Could have been the previous smith who had owned this smithy.
There also was a square human shield in the corner. Older type of shield, used in a testudo formation, but instead of made out of wood, canvas and leather this one was made out of a single sheet of metal. Really a relic from the first years of the war, when the Humans thought they could march into the Inimal villages and cities protected by their shields.
It took a few Human victories before the Inimals realized the old wooden shields of this design could burn, and after that the shields were made of metal. Smith smiled. Until the Humans realized that new kind of shields were vulnerable for armor piercing arrows. Arrows he had made. A small hole near the upper edge of the shield was proof, the wielder of this shield did manage to raise his shield against an oncoming arrow, but maybe the protruding arrowhead scared him enough to make a mistake and lower his shield for a second arrow or something like that. An ideal shield would have an outer layer of metal against fire, and a few layers of wood against arrows, but that would make them too heavy to handle. Modern Human soldiers use smaller, but thicker shields. Same weight as the old ones, but easier to maneuver. A bit like the leather shields the more cowardly Dog soldiers use.
Smith's eyes were drawn towards a shelf. There were a few knives, daggers and a buckler, a small shield used by the Panthers, lightweight but still strong enough to put in the path of a Human sword to stop it and move it away to open up the path for the wielder's own sword for the final blow. His eyes were caught by the sheath of a dagger. It lied far to the back of the shelf. It was a Human sheath. Smith grabbed it. Small size, something you give to your child. Of course, this was a Canine village. Some Wolf must have taken it from the dead hands of a Human child, and sold it to the smith. Smith looked across the shelf again. Ah, yes, there was the dagger that belonged in this sheath. Good quality Human dagger, the design suggested it was made in the Human capitol by a skilled smith, probably for a wealthy customer. Smith put the dagger in it's sheath, and put it with respect back on the shelf.

"Your lunch!" Diego stood in the doorway. "How is the smith?" Diego asked.
"Lazy, as expected" was Smith's short reply.
"And the Cat?" Diego laughed when he put the package on the workbench.
"Ouch, I thought you meant the Cat when you said smith, but I suspect you now see me as the new smith here. Did you bring your knives?" Smith replied. He was hungry.
"Yes, they are also in the package, I didn't want to carry them openly towards you, I have to go now, I can't leave the inn alone, it's hot water today in the baths, and I have to make sure the Cats only use the bath and don't dive into the food storage." Diego was already at the doorway.
"No problem, I have the suspicion this will be a short working day. Cat times: begin late, long lunch and go home early. I will bring them back as soon as I can. But I also don't mind eating a bit later because you can't cut the meat because I have your knives here and Casper changes his mind and wants to do some work for a change." Smith's mood began to change, finally something to do. After lunch of course, red meat with roast potatoes he saw when he opened the package, a very nice combination. And a few blunt knives.

After eating his lunch and sitting for a while Smith had the intention to get up again and go for a walk, but finally Casper showed up again. He did not even apologize for being late.
"I see Diego has brought his knives" were the first words he spoke.
"And my lunch" Smith replied.
"Good, how much do you ask for sharpening knives?" Casper was thinking about money.
"Well, Diego and I agreed he would bring me my lunch, and I would sharpen his knives in return. It's no use giving him three big copper for bringing me my lunch, and asking him three big copper for sharpening three knives. And I will be using my own tools, let's say I'll sweep your smithy in exchange for the use of your workbench and an old cloth, not everything is about money." This was a slippery slope for Smith. He could ask money for everything he did, but he didn't need the money. He did not want to take more money out of this village than he would bring into this village.
"Why do you need an old cloth?" Casper asked after a moment of silence. No money for him yet.
"You really don't know how to use the stones? You need water for the process of sharpening, it lubricates the contact area between the stone and steel, and it gives a far better result than with simply a dry stone."
Smith wondered who was the teacher and who was the student. Was he really explaining a smith how to sharpen, or was he talking to a Cat who liked to tinker with small pieces of metal instead of wood?
"I think I understand. And how hard do you push the metal against the stone?" Casper was really ignorant, but he finally got a cup and a cloth.
"You don't push, you just hold the blade at a fixed angle, and move the blade over the stone. The angle depends on the kind of blade. Cutting knives a lower angle and cleavers and swords a steeper angle, and there are a lot of steps in between them. Coarse stone for really blunt tools, and finer stones for the real sharpening. Shall I begin?"
Smith grabbed the cloth out of the Cat's hands and spread it on the workbench. He suddenly remembered there were some small parts of a lock underneath it, so he removed the cloth again, and put the parts of the locks in a single tray.
He saw that Casper did not like it, all the parts of the locks thrown in the same tray, but he did not like Casper either. Smith put the cloth back on the bench, placed his stones on it, filled the cup with water from the slack tub, and poured some of the water from the cup onto the stones. He started to do what he could do best: sharpening. He did not speak until he was finished with all the knives, and he hoped the Cat had observed him carefully.
"Did you see how I did it?" Smith asked he finished all three knives.
"Yes, I think so." Casper sounded a bit uncertain.
"Good, you are next. I will get you a knife or a dagger from that shelf over there, and I will say nothing as long as you are doing it right. Understood?" Smith walked towards the shelf with the small arms, and grabbed a simple Feline dagger. "All right Casper. This dagger is a good item to begin with. The point is broken off, a few notches… I suspect this one has fallen quite a few times. You need to remove some material to make a new tip, and have two cutting edges to sharpen. That will be four sides to work on, top, bottom, left and right, don't overdo a side, otherwise you have to redo all other sides to make it even." Smith put the dagger on the bench in front of the Cat, and stepped backwards.
Casper grabbed the cup and poured all the water over the stones.
Smith sighed. "Too much water, no need to soak the workbench, only wet the stones."
This could become a very long lesson.
Casper stood up to fill the cup again.
"No need to fill the cup right now, if you need more water on the stone you just could wring the water out of the cloth, there's enough in it." Smith wondered how long it would take to lose his patience. "You need to remove material, a dagger has smooth edges and this one still has notches and no point."
Casper got the hint, and got the coarse stone, and began working on the blade. After a few hours of working in silence (only a few coughs and sighs from Smith) he was finally finished, and showed Smith the blade.
"You could make a dagger out of a sword, but nice work. I see you prefer using your right hand, and with sharpening both hands must be equal, or you must practice with keeping the same angle to and fro, your left to right is at a steeper angle than your right to left movement when you use your right hand."
It was not as good as he would have done it, Casper had forgotten the different parts of the dagger have different uses, the tip was for stabbing and needed to be stronger, and closer to the handle it would be more for cutting, and could be sharper. But it was good enough.
Casper stood up again. "Time to go home."
Smith shook his head. "No, first clean up this mess on the workbench you made. We agreed I would only sweep the floor, not mopping up the water."
Casper smiled. "Thank you for your patience with me, but you don't have to sweep the floor today."
Smith got Diego's knives from the workbench. "All right, see you tomorrow."
Casper raised his hand. "Wait! Here is the spare key for the smithy." He reached underneath the workbench and grabbed a key, and handed it to Smith. "You can sweep the floor tomorrow morning."
Smith smiled. "And you can sleep a little longer than usual, knowing that your smithy is in good hands. See you tomorrow."

Smith walked out of the door. Well, everything went better than expected. On his way to the inn he caught a glimpse of Katie.
"Hi Smith, bye Smith" was all she said, and even before Smith could say anything she went into a house, very close to the smithy. The shutters were closed, and Smith suspected that this was the house where Katie and Charlene lived.
Smith looked at the sharpened knives he was holding. Visiting them now with the knives in his hands would be a bit awkward. And Diego needed them, it was already getting late, and he was getting hungry. He looked again at the three knives in his hands, and decided to hold them in a less threatening way, at the blades, the two smaller knives in one hand, and the large one in the other hand, handle pointing forward.

Diego was already waiting in the doorway.
"No bathers?" Smith asked while he approached the waiting Dog.
"No, it has been a quiet day today, and no other guests waiting for dinner." Diego replied.
Diego went inside, and Smith followed and put the knives on the counter. "I have sharpened the knives as requested. Good quality knives, nice hard metal, not much abuse. You really know how to use them properly."
"Yes, thank you. I wish I could use them more often, but… you know… not many eating guests…" Diego's reply sounded almost like an apology.
Smith went to the stairs. "Well, plenty of time for a nice warm bath."
"The bath is over there." Diego said while pointing to the 'bath' door.
"I know, but I have to get my bathing clothes first, I'm a Human." Smith replied.

Smith came back a few minutes later in a pair of short pants and a towel and a clean cloth in his hand, and went to the door with 'bath' on it. Diego came out of his kitchen again. "Wow, those knives are really…" but before he could finish his sentence he changed the subject "What caused those scars on your back?"
Smith turned halfway around, door handle in his hand "Oh those… I will tell you later. Maybe. But bath first, then some good food, and after that the story behind those scars, if nobody else comes. I really don't like to tell the story about them to everyone."
Smith went into the bathing area. He was used to take a shower first to wash off most of the dirt and dust caused by the coal, rust and metal, but here was no shower. He looked around a little, and saw a half height door. He opened it, it was indeed a shower room, but the room itself was used as a storage area. He turned around, and saw a few brushes lying on a shelf.
Of course, Inimals with their fur coats don't take a shower before bathing, they simply brush the dirt and loose hairs out of their fur. Smith continued to the bath. It was old, but well maintained and clean. He tested the water with his foot. A bit on the cold side of comfortable.
He looked around again, and spotted a pump embedded in a solid looking stone wall. He walked towards the wall, and felt it. It was warm, this must be the water tank holding the hot water. Separated from the bathing area, and a fire beneath it, simple but effective. And a waste of coal if you have no bathers.
Well, his system he had at home was not perfect either, there you had to lighten up the forge for heated water, and that was a lot less effective for heating water, and if you don't work all day you can not take a warm bath. He pumped some of the hot water into the bath, and stepped in. He choose deliberately a place facing the door, and his back towards a blind wall. If someone came through the door or peeked through a window they could not see his scars.
Smith closed his eyes, and thought about the fact that he had left his soap in his room. It was of no use anyway, there had not been a possibility to use the soap in the shower, so he idly decided to wash himself in the bath with the cloth and only water with his eyes closed.
He opened his eyes when he heard the sound of the opening of the door. A female Dog entered the bathing area.
"Oh, excuse me, I didn't know there was a guest in here." she apologized.
"Oh, no problem, I hope you don't have a problem being in the same bath as a Human male." Smith replied.
The Dog smiled, and began to brush herself. "No, not at all, but around dinner time is usually quieter, and I have time to take a bath".
Smith smiled. "Yes, but my dinner has to wait, I have sharpened Diego's knives, and I just came back, and now he can use his knives again to make my dinner."
The dog smiled. "So, you are our new smith?"
Smith now also smiled. "No, not at all. I came here to learn something about your symbolism, but after today I somehow feel like your new smith. The smith here is more like a locksmith than a blacksmith, he does not even know how to sharpen knives. And what about you, what is your business here?"
The Dog at the other side of the bath looked at the water. "I have a store at the other side of this village. After the death of my husband I continued it, and I am capable of making a living out of it. Not much money, but everyone needs to buy things and I sell all kinds of goods."
"Nice. Well, I think my dinner is ready in a few moments. Enjoy your bath." Smith stood up from the seat in the bath, and stepped out of the bath in a way that the Dog diagonally opposite of him could not see his back and grabbed his towel and draped it around his shoulders. He walked towards the area close to the door and toweled himself dry, facing the dog in the bath, but keeping his pants on.
"Why do Humans always wear clothes, even in a bath?" the Dog in the bath asked.
"Well… Human." was Smith's short reply, while draping the towel around his shoulder to cover his scarred back again and left the bathing area.
"Dinner is almost ready!" Diego called from the kitchen.
"Just a few more minutes, I don't have fur and need my clothes to stay warm!" Smith replied.

When Smith came back down the stairs clothed again Diego had already put the plate with his dinner on the table.
"Ah, that nice meat again. Lunch was very tasty, and I really don't mind eating the same thing twice." Smith said while pulling his knife and fork out of their box.
Diego smiled. "Mutton tomorrow, I hope you like that too. Cats don't, they can not taste the sweetness of it."
Smith smiled. "No problem with mutton, I grew up in a more Feline village, and having mutton was like a treat to me. I really love the sweetness of it."
"I thought I heard a feline accent in your speech, and now I understand. You grew up in the old neutral village?" But before Smith could answer that question Diego left. "Eat first, talk later, I understand."

After Smith finished his meal Diego returned.
"No need to leave me and let me eat alone, I really appreciate a good conversation over dinner." Smith remarked.
"I know, but it's… it's" Diego began to stutter a bit.
"It's because of the female Dog in the bath?" Smith finished the sentence he thought Diego wanted to say.
"Yes, and I.. and I…"
"You secretly love her?" Smith interrupted Diego again.
"Yes, I love Dora. But she doesn't know, and don't tell her if you talk with her again… and I…"
"I understand. Her husband is dead, I have not seen your wife as well and…"
This time it was Diego's turn to interrupt Smith "Yes, my wife left me because I did not make as much money as that other Dog who came here one day as a guest, and she left with him. Well, that's one less greedy mouth to feed, I'm over it, time to move on."
Smith smiled. "Well, you could become an excellent pair, business wise, purchasing advantage for starters. More things to buy from a single supplier, maybe even involving the smith for the coal for his forge and your bath. Single delivery for three customers, single bill, less expenses."
Diego also started to smile. "Yes, that would be a good start. Now finding the courage to ask her this instead of that other thing."
Smith stood up. "Well, I'm a smith. Forging different items together is one of my specialties, and if I can get two Dogs hammering in bed when I leave this village I'm happy."
Diego had some trouble controlling his laughter, just when Dora opened the bathroom door to leave.
"Something funny?" she asked. Maybe she had heard the conversation between Smith and Diego, but she did not show it.
"No, I just told Diego a dirty Human joke, not suitable for ladies." Smith saved Diego's grace, and went upstairs to his room.
Busy day tomorrow, he hoped Diego would not sleep off tomorrow morning, Smith wanted to start early, sweeping and cleaning the smithy to make it a workable place again, not the dusty and forgotten place it had been today. And maybe even buying some coal at Dora's store, if Casper didn't have any. There was some forging to be done soon, for the law enforcer's jail.

Smith had slept even better than the night before. He got used to the feeling of his bed, the smells, the sounds, and even the light, because the window was facing an other direction than in his own bedroom, and his bed was in a different corner. Not quite dreamless, he thought about how to make his own village safer, he needed cooperation for that from the rest of his village and they all said 'yes', but he had forgotten the solution. It had to do something with the forest.
But it was a new day, and he had a lot of work to do before Casper arrived to slow him down. No, that was not quite it, he was here because of Casper, he was here to learn something from that cat. He was not quite sure what he could learn from a useless Cat, but what the passing Wolf said yesterday gave him some confidence that there was a possibility to learn something, 'I'm afraid you would spent more time at the anvil than in his books.' was what the Wolf said, so the Cat did own some books. Maybe he could buy them.
Smith did what he had to do in the morning, but when he got his razor he changed his mind: he would not shave in these weeks, only cut when his beard got too long. Now it was just a firm stubble, nothing to trim. He went downstairs to get his breakfast.
"Good morning Smith." Diego had already made his breakfast. "I heard you were awake, yesterday you said you wanted to start early, so I already made your breakfast, bon appetit!"
Smith was surprised about those last words. "You also speak Elfique?"
Diego smiled. "No, not speaking, those are the only two words I know, I learned them from a passing Elf, he said he was going to the west, but he did not want to say why."
Smith thought about his time among the Elfique. He did not trust them, but he could not recall one of them wanting to go west, or, at least, no Elf told him. Elves are patient, they could wait a very long time, playing with Human and Inimal children, watch them grow up, get friends with their children, and then do what they wanted to do in the first place, gaining control of something. Human singer Elvis was one of their victims. Teaching him a silly song, let him sing it to the queen whom they had also taught their language, and then get him decapitated. And laughing behind their hands.

Diego broke his thoughts again. "Tell me about your scars." he suddenly asked.
"Oh, those things, Cats put them there" Smith did not want to tell everything, but Diego was clever.
"They don't seem to be fighting scars, did you have sex with Cats without knowing how to prevent those injuries?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, their claws while having sex with me caused them, but you said you know how they could have been prevented?"
Diego grinned "Oh yes, there are many ways. Declaw them, bind them, sedate them, take them from behind…"
Smith now also grinned "You know, we had consensual sex, doing those thing would be a turn-off for both sides, but there are more Felines than just Cats."
Diego almost fell off his chair "You had sex with more Felines?"
Smith smiled. "Oh yes, except Ocelot. She was beautiful, but too shy."
"So, tell me, is it true, do the Feline males only last for five minutes?" Diego was curious.
Smith continued to smile "Yes, same thing for the females, but I managed to extend it to fifteen or even twenty minutes, and my bonus was… is… that I could not and still can not get one pregnant."
Diego's smile turned into a grin. "A good feline is still not a dog. We could last for hours. So, you were some kind of the village's wh…"
"That's enough of this talk. Those days are over, but my breakfast is not. So please let me eat, I have work to do." Smith got a little annoyed about talking about this past. This past, the good past. Sooner or later he would tell Diego the sad part of his past, and maybe even what happened after that fateful afternoon, but not today. But he hoped he would never have to talk about it again. 'I am here for my future, not for my past' Smith thought. He finished his meal, got his packed lunch, and went to the smithy. And maybe Diego already had heard Smith talk about his past with Charlene.

When Smith arrived at the smithy he saw the door was already open, and Casper working inside at the workbench.
"Good morning Casper. You came out of your bed early, did someone empty a bucket of filings in it?"
Casper looked up from his work "Good morning Smith, no, my bed is still clean, but I didn't want you to throw all the pieces of different locks in the same tray when you will become a whirlwind of cleaning in my smithy, so I started early, and I must say: I love it. Nice and quiet when the sun comes up. And you really get the feeling you could do something. And, oh, almost forgot: I brought my book with our symbols and their meaning in it. That's what you wanted to learn, yes?"
Smith smiled. "Slow down a little. First: I'm sorry about yesterday, I got a bit annoyed, but now I realize you are not a true blacksmith, but as you said, a locksmith. I'm all kinds of smiths at the same time, first of all blade and arrow smith but also other weapons, but also a normal blacksmith, the strong hammering guy, and yes, I'm also supposed to know a few things about locks, but my knowledge about that does not go far beyond opening locks for people who have lost or broken their keys. I am not very good at assembling locks, I don't have the finesse for that in my fingers. But… I see you already have swept and cleaned the smithy… I wake up at sunrise, so I don't have to light up a candle, eat and then start to work, and blow it out an hour later. I really hope you didn't spent a candle to see what you are doing."
Casper looked at the workbench and smiled. "Yes, I lit up a few candles, normally I wake up a few hours after sunrise, and it didn't occur to me to wait until it was light enough to see what I was doing."
Smith smiled and noticed the book on the workbench. He walked towards it to look at it.
"Be careful with it!" Casper warned him.
"Of course I will." Smith smiled "This book will make my education a lot easier, I think I will only copy the symbols and their meaning I will need, or at least the ones I think there will be demand for, try to memorize the simple ones, and only ask you if I want some clarification."
Casper looked at Smith "How can you get our symbols on your metal? Some are quite elaborate, and it will take days to engrave them"
Smith smiled. "I have a little secret method, it's called etching. You need some chemicals for it, and beeswax" The smile on Casper's face dropped. "We don't have bees here, I don't understand why Humans keep those stinging pests, and eat their excrement, and even like it. I have tried it once, but it tastes like water"
Smith continued to smile "Because you can not taste sweetness. If you, carnivorous Cat, can not taste it, it does not mean it is not there. You Inimals have a far better sense of smell and hearing, something that seems impossible for Humans."

Smith flipped idly through the pages, ending up at an interesting symbol, two eyeless tadpoles, one black and the other white, in a circle, tail of the first was next to the head of the other. It was simply called 'balance'. Casper came standing beside him. "There are far more words that describe this symbol, but balance is the summary of it. Balance between light and dark, water and fire, hot and cold and many other things."
"Balance between Humans and Inimals. I think I will adapt and use this symbol for my village" Smith spoke in a dreamy voice.
"It is perfect, how can you adapt it?" Casper said a bit aggrieved.
"Not much adaptation, I… need a symbol for my village, an escutcheon… The adaptations will be simple, just adding a few colors, the color of human skin for the Human side, but I'm not quite sure about the color for the Inimal side, I hope I will not offend you if I take a dark brown color. With a blue band at the separation line between them, representing the border river, and a red dot in the center, representing my village, neutral in between them."
Smith was happy finding this symbol so early, it was almost at the back of the thick book.
Smith put the book back on the workbench. "We have some work to do. Thank you for sweeping for me, and now we need to get this smithy in a working condition."
Casper protested a little "But it already is in a working condition and… ah… I understand, blacksmith working condition, and not only locksmith working condition."
Smith smiled "We finally understand each other. So, where do you keep your coal and metal, then I can put some onto and next to the forge, just in case a customer does not want a lock but some other metalwork to be done"
Casper looked out of the open door "I don't have metal any more besides what stands in the corner, and I have used most of my coal in my stove at home for heating and cooking, but you can buy some at Dora's, I will get you some money.”
Smith raised his hand "No, I will pay for the coal. I will simply deduct what I have paid for it from the earnings, if I don't sell anything I will lose my money and you have a sack of coal for free"
Casper smiled. "You really think you can make a profit here?"
Smith who was almost at the door turned around "Of course, I'm a Human. Humans can make a profit out of everything, especially metalwork." Smith walked back to Casper. "I also have a business opportunity for you. I think that you, Diego and Dora all buy things that are not made here from the same supplier, and each of you will have to pay for transporting costs. What if you all put those different orders together, and let one of you give your supplier one single order? One transport bill, reasonable less than three separate I think, and a bit more walking with the items for you, but your walking does not cost any money. I already have told Diego the same, and I will tell it again to Dora, but the three of you would have to do the negotiations. I'm neutral between you and your supplier."
Casper nodded, but said nothing.
Smith was again at the door when Casper stopped him again. "Don't you need a wheelbarrow or cart for transporting the coal?"
Smith smiled "No, I'm a Human. As long as the sacks are strong enough I will carry them on my shoulders, just like I'm used to do at home."

Smith was finally out of the door, heading towards Dora's store. He looked at the house Katie disappeared in yesterday, and saw the door was open and Charlene standing on her crutches in the doorway.
He waved at her, and she waved back, and as a consequence of her letting go of one of her crutches. It fell. Smith ran towards her to help her get her crutch back.
"You could simply have nodded or say something, you do not have to be my mirror image, you are much prettier than I am"
Charlene smiled timidly "I'm sorry, I'm still not used to these things"
Smith smiled at her. "Go lie down and get some rest, I have other things to do, like working and spending my money on simple things like coal for a smithy."
Charlene turned around and disappeared into her house. "See you later!"
Smith went to Dora's store. It was a simple store at the other side of the village, she sold all kinds of goods, even some metalwork. Smith spotted a few familiar cooking pots. Smith walked towards them, but before he reached them Dora came from the back of her store.
"Good day, how can I… Oh, it's you, the smith. How can I help you?"
Smith smiled. Dogs don't miss a sound when money could be made.
"What's a smith without coal? Casper didn't tell me in his letters he was a locksmith, and I as a blacksmith need some coal to work. Do you have any?"
Dora nodded. "Yes, I have some at the back. Somehow my supplier wanted to sell me more, at a bit lower price. Might be a coincidence, but a few days later you came into our village, as a blacksmith."
Smith continued to smile "Somehow I think I know your supplier, I have told him I was going here, and seeing your cooking pots… well… they are made in the Neutral Zone, close to my village."
Dora looked at the pots. "Oh, those… they are smuggled here, having those Human items here is officially illegal, but our enforcer condones it. They are very good cooking pots, I even use one myself."
Smith's smile turned into a grin "Oh yes, the Human and Inimal kings might be at war, but the civilians want peace. And the smuggling goes both ways, Feline woodwork is also much sought after, and likewise not allowed in the Human kingdom. I know some of the smugglers, and they even had to ask the Felines for a less quality of their work, to make it more indistinguishable from Human woodwork, or at least, make it look like it's made by the best Human woodworkers."

They walked towards the back of the store. "How much coal do you normally sell, and how much surplus coal do you have? I don't want to buy more than is needed, you have to supply an entire village and Diego's bath." Smith asked.
Dora looked at Smith "Diego buys his own coal, from the same supplier. I think he also has to pay for his own delivery, maybe we could put our orders together, and reduce the delivery costs."
Smith laughed. "Yes, I told Diego and Casper the same, buy together. But you have to do the negotiations yourself, I don't want to offend a friend of mine. How much do I have to pay you for your coal, and please, say the normal price, you need the money, I don't need the discount."
Dora smiled "I have two large sacks in surplus, and they will cost you one big and five small silver each."
Smith laughed. "So, I have to pay as much as at home, and still you make a profit. Maybe I am the one who must redo his negotiations for what I have to pay for my coal." Smith reached in his pocket "Here are your three big silver… and oh… you may also have those small coppers, I don't need them and they just add weight in my pocket."
Dora's smile got even bigger "Thank you, you are far too generous."
Smith made a slight bow. "This village is dying, it's far too poor to survive for a long time, I really want to help. Spend the extra money in this village, buy some extra meat or something, but don't let it get out of this village."
Smith walked towards the two sacks of coal that stood a bit separate from the rest.
"Don't you need a cart for those?" Dora asked.
"No" was Smith's short answer when he picked up botch sacks at the same time. "But you can help me by holding the door open, I only have two hands, and kicking it open is not a good idea because it turns inwards, kicking through it does too much damage to it"
Dora laughed and held the door open. "Have fun!"
Smith turned around for a last time "I don't know what kind of fun you have with coal, but I use it for work."

Walking back to the smithy Smith realized how quiet this village was. Not many people to be seen, a few sounds came from the cart-maker, there was a small cart outside with a side of it missing, and he saw the back of a Wolf who was sawing something… a Wolf who was working with wood… Smith guessed the doctor had a lot of experience with stitching… he heard a squealing pig before it got silent… another living creature turned into a piece of dead meat… but somehow all these sounds added to the feeling of silence.
When he arrived again at the smithy Casper was away, Smith guessed the Cat was gone for eating his lunch. Smith grinned. Casper must have been really hungry, after actually working. And maybe tired. Smith put one sack of coal next to the forge after he had filled the forge, and carried the other to the farthest corner from the door. To give Casper something to do when he wants to use the coal at his home. His grin got even wider, because he suddenly realized the Cat was not as strong as he was, and really would have to struggle to move this sack.

Walking back to the workbench to where he had put his lunch he suddenly heard a Feline scream from outside. Charlene! Smith immediately forgot his lunch, and ran outside, to Charlene's house.
When he came around the corner he saw that the front door of Charlene's house was closed, not a normal sight, it was open when he had passed it the previous time. He heard Charlene scream again, and from the corners of his eyes he saw more movement. Some of the villagers and the enforcer came outside to see who was screaming. Smith did not think and started to run. When he reached the door he kicked it open. The door-frame splintered, and when he entered he saw a Cat attempting to rape Charlene. The Cat was not yet inside of Charlene, but he was very close.
Smith was enraged, but Smith's rage was not a normal kind of rage. When Smith becomes really angry he gets really calm, and knows exactly what he wants to do. The Cat had stopped his movement, and had turned his head around to see who had kicked in the door with an enormous force.

Smith calmly scanned the room for a safe place to throw the Cat to. Hard corner, not too many things that could be damaged by a flying Cat… He saw a nice place next to the kitchen, the place where the trashcan stood. Charlene's knives were at the other side of the counter, the Cat might go for the knives, but if he threw him to the floor against the trash-can the Cat could not see them and get an idea.
He calmly walked towards the still motionless Cat, and grabbed him by his throat, careful not to break the Cat's neck, and not trying to strangle him with his strong hands, but with enough force to lift the Cat up and throw him to the intended place. The Cat landed with a loud crash against the empty trashcan. Smith saw from the corner of his eye the enforcer standing in the doorway. Smith looked at the enforcer, and signaled him with his hand to stay outside.

The Cat opened his eyes again, he was conscious, which was a good thing, he had a lot of explaining to do.
"You have no rights here, you are not wanted here, you may not harm an Inimal here!" the Cat screamed with a mixture of pain and anger in his voice.
"I have every right to help those who need and deserve it." Smith spoke with a calm voice.
"You have no right to interfere with my business, Human!" The Cat growled when he tried to stand up again.
"You stay there where you belong, and I don't care about your business, I just want to help her." Smith said while looking momentarily at Charlene, who was still lying on her bed, looking frightened and apparently not realizing what was happening in her home.
"You don't know the pleasures of having sex with Felines, Human, and that's my business here. Rape her, but actually I was after that runt of a Tiger she is taking care of, so I could have my fun with her again and again, make that old one disappear and adopt the young one. You do not have rights here to do something. You are not that weakling of an enforcer we have here, he who doesn't see what all those smugglers bring here into this village, he who has never caught me…"
The remark about the pleasure of sex with Felines from the Cat put a slight smile on Smith's face, but that soon dropped when the Cat continued to talk.
But before Smith could make a step forward to grab the Cat again to throw him against the solid looking table the enforcer stepped in. "I've heard enough of this!" were the first things the Fox said.
"What do you want to do? Fight me? You are a Fox, not strong in a hand to claw combat, everybody can win in a fight with you when you don't have your bow to fire your arrows from a safe distance." the Cat said while standing up.
"The enforcer could say that I am his prisoner, and have to follow his orders. Let's say he could order me to grab you and take you to his prison." Smith spoke while looking from the Cat to the Fox. "Am I right?"
The Fox nodded.
"What? Just nodding is not a command, what do you want me to do?" Smith asked the Fox again.
"You are now my prisoner, get that Cat, and take him outside."

That was a clear command. Smith stepped forward, and grabbed the Cat's wrist, and turned the Cat's arm to his back, with force, but still careful enough not to break the arm or dislodge the shoulder.
"Ouch! you are hurting me!" the Cat yelled.
Smith's reply came in the form of lifting the arm a bit up in a way that would cause real pain, and lowering it again, he was only the captor, not the executioner. When they came outside he saw a large group of Canines gathered around the kicked in front door.

"He has stolen money!"

"He has hurt my child!"

"Kill him!"

"He is worthless, we do not want Cats here!"

"Release him, so we can take care of him!"

Smith looked at the group and bent slightly forward to whisper in his prisoner's ear. "You must realize you are safe as long as I have a hold on you, when you are out of my hands you are out of my protection."
The Cat swallowed something, and started to look scared.
One of the Wolves came forward in a threatening manner, poked his finger at the Cat and spoke with a low voice, almost growling. "Release him, or we will kill you and the enforcer as traitors and take him."
Smith looked at the Enforcer, who simply nodded.
"What?" Smith asked.
"Release him, there is nothing I can do." was the answer, although Smith did not want to hear this answer.
"No trial for him?"
The Fox shook his head. "There is no laws of the King here to enforce, only the laws of the Wolves."
Smith closed his eyes for a moment, and then bent forward again to whisper something into the Cat's ear again.

"I'm sorry"

Smith let go of the Cat's wrist.
When the Wolves saw that Smith had released his prisoner they almost ran forward and yanked the poor cat towards them. The Cat screamed in a mixture of pain and fear.
"Hey!" Smith called. "Not here, not in front of the smithy, and not in front of the inn, I do not want to be reminded about what happened to him." Smith spoke while pointing to the Cat who was almost dismembered by the Wolves.
Some of the Wolves nodded, and some of them had an evil grin on their face when they walked away with the cat in between them. A few Canines, Wolves and Dogs, stayed behind, and stood motionless in front of Smith and the enforcer.

Smith looked at the wrecked door. Finally he turned around "Is there still a good carpenter in this village?" he asked to nobody in particular.
"Yes, but they are… you know… Cats…" one of the Dogs replied.
"All right, go and get them, I want them to fix the door… Hmm… You, Wolf, do you have something to do?" Smith asked a younger looking Wolf in the group.
"N-No, t-there is not much work in this village" came stuttering from the Wolf.
"Do you want to earn two small silver?" Smith asked the Wolf.
"Y-Yes?" The Wolf was a bit surprised.
"Good. All you have to do is take care of Charlene while the Cats are working on her door. Sort of guarding her. As you can see, she is not in a perfect condition, she has a sprained ankle, and you know… Cats in her house working at her door after what happened…" Smith said nodding at Charlene who could be seen while reaching in his pocket. "Here is one small silver as a first payment, you will get the other when the door is safe again and the Cats are gone. I have other work to do, but first see if Charlene is not harmed."

Smith stepped into the house again. "Hello Charlene, sorry about your… door and trashcan, I was a bit… impulsive"
Charlene managed to smile a little "It's all right, thank you."
Smith walked towards her, and sat down next to her. "I hope you don't mind, but I ordered a few Cats to fix your door, and" pointing at the Wolf outside who was standing next to the enforcer "that Wolf to keep an eye on you, just in case one of the Cats tries to do something else and… Ah, I think I see the carpenters, I have to talk to them"
Charlene's smile widened. "I saw you pay that Wolf."
Smith also smiled "Yes, Wolves are very loyal, but for a Human like me that comes with a price. I don't mind paying him, I always overcharge Wolves when they buy something from me, that's one of the reasons why I am… relative wealthy."
Smith stood up again and walked out of the house to meet the Cat carpenters.
"I think you already heard what happened?"
The Cats nodded, but said nothing. They looked a bit scared. Some of the Wolves who had taken the assaulter to the forest had returned, a few of them with some blood on their fur.
Smith turned towards the Wolves. "I will not thank you for what you have done, but please, no more innocent victims. These Cats will fix the door, and I asked that Wolf over there to stand guard just in case the Cats want to do something I do not approve of."
The Wolves nodded. "Thank you for releasing that Cat." one of them said.
Smith shook his head and looked at the ground. "The way you have killed him was wrong. Seen from my point of view of course. You simply could have cut his head off, or put a knife through his heart, but no suffering."
The Wolves also looked at the ground. A bit ashamed of what they had done.
Smith turned towards the Cats and the enforcer who had come closer. "So, you know what you have to do and not to do if you want to live. How much…"
But before Smith could finish the Enforcer interrupted him. "The village will pay them for their services. I'm sure that corpse in the forest has hidden some of his stolen goods somewhere, I will see to it that those items will be returned to their rightful owners and what remains… well… that goes to the village."
Smith remembered something and looked at the enforcer. "Am I still your prisoner?"
The Enforcer smiled. "No, you are innocent, you are free to go."

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Chapter 3 - The Inimal Village, part 1 (part 2)

#5 Post by Neutral Smith »

I hit the 60,000 character barrier :mrgrin:

Chapter 3
The Inimal village, part 1
(part 2)

Smith intended to walk back to the smithy when he encountered Katie. "What happened? did someone get hurt? I heard someone screaming?"
Smith sighed. "Charlene will tell you what happened." Before Katie could ask an other question Smith had turned around and started to walk again.

Casper was already inside of his smithy, standing a few steps back from the doorway. He took a few more steps backwards when Smith approached.
"I'm sure you heard what happened?" Smith asked.
Casper nodded. "Yes, that Cat was my brother."
Smith was surprised. "Your brother? Hmm… I have talked to some villagers before this incident, they do not speak well of you, but one of them said that you are not as bad as your brother. I suggest you should be more careful now that your brother is dead. How many Felines are here in this village? The Canines do not like Cats, so please don't give them a reason."
Casper sighed. "Well… me, my now dead brother, the two Cat carpenter brothers, I'm sure you have seen them before because I also have used them as messengers to give them an opportunity to get out of this village for a while, Charlene the real messenger, John the doctor and little Katie. So that's three Cats, a Jaguar, a Cheetah and a Tiger. Not many left"
Smith thought for a moment. "Hmm… that means that this village will turn Canine, and that will be the end. A good village is mixed, with all kinds of Inimal in balance, what good are strong Canine stone walls if there is no one left to make a good Feline wooden frame for the roof?"
Casper smiled a little. "Yes, and I will soon also leave. Because of your request to learn something I stayed. There are no female Cats here and you know… It gets lonely."
Smith smiled "You could go for a Dog."
Casper got a look of disgust on his face. "A Dog? Are you kidding me?"
Smith continued to smile. "Well… I grew up in a village without Human females, but Felines are also nice. And I did not manage to get one pregnant."
Casper did not know what to think of what Smith just said. He was somewhere between laughter and disgust. "Do you also happen to know how to please a dog?"
The smile on Smith's face dropped. "Erm… no… but I think even you and me combined do not have the stamina to do it. I have mentioned the same thing to Diego, about me and Felines, and he laughed at my twenty minutes with a Feline. He said Dogs could go on for hours"
Smith's last remark made Casper burst out in laughter. "Hours… by the spirits in the forest… I could only last for minutes… and oh… I'm sorry about your lunch, I also have eaten that in minutes. Working really makes you hungry."
Smith smiled again, but a fake smile. "No problem, I have lost my appetite anyway. My history still gives me some problems with death, I'm not Inimal and I could not easily get over the death of someone else, even if it is someone I did not like. My last words I spoke to your brother were 'I'm sorry' just before I released him."
Casper looked at the workbench. "It's all right, you did the right thing. The meat was mutton by the way, nothing special."
Smith had a real smile again. "Do you remember what I said about honey? Mutton is almost as sweet, especially when you use the right spices, for a Human like me mutton is a treat." Smith walked again to the book on the workbench. "Do you mind if I go studying your book instead of working?"
Casper grinned "Of course not, as long as you do nothing with the forge I have free coal for my stove, study all you want."
Smith now also grinned. "Yes, free coal. One half sack here, and one over there all the way in the corner. I will only move your anvil and slack tub when I leave, over there to the corner in front of that sack of coal would be a nice place for them."
Casper continued to grin "Aww… you are really a cruel Human. Let's hope two sacks of coal are not enough for your work, those sacks are really heavy, and moving them that far away beyond the forge means you also have to move them back."
Smith walked towards the sack of coal in the corner, and picked it up with one hand.
"Oh excrement! you are really strong!" Casper exclaimed.
Smith grinned. "Yes I know, but now I have some heavy studying to do."
Smith walked back to the workbench where the book was, picked it up and intended to go outside with it to sit on the bench in the sun, but he saw it was already getting close to dinner time, and he put the book back at it's place on the workbench. "Well, I have done a lot today, but not what I really wanted to do. I'm… I'm going to see if Charlene's door is fixed and then eat."
"That's all right, I will finish this lock and go home myself, I have done more today than I even have ever done in a single week" Casper said while positioning himself again on his chair at the workbench. "You know, it's getting too dark to see soon, so I think I will call this a day. I'm also going home." and Casper hopped off his chair again.

When Smith reached Charlene's house he saw the two Cats busy with the final testing of the latch, and it worked perfectly.
"Nice work!" Smith called when he approached them.
The Cats looked up a bit startled from their work.
"Yes, thank you." the Cats answered in unison.
"And also thank you for asking us for doing this task." one of them added.
Smith smiled. "I asked for a good carpenter, and Felines are the best with wood. If I had kicked down a wall I would have asked for a Wolf to fix it."
Smith reached in his pocket, and felt he did not have many big coins left in it. But he had more in the safe in his room, and some in a hidden pocket in his backpack. He gave each of the Cats five big coppers.
"These are for you, as a bonus." The Cats looked at the given coins
"Th.. Thank you… but we get paid by the village for this work…"
Smith smiled. "I know. Bonus. Extra. Free. Now, where is that Wolf, I also have to pay him for watching you, and giving Charlene a feeling of safety."
The Cats also started to smile again. "That Wolf is inside, talking with Charlene and Katie. I think that Wolf also wants to become a smith, but I did not hear their entire conversation, we had to concentrate on our work."

Smith walked towards the door and reached for the doorknob. But halfway his movement he changed his mind, and knocked on the new door. From the corner of his eyes he saw the two Cats walk away. Their job was done. A few moments later Katie opened the door.
"Smith!" she almost shouted, and hugged him around his waist, her face at a very inappropriate place.
"Hello Katie, good to see you again" Smith said while trying to pry the little Tiger loose from him. She got the hint, and released him.
"May I come inside?" Smith asked politely.
Charlene was standing on her crutches again. "Of course you may, thank you again for what you have done for us."
Smith smiled. Some day he might sprain a muscle in his face from all that true smiling he is doing lately, but he continued doing it. He finally had some joy back in his life, the joy of helping others. Not the fake smile of someone who has to sell something. "No problem, but I came here to pay the Wolf for his services" And turning towards the Wolf "Those Cats were not very nice because they did some eavesdropping, but I heard from them you wanted to become a blacksmith?"
The Wolf smiled "Y-Yes. That's a thing I… I want to learn."
Smith reached for a last time into his pocket, and got two small silver. "These are for you… And you, only you, are welcome to learn the art of Human metalwork in my smithy in the Neutral Zone. You understand?"
The Wolf looked at the two small silver coins in his hand. "B-But these are two silver, and y-you already have given me one."
Smith smiled. "Give the second one to someone who really needs it."
Smith started to walk to the door again.
"Wh-When am I welcome in your smithy?" the young Wolf asked just before Smith was outside the door.
"Give me two or three weeks after I leave this village, I have to make some arrangements, you have to sleep somewhere, you need tools which I will provide… those kind of things." and Smith was outside the door.
He was halfway between Charlene's house and the inn when he realized he did not even ask the Wolf's name. Well, he had a few weeks left to do that, and if that Wolf was really eager to learn he would even come to the smithy tomorrow. But only for a disappointment, because Smith wanted to learn from a book.

When Smith reached the inn Diego was again standing in the doorway.
"I heard what you did. Good job!" was Diego's greeting.
"I am not proud of what I did. Someone got killed today." Smith said with a somber look on his face.
"Yes, but you prevented a rape, and caught the most annoying person here. Yesterday I used the plural form 'Cats' when I talked about diving into my storage instead of the bath, but I meant only him."
Diego was truly happy, he and Dora not having to defend their property against that… well… you put a name on a proper grave, but he who got killed today did not deserve one… Cat… gave them more time to spend together. "I guess Casper has eaten your lunch? I have prepared some extra mutton for dinner, you must be hungry."
Smith laughed again "Yes, if someone confesses he has done more work in a single day than he would have done in a week he really deserves it. I don't mind to eat a little less if I can help someone else with my food."
Diego went to the kitchen and when he returned he smiled. "Chicken tomorrow, maybe you can invite Charlene and that little loud-mouth for dinner, from your own money of course."
Smith also smiled. "Yes, I would do that, they really deserve it. And erm… I want a hot bath tomorrow. And now I want to eat in silence, not letting this delicious meat get cold."
"Of course… I will be… at Dora's… talking about some… business… When you go upstairs will you close the front door? You don't have to lock it, just close it"
If Diego would have been a Human he would be bright red from the blushing. 'Talking' about 'business'. Yeah, right.

