Forge of Kingdoms (NSFW) - Chapter 34

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Chapter 13 - Little Boy, Big City

#16 Post by Neutral Smith » Thu Apr 09, 2015 6:09 pm

Chapter 13
Little Boy, Big City

Smith saw the city he has visited a long time ago in the early afternoon. After the fight in the Prancing Pony he wanted to never show his face there again. But he has changed. Not many people would recognize him as he was today. Not the fat boy who really liked to eat good meat but was still incredible strong due to the heavy work in the smithy, and agile because of his playtime with the Felines, but a full grown man, although careful not to get fat again.
The city also has changed. In his memory it was a bustling small city, small in comparison to the capitol, but clean and safe. A walled city, with the prison with it's thick walls near the city walls, and the military barracks must be next to it. A living city.
Now it felt already a bit like the Inimal village, only the military kept it alive, and when it would be peace and the soldiers left this city would fall. Not because of an attack, but because of simple economics. No military means no business, not for the weapon-smiths who lived here, not for the butchers and bakers, not for the whores. Slowly this city will die, far too dependent on one thing, the military, and not even famous for it, like his village was for the fruit, vegetables, meat, clothing and woodwork. And his metal of course. Famous because of the co-operation between the species. This city was pure Human filth.
Smith sighed. This visit would not be pleasant, this city had become notorious for the fur-traders and poachers who sold the Inimal skins to become the inside of jackets and boots. In the past it would have been an honest trade, skinning the fallen Inimal soldiers, but now there were just criminals, attacking and killing Inimal civilians, criminals like those who were captured in his village, the murderers of Katie's parents. The honest war was further south.
Smith approached the gate, and looked at the guards. He had always thought the Human deserters in his village weren't good soldiers, but these guards were there only for the money, lazy and unshaven, their weapons not well-maintained, Smith even could see some specks of rust on their weapons and armor.
Smith looked at the gates. His former master pointed one day at the hinges of the gates, they had a flaw in their design, allowing water to collect on top of them. He was correct, Smith grinned a little. The defense for this city was the Neutral Zone, if the Inimals had decided to assemble an army to march into this city they wouldn't have a problem, the gates were tied to the walls with rope, the hinges were gone, and big chunks of rust was all that was left of them.

"<A copper for a victim! A copper for a victim!>"
Smith passed a beggar. A beggar with huge scars on his face.
The beggar looked at Smith. "<A copper for a victim! Look what Tigers have done to my face!>"
Smith stopped and turned around to take a better look at the beggar's face. "<Those are not the scars that a Tiger will give you.>"
The sad look on the beggar's face turned into an angry look. "<What do you know about Tigers? Don't you know how huge their claws are?>"
Smith smirked a little. Of course he knew.
"<All right. First, Tigers seldom use their claws, and if they do, they go for the bowels. Ripping you open, and pull out the intestines. Or go for the throat, ripping that one out. An eye is a lesser target, but when cornered they could go for that. I don't know what happened, but you still have yours. And they keep their fingers closer together, this looks like your face is clawed by a bear, but that would give much nastier wounds, the three scars closest to your nose are just too clean, like they were wounds inflicted with a knife. The one next to your ear is more interesting though, it looks a bit like something entered at your chin, puncture, and left at your cheekbone, ripped… down to up, in contrast to a Tiger slash, which goes up to down. I think you just walked into something, and tried to make it look more appealing. Have a nice day.>"

Smith walked on. When he turned around to do so he noticed that a few people had stopped to listen to his conversation with the beggar. Now they were walking again, towards the beggar. They didn't look like the beggar's friends, more like the beggar's victims, and now they wanted their money back. Smith turned a corner, and suddenly he heard the beggar scream in agony. No friends indeed, Smith did not want to turn around to see if the guards would interfere. Probably they wouldn't, one unwanted person less in their city, and they didn't even have to move for it. The city had indeed become more grim.

Smith stopped in front of a closed shop. The butchery of the parents of his now dead wife. It was closed, and by the looks of it Smith guessed it has been for a long time.
"<Thinking about that fat pig? And the making fun of her? Good for her she left, she wouldn't have survived here.>" a passer-by suddenly said.
Smith slowly nodded. "<Yes, it has been a long time since my last time here, I guess I was lucky.>"
The passer-by grinned. "<Yeah, that fight for her was famous. Things seldom change here, but that boyfriend of hers managed to get a tavern to change it's name in a single fight, I wonder what happened to that boy.>"
Smith nodded again. "<You can not see a tree grow, but if you come back after a few years you can see it has.>"
The passer-by turned around and walked away again. "<Stupid big city Elven nonsense. Bah!>"
Smith followed the man a few moments with his eyes. Things seldom change… but this city has changed a lot, and he has left an impression. Smith walked on. The Prancing Pony… no… The Kicking Pig was just a few blocks away. Smith looked at the sky. Stupid buildings, he could not see the sun through a canopy. And the pavement beneath his feet also felt strange, he was used to the soft fields and the soft forest floor. And the smell of the fields and the forest, the city really stinks. And there are not even Tigers here.

Smith arrived at The Kicking Pig. Would it still have rooms? And would they recognize him? After a few moments of hesitation Smith opened the door. The interior has changed much. But there was not much furniture intact when he left the last time. There were a few guests at the bar.

"<Good afternoon sir. You have a reservation? You look like a traveler.>"

Smith looked at the man behind the bar, but avoided direct eye contact. It was still the same man, but he looked much older. It has been thirteen years after all.
"<Reservation? I just want to eat and spent one night here, and then go on with my journey. I have no reservation, but if all rooms are occupied I will move on.>" Smith replied.
The man behind the bar looked more intense at Smith. "<We have rumors of an individual in this region who is not wanted here. We don't have his name, but we do know that he is unarmed but still very dangerous, and you seem to fit into that description… Erm… I said not wanted, but he is wanted, he has a huge prize on his head. Reservation part was just for getting a name. I never forget a face, if I manage ever get to know that individual's name I can give a description of him.>"
Smith pulled out his dagger. "<I am a smith, but I don't like swords, I see those every day, I prefer a razor sharp dagger as my weapon of choice. And my name is Peter.>"
The bartender nodded. "<A smith named Peter… right… And you also don't look like that fat boy from over twelve years ago, he owes me a lot of money… well… that's history, you are not one of those two.>"
Smith nodded. "<Right, and I don't think you will see that boy ever again. Fighters won't get old. Let's hope he joined the army, and that they used him as a living shield or something, then he would have been of some use.>"
The bartender started to grin. "<That would be a very fitting end for him. How many arrows would he have caught? I think six.>"
Smith put on a fake grin. He did not want to talk about this subject, but he did also not want to raise a suspicion. "<I think eleven… or was that his girlfriend… I have heard some stories, but I don't know which ones are true.>"
The bartender started to laugh. "<I wanted to rename this tavern to 'The Pig and the Kicking' at the reopening, but 'The Kicking Pig' just sounds better… So, pork for dinner?>"
Smith nodded. "<Sounds good. But I don't need the kick, I need clear thoughts tomorrow, some negotiations to do.>"
The bartender winked at Smith. "<I understand. You want to buy some ripped skins, not to get ripped yourself. Be careful, I can see it's your first time around here, those skinners won't hesitate to kill Humans as well when they smell money.>"
Smith nodded. "<Yes, trading metal is something completely different from trading skins… But in times of need you need to be creative. I'm an honest smith, and I want to sell good metal, metal that makes us win the war, but the king does not seem to want that.>"
The bartender went to the kitchen, muttering something Smith could not quite hear. Something with 'king' and 'idiot'.

Smith sat down at a table, his backpack between his legs, Smith did not trust the individuals at the bar, but his back facing the bar and the door to avoid recognition. He has changed, but you'll never know…
After a while the bartender came back with a simple plate with a piece of pork, burnt on the outside, but probably still raw on the inside and unseasoned, some unrecognizable green stuff and something that looked a bit like a potato next to it, and a key. "<Here's your dinner. Enjoy it. The key is for your room, past the pumps upstairs, backside.>"
Smith looked at the plate. "<I'm not an Inimal, but this will do. I've had worse on my journey.>"
The bartender shrugged. "<I don't care. You pay for this, not me.>"
Smith grinned. "<If I call this bad, I wonder how bad the other establishments are. I can take the chance, and eat and sleep somewhere else next time I'm here, or just here again because I already know what to expect.>"
The bartender burst out in laughter and went to the bar again, somebody was waving with an empty glass.

Smith ate his dinner. Ate, not enjoyed it. There was a sign on the wall he was facing with the prices. Dinner costs one small silver and five big copper, a night costs four small silver, and breakfast would cost him another small silver and five big copper. Smith pulled out the exact amount of coins out of his purse for the dinner, the room and the breakfast, and put them on the bar, making sure the bartender noticed it, and went upstairs. One look at the pumps had changed his mind, no shower today, he would roll in a puddle of mud on the way home, that was a little bit cleaner.

The night was reasonable, the bedroom hasn't changed in thirteen years, and the bedding neither. Breakfast was just as good as his dinner, a few chunks of bread, with a sliver of some kind of dried meat. Smith politely declined the lunch, he would eat that elsewhere, preferably outside the city with the people he came for. The imprisoned Inimals…
Smith did not exactly know where the prison was in this maze of streets, only a vague direction, but the city was not very large, it would just take a few hours to find it. Smith wandered about in the city. Finding your way in a forest was much easier, only winding paths, the city was a maze with intersecting roads and dead ends. Smith heard a familiar sound, the sound of someone hammering metal on an anvil. He stopped momentarily in front of the smithy to look inside.
"<Get lost! we don't have work here for you!>" the smith inside called out in an angry voice.
Smith nodded, and said nothing. He was already lost. And would never want to work there, in an instant he saw the lack of quality of the metalwork here, no wonder there was no work, there simply was no demand for this hammered scrap metal. He walked on.

Suddenly Smith smelled a familiar scent, a Tiger who has taken a dump somewhere. There were still Inimals living in this city after all. Smith tried to locate the source of the stench, it was still fresh, but relative far away, maybe even a hundred paces. Smith tried to feel where the wind was coming from. That was easy, the streets formed funnels, he did not pass a Tiger on his way here, so he or she must be up ahead, Smith walked on.
A few hundred paces further he came across a building site, a nearly finished house, with a Tiger on the roof, placing the roof tiles, and a Wolf handing them. Smith walked towards them, always nice to talk to Inimals, and they might like it to hear their own language once in a while from a Human.
"Good morning, I'd like to ask you a question!" Smith called out to them.
They looked at him in disbelief. Of course, they were not used to Humans fluent in their language, they only heard the Human language here. "Yes, what is it? You… you speak our language?" the Wolf asked after a while.
Smith nodded, but before he could open his mouth the door of a shack flew open, and an unfriendly looking Human male came out. "<Speak Human ya filthy animals, or I'll skin ya! Where's the third one, I'll skin him first!>"
Smith took a few steps forward, and put a hand on the man's shoulder. "I'm here, right behind you."
The man dashed forward, away from Smith and spun around, a dagger in his hand. "<You… you are a Human… speaking their filthy language.>"
Smith nodded. "<But I speak Human as well. I just wanted to ask… them… a question, you can go back inside and do whatever you did.>"
The man got a really angry look on his face, he turned bright red. "<They are working for me, they are not for sale.>"
Smith nodded again. "<If you want them to work better, then you must put the Wolf on the roof, and the Tiger handing him the roof tiles, the Wolf is far better at placing them, Felines for carpentry, Canines for masonry.>"
The man took a few threatening steps forward. "<Mind your own business, or I'll cut ya! It has been thirteen years since my last defeat, I can take you, you are not even armed.>"
Smith grinned. "<That fat boy also didn't use his sword. Why do you think you can win this time? I'm an adult.>"
Smith pulled out his metal rod and twirled it around in his fingers. This could be fun.

"<Hey!>" A Human woman called out from the street. She was standing next to a wooden fence. Through the cracks Smith could see some more figures move, she was not alone.
The man with the dagger in his hand looked at the woman. "<Nice. First slice this idiot, then impale that nice piece of meat.>"
The woman did not move, Smith grinned. She was not brave, she had a backup. Smith could feel the wind come from behind, and where he stood the stench of the Tiger droppings was stronger than ever before. The place the Tiger used as a toilet was behind Smith. This could really be fun.
Suddenly the man lurched forward, in an attempt to stab Smith. This was not a fighter, he was just bluffing. Smith simply made a sidestep, and pushed the man over his extended leg while deflecting the dagger with his rod. The man landed with his face in a puddle of hopefully mud, but the increase of the stench suggested something else. This could give Smith a problem, he wanted to stay clean. He did not have a throwing dagger, and the man was too close to him to use his sling.

"<I said stop!>" the woman called. She might have said it before, but Smith hadn't noticed it.
She walked towards Smith, a few Human males followed her. Soldiers. With very familiar weapons. 'Just what I need when I want to stay out of trouble' Smith thought with a grimace. ‘I have seen her before’ a second thought added.
"<Peter?>" the woman asked.
'Who?' Smith thought.
"<Are you the Peter from the tavern?>" She asked again.
Smith suddenly realized she meant him. "<Yes, I'm Peter. Smith. And you are?">
The woman gave Smith a hand. "<I'm Mary, Inimal affairs, although not from the Ministry of Inimals. And I think I am mistaken, I thought you wanted to buy skins, something I want to prevent, but now you appear to speak Inimal and being friendly towards Inimals. Who are you?>”
Smith blinked with his eyes. He did not know what to do. Continue his lie, or tell the truth about who he was, and blowing his cover.
Finally Smith sighed. "<All right… My name is not Peter, that was a lie, you can call me Smith. And I also lied about buying skins. I want living Inimals, from the prison. The only true thing I have told is that I am a smith, a smith from the Neutral Zone… The… smith from the Neutral Zone.>"
Mary started to smile. "<We are doing our best to stop poaching and skinning, we have spies everywhere… we are with few, we heard you talk in the tavern and decided to follow you… and finding this building site with two Inimals working and probably living in horrible conditions is already a victory. And you starting to talk in Inimal to them and telling me that you are from the Neutral Zone and you want to save Inimals… Do you want to work for us?>"
Smith shook his head, and gestured the Tiger and Wolf to come closer. "<Maybe these two can work for you. They might know more Inimals living and working in this city. I have other work to do.>"
Mary shook her head. "<No, that's… not allowed. Only Humans may work here.>"
Smith nodded. "<Well… get some pencils and paper, they will tell me everything they know, and you 'accidentally' hear that. You two understand what I'm saying?>"
The Tiger and the Wolf nodded, but said nothing. "Or you only understand Human, but don't speak it… Then you can tell me how many Inimals are working in this city in your own language, I will translate it."
The Wolf nodded. "We are the last two outside the prison, the rest of us are captured or skinned. We stayed alive because together we are the best builders, unfortunately working for the wrong man."
Smith nodded. "All right… I am not allowed to ask it, but I suggest you to move to the Neutral Zone, it's safer there, and we really could use some builders. I wanted to ask you directions to the prison, but I will ask it the lady instead."
The Wolf and the Tiger nodded. Smiling. "We will. And thank you."

