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!"
"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.
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."