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Chapter 4 - The Inimal Village, part 2

#6 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 4
The Inimal Village, part 2


The following morning when Smith came downstairs Diego was not already busy in his kitchen. Smith went to the 'Private' door and put his ear against it to listen if he could hear Diego snoring. It was silent behind the door. Smith looked at the front door, and saw it was still unlocked, just like he had left it the evening before. Smith grinned. It really must have been hard negotiations.
Smith was contemplating about what he was going to do: Wait for Diego, or make his own breakfast. After a few moments Smith decided to make his own breakfast, and some for Diego in case he hadn't eaten at Dora's and suddenly realized what time it was and came rushing to his inn for his guest. Not only being a good host is important, but being a good guest is also important. And having a sense of humor.
Smith didn't mind Diego was away, if two people are happy together, with a little bit of his help by…the release of a Cat… into the hands of Wolves… Smith closed his eyes and tried to shake away the thought of what the Wolves had done with the Cat.
And what the Wolf had said to him. 'Release him, or we will kill you and the enforcer as traitors'.
It's impossible to have a Wolf as a friend. At least, an adult Wolf. They can't be trusted.

The hardest part of making breakfast in a strange kitchen is not making the breakfast itself, but finding all the ingredients and other things you need to make it. The kitchen itself was not a surprise: just as tidy as everything else at this inn. Not a speck of dust on the shelves or a crumb of food on the floor. Smith managed to find everything for the eggs and bacon he wanted to make, and was not even surprised that even the back of the cupboards was spotless. Smith grinned. At home he had sometimes a problem with crawling food, a piece of forgotten meat crawling with maggots, the result of being far too busy with his work in the smithy. When he finally had everything in the frying pan he heard the front door of the inn open, and a few moments later Diego stood in the doorway of the kitchen.
"Good morning Diego, I hope you don't mind I am the one who is making dinner this time. Eggs and bacon." Smith greeted the smiling Dog.
Diego laughed. "Well, normally I don't allow anyone in my kitchen, but you seem right at home there."
Smith smiled. "Yes, this reminds me a bit of the early days of my smithy. My clients slept in my house, I was some kind of smith and innkeeper at the same time. And I have never heard a complaint about my food. Please have a seat, there's plenty of room as you can see, breakfast will be ready in a few moments."
Diego went to a chair at a large table, a pitiful sight, a single Dog at a large empty table. But it was a single Dog with a smile on his face.
Smith put the eggs and bacon onto two plates, and walked towards the table Diego was sitting. "Do you mind if your innkeeper joins you in breakfast?"
Diego looked up, it looked a bit like he was daydreaming. "No, not at all, please, sit down."
Smith grinned. Diego really was daydreaming, dreaming of not being the innkeeper of this inn, but of being somewhere else. "So, how was your talk with Dora? Hard and long? Or was something else hard and long?"
Diego looked at the ceiling. "Yes, we had a good talk, and erm… something else happened and I have forgotten the time…"
Smith smiled. "It's all right, I don't mind. Seeing someone who is happy is always a pretty sight."
Diego started to grin. "Well, I haven't forgotten the time, but I had a severe case of the knot, I just couldn't pull out, even though I wanted to."
Smith burst out in a laughter. "So, yesterday you told me you could go on for hours, and now you are telling me it's not going on for hours, but just being stuck for hours?"
Diego tried controlling his laughter, and eating his breakfast, but said nothing. Smith followed his example, with a bit less trouble, because he was not the one who was a bit ashamed of what he had done, letting a guest make his own breakfast and being served by the guest instead of the other way round.

"This was a really nice breakfast, I think I won't deduct your heated water for your bath tonight from your money." Diego said after finishing his breakfast.
Smith smiled. "You don't have to, but can you please make the shower room empty, I have no real use for a brush with only two big patches of hair and some very thin hair on other places, but I do like to take a shower before I enter the bath."
Diego smiled. "I think the pump does not work properly, but since you are a smith that should be no problem for you to fix it. I think Dora has some good spare parts, not Casper although he is the so called smith here… Well… no, don't go to Dora, I will go there and buy the parts."
Smith smiled. "No, You empty the shower room, I will take a look at the pump tonight to see what kind of parts I need, or maybe it's just a simple fix like cleaning the valves… But I will know it when I can see the pump."
Smith stood up to go to the smithy again, for maybe a peaceful day of learning. "Hmm… I have forgotten to make my lunch. You bring me my lunch for the rest of my stay here, and I will fix your pump. Does that sound like a good idea? Dora's store can be seen from the smithy, maybe you can wave at her with your hand." were Smith's last words when he left the inn, even before Diego could say anything in return.
Diego burst out in laughter. Well, at least this was a guest with a sense of humor. An honest guest, with a lot of money, handy… He wondered about those tears of a few days ago… This Human had not talked to him about his wife, but maybe it was best not to ask.

Smith found the door of the smithy locked. No surprise, Smith had the feeling Casper had overworked himself a bit yesterday. Starting too early, the commotion with his brother… Admitting he had done more work than he had ever done in a week… Well, everyone deserves a rest. Working too much… Smith knew all about it. Not only the crawling meat, but also not knowing what kind of weather it was outside. Nice and sunny? Grey and raining? If you only look at the glowing forge and glowing metal you don't see it. And having Frank put you in bed because you just can't stand on your legs any more and just collapse in the smithy is also… humiliating. And it had happened quite a few times, despite of Frank's warnings. But earning the equivalent of two big gold in a week compensates a lot.
Smith unlocked the door, and got the book. Smith was contemplating about where he would go and sit. Inside, at the workbench, or outside, in the sun. Smith looked around a bit to look for something he could use as a table outside. Suddenly he got an idea. And grinned. He put the book back on the workbench, and started to move the anvil outside, that would be his table for today. It would not be big table, but it had to be a strange sight, suddenly the anvil in front of the smithy instead of inside.
Smith started to read the book. 'If Casper shows up I will ask him if I can use the shield and three old swords as a table' Smith thought. That would require only a bit of work on the shield, it was not flat, but with a hammer you can fix anything. And if you can't fix it with a hammer your hammer isn't big enough. Smith grinned. Old joke, but still usable. Time to study something new.

"Your lunch… and… is… is that the anvil you use as a table?" Smith looked up. Diego was standing with an open mouth staring at the anvil.
"It looks like an anvil, it has the weight of an anvil, and you can use it as an anvil, so yes, this is Casper's anvil, and I moved it outside." Smith replied dryly.
"But, isn't it heavy? Casper had to ask four Wolves to move it." Diego still couldn't believe his eyes.
"No, this is a medium sized anvil, the one I use in my Smithy needs two Humans to be moved, and then it's still hard to move. Lucky for me I have even stronger friends."
Diego smiled. "You mean Bergvolk, they come from your Neutral zone. Am I correct?"
Smith also smiled. "Yes, those. The suppliers of coal and some cast iron items."
Diego looked at the forest. "Yes, strange people. Never stay long, always on the move with their cart. Never even spent a single night in my inn, but always asking a very fair price for their goods."
Smith smiled. "Yes, if they have to pay for staying in your inn they simply add that to their prices. This way they can be cheap."
Diego nodded. "Yes, if you look at it that way I can understand. Well, time to shake hands with Dora, I'm not in the mood for waving, if you know what I mean." adding a wink at those last words.
Smith grinned. "I still want my dinner and my warm bath tonight, what you are going to do after I have had those is not my business, I will just close the door again. And oh, almost forgot, I want to see your pump. You know, that metal thing standing fixed to the floor in the storage next to your bathing area. Not that other perfectly fine working thing." and whispering adding to it "It's showing a bit."
Diego looked down, and started nervously looking around.
"It's no problem you are a bit excited, but just don't do stupid things." Smith spoke in a soothing tone and after flipping a few pages back in the book and pointing his finger at a symbol "I think I will put this symbol on a piece of scrap metal for you. For free." It was the symbol for '[censored]'.

Diego grinned, and intended to walk back to his inn instead of Dora, but Smith called him back. "Diego! My lunch is still in your hands and I'm hungry!" Diego smiled, and started to walk again, this time in the direction of Dora, who could be seen standing in the doorway.
"Diego! Waving hands, shaking hands, but my lunch is still in one of them!" Smith called Diego back again.
Finally Diego handed Smith his lunch.
Smith winked. "My bath can wait, Dora can't. If you give me the keys I can ignite the fire for the hot water myself. And I assume you already have purchased the ingredients for my dinner? After lunch I will invite Charlene and Katie for dinner. Do you have also time for dinner? You could invite Dora, I have no problem with cooking for everyone."
Diego smiled, and handed Smith some keys. "I trust you. Everything is already prepared, to save me some time, but if you want to relive your old days with both a smithy and an inn and give me all my time with Dora by doing everything yourself that's even better. And no, I don't think I… I mean we have time for dinner. And I haven't bought enough chicken for all of us, but I think I'll eat something else."
Smith nodded with a grin on his face. "Have fun!"

Smith finished his lunch, got some tools to dismantle the pump, closed the smithy, and went to Charlene's house to invite her and Katie for dinner. The door was open again, and Charlene was lying on the bed with her eyes closed. She opened them when Smith knocked on the door to announce himself.
"Oh, hello Smith." she said when she saw who knocked.
"Hello Charlene, taking a rest I see, with the door open again." Smith replied.
Charlene went to a sitting position. "Yes, I feel safe enough to do that again. Yesterday I made a mistake, but everything turned out all right because you were close by."
Smith smiled. "Yesterday is the past, may I invite you and Katie for dinner in the very near future, namely tonight?"
Charlene began to smile. "What will be the meat of the day? Let me guess: chicken?"
Smith continued to smile "You may never guess again, but yes, I will be cooking chicken tonight."
Charlene looked a bit puzzled. "You're cooking? Where's Diego?"
Smith grinned "Diego will be busy somewhere else, with Dora."
Charlene had some trouble controlling her laughter "Diego and Dora finally have found each other? That has taken a lot of time and baths."
Smith now was somewhere in between smiling and being serious "Well, a Cat had to die for that, now they finally have some time because they won't have to defend their businesses."
Charlene also got her serious look back. "I know you have some trouble with death, but we're Inimal, our lives go on. And they have improved a lot with that failing kidney gone."
Smith smiled. "You know, first they see me as the new smith, tonight I will be the innkeeper with my cooking and heating the water for my own bath, and I now also have the feeling I am the new law enforcer by being responsible for the death of a criminal. Maybe tomorrow I will also be the new shopkeeper."

Smith heard a sound behind him.
"Are you taking over our village?"
Smith turned around. There was Katie with a killed crow in her hands. "Hello Katie, no, I don't have the intention to take over the entire village, I already have a village of my own… I see you already have killed your own dinner for tonight, I have invited Charlene to eat with me, chicken."
Katie looked at the crow she held in her hands. "You want to trade this crow for a chicken?"
Smith smiled. "No, I came here to invite the both of you for dinner. I will do the cooking."
"Shall I help you?" Charlene suddenly said "I know a tasty recipe with chicken, but I can't do it all by myself. And I have some spices Diego doesn't have, they come from the south, then we can cook together."
Smith smiled. "That would be nice. I have to go to the inn now, I want to take a hot bath tonight, but I first have a pump to fix for my shower."

Katie was enthusiastically hopping up and down. "May I also take a bath?"
Smith looked at the bouncing little tiger with a smile on his face. "Of course you may, I am the innkeeper tonight, everyone is welcome, as long as there is still place for me in the bath."
Katie began enthusiastically running around with the crow in her hands, ran to the edge of the forest, and threw the crow away. "Chicken! Bath! Yippee!"
Charlene had some trouble controlling her laughter. "I'm sorry, she is just a little enthusiastic, for a long time it was not safe enough for her to go alone to the bath, and now it's safe."
Katie came running towards Smith again to give him a hug. Same height as she did yesterday, but this time a little bit too enthusiastic.

Walking back to the inn Smith managed to grin a bit again. 'That little Tiger really has to grow a bit, or I must become faster to catch her before impact'.

Back at the inn Smith began clearing the shower room. He placed all the items that stood in the shower room, mostly cleaning equipment, next to the door in the kitchen, Diego would have to give them a better place as long as he would need the shower. He had left a washboard, a tub and a piece of soap behind in the shower room, he would use those to wash his clothes and the stains the hindquarters of the deer had made off his backpack.
Then he turned his attention to the pump. The pump was of a robust model, old Human made, but easy to dismantle. It still took a few hours to clean the valves and put everything back together, but it finally worked perfectly again, nice clean but cold water.
Smith smiled, yes, that was a very good trade, asking Diego to bring him his lunch in exchange for this little bit of work, and none of his money. He walked to the back of the kitchen where the fireplace for the heating of the bathwater was, he checked the water level in the tank above the fireplace, pumped some more water in it and kindled the fire.
It was a bit of an odd thing to do, kindling a fire, and not going to work with the fire, but here kindling the fire was the work. Diego already had done most of the preparations. There was nothing more to be done here. Smith went back outside to see if Casper had opened the door of his smithy again, but he could see from a distance that the door was still closed.

The law enforcer stood staring at the anvil, wondering how this thing could have gotten outside.
Smith walked towards him. "Hello, yes, I have put it there, to use it as a table."
The enforcer looked up. "You carried this thing outside?"
Smith smiled. "Yes, it's not that heavy. For a Human."
The enforcer looked at Smith, his head a bit tilted "Does Casper approve this?"
Smith shrugged "I haven't seen him this morning, and after lunch I went to the inn to fix a pump and being the innkeeper, because Diego is busy elsewhere."
The enforcer smiled. "Yes, I heard them, Diego and Dora. I respect their privacy, but I can tell you is that was not a pretty noise they were making, that's why I fled my office next to Dora's house and decided to take a stroll."
Smith laughed "Yes, and if they are going to make that noise at the inn while I try to sleep I'm going to sleep in my tent again, in the quiet woods, and ask the money for my room back. Diego's loss, not mine."
The enforcer laughed, although not heartily. He would have to hear them more in the following weeks. Smith saw Charlene's door open, and Katie came out. When she saw Smith she changed direction, and came running towards him. Smith quickly dropped to his knee to catch this fluffy wrecking ball. She hugged him again, this time around his neck.
"I lick you!" she said grinning.
"You mean you like me?"
"No, lick", and gave Smith a lick over his face.
"Well, time to get cooking before you start to eat me. And what did I ask you a few days ago? You must help Charlene."
Katie turned around and saw Charlene fumbling with her crutches, a small bag and her keys to lock the door. She ran to Charlene to help her.
The enforcer smiled. "You really have a good influence on her, even for me it's hard to control her, she is far too impulsive."
Smith looked at Katie who was now holding the bag in one hand and locking the door with her other, and Charlene who came towards them. "She is just a child." Smith simply said.
Smith turned towards the enforcer "What about that Wolf when I arrived here? I came into this village, and immediately saw a Wolf running towards your office. Did that have something to do with me?"
The enforcer looked at Smith, again with a serious look. "No, he noticed there was some money stolen from him, it had nothing to do with you. Casper already had told me about your plans and showed me your letters, and I agreed you were allowed to come here."
Smith smiled, he was relieved.
The enforcer started to walk again. "Have a good meal, and nice of you to help them." he said gesturing at Charlene and Katie who were standing next to them.
"Is that Casper's anvil?" Katie suddenly asked.
"Yes… Well I'm hungry, let's get cooking. I am really curious about those spices you have." Smith replied when he started to walk towards the inn, and immediately slowed down a bit to give Charlene a chance to catch up with him. She smiled. Katie was already at the inn.

"This is a bit awkward. Inviting you for dinner, and now you have to help me with the cooking." Smith said while entering the inn.
Charlene was still smiling. "It's fine, I like to get out of my house and do something instead of lying on the bed and asking Katie to do things. And now we actually get to eat proper food, we really needed that."
Smith looked at her in disbelief "You mean you were actually going to eat that crow if I didn't invite you?"
Charlene nodded.
"That's… not good. From now on you will eat with me as long as I stay here." Smith spoke with a firm voice.
"But… the money it will cost you… we barely know each other…" Charlene tried to say.
"I don't care. Let's cook some proper food. Tell me what to do, do what you can do to help me, but don't talk about money." Smith became a bit agitated, but somehow a bit relieved at the same time. This was a completely new feeling he experienced. He really cared for someone, something completely different than he had ever felt before. It was not love, it was not lust, he wanted nothing in return for what he gave, but he just wanted to help. Giving honest help to someone whom he could not benefit because they lived in two different villages. He would leave in a few weeks, Charlene and Katie would stay here, and survive because he had helped them when they most needed it.

"Why are you smiling?" Charlene suddenly asked.
"Oh, nothing, I wonder if Katie will jump into the cold bath, or first tests the water." Smith answered, at exactly the same moment when Katie entered the kitchen.
"I wanted to jump, but I was wise enough to test the temperature first, it's still too cold." she said with a smile on her face.
Smith smiled a bit more. "That's because I have kindled the fire less than an hour ago, I wanted to take my bath after dinner, it's a waste to heat it if you are not using it. Cooking, eating, doing the dishes… and after those things bathing time."
Katie nodded. "I think I understand. What can I do in the meantime?"
Charlene looked at her, and then at Smith "If Smith gets you a chair to stand on you can help me with spicing the chicken. We can do the cooking."
Smith smiled, and went to the dining room to get a chair, and placed it next to Charlene who had already got the chicken and was unpacking her spices.
"You can go and do something else Human, we can handle it here."
Smith grinned. "You mean you don't want a Human spy looking over your shoulder? All right, I'll see if I can get more heat in the bathing water, I don't know how Diego does it, but I'll try something that also works at home."
Katie looked up in surprise. "You have a hot bath at home?"
Smith smiled. "Of course, I am a smith, getting dirty is a part of my job. Coal dust, rust, sometimes grease… Having my own bath is actually a lot cheaper than going to a public bath every day."
Now it was Charlene's turn to look up in surprise "You have to pay for every visit to the bath in your village?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, we don't have taxes in my village, well… when I return home I will change that, make my village a bit like it's here, everyone who earns money from customers who do not live in my village will have to pay taxes, and with that money I will make my village more attractive and safer to attract even more customers, but now everyone has to pay if you want to use something, nothing is for free."
Charlene turned her attention to the chicken again. "Get out dirty spy! You take everything that is good here!"
Smith smiled, and went to the bathing area to pump some of the heated water into the bath, and then returned to the heater to put some more coal on the fire, and pumping some fresh water into the tank again, and repeating this a few times until Charlene and Katie had finished cooking.

"Dinner is ready, can you help us with the plates?" Charlene asked after almost an hour of cooking.
"Of course. It smells really good. I can't recall if I have had this flavor before. Put it on the plates, then I will bring them to the dining room." Smith put his box with his cutlery on a table, and waited a few moments until Charlene had put the chicken on the plates, and then went into the kitchen to collect them.

Katie went to the corner where the high chair stood, and dragged it towards the table. Charlene grabbed Smith's hand who had put down the plates again to help Katie with the chairs. "No, wait, let her solve this puzzle."
Smith looked at Charlene, and she gave Smith a quick lick on his cheek. "You are far too kind for us, but thank you."
Smith continued to look at Charlene, not knowing what to say at first, but finally he got the right words. "No problem, I just like to help others."
Those words were not entirely true, he never liked it to help others, but finding Charlene along the path in the forest had changed him somehow. Charlene looked at him and smiled, while she was still holding his hand. Katie finally had solved her chair moving puzzle, and Smith gently pulled himself free from Charlene's grip to get the plates to the table.

The food was an interesting new experience for Smith. It gave him a burning sensation in his mouth, and he began to sweat. Katie began to giggle.
"Don't you like it?" Charlene asked with a worried look on her face.
"Y-Yes, it only b-burns a bit in my mou-mouth" Smith was able to say while trying to suck in some air to cool his mouth.
"Don't worry, the feeling will subside within a few minutes… erm… when you are a Feline like us. I have never thought about how a Human mouth will respond to our curry. Katie was a little bit too enthusiastic with the spices, but she likes it this way."
Smith managed to control his breath again. "It's all right, let's all blame Diego, if he were here you wouldn't have to cook at all."
Katie went to the kitchen for a second serving, and Charlene smiled. "Don't mention it, I love to cook, it's just a pity I don't always have the ingredients I want. Cooking here was a feast for me."
Katie came back from the kitchen with her plate filled with the leftovers from the frying pan. "And this is my feast." she said while putting the plate on the table and climbing on her chair again.
"Are you sure you can eat everything?" Smith asked. Katie was already digging again in her food, and Charlene answered the question. "Of course she can. But you don't want to smell her tomorrow."
Smith grinned. He already knew that smell.

Katie was licking her plate clean when Diego entered his inn again. With a smile. "Smells good." was the first thing he said.
"Yes, sorry, I allowed more people in your kitchen. Charlene wanted to cook, and Katie helped. I wasn't even allowed at the stove." Smith apologized.
"I said I trust you, and your judgment… I believe your meal was even better than I have ever made… And I see a broom at a different place, and not in the storage… erm.. I mean shower room. You already have fixed the pump?"
Smith grinned. "Well… the food was a bit spicy, but I liked it. And yes, I already fixed the pump. That was a very easy fix for me. No costs, only work. Now you have to bring me my lunch every day, for free… But the good news for you is, is that I invited Charlene and Katie to eat here every day. Breakfast, lunch and dinner… from my money."
Diego looked in surprise at Smith. "Why would you do that? You barely know them?"
Smith smiled. "All I see is a child and someone who tries to take care of that child who is not even her own, but without an income because she can't do her work because she is injured… I have lost my wife and child, even before it had a chance to be born, and that loss changed me. It made me a cold person, only thinking about money, never about others. Now I want to change back, it's difficult, but when I leave I want at least four people with a good memory of me, and I want to remember their smiling faces when I leave."
Diego smiled. "Giving them food for three weeks will cost you a large sum of money. Are you sure you have enough?"
Smith also smiled. "When I left my village I had the intention to stay here for four or five weeks instead of three, and you are a lot cheaper than I thought, so I have a lot of money left. Let's say four small silver per day for their food, and again twenty days, a few more than I have left of my twenty… Should be eight big silver but I will give you nine, because you also need help with your empty inn. As long as I have money I don't worry about it. And I'm still waiting for the butcher and poulterer to let me sharpen their knives and give me some money in return, they will have a lot of cutting to do while I'm here."
Diego started to grin. "That will be a lot of chicken for you, that's the cheapest meat around here, and gives me the most profit. And seeing the Katie's smiling face I think there will be no objection from her to eat that a lot. And hot baths of course, that will also cost you money."
Smith also grinned. "I already gave you more money than you asked. What about giving you coal for the baths? Dora also deserves a bit of profit."
Diego laughed. "I almost thought you were going to say the extra money was for the baths. But speaking of the bath, I will do the dishes and clean the kitchen, you can go and clean yourself, and somehow I think you also invited Katie and Charlene to join you."

Smith went upstairs to his room to get his bathing clothes, and the money for Diego, Katie was already in the bathing area, and Charlene gave Smith a puzzled look, he went wrong, the bath was not upstairs.
Smith came back down in his bathing pants with the money in one hand, and his soap, cloth and a towel in his other. He put the money on the counter, and suddenly he saw that Charlene was still sitting on her chair. "Aren't you coming?"
"No, I don't like getting wet." was her short answer.
Smith shook his head. "You don't have to bathe, but you can sit on the ledge, with only your ankle in the water."
Charlene stood up and got her crutches. "Yes, that is a good idea. I only hope Katie won't splash me."
Smith grinned. "She may try, but that would also be the last time I will invite her for a bath."
Smith held the door to the bathing area open for Charlene. Katie was already in the water, and grinning.
"Katie, if you splash water this will also be the last time I will invite you for a bath, is that clear?" Smith said with a firm voice, and Katie's grin immediately dropped.
"Aww… You are a cruel Human. But I still lick you."
Charlene stood at the brushing area, and smiled at Smith. He really knew how to handle Katie. Smith smiled back at her. "You don't have to help me washing my back again, but shall I help you brushing?"
Charlene continued to smile, Smith suddenly realized this was a very inappropriate and intimate question… but that Cheetah still smiled at him… a warm and loving smile… was she…
"Yes, you can brush my back. That would be nice."

Smith got a brush, and started brushing Charlene's back. Charlene moaned a little.
"Is it nice?" Smith asked in a smooth voice.
"No, you use a Canine brush on my fur, they are a lot less soft, it hurts a little. And you are not really gentle." came as the answer he didn't expect.
Smith finished his part of the brushing, cleaned the brush and put it back, and while he went to the shower room he gave Katie a 'don't even try' look, and Katie shook her head. She understood him. She wouldn't do things that would make this her last visit to this nice warm water. The water from the fixed pump was cold and Smith shivered. But he rinsed himself as fast as possible with the cloth and soap, and went to the nice warm water in the bath. Charlene was already sitting on the ledge, with both her legs in the water, and Katie was swimming around.

Smith took the same place as he had done the first time: facing the door, and his back facing a blind wall. Charlene stood up and came sitting next to him. Of course, it was not very polite to stare at something private that was in front of you at eye level when you want to talk. Smith noticed that her walking was already improving, good for her.

"So, what do you think of our village?" Charlene asked Smith, who was sitting next to her with his eyes closed.
Smith opened his eyes, and thought a few moments about his answer. "It's not bad, but it could be better."
Katie climbed onto his lap. "What could be better?"
Smith looked at the little Tiger. "The Wolves, I don't like them. One of them threatened me, and I have the feeling I must not make mistakes around them. But they are not all bad, that young Wolf I ordered to watch over you seemed… a bit better. But he is still young, and maybe he was more afraid of me than I am of him."
Katie looked at Smith, and started to feel at his arms and chest. "Are you afraid of Wolves? But you are very strong and muscular, I think you are almost as strong as a Bear."
Smith smiled. "No, a Bear is much stronger. Have you ever met a Bear?"
Katie shook her head "No, I have never seen one. But I imagine you with a brown fur coat to look like one."
Smith grinned. "Then I must be a very young shaven Bear. Bears are not very common here, I doubt you will ever see one. And an adult Bear… well… If I stand on my toes the top of my head would barely touch the chin of an adult Bear if he looked down, and they are five times as heavy as I am. But I have only met one Bear in my life." Smith turned his head towards Charlene. "Have you ever met a Bear?"
Charlene nodded. "Yes, but only once… But why would a Bear come to a Human? That must be really special circumstances."
Smith smiled. "You know what Humans can do with metal. He was working on a bridge in the far west, very close to the Western Mountains, far into Wolven territory, and he needed a lot of metalwork, and I won't even use Wolven metal as scrap metal, very poor quality, and me and my men are always willing to help good paying customers, he got even better metal than he had anticipated to obtain from Humans."
Charlene grinned. "Then you must really have overcharged him."
Smith smiled. "No, I did not overcharge him. I even undercharged him a little, because he was very funny."
Katie frowned. "You laughed at a Bear, an Inimal who is ten times as strong as you are, and you are afraid of Wolves?"
Smith had some trouble to control his laughter, and Katie repositioned herself to listen to the story Smith was going to tell her.

"Well… it is not a very long story, having seen it is a lot funnier than telling it, but long story short: Where he lived there are no large fish in the rivers, and in the river flowing through… well… my village is located on some sort of an island… the river around my village does have some very large fish swimming in it. We have built some dams in the river to raise the water level a bit to make it form a natural barrier, the water flows very slowly, and is very clear, and those fish are very easy to spot. And he saw those fish, did not think, and dove straight into the river. And he caught one. He did manage to shake most of the river water out of his fur, but he still needed a lot of towels, and Uwe had to charge him extra for those. He is one of the few Inimals I really want to meet again, I wonder what has become of him and his bridge." Smith looked at the ceiling. "Well… sometimes you have to have dreams, he lives far away in Wolven territory where I don't dare to go. And now why I am afraid of Wolves… It's not for my life that I'm afraid of, but for those I can not protect… I have only told you the summary, but the story of my life is much longer."

Before Smith could continue his story the door of the bathing area opened, and a black Jaguar, the doctor, entered.
"Good evening, Panther Doctor" Was Smith's greeting.
"I'm not a Panther, although I am a black Jaguar." was the reply Smith got.
"He's always grumpy." Katie whispered in Smith's ear.
"I may be old and almost at the end of my life, but my hearing is not as bad as that of a Human" was the angry reply from the Jaguar.
Smith looked at the rude little Tiger who was sitting on his lap. "That was not a very nice thing to say about someone who can hear it. Now apologize."
Katie grinned. Smith lost his temper a little. "Katie, if you don't apologize I will ask Diego to prepare crows for you instead of chicken."
Katie swallowed something. She would still get something to eat from this Human, but it would not be as tasty as chicken. "I'm sorry" Katie spoke with a soft voice.
"My hearing is impaired, I didn't hear it." Smith spoke with a more demanding voice while looking at Katie. 'Charlene and the enforcer would have a lot of trouble with this insolent Tiger when she would hit puberty' he thought.
Katie looked at the Jaguar, and now spoke with a clearer voice. "I'm sorry."
Smith looked up to the Jaguar, and thought he saw a smile, but the Jaguar turned around. "I'm sure you have your reasons to hate Humans. But why coming here now when there shouldn't be warm water?"

The Jaguar began brushing himself with his own brush. "I'm here to talk to you. I want to be sure you are the right person."
These words kindled Smith's curiosity. "What do you mean with that, being the right person?"
The Jaguar entered the water. "Turn around Human!"
Smith shook his head. "First I want an explanation about that 'being the right person' thing."
The Jaguar positioned himself in front of Smith. "There are very few humans who behave like you around Inimals, almost like they are one of them."
Smith nodded. "Yes, I sometimes even have the impression Inimals forget that I am a Human, some even say that I have a Feline accent, although I can explain that, I grew up in a mostly Feline village in the Neutral Zone."
The Jaguar nodded. "Yes, I want to see your scars."
“How did you…”
"I told him." Charlene said in a shy voice. "I told him everything I know about you."

Smith nodded, took Katie in his arms, stood up so his upper half was above the water, and turned around.
"Do you remember who did the stitching?" Smith heard from behind him. He thought for a few moments about that question, turned around again, and sat down again, repositioning Katie back on his lap again.
"You could even lift John." Katie said while climbing off Smith's lap to take a look herself at his back.
"Who's John?" Smith asked.
"That grum… great doctor that is sitting in front of you" Katie answered, Smith could not see her grin.
Smith smiled. "Yes, but he did not do the stitching on my back. My former master did it the first time, but a few Leopards have done it over, and put a salve on it to make the wounds heal faster."
The Jaguar began to laugh, and both Katie and Charlene could not believe their ears. They had never heard the doctor laugh before.
"Hahaha… Yes, two Leopard sisters. I did not hate Humans as much as I do today, but it was a very odd request. They wanted to heal a Human, and wanted to learn how to stitch wounds and something to make them heal faster. But their explanation for this strange request… Hahaha… was that they wanted to ride you again as soon as possible, they really loved your sex skills."
Smith snickered. "But I did not love them. They always swatted their tails in my face while riding me."

The Jaguar began to laugh uncontrollably, followed by a severe coughing. He finally regained his breath. "You were the only one that did not pull their tails during sex, that's why they loved you."
Charlene tapped Smith on his shoulder. "I also have a confession to make. Talking to John about you also made me remember my aunt. You told me you had sex with a lot of different Felines, and there was also a Cheetah among them. That was my aunt. When I was young she visited us sometimes, and couldn't stop bragging about her little Human toyboy. Nice and gentle, never complaining about being underneath, did not mind if she fell asleep on top of him… And sometimes he was even brave enough to go for a second time, while he thought she was asleep on top of him. And those seconds were even better than the first timers, he was a lot gentler then, much nicer, because he thought she was asleep and would be grumpy when woken up. She confessed she even pretended to fall asleep, hoping the boy, you, were not finished yet."
Smith sat for a few moments with his mouth half open and staring into nothingness and blinking his eyes. They knew of him?
Katie climbed back onto his lap. "Are you talking about sex? Did you also have sex with a Tiger?"
Smith looked at the little Tiger sitting on his lap. She was far too small, and maybe even too young, but telling the truth never hurts. And maybe he would meet her again when she is tall enough, and then it might become interesting. "Yes, I loved the Tigers most. They were a bit taller than I was those days, and I really loved them nibbling my nose when we had sex."
Katie grinned. "May I bite your nose?"
Smith shook his head. "Only when we have sex, and your body is just too small for doing both at the same time. Maybe when you are ten years older, but I wish you would find a Tiger male who really loves you before that, and that you won't need me."

Katie hugged Smith "I lick you", and gave him a lick over his face, and yawned.
Smith smiled and prodded her to keep her awake. "Time for you to go to your bed. Alone." Smith looked up at Charlene. "Don't you think?"
Charlene smiled. "You have two beds in your room, am I right?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, that is correct."
Charlene continued to smile "Then she can sleep here, I don't think she can make it all the way home, and I can not carry her."
Smith nodded "And Diego told me I pay for my room and for normal cleaning. A sleeping little Tiger in the second bed won't make a huge mess. I'll take her to the second bed, and return here to talk some more with you and John, if he has no objections."
The Jaguar smiled. "No objections, you are… different. Not as bad as other Humans."

Smith got out of the bath carrying Katie in his arms. "Can you shake yourself dry?" he asked the dripping wet bundle of fur in his arms.
"Nnnn…" was the only sound Katie made. Smith took this reply as a 'no, I can not shake the water out of my fur, I am too tired'. Smith was contemplating about what he should do, he had no experience with this kind of situation. His child would not have been this hairy, and a single towel should have been enough to get her or him (don't think about it Smith, don't think about what happened to your child) dry, but this dripping wet child with still a lot of water in her fur was a challenge. He could not wring her, he could not swing her around to simulate a shaking… He saw no other option than to use his towel to wrap her in and prevent her dripping all the way from the bathing area to his room, and in his room get an other towel to get her really dry before putting her in bed. And asking Diego for a third towel for himself.

Diego and Dora were sitting in the dining room, and talking when Smith left the bathing area.
"Oh, hello Diego, Dora… I'm sorry to interrupt your conversation, but I need a spare towel. This Tiger will sleep in my room tonight, she is wrapped in my first towel, before I will put her in bed I will use a second to get her really dry, but then I won't have a towel for myself. I will return to the bath, I want to talk some to John who is also there." Smith interrupted their conversation.
When Smith went upstairs Diego stood up to get a towel. "I will put it on the counter, and we will stay here as long as you use the bath."

Smith reached his room, and entered. 'Put the dry towel on the bed and use the used do dry… no, that's not the right way. Put the wet towel on the…' Katie's chair moving puzzle seemed simple. He suddenly got the answer. He prodded Katie to wake her up. "Please wake up so I can towel you until dry enough to sleep in a bed, no shaking dry in my bedroom."
Katie opened her eyes. "What… where am I?"
Smith smiled. His plan worked. He was afraid she would not wake up. "You are in my room at the inn, where you will be sleeping tonight in the second bed. You are too tired to walk back home, Charlene can not carry you, and I do not want to get properly dressed to go outside, deliver you, go back and redress again to go to bed."
Katie gave Smith a half sleeping smile. "Do Humans always wear clothes?"
Smith nodded while he used his second towel. "Yes, I already have told you how strange Humans are, we always keep ourselves covered."
Katie started to hop a little on her legs.
"Something wrong?" Smith asked worried.
"No, but I have to use the bucket." Katie replied. "I ate too much, and I don't want to soil the bed."
Smith smiled. "Of course, this is a luxury room, the bucket room is over there. I'll wait until you are finished, and then put you in bed."
Smith looked around in his room, waiting until Katie was finished. He suddenly realized why Charlene kept smiling, and was so eager to let Katie sleep in his room.

"Something wrong? you look shocked." Diego asked when Smith came back down again.
"Yes… no… Katie.. bucket… need some fresh air…" was all that Smith could say when he went to the front door to open it to stand a few moments in the fresh air outside.
The enforcer passed him on his evening stroll. "Planning to go outside almost naked?" he asked when he saw Smith standing in the doorway in only his bathing pants.
Smith managed to grin again a little, it was his own mistake. "No, I'm far too kind for Katie. We had a great meal, a bit spicy but very tasty, we took a bath, nice talk with the doctor who also joined us, Katie got sleepy, and Charlene suggested to put her in the second bed in my room, and I agreed."
The enforcer also started to grin. "I never knew Humans had a sense of smell." and walked on.

After a few breaths of fresh air he closed the door again. He heard Diego mutter something when he got his clean towel and returned to the bathing area.
Smith grinned. This was normal cleaning, he had never said anything about a 'No Tigers' rule. But he already had paid Diego well for his hospitality, time to get something in return for his money.
"You really took your time." Charlene noted when Smith returned to the bathing area.
"I needed some fresh air, but now I'm back again." Smith replied dryly.
Charlene and John snickered. They could have guessed what happened.
Smith pumped some more hot water into the bath, and climbed in again. "So, how is your leg?"
"It's fine, I did not sprain is very severe, it'll be healed in a few weeks. Thank you again for helping me. And Katie of course." Charlene answered with a smile on her face.
Smith turned his head to John. "Is that correct doctor, Charlene back in the running in a few weeks?"
The black Jaguar nodded.

"Hmm…" Smith suddenly said after a few moments of silence. "John, you are a black Jaguar, but I have the feeling I have offended you when I called you a Panther. My apologies, but may I ask you why?"
John got a sad look on his face. "Yes, I am a black Jaguar almost at the end of his life. There was a time when I proudly called myself a Panther, but I have seen too much suffering. My friends and family got killed by Humans. Losing one is no problem, losing two or three neither, but everyone around you and being the only one left is…"
Smith nodded. "Yes, I also have seen a lot of suffering, and being Human it hits me even harder when it becomes personal. I have lost my former master, wife and unborn child to Wolves, and I had a very difficult time because of that."
John nodded again. "Yes, and your entire village. Those who stood up for your wife killed by the Wolves in the forest, those who fled killed by Humans."
Smith looked up in surprise. "You know about what happened?"
John nodded.
"So you know my real name?"
The black Jaguar nodded again.
Smith looked at the water. "Can you please keep it a secret?"
The doctor nodded a third time. "I am a doctor, keeping secrets is sometimes a part of my job. Changing names is common among Inimals who almost have gone feral, but not completely, and want to forget. Can you keep a few secrets yourself?"
This time it was Smith's turn to nod.
"Katie's real name is Katryn, although she is very young she changed her name. And there is a Wolf here who also has changed his name. You may have seen him, and if you talk to him you'll notice he stutters a bit. His name was Wilco before his parents and brother got killed by Humans, and now he calls himself Will."
Smith smiled. He knew that Wolf. "And now I, a Human, have asked him if he will become my apprentice because a few cats heard him talk about it and told me. I think I now understand why he didn't show up when I expected him. He is still in shock from my bluntness and about that question. But somehow I think I will see him soon, he seemed very eager to learn."
John smiled. "Yes, if we, Inimals, have very little to lose we take every opportunity we get. I don't know whose hatred is worse, yours for Wolves or mine for Humans, but sometimes we step over our fear and anger, and change. I thought I would never see such thing, I only know it from my books, but seeing how Katryn responds to you is remarkable, and maybe Wilco will do the same, well… at least getting over the fear and anger bit, and maybe you will also become friends."
Smith smiled. "You and I do not have to become friends, but I neither want you as my enemy. And I don't hate all Wolves, although they will pay a lot more for their metal than others. Every Wolf from my history is dead, I killed them all, that's past. Will will soon learn some basic forging, and then return here to become the local blacksmith, Casper has told me he wanted to leave, and every village needs a smith."

John got a sad look on his face again. "Almost everyone wants to leave here. Yesterday I had to stitch a Wolf who had cut himself while he was working on a cart, he and his family want to go west… There are a few Foxes around this village who have some chicken farms, but they want to move north, closer to a Vulpine village close to the coastline. I have no successor here, only two cats left, they want to go south… Your presence here gives a small impulse to the economy, but that will be short lived."

Smith closed his eyes, thinking. A few minutes later Smith opened his eyes again. "Why not go east? I think I can use some Wolves in the quarry. There is an abandoned quarry a few days south of my village, and stone and Wolves is a very good combination. Being neutral means I may not ask anyone to choose my side, but you can make the suggestion to some of the villagers here. As long as they don't do any harm to anyone everyone is welcome to work there. It was founded a few years before the war started and barely produced, there must be plenty of stone left. Olaf, our builder, told me it was the best kind of stone, and a waste not to use it."
The old Jaguar nodded but said nothing, and stood up with some difficulty. "Old bones" he apologized. "Time to go home." he added to that while he did a halfhearted attempt to shake himself dry.
Charlene also stood up to leave. "Goodnight Smith, or whatever your real name is. And thank you for letting Katie sleep in your room."

After a few moments Smith also got out of the water and dried himself with the fresh towel, and while going to his room he said goodnight to Diego and Dora, who almost immediately stood up to go to the bathing area themselves. 'Diego makes his own rules' Smith thought with a smile. 'No bath tomorrow if you want clean water' a second thought added.
Smith quietly went to his room, and changed his bathing pants for sleeping pants. Katie was fast asleep. Smith looked at her for a few moments in the moonlight. They both knew what loss is, but they both accepted their fate, she with a little less effort, for him it has taken years.

Smith dreamed a bit. He was under the impression there was a Tigress in his bed, and he was reliving his old days… No, there was really a Tigress in his bed, he could smell her. He looked a bit through his eyelashes, and saw the back of the head of a Tiger next to him. He closed his eyes again. It was not a dream, this was real. He moved his hand a little to place it on the nice Tiger hips. But instead of a firm Tiger hip he touched a tiny Tiger knee at the place where he expected a hip.
'Wait… She is too small… it's a child…. I don't have a Tiger child… am I a Tiger myself?' he moved his hand to his face to feel what kind of face he had. He felt his face, and a firm stubble on his chin. Suddenly he realized what has happened. He was not a Tiger, but he definitely needed to shave. Katie apparently had woken up and had climbed into his bed, to sleep next to him.
Now he had some trouble where to place his arm. He hoped Katie didn't mind he put his arm over her tiny body, he could not remember where his arm was when he woke up. Katie grabbed his arm in her sleep, and pushed it against her chest. He could feel her tiny heart beat. He pulled the little Tiger a little closer so his arm was not stretched and a little more comfortable for him. She didn't mind, and began to purr a little in her sleep. Smith also fell asleep again. He hoped she would remember him when she was old enough. A good memory of him and the memory of the stories she had heard today.

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Chapter 5 - Preparations

#7 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 5
Preparations


The following morning Smith got up first, and did what he had to do before Katie had to use the bucket again. He looked at his face in the mirror. A firm stubble had formed, it even started to look a bit like a beard. He heard Katie also get out of bed.
She knocked on the door. "What are you doing in there?" he heard her ask.
"I'm in doubt whether I should shave, or let my beard grow and only cut it." Smith replied. 'Stupid reply' he thought immediately after saying it. It was of no concern for Katie, it was his life and his face. But instead Smith opened the door. "What do you think?" he asked the little Tiger.
"Shave it, you look ugly with all that hair." was the reply he got.
Well, at least Katie is honest to him. Smith grinned, and Katie took a step back. "Then give me some time to shave and get away, after that the entire room is yours."
Katie smiled, and went back to the bed to sit on it and wait until Smith was finished.