Smith turned towards Mary again, her men had pulled the slaver… Smith could not find a better word for him… from the mud and he was standing between them "<All right Mary, these are the last two free Inimals here, I have suggested them to move to the Neutral Zone, they will be safe there.>"
Smith looked at the soldiers, and had a difficult time not to laugh at the facial expressions of the soldiers, they hated their job today. "<Normally Tigers bury their droppings, I suggest you do the same, or find a pump.>"
"<Milady, you think this man can be trusted? We want to wash this pig.>" one of the soldiers asked.
Mary nodded. "<Yes, I think this Neutral Zone smith can be trusted. If something happens we can always go to the Neutral zone and get him, there are not many Human smiths who speak Inimal.>"
Smith started to laugh. "<Well lady, then you really must come to the Neutral Zone, a lot of Humans there speak Inimal, at least all the metal-workers, and most Inimals there speak Human.>"
Mary started to smile. "<I will, you really make me curious, Humans and Inimals living in peace together.>"
Smith nodded. "<What I wanted to ask are directions to the prison. We have a problem with crime in the Neutral Zone, and there are some soldiers there I know, and I want them to work for me, make the forest safer, they are not allowed in the Inimal army any more because they were imprisoned by Humans, but I can use them.>"
The smile from Mary's face dropped. "<I really wish I could help you, but I have no jurisdiction there, I only can wish you the best of luck, but the prison is at the end of this street, just around the bend.>"
Smith smiled. He had walked in the right direction after all. "<Thank you. And thank you for helping the Inimals here, I never expected to find that here.>"
Mary nodded "<I know. Sometimes it feels like a hopeless fight, but you are a spark of hope again. I really hope to see you march out of this city with your… I mean free Inimals.>"
Smith smiled. "<I really hope so, you are the prettiest thing I have seen so far. Smiling Inimals can be a bit unsettling if you are not used to it, but that is also a pretty sight. But that's something you won't see, I really have to put on an act.>"
Mary nodded. "<I have already seen it, these two were smiling when you asked them if they wanted to come to the Neutral Zone. You need a ruse to get the others, but somehow I have the feeling you will succeed with your daring act, I wish you the best of luck.>"

Smith walked on. That woman was… Well… she was different. Smith smiled. He guessed people felt the same about him, very persuasive. He wanted to continue his lie about who he was, but somehow she managed to break it. But the two soldiers were also two very good arguments to tell the truth, they wanted to help Inimals, and him confessing he wanted to buy skins would be… stupid.

The prison came into sight, a large, dark building, with a lot of barred holes in the walls. Despite of the dark and gloomy building Smith smiled, beyond it he could see grass, must be an exercise field for the military or something, there were soldiers marching around, but is was the first grass or even natural green thing he has seen since he entered the city… And there was something else, which made Smith drop his smile again. It was silent. He could only faintly hear the shouts from the soldiers, but he heard no Inimal sounds. This was a place of torture and death, but no screams, no growling, nothing… like the Inimals there accepted their fate, live until killed and skinned. Smith wondered how many Inimals would be there. He could see dozens of barred windows, but no movement behind them. If you accept your fate you are not going to look out of a window to see the free world, but you just sit down and wait for the end.
Smith approached the door. There was a small sign next to it, '<No skins for sale.>' it read. It felt a bit like a lie, you are not letting good skins go to waste. Smith sighed, and reached for the door knocker.

The knocker made a loud and hollow sound. Smith thought about what he would say. A small hatch in the door opened, and an unfriendly face appeared. "<Who is there, and what do you want>"
Smith had made up his mind. "<I'm Bob from the Neutral Zone, and there has been a mistake, and I'm here to correct it.>" The hatch closed, and a few moments later the heavy door opened.
"<All right, let me hear it.>" the soldier simply said.
Smith nodded. "<All right, I'll keep it brief. Some of my men are here. They are builders, and they were captured by mistake.>"
The soldier nodded. "<Hmm… I have to take you to a higher ranked officer, the actual warden himself, but I warn you, he is not friendly.>"
Smith nodded. "<No problem, I am also not a friendly person, I am really upset about what happened, we really might like each other.>"
The soldier smirked a little. "<Or kill each other, that wouldn't be a loss here.>"
They walked through empty corridors. It smelled… clean… not the familiar Inimal scents.
Suddenly the soldier looked over his shoulder. "<As you might have noticed, it's clean here. We want to keep the Inimals in the best possible condition, then they have the most value for us. Unfortunately we have some problems with Inimal Affairs, but the minister's wife is our best client… and the funny thing is, we keep the Inimals in the best possible condition because of the Inimal Affairs people, they want to see healthy Inimals with a shiny coat, and those earn us the most money… Ah, here we are.>"

The soldier knocked on a door, similar to all the other doors in the corridor.
An unpleasant voice called "<Enter!>" from inside the room, but the soldier who had accompanied Smith was already walking away.
Smith opened the door. It lead to an unpleasantly filled room. The walls were lined with all kinds of Inimal skins, even some of species Smith did not recognize at first sight. He grinned a little when he finally did. A deer's skin, and some rabbit skins.
"<Come further, and tell me why you are smiling.>" the man to whom the unpleasant voice belonged spoke again.
Smith nodded. "<I'm Bob from the Neutral Zone, and I was grinning because not all skins here are Inimal.>"
The man, the warden of this… hell?… stood up. "<Point out a large skin that does not belong to an Inimal, and tell me what it is.>"
Smith walked towards the deer's skin. "<This one is from a deer.>"
The warden nodded. "<You are correct, this is an animal I killed myself, with a bow and arrow.>"
Smith started to smile. "<You take a lot of pride in killing. For me a deer is just food, nothing more. I have killed so many animals in my life that I have lost count, I only remember the special ones. Ever managed to kill a boar?>"
The warden shook his head. "<No, and I don't think you are here for talking about animals. You have something to do with Inimals.>"
Smith nodded. "<Yes, that is the main reason why I am here. Human soldiers have made a mistake in the Neutral Zone, and I am here to correct it.>"

The warden sat down again. "<Go on. It's a miracle those idiots actually managed to capture living Inimals. Because that is why you are here, am I correct?>"
Smith nodded. This was easier than expected. "<Yes, I don't know what those soldiers have told you, but they have captured some of my men, Inimal builders, in the Neutral Zone.>"
The warden nodded. "<Go on.>"
Smith looked at all the skins lining the walls. "<I want them back. They refuse to wear clothing, but I ordered them to shave an arm for recognition. The Fox refused that as well, and I have given him a different treatment.>"
The warden stood up again, and beamed towards the door, and opened it to look down the hall. "<Who brought you here?>
Smith smiled. "<A guard… I think it actually was a soldier… who opened the front door for me, but he was called away as soon as we arrived here, I don't know where he is now.>"
The warden nodded. "<Right, I know they don't like me, you don't have to cover for them, but I like that attitude, a man who is taking care of others. I'll take you to where we keep the Inimals. Those soldiers are just too stupid to care.>"
Smith followed the warden through an other set of corridors. Here he could start to smell the Inimal scents. Not all Humans like those, and want to stay away as far away as possible from them. They passed several closed tight doors, not even a window in it to let some air through. The corridors were in dire need of some fresh air, the torches were not helping with that.

Finally they passed a larger guarded door, the soldiers guarding it saluted, and opened the door, and from somewhere else two actual guards came to accompany Smith and the Warden. The scenery changed. The air was breathable again because there were barred windows without glass, and there were rows of large cages here, but none of them next to a window.
The men stopped. "<In this wing on this floor we keep the Inimal prisoners. We entered at the Human side, this hallway is U-shaped, and at the other end is the Inimal entrance and they are… processed. Seventy-four cages here, unfortunately we mainly have worthless Cats and Dogs here, a small group of Inimals with the shaved arm and a Fox with a shaving around his genitals… your men I presume… are near the end of this hallway, because they are of greater value, three Wolves, two Tigers, a Leopard and a Fox, despite of the bald patches and the shaving. Unfortunately for you we already have killed the Cat and Dogs in your group, a Cat with a bald patch is worth even less than a fully haired Cat. And we already processed the Panther Leopard, despite the patch he was worth four small silver. And the Hound is somewhere else.>”
Smith nodded, and looked at the cages with the trapped Inimals. The leader of the… his… soldiers gone. And some fighters.
"<And what about the Hound?>" Smith asked.
The warden started to laugh. "<Well… that's a funny story, he is our new cook.>"
Smith started to smile. "<Your cook making meals for Humans, or for the Inimals here?>"
The warden laughed even louder. "<He is our cook, an Inimal cooking for Humans. And he is the best cook we ever had.>"
Smith continued to smile. "<Of course, he was also my cook. But be careful, he also knows a lot about poisons.>"
The laughter of the warden abruptly stopped. "<You mean he might poison us some day?>"
Smith nodded "<That is always a possibility. Inimals are the best builders, and he was in the group acting as a cook. I ordered them to work together with a group of Humans one day, but he didn't like them, and he poisoned the Humans. He does like me, but when my meat suddenly tastes like bitter almonds I know it's too late, and I know I have done something that has upset him.>"
The warden nodded. "<This information also might upset my men, but you also might have spared their lives. Thank you… I think.>

Smith smiled. "<All right, enough talking, I want to see my men. You understand Inimal? Because they don't understand Human I will talk in their language, being neutral means I have to speak in the language of the person I am speaking to.>"
The warden nodded. "<I understand. Are you looking for work? we really need someone who could help us with… interrogations.>"
Smith shook his head. "<I am far too busy myself, and I don't like the city. I want to live in a village, where I can feel grass and see trees.>"
The warden started to smile. "<From my window I also can see grass and trees, but I prefer the city, hard protecting stone walls and soft women.>"

They walked on until they reached the cage with the soldiers. Seven left of the twenty-three he had met in the Inimal village. And the Hound somewhere else.
Smith decided to go on a blunt approach, they might get the hint, and play along. "I told you not to wander too far off to the border of the Neutral Zone. Your work was in the village there, not further to the east, I told you there might be trouble there. You were lucky two of you escaped, and warned me about what happened, that's why I am here. Those Humans were also wrong, entering the Neutral Zone, but you simply should have kept yourselves hidden, or run away. And those Humans lied to the people here, they told that you are soldiers, but they will get their punishment for that."

A Wolf stepped forward, he was the new leader now. The Wolf who had talked to Smith about his son. "I don't know what you are doing here, but I think the best thing I can say is that I am sorry."
Smith nodded. "Apologies accepted. We are going home now, don't let this happen again."
Smith looked at the warden and the soldier guarding them. "<They have apologized themselves, both sides have made mistakes. Bring the Hound here, and then we are going home.>"
The warden gestured at the guard to do so. Smith looked at the other cages. So many Inimals, so many… people… he wanted to help. If there only was a way to do so. He could pay for them, four small silver for a Panther Leopard was not much, maybe five small silver if he didn't have the bald patch, the rest of them are 'worthless' as the warden has told him… But paying for all the Inimals here might give him even more problems. He didn't have proper housing for them, and there were Inimals among them he didn't like, pure criminals who wouldn't hesitate to kill him.

"Hey!" a Wolf in an other cage called out.

"<He is very dangerous, don't come too close to him.>" a guard whispered in Smith's ear.
Smith walked towards the cage. "What?"
The Wolf grinned. "Come into my cage, and I will kill you."
Smith nodded, and grinned. "Don't think I am afraid of you. I don't know how many Humans you have killed, but I have killed thirteen Wolves in my life, and assisted with two more. One more is not a problem." Smith turned towards the guard who was left. "<Open his cage, I'm going in.>"
The guard blinked with his eyes. Was this man insane? "<Whoa… are you sure? he is really dangerous…>"
Smith sighed. "<Trust me, I'm older, my reflexes are not as good as they used to be. I'm not taking my weapons with me into his cage, he'll be fine.>"
The guard nodded, and got his key-chain from his belt, and intended to open the cage.
Smith stopped him before he reached the cage. "<You better unsheathe your sword, I may not be his first target. Show me the proper key, I can let myself in.>"
The guard nodded, and held out the key-chain, holding it on a single key. Smith got the key, and in return he handed the guard his dagger. "<Be careful with it, it's sharp.>"

After a few moments of standing still Smith sighed, there was something in the Wolf's eyes… a spark of hope… very close to becoming feral but still holding on to life… and proceeded to open the cage. The guard had given the Warden Smith's dagger, it already had drawn blood, the warden was testing how sharp it was, and in the process he had cut his finger. Smith grinned a little when he noticed it. Smith stepped into the cage, but left the door open. The Wolf took a few steps back. Smith knew he had to be very careful, one wrong move, and the Wolf could go Feral, and kill him.

Slowly Smith walked around the Wolf. "You see, I'm not afraid. It is you who is afraid. But you have something in you, something that I can use. Not your skin, not your bones, not your flesh. But your will to live. You want to help, but you feel helpless. I am capable of giving you that chance, but you have to take it. I'm going home now, but I'm not forgetting you. I will find a way to get you out of here, I think I can use you. Not the White Wolf in that cage over there, he will be very good looking if he maintained his fur better, but he is noting more as a sentinel or something, I want moving, I want talking Inimals. Not the Lioness in the same cage, they can do administration, but I don't have much paperwork, and Badgers or even Humans are better at it. No Cats and Dogs, I already have enough of them. I want intelligent Inimals. You look like you are very smart, can you read and write?"
Smith had finished his walk around the standing Wolf, and stood in front of him again.
The Wolf nodded. "Yes, I can read and write… but why are you asking me?"
Smith nodded. "You'll see, be patient."
Smith walked out of the cage, and closed it again. He saw that the Hound was brought in. "All right, we're complete… although I have lost some good builders…" "<Oops, wrong language. I said that we are complete… well… almost, I have lost some very good builders… And I think I have saved you from a gruesome death.>"
The warden nodded. "<That was very impressive what you did there. You are truly neutral, you stand between the Humans and Inimals. Let's use this exit, I don't like the Inimal stench in my quarters.>"

Before Smith stepped into the daylight again he turned around and reached for his pocket. "<Warden. That Wolf in cage sixty-nine. I want him, but not today. Here are three small silvers, much more than his skin is worth… I want him alive. I will send someone to bring him something, a book for him to read, it might change his mind and calm him down. That someone is a Cheetah, because those are the fastest messengers.>" Smith sighed. "<If something happens to her that means war. This city has almost no defense, the gates are wide open and can not be closed, your solid stone walls will turn it into a death trap, and the Human soldiers I have seen here are worthless. If something happens to her I will ask the Inimal king to assemble an army, and destroy this city, I will open the Neutral Zone for him. If something happens to her I want to see your head on a silver plate. You said I stand between the Inimals and the Humans, and you are correct. I am a Human, but the Inimals are my friends, I indeed take care of others, but a life of someone I don't like has no value for me, and I don't like you. I want to see that Wolf in cage sixty-nine again in two months, in good health. And I want my dagger back, It's far too dangerous for you. Already cut yourself with it, somehow I don't believe you killed that deer.>"
The warden nodded, and handed Smith his dagger again. "<I thought you were just a simple Human. You are no soldier, but somehow you scare me. I will receive the book, and make sure the Wolf still lives when you get here. And somehow I think you also want the other Inimals, if you pay for them that can be arranged.>"
Smith nodded and then shook his head. "<Yes, I can use some of them, but others are better off dead. That Wolf was different, but I saw some Dogs where I do not dare to go into their cage. It might take some years, but I will return here to get them, the usable ones. Thank you for your time, and don't disappoint me.>"

The warden nodded, and reached out his hand. "<All right, I'll see what I can do to keep them alive and in good health. See you in two months.>"
Smith grabbed the hand, and shook it. It was not a handshake of friendship, but a handshake of understanding. 'Do as I say, or else…'

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Chapter 14 - Behavior

#17 Post by Neutral Smith » Thu Apr 09, 2015 6:11 pm

Chapter 14

The door closed, and Smith sighed. The rest of the little group said nothing.
Smith nodded and smiled. "All right, the things I have said might have confused you, but today my name is Bob, constructor in the Neutral Zone, and you are builders who wandered off and got captured by Human soldiers, who also were at a wrong place. You must keep to that story, but let me do the talking. Let's move, before we raise suspicion."
The soldiers nodded, and the long walk began. They neared the building site where Smith had liberated the Wolf and Tiger builders. When the little group approached the site the Wolf and the Tiger, and Mary appeared.
Smith turned towards the Soldiers "It's all right, this is the only Human I trust here. And the Tiger and the Wolf are coming along with us, but I want to talk to Mary, I have to ask her something."
The soldiers nodded "Go ahead, we trust you, your friends are our friends. We have no choice but trust you." the leading Wolf in the group spoke, already at a commanding tone.

Mary smiled when she saw Smith and the soldiers "<You succeeded! congratulations!>"
Smith shook his head. "<Not a complete success, they were with twenty-three, and now there are eight left. But I want to ask you something… There is a Wolf in a cage in the prison, cage sixty-nine, and I want to give him something, a book. A female Cheetah will bring it, and if you see her, help her. I will tell her about you, but you must not wait for her, that might raise suspicion.>"
Mary nodded. "<Cage sixty-nine, Wolf, must get the book a Cheetah brings, help if I can… understood. Go now, or you have to finish this house.>"
Smith nodded and started to grin. "<But first these two must be paid for the work they have done.>"
Mary nodded again. "<I think I understand. Your intentions are stealing the money from their boss, and give it to those who worked here for that money.>"
Smith also nodded. "<Yes, give the money they deserve, and if there's a surplus of money that can go to the Inimal Affairs, I'm sure you can use it. And we take the weapons we can find here. Clean weapons, or the Tiger wants a certain dagger, which is in the stinking mud over there.>”
The Tiger builder shook his head. "No, I know what I've done there, everyone can smell it, and nobody will take it. And I never want to see that dagger again, and his other weapon of choice was a whip, and I also do not want to see that one again. And I understood you want to take the money. Our slaver kept that inside his shack, in a small metal box, and he has the key always with him."
Smith looked at Mary. "<Did you search that man? He has a small metal box in his shack with money, but he has the key for it somewhere on him.>"
Mary shook her head. "<No, you suggested that Tigers bury their droppings, and my men have done the same. They… they didn't wash him. They wanted to, but he had a second knife, a very small one, and injured one of them, just a scratch, and in return they killed him. You take the box with you, as a smith you should have no trouble opening it, you have a far better use for it's contents, you have a village to build.>"

The Tiger already was inside the shack, and when he returned he handed Smith the metal box. It was quite heavy.
"Does your… slaver… have other useful items we can take? He is dead now, and it has always been my habit to loot corpses, take everything you need from them. And can carry of course. I have sold the same sword three times, every time I have taken it from a corpse if I found it again. Or bought it from someone else who has looted it."
This time it was the Wolf who shook his head. "I do not want to be reminded about our time here. You taking that metal box is already bad enough, but there is something really useful in it. I do not want to see his whip, I do not want to see his dagger, I do not want to see clothes, I do not want to see this city again."
Smith nodded. "I understand. But do you mind to see a Fox with pants? As you can see… clearly and… erm… well… It's not as bad as a Dog… but it's not a pretty sight. I have an Inimal tailor in my village, and she has already made some pants for him, and she will make the rest of the clothing when we arrive and she can take measurements for the soldiers, they must be recognized as working for the Neutral Zone."
The Wolf grinned. "Well… for him I will make an exception. Although it's a very small exception. Why did you shave him anyway?"

This time it was Smith who interrupted before any of the soldiers could give an answer. "We have a few days of walking to go before we get home, indeed time to leave before we have to finish this house. Eleven builders doing nothing but talking, we are really worthless builders indeed."
Mary smiled. "<Then go, and make the Neutral Zone safe, for me.>"
Smith took a slight bow, and walked on, now with ten Inimals following him.
He wanted to get out of this city as soon as possible, and as far away as possible, to get to safety for 'his' yet unarmed soldiers. And the two true builders.
And Mary's response gave him something to think about. it was like she understood what they were talking about. But she was of Inimal Affairs after all, she needs to understand Inimal language if she wants to communicate with Inimals.

The Wolf builder was walking next to the Fox again. "Tell me, why are you shaven around your genitals, and have the other only bald patches on their arms?"
The Fox looked at the ground, and sighed. "We met this Human in an Inimal village, he was working as a smith there, he wanted to learn about our symbolism to make more money. He has sharpened our weapons, and showed us how sharp they were by shaving his arm. Some of us did not believe it, and also shaved their arms with their weapons by accident. And then we… well… except me… decided to shave our arm as some sort of tattoo some Humans have. Smith warned me I would be outside the group, and he was correct. In the night they have shaven me, with an arrowhead. I have not felt anything, our weapons were just like razors."
The Wolf grinned. "Maybe the Human… I mean Smith should have sharpened the razor of our former employer, I have learned a lot of Human curses, because he has cut himself quite often with it because it was too dull to be useful to cut hair, but still sharp enough to pierce skin."

They reached the forest in the early afternoon.
"Shouldn't we eat something? I'm hungry." the Wolf builder complained.
Smith nodded. "I also want to eat, but first I have to kill something. I have to hunt for your food, I can not buy it in a store here. When any of you see an animal warn me, I'll kill it with my sling, and if we have enough animals we set up a camp. But it will be sleeping under the stars tonight, I did not want to get any unwanted attention and go as fast as possible when I heard about your fate. I only have the bare necessities, no tent and only one blanket and sleeping mat, the weakest among us can use that until we get home."
The leading Wolf grinned. "That's easy, that's you. Puny hairless Human, in need of clothing and a blanket to stay warm."
Smith nodded. "Thanks for the confidence in me. I'm not a strong fighter any more, I'm a talker these days, that's much more efficient to achieve my goals. If I were a fighter I needed an army to get you out of your prison."
The Wolf hugged Smith. "We do the fighting for you. Just tell us what to do."
Smith grinned. "Not kissing me is a good start, but we have a long walk ahead, I'll tell you about it later."
That was a mistake to say for Smith. He received another Wolven kiss.
"Tastes good, almost as good as my wife." the Wolf remarked.

"I think you Wolves should stop kissing Smith, I smell Humans." The Fox suddenly said.
Smith had just pushed away the third Wolf and was washing his mouth. "That was terrible… What is wrong with you Canines?… And Humans? I hope they are friendl…"
But before Smith could finish his sentence he saw them. Two not very friendly looking individuals.
"<Well, well, well… look what we have here. Ten skins and a Human, possibly with some gold. And no weapons. Nice.>" the smaller one of the two spoke.
Smith sighed, but said nothing. He pulled out his sling out of his waist bag, and loaded it with the heaviest projectile he could find in his bag, without taking his eyes of the Humans in front of him. Should he go for the bigger one, or the smaller one? The bigger one was not the smartest of the two, but also far more dangerous, grinning like a madman.

The projectile hit it's target right between the eyes, crushing his skull and even penetrating it in a mist of blood, and the big man fell.
Smith grinned. "<What do you mean, not armed?>"
The shorter man started to tremble. He thought that his big friend could do the dirty work, and he had left his sword in it's sheath, and now he had some trouble getting it out.
Smith's second projectile hit him on his hand, crippling it.
"<Fight like a Human!>" he shouted.
Smith grinned, but said nothing. Slowly he walked towards the trembling little man, who was now clasping his crippled hand, and started to walk backwards to keep some distance from Smith.
"<Why… why don't you say anything? Can't we talk about it?>"
Smith slowly drove the man towards a large tree, with a lot of it's roots protruding from the ground. The heel of the little man touched a root, and that made him lose his balance. He fell backwards, his head hitting an other root. He fell quite hard, and lost consciousness. Smith pulled the man's sword out of it's scabbard, and pushed it through the man's chest.

When the man was dead Smith turned around. "I want you soldiers to do the same. Kill criminals, no hesitation. The Neutral Zone is a dangerous area, because there are no soldiers, and a lot of unwanted people have made it their home, and I want them out."
The Inimals nodded. "That was very impressive, I always thought you only could hunt smaller animals with a sling, but you killing a Human in a single throw… I think I'll start using a sling instead of a bow." the Fox spoke.
Smith shook his head. "A sling is a powerful weapon, but as a Human smith my arms are much stronger than yours. You will get a bow again, and a quiver filled with arrows that will make the Red Brigade jealous."
The Fox nodded. "I was only kidding. I have used Hank's sling once, but I think I even missed the ground. Even Wolbert did better when he wanted to try my bow and arrow, he killed a flying sparrow with it, but let's forget the target he was aiming for was ten paces to the left."
One of the Wolves grinned. It would become difficult to remember all their names for Smith.
Smith smiled. "I told you, the safest place when you encounter a Wolf with a bow and arrow is straight in front of him."

"Why don't we search their camp? maybe they have something to eat." The builder Wolf remarked.
Smith nodded. "That's a very good idea. Set up our camp there, it might be perfectly hidden somewhere, in case we encounter others with bad intentions on this path. And maybe they have some useful items, although that sword that I stuck in that little man's chest is only good for scrap metal, someone get it and it's scabbard, clean it and use it for the remainder of our journey. And also loot the other body, I want everything of value and use, I have a lot of houses to build and a lot of weapons to make, and those are not for free."
The soldiers nodded, and started their job, stripping the bodies of the two criminals of their belongings. The bodies were like a goldmine, they had coins everywhere, even out of their shoes came big silvers.
"This is really a good find. I wonder where they got all these coins." a Tiger remarked.
Smith nodded. "They were criminals, robbing the Humans who wanted to come to the Neutral Zone to buy things. Now this money also ends up in the Neutral zone, but I'd rather have happy customers who can tell others how good it is, and how beautiful the things are that can be bought there. This is why I need you, don't hesitate to kill somebody who is a threat, but leave the innocent people alone. And now let's find their camp, I have a suspicion they have a lot of money there as well. Your noses are far better than mine, I am and eyesight-hunter."
The Fox grinned. "That's easy. See that piece of ribbon tied to that bush over there? I guess their camp is over there, behind it."
Smith laughed "Well… I'm not upset about you seeing it, I'm not a soldier. Somehow I'm blind to the obvious, I only see the traces of our dinner, a boar."

The camp-site of the criminals was small, only a fireplace, and two tents, and a lot of bags lying around, some filled and others empty.
"Let the soldiers do their job, I'll go hunt that boar, you can start the fire again." Smith said to the builders.
The soldiers were already busy, some of them pulling little sacks and boxes out of the bushes. Some had been there for quite a long time.
"I think they used this spot more often, robbing and killing, return to the city if they have enough money, spend it all, and return to do some more robbing and killing, and they have forgotten some of their loot." one of the Tigers noted.
Smith nodded, and wandered off to hunt the boar.
"Are you sure you could kill a boar with your sling?" the Hound asked.
Smith nodded "Yes, I have killed a boar before… but only once. I was a child in those days, and my best Canine friend was a Hound, the same who taught me how to use a sling, we hunted a lot together, he tracked and I killed. But I have to admit, it was a lucky shot then, I hit the eye, and the projectile went through the eye-socket. Today I am much stronger, and my projectiles are heavier, it shouldn't be a problem, I even hunt deer with it." Smith replied while wandered off in the forest again, following the clearly visible trace of the boar.

Smith had wandered off quite a distance, but finally he spotted it. It was a huge boar, he has seen larger boar in his life, but he didn't have to kill those. This one was food. Smith sighed. He hoped his arm was strong enough for the throw. He searched for the largest projectile in his bag, but suddenly he realized he had used that one on a Human, and that it was still stuck in his victim's brains. Smith pulled out the largest projectile he had left, and felt it's weight. It was as heavy as he had used in the past, but this wild boar was much larger. Smith sighed again, carefully not to startle the boar. He had to kill it, there were no rabbits here, and far too little birds to feed eleven hungry people. Smith placed the projectile in his sling, and made a clacking sound with his mouth to distract the boar. It was foraging and it couldn't keep it's head still, and making a strange noise put them on alert. The boar looked up and Smith slinged.
Just when the projectile left the sling the boar looked at Smith, and the projectile grazed it's mighty head.
'Oh excrement!' Smith thought, and pulled out his dagger, no time for an other throw. He knew he was fast with his dagger, but the boar was also armed, with two large tusks and an enormous weight combined with speed and strength. He prepared himself for impact, and a lot of pain, maybe even be in need for a lot of stitching if he survived.


A metallic sound sounded from behind Smith, and suddenly the boar had something protruding from its head and it fell to the ground, it was a bolt out of an armbrust.
Smith turned around, and saw the Leopard standing with a Bergvolk armbrust in his hands. "We found this, and we thought it might be useful when hunting."
Smith sighed. Saved. "I thought you didn't know that kind of weapons, how did you know how it works?"
The Leopard smiled. "We have had a demonstration with these weapons. Very impressive, but also very expensive. We tried to make them ourselves, but those are far less powerful. You are not surprised seeing this, do you know these weapons?"
Smith nodded. "Of course, Bergvolk armbrust… I have one myself. I didn't carry it when I was in the Inimal village when we first met, because I was afraid it would be confiscated and be used by the Panthers… I don't want to disturb the balance between the armies, but now I have my own army. You can keep it, although I have to replace the string, it's quite worn."
The Leopard nodded. "Yes, Felix already noticed that. And it only has one bolt, the one I used, although I think making more of those is not a problem for you."
Smith nodded. "Of course I can make more bolts, but keep in mind that an armbrust is not a very effective weapon when you encounter multiple enemies, it is very difficult to reload it in time. And thank you for saving my life, I have used my heaviest projectile on that Human, and now I regret it. Let's get this boar to the campsite."