"Why don't you shave all your hair?" Katie asked while Smith was getting dressed.
Smith thought a few moments about this question. "We don't have enough hair for insulation, but our clothes are also very uncomfortable when we wear them directly on our skin, our thin hair is just an other layer of protection…Wait… you didn't take look at…"
Katie grinned. "No, but now you have given me the idea, I will do it next time we sleep together."

When Smith came down the stairs he saw Charlene already waiting for breakfast. "Good morning Smith. You survived the night I see." she said with a grin on her face.
"Katie is a sweet little Tiger, she didn't give me any trouble." Smith replied while he got a chair.
"No, but you didn't have to clean the bucket. Good morning to you too." Diego replied from the kitchen.
Katie came down the stairs. "And again, Diego" she said with a grin on her face.
"Oh excrement!" Diego almost howled from the kitchen.
"Yes, a lot of it." Katie replied, and her grin even got bigger.
Smith smiled. Wise decision to leave the room.

Diego brought them their food, already smiling again. "I'm afraid you can't use the bath today. I have to change the water because… erm… there were too many people in it yesterday."
Smith shrugged. "No problem, you make your own rules. No sex for me in the bath, but you said nothing about you and Dora."
Diego looked shocked. "But how… how did you know… we were silent…"
Smith grinned. "I never said you were having sex, but you just made your own confession. When I left the bathing area yesterday you were very eager to stand up and go to the bathing area, and I'm not blind, although I wish I haven't seen it all. Maybe you should start wearing clothes to cover it."

Diego left to his private quarters, and a few moments later he returned, wearing a pair of trousers.
Smith laughed. "You don't have to wear them all the time, but… erm… maybe when you think of Dora and talk to someone else, like me."
"Dora trousers!" Katie shouted. They all laughed, and even Diego.

Smith finished his breakfast, and looked at Charlene. "Charlene, you weren't clothed when you brought me my letter, you only had your bag on your back. Normally Inimal messengers come clothed, to make them recognizable as messenger. Was there a reason for it?"
Charlene looked at the table. "I… I don't like wearing clothes when I have to run, they irritate me too much and impair my running. Walking with clothes is no problem for me, if you want me clothed I will buy some and wear them."
Smith shook his head. "No, stay as you are. You are an Inimal, and clothing is a Human thing, we… like to keep our genitals covered and don't have enough hair to do so."
"But you do have some hair down there" Katie interrupted.
"So, you did take a look then while I was sleeping?" Smith replied.
He did not know what to think of this naughty little Tiger. Katie looked at the table.
Smith grinned. "Also tricked you into a confession. But what I wanted to say is that some Humans have some trouble with nakedness, especially those religious people. Maybe I should talk to them, they cause a lot of trouble by ordering others what to do and what not to do. I used to be far too busy with my work, and when I return home I will work less and spend more time ruling my village. Tell them that they have to accept others like others accept them."
Katie climbed onto Smith's lap. "So you are some sort of a king?"
Smith looked at the little tiger being stuck between him and the table, and moved his chair a bit backwards to give her some space. "No, I am not a king. I do not want to be a king, because that means you have to talk to a lot of demanding people you don't like, and you have to write all kinds of boring or stupid laws. Let me be a simple smith, but also yes, I am responsible for everything that happens in the Neutral Zone." Smith moved his chair more backwards. "And now will her royal naughtiness please remove herself from my lap. Because this simple smith will soon stand up, and go to his work."
Katie climbed off his lap and Smith stood up, and looked at Charlene. "Diego only brings me my lunch, you have to send Katie here to pick up yours."
Diego raised his hand. "Her royal stinkyness can bring you your lunch, that will be my payment from her today. Cleaning the bucket she has used is not what I call normal cleaning."
Smith smiled. "That's also fine, as long as I get my lunch."

When Smith arrived at the smithy he saw the door was open, and saw Casper sitting on his chair. But not working. When he heard Smith approaching he looked up and sighed.
"What's the matter?" Smith asked with an honest interest.
"I'm leaving." was the short reply from the sad looking Cat.
"But my education, I came here to learn, you decided to stay to teach… you can not leave me like this." Smith spoke with a sound of desperation in his voice.
Casper shook his head. "No, everything you need to know is in the book, you may have it, I can not teach you anything more."
Smith walked to the Cat, and put his hand on his shoulder. "But the money. I am an able smith, we had an arrangement."
Casper looked up with a sad look in his eyes. "It's not about the money. I just don't feel safe here. They don't like Cats here. I am the last one, the carpenters left this morning."
Smith nodded. "I said some more to your brother. I said that I was sorry when I released him, but I also told him he was safe as long as I was holding him. It might sound like a lie, but somehow I was willing to defend him, and give him a chance for a fair trial, by the laws of your king, and not those of the Wolves. I will do the same for you, keep you safe as long as we work together in this smithy. I have experience with Wolves."
Casper got a slight smile on his face again. "What kind of experience?"
Smith looked at the floor. "I have killed eleven of them… no, that's the wrong order of the story… They have killed my wife when I had left her to hand in my masterpiece, and after that I killed those Wolves… My wife and child would have survived if I had stayed home."
The smile dropped again from Casper's face. "See, that's the problem, they strike when you feel safe. Feel safe enough to leave, and then they will strike when it hurts the most. That's what I want to prevent, leave, survive. I don't care whether you get killed or not Smith, I want to live."
Smith nodded. "All right. I understand. I don't like what you said, but I understand your point of view… Do you have any idea where you exactly want to go?"
Casper shook his head. "No. Just get away."

Smith looked at the door. "I have an idea. Why not go east?"
Casper looked up. "The Neutral Zone, where you come from?"
Smith nodded. "I know I am breaking some rules, by asking someone to come to the Neutral Zone, but we don't have a good locksmith. Robert and Willem can do some locksmithing, but what I have seen from you is remarkable. You are really someone we can use."
Casper began to smile again. "So, I can just walk to your Neutral Zone, talk to those people, and tell them I want to become a locksmith?"
Smith smiled. "Yes, that's how it normally goes. Say who you are and what you want to do, and if we like you, you are allowed to start your workshop or whatever you want. But I will give you a letter to give to Frank, he is the one in charge now, and explain what is happening. I will give you some money to buy some paper and a pencil, I have forgotten mine." Smith handed Casper some copper coins. "Buy some good paper, and a bit extra, because I will be writing at least two letters, and all of them in Human and Inimal so you can understand what I wrote. There is also a Wolf here who wants to become a blacksmith, and if I see him I will give him immediate permission to go, then you can travel together. Frank can take care of him and start his education. I want to take a few more days of rest here. There happens to be a quarry close to my village, maybe I can convince a few Wolves to start that up again."

Casper left his smithy with a smile on his face. He had a purpose in his life again.
When Casper entered Dora's store Smith saw Will, the stuttering Wolf who wanted to become a blacksmith, walk towards him. Smith greeted the Wolf with a simple "Hello." He did not know what else to say.
"I-I'm sorry I di-didn't show up yes-yesterday." the young Wolf apologized.
Smith smiled. "I did not ask you to come, I only said you were welcome in my smithy, a few weeks after I have left here. But you are correct, somehow I was expecting you to show up yesterday, you seem very eager to learn… And I am the one who should apologize, I talked with the doctor yesterday, and he told me some about your history. I now know your real name, but I will continue to call you Will."
The Wolf looked at the ground. "Th-thank y-you." The Wolf looked up again, curious. "Y-you have al-also changed your na-name?"
Smith nodded. "I am supposed to hate Wolves now, just like you are supposed to hate Humans, and here is a short version of my history: Wolves killed my wife and others who are dear to me. But I have also killed those Wolves, you are an other Wolf, I don't hate you. You are even young enough to be the son of one of those I killed."
Will nodded. "My… my fath-father was a sol-soldier who got kill-killed by an att-attack he was sup-supposed to perf-perform on a smith-smithy in… in the Neu-Neutral Zo-Zone, and my… my mo-mother and sis-sister were kill-killed aft-after that by Hu-Humans."

Smith closed his eyes. He had killed the father of this young Wolf who stood before him, and the father of the Wolf who stood before him was responsible for the death of everyone from his past.
He opened his eyes again. "Let the past rest, we can not bring back our dead. Let's look at the future. There is a slight change of plans, you may go immediately, Casper also wants to leave, and he also wants to go to the Neutral Zone just like you, we don't have a good locksmith over there, and Casper is one. Casper is buying paper at this moment, and I will write some letters to my employee Frank, who is also a master smith, about who you are, and what you and Casper are going to do. You can sleep in my house as long as needed, I will write the permission in the letter. I will follow in a few days, there are some more things I want to do here."

A few moments later Casper returned with the paper he had bought. "There are some soldiers in the village, maybe I will stick around just in case something happens."
Smith grinned. "You mean just in case they want their weapons sharpened and you won't get any money because you are gone?"
Casper now also grinned. "Yes, that. Or worse, like wanting new weapons."
Smith looked at the young Wolf who stood shyly at the forge. "And you can do the forging then. I will tell you what to do."
The young Wolf smiled, but said nothing.
Smith looked around in the smithy and then at Casper. "Well… now that I get your book about symbolism that means I don't have to study them. I think that I'm going to do what a lot of wealthy Humans do: Nothing. Well… not completely nothing, Will and I will take note of what kind of equipment you miss, and I can make sure Will gets it." Smith smiled. "Casper, meet your successor, who will become a true blacksmith, Will. And thank you for staying a few more days, it really gets lonely without people to talk to."
Will took a step forward. "Wha-what do y-you mean? no-one to ta-talk to? Y-you are frie-friends with Katie and Cha-Char-Charlene."
Smith shook his head. "They are only a messenger and a child, and I am only helping them. People do not have to be friends to help them. You and Casper are also not friends, but you are useful. Locksmith and a blacksmith-to-be who can say 'if you really want something special go to the Neutral Zone, and ask the smiths there', and I'm sure Charlene prefers to move south, to a more Feline region."
Will nodded. "I und-under-understand. I think I hear Katie app-approach-approaching, she is dragg-dragging her feet a little, I… I think she is a litt-little sad."
Casper started to walk towards the door. "Time for lunch then, I think Katie is carrying three lunches, one for Smith, and the others for Charlene and herself, and that's a little heavy for the child she is. And erm… don't expect me back here, I have some things to pack for the journey I will make soon with a Wolf as companion."
Smith smiled. "Yes, I think you are correct. Will, also time for you to go, nothing to do here for you now, time to get packing, a lot sooner than expected for you. If you need anything ask me, I will buy it for you. I'll ask someone to call you when there is some forging to be done."
The Wolf smiled. "Th-Thank you."
Too many teeth showing, but Smith would have get used to it, soon he would have a lot more smiling Wolves in his Neutral Zone, working in the quarry. Well… it might take a few weeks to convince them to go east instead of west.

Smith was plunged in thoughts about what had to be done when he heard a little knocking on the door. Katie entered, and she wasn't smiling. She was carrying his lunch, and very close to crying. Smith climbed off his chair, and immediately dropped to his knee to get his head at the same height as Katie's. "What happened? Why are you so sad?"
Katie sobbed a little. "A Fox has broken my slingshot." she spoke with a soft voice.
Smith tilted his head a little. "Your what? I know what a sling is, I am a very good shot with it, but I have never heard of a slingshot."
Katie managed to smile a little again. "A slingshot is a forked branch with two rubber bands which are holding a leather pouch, in which I can put a stone, and launch that stone to hunt prey."
Smith shook his head. "I have also never heard of that rubber material you are talking about. Maybe back home I will ask some people if they know it. And you said you were hunting? But I am buying you food, there is no need to hunt."
Katie shrugged. "It's fun. I killed chickens with it."
Smith shook his head. "Chickens. You are saying you are spoiling food for fun? How many did you kill?"
Katie smiled. "Five."
Smith did not know what to think and shook his head. "Katrhyn Tiger, I am very upset. Everyone spoils a little food now and then, that is a thing that could happen, but deliberately ending the lives of five chickens before they were supposed to be slaughtered and eaten is an unnecessary waste of food."
Katie began to cry, but Smith continued to speak "At what distance did you kill them?"
Katie began to smile a little again. "Ten steps"
Smith shook his head again. "Ten of your miserable little steps… No Katie, I am not happy with this. I am doing my best to teach you some manners, but you stay the spoiled child you were. You should know what hunger is. When we met for the first time you were almost starving. Remember that. I could tell Diego to not give you food any more, but then you will really starve, and I don't want that." Smith began to smile. A sinister smile. "I will talk to Charlene, she knows you better than I do, I will ask her about the food that is healthy, but you don't like, and she can ask Diego to prepare it. And you will get to eat ten of those meals. Two for each chicken you killed."
Katie looked at the floor. Smith looked up, and saw Charlene standing in the doorway, smiling, and she left again.

Smith stood up and looked down again at Katie. "Thank you for bringing me my lunch. After lunch I will go to the inn to get something I want to give to Casper before he leaves, although I think he will not leave until I have sharpened the weapons of the soldiers who have arrived here, and something for you to use. I will teach you how to use a proper weapon, a sling. I also use one myself for hunting. But I am a much stronger Human, I can kill a deer or even a boar with it, you can use it to hunt rabbits and pheasants instead of crows when I'm gone home."
Katie grinned again. "A sling is a Hound weapon, you are not a Hound. How do you know how to use one?"
Smith smiled. "I will show you after lunch, but take your time, I don't want you to get sick because you haven't enjoyed your second-to-last meal of chicken and devoured it in a record time."
Smith ate his lunch outside, in front of the smithy, using the anvil again as a table, thinking about the Wolves. How could he convince them to work in the quarry in the Neutral Zone? He was not allowed to ask them directly, and he had not yet talked to one of them and make the suggestion, but he would find a way.

The enforcer approached.
"Good afternoon." Smith said.
"Afternoon, not good." was the reply he got.
Not good… Maybe the enforcer wants to talk to him about Katie.
"What do you mean, not good?” Smith asked, assuming an 'I have no idea' look.
The enforcer looked at the anvil. "You won't have to use that thing for me. I'm leaving. This town will soon be empty, the carpenters have left, many wolves are packing, the doctor died last night… Soon only Diego, Dora and Charlene will be left, along with some Wolves who have nowhere to go. Even the Foxes around this village want to move north, closer to their own kin."
Smith nodded. "I noticed. But can you do something for me?"
The Fox looked up, his head slightly tilted, like many Foxes do when they are interested. Smith continued to talk. "I will suggest Charlene to take Katie with her and go south… But now I'm not talking about Diego and Dora, they are a part of my plan. You may arrest me because of what I am going to say, but somehow I have the feeling I can trust you… Can you ask the Wolves to move east, to the Neutral Zone. There happens to be an abandoned quarry a few days south of my village, excellent for Wolves to start up again. When I learned how this village works I became a bit jealous, it's not perfect… but still a lot better than mine. I'm some sort of ruler of the Neutral Zone, but I neglected it a lot. Public baths, free doctor, a law and someone to enforce it… All kinds of things we don't have in the Neutral zone, and if I want to have those… and maybe even a town hall… I need a lot of good stone for the buildings to accomplish that, and if I can get people to get those stones out of the quarry for me it's perfect. They can start a new village there, I will give them all the help I can… And Diego can start a new inn with Dora, I think there will be a lot of trade there, and those traders need to stay somewhere."
The enforcer started to smile. "Let's quit the formalities, from now on you may call me Floris, and I will ask the villagers about your plan."

Smith also smiled. "But enf… Floris, wait" Smith hastily added, because Floris was already on the move again. "Please let them wait for a few weeks after I have left, there is a lot that I need to arrange. When I left my village they thought I would come back with some knowledge for myself, not an entire village and a lot of changes for them. There needs to be a basic camp for them to stay in the first months, because there are no stones yet, they have to extract the stones for their own houses, I can do a lot like sending builders, but there is no such thing as magic and time travel, I need time and materials to give you a good start."
Floris smiled. "Of course, we're dying for years here, a few weeks or even months is nothing, and maybe we can convince some more people to move there. Somehow I think it will end in a peaceful co-operation between Human and Inimal civilians, and no war between soldiers. Did you know the border patrol is in town? Maybe it's better for you to stay at the inn until they leave."
Smith smiled. "No, I don't care. I may be a Human, and they might see Humans as enemies, but I'm neutral. I'm sure they will respect that."
Floris smiled. "You even have a Feline accent, you are different… Maybe they will even let you sharpen their weapons."
Smith grinned. "Casper wanted to leave today, but those soldiers with blunt weapons made him stay."
Floris grinned, and walked on. Smith ate the remainder of his lunch with a smile. He would talk about his plans with Diego tonight, after dinner. So far, this is perfect.

When Smith entered the inn again he saw Diego sitting on a chair, and Dora giving his arms a massage, his arms must really hurt after all the pumping he has been doing for the replacing of the water in the bath.
"Oh, hello Smith… you are smiling!… did Charlene tell you she loves you?"
Smith continued to smile. "No, and if she tells me that I will tell her she must go south and find an other Cheetah male who tolerates Katie and go live with him, it's not normal for a Feline to live with a Human… I came here to get some things I want to give to Casper before he leaves." and Smith went upstairs to get his lock picking set and the sling.

When he got back down Diego stood at the bottom of the stairs. "There is something else. You may only leave when you tell me."
Smith sat down on the stairs, he had no other choice but to talk. "You know what is happening with this village? It's dying. People leave, people die, and now I have asked the enforcer to ask the Wolves who have nowhere to go to go to the Neutral Zone and he said 'Yes'. I want them to work in a now abandoned quarry, but they will have to restart it again… Restart the production of stone. In the first place for my own village, but after I have built everything I wanted to build there will be stone for trade. Traders will come and go, and need a place to stay. Do you want to offer them that place? I wanted to ask you after dinner, but my smile betrayed me. But talking to you now gives you and Dora time to think about it."
Dora came standing next to Diego. "That's… wonderful! But what about Katie and Charlene? you really care about them."
Smith shook his head. "No, what I have done for them was more out of pity, helping a fallen person back on his or her feet, and they have to walk on themselves. I have no use for them in my plan, but yes, Charlene will have to deliver a lot of messages from here to me in the beginning, but after that… a Feline in a rough Canine business is not a smart way of living. I will give her some money, and she can start her own life in the south. And maybe find a Tiger family for Katie, with someone to be her father and someone to be her mother."
Diego shook his head. "You are still the cold Human you were. Only thinking about your own kind."

Smith stood up and pushed Diego aside. "It's my own life I'm thinking about, nobody tells me what to do. Some people have done it in the past, but nobody will ever do it again. And everybody else has their own choices to make, even you can say 'no' to my offer, that won't upset me, plenty of others who want to take it." and with those last words Smith slammed the front door shut for no reason.

Katie wasn't already at the smithy when Smith arrived. Good for her, good for him, it gave him some time write the letters to Frank. One for Casper, he would get a small workshop, next to the smithy, and a simple house to live in, and until his house is built he is allowed to stay in one of Uwe's houses he normally rented to new inhabitants of the Neutral Zone, and Smith would pay for it. And one for Will, who will become their apprentice, and would live in Smith's house. They will both teach him the art of forging. When he knows enough he will be given the tools that are missing here and go back to the Inimal Kingdom. Or stay, that would be Will's choice. Smith noticed that the smaller tools were already gone, Casper must have taken them while Smith was at the inn. And one about his plans with the quarry, but he will talk about them when he returns, already noticing Frank would give him time to talk to some of the villagers, especially Olaf, Uwe and François.

Smith never liked writing. it was a difficult thing for him to do. Choosing the right words, using the correct spelling and grammar… writing is for kings, not for a humble smith. But he managed to make the letters understandable for everyone, he had written them in both Human and Inimal. He had omitted a lot of details of the agreement he had with Casper and Will, but they will talk about it when he returns. Like payment for the things they used while he was away.
Smith smiled. He had finished his writing task. He could always talk about those things before they leave, no more writing for him. Time to prepare for Katie's lessons for her survival when he will be gone.
Smith looked around. This was still officially Casper's smithy, but Smith was sure Casper didn't mind if he used some of the items that were here. Smith looked at the shield in the corner. That would make a nice target. Pretty large, but it made a nice sound when hit. And Katie will be using stones to practice, those fly a lot less accurate than the cast iron projectiles he uses, but stones cost no money and are plentiful.
And now some support for the shield. Smith got a long sword from the rack, but when he was holding it in his hands he thought about the soldiers. Walking with a shield and sword was not recommendable when you are a Human civilian in an Inimal village with well trained Inimal soldiers on patrol. He put the sword back in it's place to be forgotten.

Smith heard a sound behind him, and turned around. Katie had entered the smithy, and was playing with the sling he had put on the workbench.
Smith smiled and shook his head. "No Katie, you even begin wrong. First: you must rotate it the other way round, overhand, and second, but I will show you, one or two slow rotations to seat the projectile better and a fast one for the throw, turning it like a windmill only twists it, and makes it less efficient."
Katie was smiling again, it always astonished Smith how fast Inimal moods change. "I'm sorry, master."
Smith pulled the shield from the corner. "Do you think you can hit this?"
Katie nodded. "Yes, that would be easy to hit at ten steps."
Smith shook his head. "I can hit this at a hundred paces, my paces, but I think we will start at twenty… of my paces."
Katie started to look desperate. "Do… do you really think I can do that?"
Smith smiled. "Not at this moment, but if you practice enough I think even someone with your size and strength can do it at fifty. But if we stay here you won't, let's go kill some shields, we have to pick up some stones and a stick, although I think the safest place to stand for me is in front of the shield, holding it."
Katie grinned. "You mean behind the shield."
Smith also grinned. "With your first attempts: No."

Smith got a cloth to use as a pouch for the stones, and closed the smithy. They walked along the forest edge, and Smith broke off a thick branch, and removed the twigs and leaves. He grinned. "I can not teach you how to throw while I'm holding the shield, this will be my replacement at the shield. Say hi to the stick." and he waved the stick towards Katie. She dodged it with ease, and after a few swings Katie even managed to catch it.
Smith smiled. "You want to carry this stick? fine." and let go of his end. This time it was Katie's turn to use the stick, and she did a few playful attacks on Smith, who used his shield as a defense.
She did manage to hit Smith on his shin.
"Ouch, you missed Katie, you are supposed to hit the shield!"
Katie grinned. "I thought I was supposed to hit the Human, not the shield."

After a short walk they reached an open field with some tents at the other side of the field, that must be the soldiers' camp Smith assumed. There was a small creek which could easily be crossed, and Katie and Smith collected some stones for their practice. They walked on for a little while, to be sure they could not do any damage or hit someone and Smith suddenly halted. "This is a nice spot to throw from, shall I disarm you, or are you going to give me my support for my crippled leg?"
Katie smiled and gave Smith the stick. Smith walked on for twenty paces, placed the shield, and walked back. "All right Katie, give me my sling, and a stone. I will show you how to use it."
Katie gave Smith his sling and put the cloth containing the stones on the ground. She gave Smith a nice smooth stone.
Smith shook his head. "No, this is a perfect stone for you, give me that irregular broken one, it's for a short distance after all."
Smith put the stone in the sling's pouch, rotated it one time around to seat the stone better, and threw. The stone veered a little bit off to the right, but it managed to hit the shield.
"You saw what I did? Seat and sling. If you use perfect projectiles the seating twirl is not necessary, but with these irregular stones they might drop out of the pouch. You will get some of my cast iron projectiles, but when you lose them they will be gone forever, just like me, that's why I teach you how to use stones."

Katie nodded, and took her position.
"Katie, not like that!" Smith spoke. "Your feet, remember how I stood. I know we have a different build, but we are both bipedal. You have to figure out your own angle, if you keep throwing too far to the left or right your feet are at the wrong position, best method to correct that is walking a few paces back and forth, or left and right, and then re-position, don't try to re-position your feet where you stand."
Katie nodded, and placed her feet just like Smith had done. Smith handed her his sling and a stone. Katie placed the stone in the pouch just like Smith did, but she didn't notice the stone falling out of the pouch when she looked up again.
Smith smiled. "You are a slight bit shorter than I am, I suggest you hold your arm a bit higher, the pouch must not touch the ground." Katie raised her arm with the sling a bit higher
"And Katie, check if the stone is still in the pouch."
Katie looked at the empty pouch. "Oops." and she picked up the stone and put it in it's pouch again.
She made an almost perfect seating twirl, but when she threw the stone flew way off to the right.
Smith grinned. "Katie, do you know were my first stone went to?"
Katie shrugged. "No."
Smith continued to grin. "Me neither."
Katie picked another stone, and tried again. This time it flew much better, it barely missed the shield on the left side.
Smith walked off towards the creek again. "I think I'm going to collect more stones, you can keep practicing."
Katie nodded.

While Smith was collecting stones in the creek he heard the 'clang' sound of a stone hitting a shield. Smith stood up, it was a relative deep ditch in which the creek flowed, and Smith had to climb the bank to look over the edge. When his head came above the rim he saw someone disappear in the forest. Might be a villager or soldier, who came to look at what the Human and the young Tiger were doing in the field, and Smith gave no further attention to it.
When he turned around to look at Katie he saw her dancing around. "I hit it! I hit the shield!"
Smith smiled. "Good throw! If you manage to hit it ten times in a row from that distance you will be eating chicken a lot sooner!"
Smith saw Katie make another attempt with the sling. And another 'clang' sound reported that a stone had hit the shield. Katie went for a third throw, but this time she missed. Smith could see her disappointment, even from this distance.

Smith climbed back down again, to get the stones he had dropped when he heard the sound of another stone hitting the shield. He climbed back up the other bank to go back to Katie with the stones. It was difficult to do with your hands full, but when he finally reached the top of the bank he heard yet another 'clang' sound, and saw Katie look around for another stone. She was out of stones.
Smith reached her, but when he checked the sun he saw it was already getting late. "It's time for your last meal of chicken, tomorrow you can practice further. You are even better than I was on my first day, my distance was impressive, but so was my inaccuracy."
Katie smiled. "Thank you master."
Smith held out his hand "May I use my sling one more time, and use a stone?"
Katie smiled, and handed Smith his sling. Smith picked up the heaviest stone from the little pile, and used it to knock over the shield.
"That's impressive!" Katie exclaimed.
Smith shrugged. "No, it's more a miracle that I didn't puncture the shield. I bet there is a huge dent in the shield now, but you will see it tomorrow."
Nonetheless Katie ran to the shield to check it. "The stone is stuck in the shield. That's really impressive! You are the strongest Human I know!"
Smith smiled. "How many Humans do you know exactly?"
Katie tried to hug Smith, but in turn he picked her up. "One. You." and she flung her arms around Smith's neck and gave him a little lick.
Smith smiled. "Every afternoon I will see if you manage to hit the shield ten times in a row. If I'm not busy in the smithy with work that is. If you manage to hit the shield ten times in a row you will be eating chicken again the next day, if not, then you will be eating for the next ten-nine-eight-seven-six-five-four-three-two-one times something, but not chicken."
Katie smiled. "That's a good deal. Chicken the day after tomorrow!" and she gave Smith another lick.
Smith put Katie back on the ground. "I'm not on the menu little fluffy hungry one."
Smith started to run when he saw Katie was getting angry, in her cute little way.
"I'm not fluffy!"
Smith laughed. "But you are hungry and have short legs!" he called while looking over his shoulder.

Katie was fast, even with her short legs she was almost as fast as Smith was.
When Smith reached the inn he saw Charlene and Diego standing in the doorway. "Is there a Feral on your tail?" Charlene asked.
When he reached the inn Smith quickly turned around and dropped to his knee to catch Katie before impact. "No, but there is this little thing here that does not like to be called fluffy."
Katie giggled. "I may have chicken again when I hit the shield ten times!"
Smith shook his head. "I use an old Human shield as target practice, if she manages to hit it ten times in a row with a sling we eat chicken again, and Diego can make more profit again. Is that right?"
Diego smiled. "I don't care what I will cook for you, and how much profit I can make here, but I accept your offer."
Katie was already in the kitchen where Dora stood. Charlene looked at Smith. "What kind of offer?"
Smith sighed. "I offered Diego a new inn, in the Neutral Zone close to a quarry that will be reopened. The Wolves from this village will be working there, this village will be abandoned. You and Katie still will get your free meals, but I will leave very soon to make the arrangements. You will have to collect and deliver some messages between Diego, Dora and me, but after that it's goodbye. I suggest you move south, more towards your own kin, and begin a new life there. I will give you some money to help, but I have no further use for you, I'm sorry."

Dora came from the kitchen with two plates in her hands. Katie followed with her own plate. "Chicken dinner is ready!"
Diego went to the kitchen to get the remaining plates, and when he sat down he grinned. "You can not use the bath tonight, it's almost full, but not quite, and my arms hurt from the pumping. I will pump the remaining water tomorrow.
Smith smiled. "I haven't ordered a bath, although I am sweating a bit from the running, I'm not used to do that. I'm more like a slow walker. I think I will just take a cold shower."
Katie was already halfway her plate, and Charlene smiled. "Slow but strong."
They ate the rest of the dinner in silence, and after dinner Katie yawned. "I'm tired."
Smith grinned. "That was a fake yawn, you are not too tired to walk back home, to your own bed."
"And bucket!" Diego added.
They all laughed, except Charlene.

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Chapter 6 - Work to do

#8 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 6
Work to do


When Smith came down the next morning he saw Diego sitting with a painful grimace. "I'm sorry Smith, you have to do your own breakfast again, I have a severe case of burning muscles from all the pumping I have done yesterday, and today I can barely move my arms." he apologized.
Smith grinned. "A warm bath, alone and sitting still, would be good for your muscles, but I doubt you have completely filled it yesterday."
Diego also managed to grin a little bit. "Can you do the pumping? There is a bit over an hour of pumping left to go until the bath and the heater are filled."
Smith nodded. "It's officially your job, but I haven't moved my arms this week, a bit of movement is good for me. There is a trick to prevent burning muscles, and that is switching before an arm gets tired, and not when an arm gets tired. Fifty strokes with left, fifty with right, and then a short rest, and start with left again. But being used to repetitive movements also helps a lot, although using a hammer with an impact at the end of the stroke differs from a pumping movement with the force along the stroke. I'll make us breakfast, and then start pumping. And no, I'm not going to feed you, you still have some movement to do, I'm not Dora."
Diego's grin turned into a smile. "You are nice in a different way. And without you Dora and I would never have been together, and without your offer you made yesterday..."
Smith raised his hand. "All right, quit your talking. When I see an opportunity I take it, and if that opportunity is almost an entire village... so be it."
Smith went to the kitchen and made again breakfast for him and Diego. Charlene and Katie were not at the inn yet, they would have to make their own. Smith pumped some water into the heater, and understood why it took so long. Diego used one pump to pump fresh water into the tank, and there was only one other pump, the pump in the bath that pumped the water from the tank into the bath. Uwe in his inn uses multiple pumps and tanks, and recirculates his water over some filters, a trough filled with sand and for an unknown reason he also uses a trough filled with charcoal.
But despite the high number of bathers in Uwe's bath the water is always clean, Uwe knows what he is doing, that is as clear as his bathing water. Diego's next inn must also have that kind of system for the baths.
Smith and Diego ate their breakfast in almost complete silence. Dora would go and buy the ingredients for lunch and dinner, and even Smith would not like it, because it would be baked liver. That was even cheaper than chicken, because nobody liked it. Smith smiled, and in silence he hoped Katie would hit the shield ten times in a row, preferably today.

When Smith was in the bathing area pumping water into the bath Diego announced he had a visitor who wanted to talk to him.
He followed Diego to the front door, and saw a group of soldiers standing in front of it.
"You are the blacksmith here?" the Panther Leopard, apparently the leader of the group, asked.
Smith nodded. "I am the smith and you can call me Smith, but I do all kinds of tasks here."
The Panther nodded. "Yes, I heard that. You asked the village to move to your Neutral Zone. That is... well... against the rules, but the enforcer has explained everything, and we approve... Under one condition: you must sharpen our weapons, for free."
Smith nodded and grinned.
"Why are you grinning?" the Panther asked without a tone of friendliness.
Smith continued to grin. "I made a deal with the official smith here, he gets half of the money I earn here... No, I make a mistake... his orders is his money even if I do the work, my orders is one third of the profit for him. And one third of nothing is still nothing, and I'm grinning because he knew you would want your weapons to be sharpened by the best, and wanted to stay for some days more."
The Panther started to smile. "I hear it, you are different. You are here to help others. I have no problem with that, you may live."
Smith nodded and smiled. 'You are different', he had heard that a lot these days. Lucky for him he didn't mention his Feline accent.
Smith looked at Diego "I'm sorry, orders are orders, for a soldier and for a smith. You or Dora must make Charlene's and Katie's breakfast, I don't know why they are not here yet."
Diego smiled. "No problem, you can do the rest of the pumping tonight."

Smith walked to the smithy among the soldiers
"Did you know you have a Feline accent?" one of the Wolves in the group noted.
Smith started to laugh. "Until last week, no, but you are the fourth here who mentions it."
They reached the smithy, and Smith looked at the group. A nice mix of different species, everyone with the correct weapon.
Panther Leopard as the leader, strong in the climbing and attacks from above in the forest, just like the other two Leopards in the group, they both had daggers and throwing knives, silent and deadly. Four Tigers for the agile ground-fighting, armed with only a short lightweight sword and a shield, albeit the shield was somewhere between a buckler and a full shield. And two Cheetahs, fast runners, who can run around and attack the enemy from behind. Four Wolves for the straight forward attacks, armed with heavy swords and shields, if they work perfectly together it would be hard for Humans to hold their line of defense. Jaguar for support, strong for carrying the equipment, and he could take different fighting roles with his strength and agility. And of course the Fox with his bow and quiver filled with arrows, not strong in a man-to-man combat, but you would never reach him if he still has arrows. It was only one Fox, but they were soldiers, deaths were not uncommon. The Hound was a bit odd in this group, he had only a dagger visible, but he was carrying a pouch, apparently he was also carrying a sling in it. The Dogs and Cats in the group were nothing special, they were only there to be the first to die in a fight.
Smith opened the door of the smithy. "All right gentlemen, time for some sharpening... erm... the workbench is not large enough to place all your weapons at once on it. I have some preparations to do like getting my stones and some water, and you decide whose weapons would be sharpened first... I am honest, if I discard a weapon I will not sharpen it, if it's already sharp enough I will not sharpen it. Is that clear?"
When Smith spoke those last words the entire group went standing in attention and shouted in unison "Sir, yes sir!", but suddenly they realized they were 'sirring' a Human, and started to chuckle a bit.
Smith saw the humor in it. "At ease, soldiers." he replied while trying to maintain a serious look on his face.
The Panther who was the real leader looked in disbelief at Smith. Was the voice of that Human really enough to command him and his men?

Smith got his equipment ready, and sat down on his chair. "All right, whose weapon goes first?"
A Dog stepped forward, and handed Smith his sword.
Smith examined the sword. "Hmm... good sword... Feline made... a few notches... can't do much about them... still straight." and he started his work on sharpening.
"You can see that this is a Feline made sword?" the Dog asked, while looking over Smith's shoulder.
"Of course, these are thinner than a Canine blade, and the hilt is a slight bit smaller but also has a better finish, you have some trouble with holding it?"
The Dog nodded. "Yes, but I'm used to it, and I can not afford a better sword. In the Neutral Zone is a very good smith, but he is expensive."
Smith smiled. "The smith of the Neutral Zone is not there, he is currently working in an Inimal village on sharpening weapons."
The Dog smiled. "So, you are that smith... Then my sword is in good hands."
Smith smiled. "I don't care, sharpening is one of the things I do. As long as the weapons I sharpen or produce don't end up inside of me it's fine, I work for both sides, and earn my money from both sides, that's the advantage of being neutral in a war... This one is done. Next blade!"

Smith worked on in silence, only asking for the next blade every now and then, and only discarding a throwing dagger from the Leopard due to a broken tip. He had dropped it on a rock from some height.

Then it was time for the quiver filled with arrows from the Fox. Smith looked at the quiver. A beautiful quiver with nice artwork on the outside. "I don't like surprises, but don't be disappointed when I discard some of the arrowheads in here. Inimal made arrowheads are very fragile, and sharpening them too often is also not good for them, it makes them too thin for proper sharpening again."
The Fox nodded. “My friend died a while ago, I have taken his best arrows, but those were just as good as the ones I already had.”
Smith started pulling the arrows one by one from the quiver, for inspection and sharpening.
The first two were good after sharpening, but he discarded the third, bent tip and already too thin. The forth had a different shape arrowhead. Smith showed it to the Fox. "Red Brigade." he simply said.
A Wolf began to chuckle. "He is very fond of that one. One time he broke off the shaft of that one, and I had to cut open the Human corpse to dig it out, it was stuck between two vertebrae."
Smith smiled. "Remember that you are talking to a Human... But it makes me very proud to meet someone who really appreciates my... no, I think Frank made this one... our work."
The Wolf looked at the ground. "Oh, I'm sorry, your way of talking made me forget you are also a Human."
Smith continued to smile. "Apologies accepted. In turn I can say I cleaved a Wolf in half, in a single blow."
The Wolf looked at Smith in disbelief. "That's impossible, only the ghost of the Neutral Zone can do that!"
Smith turned around in his chair. "I'm from the Neutral Zone, but I have never heard of a ghost living there. Can you tell me that story?"
Smith noticed Casper and Will also had entered the Smithy. He simply nodded at them as a greeting, they would have to wait a bit longer, and listen to a possibly interesting story.

The Wolf began to tell.
"There once was a Wolfpack who was supposed to attack a smithy in the Neutral Zone. Today it would be considered a war crime, and I think that it was also a war crime in those days, but they attacked nonetheless. The attack was a success, they killed the Human smith and his very young but pregnant wife, but somehow the ghost had possessed the Inimals who also lived in that village where the smithy stood, and those villagers, all civilians without proper weapons, attacked the wolves in the forest. The Wolves fended off the attack of the civilians by killing them all, and left. But then the ghost attacked the Wolves, killed them all, and disappeared again."

Smith shook his head. "That is not the story I know. Let me tell you my version. And Will, I'm sorry, I think that your father was among those Wolves."
The young Wolf standing in the corner bowed his head. Smith began to tell his version of the story.
"There once was a young smith apprentice in the Neutral zone. Living happily there among the Inimals in his village. He managed to find a fine woman who wanted to live with him in his mostly Inimal village. No, it was an Inimal village, the smith, the apprentice and his wife were the only Humans living there. Like every Human apprentice who wants to become a master he had to hand in a masterpiece for the king, and they, the apprentice and the master, left to do so. Then the Wolfpack came. The apprentice's pregnant wife was the only Human left in the Village, she had only a few weeks of pregnancy to go, and all the villagers loved her. And they fought for her. They were all civilians, and were no match for the Wolves, and they got killed. The Wolves were not happy, because the smith was still alive. They waited in the forest for the smith to return. The smith and the former apprentice did return, and the Wolves attacked, and managed to kill the old smith. The young smith had the feeling there was something wrong, and that gave him extra strength. With the sword of his fallen former master he managed to kill all the Wolves. As you know, Wolf, your sword is fragile, a blow at the correct place, a bit above the handle, and it will shatter. The old smith had made his sword a bit heavier, and so it was a lot easier to break the Wolven swords for the young and strong smith. And a heavy and sharp sword does not stop at the skin, it cuts right through. A lot of cut off limbs and heads and one cleaved Wolf later the young smith went to the village to look at his wife. She was killed, and the young smith left to wander, leaving everything behind. Finally the smith returned, and started a new smithy, further north. As you may have guessed: I am that smith who killed those Wolves, and, as you can see, I'm not a ghost."

The Panther nodded. "I see… There is no ghost. But that does not explain why there are also no Human attacks coming from that region. It's like they are also avoiding that region."
Smith nodded. "Let's keep it that way. You keep telling that there is a ghost to the Inimals, but if there are Human soldiers coming from there you may kill them all, make yourself legendary." Smith smiled and continued to speak. "There is also a bridge there, someone from my village has rebuilt it, for them to use as a trade route."
The Panther looked at Smith "You mean smuggling."
Smith shook his head. "No, civilian trade, nothing military. I have an arrangement with both kings, there are no soldiers allowed in the Neutral Zone, and I consider that bridge as a part of it. No soldiers there, only trade." Smith turned around again, and resumed his sharpening task.

"Heh, legendary." One of the Tigers noted. "Not with these new rules our superiors have come up with. Everybody is capable of doing everything they say. Can you imagine me doing strategy? I know how to move my limbs, but commanding armies is beyond my capabilities, but we soon will get Tiger squad leaders."
Smith turned around again. "You say what? Everybody must do every task? Then I know where to stand when I encounter an angry Wolf with bow and arrow: straight in front of him."
They all started to laugh, and came up with other strange tasks.

"What strategy would a Lion make if he must make a straight old Wolven style attack?"

"How many forms must a tree fill in before a Badger will climb it?"

"How good is a Bear at scouting and staying hidden?"

"Hey broadsword, where did you get those legs? Oh, my mistake, there is a Cat underneath it."

Finally the Panther Leopard said something serious. "We are the last good unit, we all have our correct tasks, and we try to stay as long as possible together."
Smith shook his head. "It's almost as stupid as the Humans are. They are cutting down on their weapons. They were superior, but now other smiths in the kingdom have to make them as cheap as possible, we in the Neutral zone are too expensive, we now only make beautiful ceremonial weapons, but not too sharp. Those swords they use today for fighting even start to rust when you store them in a dry place, and are impossible to sharpen properly. And no more armor, not even a light leather armor to catch some arrows or a dagger, but none. Not even helmets. That's also a very great mistake."

"Now that we are talking about strange tasks, did you notice there is a young Tigress in the field practicing with a sling on a shield? We were woken up by the noise she made." the Hound spoke.
Smith nodded. "Yes, I taught her that."
The Hound looked at Smith. "You? It was almost perfect, but I gave her a few hints for improvement, she now can hit that shield at thirty paces."
Smith smiled. "I was taught the art of slinging by a Hound. She is an orphan, and a Cheetah is trying to take care of her. Short story about the why: Cheetah messenger, brought me message with permission to work here, she left in a hurry to get home, tripped, sprained ankle, I found her along the path, I carried her to the doctor here, I met a little Tiger who was hungry because the one who was taking care of her was not there, I gave her something to eat, she was related to the Cheetah, a few days later I discovered they were eating crows for dinner because they had no income to buy food, and I offered them twenty proper meals at the inn, but the little tiger misbehaved by the killing of five chickens with a slingshot-thing at a distance of ten of her steps, and now I'm punishing her by not giving her the food she likes, chicken, but other things that are healthy but she doesn't like. Tonight we get to eat liver thanks to her. But I'm not a cruel Human, if she manages to hit the shield ten times in a row at twenty paces she will be eating chicken again, and as a bonus she learns a new skill for her survival."
All the soldiers smiled, and a Tiger spoke on behalf of all of them. "You are a good Human."
Smith took a slight bow. "Thank you, and now please let me finish my work, but there are also other things to be done, like saying goodbye to my friends here, Casper and Will. Casper will become our locksmith in the Neutral Zone, and Will will become my apprentice and return to the Inimal kingdom as a Wolf blacksmith with Human skills. And after that I shall return to my sharpening task, we have talked enough."

Smith stood up, and walked to a corner of the workbench, and picked up his apron, gloves, a little box, and the letters.
He walked to Will and Casper. He handed Will his apron and Gloves and a letter. "These are for you, the apron and gloves will be mine again when I return, but in the meantime you can use them."
Will smiled but said nothing.
Smith made a step sideways and handed Casper the little box and his letter. "I'm sorry Casper, but I'm doing the sharpening again for free, no extra money for you... But in this box is my old lock-picking set. I have no use for it, you can have it."
Casper looked at the box. The top of the box was scratched, like someone had removed a name. "Why is the top layer of paint removed?"
Smith sighed. "You have heard my story. I never knew, but it seems there is a bit of Inimal inside me, that box was given me by my wife, and it had my old name on it. I have changed my name after my loss, but never have taken the time to put 'Smith' on it.”
Casper opened the box, and smiled. "You know, my lock-picking set was stolen a few days before you arrived, I suspect my now dead brother stole it, this is most welcome. Vulpine made?"
Smith smiled and nodded. "Yes. You are simply good at making locks, but they are the best."

Smith held up the last letter. The letter for the rest of this village. "Who is going to carry this? You are important, but this is even more important. I'm not quite sure about who to give it to, but if you can let Uwe the innkeeper, Olaf the builder and François the wood carving Elf read it they can figure out a strategy about how to handle an extra village."
Will took a step forward. "I will take it." He said it without a stutter.
Smith smiled, handed over the letter, and gave Will and Casper a hand. "See you soon. I hope Katie will hit the shield ten times in a row this afternoon, then she will also be happy and eating chicken again and I can go home with a smile on my face tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. Goodbye."
Casper and Will left, and Smith went back to his sharpening task, no need to wave them goodbye, he would see them again very soon.

When Smith finished the last dagger he rolled up a sleeve, and held the dagger against his arm. "Be very careful with your sharpened weapons, I will give you a small demonstration of how sharp your weapons are now." He slid the dagger over his arm, shaving off hair, and leaving a hairless patch on his arm.
Smith smiled. "Don't worry about it, I wear clothes to cover it. You don't. It takes a few months to grow back for me."
One of the Dogs did not believe how sharp his sword was, drew his sword, and did the same, with the same result, a bald patch on his arm. One of the Tigers also wanted to try, but Smith stopped him. "No, if you want to shave, do it outside. I don't want to sweep before I leave, it's already clean enough, I just want to close the door, and come back with a cart, maybe even with horses, to collect all that can be taken for Will, because he will get his own smithy and letting these tools rust away is a waste.

The soldiers left the smithy. Smith took a last look around in the smithy, and took the Human child's dagger and sheath from the shelf and put it in his pocket.
When he walked outside he realized he had left the anvil outside. The Inimal soldiers stood next to it, and already five of them had bald patches on their arms.
Smith grinned. He walked towards the anvil. "I told you I would give you sharp weapons, there is no need to prove it."
Smith picked up the anvil with some trouble, the standard had sunken a bit in the soft soil, but finally it was free, and Smith started to walk with it. The soldiers looked at him in disbelief, but Smith walked on. The anvil seemed a bit heavier than the previous time, but Smith thought about the fact that he hadn't used his arms in the past few days. No surprise, doing nothing makes you lazy. Back inside, with the anvil at the intended place he realized he also had forgotten the book. He got the book from the workbench, and walked back to the door. He made a last look around in the smithy, and closed the door.

The soldiers were still standing outside, now seven of them had a bald patch. Smith grinned. "Have you ever seen a tattoo on a Human?"
Some of the soldiers nodded.
Smith continued to grin. "Now you can shave figures in your fur with your weapons. My work is done here. Last meal here, last bath... last night at the inn... I have everything I wanted, and more." and at those last words he used the book with Inimal symbols to wave at the soldiers.

Smith brought the book to his room at the inn. He did not see Diego nor Dora, and went upstairs. He laid the book on his backpack. The stains from the deer were still there, he would wash them off tomorrow. Or not. Smith smiled. Yes, it was a nice stay here. He went to the field where Katie was practicing with the sling.

When he neared the field he could hear a regular 'clang' sound of a stone hitting a shield. But it was not the nice sound it made yesterday. Of course, the shield must be taking an impressive beating, and might not be in the best shape any more. Bent and buckled, maybe even some more holes in it. When Katie came into view Smith saw the soldiers standing around her. He saw the tip of the sling, followed by another 'clang' from the shield. There was a Tiger standing next to it, holding the shield upright with his hands. The soldiers turned around when Smith approached them.

"Would you believe it if we told you she had a series of twenty-seven consecutive hits?" one of the Cats said.
Smith nodded. "If you say so... Well Katie... I already saw four hits, show me the remaining six." Katie picked up another stone. And another 'clang' sounded from the shield. And another. And another. And another. And another.
Katie looked up. "I'm out of stones!"
Smith smiled. "If soldiers say you had twenty-seven hits I believe them, I saw nine. Congratulations, you will be eating chicken again tomorrow."
Katie started to dance again, and gave every soldier a hand. Smith notice all the Felines and Canines in the group had a bald patch, but not the Fox.
He looked at the Fox. "No shaving?"
The Fox shook his head. "No, I'm not that childish"
Smith nodded. "Very wise, but now you are outside the group, be careful with that."
The Fox nodded, but said nothing.

Katie came running again at Smith, and Smith quickly dropped to his knee again to catch her.
"Fast learner?" one of the Wolves noted, and grinned "Very wise. Somehow Inimal children don't recognize clothing, they appear to see that as some kind of curtain with nothing behind it. I had worn a loincloth once, but my son did not think about the things that are behind the curtain, and I guess you also know now how much that hurts."
Smith smiled, and picked up the little Tiger, and she gave him a little lick.
Smith looked at her. "I hope you will enjoy our last dinner together. I won't, because it's liver."
Katie made a dirty face. "I don't like it either. But at least I know I'm not the only one who does not like it." And gave Smith another lick.
Smith put her back down "I'm still not on the menu, little hairy one." and started to run.
"I'm not hair..." Katie tried to say.
Smith looked over his shoulder again. "Ask a soldier to correct that, you really have a lot of hair on your skin!"
Smith saw the soldiers laugh, and Katie also started to run. Smith slowed down a little to give Katie a chance to overtake him. She did.
Smith grinned. "You must really like liver, you are even faster at the inn than I am!"
Katie also started to slow down, but so did Smith. Katie went to a walking speed, and so did Smith, taking even smaller steps. Finally Katie stopped. And so did Smith. They stood still for a couple of minutes, until Smith became tired of it.

He started to walk again, and picked up Katie when he passed her, and hung her like a sack of coal over his shoulder.
"Hey! not fair!" she protested, but it was no use, they were almost at the inn.
When he entered the inn he could already smell the disgusting smell of baked liver. But he didn't mind, it would be his last dinner here.
When Smith entered the inn he put Katie back down, and closed the door. "No running away from something you don't like." he grinned at the little Tiger. Running away from something you don't like... He had done it before... Smith closed his eyes for a few moments. Would he have felt better or worse if he had taken the time to give his wife and unborn child a decent burial?
"Something wrong?" Charlene asked.
Smith opened his eyes again. "No... but sometimes my memories return."

Curious Katie went to the kitchen what kind of liver they would eat.
Charlene smiled. "Sometimes you must let the past rest, you can not change it."
Smith nodded. "Yes, we must look at our future. We both have our worries about our future. Me with an extra village, filled with Wolves, and you... I don't know what your future will look like."
Katie returned from the kitchen with her plate. "It is chicken liver. I thought I would not get chicken?"
Smith smiled. "I thought you didn't like liver?"
Katie looked at her plate again. "No... but you said I would not get chicken?"
Smith grinned. "I said you would only get food you don't like, when I said 'chicken' I meant the meat, not the liver."
Dora entered the dining room with two plates in her hands. Smith looked at her. "You and Diego not joining us?"
Dora shook her head. "No, I want to get out of the stench of baked liver as soon as possible, I will eat at my own house."
Smith grinned. "And feed Diego?"

Dora left without saying a word. Smith got his cutlery and sat down. Katie also climbed on her chair. Smith looked at his plate, and sighed. 'Put it in your mouth, chew as little as possible, and swallow. Repeat until your plate is empty, but don't forget to breathe.' Smith smiled.
"Why are you smiling, I thought you didn't like liver?" Katie asked.
Smith looked at her. "I remember an old nursery rhyme my father used to tell me when I had to eat something I didn't like, I never had the chance to tell it my child, but here it goes: Put it in your mouth, chew as little as possible, and swallow. Repeat until your plate is empty, but don't forget to breathe."
Katie looked at her plate, and started to eat just like in the rhyme.
Charlene smiled. "You would have been a wonderful father."
Smith also started to smile. "I don't know. If my child would have had the same temperament as I had when I was young then Katie would have been a sweet little girl in comparison."
Smith looked at his plate again, and also started to eat.
He finished his plate in a record time, and took a deep breath. He knew he had forgotten something: breathing while eating. Charlene was slowly eating her chicken livers. She really enjoyed them.

Smith looked at Katie. "Katie, if you want to take a hot bath tonight, ask Charlene nicely if you can help her with doing the dishes, the bath is not full yet, but I think I have a different method for quick heating. Diego lets his bath overflow into the drain when he pumps in heated water, and this way he also drains a bit of the heated water, but if the bath is not full when you fill it with heated water you waste nothing."
Katie nodded. Smith stood up to go to the pump for the heater, and started to pump the tank half full of fresh water, and filled the burner and ignited it. He looked around the door, and saw Katie and Charlene doing the dishes. He smiled, and returned to the pump. Smith could not remember how much he had pumped this morning, and if Diego was exaggerating or underestimating when he said there was an hour of pumping left, and he slowly filled the tank, no need to rush, the water needs time to be heated.

Smith went to the bathing area, and started to pump there. He looked at the bath. It was almost full already. He felt the water he was pumping. It was already lukewarm. He must be careful not to drain the tank, that could damage the tank while heated, or the water could start to boil if there was too little. Fifty strokes on this side, fill the tank again, and repeat. Pumping is not hard, if you manage to keep the flow of water steady. If you stop often to let your arms rest it's more tiring, because you have to restart the movement of an entire column of water again. Left arm for the bath, right arm for the tank, no burning muscles for him.
He returned to the heater, and he saw there was already steam escaping from it, he pumped too much water out of it. He quickly began to pump in fresh water. Forty strokes for the bath next time. When he he passed the kitchen to go to the bath again he saw that Katie and Charlene were already done with the dishes.

When he reached the bathing area door he heard a splash, and Katie scream. He quickly entered, and saw Charlene standing helpless at the edge of the bath. Katie was holding on to the edge. Smith quickly walked towards the shivering Tiger, and pulled her out of the cold water with ease.
He grinned. "Forgot to check the temperature first?"
Katie shivered. "Y...y...y...y...yes."
Smith smiled. "You did check the first time. Let's pump in some warm water, then I will fill the tank again, and get you some towels to wrap yourself in to keep warm, I'm almost done filling the bath, just a few more times."
Smith started to pump again. "Katie, come and sit here against this warm wall, that's better than shivering."
Katie walked towards him, and went standing against the warm wall. Smith smiled. This young Tiger had to learn a lot for her survival, and Charlene was not much help. Smith finished his forty strokes with the pump, and went to the heater to pump in more cold water. He went to his room to get some towels, and was a few moments in doubt whether he would put on his swimming pants already. He decided to wait, those could go next round of heating. He went to the bath again, handed Katie a towel, and started pumping again. Charlene was still standing where she stood. Smith said nothing this time, and went in silence to the heater to fill it again.

Instead of his room he went back to the bathing area again. He walked towards Charlene this time. "If you want me to brush your back again I suggest you get a proper brush, I honestly didn't know."
Charlene smiled, and nodded in the direction of Katie, who was literally hugging the wall.
Smith smiled, and walked to the pump again, and started to pump. "What is nicer, the wall or me?"
Katie looked at Smith, and then tried to hug him.
Smith held her off. "No Katie, you are still soaking wet, and I have still my normal clothes on. If we are in the water you can hug me all you want." 'and then your head would be at a more appropriate level' his thoughts added.
Smith finished his pumping, and went to the heater again. When he went upstairs he saw the tip of Charlene's tail disappear out of the front door. Smith smiled. Charlene was a nice woman, and just like him she took every opportunity she could get. Smith got into his bathing pants and went back to the bathing area.
When he entered he saw Charlene standing in the brushing area with a brush in her hand and a smile on her face. "Please?"
"I never break a promise." Smith replied, got the brush, and started brushing.
Charlene sighed a few times.
"Better this time?" Smith asked.
"Yes, much better." Charlene turned around, and gave Smith a lick.
“If you take care of Katie as much as I have done in the past few days, that's more than a 'thank you' to me." Smith answered. He did not know what else he could say.
"I'll try." Charlene said while looking at the ground.
Smith nodded "I know." and went to the shower.
He showered, and when he came out of the shower he looked at Charlene again. "Erm... Charlene... I have forgotten something. I will be pumping the warm water into the bath for the last time, but the heater may not boil dry, do you want to pump some fresh water into it? I know you don't like being in the water, pumping gives you something else to do."
Charlene nodded, and left.
Smith started pumping, but a few moments later Charlene already returned. "Dora is doing the pumping at the heater, as an apology for forgetting you and your lunch. I can stay here with you."
Smith smiled. "Are she and Diego not joining us?"
Charlene shook her head. "They want to keep the water clean, and it's a bit awkward with us in the bath."
Smith grinned. "Or Diego has a huge dilemma. Keeping his Dora-trousers on, or showing it all to us."
Charlene shook her head in disgust. "Please, no, I do not want to see the mental image."
Smith grinned. "Seeing the real thing is much worse, and I have seen it twice. No fur could cover it, I'm glad he's wearing pants now."

A few moments later Dora entered the bathing area. "I think there is something wrong with the heater pump, I just keep on pumping, but nothing happens to the water level in the tank."
Smith looked at the pump he was manning. "Or I should stop pumping."
Dora laughed "I think I have found the problem, there is a Human at the pump at the bath." and left again.
Smith wondered if she could have heard them talking, she had said nothing about his forgotten lunch.
"The bath is full... Katie, do you want to check the temperature? And if it's fine: No jumping." Smith called.
Katie tested the water with her foot, and cautiously climbed in and smiled. "It's purrfect."
Smith also climbed in, and sat down on his favorite spot. Charlene came sitting next to him on the ledge.

"Smith?"
Smith looked up at Charlene.
"The water is a bit scary for me, but I want to try. Will you hold me?"
Smith smiled. "Of course. Just let yourself slide in… No, that would give a problem with your tail… Katie, come over here, and show Charlene how to slowly climb into the water."
Katie swam towards them. "Is Charlene also coming into the water?" and climbed out of the water. Katie went sitting on her knees, and slowly she entered the water with one leg.
Smith smiled. "Her legs are a bit short, but you get the idea. On your knees, one leg until it stands on the bench, and then the other leg. Thank you Katie, you can swim around again."
Katie grinned. "Your welcome." and let herself fall backwards.
Smith smiled. "Yes Charlene, welcome in the water. Please beware of it wetness, and the skin of the Human in it is not resistant to claws, so please don't use them on it when you lose your balance."

Charlene climbed in and cautiously sat down next to Smith. "This is nice, I never knew."
Smith nodded with a smile. "I know. Your kind comes from a more arid region than Tigers, you are not quite used to water. Very brave of you to try."
Katie swam towards them. "May I hug you now? Now you are wet." and without waiting for permission she climbed on Smith's lap.
Smith smiled. "And don't forget to hug Charlene, change of plans, I will leave tomorrow morning, but she said she likes the water. Maybe she will come here more often."
The smile dropped from Katie's face. "You are leaving already? Why?"
Smith looked at the water, and sighed. "I have nothing to do here any more. I came here to learn, now I have a book. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was thinking of asking a few Inimals if they wanted to work in my village, now I have a lot of Wolves who are going to work in a quarry. My work here is done. You and Charlene are also leaving very soon, after you have eaten all the meals I have paid for."
Katie began to cry. "But... But I want to stay with you... To go with you... I want to be with you."

Smith looked at the water and shook his head. "That is not possible, I am even busier with my work than Charlene is with hers, every day I am in the smithy, and if I'm not there I will be busy with my village... I simply have no time for you..." Smith shook his head again. "But no... wait... you may come along... under one condition: Charlene has to come along."
Charlene looked shocked at Smith. "What? Why?"
Smith smiled. "You called me a good father tonight, but a child also needs a good mother, who will be there when the father is away, and the father must be there for his child when the mother is away. I don't care anymore whether I have a Human as a wife and a Human as a child, or something else. I want to be happy again. I want Katie to be happy. I want you to be happy... I know we will be frowned upon, the most important Human in the village living with two Felines, but there are also Human males living with Human males, and Human females living with Human females, and they could also not have children of their own. I will adopt this little Tiger, and you to help me raising her."

Katie hugged Smith. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” was all she could say.
Smith smiled. "There are a few things I want to make clear. One: You both get your own room and toilet. Your territory. I will respect that, and I will not come there without a reason. Two: I know that you, Katie, will like to sleep in my bed, but I also won't kick Charlene out of my bed either, if you know what I mean. Somehow I think I have to make a schedule to avoid a little war in my bed, about who will be when in my bed."

Charlene said nothing, but shoved Katie off Smith's lap, and went sitting there herself.
"Hey!" protested the little Tiger, and swam around to try to do the same, but Smith prevented this.
"You have been enough on my lap, now it's Charlene's turn. You are already starting to quarrel over me, and Charlene has not even said yes." Smith replied while he held the little Tiger off.
Charlene said nothing and smiled.
"Charlene is smiling! I have never seen her smile before!" Katie almost shouted.
Smith also smiled. "Yes, she has a beautiful smile. No teeth showing, nice glistening eyes... I like it... She has smiled before, I even had heard her laugh... But she also had a lot of worries, about you little Tiger. But I think those are over now."

Charlene still said nothing, but suddenly bit Smith gently in his nose.
"Hey, det gggo of my dose! You have dot said yes og do yet!" Smith yelled.
Charlene released Smith's nose. "Yes.. of course I want to come along... and I am really curious if those stories of my aunt are true." and she started to grin.
Smith grabbed her above the tail. She got a shocked look on her face, and started to grin again.
But this time it was a different grin. "That's my secret spot!"
Smith also grinned. "I know, I have heard that a lot a long time ago, and I wanted to check if it's still there on a Feline." Smith sighed. "But you really must also know you are not coming along for me, I'm sure we're going to have some fun together, but in the first place you are there for Katie."
Charlene nodded, and embraced Smith.
"Are you going to have sex now? Can I see it?" Katie interrupted.
Smith sighed again. “No Katie, not when you are around. You are just too young. And now that you are my daughter, that will be awkward.”

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Chapter 7- Going back Home

#9 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 7
Going back Home


Despite of Katie's protest Smith demanded they would all sleep in their own bed tonight, to think about the things that are about to change for them.
After breakfast they would gather all their belongings they wanted to take with them, make the last arrangements with the other villagers, they would have to appoint other messengers because Charlene will be gone and the Cats are already no longer there.
But a new messenger was not very easy to find. They all had heard the rumors of the gang of black Wolves along the path, and they were getting closer, but that were only rumors. A Human has managed to reach their village, a man walking alone, with only a short sword as a weapon and an inferior sling. And he was even impaired in his movement because he had the kindness of taking an injured Feline on his shoulders. But the messenger was the villager's problem, not his nor Charlene's, Smith thought. When he came downstairs again with his belongings Charlene and Katie were already sitting at the table, along with Floris.

"Good morning Floris." Smith greeted the Fox. Smith also sat down at the table. "Floris, what brings you here?"
Floris smiled slightly. "I'm curious, when those murderers of Katie's parents were executed they said a lot of things in their language. I know a little bit of Human, like all soldiers can, but they were saying a lot of strange words."
Smith frowned. "I'm sure there were a lot of curses and swearing among those words, and it's not very appropriate for Katie to hear them, I'm worried those will be the first Human words she learns."
Floris nodded. "Of course. Then only a few. What is the translation for 'klootzak', 'lul' and 'kut'?"
Smith smiled. "Oh, those… you see, Humans like to use the genitals and other external body parts for their swearing, or a couple of Human diseases. 'Klootzak' is the scrotum, 'lul' is the penis, and 'kut' are the female genitalia. And somehow I think that 'tyfuslijer' was also in their vocabulary, sufferer of typhus."
Floris laughed. "I already understood they were not friendly, but those are quite harmless.”
Smith smiled. "Yes, Humans are strange beings. Throwing around with body-parts they keep hidden. I as a Human must always laugh when an Inimal says something like 'failing kidney' or 'rotten liver'."
Charlene raised her hand. "Please, let us have our lunch, I have made it, and you are letting it get cold."
Smith looked at Floris' plate. "Did you also…"
Charlene nodded. "Diego didn't mind, he is happy for all of us."
Smith smiled. "I understand. Diego may keep my money, he still has a few months to survive here, I can ask the messengers I send here to stay here in his inn, but I can not force them."
Diego entered the dining room. "They can stay here for free, you have already paid for their stay."
Smith grinned. "Then I will 'suggest' them to stay here, but don't give them money to do so. If someone wants to stay here, then you tell the cost."
Diego nodded. "Yes, that's the best for all of us, freedom of choice. By the way, I have sent a message to a few cousins and asked them to help me with my new inn, do you mind?"
Smith shook his head. "No, it's your inn, you I will only give you the building and everything that is fixed to it. And I will pay for moving your furniture to your new inn, you have to do the rest all by yourself. Uwe will design your inn, you have nothing to worry about. But telling me there will be a larger staff… Well… I was already thinking of an inn with a shop or a larger store, that will be one of the first buildings that will be built there, even before the houses."

Diego smiled. "That's wonderful, then Dora and I can be together even more."
Smith grinned again. "No, I don't think there will be time for 'that', it will be a busy inn, and speaking of Dora, I think I have a lot of money to spend at her store, I somehow don't think Charlene uses a tent, or even a sleeping mat or blanket."
Charlene shook her head. "No, I don't. I like to travel light. But sometimes I wished I had a roof above my head, I don't mind a rain shower, but an entire night of drizzling is cold."
Smith smiled. "Then I will buy a tent for you and Katie to sleep in, you have to share it, sleeping mat and blanket for each of you, and an extra sleeping mat and blanket, just in case someone else needs it."
Charlene smiled. "Do you expect more people who need your help?"
Smith shook his head. "No, but it never hurts to have it with you, just in case."

After lunch Smith stood up. "Well, time to go shopping, or something Humans tend to say when they come to my village. Some of them even had to buy a cart to transport everything they had bought, an extreme case was a lady who wanted to buy some clothing, and they left with also a closet, because it was so beautiful. And heavy, so they also bought a carriage and an extra horse. I still feel sorry for those horses, because they bought even more after that, I won't be that stupid. Well, a bit extra never hurts, as long as I can carry it, I'll try only to buy what I need, not what I want."
Diego raised his hand. "No, wait. Let me wake up Dora first, she was sleeping here."
Smith smiled. "That's all right, thanks for the warning, I don't like to stand in front of a closed door, even though it's already past noon. I haven't heard you tonight, Floris was complaining about the noise you were making next to his office."
Diego grinned. "Your hearing must be impaired Human, I can not say we were silent tonight."
Floris said nothing, and stood up to walk out of the door. Just before he left he turned around. "Goodbye Smith, and beware of those Wolves along the path, and there are rumors of another criminal, but I have no confirmation of that." and left.
Smith ran to catch him. "What do you mean? you are the law enforcer here, you are supposed to do something about criminals!"
The Fox shook his head. "No, the Neutral Zone begins at the first step outside this village, that's your territory, only if they come here I can do something about them." and started to walk again.
Smith stood still with an open mouth. His territory was even bigger than he thought. These criminals were his problem.
Charlene came standing besides him. "Something wrong?"
Smith looked at her and nodded. "Yes, I don't only have a village, but my land starts here right outside this village, and it needs someone to protect it… me."

Smith sighed, and walked back inside to get his backpack and sword.
He suddenly remembered he had left his sharpening stones at the smithy, he would get them when he went to Dora's store for the last time. When he came back outside he saw Charlene sitting on the bench in front of the inn. He walked towards her and caressed her neck and ears.
Charlene closed her eyes. "Mrrr… you really know how to please a lady."
Smith smiled. "Only Felines, I don't know what Dora would like… Where is Katie by the way?"
Charlene opened her eyes again. "Oh, she is saying goodbye to everyone."
Smith smiled. "How sweet of her… I'm going to Dora's store. Do you need anything you don't have at home?"
Charlene shook her head. "No, I want to leave everything behind, and start a new life. Only a tent, sleeping mat and a blanket for us."
Smith nodded. "Then I also will need bigger pans, those I have are big enough for one person, but now I have three people eating from them. And two more plates. Do you mind to come along? I want you to carry the mats and blankets for you and Katie, but you need straps for them, and those must fit you."
Charlene stood up, and grabbed Smith's hand. They walked towards the smithy, and Smith entered. Smith got his stones, and looked around for a last last time, and saw the two sacks of coal. One still full, the other half full. He thought a few moments about what he would do with them, and decided to put them in front of the smithy.
Floris was just walking by when Smith put them down. "The village may have them, free heating for the bath, free coal for everyone to cook on… you decide."
Floris nodded, and walked on. "Thank you, very kind."

Dora was already waiting in the doorway of her store. "Welcome. I already heard some of the things that you need. I have some tents, what kind do you prefer: Vulpine, Feline or Canine? Unfortunately I don't have any Human tents."
Smith nodded. "Hmm… I'm sorry, but Canine tents are far too crude, bad sewing quality, Vulpine tents are lightweight, I use one myself, but they are also smaller… I choose a Feline, those are the second best, after Human tents. Humans really can't sleep in the open air, that's why their tents are the best. Unfortunately they are heavy, you almost need an army to carry them."
Dora smiled. "Good choice. And you need blankets and sleeping mats… three sets you said?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, and a set of bigger pans. I will leave mine behind, I have no use for them, but they are of a good quality, a waste to throw them away."
Dora walked to the shelf where the pans stood. "One frying pan, and one cooking pan."
Charlene took a step forward. "And a set of straps, I have a strong Human now, but I still have to carry something."
Dora smiled. "How rude of him, letting a lady carry something." and got a set of straps.

Katie entered the store, with the sling in her hand. "Oh, there you are… Smith, do you want your sling back?"
Smith smiled. "No, you may keep it." and he untied his waist bag. "Here are my projectiles. You can do the hunting on our way home." Smith got the dagger he got from the smithy out of his pocket. "And you can also have this. This is a dagger a Human father normally gives to his son, I don't want to know how this ended up here, but now you are my child, and I want you to have it."
Katie accepted it. "Thank you." was all she could say. She looked at the sheath, and pulled the dagger out of it.
"I will put some symbols on it, but those will be very personal, and a surprise" Smith grinned.
Katie hung the sheath on the strap of the waist bag. "How do I look?"
Smith smiled. "Humans wear pants or trousers, and they have a belt, using the strap of your bag is very wise. And how you look… I wanted to say fluffy, but I'm afraid that dagger will end up inside of me before I can finish that sentence, so I will keep it with tiny with a lot of cute downy hair."
Katie was already fumbling with the dagger, and had some trouble of getting it out of it's sheath.
Smith grinned. "Provoking you is good, you learn from it. Hang that dagger just like I wear my sword, on your left side, then it's easier to draw."
Smith walked to the counter, and emptied his pocket of money. "This is all I have left, I hope it's enough."
Dora smiled. "It's fine, only a small silver short, but I don't care, I have your old pans. You have done more for us than ever imagined."

Smith, Charlene and Katie said goodbye to Dora and left the little store.
Diego was waiting outside, with the rest of the villagers. "Katie asked us to say goodbye to you, and so we are doing. You, Smith, have to shake hands with all of us. And we have some extra food for you, the villagers are really eager to leave and don't want you to waste time hunting for food for dinner, breakfast and another lunch."
Smith smiled. He smiled until he had shaken hands with the last one. He had to use his left arm to wave the final goodbye, because his right arm was hurting. He grinned at the thought of the last ones, what would they think of him? He barely had the strength in his hand to maintain grip while shaking hands.

'As soon as you leave the village you are in the Neutral Zone' Floris had told him. But apparently the villagers ignore that rule, and came and still come here to collect the wildlife in the forest to eat. Luckily they had packed dinner for the first day, and breakfast and even lunch for the next. They decided to walk along the river, if there is no wildlife in the forest for the following days they could catch some fish there.
It was a nice walk, there were some fallen trees along the path, and Katie used them to climb on, to practice her climbing skills. Sometimes there was no way back down, and Smith had to catch her when she jumped down. Charlene laughed at it, and remarked that Katie was a Tiger, and not a Leopard. Smith smiled, and replied that Katie was also not a Hound, but still very skilled with a sling. They walked on for a few hours like this, until it was time for dinner.
They ate their dinner in silence, somehow the walk was very tiring. Smith wanted to walk on for a few more hours, but Charlene wanted to put up camp. They had enough food with them for another breakfast, they could leave early in the morning, immediately after breakfast. And Katie was not used to long walks, she was getting tired. Smith had to put her in her tent.

It was a new day of walking again. Indeed no time wasted for hunting for food. Katie was getting tired again, despite the fact that today she walked in a normal fashion, no running around and climbing trees. But nonetheless after lunch Katie had dozed off again.
Smith smiled. "Shall I carry you until it is time to put up camp again?"
Katie opened her eyes again. "No, that's not necessary, just a few more minutes." and closed her eyes again.
Charlene stood up again, and Smith sighed "Getting restless again?"
Charlene shook her head. "No, I just want to sit next to you, what do you think, left or right?"
Smith smiled "I don't care, as long as it's next to me."
Charlene poked him. "No, I was talking about Katie, will she fall over to her left or to her right?"
Smith looked at the little Tiger sitting against a tree. "I think left, she has her tail on her right side."
Charlene nodded. "Yes, I think you will be correct, but I will take the right side."

Katie fell forward, with her head on her toes, and woke up. "I fell asleep, didn't I?"
Smith and Charlene laughed. "Yes, you did, and we both lost our bet about which way you would fall."
Katie stood up. "I have rested enough, let's get moving again."
Smith smiled "Aww… you were just so cute. You can't be mischievous when you are asleep. Or were you dreaming about killing chickens?"
Katie shook her head. "No…"
Smith nodded. "It's all right, your thoughts are yours alone, only tell what you want to tell."
Charlene also stood up again. "Enough dreaming and talking, let's put our mind on walking."
Finally Smith stood up. "You might want to teach Katie to run, but I won't run. My legs are made for walking, and I doubt your ankle is completely healed, so please don't over-strain it."
Charlene hugged Smith. "But now I have a strong Human who can carry me."
Smith grinned. "So, little birds for dinner? You can pick them from the trees, I'll make sure I won't miss a low hanging branch along the path for you to meet."
Charlene grabbed Smith's crotch. "I already have found two eggs, shall I scramble them?"
Katie came standing beside them. "You found eggs? Where? Does Smith have eggs in his pants?"

They walked along in silence again, and Smith noticed Katie falling behind. Smith stopped, and waited for her to catch up with him.
Katie smiled. "I accept your offer of carrying me."
Smith also smiled. "I told you, but you are far too stubborn to listen to me." but nonetheless he knelt to allow Katie to climb on his shoulders, and stood up again. "Katie, can you please give your waist-bag an other place, it's not very comfortable on my head."
Katie twisted the strap with the bag in a way that the bag came hanging on her right side. She did not forget to give the dagger its place on her left side back. Smith's head was again free of items that obstruct his looking around. He started to walk again.
Charlene was waiting up ahead, she smiled when she saw Katie sit on Smith's shoulders. "If you meet any low branches just punch Smith on his head, he deserves it."
Katie looked down at Charlene. "Why? I can just duck. Or climb over them if they are really low."
Smith shook his head "No, I will just walk around them. If you promise not to lose your balance on my shoulders you can even sleep."
Katie giggled a little.

Smith walked on, just like he had done the previous time. Only this time Katie was still an infant, no risk of getting wet from arousal. They walked on for a few hours, they were not hungry and there was no other reason to stop.
Katie giggled again, and Charlene looked up to her. "Something wrong?"
Katie continued to giggle. "No, but Smith's moving of his head feels a little bit like what mommy used to do with a towel to make me pee when I was very young."
Charlene looked at Smith. "I suggest you get Katie as soon as possible from your shoulders."
Smith shrugged. "I'm sure she is well toilet-trained, I see a clearing next to the river up ahead, we can stop there." But before he could finish his sentence he felt a warm wetness flow down his back.
He stopped and threw his backpack from his shoulders, to avoid it from getting wet, and as soon as he had his hands free he lifted Katie over his head to put her down. A stream of urine flowed over his head when he lifted Katie, but there was no other option.

Smith sighed, and grinned. "Felines and Humans are very different. Humans babies just let it run, and need to wear diapers to prevent making things dirty, and you Felines use a towel to stimulate the excretion, and if you don't use them nothing happens. And if you get older the stimulation to pee becomes an other stimulation, and that also has given me a wet back."
Charlene smiled. "Yes, I could have warned you, but I thought Katie was old enough to hold it up. But I was wrong. I'm sorry."
Smith smiled. "It's all right, we all make mistakes. It's just urine, no harm done. Now we have a reason to stop. And no, you don't have to wash my back again, I can do it myself."
Katie finished emptying her bladder. "Shall I was your back? I made you dirty."
Smith shook his head. "No, you neither. But you can go hunting, see if you can hit a moving target."
Katie shook her head. "Here are no animals. At least, I don't hear or smell them."
Smith looked around. "No, and I don't see any traces. Then I will teach you how to catch fish."

They walked along, Smith held his backpack in one hand, and his wet jumper in the other. They reached the clearing. Smith saw already some fish swim in the river, and warned Katie not to go near the river, to avoid scaring the fish away. He got his fishing line from his backpack, and gave it to Katie. Then he pulled some plants out of the ground to catch some worms.
He smiled, and took the fishing line from Katie's hands, untied it, and put the worm on the hook. "All right Katie, this is how to catch fish. Hook, line, sinker, float, worm. Put the hook through the worm like this, and slowly lower it into the water upstream next to the fish. Stay low, don't scare the fish. Some people use a rod, but I prefer holding the line in my hands, and to stand on a rock. Distance between the float and the sinker approximately the depth of the water, and if you don’t see a fish swallow the worm there is always the disappearing float if a fish grabs it. Wait a few moment, and pull it in."
Katie took a few steps back. "Eww… you stink."
Smith shrugged. "I don't smell it, I will catch the first fish, and you will have to catch the rest for our dinner, I will wash myself and start the fire. Charlene can do the cooking. After dinner we will put up the tents."

Smith crawled towards the river, and lowered his line. The first fish was an easy catch. He threw the fish on the shore, where Charlene got it. She had already gotten Smith's cutlery out of his backpack, and used it to clean the fish.
Smith shrugged. "All right, you wanted to leave everything behind. If you want to leave me please take what you need, otherwise you won't survive."
Charlene smiled. "Why would I want to leave someone who has everything I need?"
Smith shook his head. "No, I also see no reason for you to leave me, but you will always have that freedom."
Smith gave his fishing line to Katie, warned her not to lose it, and went around the bend to wash himself.

Smith was in doubt whether he would leave his underpants on, but the thought of Katie seeing his private parts made that doubt short lived.
He shivered. The water was cold, even cold enough to make his pubic hair enough to hide his private parts. Smith managed to grin 'Nope, always wear pants when Katie is around', washed his jumper and plunged into the slow flowing water to wash himself. He thought he saw some movement on the shore, but when he had wiped the water out of his eyes he saw nothing. He heard Katie scream 'Fish!' in the distance, and he smiled. Katie had caught her first fish. Smith dived for a last time through the water towards the shore, and climbed out of the water. He got his jumper, and walked towards the camp-site again to get his towel.
He looked at the river while he walked. It was a nice and slow flowing river, according to a map he had studied at the inn it bends one travel-day from his village to the south, maybe they could make their second camp there, and then travel north-east to get back to his village. But staying a second day at this river also was an option, there was plenty of time, at home they didn't expect him back. Will and Casper could already be there, and at home they would understand that he needed a few more days to make some arrangements with the Inimal villagers. And his walking was slower.

When he looked up ahead he suddenly saw a Fox standing in front of him. It was a relative young Fox, and he was tugging on a sword which was stuck in it's sheath.
Smith stopped. This was no feral, but also not a dangerous criminal.
The Fox managed to get the stuck sword a bit further out of it's sheath, but he held the sheath the wrong way, and in the process of pulling the sword out he had cut his hand.
When Smith saw the blood flowing from the Fox's hand he sighed, and grabbed the injured left hand of the Fox. "I don't know who you are, but I'm not letting you walk away like this." and started to walk again, dragging the Fox along with him.

Katie walked to Charlene with a big fish in her hands. She saw Smith with the Fox in his iron grip approaching "Who is that?"
Smith shrugged. "I don't know, but I think he wanted to kill me. I don't know who of you will have your hands clean first, but he needs some bandages, left bottom pocket of my backpack, I want him to talk first, then he may die."
The Fox started to look scared, but still said nothing.
Charlene stood up to wash her hands, and get the bandages.
"You are hurting me." the Fox suddenly said.
Smith grinned. "At least I now know he can talk, that's a good start. Now tell me your name, Fox."
Smith moved the hand of the Fox to inspect the wounds. They were not deep, no need for stitching, but they definitely needed some attention. He did it not in a friendly manner.
"You are hurting me." the Fox said again.
Smith smirked. "All right You Are Hurting Me, that Cheetah will be here soon with some bandages, and when those are applied I will release you. Don't try to do anything stupid, because my sword over there is not stuck in its sheath if you know what I mean."
The Fox looked at the ground. "No… my name is Robin, and my intentions were indeed to rob and kill you. But… But I'm worthless."
Smith smiled. "A Fox with a sword… That's almost like a Wolf with a bow and arrow, totally harmless. Don't you have a bow?"
The Fox shook his head "No, I broke it a long time ago, and my parents didn't want to give me a new one, and I ran away from home."
Smith nodded. "Right, a runaway Fox in a dangerous forest, and now he is injured."

Charlene came back with the bandages and some water, and applied them with care. "What are we going to do with him?"
Smith shrugged. "I don't know… I have an extra sleeping mat and blanket, and we have two tents, he can travel with us to my village, let his wounds heal and he can go again. He is harmless, and will be killed very soon if he is not careful. But he has a choice." Smith looked at the Fox, and released his grip. "What's it going to be Robin, what do you want?"
Robin looked at the ground. "I… I want to go home."
Smith nodded. "All right, but the problem is, the doctor of the Inimal village close by died a few days ago, that means that a Human doctor will have to look at your hand. I'm a smith, not a doctor, and this Cheetah here is a messenger, and this young Tiger is just fluff… I mean a Child."

Katie walked up to Robin, and gave him a hand. "I'm Katie"
Smith smiled. "I'm sorry, I haven't introduced myself, you can call me Smith, smith of the Neutral Zone."
"And I'm Charlene." Charlene added.
Robin looked at them. "Why are you traveling together?"
Smith answered that question. "I have adopted Katie, and I asked Charlene who was already trying to take care of her after her parents were killed to come along to help me."
Robin nodded. "And the scars on your back?"
Smith sighed. "They are from my past, none of your business." Smith looked at the two fishes that Charlene had already gutted. "I think we need some more fish, Robin also needs to eat something."

Katie walked to where she had put her fishing gear. "The worms have crawled away!"
Smith smiled. "You saw how I caught them, don't ask everything, sometimes you have to make your own decisions."
Robin shook his head. "Sometimes making your own decisions ends up wrong."
Smith also shook his head. "No. If you were my son, I wouldn't have given you a bow either, but I would have sent you to someone who could teach you how to make your own bow."
Robin started to smile. "Yes, maybe that would even have been better. I will ask my father to teach me that."
Katie had already caught some new worms, and was walking towards the river again.
Smith looked at Robin. "You know how to start a fire?"
Robin shook his head "No, but somehow I think you are going teach me that."
Smith nodded and smiled. They gathered some wood and stones to build a fire, and Smith showed how to start it, but he did not light the fire. Today that was Robin's task. It took a few attempts, but he succeeded.
Charlene smiled. "You should have become a teacher instead of a smith, you really have a talent for teaching."
Smith shook his head. "No, I'm not a teacher. I will teach Will the art of forging, and what I have taught and teach Katie is for survival… They are building a school in my village, and I will send Katie there to learn how to read, write and calculate, and of course the Human language, I don't have the patience to do that."
Robin looked at Smith. "Who is Will?"
Smith smiled. "Will is a Wolf a few days ahead of us. His father was among the Wolves who have killed my wife, and I have killed his father, but we have forgiven each other, and now he wants to become a smith. I have not always been this nice, but people can change. You tried to rob and kill me, and now I am helping you, and I even trust you enough to let you sleep in my tent."
Robin smiled. "Yes, I agree. You are not a normal Human, somehow you are different. Maybe it's your feline accent, maybe it's how you act around us Inimals, treat us like we are equal… I trust you."
Smith smiled. "Yes, and don't worry about what I said earlier about killing you, I only kill if necessary, if my own life is at stake. Killing eleven Wolves and some Humans is enough for me. I make the tools for others to kill with… I'm sorry, but I consider you harmless without a bow and arrows, I think I will give you some arrowheads when you leave as a friend. Ever heard of the Red Brigade?"
Robin nodded. "Yes, they are the best archers. It's every Fox's dream to be a member of them."
Smith smiled. "I can not make you a member of them, but I can give you some arrowheads, the same as they use, but you have to make your own shaft and fletching."
Robin nodded again. "I understand, you only provide the metal parts."
Smith grinned. "And if the people of your village also want those kind of arrowheads they have to buy them, I will abuse you for advertising purposes."
Robin also started to grin. "And I thought you were a nice person."
Charlene handed Robin a fish. "Smith is a nice Human, but you have to learn to know him. He is rude, but he means well."
Smith smiled. "I only help those who can help me, if you were a Wolf I would have killed you, no hesitation, but now you have to eat."