"Here, hold this." Smith had taken off his his jumper, and handed it to the Leopard. Smith looked at the now dead boar. It was indeed large, but not too large. Smith lifted it up.
"I wanted to ask you two questions, but you already answered one of those questions…" The Leopard suddenly said.
Smith turned around, the boar hanging over his left shoulder. "The other question was why I took off my jumper?… well… this boar is not very clean, and I want to keep my jumper clean… No, just kidding, the scars on my back… I think that was your other question. Do you mind if I tell it while this piece of meat hangs over a fire?"
The Leopard nodded. "No, that's fine. That way you don't have to tell it twice."

"Great, you killed that boar." the Hound noted when Smith and the Leopard returned to the campsite.
Smith shook his head. "No, I failed… this Leopard here has saved my life… I see the fire is already burning, and you even have found a scaffold for roasting this boar. I want to wash myself first, I think the Hound can do the cooking… And those who are curious about my scars, yes, I like female Felines, except Cats, those have inflicted the wounds." The soldiers who stood in front of Smith walked around him.

"So, that was the time before you met your wife? Sex with Felines?" a Tiger remarked.
Smith nodded. "Yes, all the fun and no babies. And I started to do it again recently. I never had the time for it, but meeting Charlene and Katie have changed my life, and they are now living with me. But this time I can say 'no' if I don't want to have them in my bed."
"The young Tiger and the Cheetah who was taking care of her? What? How?" the other Tiger soldier asked.
Smith smiled. "The Inimal village is gone, the Wolves, Diego the innkeeper and Dora the shopkeeper have moved to the quarry in the south of the Neutral Zone, and the Foxes around the village have moved to the north of the Neutral Zone, where they are closer to their customers for their poultry, Humans love it. And so does Katie, she wanted to live with me, and I said yes, under the condition that Charlene came along, and she said also yes. I already knew Charlene's aunt from my past, and she has told Charlene stories about me."
"Why no Human wife?" a Wolf asked.
Smith sighed. "I don't feel safe enough for a Human wife and a Human child of my own. I wanted to teach Katie some things for her survival, but now I'm giving her a future. And also a better life for Charlene, although I really wish there would be a perfect Cheetah male for her, she must also be happy."
The Tiger builder nodded. "Yes, I don't know them yet, but I think that is the best thing you can do for them. Help them with their future. It already feels like you are one of us, and I never thought I would like a Human."
Smith laughed. "Oh, there is nothing compassionate about it. I'm still a cold and calculating Human. I went to that Inimal village to learn something, to make more money. I always kept the thought of wanting a Cheetah messenger in my mind because I grew up among Inimals and I know their strengths, and a fast messenger saves a lot of money because they can run twice as often in the same time, and I used Katie to get Charlene. But now I want to take my bath, if you excuse me. Boar smells terrible, although not as bad as a Wolven kiss."

It was a new day again. The boar was large enough for dinner, breakfast, and even lunch. It had been a cold night, and the four Wolves, even the Wolf builder, in the group were already teasing Smith, by lying next to him, and some of them even against and on top of him 'to keep him warm'. Smith didn't mind. It were Wolves after all, and they are always enthusiastic with their emotions. He was getting used to it, and it was better that the Wolves saw him as a friend than as an enemy.
"Why did you come to get us free? We are not soldiers any more, the army does not want us back." a Tiger soldier asked when they were walking again.
Smith smiled. "I already told you. You are not allowed in the Inimal army, but in my army. You are new soldiers for the Neutral zone. Officially not soldiers, because we are not allowed to have an army, but I always could call you law-enforcers, because that is what I'm going to ask you. Fight for me, fighting criminals, both Human and Inimal. This is a cold calculating Human talking, not a friend who wants to help. You are far better soldiers than Humans. But I am giving you a choice, some of you have a family, maybe they want to return to them, but having them in the Neutral Zone is also a thing I could encourage."
The leading Wolf nodded. "You are saying this because I have told you about my son. I'm… I'm truly happy I can see him again. I had almost lost all hope to see him again, and I definitely will get him and my wife to the Neutral Zone, somehow I think they are better off there. I am a fighter, there are no other things I can do…"
Smith nodded. "I understand. But you must understand that you will not be the leader of my law-enforcers, I already have others working for me. Mostly Humans, but the command is in the hands of a Black Wolf, he knows a lot about the forest, and your primary task is to protect him. There is also a younger Fox, training archers, but somehow I have the feeling he wants to do something else. And some Cats and Dogs, but those are not well trained soldiers, maybe you can help them to become true soldiers."

"Ugh, Black Wolf. The kind that sold us out to the Vulpine." one of the other Wolves suddenly said.
Smith slowed down to walk beside him. "What? Sold out to the Vulpine? I thought you were united."
The Wolf bowed his head. "Oh, it's nothing… It has been a few generations this way… Wolf traitor king, Fox king, Badger king, Leopard king… It was time for an other Canine king, we are really neglected, but the Leopard has chosen a Lion as his successor, the current king must have been a Wolf, then we would have won this war, instead of being prisoners of a Human, a Wolf-killer."
Smith put a hand on the Wolf's shoulder. "You are not my prisoner. If you want to be a prisoner again you can turn around, and knock on the door of the prison again, I won't stop you. You can go home, or come with me. But don't interfere with me, because you do not want to get me angry. You have a few days to think before we get… well… at least my home… All of you."
The Wolf nodded and sighed. "I'm not used to be helped by a Human, but I have no alternative. I don't hate you, but you never will be my friend. I used to kill Humans for a living."
Smith nodded. "I understand. But that's what I ask you to do, you killed Humans who were a danger to the Inimals in the past, and now you have to kill Humans to protect the Neutral Zone. And some Inimal criminals if you have to."
The Wolf nodded. "Yes, if you put it that way I can understand." The Wolf started to smile. "No hard feelings towards Wolves, knowing your past?"
Smith also started to smile. "If your kind didn't do what they have done I still would be a simple smith, but I don't like 'what if' games. I live now, and I want to improve the future. I can not change the past. I know the strengths and weaknesses of every species, and I am in a unique position to bring them together."
The Wolf nodded. "That's because you are and always have been between the two kingdoms. It is a nice basis for peace, but somehow I have the feeling somebody is against peace. Both sides are making stupid mistakes that will cost a lot of lives."
Smith nodded. "Yes, I am also aware of that. I don't like it, but there is nothing I can do against it. That person or whatever it is, is far more cunning than I ever will be. But fortunately… maybe… I don't live long enough to get into trouble, I die in peacetime before that enemy strikes again."
The Wolf grimaced. "The Elfique… make sure both enemies weaken each other, then there is no need to get stronger…"
Smith nodded. "But fortunately we also have the Bergvolk, war interferes with their trade. Siegfried, the Black Wolf, has told me about them. And the Bergvolk are also my friends. I only thought they lived in the Neutral Zone for their own profit."

"I hear cutting sounds, lumberjacks!… but we are in the middle of a forest, not a village close by?" the Fox suddenly said.
Smith nodded. "That must be Siegfried and his crew, destroying an ambush spot. Good, then we can meet them here, and see what they are doing. The truth is, he was a criminal, and the work he is doing is a punishment, I wanted to give him a second chance, and he has taken it. He wanted to kill me when we first met, but now he is my best friend, and now his knowledge is used on our side, fighting the criminals by destroying ambush spots."

The group approached the cleaning crew. When Siegfried saw Smith he ran towards him. "Smith! you are back! and you have the soldiers!"
Smith smiled. "Only eight soldiers, and two builders, but they are also welcome."
Siegfried started to laugh. "Builders… great! We really could use those as well… The village at the quarry is almost complete, they are now working for the Foxes in the north, but in our village are also a lot of buildings to be built. The quarry produces a very good quality of stone, and there are already customers, sleeping in tents because the innkeeper hasn't arrived yet."
Smith smiled. "That's great, because Charlene has to get something from the Inimal capitol, something to help me, and she could tell Diego and Dora to prepare themselves, carts are much slower than she is, they have a few days to pack. And Floris and his family of course. There is something I want to have, maybe the item I want is in now dead doctor John's inventory, a book. Floris would pack all those things to be moved to our doctor. There is one more Wolf coming, but he has to… calm down a little."
"A Wolf… A book… What do you mean?" Siegfried asked with an honest surprise.
Smith smiled. "I am getting far too busy to run the entire Neutral Zone myself. I want a deputy for when I am away or busy with other things. Not someone like me, and you and the others are also far too busy, but someone completely different, he has to be my opposite to counter the balance, a Wolf. I have lost everything to Wolves, he has lost everything to Humans. I am taking care of the Inimals, he has to take care of the Humans, but at this moment he is far too dangerous."
Siegfried nodded. "I think I know what book you want to give him. The Tale of the Lone Wolf… heavy reading stuff… I hope you succeed in your plan, I hated to read that book."
Smith nodded. "Yes, the Tale of the Lone Wolf… It's a gamble, but if you don't take chances you'll end up with a very boring life. He is a perfect example, wild, dangerous… but I saw something in his eyes, a will to live."
"Just like in the book, wild but calmed down." Siegfried interrupted.
Smith nodded. "Yes, that is the plan. The only problem is how to get that book there, but let's say I talked to the warden of the prison…"
"You mean you threatened him" Siegfried interrupted again.
Smith started to grin "Yes, threatened him a little, I told him about Charlene, and that she would bring it, and that there would be a war if something happens to her… but there also was a Human female helping the Inimals in the city, and she promised me to help if she could."
Siegfried also started to grin. "I told you, you are very persuasive… and you met a Human woman… good for you, when is the wedding?"
Smith shook his head laughing. "No wedding, I am not ready for Human children of my own… not yet… Katie is my child… and I have only seen her twice, fully clothed, on my way to the prison, where she helped me liberate the two builders, and on the way back, when she was waiting for me with the two builders… she is beautiful… And she promised me to come to the Neutral Zone one day, she is from Inimal Affairs, and she is really curious how we treat each other."
Siegfried smiled. "Time to get home then, and put the soldiers to work to make it safe for her. We have lost a few men in the past few days, Humans who thought they could attack a feral Tiger, and he did not even get a scratch… And Melany needs the sizes to make the proper clothing for the soldiers. How do you like mine? You had put a piece of paper in your book about symbolism, at the page with symbol of balance, with your own drawing of it, Katie has found it, and has given it to Melany and Jacques to use it, and I must say, it looks good and it's very comfortable."
Smith looked at Siegfried. "I didn't notice it until you said you were clothed. It looks very natural on you, that green really matches with your black fur."
Siegfried laughed. "Well… I can't see the colors like you Humans can, but if you say it looks good I believe you, those same-sex loving Human males told me the same."

"We already have done some killing for you, two criminals who thought I was not armed. One with my sling, and I even can be persuasive without talking, I forced the other to walk backwards until he tripped over a protruding root." Smith spoke when they were walking again.
Siegfried grinned. "And let me guess, you have taken their money?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, of course. And a locked metal box from the employer of the Wolf and Tiger builders, I wanted to pay them for the work they have done, but they didn't have the key, and I will have to use a crowbar when we get home"
A Human soldier grinned. "<Why not pick the lock, and sell the box again? I'm sure you can make a new key when you have disassembled the lock.>"
Smith shook his head. "<I'm a hammering guy, it's a pity Casper is dead, you have never met him, but he was very good with locks and keys. I don't know how much is in that box, considering it's weight it must be a lot of silver.>"
The Tiger builder grinned. "Don't be disappointed, it is only a lot of copper, and maybe a few small silver. I have seen the contents a few times, those criminals had more in their shoes."
"<How much did those criminals have?>" the Human soldier asked.
Smith shrugged. "<I haven't counted it. I was hunting while they collected the loot. I see three Inimals with a heavy backpack, and they had nothing when we left the prison. I asked them to take everything of value, and they did. But it could also be a lot of other items, I see that the Hound is carrying the roasting spit, we used that last night to roast a boar on, and some of them have more swords than hands, although some of those are for scrap and others for the gems.>"
The Human soldier nodded. "<Yes, the swords you make are far better than those, but that's why we get so many visitors, we are the best at making things. Metalwork, food, woodwork… and even stones, I have never seen so many smiling Wolves as at the quarry.>"
Smith also nodded. "<Yes, and now that it will get a lot safer more customers will come for it… I hate the word visitors, visitors are just customers that won't buy anything… come to buy things instead of getting robbed. And I want to give you better equipment, I want you common soldiers to make the Royal Guard jealous, by skill and equipment. And good equipment is also not for free, that's why I always take the money. But there will be taxes, the money we take from the criminals is just to start things, building, forging… and the taxes we will collect will be used for coal and food, and payment for you of course… And now you will get better training. How does it feel, to get training from a former enemy?>"
The soldier smiled. "<It feels odd, but somehow it makes me really proud. I have never been the best soldier, I always had the feeling my instructors were holding back, and now I don't know what style I must choose. The archery Robin teaches us is very effective, but I also want to learn other styles, and now those Inimals can teach me.>"
Smith patted the Soldier on his shoulder. "<You are a Human, you must use a Human fighting style. Strength against Felines, agility against Canines, ambush against Vulpine, and archery against the Bears… I don't know how to fight Badgers, but I think breaking their pens and shredding their paper is an attack they won't survive. And everything combined against a Human.>"
The soldier started to grin. "<And where is fighting fair?>"
Smith also grinned. "<Fight to win, don't fight for the beauty. Unless the beauty is a woman, then fight for her.>"
The soldier nodded. "<I don't like women, I like men.>"
Smith smiled. "<Then fight for the freedom to be yourself. I don't care. I just want to have the best soldiers.>"
The soldier smiled. "<I left the Human army because they were bullying me. And you and everyone else here accepts me for what I am. Can I kiss you for that?>"
Smith smiled and shook his head. "<No. And even if you were a female, you would still be ugly… No, that just came out wrong… Let's say you are not my type.>"
The soldier smiled. "<And I accept you the way you are. You look really nice, it's a pity you like the Felines, I wonder if there are any male Wolves or Dogs who like me.>"
Smith started to grin. "<Maybe you can kiss Siegfried, just as a joke. He always tries to kiss me, but I don't know if he is serious of just fooling around.>"