Smith wanted to say a lot more, but he allowed Robin eat in silence. He saw that Robin was really hungry. Charlene handed Katie and Smith their fish, and started to eat the last one. After dinner they put up their tents.
Smith looked worried at the forest. "There is a gang of Wolves active here… I suggest we have a waking guard tonight, I will take the first watch, then it's Robin's turn, and then Charlene's, but wake me up at the first sound, I'm the only one with a sword and who knows how to use it."
Katie held up her dagger. "I have a dagger!"
Smith smiled and shook his head. "No little Tiger, because of you we are spending the night here, you became too tired to walk, and I had to carry you. You must take your rest, we will protect you."
Katie nodded. "I promise I won't climb trees tomorrow, but stay on the path."
Smith smiled. "Now, do your evening business down wind or even use the river, and go to bed, long day of walking tomorrow for you."

It was a quiet night, and suddenly Smith realized how bad his hearing was. He only could hear the murmuring of the river, a bit of rustling of the leaves in the wind, and a lonely cricket, nothing else. And the faint ringing in his ears he always has as the result of not wearing the proper hearing protection while hammering on the anvil.
He even could not hear the others breathe in their sleep. This was dangerous, he started quietly to walk around, and chose a new place to sit, a bit further away from the river.
Easier to be surrounded, but it was quieter, maybe he could hear something approaching him.
Someone did approach him. He drew his sword.

"Smith?"

It was Robin.
"I do trust you, but I don't trust your senses, mine are far better, even in my sleep, I heard you walk around. Take your rest, there is nobody else here."
Smith nodded in the darkness. "Fine, I'm going to bed. But please warn me when you hear something, you are defenseless."
Smith crawled into his tent, but he did not go to sleep. Suddenly his trust in this Fox had dropped. Why would Robin suddenly want to take over his guard?

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Chapter 8 - Wolves on the Road (part 1)

#10 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 8
Wolves on the Road


Smith did not sleep well that night, despite the fact he was tired. He did not quite know what to think of Robin. He was a young Fox, and he had told him that he had run away from home. It was a plausible story, but also a sad story that makes others want to help you, and then you can betray them. And there was an other criminal besides the Wolves he already knew of. That criminal was yet a rumor, and it could not be Robin, he was simply too stupid to be a seasoned criminal. You just don't test your sword when you need it, you check beforehand if it will slide smoothly out of it's scabbard. Maybe there was a third one, older Fox or something, using Robin to distract their victims.
But the stuck sword… You just don't sacrifice an accomplice. Smith turned to his side, and saw that Robin had already left the tent. Smith sighed. His hearing was really bad.

"He is awake, his breathing has changed."

"Shall I ask him for breakfast?"

"No, it's my turn!"

"All right, I'll call him."

Robin, Charlene and Katie were talking outside.
A few moments later the canvas of the tent moved, and Robin's head entered. "Good morning Smith. The ladies are already fighting over you… Shall I give you a morning lick?"
Smith went to a sitting position. "No, please… But if you have an older sister you can always ask her to give me a lick, I've never had a Vixen before."
Robin grinned. "I think I understand how you got these scars on your back. Felines put them there with their claws."
Smith nodded. "Yes, Cats. When I entered puberty it was like a signal to the Inimals in my villages they could have sex with me without the risk of getting pregnant. And I had a lot of it, but only with the Felines, I have missed the opportunity with the older sister of my best friend, a Hound."
Robin continued to grin. "I don't like Hounds, but I won't stop you from trying. Beware of their drool."
Smith now also grinned. "They only drool when they think of food. I don't think my sausage is very tasty, but I on the other hand don't like teeth. The Jaguar still gives me nightmares."
Smith saw that Robin was being pushed aside by Katie. "You have a sausage? Where? Can I taste it?"
Smith sighed. "No Katie, this is adult talk, Humans are very creative when it comes to naming our genitals."
Robin smiled. "I've never have sex before, but I will keep it with Vixens, other species are far too dangerous."
Smith smiled, and got out of his blanket. "You must know how to handle them, every species likes it differently, but now we must talk about our breakfast, there is a child listening."
"Tigers like to bite noses." Smith heard Katie reply from somewhere outside the tent. "And Leopards like to swat his face with their tails, and Cheetah's…"
"Katie, stop talking!" Smith interrupted the little Tiger, while he got his clothes. This was embarrassing.

Charlene had already prepared breakfast. Fish again.
"Katie has already caught enough fish for breakfast and lunch, there are no other animals around here, and it's good we are taking the knowledge of catching fish with us, otherwise those will be extinct too." she said with a smile.
Smith also smiled. "Yes, but I'm not the one who will starve here, enough food for me… I see berries, mushrooms, that plant over there has edible roots… Humans can eat much more than just meat."
Katie grinned. "Then you can convert all those plants into something edible, and then we can eat you, starting with your sau…"
"Katie, eat, don't talk!" This time it was Charlene's turn to silence Katie.
Robin chuckled. And almost choked. Smith gave him a slap on his back to release the fish-bone that was stuck in his throat.
"Thank you." Robin said when he was finally able to breath normally again. Smith had hit him hard.
Smith smiled. "Katie is a very clever girl, we must learn to be careful about what we say within her hearing range. She is full of surprises. And sometimes very funny, prepare to have your mouth empty when she says something."
Robin nodded "I noticed."

After breakfast they packed the tents again. Smith examined Robin's sword and scabbard. "It will take a lot of grinding to make it fit, or you would have to earn a new scabbard. I don't know how, maybe you can use a broom and dustpan to clean my smithy, but I don't know if that would do your wounded hand any good. This is worthless, even I have some trouble to get it out, and I'm much stronger. What do you want to do with it? It's your sword and scabbard after all."
Robin looked at them "I keep them, a stuck sword is still better than nothing, and I'll see what I can do to have you to grind it. Grinding it also makes it lighter, right?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, with grinding you remove material, this is a Canine sword with a Feline scabbard, the worst combination you can get. Next time find a light Feline sword with a sturdy Canine scabbard, for your limited strength that's a better combination. But the best for you is a bow and a quiver filled with good arrows, and a light knife. Single cutting edge is enough for Foxes."
Robin nodded "But then I would have to sweep your smithy for the rest of my life."
Smith shook his head. "No, I will give you the arrowheads as promised, your father will teach you to make your own bow, and knives are easy to find on old battlefields, just loot some corpses. I do the same, I even have sold a single sword three times, it only needed a bit of sharpening. And yes, I have taken it two times from a Human corpse."
Robin grinned. "You are not neutral, you have chosen a side, your own."
Smith grinned. "Yes, but that is going to change. The 'I' is going to change in a 'we', I have adopted a little Tiger, and I want to make sure she will become a big and healthy Tigress, and no, I see her as my daughter. I have lost my own wife and child."
Robin looked at Smith "What happened?"
Smith looked at the ground, and sighed. "Wolves attacked the old smithy while I was away, I was away because I had to hand in my masterpiece to become a master smith. The Wolves killed everyone in my village, it was also neutral, but my master, my pregnant wife and I were the only Humans. I… I don't like to talk about it."
Robin nodded. "I understand."
Smith also nodded, with a sad look in his eyes. "Yes, I will make sure she will become an adult in safety, I will be there when she has children of her own, make sure they are safe, and then I will bury Katie because she dies of old age, and nothing else."
"But now we have to walk, this is not a happy subject to talk about." Charlene interrupted.
Smith smiled. It was good to have Charlene around, she really senses his emotions, and knows how to distract him.

Smith looked at Charlene. "Which path shall we take? The short route following the river until it bends south, but with a risk of encountering the Wolf criminals, but also more food to eat, or the longer, safer path through the empty woods, with an extra mouth to feed?"
Charlene looked at Robin. "Robin's wounded hand needs attention, with the river we have a source of clean water, it's shorter and the food is also important, even if it's only fish. And I'm sure the Wolves have moved on, last time I heard of them they were further south, moving east."
Smith nodded. "All right, follow the river then." and started walking. And talking to no-one in particular he mumbled to himself "Moving east… hmm, I think the second thing I have to do is warn the proper people in my village, there is some sort of militia for protection, but they are only Humans with swords, maybe some of them will have to learn how to use a bow and arrow."
Robin tapped him on his shoulder "Maybe I can teach them how to use a bow and arrow, it was not me who broke my bow, but my father, he tripped over it, I forgot to put it away."
Smith smiled. "If you can do that I will take care of your sword."
Robin also smiled. "That's a good deal."
Smith nodded. "You know, when you suddenly wanted to take over my watch last night my trust in you dropped, but I think I am mistaken, you are not bad."
Smith felt Robin's hand on his shoulder again. "It's all right, I trust you, but not your senses. It's a miracle you can survive alone in the forest."
Smith nodded again, but said nothing. He somehow had survived months in the forest, but he has no memory of it. He only remembers the thing that triggered him to become something like a Feral, and how he got out of it. Nothing from the time between those events. Only 'go north, it's safe there'. Charlene had also put her hand on his shoulder. He smiled and stroked her hand, ignoring Robin.
They walked on in silence, Smith walking between Katie and Charlene, holding their hands. Robin was a few paces behind them.

Suddenly there was movement in the bushes besides the path.
Six black Wolves came out of them. "Look what we have here. A Human, a Cheetah, a young Tiger and the missing son." one of them spoke with a grin on his face.
"First a pair of Foxes, looking for their son, then a Cat with some nice tools and a Wolf who wanted to become a smith, and now this. I wonder if that botch of a shopkeeper is still in that village. Good call to go west." an other spoke, with an even more evil grin on his face.
Smith looked at him. "Botch?"
The Wolf continued to grin. "Oh yeah, botch. The lovely dot on the 'i' between her legs will be turned into an 'o' when I am done with her."
The other Wolves snickered. Suddenly Smith heard the 'whoosh' of a sling next to him, and the last Wolf who spoke collapsed on the ground, his hands holding onto his crotch.
Katie had used her sling to launch one of the larger projectiles at his showing excitement. The Wolf standing next to him glanced momentarily at the moaning Wolf on the ground, but then continued to look at Smith.
This reaction surprised Smith. One of his comrades has fallen, and he did not even try to help him.
"Leave Dora alone!" Katie shouted.
"Oh, her name is Dora." he said with an evil grin. "We all love her. I think it will be Do…oh…oh…oh..ora when we are doing her."
"It's a pity she got away the previous time, but she is very brave to continue the shop." a third Wolf said.

Smith looked calmly at the group. One of the Wolves was standing beneath a tall branch.
Smith got an idea. He gently stroked Katie's head, and carefully grabbed it. Then he gently turned her head towards the tree with the branch, and forced her to look at the tree, following the trunk, the branch, and then he made her look at the Wolf standing beneath it, without taking his own eyes from the Wolves.
He felt her nod, she understood. He released her, dropped his backpack to free his movement, and immediately drew his own sword to distract the Wolves. His sword was not heavy enough to break their swords, but his past in his old village and practicing with and learning from customers taught him a lot about fighting. When fighting a Tiger you must use your strength, when fighting a Wolf you must use your agility, fighting a Human… impossible, he was a smith, not a soldier.
But still he was a better fighter than the average Human soldier, Humans always try to fight 'fair', try to be equal to their enemies. Using strength against Canines and agility against Felines… To win you must fight dirty. Smith grinned.
"Why are you grinning?" one of the remaining Wolves asked.
"I can take four Wolves." Smith spoke plainly.
"Hehe, the Human speaks our language with a terrible accent, but he can not count. We are with five." another Wolf, apparently the leader, said.
Smith shook his head. "No. Four."
This was Katie's cue to drop from the tree, and implanting her dagger into her target's back. The Wolves did not expect this, a child killing one of them, and in the confusion Smith took a step forward, killing a second one, and immediately stepped back again, he was protecting others, not fighting for himself.

Katie pulled her dagger out of the now dead Wolf's back, and walked backwards toward Charlene and Robin.
Smith took a step sideways to shield her. Smith put on a fake grin "Now there are three standing, as you can see, I know how to kill. And count."
The apparent leader grinned. "That's less to share with, I'm sure you have a lot of money with you. And if not, we can always skin the Tiger and the Cheetah, their skin is worth a lot of money, and if a poacher wants to buy those we kill him."
Smith continued to keep his fake grin. "I suggest you keep the poacher alive the first time you meet him. Then he will give you money for the skins, and when you encounter him again you can kill him, and then take his money again, because he has sold the skins and has some new money."
The grin on the leader's face widened. "You are a very clever Human, I think we should do that. Keep someone alive for a change. It sounds like you are almost like one of us. Kill you, loot you, kill the others, skin the others, sell the skins, and then kill the buyer when we meet him again… but first… Kill the Human!"

One of the two other remaining Wolves took a step forward. This was not what Smith had thought of. All the recent fighting experience he had was play-fighting, practicing… this was for real, this was for his, Katie's, Charlene's and Robin's lives… Smith took a breath.
Look at the weak spots… Flaws in their defense…
He was lucky the second Wolf was hesitating, and the leader did not want to get his hands dirty… His own sword was too light to break the Wolven sword…. But he could fight dirty, don't go for the sword, but dodge the sword and go for the hand that is holding the sword. It only takes a small cut to break the concentration of the attacker, and a hand with suddenly a few fingers missing can not hold a sword.
Again Smith took a step forward, and immediately dived, this Wolf knew how to fight, but only in expected ways. Humans trying to hit his sword, and not his hand. The Wolf's sword flew from his hand, and a few of his fingers following it tumbling through the air. Before the Wolf realized what has happened he was decapitated by Smith's second blow. Hitting a metal object on an anvil with precision, using a sling with skill, and using a sword with deadly accuracy, there is not much difference between those actions.

"I wish Siegfried was here instead of this…" Smith looked up. Why did that Wolf not finish his sentence, and why was he not immediately attacking?
He suddenly realized there was something wrong. A Wolf does not have a bloody point of a sword protruding from his chest. The leader standing behind the Wolf has killed his own kind. He had betrayed him.

Smith looked in shock at the still standing Wolves, the Wolf standing behind the one with the sword protruding from his chest grinned, released the sword, and started to run towards the river.
Smith now really realized what was happening, the leader was getting away like a coward. Smith knew he was not fast enough to catch him, and there were too many trees and bushes for Katie to use her sling. He only had one chance, and he hoped Katie was clever enough to understand.
"Katie! Hand!" he shouted towards her, and immediately began to run towards the fleeing Wolf.
He knew Katie was a good runner, and that might give her enough momentum. He took a few steps towards the slope, it was a steep slope towards the river. He lowered his right hand for Katie to step on, and then he would throw the little Tiger towards the fleeing Wolf.
Katie understood. She came running towards him, her dagger in her hands. With one mighty leap she landed with her left foot on his hand, and he threw. He heard something snap in his shoulder, but the little Tiger was airborne. She flew. She held her dagger in both hands above her head, point downwards.

The fleeing Wolf looked over his shoulder to look at what came flying towards him. Katie impaled his neck with her dagger, and ruptured an artery.
The Wolf tripped, and his and Katie's momentum combined made him spin, and fall backwards head first towards the river. Katie bounced on the Wolf's chest and she flew over him and landed in a bush close to the river, still holding her dagger in her hand. The Wolf's snout got stuck underneath a root, and his neck snapped. The bouncing body of the Wolf still had some momentum, the Wolf's head got free again, and the now dead Wolf continued it's path towards the river, towards the bush Katie was hanging in. It grazed Katie, but finally it landed in the water, where it disappeared.

Smith grabbed his shoulder. Throwing Katie has dislodged his shoulder. He had a fairly high tolerance towards pain, but he really felt this. He screamed out in pain.
Charlene and Robin came running towards Smith. "Are you hurt?" Charlene asked with a worried look on her face.
Smith shook his head. "It hurts, but I will live. Dislodged shoulder, I think I know how to fix this, but don't worry if I scream again. Worry about Katie, she is down there, see if her dagger is at a safe place, and not somewhere inside of her."

Smith stood upright, with his eyes closed. 'All right Smith, remember how your brother did it.' He took a deep breath. 'Arms bent, in front of you, slowly move them to your sides, and then upwards… don't forget to keep breathing.'
Smith moved his arms, and he felt his shoulder slip back to it's place. The sharp pain changed into a dull pain. Smith managed to grin again. He was always good at avoiding pain, but sometimes pain can not be avoided. It takes you to places you never imagined. Acceptance among the Bergvolk, or making the Neutral Zone safer. This pain was worth it. He moved his arms again. The pain increased. All his bones were at the correct place, but he was not healed, that would take more time, it has taken his brother over a month to be able to cut down trees again.

Katie climbed back up again, her dagger still in her hand. And a black stain on her fur.
Smith looked at her. It was not mud, nor blood. It looked a bit like soot. But there was no chimney down there. "Where did you get that stain?" Smith asked.
Katie looked at her arms and chest. "I don't know, I think it was not a natural black Wolf I killed, but I think he colored his fur to appear black."
Smith nodded. "Hmm… not natural black, but still wants to be a part of a group of black Wolves."

Robin was examining the other Wolves, and stood beside the Wolf Katie has hit with her sling. "What are we going to do with this one?"
Smith walked towards them, and knelt besides the Wolf who was lying on the ground, his hands still holding on to his crotch, a few drops of blood visible between his fingers. "I don't know. Maybe he has some answers."
The Wolf looked at Smith. "Please, let me die."
Smith nodded. "You may die, it will be swift and painless, but first you must answer a few questions I have for you."
The Wolf nodded. Smith got a slight smile. Promising simple things that someone wants is easy.
"Where are the bodies of the Foxes, the Cat and the Wolf you killed, and where are their belongings?"
The Wolf got a painful look on his face, talking hurts. But he managed to give the answers.
"The Foxes are somewhere north of here in the forest, we killed them last week. They said they were looking for their son who had run away. They wanted to give him a new bow, and had a large sum of money with them."
Smith looked at Robin, and put a hand on his shoulder.
The Wolf continued to speak, despite his pain. "And we have dumped the bodies of the Cat and the Wolf into the river, we have taken their belongings, the lock picking set and tools of the Cat were very useful, and we always could have sold the apron and gloves the Wolf was carrying. They also had letters with them, I don't know what was in them, Dolf used them to light the fire, we have made our camp a bit further down the river, the items we stole and robbed are also there."
Smith nodded. "Thanks for the information. You may die."

Smith stood up. "Robin… Casper and Will were not really my friends, they meant less to me than your parents to you. I'm asking you to put an end to his suffering."
Robin also stood up. "No, he is a Wolf, he deserves to suffer."
Smith slapped Robin with the back of his left hand. "No! We are not Wolves. We do not let our enemies suffer. Get my sword, and put it through his heart."
Robin walked away. "No! Never!"
Smith sighed. When he wanted to grab his sword with his right hand the pain remembered him he had an injury. He had to use his left hand. The movement of pulling his sword out of is scabbard with his left hand felt a bit unnatural, when this was over he had to move his scabbard to his right side. And get a sling to put his right arm in to avoid using it. And put a wet towel on his shoulder to limit the swelling.

He looked down at the Wolf, sighed, put the point of his sword at the chest of the Wolf, and pushed. The Wolf had closed his eyes. He gasped a little when Smith pushed, but soon afterward his body relaxed. His suffering was over.

Smith suddenly felt a wet towel pressed onto his shoulder. Charlene had already prepared everything for him while he was busy with Robin and the Wolf. If she were a Human he would have kissed her.
She tied a second towel around his neck to use as a sling, and gave him a lick. "Thank you for protecting us." was all she said.
Smith smiled and nodded. "I have used a lot of weapons in my life, testing the ones I made, but I have never used an infant Tiger as a weapon. I think nobody ever has. Now let's move on, the Wolves had their camp a bit further down the river, maybe we can wash Katie there, and I want to talk to Robin, because I think he has a lot to talk about."
Robin was standing a way up ahead of them. Shouting something. Smith looked at Charlene. "Can you hear what he is saying?"
Charlene nodded. "Yes, he does not want to talk."
Smith also nodded. "No talk, no food, no sleeping place, no help from me. Your choice!" Smith called back at Robin.

Robin came walking back. He realized he was making a wrong choice again.
Smith smiled, and hung his backpack over his good shoulder. "All right, let's get walking. Robin does not have to walk the same distance three times."
Robin stopped walking back, and was waiting for the rest to catch up with him.
Smith nodded at him. "Let's say I am not angry… You must make your own choices, but always think before you do, being impulsive is not always the best option. Everyone makes mistakes, or, they seem like mistakes after you have made them. Even I have made them."
Robin looked at Smith. "What are your mistakes? You seem to be a very successful Human."
Smith smiled. "I still regret walking away after finding my wife with my child cut out of her, and not giving them a decent burial. But the choices I have made then still affect my life. I went something like Feral, I went wandering, and I still don't remember how I survived. I have met new people and they have helped me to become what I am now. If I had made the choice to bury them and go to the Human kingdom my life would have been much different, then I would never have been here. Maybe there would not even have been a Neutral Zone between the Humans and Inimals, and maybe the war would have been much different."
Robin nodded. "And what about those Wolves. You said your wife and old village were killed by them, it could also have been an attack by Humans?"
Smith looked at the path ahead. "I know it were Wolves because I have met them. When my former master and I came home from handing in my masterpiece we encountered them along the path, they were waiting for us. They killed my former master, and somehow I managed to kill them. I didn't care, somehow I had the feeling I had nothing to lose anymore, and fought with all I had, and I killed single-handed all eleven Wolves. I have talked to a few soldiers in the Inimal village where we are coming from, and they told me they don't dare to go to my old village because they think it is haunted, nobody can kill eleven Wolves, but I did it."
Robin nodded. "I have seen what you can do with your sword, it's impressive. It's a bit of a mix of fighting styles. It does not seem to be Human."
Smith nodded again. "Yes, when I was a child I played a lot with Felines and Canines, and they have taught me the basics of their fighting. And sometimes I practice with customers, they really appreciate it when you take your time for them, and I learn from them. They also say that I am very skilled with the weapons, and I would have been an excellent soldier, but I prefer to make weapons instead of using them. But these days I could not take on eleven Wolves again. I killed those in my past with the sword of my fallen master, that was a much heavier sword, and I used it to break the swords of those Wolves with it. The sword I use today is much lighter, it's more a last resort sword, I prefer to talk to get out of trouble."
Robin nodded again. "Yes, you really know what to say. With a few words you can change minds."
Smith grinned. "Yes, I even surprised an Inimal commander by commanding his men, and I did not even meant what I said as a command. Stand in line and wait until I have time to sharpen your weapon. 'Sir, yes sir' was their reply, and did as I asked."
Robin Grinned. "Try commanding me."
Smith smiled. "I am not your commander, but I suggest you listen to me. But if you don't, then don't be upset because I laugh at you because you get in an embarrassing situation by your own decision."
Robin smiled. "I think you are an excellent father. Katie must be very lucky."
Smith also smiled. "And I am very happy father. Katie is a wonderful child, full of surprises and does somehow know what I expect her to do, and Charlene is also a fantastic wife. I don't know how she is in bed, but I already know her aunt, and she was nice. And the other things she does. I asked her to come along to take care of Katie, but now she is already taking care of me, distracting me from my dark memories, getting towels for my shoulder without me asking her… I am not only happy, but also very lucky."
Charlene who was walking at his other side said nothing, but gave him again a lick.
Katie was walking a few paces ahead of them, and stopped. "I also want to give Smith a lick!" Smith smiled, and stopped next to her, and dropped to his knee. Katie hugged him, and gave him also a lick. "I love you… daddy."

They walked on in silence. The clearing came in sight.
Smith could not see any tents, but that was something he expected. If you want to stay hidden you don't put up any tents. But he saw something else. A lonely black Wolf sitting on a rock, looking at them. The Wolf did not make an attempt to walk away to go into hiding for an ambush, it seemed like the Wolf was weakened.
"Robin, do you hear or smell others?" Smith asked.
Robin shook his head. Smith looked at the lonely Wolf again. "All right Robin, keep your sword in it's scabbard, let me do the talking. But keep your ears open for other sounds, this is not normal."
Robin nodded.
Smith looked at Katie. "I can not talk to a corpse or someone who is in pain, don't hurt him, understood?"
Katie also nodded.
The Wolf stood up, and unsheathed his sword. The Wolf staggered, and fell to his knees while Smith approached him.
Smith shook his head. "This is not the correct way to greet me… Siegfried."
The Wolf looked up. "How… how do you know my name?"
Smith kicked the sword aside, and knelt beside the fallen Wolf. "A now dead Wolf mentioned that name. Now, let me put you back on your stone, this is not a good talking position."
The fallen Wolf managed to raise his hand. "No, wait… Did you kill him? The Wolf who told you my name?"
Smith shook his head. "None of us killed him, but now let's get back on your stone. You are almost as harmless as that Fox over there."

Smith put his backpack to the ground, and walked around the fallen Wolf and used his left arm to lift the Wolf. He noticed the Wolf was not heavy, even a bit malnourished. Finally sitting again the Wolf looked at the others.
"Wait… there is a child among you, but you say the Fox is the most harmless?"
Smith nodded. And smiled. "But first you must tell your story, you are not in the position to make demands, you don't have to tell everything, but you also must not lie to me. Understood?"
The now again sitting Wolf nodded. "Yes… I am indeed Siegfried, former leader of The Black Fangs, until that… that… I don't have a good word for how to describe him, fake black runt took over. He was smooth with his talking, the rest of the gang soon followed him instead of me. I started the gang with eleven others, he became the thirteenth, thirteen is the number of bad luck for Humans, am I right?"
Smith nodded. The Wolf managed to smile a bit. "He took over, and wanted to become rich. I started the gang to fight Humans, rob them, kill them, but only if necessary, but he wanted the easier way. Robbing and killing everyone they met. And raping if they had the opportunity. We encountered a pair of Foxes looking for their son, I wanted to spare them, but he did not want to spare them. He even attempted to rape the female, but I put her out of her misery."
Smith looked at Robin, Robin looked at the ground. Siegfried noticed it. "They were your parents, weren't they?"
Robin shook his head and shrugged. "I… I don't know… there might be other Foxes who ran away from home…"
Siegfried gestured at a few bushes at the other side of the clearing. "Over there are the things we have taken over the last few weeks, covered by a heavy leather apron, something a smith wears, there is also their purse and a bow."
Smith smiled. "See if you also can find a nice knife or dagger and a fitting sheath, that's better than your sword."
Robin looked at Smith. "Shall I also take the money I find?"
Smith shook his head. "You don't have to ask me everything… Of course is taking the money a good idea. If you didn't come up with it I would have mentioned it to the Cheetah, or even the Tiger to take it."
Siegfried's smile got a bit bigger. "He really is harmless… But he really has potential, totally unlike that Dog we encountered. He thought he was something, armed with only a knife trying to rob us. Even after we had cut off his fingers and toes he still had some fighting spirit in him."
Smith smiled. "I was afraid there was an other criminal active here, but you have taken care of him. Good job. Less to kill for us."
Siegfried grinned. "It was my idea to go east, to the Neutral Zone, to rob a few wealthy merchants, but that black painted runt wanted to go west, where he said there were much more easy targets. He was afraid of that group of Human deserters who have made themselves some sort of defense force for the Neutral Zone. In my opinion they are totally worthless, but he is afraid of them. And now they are dead, killed by a Human and a Cheetah."
Smith smiled. "No, she did not kill them… But first let me introduce myself. You can call me Smith, smith and leader of the Neutral Zone… But… you telling me that my defense force is worthless worries me… But in my opinion your former gang also made the wrong decision by going west and encountering us, and now they are dead instead of some of my people."
Siegfried shook his head. "What a waste."
Smith nodded. "Yes… the odd thing is, while we were talking the little Tiger used her sling on one of them, I taught her that skill, he fell and the others barely gave it attention."
Siegfried bowed his head. "Yes, that was his idea. Every Wolf less is more loot for the rest. Half of my gang lost in a few years, and now I am the last one. Somehow I knew you killed them when you approached from that side of the river, I wanted to fight you in the hope you would kill me as well."
Smith nodded. "Now, let me tell you about our little fight we had. We started to talk, not in a friendly manner, the little Tiger used her sling to silence one of them. I noticed one of them standing beneath a thick branch, and I gently twisted the little Tiger's head to force her to look a the tree. She got the hint, I distracted the rest, and she dropped from the tree killing the second one, and in the confusion I killed the third one. After another short but not very friendly talk I killed the fourth one. The fifth one did not attack as ordered, and said the words 'I wish Siegfried was here…', that's how I guessed your name. He could not finish his sentence, because that faker standing behind him had put his sword through him as a distraction, and he fled. I threw the little Tiger on his back, and she killed him, and I dislodged my shoulder. The last survivor, the one who met a projectile from Katie's sling, told me about this place, but he did not mention you before I put him out of his misery."
Siegfried grinned. "Killed by a child… how humiliating, and yet so fitting for him."

Katie stepped forward, still covered in blood and soot and gave Siegfried a hand. "I'm Katie, pleased to meet you."
Siegfried smiled. "You are almost a combination of a Human, Hound, Panther Leopard and Tiger. The water is cold, but I don't want to be remembered of something that is not natural black."
Charlene smiled. "Yes Katie, go wash yourself." Charlene turned towards Siegfried, and instead of giving him a hand she gave him a fish.
"I'm Charlene. Katie has caught five fishes, she is always a bit enthusiastic. I did not want them to go to waste, and I have cooked them all and taken them with me. Now I know they will not go to waste."

Smith looked at what was taking Robin so long. He saw that Robin was standing with a bow and a quiver filled with arrows. "And that Fox over there is Robin, he also tried to kill me when I first met him, but his sword was stuck in it's scabbard, and now his left hand is injured, and this way his wounds will never heal."
Robin suddenly realized what he was doing. He could not hold the bow with his injured left hand. He came walking towards them. With a sad look on his face. "They were my parents, now I have nowhere to go."
Smith nodded. "You still will come with us. And Siegfried is also coming along. But first we eat."
Smith walked towards Siegfried's sword.

Katie had washed herself and noticed it. "Are you going to eat that sword?"
Smith smiled, and looked at Siegfried "No, this sword looks familiar, where did you obtain it?"
Siegfried looked at the sky. "I… I have taken it from a Human. He broke my own sword with it, and it was at the time before Dolf, that is that faker's name, took over. Someone else came to rescue me, and killed that Human."
Smith nodded. "Short, fat, bald male, well dressed?"
Siegfried also nodded. "You know that man?"
Smith smiled. "Yes, this sword is approximately eleven years old, Human made, not made by a master smith but by his apprentice… namely me… I made this sword."
Siegfried looked in disbelief at Smith "You… you made this sword? It's a very good sword, the others disapproved me using it because it's Human made, but I like it."
Smith nodded, and gave Siegfried his sword back. "It's in good hands, you can keep it."
Siegfried looked at his sword. "What do you mean, it's in good hands? I killed Humans with it!"
Smith nodded. "I understand. You are a criminal, you will get your punishment. Normally that would be death, but I think that you are useful. I have a different punishment in mind… I want you to work for me."

Charlene, Robin, Katie and most of all Siegfried looked in disbelief at Smith. Working for him?
Smith smiled. "Siegfried, I think you have a lot of knowledge about the forest, I think you know a good ambush spot when you see it. I want you to search for those spots, and you will get a group around you, to destroy those spots. Removing branches and thick bushes, destroying big rocks, maybe even planting poisonous plants at certain paths that have no use for normal travelers, but still are there… those kinds of things. Making the forest less attractive for criminals and safer for my customers. Let's say for a hundred-and-twenty days, and you begin when you are strong enough, we don't have a prison, but I will keep an eye on you because you will be living in my house. I have six bedrooms, plenty of room for another person living in my house."
Siegfried nodded. "That sounds… fair. Am I allowed to kill if necessary?"
Smith nodded. "You will be a part of my new defense force, killing when needed is a part of your job. The only problem is, is that you will be working with Humans. Versta je wat ik zeg?"
Siegfried nodded. "I understand what you said in Human, but I don't speak it, that will be a problem."
Smith nodded. "Hmm… there are a few Humans among them who understand Inimal, but they are not the best fighters. Inimals always have been the better fighters, but they are so very loyal, I never get Inimal deserters."
Siegfried nodded. "Maybe there is an option, but I'm not sure… I will tell you if I know it for sure. The work I have to do will allow me to meet a lot of people, they can give me a lot of information, there might be something useful in it."
Smith nodded. "You must understand that if you do your work well you will get a prize on your head from the wrong side, that makes me proud, but it will give you a lot of problems. Do you understand the consequences of the choice you are going to make? You can choose between 'death' and 'working for me'. You don't have to answer me immediately, but I will ask you again when we are in my village, and then I want my answer."
Siegfried grinned. "I already know the answer, I will work for you. I never want to be hunted again. I can take on a few criminals, but elite soldiers are hard to outwit."
Smith smiled. "But you did. Good, now, let's eat, and see what your gang has collected, and get the useful stuff out of it. I want my apron, gloves and lock-picking set back."

Siegfried looked at Smith. "The Cat and the Wolf who had those items also had some letters. What were those letters about? They were burned before I could read them."
Smith sighed. "The Cat's name was Casper, he would have become our locksmith, and Will, the Wolf, would have become my apprentice, I would have taught him the art of Human forging. And the third letter was for the village, The Inimal village where you and your gang were heading is dying, and I have asked the villagers, mostly Canine, to work for me for a fair payment in my quarry. Relocating an entire village to a better place so to speak."
Siegfried smiled. "You are a good Human. You even have a Feline accent in your speech, no wonder a Cheetah and Tiger are following you."
Smith started to laugh. "If I would get a small copper for every time someone mentions that I would have been rich."

After lunch and taking what he wanted from the loot (Robin had forgotten to take the money and did not think of a knife) Smith looked at Siegfried. "You are not in a walking condition. Do you want me to carry you?"
Siegfried looked back at Smith. "Carry me? How?"
Despite his hurting shoulder Smith shrugged. "On my shoulders. With a dislodged shoulder just put back into place carrying you in my arms is not the best option, but you are a male adult Wolf, there is nothing that could go wrong."
Siegfried smiled. "From a wanted criminal to almost like a king sitting on top of strong Human shoulders. My great great grandfather would be proud."
Smith managed to get his backpack on his back, and with a little help from Charlene his arm back into his sling, and turned around and lowered himself to allow Siegfried to climb on his back. "I think we have a lot to talk about. I'm curious why you mentioned your great great grandfather. If I'm not mistaken a few of your kings ago it was a Wolf who was king."
Smith could feel Siegfried straighten himself. "Yes, he was the king who united the Inimals. Together we are much stronger than as single tribes."
Smith nodded. "And I think the Bergvolk had a hand in it. They don't desire war. Your name sounds Bergs, it translates as 'victory' and 'peace', not quite a fitting name for a criminal."

Smith could feel Siegfried nod. His leg was over his arm, and the belly of the Wolf was rubbing the back of his head. "Yes, my parents have given me this name as heritage. We all have Berg names. The Bergvolk live beyond the mountains, but in the past there was a trade route, but unfortunately the current king has forbidden trade with them, they really sell some good metal."
Smith also nodded. "Yes, and now I have some of them living in my village, and many of them are smugglers, not only their own goods, but also Human metal and Feline woodwork. Being neutral means that I don't care, as long as they are nice to others, and they are."
Smith could feel Siegfried shift. "Yes, and I heard they have a foundry somewhere near your village."
Smith nodded, and Siegfried shifted again.

They walked on for a while until Smith noticed it that whenever he moved his head Siegfried was shifting. "Something wrong up there?"
Siegfried shifted again. It was almost like Siegfried was humping the back of Smith's head. "No, nothing wrong, but the back of your head rubbing my belly is really arousing. Can you nod again or look around?"
Smith shook his head, and felt something warm and liquid ooze. "Huge pile of Wolven excrement!" he shouted.
Smith felt Siegfried move again. "No… it's… not brown. And it's more of a puddle."
Smith sighed. This was the last time he carried someone on his shoulders. He continued walking, he was angry, but he needed the Wolf who was sitting on his shoulders alive.
Siegfried patted him on his head. "Are you not angry?"
Smith managed to grin. "No, you are not the first one, Charlene has done the same when I found her with a sprained ankle, I also carried her, and she was also a bit aroused." Smith spotted a place to get at the river. "It's not much, I can not smell it, but here we can wash my neck, and move on again."
Smith walked towards a rock to put Siegfried on, and with the help of Charlene he got his backpack off his back, and got a cloth.
He used it to wash his neck, washed the cloth, and gave it to Siegfried. "Please put this between us." he plainly said. He already had a plan for revenge. He winked at Charlene. They walked on in silence, the cold wet cloth in his neck was not pretty, but neither is an aroused Wolf.

"Katie, are you not getting tired?" Smith asked the little Tiger who was walking in front of them after a while.
Katie shook her head. "No, and your shoulders are already occupied."
Smith smiled. "Siegfried's shoulders are still empty. I have no problem with carrying you both at the same time. Siegfried might be weakened, but I'm sure he can hold you on his shoulders. Am I right Siegfried?"
Siegfried patted Smith on his head. "No problem carrying the one who killed a certain Dolf. Such a young child, and already capable of killing. The other Wolves she injured and killed were friends, but they betrayed me by choosing Dolf's side."
Siegfried could not see Smith's grin. He has taken the bait. "All right then. The forest is thinning, less trees up ahead, and a wider path with no low hanging branches as far as I can see. Let's find a spot for our balancing act."

Katie ran towards a tree with a hidden low hanging but thick branch and climbed onto it. "I have changed my mind. I can use this branch to climb onto Siegfried's shoulders!"
Smith smiled. "Excellent choice. And this will be the last time this branch will be used, this is a nice ambush spot, am I right?"
He felt Siegfried pat on his head again. "I think my job is obsolete, you can find the ambush spots yourself, we have used this tree a few months ago."
Smith walked towards the tree, and felt the added weight of Katie on his shoulders. He grinned. "How are you doing up there?"
"Nice view, Charlene really looks tiny from up here." Katie replied from Siegfried's shoulders.
Smith smiled. "And you, Siegfried?"
Siegfried patted Smith on his head again. "Nice and warm, and not heavy at all."
Smith looked at Robin, who shook his head. "This is just stupid."
Smith grinned and winked. "I know, but it is fun. Remember Katie is still a young child, this is just playing… Siegfried, while you are up there, you can already do some scanning for potential dangerous spots, and try to remember them for removal."
Smith winked at Charlene, who barely managed to hide her grin. She understood what Smith was doing.
"Yes, that sounds like a good plan. I'm used to look around for these kind of spots, and this high position really gives me an advantage." Smith heard Siegfried say from above.
They walked on in silence.

Charlene whispered something in Robin's ear, and he also grinned. Now Siegfried was the only oblivious one in their group, and now the waiting began. Smith was wondering about Siegfried's reaction. It might be violent, and he had to be careful he did not throw Katie backwards.
The scream soon came.
"Aargh!!! What… what is she doing?… is she… is she peeing on me?"
Smith dropped to his knees to allow Siegfried to get off his shoulders, and Charlene and Robin came running towards them to catch Katie who was about tho be thrown off Siegfried's shoulders. Siegfried did throw her off, backwards, and they caught her in such a way that the stream of urine was still directed at him before they put her down.
"Argh! the horror! the stench! How could you!" Siegfried was really angry.
Smith grinned. "Normally I would tell the verdict before the execution, but this is much more fun. This was the punishment for what you did to me. Do you accept it?"
Siegfried shook his head. "No, this is much worse than I did to you… how could you?"
Smith shrugged. "I don't know what you are talking about. A little urine doesn't hurt. She has done the same to me yesterday, I don't smell it."
Siegfried started to grin. "Well… in that case I accept it. And yes, after all it is a fair punishment, now I understand why you stayed so calm. You need me alive, but you must punish me, and give me fair punishments. An eye for an eye. Ever had a Wolven kiss before?"
Smith shook his head. "No, I'm not an Inimal-kisser, I don't like the fur in my mouth."
Siegfried grinned. "So, you do like to do other things with Inimals. A Wolven kiss involves some penetration."
Siegfried took a few steps forward, grabbed Smith's head, Smith's mouth was a bit open in surprise by this sudden movement, and Siegfried used this opening to force his tongue in.

He released the surprised Smith a few moments later. "So, how do you like that? Your mouth almost tastes as good as a nice Wolven female mouth, but with less sharp teeth."
Smith spat out the Wolven saliva and taste from his mouth, and drank some from his canteen, washed his mouth, and spat some more. "That… that was just awful… I don't know how, but you will pay for this!"
Siegfried grinned. "At least now I know you are not going to kill me, you need me, and I think I will love you… erm… I mean I love the work you are going to give me."
Smith sighed. "All right Wolf… for every day you are away from the village for your work you must spend two days in the village, doing nothing. Not helping anyone, not even talking about your work. Understood?"
The grin from Siegfried's face dropped. "That means my punishment will almost be a year?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, and a year for what you have done is almost nothing, some Humans who have committed a single murder spent the rest of their lives in a prison."
Siegfried looked at Smith. "That's really harsh… Why would Humans give such punishments? They are costly, simply killing someone you don't like is so much easier."
Smith nodded. "Yes, but that's how Humans are. We are strange beings."
Siegfried smiled again. "But somehow you are different. I think you and I are going to be the best of friends."
Smith also smiled. "Yes, very loyal friends. Some day I will tell you my history with Wolves, there was a time I wanted to kill them all, but I have changed, and you don't seem to be a bad Wolf, it's just some circumstances that brought you here."
Siegfried bowed his head, and smith patted him on his shoulder, carefully searching a dry spot. "Don't think about it too much, I am also trying to forget my past, and now I have friends to help me with it."
Siegfried looked up again. "Yes, time to start another new life. Maybe this time it's better."
Smith smiled. and lowered himself again. "So, want to sit on the shoulders of a friend again? Your front is still dry, the cloth will keep me clean."
Siegfried smiled. "I'm regaining my strength again, but a little help from a friend is always welcome, you can carry me to a place where I can bathe myself, and from there on I can walk again."

Smith looked at the sun. "No, we will walk for a few more hours. The river will bend south soon, and I want to spend the night there. I want to get home tomorrow. And I don't smell you, and I don't mind if others do, you are the one who is being punished."
Siegfried nodded. "Yes, I understand. You have a home to go to, I have nothing, not even a tent or blanket, only Dolf had one, and someone else had to carry it for him. And I don't want to use a black stained blanket, I am already true black. Let's find out how a real bed feels."
Smith smiled. "I think we have a problem then. When I left the Inimal village I had bought one extra tent, blanket and sleeping mat. Robin and I shared a tent last night, and Charlene and Katie the smaller tent. I think tonight you and Robin must share a tent, and Charlene, Katie and I will share two sleeping mats and blankets in the bigger tent. I don't mind sleeping with Felines."
Robin grinned. "And do something else."
Smith shook his head. "No, I will keep my pants on, adults only."