A few hours later Smith had to grin, because the soldier he was talking to was washing his mouth. "<So, not nice?>"
The soldier laughed. "<No, not nice at all. One more thing I have to strike from my list. Wolven kisses are awful. And I am disappointed, he said you are a better kisser.>"
Smith laughed. His joke failed, and now he had to watch out for Siegfried's revenge, only one more night in the forest before he was home again. "<Well… I don't want to practice with you. I'm not a kissing type, but I don't have a problem with kissing Human females… at least… I think… Last female I kissed was my wife, a goodbye kiss, over ten years ago.>"
The soldier nodded. "<I know your story… at least… what others have told me… It really has made you strong.>"
Smith nodded. "<And I don't want to happen that again. For nobody. It's… it has changed me. Made me cold. But meeting the right people can change you again.>"
The soldier nodded. "<I noticed. Somehow I have the feeling I paid too much for my sword a few months ago, and now you want to give me a better one, for free.>"

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Chapter 15 - The Neutral Vulpine Village

#18 Post by Neutral Smith » Thu Apr 09, 2015 6:12 pm

Chapter 15
The Neutral Vulpine Village

"Smith! You're back!" It was Katie who was waiting for them when they got home.
Smith dropped to his knees to catch her. "Yes, and as you can see, I have them. They are free to go wherever they want. Is Charlene inside? I want her to deliver something."
When Smith looked up he saw her. Smiling. "Congratulations. Not only a fighter, but also a talker. Or have people died?"
Smith stood up and sighed. "They are not all soldiers, almost two-thirds of the original group are dead, killed in the fight or in the prison, and a Wolf and a Tiger are builders, they were working as a slave in the city. I humiliated their… owner… and there was a Human woman from Inimal affairs and two soldiers helping me, they killed him by accident. And on our way back I killed two criminals. Shall we get inside to talk? I want to ask you something… Siegfried and Uwe are already taking care of the Inimals I brought here."
They went inside and Charlene hugged Smith. "I missed you."
Smith smiled. "I missed you too. Unfortunately the Cheetahs are also dead, but I'm sure Katie is happy there will be more Tigers around."
Charlene smiled. "That's all right, I have you… You killed Humans you said?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, I killed two criminals. But the good thing is, they had a lot of money. Enough for building a few buildings, without touching my own money. And I want to ask you something. There is a Wolf in the prison I… well… I want is the best word I can find. But he is too dangerous at this moment, I want to give him something to calm him down, a book."
"A book? Can I also read it?" Katie who was sitting on the table asked.
Smith smiled, and put her on her high chair. "Well… I'm sure you can read it when you are older, but it's a Wolven book, The Tale of the Lone Wolf. It's about a Wolf who got separated from his group, a very angry Wolf, but he slowly learns that anger leads to nowhere. And the Wolf I met in the prison is just like that, very angry, very dangerous…"
"And now you want me to bring him that book to calm him down?" Charlene completed the sentence.
Smith nodded. "Yes, that is the intention. I don't have that book here, but I also want you to go to your old village to warn Diego and Floris, the inn is finished, and Floris and his family can also move. You don't have to leave immediately, but tomorrow. I will arrange some carts for the transport of Diego's furniture and Dora's store, and our doctor will get everything John had. You running ahead of those carts will give them some time. I hope he has that book, otherwise you have to go to one of the Inimal cities, maybe even the capitol to get that book."
Charlene smiled. "The Foxes are almost settled in the north, I have been there."
Smith shook his head. "We promised that one of us would stay home to look after Katie, and that she never would be left alone."

"But the others took care of me! but… but I really missed you." Katie suddenly said.
Smith nodded. "See, that's the problem. We are the parents, we have to take care of her, not Siegfried, not Melany, not Robin, but you, Charlene, and me."
Charlene bowed her head. "But I had to deliver a message, a huge order for a lot of poultry for the Human king. He wants everything, chicken, geese, quail…"
Smith shook his head. "Before I met you we also had to deliver messages, it took a few days more, but they also arrived. I asked you to take care of Katie, stay home while I am away, just like I do when you are away. No matter how big the orders are, you are here for Katie."
Charlene nodded. "I understand."
Smith smiled. "I never said something about taking Katie with you. I will leave again tomorrow, and I will take Katie with me, to the source of the poultry, to see if they need anything."
Katie started to dance around, but suddenly stopped. "But… will I also meet the Fox again whose chicken I have killed?"
Smith nodded. "That's very likely. I want you to tell him that you are sorry, but pack some spices, because we will buy a lot of chicken there, maybe even some live ones to eat on our way back."
Katie started to dance again. A truly happy child.

It felt odd for Smith to sleep in his own bed again. He had no objection to both Charlene and Katie sleeping with him in his bed, it was odd for a family of Inimals sleeping separate.
When he woke up even Melany was sleeping next to him. Smith smiled. "I think I have to buy an even bigger bed, it's getting a bit crowded in here."
Melany smiled and opened her eyes. "That would be fun. Do you have enough stamina for the both of us? Katie has left to her own room, because I pushed her out of the bed, and now I feel bad for it, she is your child after all."
Smith smiled. "I think she understands. Adult things. I wonder and am worried at the same time about what I would have done when she would be sleeping on top of me because there was no room for her elsewhere in this bed."
Melany smiled, although there came a bit of sadness in her eyes. "You are a good father. I… I don't want to talk about what my father has done, but I want to say that you are the first male I feel safe with."
Charlene climbed on top of Smith, and stuck her tongue out at Melany. "He's mine."
Smith caressed Charlene's ears. "Charlene, that was not a very nice thing to do and say. I have made the rules about who will sleep where and when, and I tolerated all of you in my bed because we will leave again today, you to get and deliver a book, and me with Katie to visit the Foxes, and this was supposed to be a 'nobody' night."
Charlene grinned. "But I can feel you don't mind."
Smith smiled and turned his head towards Melany. "Do you mind?"
Melany grinned. "No, not if my turn is next… It's odd, I can't remember whether I was in estrus when I was feral or not, but it's starting again. And stronger than I can remember before going feral. You have a really interesting history, Charlene has told me everything she knows about it, and now I am curious."
Smith grinned. "I'm sure Charlene has told you about what John has told us. Those Leopards were not sisters, but very close friends. But they did not even want to take turns when my body was involved, they even were fighting on top of me. I'm glad you are not doing that."
Melany grinned. "But I definitely will throw Charlene off when she falls asleep on top of you."

"Good morning Smith, ladies… I have taken the liberty of making breakfast, Smith must be exhausted… from the long walk I mean." Siegfried spoke while winking at Smith who came down the stairs after a tiring morning.
Smith smiled. "I'm just glad you are a male instead of another female living in my house. How is the progress on your house? Already started?"
Siegfried grinned. "But I also have a hole… although that's an exit only… And my house? Let's say I have ordered to delay building it, there are far more important houses to be build. Most of the soldiers do have a family, and I don't want them to sleep in tents while I already have a roof above my head. And there must be a lot of other things to be build, if you want to turn this village into a city."
Smith nodded. "A city… Yes… a walled city… No… This must be a place of peace. I don't mind if you want to turn the river into a moat, but don't spoil my view with huge walls. I want to see the forest and the fields."
Siegfried nodded. "Of course. And criminals don't bring an army. Peace with both sides is a good thing. And a moat… a moat can also be very useful for transport. It will cost a lot of money, but the Bergvolk here want to change the river into a canal, with huge barges for transporting stone from the quarry to the sea."
Smith nodded. "Well… that's nice, but that can wait for another decade or two. But we can always plan ahead, and keep the path for the canal free. Build nothing more on this island, and when it comes to excavating the canal we always can destroy the things that are in the way."
Siegfried nodded. "I already have seen some drawings… It's none of my business but it's for the Wolf you want to get out of prison to do this, but your smithy is the only thing that has to be demolished."
Smith sighed. "Then my next house must be a castle and you must call me king, I won't move."

Smith had packed everything he needed for his next trip, including the spare sleeping mat and blanket.
Katie was only carrying the spices besides her dagger and sling. When he looked up from checking his backpack for the last time for strange smells or odd items he saw Melany. Also with a backpack and tent. "You are also leaving?" Smith asked.
Melany nodded, and smiled. "I told Jacques you were going to the Vulpine, and he asked me to come along. He needs some fabric and yarn, and Vulpine are among the best producers of it, besides the Elfique de la Forêt."
Smith smiled. "All right. Then we'll travel together. But we will sleep in separate tents, Katie and I in one tent, you in yours… Siegfried and Robin! don't demolish my house while we are gone."
Siegfried and Robin nodded. "We are far too busy, although most of the Inimal soldiers you brought have left or will leave very soon to get their family. Some of them even left the same day when you got home with them." Siegfried spoke when he left to get his sword. He knew he was breaking some rules by going to work, but Smith didn't mind.
Smith smiled. "They are free to go wherever they want, don't be disappointed when some of them don't return."
Siegfried grinned. "And don't be surprised when there are more soldiers returning than have left, those Human deserters are here because you are a Human, and now that the Inimals know that they are also welcome here… well… you get my drift."

Smith smiled, and gestured Charlene to come. "I think I understand… good… maybe more soldiers coming… All right Charlene. In this letter are your official instructions, get the book 'The Tale of the Lone Wolf', and bring it to the Wolf in cage sixty-nine in the prison of Schotenburg, I have talked to the warden, he knows you are coming. Second letter is for Diego and Dora, I will send carts to get their furniture for the move to their new inn. Third letter is for Floris, asking for the book and that there is also a cart coming for him, Florette and Johanna to get them to wherever they want to go with their belongings. The part you must remember is that in Schotenburg they know me as 'Paul', a constructor from the Neutral Zone. There might be a Human woman there in the city, her name is Mary. When I met her she was accompanied by two soldiers, armed with Royal Guard weapons. In my opinion that's a bit odd, but I also have the habit of taking weapons from corpses if those are good weapons, they might have done the same… But I asked her to help you, but also that she must not wait for you. The warden is a special case… Let's say I threatened him a little, I told him there would be a war if something happens to you… but you must still be very careful around him, he can not be trusted. Use the side entrance of the prison, that's the fastest way, and that way you can avoid most Humans there. Make sure the Wolf gets the book, hand it to him personally, and then leave the city, no hesitation."

Charlene nodded, and hugged Smith before she started to walk towards her old village. When Smith followed her with his eyes he also saw a few carts leave. Charlene also noticed them, and started to run. It's always an impressive sight to see a Cheetah run. Thinking a hundred paces ahead, and their feet always exact at the best place if they need to jump over something, like a fence. She passed the carts even before they left the village.

The journey towards the new Vulpine village was easy. Just follow the river north. Katie was running around and climbing trees, all day long, during the entire walk.
Melany smiled "You really treat her like a Leopard, Cheetah, Hound and Human at the same time. Do you also do the exercises with her? I have never seen it or heard Katie about it."
Smith looked at Melany with a frown. "What exercises? She can run, she can climb, most of her thinking capacity is aimed at causing mischief, but she is very clever. I have no idea what exercises you are talking about."
Melany smiled. "Katie is a Tiger, we must do exercises to keep our bodies flexible. I can show you how to do it… but… but it might get a bit inappropriate… you know…"
Smith nodded. "Right, now I also feel abused as a personal trainer for the Tigresses in my old village. They were really flexible, and I have done things I could never imagine doing with a Human."
Melany gave Smith a hug. "I know you can control yourself… well… you are not my father. You are much nicer."
Smith smiled. "I know. but… well… "
Melany hugged Smith again. "I really liked it the morning before we left, I really want to do it again. Jacques suggested you really should find a mate for Charlene as soon as possible, and live with me."
Smith shook his head. "Remember that you are in estrus, that alters your behavior. And because of that: No, Katie comes first, she is like a daughter to me, I don't care what Jacques says, he never had children of his own as far as I know, and somehow I don't trust him, he is a good man, but somehow I think he has his own plans. And I want to give Katie the best youth possible, and there is nothing wrong with two stepmothers. And a Human stepfather… And we keep the rules about who is when in my bed, I don't want to be abused again. I guess you were abused by your father, but you must also find a good mate, a White Tiger, living and having sex with a Human is not natural. But I don't mind if you take your time."
Melany smiled. "I understand. But it's nice to be in your bed, and I want to do that as often as possible." and she hugged Smith once again.
Smith pushed Melany gently away from him. "Melany, you must control yourself. We are getting closer to the Neutral Vulpine village, and as you might know, the Vulpine are far more strict when it comes to relations, they think I only live with Charlene and Katie as our child, they don't know you, and you suddenly acting like this is… odd."
Melany nodded. "I understand… I'll try. I always can blame my estrus… Katie! get here! You must also behave yourself. Killing that finch with your sling was very impressive, but those birds are inedible!"
Katie put her sling in the pouch again, and stuck out her tongue. "You are not my mother!"
This time it was Smith's turn to raise his voice. "Katie, she is more related to you than I am. You are both Tigers, although she is a White Tiger and you are a Common Tiger. You must also listen to her. You may disobey Siegfried's or Robin's orders, but you must listen to me, Charlene and also Melany."
Katie nodded. "I understand. It's because we are getting closer to the village, isn't it? I already can smell the chickens."
Smith also nodded. "Yes, and I don't want to spoil a business opportunity because we can not control ourselves. I want to meet them, I have never seen them before, Melany wants to buy fabric and yarn from them, but also doesn't know them, you are the only one they know, and let's say that a bad relation makes things more expensive if you want to buy… I did and sometimes still do the same with some of my clients, if I don't like them the price of the metal they want to buy doubles, and I guess Jacques does the same to his."
Melany started to grin. "Goodbye nice Human walking next to me, hello cold-hearted businessman. Yes, Jacques does the same. He sometimes even triples the price."

When the village came into sight Smith was surprised. There were not only Foxes, but there also were Wolves and even Humans working on the houses. Smith noticed that a few Foxes had taken their bows from their shoulder, and were nocking an arrow.
A human sitting on a roof shouted something, and the Foxes lowered their bows, and put the arrows back in their quivers. One of them came running towards Smith, Melany and Katie.
"Oh, it's you… Smith, isn't it?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, I am the one they call Smith, smith by profession, the White Tigress here is Melany, and you already might know this little one here, but this is Katie."
The Fox nodded. "Katie the chicken killer… Good for her you adopted her."
Smith nodded. "Yes… But that's history. Now let's take a look at your village. Your future. How do you like it?"
The Fox started to smile "Better than we could ever dream. What war? We even sell poultry to your king."
Smith shook his head "I don't serve a single king… I'm neutral… and so are you. Good to hear you are already at peace with the Humans, and you even have some Humans working here. Neutral Humans, but Humans nonetheless."
The Fox nodded, and looked at the forest. "Yes, they are good workers. Can do anything but not specialized and their work is a bit crude… But we do have a problem with a Feral Tiger here. Sometimes one comes here to steal a chicken, and we mistook you for one."
Katie bowed her head "I'm sorry I killed those chickens."
The Fox smiled. "You are already forgiven. It's an other Tiger we are looking for, Feral male adult Common Tiger… You don't fit the description."
Katie smiled. "Thank you. It won't happen again, I will pay for them next time.”
The Fox nodded. "I don't know what would have happened if you didn't kill our chickens in our old village, maybe Smith wouldn't have adopted you, and you would have starved to death… But you are alive and healthy, and you are even learning manners, and that's a good thing. I'm afraid we don't have the right spices, but we do have the chicken meat you like."
Katie started her enthusiastic dance around again, and Smith spoke on her behalf this time. "Don't worry, you see that backpack on her? That's filled with her favorite spices."
This time Smith forgot to drop to his knees to catch Katie. Lucky for him she has grown a little. But it still hurts, even the Fox he was talking to winced when he realized what happened.

"What is your business here?" the Fox asked while they were walking towards a larger, finished building.
"I want to buy some fabric and yarn." Melany answered before Smith could open his mouth.
The Fox nodded. "Yes, we are very good at producing that, but I'm afraid you have to travel further, to the next Vulpine village, but that's in the Inimal kingdom, there is a shop where you can buy it. And what is your business here, Human?"
"We want to buy chicken!" This time it was Katie's turn to answer before Smith could open his mouth.
Smith smiled. "That too, little one, but I am here to ask the people if they have any problems, and that answer is apparently yes, there is a Feral Tiger around. But don't worry, I have some experience with them."
The Fox nodded. "You mean killing him?"
Smith shook his head. "No, not killing. Helping. Melany here was also a Feral, and, as you can see, now she is not."
The Fox looked at Melany. "Feral? You? But that's impossible, once Feral is forever Feral, there is no turning back!"
Melany nodded "We all thought so, but I am the living proof. I'm not sure how, but I think it was confusion. Smith looked like a Human when I met him, but he smelled like a Tiger because he was the victim of a prank. And somehow I think Smith will do the same this time."
Smith grinned and shook his head. "No, I have something better this time, two living Tigers… The prank was that I have more Inimals living in my house, and they know my sense of smell is not very good. Siegfried, I'm sure you know him, thought it would be funny if Katie peed on my towel. I could not smell it, but when it got wet because I used it Melany did. And now she is here, back to normal."
The Fox nodded. "I see… A prank that saved your life. But you trying to help our Feral Tiger here would still be very daring, a Tiger is still very dangerous… He is very elusive, but he has never attacked one of us, not even a Human, but he is annoying, stealing chickens."
Smith nodded. "I understand. Do you know where he comes from and goes to, maybe we can track him. I don't know if Ferals do set up some sort of camp, do you Melany? did you have a camp?"
Melany shook her head "No, it was just live by the moment, I can not remember, but I think I was always on the move."
Smith nodded. "Hmm… Then there might be something odd, I also thought Ferals were always on the move, but this one keeps coming back… but that's a problem for tomorrow, You don't have an inn here, but do you have a place where we can cook and put our tents?"
The Fox nodded. "Yes, erm… but it's outside this village… a bit up… no… downstream the river."
Smith smiled. "No problem. It's because of the Tigers I am traveling with, isn't it? I also ask them to do their stinky business downstream of a river. How much do I have to pay for chicken?"
The Fox smiled. "How much chicken is an arrowhead worth?"
Smith's smile widened. This Fox did not want money, but something more useful.
"Two Red Brigade arrowheads cost one small Silver, and I think that a chicken also costs one small Silver. Three chickens tonight for dinner, three more for breakfast, and four for our lunch, and after that… I don't know… That's at least ten chickens. I'll send a box with two hundred arrowheads, I want one hundred complete arrows back."
The Fox started to smile. "That's a very good deal… You are really generous."
Smith nodded "And maybe there will be larger orders for assembled arrows in the future, I now have two Foxes living in my village, and they are training more archers for the protection of my village, you have a problem with a relative harmless Feral Tiger, but we have murdering criminals I want dead."
The Fox nodded. "Of course, and more orders are always welcome. That's why we are here, around our old village was nothing, here is trade. But where is trade, crime will follow… I'm sure you know Floris, he is also coming to live here, for our protection"
Smith nodded "Of course I know him. And his wife and child. I have sent Charlene to warn him that a cart will be coming for them, does he already have a house?"
The Fox nodded. "Yes, you see that big house over there? that will be theirs. He deserves it, allowing us to come here."
Smith smiled. "The Neutral Zone is my territory, and I have given the permission. But nobody here needs to know that."
The Fox grinned. "He only knows he gets a house here, he doesn't know how big it is, and he was very worried about how to get his furniture here, but you already have taken care of it. Very nice of you. And thank… you… for letting us live here."
Smith nodded "Of course. Good people are always welcome. And if you need more help, just tell me."
The Fox nodded. "Of course, Siegfried has told us the same, he also has been here already… But beware, he is a very dangerous Wolf."
Smith nodded. "I know. That's why I trust him, I am also very dangerous when needed. We are equal, we respect each other."

It was the best chicken Smith has ever had for dinner and breakfast in his life, juicy and fat. His mouth started to water again when he thought of lunch.
"When do we go and search for that Tiger?" Katie asked when she returned from the river.
Melany was already waiting, and Smith stood up. "We were waiting for you. He has struck again this night, fortunately is has rained a little, and he has left some marks in the soil. I'm sure we can follow him. Last night when you were sleeping I talked to some more people here, and I am sure he has some sort of camp next to a small lake in the forest, my suggestion is that we start our search there."
Melany nodded, and started to grin a little. "Are you sure you are prepared?"
Smith got the suggestion, and shook his head. "I know what you want to do, but no, that won't be necessary. I want to approach him as a Human. In bathing pants instead of a smelly towel."

After a few hours of walking Katie tugged on Smith's jumper. "But isn't this dangerous? He is a Feral Tiger. You totally don't smell like a Tiger."
Smith smiled. "Feral does not mean dangerous, it means wild. Melany was also Feral, and hungry… Do you know you really start to drool when I put a piece of chicken next to your nose while you are asleep?"
Katie assumed her fighting position again.
This time it was Melany who interrupted. "Be quiet! I think I saw him!"
Smith smiled. "Being quiet is very stupid. It must be confusion, a Human talking to two Tigers, like friends, that must be confusing for him. My suggestion is that we go to the lake, to swim and play. I'm sure he will follow us, I can only hope he doesn't shred my clothes."

"Well… this is the lake they told me about… It's more a pond, to be honest… But we can swim here, as far as I can smell he does not use this pond as a toilet. I'll get into my bathing pants, and then have a swim." Smith said while he pulled his bathing pants from his backpack, and walked towards a few bushes to put them on, he had already taken off his jumper.
"We all do know each other, we are friends, why do you still wear those ridiculous pants?" Katie asked once again.
Smith smiled "Yes, we are friends. But I am a Human. How many times do I have to tell you that? I want to keep certain body parts covered." and pulled down his pants, his back turned towards the giggling females.

This time they had not added something to his inventory, but had removed some stitching at a crucial point in his bathing pants. When it became apparent Smith wanted to turn around to tell them, but when he straightened his back he came face-to-face with the Tiger they were looking for.
"Friend? are you friend?" the Tiger asked.
This was indeed not a Feral Tiger, but he was also not normal.
Smith nodded. "Yes, we are friends. Are you also a friend?"
The Tiger pointed at the pond. "Swim… my lake. Good."
Katie came standing besides Smith, but not without taking a peek at Smith's pants. "I'm Katie, and who are you?" she said while she extended her hand as a friendly gesture.
The Tiger grabbed Katie's hand, and ran away, dragging Katie along with him.
"Katie!" Smith shouted, and quickly turned towards Melany. "Follow them, make some traces I can follow. And thank you for your bad stitching."
Melany nodded, grinned a little, and ran off. Smith quickly jumped into his normal pants, and started to follow the trace of broken twigs and footprints. They lead him halfway around the pond, when he suddenly saw a crouched Melany, who gestured Smith to also lower himself.
Smith shook his head. "No Melany, no waiting. I don't want him to hurt Katie… I'll kill him with my bare hands if I have to."

Smith walked on until he came across a crude hut. When Smith looked inside he saw them, the Tiger was offering Katie a piece of raw chicken.
"Smith!" Katie shouted when she saw him. The Tiger snarled something, and stood up, the piece of chicken still in his hand.
Smith shook his head. "This is not what friends do. We are friendly, we do not want to harm you, but we also do not want you to harm us. You understand?" The Tiger lowered himself again, to assume a less hostile posture. "Friend. Give food."
Smith nodded. "I can see that. But we always ask before we do something, we don't grab a child and run away with her. Are you hurt Katie?"
Katie shook her head "No, I don't think so. He was very careful, he did not use his claws."
Smith nodded. "All right… this is all a big misunderstanding… Tiger, what is your name?"
The Tiger walked towards Smith, and came standing face to face with him. "Me Tim. You?"
Smith smiled. "You can call me Smith." Smith gestured Melany to come closer. Melany did, but Tim crawled back into his hut. "Large Tiger… scary!"
Smith shook his head. "No, she is not scary. She is also a friend, just like Katie. Melany is a large White Tigress, but she is not scary, she is very nice."
Melany tapped Smith on his shoulder. "What do you think he is?" she whispered in Smith's ear.
"He is not Feral, but maybe his mother was, I'll try to ask him. I think he has never seen a Human before, that's why he is not afraid of me, and is afraid of everything that is larger than he is." Smith whispered in return in Melany's ear.
Smith looked at Tim again. "Tim, I want to ask you a question. Where is your mother?"
Tim crawled to a corner, and pulled a tattered blanket away, revealing a skeleton, the skeleton of a Tiger.
"Mommy" Tim simply said.

Smith nodded. It takes years for a corpse to become a skeleton, and it seems that Tim has not spoken to anyone in a very long time. Feral does not only mean fighting for your own survival, but this Feral Tigress also had managed to keep a child alive. Alive, but no education. Maybe very basic talking, but not enough to teach something. Only teaching by example, not by telling. Born in and his first years spent in a normal village, his mother went Feral, and ran off with him, just like he ran off with Katie, away from the 'danger'.
Maybe this hut belonged to someone else who lived in the forest, and Tim's mother remembered that a child needs shelter… and now this hut was Tim's home.
"All right Tim, your mother is dead. You live here alone. We are here because we heard someone was stealing chickens from Foxes. Do you know anything about it?" Smith spoke after some silence.
Tim bowed his head. "Yes, me stealing chickens. Me hungry, me steal chicken, me eat."
Smith smiled. "All right Tim. You know that stealing is wrong, but I will ask the Foxes to give you chickens to eat. You not stealing from Foxes, but Foxes giving chicken to you. Do you want that?"
Tim lifted his head again. "Yes, me like chicken."
Smith smiled. "All right. We go now. We will tell the Foxes about you, and if you want chicken, ask. No stealing."

Tim jumped up and ran towards Smith. Just like Katie always does. But for this Tiger Smith does not need to crouch to catch, he could catch him standing upright. Tim was just like a big Katie. A very big Katie, with the same enthusiasm. Smith managed to catch him, but the momentum made him lose his balance, and he fell backwards, lucky for him on soft soil.
"Good friend!" Tim said.
Smith laughed. "Well… you are also a good friend, but try to be more careful."
Tim carefully climbed off Smith, and left without saying a word. This was just too much emotions for him. Smith stood up again, and started to brush the dirt and leaves off while they walked back to the place where they have left the backpacks.

"Your back is also dirty from the soil, now you really have to swim." Katie said.
Smith grinned. "All right ladies, whose idea was this? to remove some stitching from my bathing pants. I know Melany has done it, because she is the only one who can do this so neatly, only removing the thread without damaging the fabric."
Katie grinned. "It was my idea. Clothes are not natural."
Melany handed Smith a new pair of bathing pants, with the symbol of the Neutral Zone stitched at the front. "I made you these to say thank you. But it was indeed Katie's idea to destroy the old ones in a very funny way. Unfortunately we did not have time to laugh about it. But it ended up fine in the end."
Smith nodded. "Yes… thank you… I don't know what to say… Now let me inspect these first before putting them on, it is supposed to have three holes… and that is correct. Attempt number two to cover myself in proper Human swimming pants, Inimal made. No Feral Wolves nearby?"
Katie and Melany started to look around inquisitively, but Smith laughed, answering his own question. "I don't think so. I have never heard of two different species of Feral Inimals living close together, or even one Feral living close by an Inimal of an other species. There might be more Feral Felines here, although I think Tim has taken care of them, in his own way."

The water was nice, the new bathing pants were perfect. Katie was swimming around in the pond, and Melany was washing Smith's back. "What are we going to do next?" she asked while she moved around Smith again to face him again, her arm wrapped around his neck.
Smith sighed. "Not what you want to do. I'd say we go back to the village, and tell the Foxes there about Tim. I will pay them five big silver, and they must promise me to help Tim, by giving him the chicken he wants, maybe even try to help him with other things. As you could see, he is not dangerous, just a bit… shy. I think I will come back more often to see how he is doing, maybe even slowly bring him back to civilization, although I do not want to force him."
Melany hugged Smith "You are far too kind. Everyone else would have killed and skinned him, you made him a friend."
Smith nodded. "Nobody deserves to be killed. I only kill when my own life is at stake, and I don't like doing it."
Melany started to grin. "Dead people can't buy, that's what Jacques always says, I have never seen him use a skin, he is also very neutral, he does not want to offend a single customer."
Smith nodded. "Neither have I seen him using one, and I know him much longer… when I first met him he was a smith, and we also never use flammable skins for our trade… Let's get out of the water, eat, leave the fourth chicken and my spare sleeping mat and blanket for Tim, and go back, you wanted to go to the other Vulpine village, in the Inimal kingdom, to buy the things you wanted to buy. I'm not sure about what I am going to do tomorrow, I just could walk across the border, and see how they respond, or just go back."
Melany looked at the sky. "That's a good idea… going back to the village… I think it's going to rain soon. I think it's best for you that you wait at the border, I think those Foxes in the other village really will kill you… you know… without a Human on a roof calling not to shoot… Let's indeed get back, we can eat our chicken along the way, it started to rain already."