They reached the bend in the river a few hours before sundown.
Siegfried and Robin put up the tents, Katie was catching fish again, Charlene did the cooking and Smith had nothing to do. He barely could move his arm. It did not hurt, but it was stiff. He managed to undress himself, and get into his bathing pants.
"Hey!" he suddenly heard Siegfried say.
Smith turned his head. "Let me guess, you want to ask me about my scars?"
Siegfried shook his head. "No, I heard the stories. The lioness from your old village is now lying with her legs in the air for the Wolves."
Smith now turned entirely around. "So, you also had sex with her?"
Siegfried shook his head. "No, inter-species sex without love is not something I like. I don't approve what you are doing with Charlene, but I can see she loves you, and you love her, what I have done with your neck was just funny, the back of your head just feels like a nice Wolven female rubbing my belly, and I had my eyes closed and was dreaming a little."
Smith shook his head. "I don't believe you, you answered my questions."
Siegfried grinned. "No use lying to you."
Smith now also grinned. "If that's lying, I'm not worried, you can be trusted. You are a terrible liar."
Siegfried continued to grin. "Maybe, but I know the truth about your past. The Lioness and I had some very interesting talks. She really was like a friend to me, I was too young to understand anything she did with the other Wolves. I know what happened, at least what she has told me. I'm sorry about your loss."
Smith nodded. "You also guessed who I was, or am I really the only Human who behaves like this?"
Siegfried also nodded. And grinned. "You are the only Human who behaves like this. They even had a schedule who would be when in your bed, and after you had them all they gave you two days of rest, and it started all over again. And now the Lioness is doing the same with the Wolves, at least, I think… I left my village almost eight years ago."
Charlene handed Smith and Siegfried a fish. "I did not have sex with this Human… yet. But my aunt has, and she liked him. But he asked me to come along for Katie, but he also promised not to kick me out of his bed."
Smith smiled. "Yes, but tonight it will be a lesson in chastity, because of Katie, who is also sleeping next to me. Me being a Human and my culture demands it, no sex when children are around."
Charlene hugged Smith, but avoided his shoulder. "A true gentleman."

Smith ate his fish in silence, and went to the river. It was a nice place they had chosen for their camp. There was a large and relative deep pool, he barely could keep his head above the water when he waded through the water, but he did not try to swim.
The sun had warmed the rocks and the water in the pool a little. There were some large rocks next to the bank in the water where he could sit on, his shoulders just beneath the surface if he lowered himself a little. He had a nice view to the other shore, but he realized he could not see and not be seen from this side of the river. It was safe, there were four people there, no risk of criminals or even Ferals. His eyes scanned the other shore, the thought he saw some movement. Automatically he looked across the river. It was a bit of a rapid, impossible to cross here. They were safe of this side.

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Chapter 8 - Wolves on the Road (part 2)

#11 Post by Neutral Smith »

I hit the 60,000 character barrier again :roll:

Chapter 8
Wolves on the road
(part 2)

"Smith! Where are you?" He heard Katie calling.
Smith stood up. "I'm here, sitting on a rock cooling my shoulder."
Katie came walking towards him. "May I jump in?"
Smith shook his head. "The water is deep enough, but you might get a cold shock. I advise you not to jump."
Robin also approached. Smiling. "My father would just have said 'no', without giving me an explanation. You just give an advise." and he climbed in slowly. "The water is not very cold. Test it, and then you can decide what to do."
Smith grinned. "You almost start to sound like me, are you sure you are your father's son?"
Robin shrugged. "My father is dead now, I have to take care of my own."
Smith shook his head "No, you have to take care of your own with a lot of my help. I have taken the liberty of taking the money and a knife from those Wolves, you have forgotten to take that. I will build you a house and give it furniture, but you will have to do the rest. If you need further advise ask, don't be ashamed if you don't know something. I will be there for you. I am aware of the fact that I'm not all-knowing, and you will have to wait a few months because I also have an entire village to build at the quarry, but good things come to those who are patient."
Robin smiled. “Waiting is no problem. We Vulpine are very patient.”

Katie came running, screaming with enthusiasm, and jumped into the water. When she emerged again she laughed. "The water is not as nice as a warm bath, but it's not cold either."
Smith smiled. "I did not want you to jump, but climb in slowly. I almost caught a big fish with my bare hands, but now it got away. Why did we eat fish anyway? We are getting closer to my village, there are more animals here, I saw some rabbits when we arrived here."
Katie looked at the water. "I have forgotten I have your sling. Tomorrow for breakfast and our lunch I will kill some."
Smith smiled. "Or maybe Robin wants to do something with his new bow, if his hand allows it. But please don't have a killing spree, we only need enough rabbits for breakfast and lunch, we do not have to eradicate them, maybe I will use this spot more often to camp, I will have to go to the old Inimal village a few times for some arrangements, and it's nice to have a place where I can obtain food."
Robin smiled. "Of course, four for me, and four for her. Whoever gets them first wins."
Katie grinned. "Deal, prepare to lose."
Robin shook his head. "No, with a bow I'm much faster, but I have to admit, your range might be further, you could hit a rabbit beyond my range."
Smith shook his head. "She is just a child. I'm right-handed with my sling, If my arm was fine I would have taken that challenge and win, I think it will be close to a draw between you."
Robin nodded. "It's not a game, it's just for food."
Smith smiled. "Yes, because of her behavior I have taught her how to use a sling. Have you ever heard of a slingshot?"
Robin shook his head.
Smith smiled. "Me neither, but a Fox has broken hers, because she killed five chickens with it, from a distance of ten of her steps. I liked her, but I never thought of adopting her, and I wanted to teach her something for her survival before I left. As a punishment ten meals without chicken, she really likes to eat that, and a skill for the rest of her life."
Robin smiled. "Yes, poultry is very important for Foxes, my father and uncle had geese. They sold the meat, and we had geese with the most beautiful feathers, they are even used at the king's court for writing, my father was really proud of it."
Smith shook his head. "And now you have thrown it away because you ran away from home because of your stubbornness, you injured and your parents killed."
Robin looked at the other shore. "I don't want to go home, I wanted to start a new life. It would have been a life of crime, but you came across my path, and now I'm not sure anymore."
Siegfried also joined them in the water to finally wash himself. "A life of crime is worthless, you don't have any friends, and those who you could call a friend will betray you. Stay on the right path."
Robin nodded "I think I will, somehow I think Smith is the only Human who spares Inimal criminals, and uses them for a better cause."
Siegfried nodded, but said nothing.

Smith looked at the sky. "Well, time for me to go to bed. Maybe my shoulder will feel better tomorrow, but I doubt it. I'm afraid that my days of forging are over, but I still have enough money for the rest of my life, and I have others working for me, they can continue my smithy, and I have other sources of income. I can do other things, like taking care of the rest of the village."
Katie looked at Smith's shoulder. "I caused it, didn't I?"
Smith smiled. "No, I caused it myself. I could have chosen to let him flee, but I wanted to kill him, and you were the only usable weapon at that range. And you understood what I was expecting of you, together we killed him. If we hadn't done what we have done, you using your sling and climbing that tree, we would be dead now, instead of alive and me with only a painful shoulder."
Smith climbed out of the water. "Katie, we have to share a blanket, but you will have to get a towel from my backpack, I don't like wet fur."
Katie nodded, and also climbed out of the water. Charlene smiled. "I just wanted to call you, long day of walking again tomorrow, I hope without any interruptions but also at a slower speed, because of Siegfried."
Smith hugged Charlene. "It's very impolite to read my mind."
Charlene grinned. "I hope you cannot read mine."
Smith also grinned. "Hmm… maybe when Katie is asleep."

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Chapter 9 - Back Home again

#12 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 9
Back Home again


It was a quiet night. Charlene was just like her aunt, and fell asleep on top of Smith. But before she fell asleep Smith asked her to move a bit down, in a way that her head would be resting on his chest, instead of on his face or, even worse, shoulder.
She complied with his request, and Smith did not have the need for a blanket that night. Smith was under the impression Katie hadn't noticed anything.

Katie was the first to announce she had woken up. "Smith doesn't have his pants on!"
Smiths eyes fluttered open. "Yes, I know. But I'm still covered."
Charlene was more reluctant to wake up. "You really have a booming voice when my ear is against your chest."
Smith caressed her neck. "I know, and you are very nice on top of me. Can you please lower your tail a bit to cover my private parts?" Smith turned his head towards Katie. "Can you please give me some privacy to get dressed? I think I hear Robin outside."
"That's a lie, your hearing is impaired, unlike you I tried to be very quiet. You just guessed I was outside. And Katie, you loose, I already have killed ten rabbits." Robin called from outside the tent.
Katie grinned. "And I have seen everything. Smith and Charlene really make funny faces when they have sex."
Smith tried to move his arm to give her a playful poke, but he was unable to move it. Smith sighed.
"Something wrong?" Charlene asked with a worried face.
"Yes. My arm, it still hurts. I have so much to do when we get home, but the first person I really have to see is the doctor. And I don't even know his name." Smith replied while he tried to move his arm again. It could move, but not in the way it was supposed to, without pain.
Charlene smiled, and tried to get up. Smith held her with his left arm, and turned his head towards Katie. "Can you please get out of the tent so I can get dressed? I'm not wearing a Cheetah today."
Katie grinned, but did as requested.

"Good morning gentlemen." Smith greeted Robin and Siegfried who were already preparing the rabbits for breakfast and lunch.
"Be glad your hearing is impaired. Your noise coming from one side, and a snoring Siegfried from the other side." Robin complained.
"And try to shake the water out of your fur next time, wet Fox fur really smells awful." Siegfried added.
Smith smiled. "One of you could have chosen to leave the tent and sleep outside, but neither of you did. Maybe I will join in next time when we are together on a trip, and lie in between you. I don't hear, I can't smell… But you can hear and smell me. Maybe I will end up alone in a tent."
Siegfried grinned. "Maybe I will get a taste of your lovely mouth again. And feel your soft and warm neck and back of your head. Sounds like a good deal to me, me instead of Charlene."
Smith laughed. "I did not think of that. You told me you have a problem with inter-species sex, and yes, I might be the only Human who shares his bed with an Inimal, but there are enough Human males who have sex with other Human males. You just have to tolerate that, but somehow I think you are also attracted to Human males."
Siegfried shook his head. "No, what I did was just funny, it was very lonely with six other male Wolves. I would only stick it in holes that are made for it, and those are at the front of our females. And that Wolven kiss… well… maybe again, your response to that is really funny. And your mouth really tastes as good as one of a nice Wolven female."
Smith shook his head, and looked at the rabbits. They were almost ready to eat. Robin and Siegfried really got up early. But they did not have such a nice blanket as he had.

They were on the move again.
Smith looked at Siegfried. "You were really malnourished when I found you. Were you denied food?"
Siegfried shook his head and nodded at the same time. "Yes, that idiot brought us to a region where there is very little food. And he ate the most from what we caught… But Charlene is also very skinny, I can see she has eaten well in the past few days, but I can still see her ribcage."
Charlene sighed. "Yes, there was very little work for me, and I had to take care of Katie. Lucky for us my last message was for Smith, he paid well, and was kind enough to take care of us."
Robin also came walking besides them. "Maybe there was something else."
Smith shook his head. "No young Fox, not everything is about me. There has been a time in the past I was like that, but somehow I have changed in the last few days. Sometimes you need friends. Yes, friends with benefits, but also friends who can help with other things. And thank you for those ten rabbits, I thought we were with four well fed people."

Siegfried put a hand on Robin's shoulder. "Be careful not to lose a friend like Smith, he is as loyal as a Wolf."
Smith shook his head. "I have seen that loyalty. Not taking care of friends… Betraying friends… Killing your own kind… That is not what I call loyalty."
Siegfried bowed his head. He was wrong. They walked on in silence.

After a few hours of walking Smith looked at Siegfried. "I doubt you know my entire story. The Lioness that lives in your village left a few weeks before I met my wife."
Siegfried looked in surprise at Smith. "You were married?"
Smith shook his head. "No, I don't believe in things as Human marriage and all the ceremonies, but yes, I was living with and loyal to a Human female, and she was pregnant with my child."
Siegfried nodded. "I think I understand. There is something else. Your wife did not die of a natural cause?"
Smith also nodded and sighed. "I don't like telling this story, but for you, being a Wolf, my history is important for you to know. She was killed by Wolves."
Siegfried nodded. "I understand. It must have been very traumatic?"
Smith nodded, and sighed again. Charlene put a hand on his shoulder. Smith managed to smile a little again, Charlene was wonderful. "I will tell you the entire story of me and Wolves. What happened after that is not very relevant for you… But here it goes… Like every Human smith who wants to become a master smith I had to hand in my masterpiece for the king. It is a long journey to the Human capitol, and my wife was expecting a few weeks after I returned home. I handed in my masterpiece, the king himself was taking it and he seemed really impressed. My former master and I returned home, and when we almost got home we encountered a Wolfpack in the forest, close to my village, they were waiting for us. We, my master and I, drew our swords, and soon my master fell, stabbed from behind."
"True Wolven marksmanship." Siegfried interrupted.
Smith sighed. "Yes, they knew what they were doing. But you are talking to a ghost right now… My master fell… He had a much heavier sword but was not very agile because he was a lot older than I was, and I took his sword, and went dual wielding. My own lighter sword for defense in my left hand, and his sword in my right. You have chosen a Human sword because a Human has broken yours, and those swords the attackers used were just as brittle as yours was, and were easily shattered by the heavier sword, and I won the fight, killing all eleven Wolves."
"But a Wolfpack consists of twelve Wolves!" Siegfried interrupted again.
Smith smiled. "Maybe, but now they are all dead. When I got home I found my wife and unborn child, cut out of the womb. A few days ago the doctor of the Inimal village where I have been told me the villagers had fought for my wife, maybe they have killed the twelfth Wolf in the forest."
Siegfried nodded. "Hmm… maybe that was an other reason why that runt did not dare to go to the Neutral Zone, he said something about being 'haunted' or something like that, but now I know there is a Wolf-killer there."
Smith grinned. "I don't want to know his history, but some Inimal soldiers told me the same, they did not dare to go to that region of the Neutral Zone because of a ghost, but I also have told them the truth."
Siegfried shook his head. "Telling that was a very stupid thing to do. That will bring the war closer to your village, they will use the now declared safe part of the forest as a corridor for attacks on the Humans."
Smith shrugged. "I don't care. And maybe you now also understand why I wasn't grossed when you told me about what you have done to that Dog criminal, being unnecessary violent is just the way you Wolves are."
Robin caught up with them again. "I did not want to hear all the details of it."
Smith smiled. "Get used to it. The soldiers I was talking about also had a Fox archer among them, and he had a Red Brigade arrow in his quiver. Only one. Once he had killed a Human with it, and the arrow got stuck between two vertebrae on the inside and he broke off the shaft. He had to ask a Wolf to dig it out. You must be able to do it yourself."
Robin shrugged. "Then I won't shoot at Humans."
Smith shook his head. "Humans and Inimals are equal to me, you have seen what I can do with Wolves, but if those were Humans they would have received the same treatment. That is the most important part of being neutral."
Robin shrugged again. "Then I also will spare the Inimals."
Smith shook his head again, but this time he said nothing. This Fox was hopeless.

They found a nice spot for their lunch, they had left the river, but there was a small creek with cold water. Smith had taken off his jumper, and was walking with a cold wet towel pressed against his shoulder.
"Heh… I thought you hated Wolves because they have robbed you a few times." Siegfried suddenly said.
Smith grinned. "No, normally I do the robbing. There are Wolves who want to use Human made swords, although they must look like Wolven swords, and I always let them pay much more than their sword is worth. Their new swords are twice as good as their old swords, but they have to pay three times the price."
Siegfried also grinned. "And you telling them they are very special customers, and they have very rare swords."
Smith nodded. Robin also came walking besides Smith, and Smith noticed Robin really dislikes Siegfried. "You told me you have Bergvolk living in your village, and you hinted you also speak Bergs. Am I correct?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, I speak all four languages, Inimal, Human, Bergs and Elfique. And Human and Inimal sign language, I have learned those because I was afraid of losing my hearing."

Now Katie also came running towards them. "Can you show me some sign language?" Smith shook his head. "No, I have to use both hands for that, with a dislodged shoulder it will be a lot of (Smith managed to extend the index fingers of his hands, and brought the fingers towards each other twice in a jabbing movement)"
Katie nodded. "I suppose that is the sign for pain?"
Smith smiled. "Yes, that was the sign for pain. I won't show you more, because I want to keep my towel on my shoulder."
Katie smiled. "If the second thing you are going to teach me is 'I'm fluffy', I'm going to kill you."
Smith smiled. "Then I will have to add (Smith used his left hand to make a fist, his thumb extended a bit, placed the thumb under his chin and then moved his hand quickly a bit forward)"
Katie smiled. "I suppose that is the sign for 'not'."
Smith also smiled. "You are a quick learner. That's correct again, but for real you must use your right hand."

They walked on in silence again, Robin again a few paces behind Siegfried, but Smith also slowed down to walk beside him. "What do you want in life? You are a young Fox, you have a lot to learn, but I don't think I'm the right person to teach you the way of the Foxes. I know some of Hounds, some of Dogs, a lot of the different species of Feline… well… only the interesting parts… but I almost know nothing of your culture, I only know of the items your kind produces, experts with the finer work, like locks and art, but you are worthless for the heavier work."
Robin shook his head. "I also don't know. Just give me some time to think."
Smith nodded. "Yes, of course. You have forgotten to take something yesterday, the money the Wolves had… collected… I have taken it, and I will use it to build you a house you could call your home. I'm sure Siegfried will find some hidden stashes of other criminals, and he can use that to build his own."
Siegfried also slowed down. "No, that's not my money. It's the money of the victims. It should go to the village."
Smith smiled. "I will go to collect taxes in my village, but then I will just add the money you find to it, and after your punishment you are given the choice to go again, or stay and continue what you did as a punishment, but now you will be going to do it as work. Given a house and everything you need from the tax-money."

Siegfried hugged Smith, and started to hump him again.
Smith laughed. "Please temper your enthusiasm… and also that other enthusiasm. If you keep doing this I will change my mind."
Siegfried grinned. "When I'm finished with my work I'm the most dangerous person in the Neutral Zone, until then you have to tolerate this. After that I'll just see what you do with me. But I guess it won't be bad."
Smith smiled, this Wolf was on his side. He just had to learn how to tolerate him. "Maybe you can go and live in the Quarry village, at a safe distance from me. You will get a crew around you, and there will be some messengers."
Siegfried grinned. "But you promised me I had to live in your house during my punishment. Almost a whole year."
Smith also grinned. "Well… then I will change your punishment. We, Charlene, Robin you and I have to make a schedule who does when which household task. Cooking, doing the dishes, cleaning… You will have to spend a lot of days in my house, I think that cleaning one toilet in my house is enough for you."
Robin looked at Smith. "Why does he only have to clean one toilet, while we must do many other things?"
Smith smiled. "Well Siegfried, you are lucky. Robin just offered to clean Katie's toilet. I have three toilets in my house, and upstairs the bedrooms have bucket-rooms, Katie and I will have our own toilets, and the rest of you will have to use a bucket."
Siegfried grinned. "I think I understand… Aren't you a little harsh for Robin?"
Robin shook his head. "No, only one toilet is fine."
Charlene now also slowed a bit down. "Are you sure?"
Robin nodded. "Yes of course, why do you ask?"

"I can see the village!" Katie screamed after some silence. There was not much to talk about while walking in the forest, but finally they came on the fields around the village, and Smith was not in a very talkative mood.
Smith smiled. "Yes, that is my village. The large building nearest to us is the inn, my shoulder does not hurt as bad as I expected, so we will go there first, to meet the captor of the murderers of your parents."
Charlene also smiled. "I will take Katie to the inn, you must take Robin and go to the doctor."
Smith shook his head. "No, we are a group of friends, we go together. I'm sure Robin can wait for a few more minutes."
Robin shook his head. "No, I'm old enough to go to the doctor alone."
Smith now also shook his head. "No foolish boy, if you go to the doctor now you will have to pay, and you don't have money. This is a mostly Human village, but I will change it. I will have to talk to a lot op people, but in the end everything for the village itself will be paid from the taxes, just like in an Inimal village."
Siegfried looked at Smith. "You don't have public services?"
Smith shook his head. "No, we officially don't have anything. The defense force is a group of volunteers, the baths are the baths of the inn where you have to pay, you have to pay for the doctor, there is no official government and a town hall… and I'm responsible for it."
Charlene smiled. "But you are going to change it. You already told me you are building a school?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, not me, but others, and now I'm going to give them everything they need, except direct money."

They passed a farmer who was working in the field. "<Hello, you came back early. And you left alone if I'm not mistaken?>"
Smith smiled. "<Yes, unexpected circumstances. And now a lot of things will change here, and I hope they will be better. This Wolf here will be our new head of security.>"
The farmer nodded. "<A Wolf for safety… and that for someone with your history… Well… it's your village, I can move on if I don't like it.>"
Smith continued to smile. "<Of course, freedom of choice, religion, relation and whatnot.>"
The farmer nodded again, but this time he was not as happy. "<Yes… religion… the reason why I am here. The fields are good, thank God for that… But I miss my old home. This is different.>"
Smith patted the farmer on his shoulder. "<Of course this is different, but we have to make the best of it. Who can say they produce goods for the kings?>"
The farmer started to smile and work again. "<Of course… Bye!>"

"Who was that?" Katie asked.
Smith looked down at the little Tiger, who was also far away from her old home. "Why don't you ask him?, the Human words for 'what's your name?' are 'wat is uw naam?', go and ask him."
Katie walked towards the farmer. "What is uw name?" The farmer looked up from his work. "I'm Gerrit. And who are you?"
Katie started to smile "He speaks Inimal!"
The farmer smiled "Just a klein beetje."
Katie gave him a hand "I'm Katie, pleased to meet you!"
Smith also came standing next to them. "<Maybe you have heard about those poachers who were captured at the inn.>"
"<Of course I have, I hinted Uwe about them.> Gerrit replied. And he dropped to his knee. "<And this must be the little one who got away. Good to see that she is healthy, and has a new father. God must be very benevolent.>
Smith shook his head. "<If your God does exist there would not have been poachers and skinners in the first place. But I'm not here to discuss religion, we had a long and hard journey, people have died along the way, innocents who were going to work here, and criminals, I have dislodged a shoulder, that Fox has an injured hand, and now I want to get home.>"
Gerrit stood up again and smiled. "<Of course, and it's nicer to talk about differences in beliefs than bash each others brains in over them.>"

"What an idiot, talking about his imaginary friend." Robin remarked after they were out of Gerrit's hearing range.
Smith shook his head. "No Robin, this is the Neutral Zone, everyone here is free to do as he or she pleases, and I reckon you understood what he said?"
Robin shook his head. "No, I did not understand everything."
Smith nodded. "Maybe you didn't understand, but he said that it was nice to live here because we don't bash each others brains in over our differences. Humans and Inimals, normal-sexuals and same-sexuals, and religious people are also a part of it, learn to live with it, and take the things you like, he is one of the suppliers of the kings. Both."
Siegfried nodded. "And I'm going to be here to protect them, to bash the brains in of those who disagree with you."
Smith grinned. "Yes, this is the dictatorship of the majority, if the majority wants to live in peace then you have to bash the brains in of those who disagree. But your first task is to make the woods safe, the village itself can take care of it's own."

When the little odd group approached the inn Smith saw Uwe already waiting in the doorway. "Welcome back Schmied! I didn't expect you back this soon! And you have brought others! I didn't know there were more Foxes living there, I only knew of the enforcer and his wife… And a little Tiger! is she…"
Smith smiled. "Yes, she is the little one who got away. And some unforeseen circumstances forced me to come back early. Do you have a table for us? And time to talk?"
Uwe smiled "You don't have time, you make time for friends. Come in. Hot chicken for the little Tiger, liver for the Cheetah, a nice piece of pork for the Wolf, more chicken for the Fox, and surprise meat for the Human. Come in!"

When they all had seated themselves Uwe also came sitting at their table, and Smith told him about what happened, and what his plans were.
Uwe nodded. "Sounds all very reasonable. Building a new bathing house and the rest for the village. Mine is getting too small, but with a second bath for the village I don't have to expand. And a complete new village at the quarry… Perfect! there is a huge demand for good stones, but a lack of people who can work there, and you inviting an entire village of Wolves… Wunderbar! The old buildings there are in ruins, but the foundations are still good… And a Wolf for defense against criminals… he has a history, I've heard of him, one of my men has killed a black Wolf from a gang a long time ago, and told me about a Wolf in that group who was hesitating, like he did not want to attack…” “[Hey you! get here!]" Uwe called one of the waiters. "[Was this the Wolf who did not attack?]" The waiter nodded, and went on with his work.
Uwe smiled. "I'm sure you have heard of the smugglers. There are many of them, this inn is some sort of meeting place for them, supply and demand, and a peaceful place to negotiate. I want to keep it that way, and a Wolf with experience at our side to make the surroundings of this village safer is a very good choice. Especially when he has very little to lose but his life."
Siegfried nodded. "Yes, I also recognized the waiter, he used some sort of strange weapon, it looked a bit like a bow on a stick, but he held it with one hand. I… I hate to kill when it's not necessary but Dolf just ordered to attack. And then Dolf ordered to flee. He didn't know what to do."
Uwe grinned. "The downside of that weapon is, is that it's only a single shot, it takes some effort to reload, and you have to use both hands to reload it, if you pushed on with the attack it would have been successful."
Siegfried nodded. "But then we would only have some hard coins to chew on, not the lovely pork that is arriving."

The waiter arrived with two steaming plates. One with a big piece of pork, and the other with the chicken for Katie.
"I pity the person who has to clean her toilet, because it's extra spicy." he spoke while he put the plate with the curry in front of Katie.
Katie looked at Robin and grinned, but said nothing.
The waiter put the other plate with the pork in front of Siegfried. "And a nice piece of pork for the hungry Wolf."
Uwe stood up. "I can see the other plates arriving. I'll leave you to eat in peace. It's on the house this time, it's good to see you happy again, but let me first take care of your shoulder."
Smith looked at Uwe. "Do you also have experience as a doctor?"
Uwe shook his head. "No, but accidents happen, dislodged shoulders are very common among us."

Uwe grabbed Smith's shoulder. "This might hurt, you have very strong muscles." and he applied force. Smith winced. Again the pain, but suddenly the pain subsided.
"There was a muscle at a wrong place, now everything is fine. You will feel it for a couple of days, and then your full strength will be back, although I recommend to use your arm with care, not taking on the heavy hammer on the seventh day."
Uwe walked around the table, and grabbed Robin's injured hand. "Well… This is a nice clean wound. Keep it clean, and it will heal perfectly. Maybe the scars will be a bit sensitive, but that might help you with the archery, it gives you an extra feeling of the bow."
Robin nodded. "Thank you." was all he could say, because he got a steaming plate of chicken stew, and Charlene got her livers. Finally Smith's plate arrived. A nice juicy steak, perfectly grilled.
"Wow, where have you learned to prepare this?" Smith asked the waiter.
"A Hound has sold us some spices. We know a bit about your history, and how you liked the food the Hounds of your old village made, and you are not the only Human who appreciates it." was the reply Smith got before the waiter left again.
Charlene smiled "They really know their customers."
Smith nodded. "Almost. They have forgotten to give me my cutlery."

After dinner the group walked to the smithy, and Smith's house next to it. There were still hammering noises coming from the smithy, Frank was still busy working on the anvil.
"<Good evening Frank, still busy with work I see.>" Smith greeted him.
Frank looked up from his work in surprise. "<Smith! You came back early. I hope nothing bad happened?>"
Smith shook his head. "<I don't know what you consider good and bad, but some people died or left, and I was unable to continue my study. But now I have a book, even you can do the symbols.>"
Frank smiled. "<And I see you have brought the messenger back. You just couldn't let her run?>"
Smith laughed. "<It's not what you think, but yes, I couldn't leave her. Charlene was in such a hurry to get home she sprained her ankle, and I carried her to her village. There she was trying to take care of this little Tiger, Katie, really trying, but a child needs a father and a mother, and I have decided to adopt her. And I asked Charlene to come along to help me, and no, I won't kick her out of my bed, she is really nice.">
Frank got a serious look. "<So, no Human women for you?>"
Smith shrugged. "<I don't know, I still don't feel safe enough to have children of my own, but when I do Charlene will have to share me with a Human woman if she doesn't find a fine mate herself. But this Wolf and Fox here are here to help me to get things safer around here, Siegfried has experience finding ambush spots, and the crew he gets will destroy them, and Robin here will train archers.>"
Frank smiled. "I think it's better to talk in their language around them, then they will understand what we are talking about."
Robin nodded. "Yes, but I am willing to learn your language, just like you have learned ours."
Frank continued to smile. "Of course. But I have learned it because I have a lot of Inimal customers, but you don't have to talk to your men, you only have to show what they are supposed to do. All you need is a good quiver filled with arrows with our arrowheads, and you are good to go."
Robin also smiled. "You already mention me and 'my men'… I'm barely eleven years old, I won't be considered an adult until I turn fourteen, and I ran away from home. I tried to kill Smith when we first met, but my sword was stuck."
Frank laughed. "A Fox with a sword… what a joke. Let me guess… you have chosen the wrong combination of sword and scabbard, Canine sword and Feline scabbard?"
Robin nodded. Frank continued to laugh. "Ah yes… those… I sold that combination the day after Smith left for his study to a wealthy merchant. He wanted something that was good looking, and sharp."

Smith looked at Siegfried. "Did you…"
Siegfried shook his head. "No, we didn't kill that merchant, but that Dog criminal had a large sum of money with him, maybe he killed the merchant."
Frank looked also at Siegfried. "You mentioned a 'we', but you are alone. What happened?"
Siegfried told his story, and Smith did the part of the fight. Frank nodded. "So, you have nothing to lose. Welcome in this village of refugees."

Smith looked at the door. "Well… Let's put our luggage in my home, and show my friends here their new home. Will you still be here Frank? We have a lot to talk about. There are going to be a lot of changes. This village of refugees will become a proper city."
Frank nodded. "Yes, the hinge I was working has cooled too much, I have to reheat it again, and then finish it. Take your time."
Smith and the group left the smithy, and went to Smith's house.

"Well… We could have taken the door in the smithy, but I want you to use the proper entrance. This will be your home for the next months… At least for Robin and Siegfried… Beware, single Human male lives… I mean lived here, sometimes I really miss the female touches. But I'm sure Charlene and Katie will take care of that." Smith spoke while he opened his front door.
"Can I take a bath?" Katie suddenly asked. She had not forgotten about the things Smith had told about his house.
Smith smiled. "Of course, the water is heated, because someone is working at the forge. But let me first show the rest of the house, and your bedrooms."

They entered the house. It felt good to be home again. Since he came back from his wandering and starting this smithy he hasn't gone out of the village much, only when needed.
He could not even remember when the last time he slept for more than ten nights not in his own bed. It must have been in the early days of this smithy, when he had a lot to arrange. All the things he needed were in this… his… village, and for the things they did not have he always could ask someone else to buy it, if there weren't any traders who had it, so he could continue to work.
"My bedroom is at the ground level, and Katie will be using the other downstairs bedroom, because the toilets with a pump to flush them are also here, help me remind me that I need to ask the cesspit cleaner to empty it more often, because I don't live here alone any more. But I will change my bedroom, I will give Katie a lot, but not the double bed bedroom, because I will be going to sleep in that one."
Katie and Charlene nodded. "Of course. We are allowed to sleep in your bed, but you won't come into ours."
Smith also nodded. "Yes, but only one at a time."
Siegfried grinned. "Will there also be room for me in your bed?"
Smith shook his head. "You have a few problems. First: you are a male. Second: you are a Wolf. I don't like males in my bed, but well… a female Wolf for a change might be nice."
Siegfried continued to grin. "I doubt you have the stamina to satisfy one of us."
Now Smith also grinned. "I can pull out whenever I like, that's the advantage of being Human. No knot."
Siegfried nodded. "Ah yes. So you do know something about the Canine sex-life."
Smith laughed. "No, but the innkeeper and shopkeeper of the Inimal village were Dogs, and I brought them together, and after that I had to do a lot of work myself. But that was no problem, I also was an innkeeper in the early days of this village, you still can see the traces of it in my house, like six furnished bedrooms for a single Human male."

Robin came back downstairs, he was already looking at his room. "You would have to buy some new bedding, the mattresses, sheets and blankets are really worn."
Smith nodded. "Yes… well… Be glad you have a bed. I will buy some new things tomorrow, from one person living in this house to five is a big change. And I'm afraid even my own bed will have the same problem, Katie will have the best bed for tonight, because she will be sleeping in the bed I used before I met you."
Siegfried slapped Robin on his shoulder, who winced. "I wish I have met Smith a few years earlier. What criminal does get this treatment? Food, a place to sleep… All we had to do was draw… or at least attempt to draw our swords."
Robin said nothing.

They went to the bathing area.
"Erm… Being a Human does mean I don't have a use for brushes, I only have a comb but that one is mine… Charlene wanted to leave everything behind, and the shops and stores here are closed, although I doubt they have brushes…"
Charlene smiled. "If you don't mind hair in the water we can do without brushes."
Smith also smiled. "I never keep the water in the bath, being a smith means I get really dirty, sometimes I can not see the bottom of the tub any more after I have used it, even if I have taken a shower beforehand. If you want to take a bath you have to fill it, and when you are done you have to drain it. Now, let me show you how to fill the bath. Siegfried, Robin and I have to talk to others in this village before it's dark."
Siegfried tapped Smith on his shoulder. "Or we can just talk to Frank, and do the rest of the village tomorrow."
Smith smiled. "Of course, you and Robin want to get to know your new bed."

Smith started to fill the bath, and Katie watched him how he did it. "It is very easy, this pump is for cold water, just pump the water into the bath. The heater for the warm water is above the forge in the smithy, and you could check the water level in the heater with this simple rope with pulleys and a float, and a small stone at this side. When the stone touches the floor it means that the heater is full, and now it is a little bit above the floor, so I have to pump in a bit of water into the heater."
Smith used a second pump to pump water into the heater, and then used a third pump to pump a bit of hot water into the bath. "Before I take a bath I always clean the bath, I know that a filled bath collects as much dust as an empty bath, but I want my bath to be as clean as possible when I enter the water. That pump over there is to drain the bath." Smith spoke while gesturing at a fourth pump while he got a cloth. "You can use this cloth to clean the bath if you want to, but it's not mandatory, as long as you keep it tidy, no splashing of water."
Katie nodded. "Of course, it's your bath."
Smith left the bathing area with Siegfried and Robin. Charlene and Katie had to fill the bath themselves, they had to do something, he was not an innkeeper any more.

When Smith, Siegfried and Robin entered the smithy again they saw that Frank just finished the hinge he was working on. "This hinge will be for the school they are building. They will get it for free." Frank said while he put the hinge on a shelf.
Smith smiled. "That's what I want to talk about, I want to do more for the village."
Frank looked at Smith. "What do you mean? You seem different, you have changed since you left. You have become nicer, but now I actually believe you have changed. Now you mention the village, you have never done that before."
Smith smiled. "Please calm down Frank, and let us talk."
Frank nodded. "Well… maybe we can talk in your house, at the table, that talks a lot easier than standing here in the smithy."
Smith nodded, and they left the smithy through the door which connects the house to the smithy.

"I'm sorry I drank all your beverages." Frank said while he sat down on a chair at the table.
Smith looked at him, and shook his head. "Still have that drinking problem?"
Frank nodded, and looked at the table. "I'm sorry."
Smith also nodded. "Right… nothing to drink but water… I gave you the key to my house in case there was an emergency, and being thirsty is not what I meant. What has been done cannot be undone, but never do that again."
Frank chuckled a little. "You don't want to know how awful it tasted. It has been on the shelf for over eight years."
Smith grinned. "I didn't even know I had it here. I haven't touched an alcoholic beverage since my time with the Bergvolk, but now I know for certain I don't have any left."
Smith looked at Siegfried. "You drink alcoholic beverages?"
Siegfried shook his head. "No, I have seen what it can do with Humans, and some of my friends have tried it, and the results aren't pretty."
Smith grinned. "Yes, like waking up next to an Ork woman. Who was smiling. And the worst part is that I can't remember why."
Siegfried grinned. "All right, you win. I was thinking about waking up with a friend on top of you, and you both are males."
Smith grinned. "Where you the person on top or below?"
Siegfried shook his head. "Neither, it was Dolf who was underneath someone else. When Dolf woke up the life of the person on top of him ended very quickly, Dolf did not even take his time to torture."
Smith looked at Robin. "Have you ever tried alcohol?"
Robin shook his head. "No, and hearing those stories really makes me not want to try it."
Frank nodded. "Very wise. Now… let's talk about other things."
Smith nodded. "Right. I was thinking about taxes. Taxes to be collected here among the people who get their money from visitors, and the money we gain from those re-use in the village again. Public services. Town hall, free public bathing for the villagers in a new bathing house, everything for the school, the doctor paid from the village…"
"And safety, those volunteers are no match for those criminals." Frank interrupted.
Smith nodded. "And yes, a better system of protection. I'm not quite convinced Siegfried can be trusted, his punishment will be him working for the village, searching and destroying ambush spots for a year, and Robin can take on the training of the archers. He is young, but he is a Fox after all."
Frank nodded. "And maybe Robin can join Siegfried, he can kill Siegfried if he causes trouble."
Smith also nodded. "If Siegfried does his work well he will get a prize on his head, Robin can also be there for his protection."
Frank smiled. "We were already planning these things, but we never had the courage to ask you. And now you have come up with it yourself. And even better, we only thought of the basics, like a town hall and the defense against criminals. We were a bit worried about only using Humans, but now we have two Inimals we can use."
Smith nodded. "And there is something else. You know about the abandoned quarry?"
Frank also nodded. "Yes… You don't say you have also a use for that?"
Smith nodded again, and smiled. "Yes. The village where I was, was dying. People left, people died… it had no future. I asked the villagers to work in the quarry, most of them are Wolves, I will use some of my money to help them build a new village."
Frank smiled. "That's… that's wonderful. Stones and Wolves. Now we only need a lot of Felines for the woodwork, those few Cats we already have are not enough."
Siegfried smiled. "If it's safe enough in the forests to work in they will come, and having a more mixed population in the village also helps."
Frank laughed. "You almost sound like a king."
Siegfried's smile got even bigger. "My great great grandfather was king, he was the one who united the Inimals. Maybe I can do the same, with Inimals and Humans."
Smith smiled. "You are a bit too old to become the next king. But maybe we can find Katie a perfect partner, and we can blame them for ending this war as queen and king, us doing the work and see the results is enough for me, I don't want to end up in books, misquoted and being told exaggerated stories about me."

"There is one more thing you must know about this village. Maybe you thought you were unique here, but the butcher is now sleeping with a Dog." Frank said while he stood up from his chair to leave.
Smith looked at him. "What? And his wife?"
Frank shrugged. "I don't know, he left her."
Smith smiled. "Well… go and console her. You are also still single and I always considered you quite hopeless. I don't know what my future brings, but now I have Katie as a child and Charlene as a wife, but you have to take what you can get. Did Robert not give you some good advice?"
Frank said nothing and only smiled, and left.

Smith sighed and smiled.
"What's the matter?" Robin asked.
Smith looked up. "This village really is going out of my hands, and into much better hands. Town hall means that we get other people who decide what path this village chooses, I want to stay a simple smith. But I will choose them, and it might take a while, I don't know enough about the people who live here, and those I do know and trust are far too busy to run this village which soon will become a town if we are doing it right."

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Chapter 10 - Partner, Father

#13 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 10
Partner, Father


"I actually do need a brush." Charlene said while they were eating breakfast.
It was a new life for Smith, living with four others in his house, but he didn't mind. It was the fifth night after they had come home, and all of them fitted in perfectly. Siegfried was already busy organizing the group he wanted for his work, a few strong Humans and Kobolden for the destruction of the ambush spots, and a few deserted Human soldiers for their protection, and has even been away with them for a successful trip, and Robin already was training those who want to become better archers, and Charlene and Katie doing the household tasks and doing the shopping, they even had ordered new furniture. They even had made an order for replacing one bed for an extra large one 'for a tall Bear' Katie said. Almost everything they needed could be bought in his village, except the items for the personal care of Charlene, Katie and Robin, the shops and stores in his village only had the coarser Canine brushes.
Smith nodded. "All right. I will have to go to Diego and Dora anyway, Uwe and Olaf have finished the designs and floor-plans for their inn with a shop, and I want their approval. I will travel light, but with an extra sleeping mat and blanket, that's a thing I will continue to do from now on. If you pack the things I need then I can make the last arrangements, it will be approximately seven nights away, so two extra sets of clothing, two towels… hmm… I have given Dora the smaller pans… Well, I can cook my food over open fire."
Siegfried smiled. "Katie and I will pack for you, that way I can teach her what someone needs when he or she is not sleeping at home."
Smith nodded. "That's good. No grudge about what happened?"
Siegfried shook his head. "No, not at all."
Smith grinned. "Don't put yourself in my backpack, last night my bed still smelled of Wolf."
Robin looked at Smith. "I thought you didn't have a sense of smell?"
Smith managed to grin. "Well… it's not much, but a Wolf who had spent his day in the rain smells awful, even for me."
Siegfried also grinned. "But your bed is nice and warm with you in it. And you didn't kick me out. You pushed me out of your bed."
Smith shook his head. "If you didn't attempt to give me a Wolven kiss again and used my blankets as a towel I wouldn't even have noticed you in my bed."
Siegfried continued to grin. "But I thought your bed was empty!"
Smith laughed. "Yes, empty as in 'no Katie and no Charlene', not empty as in 'I'm sleeping in Charlene's bed with Charlene', I respect her territory."
Siegfried nodded. "Right. And the nights to come the bed will be really empty. And lonely."
Smith looked at Charlene. "Can you please change the sheets the day I get home, I really don't trust Siegfried."
Charlene smiled. "Of course, I don't like the smell of Wolf in the bedding either."
Siegfried also smiled. "Don't worry, I will be gone the day after tomorrow, then my days of doing nothing are over again, and I'm allowed to work again. The punishment you gave me is not the work I have to do, but the order of doing nothing, and that bores me. And this is only the first period I have to spend here in your house."
Smith smiled. "Well… I still can not make up my mind about your punishment. This way I punish myself more than I punish you. Maybe I will change it again. After Robin's house is finished a house for you. Your own luxury prison."
Siegfried smiled. "But then I will miss your lovely company."
Smith shook his head. "No, you are always welcome here, as a friend, but not in my bed."
Smith looked at Robin. "And how about your punishment for trying to kill me?"
Robin grinned. "I really must learn to listen. Three people giving me hints, but I really understood it the first time I had to do my task. It really is horrible, the stench really burns my nose."
Smith grinned. "I know. And be glad it's a flushing toilet instead of a bucket."

Smith got the papers with the drawings from Uwe, and when he got to his house again he saw Katie and Siegfried standing next to his backpack and his sword. He could not quite see it from this distance, but it seemed like they were grinning. They got along very well. "You didn't pack my anvil, did you?"
Siegfried grinned. "No, only an extra towel, just in case you encounter a wet Wolf."
Smith nodded. "Well… the weather is improving, maybe I will use the river more often to swim, that last spot where we camped was really nice with that pool next to the river, and swimming is a good movement for my shoulder."
Smith hugged Charlene before he left. "Everything will be for Katie in case I die, but you have to use as much as you need to let her become an adult, I don't want to lose a child twice."
Charlene nodded. "Just come back in one piece, and in good health. I think the path is now much safer with the Wolves and Dog gone, but be beware of Ferals, I have smelled a few, but I didn't want to worry you."

Smith nodded, and turned to Siegfried. "I don't see my armbrust. That's the same kind of weapon those smugglers use. I still can't use my full strength in my arm for a sling, but pulling a little lever to release a steel arrow, the bolz as the Bergvolk call it, is still possible."
Siegfried shook his head. "No, I have seen that weapon, it looks a bit like what that smuggler used, but much heavier. It's really something you do not want to see in the hands of a Panther Leopard, standing in a tree and aiming it at you."
Smith nodded. "That was exactly the same thought I had the first time, but not being able to use a sling is really a disadvantage. I do need to hunt to eat something."

Siegfried nodded, and went inside to get it.
"Can you show me how it works?" Siegfried spoke when he handed Smith his armbrust.
Smith nodded, and looked around for a suitable target. "Yes… Katie, can you please put a piece of wood on that pole over there?" as he pointed his finger at a pole of a fence a hundred paces away.
Katie looked at the fence. "Really that far?"
Smith nodded, and started to put tension to the string of his armbrust, and loaded the bolt. He waited until Katie has put a thick piece of chopped wood on the pole, flat side facing him, and returned. "All right lady and gentleman, I will only demonstrate it once."
Smith dropped to his knee, and aimed. A loud metallic 'clack' sound could be heard, a few people looked around at what made that strange noise, and the bolt found it's target.

Katie ran to retrieve it. "It's really stuck in the wood!" She exclaimed when she returned, holding up the piece of wood with the bolt embedded in it.
Smith grinned. "And it will be when I return. I still have some more, you heard the noise it made, if I miss it scares away the animals, no second chances with it."
Smith hooked the armbrust at his backpack.
"It really has a lot of pockets and loops to hang a things on it." Siegfried remarked.
Smith nodded. "Yes, and now you know why. Everything has it's own purpose… One day I'm a traveling smith, an other day a hunter… those stains are from a deer's hindquarters, I still didn't have the time to clean it. But it adds some more character to it, I think I leave them on."
Siegfried nodded. "I understand, it was the deer you killed for Charlene, didn't you?"
Smith nodded and shook his head. "No, but I didn't want to go those parts to go to waste, and yes, Charlene has eaten one."
Siegfried grinned. "You really love her. Good journey. We have also packed some extra food, not only lunch, but also dinner, no time to waste for hunting."
Smith nodded. "Thank you. That means I can walk until dark, it's not going to rain tonight, I think. I won't put up a tent tonight, and only have to catch my breakfast and lunch tomorrow, maybe I can do the distance in two nights, and arrive in the evening of the third day, if there are no unforeseen events like finding someone along the path. Goodbye!" And Smith was on his way again.

He really had to put on a firm pace to reach the river before dark, but he managed to reach it. He did not have time to eat his lunch along the way, but he spared some of it as his breakfast for the next morning, and ate some berries along the way. It was already getting dark when he reached the river, and exhausted he put down his sleeping mat and blanket. He looked up at the stars and moon.
'Ferals' he thought… 'They don't torture, they just kill when they need to. And they tend to avoid Humans.' and fell into an easy sleep.
Walking at this speed, even faster than he normally did, was really exhausting. But Smith woke up at first light. It was really nice to wake up to the sound of birds, and the sunlight shining in your eyes. 'Second best to waking up next to Charlene', Smith thought with a smile while he got up. He ate his breakfast, did what he had to do in the morning, and filled his canteens.

When he got up he saw some movement again at the other side of the river.
'That's a Feral, looked a bit like a White Tiger… That's dangerous… When I get back here I really must keep my eyes on the other shore.' he thought. 'It might follow me…' an other thought added.
He shook his head. No, they flee, don't fight.
He put up a firm walking pace again. Maybe it followed him, maybe not… Preventing a scent trail, or speed… Smith choose the latter, and hoped the feral on the other shore didn't follow him.
'So this is how I got so far… just walk and don't eat until you are hungry', Smith thought while he ate some more berries, while scanning the forest around him for movement.
He was alone. The remainder of the journey was easy. No Ferals, but also no animals, he did not get a chance to use his armbrust, but there were plenty of fish in the river.

He reached the Inimal village in the late afternoon of the third day. Floris sat in front of his house, a Vixen at his side with a kit in her arms. Now smith understood why Uwe mentioned her, but he hadn't seen her. He was a Human, and the skin of baby Inimals was much sought after. Smith walked towards them, and the Vixen did make an attempt to stand up to get away, but Floris put a hand on her shoulder, and gestured her it was all right, this Human could be trusted.
Floris smiled when Smith approached him. "I'm sorry I didn't trust you, but you caught us both outside. This is my wife Florette, with my daughter. She was born the night John died, helping us was the last thing he did."
Smith smiled. "Congratulations. What is her name?"
Floris shrugged. "We wanted to give you the honor of naming her, because of all what you did and are going to do for this village. You really showed up soon. Already tired of Katie?"
Smith shook his head. "No, not yet tired of Katie, I came here for Diego and Dora, and no, I do not want to name her. I have done that once before, the day before I left to hand in my masterpiece the wife of my best friend gave birth to a son, and you know how that ended."
Floris nodded. "I understand. Giving her a name is hard for you. How does Johanna sound?"
Smith smiled a little. "It is a Human name in fact, and it's… it's a nice tribute to John. Johanna is a good name for her."
Floris looked at Smith. “You don't sound very convinced you like the name Johanna… Did you expect something starting with an 'F' or 'V' like we all have?”
Smith nodded. “Y-yes… I thought that it was a tradition, the first letter of the name the same as the first letter of the species. I know a few exceptions, Robin Fox is one of them, but she is your child, you can name her whatever you want. Johanna is… it's a good name for her.”
Florette handed Smith the little Fox. "We don't like traditions, that's why we live here in this Canine village… Now let me introduce you Johanna Fox, our first daughter."

Smith got the little kit, sat down and held her to his chest. "My best Feline friend was an Ocelot, we played a lot of hide and seek together as children. He was really good at it, but he had always his tail who betrayed him. Always twitching with the tip op his tail when I got close to him. I don't have the sense of smell, and my hearing is also very bad, but I have very keen eyes, and playing hide and seek with him in the forest really sharpened them. I had named his son Kris by the way, short for Christopher, the name of his father."

The little Fox he was holding clasped Smith's jumper, and put her little head to his chest like she was listening to his voice, and yawned a little. Smith caressed her ears a little, and she opened her eyes a little.
"Good morning, not a pretty sight to see, isn't it, an ugly Human holding you." Smith softly spoke when he noticed it.
Florette looked at her daughter. "She opens her eyes!" she exclaimed with a soft voice, and she also stroked the head of her daughter.
Smith looked at her. "Human babies immediately open their eyes after birth, I reckon this is special?"
Florette nodded. "Yes, the eyes of Foxes open after a few days, or even a few weeks… But opening her eyes while you are holding her is really special."
Smith smiled. "I know I am different, you don't have to tell me that."
Florette also smiled. "It's very impolite to read my mind, but yes, I was going to say that."

Johanna moved a little with her legs, and Smith got the suggestion there was something going to happen. He immediately held the little Fox he was holding away from him, and almost instantly a little stream of urine leaked from her body.
Floris smiled. "Wow, you really knew this was going to happen? She always catches us by surprise."
Smith smiled. "Wisdom comes with the years, but knowing what to do comes in an instant, she moved in an unexpected way."

Floris continued to smile while Florette got her baby again after the little stream stopped. "You really sound older than you are. You must have a lot of experience in your life."
Smith nodded. "Not my experience, but I have spend a few months among the Elfique, they are very wise, but that also makes me distrust them. They know exactly what to say, and how to use their knowledge against you. But I had a lot of interesting talks with the eldest of them, he was over three thousand years old, and he has seen the rise and fall of empires, but he was shunned by the rest of the Elfique. But I also had the feeling he was one of the only two I can trust. The other one is François, who lives in my village."
Floris nodded. "You have another of them living among you I thought?"
Smith also nodded. "Yes, that's Jacques, the tailor… I don't quite know what I should think of him. He was a smith, but now he has become a tailor. A rather good one, but that gives him a chance to talk to rather influential people, he has done nothing wrong yet, but he has the advantage of outliving all of us and our children, and then they can strike. Or not, that's the problem."
Floris nodded again. "I'm sure the eldest has told you very interesting stories."
Smith started to smile. "Oh yes, the war that is currently raging is a relative mild one, there have been wars that were much worse. There has been a fifth family of species besides the Humans, the grey-skinned and completely hairless Bergvolk, the hairy Inimals and the long-living Elfique, but they have been eradicated tens of thousands of years ago. He didn't want to tell me exactly how, and it's also told to him, but I have the feeling the Elfique had a hand in it, just like I suspect they have a hand in this war, but the problem is, is that I have no proof and I live too short to gather it. And I'm a simple smith, not a king with all kinds of help."
Floris continued to nod. "You might be a smith, but you are… erm… I wanted to say different, but that joke gets old… You are not like the other Humans."

Smith nodded, smiled, and stood up. "I am not here for you, I'm here to see Diego and Dora, to talk about their new inn and shop. But nice talking to you, see you soon."
Floris raised his hand. "No, wait… I have a question for you… Do you mind Foxes living north of your village?"
Smith smiled. "No, not at all. Humans don't ask this kind of questions, and they just come, and I have to find a place for them. I put most of them east of the river, a slight bit to the south, and if other Inimals arrive I intend to place them west of my village, but there is already some mixing because of my neglect. South at the quarry is now occupied by the Wolves… well… not yet, but I reserve the south for the Wolves, and the north is good for the Foxes, you are a bit apart from the Canines and Felines, and tend to stay together. Katie will be very happy with a nice supply of locally produced good chicken meat. And I'm sure some Human farmers will produce whatever your chickens eat. As long as you are useful you are welcome."
Floris smiled. "And I think there is something else, a less pretty thing. Some people you encountered along the way home. You survived, but you injured your arm I see."
Smith nodded. "Yes, there were Wolves on the road. Were. Now six of them are dead, and the seventh is working for me."
Floris looked at Smith. "Working for you? How?"
Smith sighed. "He… he got betrayed by the rest of his gang. They had chosen to follow the wrong leader, and now they are dead, the real leader, the one with the brains, Siegfried, is now working for me. As a punishment he has to clear the woods of ambush spots, and he is quite happy doing it. And that other criminal is also dead, that was a Dog the Wolves had killed."
Floris also nodded, and grinned a little. But that grin quickly dropped. "And there were more."
Smith also nodded. "Yes, a runaway Fox and his parents. Robin, the Fox, is fine, he is also working for me, training archers, but the Wolves have killed his parents."
Floris smiled nonetheless. "You said that you are not a king, and did not have all kinds of help, but you start to act like a king, and you are gathering people around you to help you, after you helped them first."
Smith started to laugh. "Well… I don't want to be a king, I know enough about reading, writing and calculating to hate it, I just want to help my village, to make it a safe place to live. And the entire Neutral Zone, from the Foxes in the north to the Wolves in the south."
Floris also laughed. "Well… just like a king must do. A third kingdom."

Smith walked away, still laughing, but not heartily. He was a victim of the kings, not a king himself. He was a smith. 'Forging the two kingdoms together' a voice at the back of his thoughts suddenly said. Smith blinked his eyes. Maybe that thought was correct. Forging Human metal, Canine stone, Feline wood and Vulpine art together to build something new. Peace.

When he approached the inn he saw Diego and Dora already standing in the doorway.
"Smith! Already back! Welcome!" Diego said while Dora gave him a hug.
Smith smiled. "Keep it professional, I am here for business. I have the drawings of your new home, with a very large inn and shop, let's get inside, then I can show you them."
Diego smiled while Smith unpacked the drawings and he got a first glimpse of them. "Very large you said… I have a few more cousins who also want to help, maybe some changes in the design are advisable."
Smith nodded. "Of course, that was just what Uwe said. You might get some help from others, and he was correct. You already told me you had some cousins helping you, and a few more is no problem. You get a royal private area, with four bedrooms." Smith looked at Dora. "You aren't going to say that you are already pregnant?"
Dora shook her head. "I don't think so, I have not been in estrus yet, and if I am we won't have any sex. It is going to be far too busy to be pregnant."
Smith nodded. "And maybe even too busy for sex."
Diego smiled. "We already have boxed most of the things in Dora's shop, most of the villagers have already gone to the quarry, it is really getting quiet here."
Smith shook his head in disbelief. "That's far too soon! I have already sent a few builders that way for the basic things like roads and other infrastructure like a sawmill and basic smithy, let's hope everything will be fine when my men and the Wolves meet each other."
Just when Smith spoke those last words Floris entered the inn. "I also wanted to stop them, I have warned them about the Humans, but the Wolves promised me to do no harm. But now they can learn to work together."
Smith nodded. "Yes, but lucky for me I did not only sent Humans there, I also have sent a few Cats and Dogs, they can act as interpreters while they work."
Floris smiled. "You really think of everything. I was afraid you were too stupid, and send only Humans there, but you are neutral, you only send the best builders. And some of the Wolves who have gone there are very good stoneworkers as well, who really appreciate a good co-operation between the species to build a house or other building. Let's hope your Humans have brought a lot of metal."
Smith nodded. "Yes, but unfortunately Will didn't make it, he got killed by the Black Fangs, that was the name of the gang of Wolves. And Casper got killed as well."
Floris nodded. "I think you have made the right decision to spare the last one, and let him clear the forest. Those kind of things happen because the forest has a lot of ambush spots, unfortunately I can not allow him to work on this side of the border, but we really could use someone like him."
Smith grinned. "You only kill criminals, without thinking. I would have killed him as well, but somehow I hesitated, and that turned out fine… well… for the Neutral Zone, not for me… he must live in my house because we have no prison as well, and he really has a sense of humor I am not able to cope with."
Floris smiled. "Oh yes, Wolves have very strong emotions. That's why I couldn't help you with Casper's brother, but I think Siegfried is the other extreme."
Smith shrugged. "I understand, I just have to get used to it, I also have been alone for too long… Wolven kisses are awful."
Floris grinned. "I know, some of them kissed even me to congratulate me with my child. Also males."

Dora took a step forward. "And how do you like Dogs?" Before Smith could answer that question Dora had her tongue in his mouth.
A few moments later she released Smith. "Tastes good, almost as good as Diego."
Smith spatted out the Dog saliva and taste from his mouth, and drank some from his canteen, washed his mouth, and spatted some more on the floor. "That… That was just awful. Not as bad as Siegfried, but no, never again."
Diego grinned. "You are safe from me… for now, I don't want to lose my new inn."
Smith managed to grin again. "I'd rather have sex with Dora than an other Canine kiss."
Dora smiled. "So, if it's not safe for Diego to have sex with me because of the risk for a pregnancy I can come to you? Nice to know."
Smith smiled. "Well… I don't have any experience with a Canine, but I'm never too old to learn. I have to move on, I can't continue to mourn the loss of my wife and child, and turning to Inimals again will never give me a child of my own I have to protect. That's how I spent most of my adolescent youth, being the toy-boy for the female Felines. But I didn't mind then, and I'm sure I won't in the future."
Dora nodded. "Yes, no Human child, but you have Katie."
Smith nodded, and smiled. "Of course. But somehow I don't see her as my own child, I see her as a child who needs protection and a chance to become an adult, but, I don't like saying this, I won't mourn her death as long as I have done for my own child, because she will die of old age, I will outlive her, and that is something I could never do with a Human child."

"Let's change the subject. You want dinner?" Diego said after a moment of silence.
Smith nodded. "Yes, as long as it's not fish, I've had enough of that."
Diego went to the kitchen. "I'm afraid I only have chicken these days, only the Foxes are still around here.”
Floris nodded. "Yes, but they are also leaving soon. Smith has given permission to go to the Neutral Zone."
Smith looked at Floris "I hope you can delay them, I don't have any builders left to build for them."
Floris nodded. "I understand, but I can not force them to stay. They do have livestock that needs housing, but I'm afraid they are so eager to leave that they will live in tents, while their chickens get proper pens. Foxes are not completely helpless you know, they have always in between the Canines and Felines, and they can work with both stone and wood."
Smith nodded. "Yes, I always keep forgetting the building skill of your kind, less sturdy, but more delicate and with more refinement. More like pieces of art instead of buildings to live in and use."
Floris nodded. "Yes, but I prefer the solid Canine walls and sturdy Feline woodwork, but that's just because of my profession, I want to keep the prisoners awaiting their execution inside the prison."
Smith grinned. "And to complete it with Human bars and hinges."
Floris also grinned. "Yes, also that… I… I don't know what I'm going to do. I'm loyal to the king, but living in the Neutral Zone is also… tempting."
Smith nodded. "I understand. But I always can use someone who knows laws, if you know what I mean."
Floris nodded, and stood up. "Time for me to go… And I will keep your suggestion in mind."
Smith smiled. "You must not make that decision alone, also ask Florette, what she wants, and think about the future of Johanna."
Floris nodded again. "I will."

A few moments later Diego came back with a steaming plate of a simple chicken stew. "I am already using everything I have here, without buying new ingredients, except for the meat, but what will become of us when there is nobody left here?"
Smith nodded, thinking about this problem, and then shook his head. "I am the one who got you in trouble, now it's not only your problem, but also mine… My suggestion is that you are going to live in Uwe's inn as long as your new inn is not finished, I will pay for it. When I get back I'll send someone with a cart to get you and your valuables, no need to move the furniture twice, Floris can ask the Foxes to buy whatever they think they might need, because they also have no store to buy things when you are gone… No, that's too little time… I think I will use Charlene as a messenger, she can tell me when you are ready to leave, she wanted me to buy some brushes and I will, but I'm sure she wants some more items from her house…"
Diego raised his hand to silence Smith. "Please eat, and then sleep, maybe we can come up with a solution tomorrow."
Dora smiled. "I will unpack every Feline item I have, it's not much, a few brushes and some lotions for their fur, but I'm sure you will buy it all."
Smith smiled. "Yes, of course I will buy it all, they are like my child and wife, I will do everything to keep them happy… And I also have a Fox living in my house, in my village I could only buy Canine items, nothing for him as well."
Dora smiled. "Vulpine brush… those are expensive, two big silver."
Smith grinned. "Sold!, he is doing very important work, training archers, and I want him to look good as well."
Dora continued to smile. "You are far too kind for those around you."
Smith nodded. "I… I have something to compensate from the past, I never have been this generous, but seeing happy people around me also makes me happy, not everything is about money. 'You can't chew on coins', that's what Siegfried said when he realized how poor he was, he had enough money to buy a house, but he was hungry. I felt the same, I had money and everything I could buy, but not much real friends, I… I only hope you would do the same for me when I need help."
Diego nodded. "I'll try. But there is a difference, you are rich, even if you give away half of what you possess, you are still rich, we don't have much."
Smith also nodded. "Not everything is about money my friend, carrying Charlene back home did not cost me anything."
Diego started to smile. "Of course, there are more ways to help, shall I feed you?"
Smith grinned, and started to eat. With his hands, because Katie and Siegfried had forgotten his cutlery.

Despite the heavy thoughts about the problem of the leaving people and the problems that gives to those who stay behind Smith had a good night of sleep. Everyone who could be useful in his village was welcome, and in contrast to those who came to his village in the past he would give those who will come a proper welcome, and a place to live. He could build some more houses for them to live in, and let them rent those at a fair price while their new homes are being build. Being a competitor for Uwe, but at a lower price.
It would take months to undo his years of neglect, but Frank and others had already made a start, and with his money it would get a nice boost. The solution for Diego and Dora was also simple, he would give them a few weeks, and then he would send Charlene to ask how much longer they are needed in this village, their inn will be the third finished building in the quarry-village, after the sawmill and smithy, but it does not have to be used immediately, but if there is a problem, something like there is nobody left here before their new inn is finished they could live at Uwe's inn.

Smith got up, and went downstairs. Diego and Dora were already busy studying the drawings. "This is just perfect, I absolutely see no things that could be improved." Diego said with a smile.
"Nice to see one big building with two roofs, with on the ground level the dining room, baths and kitchen for the inn and upstairs of that the rooms, and the other half for the shop, storage and our home upstairs. The stairway to our home is a nice touch, with the door a bit inwards of the wall, with an open space above it, so we can hear what's happening at the inn while we are in our bed." Dora added.
Smith nodded. "Yes, and a door between the inn and the store, and a lot of proper toilets, somehow Uwe knows of an improved sewage system, and a rooftop water-tank with a small windmill to fill it. Running water in all rooms, even I do not have that luxury."
Diego nodded. "Yes, that's wonderful… but what about the costs? You can not give us an inn for free, can you?"
Smith grinned and shook his head. "No, of course not. You have to pay me for it, half of the profit you make, and you will have to keep a good bookkeeping, but I don't mind if you are very creative, with a lot of useful investments to keep the profits down, but you, those who work for you and the guests need to be happy."
Diego nodded, and also started to grin. "I think we will be eating leftovers then, it is a waste to throw them away. And never buy food or coal for ourselves. Somehow I think I will have some trouble purchasing supplies for the inn, always buying too much."
Smith nodded. "Yes, that is what I meant with creative bookkeeping. Try to use the inn for your personal things, but don't let it get out of control, I will check the books if I suspect you are abusing it."

Dora handed Smith his breakfast and hugged him. "It's… it's wonderful, I don't know what to say."
Smith smiled. "'Enjoy your last meal here' will do, and making a good profit of course, because the money you have to give me is not for me, but for the village."
Dora wanted to hug Smith again, but he stopped her from doing so. “Please let me eat. You can hug me after that.”

After his breakfast Dora hugged him again after she brought him his lunch, and gave him a lick. "And something else?"
Smith used a napkin to wipe his face. "No, not for the things I do. But if you want it because of who I am… well… we'll see… the butcher in my village is already sleeping with a Dog, maybe I can ask him for some hints about the things your kind likes. But he also left his Human wife for her, and that's something I will never do."
Dora nodded. "Of course, I was just joking, I will always be loyal to Diego."
Smith also nodded and smiled. "I'm not very loyal when it comes to inter-species because there will never be children because of that, I really hope Charlene will find a good Cheetah husband and has a good reason to leave me, but the main reason why I didn't have had any sex after the death of my wife was because I didn't have the time, not because of my loyalty to a single person. Well… one Human female at a time, in a hypothetical situation where I will find one and feel safe enough for children… but never sex-loyal to someone I can not get children with. Only loyal as friends."
Diego nodded. "I understand. But we Canines have an other problem with inter-species… we are relative well hung… we simply would hurt others when we have sex with… let's say a Tiger. You see that vase over there?" while pointing at a vase with a bunch of dried flowers in it. "That vase is too small for me. I had two of those, I had warmed one of them to use as a relief, but I got stuck in it, and I had to break it to get out."
Smith looked at the vase, and winced. “Dog male to a Human female might be a problem, but a Human male for a female Dog is not. Maybe some complaining that it's too small.”
Dora grinned. “See, that's the problem.”
Smith nodded. “You know, I have done many stupid things in my life, but I never have been so lonely that I got creative for my relief. Full days of work are a very good distraction.”

Smith went upstairs to get his backpack. He did not have time to take a bath, but he would use the river.
When he got back he told Diego and Dora what he was intending to do when he got back home, give them some time to make the final arrangements, and send Charlene in a few weeks to see how much time or other things they need, and get a message from the Foxes about their plans, if they are still here.

When Smith got outside he saw Floris and Florette sitting on the bench in front of their house, with Johanna sitting on Florette's lap.
"Aya… Aya!" the little kit kirred when she saw Smith.
Smith smiled while he approached them. "You are not going to tell them my real name, are you?"
Floris looked at him. "Your given name is Aya?"
Smith shook his head. "No, my given name is not Aya, but it sounds a bit like it. My name comes from a small part of an island, and translates as 'money', just like my brothers names, all words for money or gold in different languages."
Florette nodded. "It's a very fitting name for you, since you are very wealthy."
Smith shook his head while he sat down next to Florette. "No, money is not important, it's what you can do with it."
Florette handed Smith Johanna. "Here, hold her. She has slept very little last night, maybe you can get her to sleep. For free."
Smith got the little kit, and placed her on his lap, just like he had done the day before. "We do not have much to talk about, but maybe I can sing her a little song. I have read a lot of books about Human babies, I don't have much practice, but it never hurts to sing those books say."
Floris looked at Smith. "You think that helps?"
Smith carefully shrugged. "I don't know. Yesterday I noticed she really presses her ear against my chest, and she is doing the same right now, I have a very low and dark voice compared to you, and my chest really vibrates when I speak, or sing."
Smith looked at the little kit on his lap. "Do you want me to sing?"
The little kit opened her eyes and looked up with her blue eyes. "Eh" was all she said.
Smith smiled at her. "You both have amber eyes. Why does she have different eyes?"
Florette answered that question. "All kits have blue eyes, the color changes after a month or so."

Smith nodded, and started to sing.

Huna blentyn ar fy mynwes
Clyd a chynnes ydyw hon;
Breichiau mam sy'n dynn amdanat,
Cariad mam sy dan fy mron;
Ni chaiff dim amharu'th gyntun,
Ni wna undyn â thi gam;
Huna'n dawel, annwyl blentyn,
Huna'n fwyn ar fron dy fam.

Huna'n dawel, heno, huna,
Huna'n fwyn, y tlws ei lun;
Pam yr wyt yn awr yn gwenu,
Gwenu'n dirion yn dy hun?
Ai angylion fry sy'n gwenu,
Arnat ti yn gwenu'n llon,
Tithau'n gwenu'n ôl dan huno,
Huno'n dawel ar fy mron?

Paid ag ofni, dim ond deilen
Gura, gura ar y ddôr;
Paid ag ofni, ton fach unig
Sua, sua ar lan y môr;
Huna blentyn, nid oes yma
Ddim i roddi iti fraw;
Gwena'n dawel yn fy mynwes
Ar yr engyl gwynion draw.

"What language was that?" Floris said after Smith has finished his song.
Smith shrugged. "I don't know, it's… it's… the same language as my given name. This was a song my father used to sing for me, and I have always kept a piece of paper with the words written on it.”
Florette nodded. "You really have a beautiful low voice, I really envy Johanna for being on you lap, can you sing an other song, in Human?"

Smith nodded, and started to sing again.

Slaap kindje slaap
daar buiten loopt een schaap
een schaap met witte voetjes
dat drinkt zijn melk zo zoetjes
slaap kindje slaap
daar buiten loopt een schaap.

"I understood that song. Strange thing that the text is completely nonsense, singing about a sheep." Floris remarked after that song.

Smith nodded, and started to sing again, Johanna was almost asleep.

Bye, baby Bunting,
Daddy’s gone a-hunting,
Gone to get a rabbit skin
To wrap the baby Bunting in.

"You also know our song?" Florette asked.
Smith nodded as a response to her question, and started to sing again.

Hush-a-by baby
On the tree top,
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks,
The cradle will fall,
And down will fall baby
Cradle and all.

"Heh… that one is Feline. Who else will put their children in treetops." Floris smirked.
"Another one!" Florette added.
Smith shook his head. "I don't know more songs, I have forgotten most of them, these were the only ones I could remember. But Johanna is asleep, that's the important thing."
Florette nodded, but did not take her child. "Can you please sit here for a while and hold her, she never had looked this peaceful. You really would have been a wonderful father."
Smith nodded. "Of course. But when she starts to leak again or wakes up it's over, I have more things to do, like getting home."
Florette hugged Smith. "Thank you."

Smith sat for a few hours with Johanna on his lap when he noticed she was moving her legs again. Instinctively he held her in front of him, and she started to pee again.
"Heh, I thought you were asleep, but you really know what is going to happen." Floris remarked while he left his house, apparently he had put something inside, a book or something he had been reading.
Smith grinned. "The smell comes after the pee, movement before, and a lot of muttering can be heard after the smell. Feeling and seeing movements are more important than smelling and hearing."
Floris nodded. "We will keep that in mind. It's a pity you have to leave, she really loves you."

Smith handed Florette her child again.
"Oh! Oh!" protested the little Vixen a little.
Smith smiled. "That was a 'no', the 'eh' she said earlier was 'yes' I reckon. Human babies always start with an 'm' when they start to talk, 'mama' is the first word they say."
Florette smiled. "Can we borrow your books?"
Smith shook his head. "No, I have left them behind, you can go to my old village to collect them, but I think they are gone, ten years of moisture and other things are not good for paper. Oh… by the way… Floris, do you mind if I get John's books about Inimals? Maybe they are useful for the doctor in my village, I don't know what knowledge he has, but letting books go to waste is a… waste, seen in the perspective of getting a lot of Inimals on his table."
Floris nodded. "Of course, I will box them, when the belongings of Diego and Dora are collected you can get those as well, along with the rest of John's equipment."
Smith nodded, and got in one movement his backpack while he stood up. "Thank you, and maybe I will see you soon. I hope."
Floris nodded, and said his usual nothing.
Smith knew enough. Floris would also come to his Neutral Zone, and live with the rest of the Vulpine in the northern part. Good to have friends there as well.

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Chapter 11 - A Feral

#14 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 11
A Feral


Back on the path again. And with an other village to give a place.
'It all goes too fast' Smith thought. 'That is because the Neutral Zone is a nice and peaceful place to live' an other thought added. Smith shook his head. He did not know what to do. The Neutral Zone was indeed a place of peace, but that was more the result of a treaty between kings than his work, he was a smith, working with metal. Not a ruler of thousands of people. Well… It actually were hundreds, but Smith had the feeling it would become thousands.
Smith looked at the forest, in an attempt to distract himself. 'Not much animals in the forest' he thought. 'That will change when the Inimals are going to live with you, in your villages' the other thought added again.
Smith tried to clear his head the way the Elfique had taught him, but doing this also made him stop walking. Not good.

He did not know what to think. He could not remember anything of the time between dropping his master's sword and François' call for help. Was there something else that takes over his body as a last resort? He has experienced something like that before. He has forged many things in his life, talked to a lot of people, normally he could remember everything and every face of the people he has talked to, but there are some gaps in his memory. Like suddenly waking up in his bed, with the feeling that he had dreamed. And Frank telling him that he had collapsed in the smithy, and that Frank and the others had put him in his bed. 'You just worked on, and collapsed after you finished the sword you were working on all day'. Just like something else takes over his body to do the work, completing the boring task, and returning to 'normal' again. Frank told him he had a strange look in his eyes, but Frank sometimes also had a strange look, the look of being too drunken to work. But Smith didn't drink any more. He used nothing that could alter his mind. There was no explanation for it, except for his past.

Smith looked at the river. It was early in the afternoon, but somehow he was not hungry this time. And he was not at the place he thought he would be after a day of walking. He was at the bend, with the pool. Smith blinked with his eyes. A flash of a memory occurred. Him putting something into his backpack. He blinked again. Memory of killing a rabbit. Of course, he had killed a rabbit. He had killed hundreds of rabbits and hares in his life, but this one had the back-end of a bolt sticking out of it… Of course, he had shot a few of them. His backpack felt heavier than it was supposed to. The thought was not imagination. Smith put his backpack to the ground, and opened it. There were four cooked rabbits inside it, wrapped in a towel. Lucky for him Katie and Siegfried had packed a second towel.
They had forgotten to put some cloths in his backpack, and he had become creative and used a towel instead.
Smith grinned. He suddenly understood. He had collapsed in the smithy in the past because he just kept on working. This time it was not different, he just kept on walking and hunting. He might even have slept without knowing.

Smith stood up and turned around. And smiled. He apparently was bored enough to put up his tent this time. Smith looked at the sky. A few hours had passed. No chance of rain tonight, a tent was not needed, he would stay dry. Sunken in his thoughts he walked to the tent to get his backpack. He carried it to a big rock on the bank, and pulled out his bathing pants and his second towel. A brush also fell out of it, but he didn't bother to put it back. He stood for a few moments with his bathing pants in his hands. He was alone in this part of the forest, no women and no children. Smith grinned. Maybe only a big fish looking for a big worm.
Smith put the bathing pants back, undressed and put the towel on the rock, Smith looked at the rocks for a few moments, one big rock and a smaller one besides it, forming some sort of a chair, nice to sit on to let yourself dry in the sun, without using the towel, and climbed into the river. Smith closed his eyes.

What are the other'side'… his second thought suddenly interrupted his first thought.
Other side? What other side? He wanted to think about what Charlene, Katie, Siegfried and
Robin are doing… 'Other side' his second thought spoke again, this time in a more demanding voice.
Of course, the other side of the river, where he saw the Feral last time he was here… only a few days ago.
Smith opened his eyes again, and started to scan the other side of the river.
Everything was calm over there, he could even see some smaller animals, some birds and a mouse running around a rock and diving underneath it, and you won't see those with an Inimal around. There was even a kingfisher sitting on a twig above the river, a beautiful little bird with it's blue and orange feathers. Smith watched it, but it flew away.

Suddenly he felt something cold and slimy touch his knee. It startled him a little, but he remained calm. He looked down, and saw a large fish looking at his… He suddenly regretted he didn't put on his swimming pants. This was his chance to catch a fish with his bare hands. He slowly moved his left hand, but not too slow. Too fast might startle the fish, and too slow… Something that smells a bit like a fish is something different than the mouth of an actual fish with teeth. He managed to get his hand underneath the fish, and in one swift movement he grabbed the fish and threw it on the bank above him. He suddenly heard a snarl above him.
Fish don't snarl, he was not alone! Feral!
Smith closed his eyes and started to breath heavily. He was scared, for the first time since… a very long time. He had always known what to do. He had done the impossible, defeating eleven fully armed and dangerous Wolves alone, and six more together with Katie…

'Stay calm'

"I'm scared." Smith said aloud.

Wrong sound. The reflection of a White Tiger appeared above his reflection on the water, and immediately disappeared again.

'I can swim to the other side'… ' 'that's suicide' the second thought replied.
Smith nodded and sighed. White Tigers are the most fearsome fighters, with enormous strength combined with an incredible agility. And far better swimmers.
'Take the chance' his second thought spoke. 'You are scared and don't know what to do. Get a rock and take the chance.'
Smith nodded, and started to feel around for a smaller rock he could hold in his fist. There were only big rocks and sand.
Fighting dirty… throwing dry sand in the eyes of you opponent to distract him was an option, but here in the river was no dry sand, that was above him… no, that was a few paces away from the ledge, he did not have time to reach that with a feral White Tiger at a short distance.
And he did not know where the Tiger was, he could be waiting until Smith popped his head above the ledge, and then strike.
Smith sighed. Take the chance. Yes. Slowly he emerged to look over the ledge. The Tiger… no… it was a Tigress… had dragged his backpack with her away from the rock, and was eating his rabbits.

Smith smiled. Of course, Ferals are not soldiers any more. They might have a hatred towards Humans, but their basic instincts are more important. And in this case it was eating. Just like she was doing.
Slowly Smith climbed out of the river and got his towel, and without taking his eyes of the eating Tigress he dried himself with it, and wrapped the towel around his waist to cover his private parts.
Suddenly the Tigress turned around and dashed towards Smith, who could not flee backwards because there was a rock in the way.
She suddenly stopped, and started to sniff, like she was smelling something. More Ferals? The Tigress took an other step forward, and started to sniff Smith's towel. This was unexpected, and yet a bit arousing. He did not know what to do.
He stood there in silence while the Tigress walked around him, on her arms and legs, sniffing his towel. When she came around again he looked at her. She was beautiful. He had the urge to stroke her head, scratch her behind the ears, like he had done so many times in the past. But never with a White Tiger. Not even with a Feral common Tiger. Smith sighed.
'You are dead anyway, why not take a chance?' That second thought made him grin. He extended his arm, and gently stroked an ear.

The White Tigress snarled and jumped backwards, but she stayed close to him. Smith looked behind him. He was a few paces away from the rocks, the brush was still lying there. He started to feel his legs. Of course, he had walked on last night, it was a full moon, enough light to see where you are walking. Smith looked at the Tigress again, and took a few steps backwards until his heels touched the rock he could sit on, the brush next to his feet, and sat down. Smith got the brush, and looked at it. Katie and Charlene would never see it, because he would be dead in a few hours, or even a few minutes when the Tigress decided to attack.
The Tigress took a few steps forward again… not in a hostile manner, but more… curious?
"You want me to use this brush on you?" Smith asked, not expecting a response. "I… I have bought it for someone else, but if you want it you may have it."
Still no response, but only a few more steps forward. Smith almost came within the reach of her claws.

They came within each others reach. Smith within the reach of the claws, the Tigress within the reach of the brush.
Smith did not know what to do.
'Brush her, show her you are not hostile.' his second thought suddenly said. Smith looked at the brush he was holding in his hand. The crouched Tigress was between him and his tent with his sword and armbrust, no chance of reaching those and kill the dangerous Feral. Brushing her seemed the only option he had left, besides sitting on his rock in fear.
He carefully extended his arm, and started to brush the upper arm of the Tigress in front of him. She snarled again, just like she did at the first touch, but did not make an attempt to attack or flee. Smith paused at the snarl, but continued a few moments later. She did not snarl again, and Smith got the impression the Tigress was enjoying the brushing, she leaned a bit forward to allow Smith to brush more of her arm and her shoulder. Smith was a bit startled when she suddenly took a step forward, but regained his calm after he realized she just lost her balance from leaning forward, and simply got closer.

"See, I'm a nice Human, no need to kill me." Smith softly spoke. The Tigress took an other small step, and now her hands were besides his feet, and her torso between his knees. Smith started to brush her back, using his right hand to stabilize himself on her shoulder. The response to that was unexpected. She leaped up, and sat down on his lap, him looking into her big half open mouth. It was now much easier to brush her back, and even grope her above the tail.
Smith grinned a little at the thought about the stupidity of wrapping his towel around his waist, this was a nice way to die, a beautiful Tigress sitting on his naked lap, but now there was a towel between them. It was even a bit like in his younger days, all kinds of Felines sitting on his lap, and him sitting on theirs. And doing other things. Except dying. He continued to brush, and used his right hand to gently give her a massage. He paused momentarily when he realized what he was doing, but continued doing it when he felt the Tigress on his lap moved again, like she wanted him to go on with what he was doing, at least, that was the impression Smith got, she calmed down when he started the massage again.

Smith yawned. He was tired. Walking two days and a night was really exhausting. He looked at the chest of the Tigress on his lap. Would she also get tired and simply go away? Or would she fall asleep, and fall off his lap, giving him a chance to kill her? Or would she simply remain seated, sleeping on his lap, her nice warm fur pressed against him, and a cold hard rock in his back? Smith didn't know.

Smith opened his eyes at first light. The Tigress was still on his lap, but he had dropped the brush, it was now beyond his reach. Smith started to look around, he did not know what would happen when she woke up. Demanding another massage? Killing him? Or simply go away? He chose to pretend to be asleep, that way he might bore the Tigress enough to go away, and let him live. He was not hostile, she has not been hostile… Not all Ferals are bad.
Smith grinned at the thought of his towel. He definitely must have given it a wet patch in his sleep, the big furry thing on his lap was warm and soft, even the rock he was leaning against did not feel bad. He wondered how he could cover it when she woke up.
'Silly thought, she is Feral, she doesn't care' his second thought replied.
Suddenly he felt a warm wetness at his legs. Had she clawed him in his sleep and was he bleeding to death? He kept his eyes closed, and tried to feel where the wound was. It must have been a very clean cut, one you don't feel immediately, but still is fatal. He could feel the blood drip along his legs and onto the ground.

"I'm sorry…"

'Wh.. what? who said that?' Smith thought.

"I said I'm sorry." Smith heard again. The source of that sound was very close to his ears. Smith opened his eyes. The Tigress on his lap had woken up.
"I'm sorry I peed on you… I was scared you would kill me if I got off your lap, but you already smelled like Tiger urine."
Smith blinked in disbelief. "You are not Feral, and I am what? How? Where? I just took a bath?… It was my towel, wasn't it?"
The Tigress nodded. "Yes, the towel. I saw a Human, but I smelled a Tiger. That confused me. And then how you acted. You were caressing me, and brushing me, that's also a thing a normal Human would never do. I'm… I'm sorry I jumped on your lap."
Smith started to grin. "It seems that I am the victim of a prank. A prank that saved my life. I do indeed live with a Tiger in my house, a very young one I have adopted, and a few other Inimals. One of them is a Wolf, and I have asked the Tiger and the Wolf to pack my backpack, I have not seen them doing it, but I can imagine what happened before they put the towel in my backpack. I don't have a good sense of smell, and they know it."
The Tigress on his wet lap smiled. "Shall I get off your lap, then you can wash yourself, again?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, wash, eat and talk, I have a lot of questions for you, and you might even have a lot more for me. Let me get in my bathing pants first, I'm not used to be naked around others."
The Tigress climbed off Smith's lap and stared at his towel. “That wet patch on top of your towel is not from my urine. It is not even urine.”
Smith grinned while he got into his bathing pants. "I'll tell you about my youth later, and yes, I do like Felines."

Smith climbed into the river, and the Tigress followed. "Thank you for getting me out of my…
Feralness?"
Smith nodded. "You're welcome. But I always thought it is impossible, once Feral is always Feral I was always taught by others."
The Tigress also nodded. "Yes, I thought the same. It's… it's odd, knowing what to do without thinking… I remember fleeing the city because of the hostilities, I remember reaching the forest, and between then and the scent of your towel yesterday was a fading blur, I can only clearly remember the fish, but that is because there was a fish-bone stuck between my teeth."
Smith slowly nodded. "Yes, and you went north."
The Tigress looked at Smith. "North? Yes, it sounds odd, but I walked around the city, to go north. Somehow I had the feeling I would be safe there, because of the Neutral Zone."
Smith nodded. "Yes, there are no soldiers allowed to go through there, it is indeed safer." Smith smiled. "And I do remember seeing you. A few days ago, you were at the other shore, and now you are on this shore. Is there a bridge? Do you remember something like that?"
The Tigress looked across the river. "Yes, there is a bridge a bit further downstream. There were Wolves in the forest, moving south, and I crossed that bridge at night, and passed a camp-site. I… I think I did not want to come close to Human territory, so I followed the river west again, and here we are. I also remember you, it looked like you were fleeing."
Smith grinned. "What would you do when you were a Human and saw a Feral White Tiger? Hug it?"
The Tigress smiled. "Hmm… yes, sounds reasonable… Fleeing I mean."
Smith looked at the forest. He had the same experience. Dropping his former master's sword after finding his wife and unborn child, go north, and then François' confusing call for help.
"Something wrong?" the Tigress suddenly asked.
Smith nodded slowly again. "Yes, what you are telling me is a bit of my experience as well… I have also lost a few months of memory after a traumatic experience, and I also had someone else who pulled me out of it… Well… he called for help in a strange language that confused me and I pulled him out of the mud over ten years ago. Trauma, north, confusion… all similar."
The Tigress wrapped her huge arms around Smith. "Now we have each other."
Smith shook his head. "No, you have someone to help you… I already have everything I need. Except for a Human woman, but I don't feel safe enough for that, but I will tell you about that later, let's get out of the water and eat, I feel clean enough, it's just urine and a little bit of something else, I've had worse… eat first, and talk more later, I want to get home today. Or have you eaten everything?"
The Tigress released Smith and smiled. "No, I thought a fish jumped out of the river and I devoured it, then I heard you and maybe realized you might have some food in your backpack, I think I have eaten one rabbit, but there were more. I'm Melany by the way."