"You… leave?" Tim had followed Smith, Melany and Katie to the edge of the forest.
Smith nodded. "Yes, we have to go somewhere else. And then we go home, but we will visit you again. We promise."
Tim slowly nodded. "Home… where?"
Smith smiled. "We live far south, we have walked over three days to get here."
Tim hugged Smith "Me come visit you!"
Smith smiled. "No, you don't have to, we will visit you. You must stay here, it's too dangerous to go somewhere else."
From the corner of his eyes Smith saw a Fox approach, his bow and arrow ready to shoot.
Tim also noticed him, "Danger here!" he called and ran back into the forest.
Smith sighed. "Well… bad first impression from you Fox, that was the so called Feral Tiger you were looking for. He is not Feral, but his mother was, and he has missed a lot of a normal youth. As you could see he is harmless, unless you are a chicken."
The Fox nodded. "All right… Now we know what we are hunting for."
Smith shook his head. "No, you keep him alive. He called me a friend, and friends protect each other. I will give you Foxes five big silver, and if he asks for a chicken you give him one, one at a time, but if he continues to misbehave… then you may kill him. I will come to visit more often to see how he is doing, maybe even helping him by building him a new hut, but he is very shy… to let him trust me enough to bring others who can build him a proper hut might take years… But if you want to do that I always can compensate you."
The Fox nodded. "You are really different, you really care for others… Somehow I think you care more about us Inimals than you care about Humans."
Smith nodded with a grin. "Oh, but I only care about the things you different species of Inimals produce. If Humans were as good as you are with the things like stone, wood and chicken I would not care about you. But I can not benefit from Tim, but sometimes you need a friend, without knowing why he is a friend."
The Fox also nodded. "Right… mutual benefit. That's a very good reason to be friendly. You want three more chickens for dinner? We'll give it as an act of friendliness."
Smith grinned. "I assume you have made your calculations, I will send two hundred arrowheads, I want one hundred complete arrows back, that means I give you one hundred arrowheads, the assembly of one hundred arrows is… I guess worth forty arrowheads, that is sixty arrowheads for nineteen chickens, we also want breakfast tomorrow. Those must be the size of a turkey to be worth that much, three arrowheads for one chicken, instead of two we agreed yesterday."
The Fox grinned. "You are fast with calculating. The chickens we have are still worth two arrowheads. But let's say we will give you three more for lunch, and the remaining chickens to that Tiger for the rest of his life, that would be our friendliness. Does he have a name?"
Smith nodded.
"His name is Tim! and he offered me a piece of chicken!" It was Katie who spoke before Smith could open his mouth.
The Fox nodded. “All right. If he has not done you any harm and even offered some chicken he is indeed not a Feral. We will help him.”

"Well… let's go to the other Vulpine village. Our… well… at least my business is done here. We could split up, you can go on alone, and I could go back home" Smith spoke after he had packed his tent.
Melany sighed. "I… I don't want to be left alone in the forest… I want you to come with me, as you promised."
Smith nodded. "All right… Then I'll come along. But I'll stay on my side of the border. Humans from the Neutral Zone only may cross the Human border, Inimals only may cross the Inimal border, it has taken quite a time to be allowed to work in Katie's old village."
Melany smiled. "I think the other Vulpine village is very close to the border… I have been there once before, to do exactly what I am going to do now, buy fabric and yarn."
Smith nodded. "Right, very close to the border, just like the old Inimal village, the Neutral Zone was just a step outside that one. I never knew, but this might be the same."

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Chapter 16 - Border Crosser

#19 Post by Neutral Smith » Thu Apr 09, 2015 6:13 pm

Chapter 16
Border Crosser

The journey to the border was easy. There was not much wildlife in the forest, but Smith and Katie managed to kill enough animals with their slings to have good meals. The border consisted of a simple pole alongside the path at a junction, with an other path leading south.
Smith took off his backpack. "Right, I'll put up my tent here, on my side of the border, and wait for you. You and Katie can go on, and don't buy more than you can carry."
Melany and Katie gave Smith a hug, and walked on. Smith took his time to make camp, he wondered if he could manage to remember everything when they returned, it was very boring to wait for Melany and Katie to return. Smith wondered how Frank was doing. Would he be too drunken to work? He knew that Siegfried and Robin don't drink, but they were also gone for their work. Smith smiled. Frank had drunk the last alcohol he had in his house, and maybe the awful taste of it might have cured him from his habit.

"Are you Smith?" A Fox from the other side of the border approached.
Smith also walked towards the pole, but he did not pass it. "Yes, that's what they call me. Is there a problem?"
The Fox nodded. "Yes, a very small one… for this time you are allowed to cross the border."
Smith followed the Fox, leaving his tent behind. The village was literally just around the corner.
"A small problem… Little Tiger giving problems?" Smith asked in an innocent voice.
The Fox grinned. "No, the big one is too small to carry everything she has bought. And you are a strong Human she says."
Smith followed the Fox to a small store. "I hope she didn't buy the entire contents of this store." Smith noted.
The Fox grinned while he held the door open for Smith. "She did. She just kept on saying how cheap it was, and kept on buying."

There were two large tables inside, stacked with fabric and yarn. Smith had some trouble controlling his laughter. "Well… she is a woman after all, Human women are even worse… Melany, I have two questions for you: Why have you bought more than you could carry, and how long can you work with this amount of fabric?"
Melany bowed her head, trying to hide a grin. "I thought you said 'don't buy more than we can carry', and this is enough for… I think two months, then we'll have to come back here again."
Smith nodded. "Right… I hope you have some money left because I want you to buy some straps for me, It's fabric, it are not heavy sacks of coal, but I still want to keep them on my back… I wanted to spare Katie, only let her carry her own spices… but I think we have to abuse her as a mule as well, she can carry the smaller items like the yarn, thread and needles."
Katie frowned. "What is a mule?"
Smith smiled. "A mule is a child of a horse mother and a donkey father, and Humans use those to carry heavy loads. My father used them in the forest to pull trees to the sawmill."
Katie nodded. "A donkey father and a horse mother… Why can't you have children with Charlene or Melany?"
Smith sighed. "We are far too different. A mule is a halfbreed, horses and donkeys are related, just like Cats and Tigers. But a Dog can never get a child with a Cat, or a Fox with a Bear… And Humans are also entirely different from Inimals, for me it's all fun and no babies."

The Fox in the store handed Smith a set of straps. "So… You have sex with Inimals… That's perverted. Sex is to produce children, not for fun… Here are your straps, you can have them for free. You are not allowed to come here again, unless you have a Human woman as company with you. Next time you have to stay at the border."
Smith nodded. "I will keep that in mind. But lucky for me I have somewhere else to go in less than two months, if I, Human, am not allowed here, Melany will have to ask a Wolf to accompany her to carry the things she bought."
The Fox shook his head. "We tolerated you here, our language speaking Human, but Wolves are completely not allowed here. Not to live, not to work, not even to trade. Let's say we just don't like them."
Smith nodded. "Right, I thought you were united as Inimals…"
The Fox snickered. "We are not a single species like the Humans… We are different. Us Vulpine in the north, the Wolves in the west, the large Felines more towards the south, the Otters even further south on the islands… and all the other species scattered across the lands. What you are doing in your Neutral Zone is impressive, but it's not a long-term solution for peace. Peace can only be achieved when everyone goes back to the place where they belong."
Smith nodded. "We Humans are are single species, but we are also not united. I have a lot of Human refugees in the Neutral Zone, chased away because they are different from the majority. But I'm wasting my time here. Thanks for the straps, thanks for the talk… Knowledge is power the Elfique always say, and what you have told me is very useful. I have never heard of Otters before. What is their speciality?"
The Fox snickered again. "Water. They can do anything with water. Building boats, they even can control the level of the water in their rivers, and allow boats to go up or down with the water. Why do you ask?"
Smith shrugged. "Oh. Nothing. Just curious. Goodbye."

"What was that all about? That talk with that Fox." Melany asked while they walked along a path heading south towards the now abandoned Inimal village, a path following the border, with border poles at regular intervals. They had not spoken much since they left the village and spent the night at the border.
Despite the heavy load on his shoulders Smith shrugged. "Oh, I don't know… did you know that Siegfried is a descendant from the Wolven king? I suspect the Fox we were talking to yesterday is a descendant from the Fox king Siegfried's great great grandfather appointed as his successor… He seems to know a lot about the world we live in… You don't learn that when you stay at home. Siegfried is proud that his ancestor united the species, this Fox is not… And a Wolf among the soldiers I brought back is also not happy about the current situation. There might be trouble in the future, and I want to be prepared for that."
Melany nodded. "And you just continue to unite… Somehow I think now you want Otters to work in the Neutral Zone, to dig the canal."
Smith shook his head. "Over my dead body. I don't want that canal, huge barges means a lot of unhappy jobless Wolves who used to pull the carts with the stones."

In the distance a horse drawn cart appeared on the path they were walking on.
Smith smiled. "I think that must be Floris and his family. It's getting late, maybe we can put up camp together."
Melany nodded. "That's a great idea. Now I regret buying this much fabric, it's really heavy. I haven't heard you complain, but you carry even twice as much as I am carrying."
Smith grinned. "Like I said, it's fabric, not sacks of coal. And how about you Katie, are you tired?"
Katie nodded. "Yes, it's heavy. I wanted to stop her buying more things, but I kept my mouth shut, I was afraid of saying something stupid."
Smith nodded. "You are a child. You are supposed to say stupid things, that way you can learn what is stupid and what not. In this case saying nothing was stupid."
Katie nodded. "Melany! you are stupid!" she replied at Melany with a grin.
Smith shook his head. "No Katie, that was not nice. Melany has made a little mistake, I really asked her not to buy more than she, and only she could carry. We all learn from this. I learned that I should be somewhere else when she wants to buy things."
Melany grinned. "I can wait a few days more. The Wolf you want to get out of prison is far more important, this is just dead fabric. Although I can make a huge profit with it, it really was cheap, Jacques always complains about how expensive the fabric is he uses."
Smith nodded. "I think he uses Elfique fabric. That really comes from far away, the people who transport it make it expensive."
Melany shook her head. "No, it's the same kind of fabric I bought, to the customers he says it's Elfique, but in fact it's Vulpine."
Smith nodded. "Right… you can tell and sell me anything about fabric. I know everything about metal and forged objects, fabric is your profession."

"Smith! You here!" Floris called from the cart.
"Aya!" little Johanna added.
The Kobold coachman simply nodded.
Smith smiled. "Yes, we have been to the Vulpine village in the Neutral Zone, and the one just across the border, as you can see. It's getting late, shall we set up camp here?"
The coachman nodded. "[That is a good idea. Shall I hunt for something to eat? I'm sure you have a lot to talk about.]"
Smith nodded. "[That's a very good idea. We will put up the tents and start the fire, Katie and I only have our slings for hunting, I have left my armbrust at home, and it would be very rude to let our guests do the work.]"
Floris looked at Smith in disbelief. "I knew you speak Inimal and Human, I suspected you also can speak Elfique, you know a lullaby in a strange language, and now you switch to Bergs. Are there more languages you know?"
Smith shook his head. "No… Inimal is my native language, but I also consider Human as my native language. I have lived a few months among the Elfique and the Bergvolk, that's why I know their languages. And only the Lullaby and my own name in that strange language, and the names of my brothers, those come from other Human languages, Penge, Florijn and Oro… but I don't know where my father has learned them, I never asked him."
Floris nodded. "Of course. The Human kingdom is huge, there might be regions with other languages, just like we have dominant species in different regions."
Smith also nodded. "Yes, that's also a thing I want to talk about. But let us first set up camp, I think Johanna is getting a bit restless again."

The tents were put up quickly, and the fire was lit. Smith had to share his tent not only with Katie, but also with Melany for the remainder of their journey, because she wanted to use her tent to keep the things she had bought dry.
"Does the coachman not need a tent?" Smith asked while he lifted the bench off the cart to have something to sit on. Floris got a chair, and Melany followed his example.
Floris shook his head. "No, he sleeps under the table on the cart… Who is that White Tigress? I have never seen her before."
Melany gave Floris and Florette a hand. "I'm Melany, tailor as you might have noticed. I was a Feral, but Smith helped me back to normal."
Floris looked inquisitively at Melany. "Feral? You? That's odd, someone who has been Feral back to normal, but somehow Smith can not surprise me any more, I believe you."
Melany smiled. "I'm getting tired of telling my story again and again. Thank you for not asking."

Smith sat down on the bench, and Florette and Katie sat down besides him. Johanna was already eager to get on Smith's lap.
Katie smiled. "She really likes you. Just like I do."
Smith nodded. "Yes, she opened her eyes for the first time while she was sitting on my lap, maybe that's why. But I don't mind, she is a featherweight compared to Melany."
Melany grinned. "And her bladder is also a lot smaller."
Smith laughed. "You didn't kick your legs before you peed, and I doubt I can hold you with stretched arms… I'll just tell the summary about how we met, this is all starting to sound a bit awkward… Siegfried and Katie know my sense of smell is not very good, and they decided to pull a prank on me, and Katie peed on my towel. I used the towel, and suddenly I looked like a Human, but smelled like a Tiger. I was scared of Melany, and thought she would kill me. I tried to be friendly, caressing her a little, using a brush I bought from Dora, and finally sat down on a rock. She leaped on my lap, I continued to brush and caress her, and we fell asleep. Next morning I woke up with her still sitting on my lap, I was scared, she was scared and she had to pee, but did not dare to get off my lap, and you can guess what happened… Then I really smelled like a Tiger. In the confusion about what was happening to her she got back to normal, and that is how we met."
Floris nodded. "That's a very interesting story… I heard that around my new town is also a Feral Tiger. You told me you have been there, did you also hear that story?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, I heard the story, and no, it is not a Feral Tiger. Tim, that's the Tigers name, is the son of a Feral. His mother was presumably a Feral Tigress, and she raised him. He has limited mental capabilities, but he is friendly. I asked the villagers to give him chicken if he wants those, he was stealing them, and they promised me they will."
Floris nodded. "That's a relief… you among us. Not surprised again. Always trying to be friendly, until it kills you."

The coachman returned with a deer hanging over his shoulder. "[I think this should be enough for the remainder of our journey… for all of us.]"
Smith nodded. "[Yes, that sounds good, but keep in mind that we are already carrying almost too much. I think we only should take enough for lunch, dinner and breakfast for the day after tomorrow, after that we are in the Neutral Zone again, and there is plenty of wildlife.]"
The coachman also nodded. "Or the greedy Tigress can leave some of the items she bought in the old Inimal village, and let me collect and deliver it for a few silvers."
Melany shook her head while she got up to get the deer and skin it. "No, it's very kind you offered it, but I think we can carry it ourselves."
Smith nodded. "Yes, for me it's a nice change of work. I still can feel my shoulder when I use a heavy hammer, but the straps for the load I am carrying don't give me a problem. It's a pity I don't have larger straps, but maybe you can rearrange the things we are carrying, let me carry the heaviest items, and Katie what Melany can't carry."
The coachman nodded. "You are still as impressively strong as you were when I first met you. Strong and generous. Maybe you don't remember me, but I was the one with the very thick branch, hitting you on your back… Oh… I think my horse is getting hungry… if you excuse me… She if far more important to me than you are."
Smith nodded again. "Of course… that's why I hate horses, never can take of themselves, or run away when you think they can. I have had a few horses that didn't prance while I rode them, but they ran away… I saw one run straight into the jaws of a Feral. Let's say I really helped that Feral, he had a very good meal of it… No more horses for me."
Floris grinned. "I never expected to meet a Human who can't handle a horse… Even I can ride a horse, and it was very tasty afterward… And what was that about hitting you with a branch?"
Smith grinned. "There is a test to be allowed among the Bergvolk. They hit you with al kinds of blunt objects until an hourglass runs out or you black out, and I survived a few rounds. Apparently he was among those who tested me, but I can't remember much of it."
Floris nodded. "That's harsh, but you really earned their respect with it, still remembering it after all those years."
Smith slowly nodded. "And they followed me. They saw a strong leader in me… but I neglected them. Now I have to do a lot more work to make things better…"

"Please don't talk about it, I want to hear that song in that strange language you know." Katie interrupted.
Smith smiled. "Yes… Yes, I can remember an other song… I think Johanna really wants to hear that."
"Yeh!" the little kit on Smith's lap replied.