Smith gave her a hand "You can call me Smith, smith of the Neutral Zone. What was your occupation? Not a soldier I reckon, because then you would have killed me the moment you got the chance."
Melany looked at the water. "I was a tailor, I made clothes for Inimals who wanted to work in the Human kingdom, despite the war."
Smith nodded. "An Inimal tailor… We can use that… Do you mind coming with me, and live in the Neutral Zone?"
Melany hugged Smith again. "Of course, I have nowhere else to go. My city is gone."
Smith climbed out of the water, he had no clean towel left to dry himself, so he walked around in his bathing pants.
"What are those scars on your back? Who or what caused them?" He heard Melany call behind his back.
"Cats." Smith simply said while he handed her a rabbit. "I will tell you later, when we walk."

They ate the remaining rabbits, and Smith packed his unused tent and sleeping gear.
"You have two sleeping mats and blankets? But you are… I mean were alone?" Melany asked while they were walking again.
Smith nodded, and explained everything. About his youth, and how he became like a feral. He did not mention much about his time among the Elfique and Bergvolk, only that he had been there and now knows the languages, but he did mention Jacques and how he felt about him. Melany would work with him until her own workshop would be finished, that way she could learn again how to work, and maybe some new techniques.
Melany had smiled at this remark, she had made clothes for their queen, and she had been complimented about how comfortable those clothes were, a sheer contrast to the Vulpine made clothes, those were beautiful, but very painful to wear. And Smith told about his last few weeks, about how he changed, and why. Melany understood why Smith acted the way he did. And the wet patch on his towel when they woke up? She didn't like that, but did not want to tell why.

'Same Tiger distance… wait until you know each other better' his second thought suddenly said. He knew it was correct, because he had experienced it in the past. The relations with the Tigresses in his old village had the same kind of start, slow in the beginning, but they were the most ferocious… after a night of cuddling. Charlene was there only for Katie. But he did not tell Melany that.

Smith's village came into sight, and he stopped. "Melany, do you want to do something for me when we get home?"
Melany also stopped, and turned around. "What?"
Smith grinned. "I want you to pinch Siegfried in his butt. With your claws. After all he has done to me he deserves it. Make him feel it, but not too much blood, I need him for his work, just a little payback for his idea to make me smell like Tiger urine."
Melany also grinned. "Of course, you must never use a young innocent Tiger for your dirty work. Use an adult, they have a lot more urine in their bladder."
Smith shook his head and laughed. "I'm lucky I have a neutral person in our playful little conflict, I always can ask Charlene to smell my towels before I put them in my backpack, I'm sure she won't lie to me."
Melany nodded. "Just kidding, Siegfried really deserves a pinch. But he saved your life, I don't know what I would have done if I didn't smell Katie's urine. Maybe he can use his own urine next time, you know, to find him a wife to turn his attention to."
Smith had some trouble controlling his laughter. "I'm sure Siegfried won't use his urine, but something else to attract females."
Melany smiled. "You are a good friend, I doubt he wants to lose your friendship."
Smith also smiled "He knows he can do that, he knows that I and the village need his knowledge. But I hope he is smart enough to know that his punishment ends, and after that he still needs a home, I always can take that away from him."

When they approached the village they could see Siegfried sitting in front of Smith's house, and Katie sitting next to him, looking in a book, his book about Inimal symbolism.
Smith was walking a bit ahead of Melany, and Siegfried didn't notice her when he stood up to greet Smith. "Good afternoon Smith, back already. Went everything fine? Had a nice swim?"
Melany came standing besides Smith.
"Siegfried, let me introduce you Melany, Melany, this is Siegfried." Smith spoke with a formal voice.
Melany came standing in front of Siegfried. "He is smaller than I expected."
Smith nodded. Melany made a gesture like she wanted to shake Siegfried's hand, but also moved her left hand to pinch him. Siegfried's ears shot straight up, and his eyes almost popped out of his head.
He did not expect this. "Mi… milady… you are hurting me…" was all he could say in a shy voice.
"Aww… he does have manners… And this is Katie I suppose?" while turning towards the little Tiger and crouching.
"Y-Yes, I'm Katie. Please don't pinch me… I mean pleased to meet you."
Melany smiled. "I was Feral. You saved Smith's life with your urine, if I didn't smell that I would have killed him."
Katie looked at the ground. "It.. it was Siegfried's idea… He knew Smith doesn't smell much, and he thought it was funny, everyone smelling it, except Smith… but you… Feral?"
Smith also crouched to give Katie a hug. "I love you Katie, but never do that again, can you promise that? I will tell you everything later, first the introductions."

Katie nodded. Charlene and Robin also approached. Smith and Melany stood up again.
"And these two must be Charlene and Robin." Melany spoke while she reached out her hand to shake Charlene's. "I'm Melany, tailor. I heard you needed clothing to be recognized as a citizen of the Neutral Zone if you bring messages to the Humans, I can make those."
Charlene smiled. "I actually do have some clothes I think you made. An aunt, an other aunt than Smith knows, has given them to me. They are now torn, and my attempt to repair them failed, and I left them behind, but I really liked them. She told me they were made by a White Tigress, and those are rare."
Melany nodded. "Yes, I remember making those. Clothes for runners are a real challenge to make, and a good fabric was hard to find. It's a small world, isn't it?"

"And what about me?" Robin interrupted.
Melany smiled while she also shook Robin's hand. "Hmm… Fox… Tricky, maybe something asymmetrical, because of your archery, although I think I need some help from Jacques, I can only make comfortable clothing, beauty is not my profession."
Robin smiled. "I'm not used to wear clothing, I have only worn them once, because my parents wanted me to, but you telling me you make comfortable clothing, and a running Charlene happy with them I will try. I prefer comfort over beauty."
Melany smiled. "Smith asked me to make formal clothing for the Inimals with a special task here. You all have an official function here, you training archers, Siegfried is responsible for the safety in the forest, Charlene is a messenger who has to go to the Humans sometimes, a few other workers… plenty of work for me. Except Katie, she can stay the way she is, adorable with a lot of downy hair is not an official function."
Smith smiled. "Let's go inside, sitting at a table talks much easier than standing. And my legs hurt."

"I'm not fluffy!" Katie said while they entered the house.
"Yes, you are Katie, just like all other felines when they are your age." Charlene answered.
"And Foxes, Floris has a daughter, born the night John died, she is also very fluffy." Smith added.
"Floris a daughter? You have seen her?" Katie asked.
Smith nodded "And held her in my arms. And she opened her eyes for the first time in my arms."
"And she peed on you? I always did that with my father." Robin interrupted.
Smith grinned. "No, little Johanna did not pee on me, she moved a little before she peed, I noticed that, and I have avoided the little leak twice. But Melany did, and she didn't move. She was a Feral, and I have bought some brushes, also one for you Robin, and I have used one on her. She enjoyed it, and leaped on my lap to spend the night there. In the morning I thought she had cut me open, because I felt a warm liquid drip along my leg, and I thought it was my blood."
Siegfried grinned. "Well… One mud, one beer, one drool, two pee, two arousal… what's it going to be next, vomit?"
Smith also grinned. "Well… I have learned my lessons. Never carry someone on your shoulders, and never fall asleep with someone on your lap, that saved me from Johanna.

"Did you have sex with Melany? Did she bite your nose?" Katie asked.
Smith sighed. "Katie, it's not very polite to ask such questions. Get some money, and buy something to eat for us, make yourself useful and don't embarrass me."
Smith smiled at Melany. "I hope you like chicken, because Katie does."
Melany also smiled. "Of course. Nice and spicy. But erm… bed? I'm very large compared to you, do you have a large bed?"
Charlene nodded. ""We give Katie a lot of freedom, she is already allowed to make a lot of choices, and one of them was that she wanted to buy a large bed. We approved, because we have one spare room, and a small person can fit in a large bed, but a large person can not fit in a small bed. Money is not a problem for us, and sometimes working on instincts can be fun."
Siegfried started to grin. "My instincts resulted in Smith's fun. Maybe I should put something else on the towels next time, maybe you will find me a nice woman. A Wolf."
Smith laughed. "Well… then I would have been dead, because there were no feral Wolves, only her. Or have you smelled others? Charlene? Robin?"
Charlene nodded. "I smelled her, a White Tiger, that's why I didn't want to worry you. I know what you can do with Wolves, but you are no match for a White Tiger, but I also smelled an other Feline, although that was an old scent, maybe he had moved on. And I also have a confession to make… I approved the pee-prank, because of the Tiger I smelled, and I know that Ferals never attack others of the same species."
Melany smiled. "It was not only the scent, but also the way Smith acted. He is very gentle, for a Human."
They looked at Robin, who shook his head. "I have never thought of Ferals. My sense of smell is much better than yours, but if you don't know what you are sniffing for you won't notice it. I now recognize the scent, but it never occurred to me it might have been a Feral."
"We were attacked by and have killed a few feral Felines" Siegfried spoke "but we… Dolf… wanted to avoid them, because they were too dangerous. I only have smelled a male Tiger, further north, but he is of no concern."
Smith shook his head. "He is of concern, because the Foxes who live around the Inimal village are moving there, I have given them permission to settle there… You have no permission to go there to hunt him, and I think I am the only Human who is allowed there, if only I had more Inimal fighters we could kill him. It's forest, and no matter how good Robin is with his bow and arrow, and I am with my armbrust, those weapons are hard to use in a forest, you need swords and knives there."
Siegfried nodded and started to laugh. "Well… bring in the drinks for Melany and Katie, they have some peeing to do. That seems to be the best option we have now."
Smith shook his head. "No, no peeing on me. I will talk to Floris, he is responsible for the Foxes there, let's make it his problem, maybe he has a solution, but yes, I will tell what happened with me and Melany."

"So, you did have sex with her?" Katie asked when she entered the house again with a lot of chicken and some spices.
"No, I did not have sex with this Human, although he has given me a nice brushing and massage above my tail." Melany answered a bit irritated.
Smith nodded. "Sex is a choice, if she doesn't want it nothing happens, I should have said 'no' more often in my past. I always respect other people's territories, even if it's in my own house. Just like you and Charlene, one day per week she… may… be with me in my bed, but I will never be in hers as long as she lives here, she also will get her own house."

Charlene stood up to go to the kitchen.
Melany also stood up and went to the kitchen. "Shall I help you? You are already running an entire household, and cooking is a good way of showing gratitude."
Charlene smiled. "Normally Katie helps, but it's nice to have an adult female in my kitchen. Don't make it too spicy, Robin doesn't like that, he has to clean Katie's toilet."
Melany smiled. "I can do that as well."
Smith stood in the doorway. "I knew you would be talking about that, And I have decided to switch rooms, I will move upstairs, toilets for Tigers, although the first night you will have to use a bucket, the long bed is also upstairs, and I will move the beds tomorrow. And no, cleaning Katie's toilet is Robin's task here, everybody has to do something, mine is paying for everything."
Melany smiled. "Be careful you don't spoil Katie, I know money is no problem for you, but she has to learn how to be poor."
Smith nodded. "Of course. She will have to learn a lot, I will send her to school, and she will learn a trade, although I have no idea what that will be. She even may become a diplomat, because she will learn both flawless Human and Inimal, just like I do, and even may impress others by knowing Bergs and Elfique."
Melany smiled. "Or a queen."
Smith shook his head. "No, she needs a perfect partner for that, and the current king is already a Feline, I think that the previous was also a Feline, I think the next one will be a Badger."
Charlene started to grin. "Do you have the right permissions to be in this kitchen? Fill in the correct forms and get them signed."
Smith laughed, and left, and he went to the dining room again. Sent out of a kitchen again. His own this time. But he didn't mind. Charlene could tell Melany all about him.

"So, what have you been doing while I was away?" Smith asked when he entered the dining room again. He saw that Frank also had joined them.
"We laugh a lot, because there is a Wolf who wants to become an archer, but so far the safest place when he has a bow and arrow is straight in front of him. But he did set a distance record." Robin answered.
Smith shook his head. "Did you know the Inimal king wants an equal opportunity army? Everybody must be capable of doing everything, and I have spoken with a group of Inimal soldiers, and they all hate that idea. I do not want that Wolf with a bow and arrow, if he wants to use those he must go to the Inimal army, not in my militia."
Frank nodded. "Yes, I have spoken with a few builders who were at the quarry, you really want the best people at the best place, you really appreciate their specializations, and we must keep it that way."
Siegfried also nodded. "Yes, just let us do what we do best, I do not have the patience to sit here and do nothing. We have been very successful, but my punishment really gets in the way of my work."
Smith sighed. "You know what you have done, you know why I am punishing you. This is a very difficult choice for me. I could pardon you, and give you your home and some money in exchange for your work, or I must send you away, banishing you. It's not only my choice, there is an entire village… an entire Neutral Zone who has to agree."
Siegfried nodded again. "I understand your dilemma. But I have nowhere to go, I have committed my crimes at both sides of the border, I am wanted at both sides, this is the only place where I am safe. And…" Siegfried started to smile "I like my work. It's nice to be in the forest with people who appreciate you, and see the results after you leave. It guess you and Frank have the same feeling after you finished a piece of metal."
Smith nodded. "Unfortunately I'm afraid my shoulder gets in the way of working heavy metal again, I will never get the feeling again I really earned my hot bath, but I always can do the finer things, like etching. I saw that Katie was reading my book, have you already seen what I could put on your dagger?"
Katie shook her head. "There are so many symbols I like, it's very hard for me to choose. Brave, tall, strong, honest, love… so many possibilities."
Smith grinned. "It will be something very special. Something that has brought us together. You will be angry at first, but later you will understand, and be proud of your dagger."
Katie looked at Smith. "You are not going to tell it now, are you?"
Smith shook his head. "No, we eat it first… I mean… we eat first."
Katie grinned. "Chicken! you want to name my dagger chicken!… Why?."
Smith nodded. "Yes, I already knew you like to eat chicken because of our first meal, and if you didn't kill those chickens I would have never taught you how to use a sling. And not giving you that chicken meat was also a punishment. Chicken is a fitting name for it."

Melany and Charlene entered the dining room with the plates filled with a spicy chicken curry.
"Smells good, but I really have to go, there is someone waiting for me in my house." Frank said while he stood up.
Smith smiled. "Is she who I suggested before I left?"
Frank also smiled, but gave no answer when he left.

The chicken was even spicier than they ever had before. Robin winced when he tasted it.
"You don't like it?" Melany asked.
"Yes, I do like it, but this will definitely give me a second burn, tomorrow. And a third, when I do my work here." Robin replied with a face of disgust.
Charlene smiled. "I told her to be careful with the spices, but it's her feast, her second proper meal in years, after the rabbits Smith has killed and cooked. We have decided that tomorrow we have a steak, because Siegfried likes that, and the day after tomorrow chicken liver, because I like that. All Robin does is complaining about the food, but he never told me what he likes. What do you like, Robin? Then we can cook that after that."
Robin shrugged. "I really don't have a preferred food. But do you know how to prepare a goose?"
Charlene smiled. "Not really, but if you help me, and tell me what you like I can always try. Don't be upset when I fail at the first attempt, I want to learn how to cook everything, and maybe Smith knows something, he was an innkeeper in the past, we all have our own room in his house."
Smith nodded. "Of course I know how to prepare a goose. And duck, and pigeon, and pheasant, and quail… You really don't give me the chance to show my cooking skills. Maybe a bit of mutton after that, I really like that, although you carnivores can not taste the sweetness."

"Has Frank used the forge today? I really want to take a hot bath." Smith asked after dinner.
Charlene nodded. "Yes, he has been hammering on the anvil all week long, there even were some more men working in the smithy besides Frank, Robert and Willem, they have a lot of metalwork to do for the quarry, we have been taking baths every day, Katie says she is in heaven."
Smith frowned. "Heaven?"
Charlene smirked. "Yes, that is what those religious people call it where they go after they die and had a good life according to their book, and hell is a place where you go if you don't."
Smith shrugged. "Sounds boring. We are here for the living. Nobody has told me what happens when you die." Smith looked at Melany "What do you think, was being Feral like heaven or hell? We don't have the scars, it has not been bad I think, but I can not remember anything."
Melany also shrugged. "I also don't remember, and I don't care. I live now, and now I also want to take a proper warm bath. Can you brush me again?"
Smith grinned. "Only if you promise not to growl and snarl at me. And keep the water clean, a bath is not a river."
Charlene hugged Smith. "And me?"
Smith also hugged Charlene. "Of course. I even don't mind brushing Siegfried if he wants it. I have bought three Feline brushes and one Vulpine, but on Siegfried I want to use a wire brush, for no obvious reason."
Siegfried shook his head. "My brush is already on the shelf, no need to get a wire brush for me. And I can do my own brushing, you are nice, but not a Wolven female."

Robin also shook his head. "Touching each other is considered an intimate gesture among the Vulpine, I do not want you to brush me."
Smith nodded. "No problem, and now I understand why your kind are the archers, keep the distance."
Robin also nodded, and grinned a little, but said nothing. He slowly became an adult.

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Chapter 12 - Visitors

#15 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 12
Visitors

"<Good morning, is this the house of Smith?>" A visitor at the door asked.
"Goede meurgeur, ya, Smith lift hier" Katie answered.
Smith came standing besides her and smiled. "Almost correct Katie, but it's 'Goedemorgen. Ja, Smith woont hier', you really must practice on the 'goedemorgen' part, it now sounds a bit like the 'gut moaning' when a Human tries to say 'good morning'. And you must remember the difference between 'leven' and 'wonen'."
Smith looked at the visitor "<Good morning, yes, I am the one you can call Smith, smith by profession.>"
"<Ah, yes, then I am correct. Never expected a young Tiger to open the door. My name is not important, but I have a strange request.>" the visitor replied after a moment of staring at Smith.
Smith nodded. "<All right mister Not Important, let me hear it. I no longer do the heavy forging, but smaller items are no problem.>"
The visitor smiled. "<No, my name is not important for you to know, I am a part of a separatist movement in the far north-east, and they are looking for me.>"
Smith started to grin. He had a good night, and was really in the mood for some humor. "<All right mister Foryutonoo, I don't care about what you are, as long as you won't do any harm here. Tell me what you want, I will see what I can do for you, and you can be on your way again. Let's talk in the smithy, it's safer there.>"

The visitor politely took a slight bow towards Katie, and followed Smith.
"<All right, tell me what you need. Keep it brief, because I expect others here at any moment.>" Smith said while he put some coal on the forge, and ignited the firewood to start it.
The visitor nodded. "<Yes, I need a small weapon.>"
Smith also nodded. "<Yes, go on… single cutting edge, double cutting edge, pointed, blunt, keep it in your hand or throwing or shooting, poison container? You have told me a secret, now let me tell you a secret: I don't care to whom I am selling to. I made weapons for both the Royal Guard on the Human side and the Red Brigade on the Inimal side, a third side in a conflict is never a problem. As long as we keep it peaceful here in the Neutral Zone.>"
The visitor nodded and smiled slightly. "<No, it's a personal weapon, for my own defense. A small metal rod.>"
Smith nodded. "<Yes, I think I know what you mean. Small rod, as long as a dagger, as thick as my index finger, and very painful when you end up at the wrong end.>"
The visitor also nodded, and his smile broadened. "<You know that weapon?>"
Smith nodded again. "<Yes, it's a Bergvolk weapon. Easy to disarm an opponent with it, as long as you can grab his wrist.>
The visitor nodded again. "<I have seen some Bergvolk here. They are far away from their home, they even live far east of my home village.>"
Smith shook his head. "<No, the Bergvolk live west of here, across the sea, a bit to the west. And beyond the western mountains of the Inimal kingdom is also a group of Bergvolk.>"
The visitor started to laugh. "<Of course, the world is round. When you start walking in one direction from your front door you will end up at your back door eventually. That's why you can not see beyond the horizon at ground level, and only a bit further when you are at a higher observation point.>"
Smith nodded. "<You must be far away from your home. May I ask why you are here? You specifically asked for me.>" Smith pulled a rod from his stock of metal. "<Oh, look. No need to forge, only cut and grind. This is perfect.>"
The visitor smiled. "<You want to know why I am here? All right. It's because of the peace here. You managed to… erm… forge the four species together. You are a Human, a little Tiger opened the door and you taught her how to speak Human, I'm sure there are more Inimals living in your house, there's Bergvolk in this village, the clothing and the woodwork of the Elfique living here are famous, even the forests are getting safer. Seeing cut off branches in the middle of the forest is a bit odd, but I think those were ambush spots.>"
Smith smiled. "<It just feels… natural for me. I don't see different species, I see different people, each with their own specialism. Bergvolk hospitality and metal casting, the fine works of the Elfique, Human metal forging, Canine stonework, Feline woodwork… All working together to build something.>"

Siegfried had entered the smithy just when Smith finished the rod, looking at the strange man Smith was talking to. He walked to his weapons, which were stored in the smithy.
"Ah, Siegfried. This gentleman here just complimented you for making the forest safer. He said it's a bit odd to see a cut off branch in the middle of the forest." Smith greeted Siegfried.
Siegfried smiled. "Just tell him that's my work."
Smith nodded. "<The cut off branches in the forest are his work. He is a former criminal, and I spared his life, and that is among the best choices I have made in my life.>"
"Hey! don't tell him about my past!" Siegfried interrupted.
The visitor smiled. "<It's all right. I understand a little bit of Inimal, and this is what I meant, you just do, and it ends up fine. I wish we had Inimals living among us, but where I come from there are only Humans.>"
Smith nodded. "<Yes, but no two Humans are the same. There are also different groups of Human refugees living here, and they also have their own specialism.>"
The visitor smiled. "<Yes, I know. Some of them are from the same region I live. I came here to see how they are doing, and they all told me I had to talk to you, and now I understand why. And about the rod, I was just testing you. Every smithy I come I ask for the same thing, and you are the first who does not laugh, but simply makes it.>"
Smith nodded. "<That's all right. Do you mind giving a small demonstration of that weapon?>"
The visitor looked at Smith. "<On you?>"
Smith shook his head. "<No, on the Wolf, show him that blunt weapons are also very effective.>"
Smith turned towards Siegfried. "Siegfried, get a dagger from the shelf, and bring it outside. We will give you a small demonstration."

Siegfried did as asked, and got a blunt dagger from the shelf.
"All right Siegfried. Get your dagger ready, and attack that man."
Siegfried looked at Smith. "Attack? he has no real weapon, only the little metal rod you just finished."
Smith nodded. "Yes Siegfried, he has a small metal rod. Now attack him, and don't question me." and turning towards the visitor "<Please no permanent damage, no skull-cracking or bone-breaking. But he must feel it.>"
The visitor nodded, and got himself ready. Katie, Robin and Charlene had also had come outside to see what was happening.

It was a short fight. Siegfried was a bit overconfident in his skill, but a few seconds later he was on the ground, with the metal rod prodding his shoulder blade.
"Ouch, that hurts!" he exclaimed.
Smith laughed. "Siegfried, that was just humiliating. Do it again, and this time try to think before you do. He does have a weapon, keep your eyes on it."
The second fight lasted a few seconds longer, but Siegfried ended this time on the ground after a throw, and the metal rod prodding his chest. The dagger had flown from his hand, and was somewhere in the grass.
Smith shook his head this time. "Siegfried, Siegfried… that was not a sieg. He has more weapons, The metal rod is just an extension of one of them. Hands, feet, knees, elbows… If you know what you are doing your entire body is a weapon. Blades are an extension for nails, claws and teeth. Clubs, sticks, other blunt weapons and this metal rod are extensions for hands and feet. Never forget the other weapons… Katie, I have a similar rod in my room, can you get it?"
Katie nodded. "On your night-stand! I'll get it!" and went inside.

"I never knew what this thing was for. I thought it was just for fun." Katie said when she handed Smith his rod a few moments later.
Smith grinned. "No little Tiger, Human females use other items for fun. And metal is too cold. Now you have seen what it really is. I keep it in my room for protection, I have lived alone for a very long time, and I had to use it twice because there was someone in my room I did not invite. One ended up dead, I cracked his skull with it, and I think I have broken some bones of an other criminal who thought that he could rob me with it, but he got away. It might sound odd, but I don't like using sharp weapons, far too messy in a bedroom."
The visitor nodded. "<Yes, it is a very effective weapon. Suddenly I'm afraid, with you using a blunt weapon instead of a sharp weapon. But somehow I think you are also very capable with blades.>"
Smith nodded. “<A lot of practice fighting. Some people come in with a 'I want a sword' demand. There are dozens of types of swords, in all shapes and sizes. I look at their fighting style, and determine what they actually need. Stabbers get a different sword than slashers, those kind of things.>”
The visitor nodded. “<You must also know a lot of fighting styles. Now, attack me.>”

Smith assumed an attacking position, one end of the rod sticking from his fist, touching his wrist, in opposite of the way Siegfried held his dagger.
The visitor nodded. "<Now I am really afraid, you have a fighting style that is very hard to counter. I can not grab your wrist, pretending you are holding a dagger.>"
Smith grinned, and attacked. There was already a growing audience around them, not only the people who lived in his house, but also a few other Humans and Inimals were among them, and a few Kobolden from Uwe's inn have joined the group of onlookers. It was an intense fight, neither of them seemed to get the upper hand. They did not only use the rods, but their entire bodies. Arms, legs, fists and feet.

"<You are not fighting like a Human.>" the visitor remarked during a small break.

"<I have the feeling you are holding back, you don't have to, I'm used to pain.>" Smith replied, and attacked again.

The intensity of the fight decreased, both men were getting tired.
"<I am not holding back, I thought I hit you quite a few times, but you did not even flinch.>" the visitor remarked panting.
"<Did I hit you?>" Smith replied, sitting on his knees, also panting, and clasping his right shoulder.
The visitor shook his head. "<Not even once, but your fighting is indeed impressive, you are very strong, I had to give everything to counter your attacks.>"
Smith sighed, and got up again. "<I yield. I have an old injury that is giving me problems. You won, attacker always loses. I always let my customers attack me, if I am the attacker and win they always complain that I am not fighting fair, if I win defending they usually compliment me for being such a good fighter.>"
The visitor gave Smith a hand. "<Accepted. It is really nice to meet someone to practice with.>"
Smith nodded. "<You have won your rod, it is indeed nice to fight without the need to kill.>"
The visitor smiled. "<Thank you. I have lost mine, there is a hole in my pocket, and apparently mine has slipped right through.>"
Smith smiled. "<You can go to Melany, tailor, that White Tigress over there, and ask her to fix it.>”
The visitor nodded. "<I will. Thank you again.>"

Uwe had also joined the audience. "[That was incredible. I have never expected you here, and become friends with Schmied.]"
Smith looked at Uwe with his eyes squinted. "[You know him?]"
Uwe nodded. "[Yes, he is from the separatists, let's go to the inn, we can talk there.]"

They entered the inn, and went straight to the private quarters.
"[Why here?]" Smith asked.
"[Because of the spies, it's not safe elsewhere]" Uwe replied when he closed the door behind him.
Smith nodded. "[I understand. It's easy to tell a Human from an Inimal, but all Humans look the same. He has not told me his name, and now I understand why. He is really important.]"
Uwe and the visitor nodded. "[Yes, I am their leader. But my story was true, I was just curious, I wanted to know if the stories I heard are true, and they are. Erm… I prefer to continue in Bergs, if someone hears us he still couldn't understand.]"
Smith nodded. He spoke all languages.

An Ork woman entered the room.
Smith recognized her. "[You are the woman I woke up next to!]"
The woman nodded, and smiled. "[Yes, you gave me the best massage of my life. I had lower back problems, and you massaged them all away.]"
Smith could not believe what that woman just told him. "[But I… did we… what…]"
The Ork woman smiled. "[Oh no…You were far too drunken for sex, you just could not get it up, and decided to give me a massage instead. You just kept on complaining that I had no fur, and you missed the tail, but you really knew how to touch me.]"
Smith nodded. "[I only remember waking up in a room with vomit everywhere except the bed, and you smiling. I never knew what happened, until now. How long have you been living here?]"
The woman continued to smile. "[I came here less than a year after the start of this inn, Uwe is my husband. He does the outside things, I do the inside things, like cleaning and making sure Uwe can do his work. The reason you have never seen me is because you are always far too busy to notice me.]"

Smith nodded, and stood up again. "[Nice talking to you. And Uwe, and mister Notimportant Foryutonoo, I'm sure you two have a lot to talk about without me, I will leave you now. Goodbye!]"
When Smith came outside again Siegfried was waiting for him. "Who was that?"
Smith smiled. "Not important for you to know, but he is important for his people."
Siegfried nodded. "Did you know you switched to Bergs when Uwe also spoke Bergs?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, you understood what I said?"
Siegfried nodded again. "A few words. Enough for me."
Smith patted Siegfried on his shoulder. "Keep it secret, somehow I think we are getting into a lot of trouble with him here. But it could also be very interesting, with the Human king fighting on two fronts."
Siegfried nodded, but said nothing. Which was odd.

A few days passed, and a small group of Human soldiers knocked on Smith's door. He had heard the rumors of them being in his Neutral Zone, but he had not given them any attention, in the hope they would find what they were looking for, and leave without much of a hassle. Soldiers are not allowed in the Neutral Zone, because of the war, but Smith suspected they were not looking for Inimals.
Smith opened the door. "<Good morning gentlemen, what can I do for you? You want to buy new weapons?>"
The commander saluted, although Smith was not a soldier. Halfway his gesture the man realized what he was doing, and quickly dropped his hand. "<We are looking for someone. Have you seen him?>"
Smith's face showed no emotion. "<Who? Be more specific. I have seen so many people.>"
The commander's face got a nervous twitch. "<We are looking for a separatist, a dangerous man. Have you seen him?>"
Smith smirked a little. "<It would be very unwise to introduce yourself as a separatist to someone you don't know. What does he look like? Maybe I remember him. It is a man, right? no female?>"
The commander shook his head. "<We got the orders to look for him, but he is a very elusive person. He does not carry any visible weapons, but still he managed to kill people and sneak past them. We know it's a 'he' because females don't pee against a tent.>"
A few of the other soldiers snickered, but they were clearly a bit nervous. Smith noticed it. "<Are you sure you are not the victim of a prank of one of your own men?>"
The commander shook his head. "<No, he has taken out a guard, and did his evil deed. The only thing the guard remembered was that it was a Human suddenly becoming a Tiger, because of the way he moved. He moved swiftly and with an incredible agility.>"
Smith did not know what to think of this. He decided to play on with this game. "<A Tiger… Not a Leopard? Those are much stealthier.>"
The commander started to lose his temper. "<I know who you are, and what you are doing. Don't think I'm a fool.>"
Smith got his blank look again. "<You are not the fool, but is the guard? Can you trust him?>"
The commander sighed. "<Well… that guard was known for his drinking problem, maybe he made up a story… I don't know.>"
Smith nodded. "<Right, I will keep my eyes and ears open. And you know you are not allowed here, I want you to leave as soon as possible, there are Inimals living here, and they want peace.>"
The commander also nodded. "<Yes, that's also a subject I want to talk about. Inimal soldiers passing through the Neutral Zone, south of here, even south of the quarry, through the forbidden area.>"
Smith made a step sideways in the doorway, and made an inviting gesture. "<Come in, that's news for me. Tell me all about it. And don't get scared, I live with Inimals in my house.>"

After the introductions and the 'Ik ben niet pluizig!' from Katie in almost flawless Human and compliments for the work of Siegfried, the soldiers also had noticed it, Smith, the commander and Siegfried sat down at the table.
"<Well… Tell me about those Inimal soldiers who illegitimate crossed the Neutral Zone. Just like you they are not allowed to do that… I don't have eyes beyond the quarry… that's in production again by the way, producing the best quality of stone… and everything between the shore in the north and the quarry in the south is under my control… I was born in the Neutral Zone, south of that quarry, but I moved here, abandoning my old village, and I won't go there again, and I don't allow anyone to settle there.>"
The commander nodded, although Smith got the impression he was not really listening. He seemed a bit frightened of Siegfried and Melany. "<Yes, we do know about that attack, it's a part of our history, a true tragedy. Humans an Inimals living in peace, and then a stupid attack. We never knew what happened to the apprentice of the smith, but there were no survivors. Story goes he went crazy, and killed everyone. The king is a bit superstitious, and he has forbidden us to pass through that area, and the Inimals did the same, until a few weeks ago, we captured a group of Inimals who did.>"
Smith nodded. Telling those Inimal soldiers the truth was indeed a stupid idea. But he was not sure yet, it could have been an other group. "<Was there anything special about those Inimals… something like they were possessed or something?>"
The commander shook his head. "<No, they were completely sane. But I also have a confession to make: We also crossed that area. We were in the south for the war when we got the message to come here to apprehend the separatist, and we made a shortcut, that's when we encountered those Inimals. It was a relative large group, twenty-three of them… and something special… Well… they really had sharp weapons, and all but the Fox had a bald patch on their arm. We lost quite a few man capturing them.>"
Smith nodded. "<And the Fox?>"
The commander grinned. "<He was also wearing pants, and when we removed those it revealed that they had shaven him around his genitals.>"
Smith nodded again. "<And where are they now? I want to talk to them as well, ask them why they suddenly decided to cross a forbidden area, there might be more.>"
The commander also nodded. "<I understand your concern, but everything is under control. It was just a small group, not a complete army, and we caught them by surprise, the surviving Inimals are now in the prison of Schotenburg, a few days east of the Neutral zone. You know that place?>"
Smith started to smile. "<Of course I know that place. Does the tavern 'The Prancing Pony' still exist?>"
The commander started to laugh. "<Oh yes, that tavern still exists, but it's renamed after a fight, it's now called 'The Kicking Pig', because of a young fat boy defending his even fatter girlfriend.>"
Smith snickered a little, he remembered. "<Please tell me about it.>"

The commander sighed, and looked at the table. "<It was over twelve… no thirteen years ago. I was too young to go there, but my father has told me the story, that boy had kicked him so severe he could not have children any more, which was good by the way, I really want to thank that boy for that… six children is enough… I am the oldest of them and had to take care of them, that's why I joined the army… but here is the short version of the story. My father and some of his friends were making fun of an ugly fat girl, the butcher's daughter, when the fat boy and an older man entered the tavern, presumably a master and an apprentice of something. The boy said something about the making fun of the fat girl, and it somehow got to a bar fight, and the boy won, injuring several adult men. The old man just sat at the bar, laughing, but not interfering with the fight. My father told me that the boy looked like a pig, but fought like a Tiger, he was incredibly strong and surprisingly agile… It seemed like he could take on three Wolves at once if he wanted to, instead of three Humans on one Wolf.>"
Smith nodded, grinning slightly. "<Did that boy use a weapon?"> Faint hammering sounds could be heard from the smithy, Frank and the others already had begun forging.
The commander shook his head. "<The old man had an impressive sword, the boy had a small sword, but he did not use it, because then it would have been a true bloodbath. He only fought with his hands and feet. And the furniture… He smashed almost everything.>"
Smith nodded and stood up to open the door. "<Thank you for your time commander, and the information. As you can hear they are calling me, they need me in the smithy. I will take the shortcut, that door over there.>"

The commander and his men left, Smith closed the door, and the sound of marching feet could be heard for a few moments, and then it got silent again, except for the hammering sound coming from the smithy.

"So, you were that fat boy?" It was Siegfried who broke the silence.
Smith nodded. "Yes, that boy was me, and that girl was my future wife. As you can see, I have changed, and not only how I look, I'm not something you could call fat any more. And as you heard I have not always been this nice to others… I… I have killed in my past, I have injured…"
Siegfried stood up, and put a hand of Smith's shoulder. "But you have never been unfair. Killing and injuring criminals, defending somebody who needs help, I even can forgive you killing Wolves, because if you didn't…"
Smith put a hand on Siegfried's hand. "Thank you. And you are also not a bad Wolf, you also have honor in you. I know."
Charlene smiled. "I knew there is something changing, you are gaining weight again. I always thought Humans could eat both meat and plants, but you only have been eating meat since we met."
Smith nodded. "Well… then I will cook some vegetables for myself, and start to eat fruit again. I don't want to be called 'fat' again. The Neutral Zone is famous for those products, and if the Human king wants to eat it, why shouldn't I eat it as well? The Human king and I are the same species after all, and I even get a better quality."

After a few moments of silence Smith sighed.
"Something wrong?" Charlene asked in a worried voice.
Smith slowly nodded. "Yes, I was thinking about those Inimal soldiers… I have told those Inimal soldiers that the forest around my old village is safe to cross, and they did. Now I am certain those are the same soldiers I met in your village, because of the bald patches and sharp weapons. I feel responsible for them."
Siegfried started to smile. "Did you know that once taken prisoner an Inimal never may become a soldier again? Inimals are afraid the Humans do something to them that make them less… reliable."
Smith shook his head. He did not understand why Siegfried was smiling. But it slowly dawned on him, and he also started to smile. "Of course, not allowed in the Inimal army, but you and I are always complaining that we don't have Inimal soldiers, only worthless Human deserters and Inimal army rejects. This is our chance to get Inimal soldiers, and even better, Inimal soldiers who already trust me."
Siegfried nodded. "Yes, but there is a problem. They are prisoners now. Held in the prison of Schotenburg. How do you think you can get them here?"
Smith grinned. "Just go and ask. If I don't go I won't have them, if I can't have them I won't have them, if they are already executed and skinned I won't have them… I'm not a gambler, but this is a chance I am willing to take, I have nothing to lose, except a few days of not being here. I'm not a fighter, I'm a talker… Yes, I can fight, but sometimes people respond in very unexpected ways when I talk."
Siegfried smiled. "I think I just have to let you do your thing. You can pack your own gear, no pranks this time. Most Humans are harmless, and must be persuaded in a different manner. My preferred method was always a kind word and the tip of my sword at a throat, but I think you must only keep it with a kind word. You even got that sergeant to salute you."
Smith laughed. "Well… I come in peace, I have left my sword at home. Can I have the Inimals?"
Siegfried grinned. "I know you can do better. But it's a start."
Smith sighed. A sigh of relief. "I think there are some builders available, I will ask them to start building barracks and homes here, one of those soldiers told me has a son, and maybe more of them want to move their families here as well. I have much to arrange, it's still early, I will make the arrangements here, and leave tomorrow at first light, long days of walking. Getting them here is my first priority, they can sleep in tents. I won't carry a tent, because carrying a tent slows me down too much, put down my mat and blanket, sleep, and get up to walk again."

Katie gave Smith a hug. "Why don't you use a horse? they are much faster, and you won't get tired."
Smith smiled. "I don't want to use a horse with or without a carriage for my travels because that feels a bit… distant. I want to be close to the ground. And… ahem… horses tend to prance when I sit on them. They don't seem to like me."
Katie ginned. "I always thought horses were only afraid of Inimals, and never of Humans… a horse which is afraid of you is… odd."
Smith's smile turned into a grin. "Yes, and if you tell me I'm different you will get to eat liver while I'm away, don't insult me, fluffy."
Katie assumed her cute fighting position.
Smith's grin widened. Katie has taken the bait. "You have seen what I really can do in a fight without a sword. That rod is just an extension of a finger…" Smith started to prod Katie with his finger in a playful manner "Let's see if you made any improvements in your fighting. I don't know what you are doing when I'm not around, but you seem to be talking to a lot of people. If you were a bit older I would have taken you with me, but now you are just too young. Defend yourself!"

Smith started a tickle-attack. Katie managed to deflect some attempts, but many reached her soft body. She rolled over the floor laughing. Smith didn't stop this time, because the floor consisted of clean floorboards, not the dirt in front of the bench of Diego's old inn. Suddenly Smith felt something touch his body. Melany had sneaked up behind of him, and started a tickle attack on him.
Smith did not expect this, Melany always had been a bit distant towards him, like a good friend, but nothing more. Smith was on his knees for his playful attack on Katie, and quickly rolled aside, slamming against the chair Charlene was sitting on. Charlene grinned, and let herself drop on top of Smith, and also started to tickle him.
Smith managed to roll Charlene off him, and crawled towards Siegfried, who grabbed him and held his arms behind his back in a firm grip. "All right ladies, he's all yours now. Tickle him all you want."
Smith grinned. "You can tickle and prod me all you want, but just as with pain, I won't feel much."
Katie held a little feather in front of Smith's face. "I know, but you will feel this. François told me that a gentle touch sometimes has more effect than the hardest blow. Melany, can you take off his shoes and socks and hold his feet for me? I want to test something."

A few minutes later Frank opened the door between Smith's house and the smithy, and when he saw what caused the noise he laughed, and closed the door again. This was not for him, there was no need to help anyone. Katie, Charlene, Melany and Siegfried had pinned Smith down and took turns to tickle him. Even Robin was doing it, he was the worst for Smith. 'The fine art of tickling' was a new specialty of Robin.

Smith woke up early in the morning. He had slept alone this night. He took a cold bath to wash the Inimal scent off him. He could always smell which Humans worked with Inimals, and who didn't. He did not want to smell like one. It felt a bit like betrayal, but he had an important mission. Smith smiled a little at that thought… 'mission'… like he was a soldier.
He ate his breakfast alone, and packed the food for the rest of the day. He could hunt with his sling again, and that was the weapon of choice this time. And the metal rod, because he did not want to take a sword this time. The sling, rod and a dagger were the only weapons. Concealed weapons. Not appearing hostile.
He stood a few moments with his brass knuckles in his hand, feeling the weight. He knew how it feels to be on the other side of them, the Bergvolk had used all kinds of blunt weapons on him for his test. It were the sticks and clubs he remembered most, but later he learned most of the pain was inflicted by the smaller weapons. Smith put them back in their case, he came in peace to Schotenburg, not for a new bar-fight.

Charlene also came downstairs. She wanted to hug him, but he simply nodded. "I'm sorry I act this way, but I want to smell like a Human, some customers complained about the smell of Inimals, and well… I want to accomplish something."
Charlene nodded. "I understand. Have a safe journey, and don't come back alone. And no Feral this time, but good trained soldiers."

Smith smiled. "I'll try."
If it moves but shouldn't: Duct tape. If it doesn't move but should: WD-40. With a hammer everything fits, and if it still doesn't fit: bigger hammer. If it can't be fixed with a hammer it's an electrical problem.

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