Smith began to sing again, in a low, soothing tone.

Gee, geffyl bach, yn cario ni'n dau
Dros y mynydd i hela cnau;
Dŵr yn yr afon a'r cerrig yn slic,
Cwympo ni'n dau. Wel dyna i chi dric!

Cwyd Robin bach a saf ar dy draed,
Sych dy lygad, anghofio'r gwaed;
Neidiwn ein dau ar ein ceffyl bach gwyn,
Dros y mynydd, ac i lawr y glyn.

Gee, geffyl bach dros frigau y coed,
Fel y Tylwyth Teg mor ysgafn dy droed,
Carlam ar garlam ar y cwmwl gwyn;
Naid dros y lleuad, ac i lawr at y llyn.

"What was that song about?" Katie asked after Smith has finished his song.
Smith shrugged. "I really don't know… I only know that 'geffyl bach' means 'little horse' and that my father used to drop me from his knees at the end of the song. I only know the words, I don't know the meaning."
Katie smiled "I really liked it, and so does Johanna, she is asleep. Do you know more songs? Can you sing us a song in Human?"
Smith nodded. "Of course… somehow I start to remember some songs again… there is one particular song I know in different languages, maybe you also know that song… it's 'Are you sleeping', or 'Vader jacob' in Human. Coachman, do you also know 'Bruder Jacob'?"
The coachman nodded. "Of course I do. The thing that you probably don't remember is all of us singing it together, with you and François singing the Human and Elfique parts, and us Bergvolk singing the Berg and Inimal parts."
Smith grinned and nodded. "I'm sure it had something to do with my drinking habit… I'm sober now, but I'm sure I still can sing all parts."
The coachman grinned. "The voice you used a few moments ago sounded a lot better… But you are singing it to a child, and not to and with a lot of adults who also had a lot of alcohol in their blood."
Smith nodded. "Probably best if I don't remember… Shall I begin in Human, the Inimals in their language, then me again in Elfique, then you in Bergs, and then I will start the next part."
They all nodded.

"Vader Jacob" Smith started to sing.
"Are you sleeping?" Katie, Florette, Melany and Floris replied.
"Frère Jacques" Smith sang again, this time in a softer tone.
"Bruder Jacob" the Kobold coachman bellowed, in a much lower voice than anyone expected.
"Vader Jacob" Smith sang again, this time with a lot more strength in his voice.
"Are you sleeping?" the Inimals replied, also putting a bit more strength in their voices.
"Frère Jacques" Smith sang again, but instead of putting a lot of strength in his voice he decided to go for the exaggerated facial expressions, which made Katie giggle.
"Bruder Jacob" the coachman had some trouble controlling his laughter, but he managed to sing it.

"Slaapt gij nog?" Smith went for the facial expressions again. High raised eyebrows really look funny.
"Brother John" Only Melany and Florette managed to sing, Katie couldn't stop laughing, which also caused Floris to forget his line.
"Dormez-vous?" Smith sang again, this time with a little less expression.
"Schläfst du noch?" The coachman also managed to sing in his normal voice again.
"Slaapt gij nog?" Smith asked the little kit on his lap.
"Brother John" The Inimals sang in their normal voice again.
"Dormez-vous?" Smith went for the facial expressions again.
"Schläfst du noch?" The coachman barely managed to sing.

"Alle klokken luiden" Smith sang in a normal voice.
"Morning bells are ringing" The Inimals followed Smith's example.
"Sonnez les matines" Smith replied again with a plain face.
"Hörst du nicht die Glöcken?" This time it was the coachman's turn to go for the facial expressions
"Alle klokken luiden" Smith almost choked in his laughter, he did not expect the facial expression of the coachman.
"Morning bells are ringing" The Inimals had less trouble controlling their laughter. Smith suspected he was really looking stupid compared to the coachman.
"Sonnez les matines" Smith sang with a normal voice, but it was hard singing the Elfique part without the facial expressions.
"Hörst du nicht die Glöcken?" the coachman sang with a grin.

"Bim bam bom" Smith sang with a strong voice again.
"Ding ding dong" the Inimals replied with a deafening sound.
"Ding ding dong" this time it was time for a softer voice from Smith
"Ding dang dong" the coachman bellowed again.
"Bim bam bom" Smith tried to sing at the top of his lungs.
"Ding ding dong" the Inimals replied again, also almost shouting.
"Ding ding dong" Smith sang with a fake hoarse voice
"Ding dang dong" the coachman finished the song still with a grin on his face.

"That sounded really good. Unfortunately we have woken up Johanna." Smith remarked.
Florette smiled. "I don't care, we had a good time. It's feeding time for her anyway. And I think the deer is almost ready to eat for us."
The coachman nodded. "Natürlich… I mean of course. It's almost ready, but you can take your time to feed your baby."

Smith grinned while he handed Florette her little kit. "Living with Inimals again almost makes me forget about breasts. My wife really had a pair of big breasts, nice and soft. It was really odd to touch them for the first time, I was used to fur covered nipples, nothing sensual about that… It's not polite to stare at breasts of female customers, but I must admit I looked at Mary's breasts, those were also nice and good looking, although they were covered by a dress."
Melany nodded. "Yes, those things really give problems. They really need some support. And some Human females even want them to look bigger, for no reason… Oh, I think you just gave me a reason, you called your wife's breasts 'nice and big'… I guess it has some sexual meaning?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, we Humans are visually oriented, we prefer good looking instead of good smelling. Being clothed also made certain male body parts become larger than needed for reproduc…"
"Can I see it in daylight?" Katie interrupted.
Smith shook his head. "No little Tiger, I know you constantly want to take a peek at it, but it's… well… let's say I am still a Human, and we Humans don't show it to our children."

"So, you still think about a Human wife?" the coachman interrupted, saving Smith from an uncomfortable conversation.
Smith nodded. "Of course. But I don't feel safe enough for children of my own at this moment, but I am doing everything to make it safe. Not only for my own children in the future, but for all the children in the Neutral Zone, I want it to become a place where they can grow up in peace."
The coachman nodded. "That's a very noble cause to fight for. You are a smith, war means a lot of income for you, but for a trader like me peace is much better. But I haven't seen you doing much forging lately. Busy with other things?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, I have a lot of other things to attend to, like visiting many places."
The coachman nodded. "I noticed the forest is already getting safer. Good thing we have that armbrust back, we have replaced the string, the Leopard can keep it… In a few years you can have your Human wife and children."
Smith nodded as well. "Of course… But first I want to give Katie a good youth… At this moment she is the most important thing I have."
Katie gave Smith a hug. "Can you feed me?"
Smith grinned. "Of course I can shove a few pieces of deer meat into your mouth. But I think you are already old enough to eat it yourself."
Katie nodded. "Of course I am… I am not a little child any more."
Smith grinned while he got a piece of meat. "But you are still fluffy."
When Katie opened her mouth to reply that she was not fluffy Smith stuffed the piece of meat in her mouth. "Here, I just wanted you to open your mouth so I can feed you, little Tiger."

It was a bit cramped in the tent that night, but they all found their place to sleep. Smith in between Katie and Melany. Smith had left the open side of his blanket towards Katie, to the dismay of Melany. It was a cold night, and Katie was very close to the side of the tent, where a lot of draft was taking away her body heat, and allowing Katie to come close to him when she got cold was something a real father would do. And Smith now was her father.
Melany was a bit restless, which caused Smith to wake up. He noticed that something was tugging on the front flap of the tent, and he got up to inspect it. It was little Johanna.
"What are you doing here?" he muttered when he got the little and above all cold Vixen.
"Aya" the shivering little kit replied.
Smith sighed. The thought of getting out of the tent to bring her back to her parents made him shiver. He was already shivering in the cold, and outside the tent it was even colder. Smith sighed again, and decided she could sleep with them. Smith looked at the sleeping Katie and Melany, there was barely enough space for the three of them in the little tent, a fourth sleeper on her own place was impossible. And he had no blanket left. A cold draft really made Smith shiver, and he made a choice. Johanna would sleep on top of him. She was small enough to let her head rest on his chest, and her bottom on his belly, not touching anything below the waistline. Smith shuffled backwards, closing the tent again with a single hand, and crawled underneath his blanket again. He found his place again with a cold little Johanna already sleeping on his chest. He pulled his blanket over them, careful not to smother little Johanna, and fell asleep again.

"Have you seen… Oh… You have found her." It was Floris who woke them up.
Smith smiled, and stroked Johanna's little head. "If you were Johanna, and you knew I was sleeping in a tent very close to the one you are sleeping in, what would you have done?"
Katie was also hugging Smith. "He is nice and warm… I also always want to sleep op top of Smith, but he does not want me to do that."
Smith turned his head towards her, he also wanted to caress Katie, but the lack of space made that impossible, he only could move his hand to a very inappropriate place. "You are already too large to sleep with your head on my chest… my erm… well… let's say it might get very inappropriate when I start to dream and I mistake you for an adult."
Katie nodded. "But you are still wearing pants… But I think I know what you mean."
Smith went to a sitting position, holding Johanna in one arm while he used his other arm to get up. "I hope she doesn't get sick, she was really cold when I found her. Lucky for her I woke up, and I noticed her tugging on the tent. I thought you Foxes were very light sleepers, waking up at the slightest sound?"
Floris nodded while he got his daughter. "We are, but we are also exhausted putting our belongings on the cart. And little Johanna here really knows how to be quiet."

They finished their breakfast. Johanna was still cold from her little adventure, and Smith decided to put her under his jumper, to make her benefit some more from his body heat and naked skin. He had unbuttoned the top of his jumper to give her more space, and her head poked out in a very funny way. Floris decided to make a drawing of it, as a reminder for Johanna when she got older. Florette showed Smith a drawing Floris had made earlier, with Smith sitting on the bench in front of their old house, with his eyes closed and a sleeping Johanna on his lap.
Smith smiled when he saw it. "I thought there were some mice scribbling in your house, but it was you, scribbling on paper."
Floris nodded. "Yes, I really like to draw. It was really a beautiful sight, you on my bench with my child on your lap. Shall I also make a drawing of Katie for you?"
Smith shook his head. "Maybe later, but with our breakfast and morning rituals almost done we have to move on, tomorrow you will be sitting in front of your new home, and we still have a few days of walking to go."
Floris nodded. "Of course… Making drawings is nice when you have time to waste, but we don't have that. Nice talking to you again, and I hope I will see you soon. I will keep a bed free for you."
Smith nodded and grinned. "Make sure it's on the same floor as Johanna is supposed to sleep, I'm sure she will use the stairs if we are not, and then I can not help her if she falls while I am still in my bed."
Floris and Florette nodded. "Of course. For now she sleeps with us in our bed, but when she gets older we will buy her a big bed, so you can use that one, and her also in it."
Smith shook his head. "No, when she gets older her behavior might change. She must have a choice, I don't want to be in her bed when she doesn't like it, I think she already does not want to share my jumper any more… erm… I think she just peed in my jumper… Fortunately I have a spare one"
Smith pulled off his jumper, and handed Florette her daughter. "I hope there are still some pumps working in your old village, I don't smell it, but I'm sure others can."
Katie grinned. "Yes, I can smell it. But lucky for you it doesn't stink as much as my urine."
Floris nodded. "Of course, and… oh… almost forgot, here are the keys to Diego's inn and Dora's store, those are yours now."

Floris handed Smith two keys.

Smith looked at the keys in his hand. "I don't know what to do with those buildings, but I'm sure we can use one of them tonight, that way we can sleep on our sleeping mats on a spacious floor in our own empty room instead of a cramped tent."
Floris nodded. "Of course. And I have given Charlene the book she wanted… She told me you want to give it to a Wolf who is in a Human prison… You want him to calm down as a replacement for you? I know you must hate Wolves because of what they have done with your wife and child, but trusting more Wolves?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, I know it might sound odd, but I want him to be my counterbalance, I take care of the Inimals in my village, I can select them without being biased towards one species, and he can say 'yes' or 'no' to Humans who want to live in the Neutral Zone without any bias towards who and how they are and where they come from. A neutral Human and a Neutral Inimal… But I do not want him to be nice to everyone, I only want the best Humans who can live in peace among Inimals, and if they don't like a Wolf they can go back and live among Humans again."
Floris nodded. "I see… That's a very good reason. Like I told you before, you really start to act like a king, and now you actively start to collect the people around you, your own personal court. I like that attitude."

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Chapter 17 - Grounded

#20 Post by Neutral Smith » Thu Apr 09, 2015 6:15 pm

Chapter 17

Smith and the women were on the move again. The coachman had re-arranged the load they had to carry, Smith now carried all the items Melany had bought, and Melany was carrying the tents, blankets, sleeping mats and other camping gear. Katie only had her own personal belongings to carry.
Smith groaned. "This is much heavier than I thought. It's getting late, I don't think we can reach the old village before dark, I suggest we set up camp somewhere around here, maybe we can stay a bit longer at the inn when we reach it early in the day."
Melany managed to grin. "I thought you would never quit and just walk on in silence. Great idea, set up camp here, and take some more rest in Katie's old village tomorrow. Does the inn have a bath?"
Katie nodded. "Yes, a big bath, much bigger than Smith has."
Smith had walked on in silence, he had spotted a nice spot to put up the tents. Finally he was able to put his load on the ground, although careful to put it on a clean spot, just before a bent in the path. "Here is a small open space, just enough for our tents. And yes, Diego's old inn has a bath, although I think he drained it, you don't leave the water in if you don't use it. But we can always refill it, as long as there are coal to be found in the village even with hot water. But it will take a lot of pumping."
Melany nodded. "Of course. You won't have to do anything tonight, as long as you promise we can have our hot bath tomorrow."
Smith laughed. "Well… I won't promise anything, it all depends on the availability of coal and the time I have to pump."
Nonetheless Smith helped to put up camp.

When the tents were put up and a fire started Smith noticed that Katie was missing. "Where's Katie?"
Melany came out of the storage tent. "She's right behind you, with… rabbits?"
Smith looked at the little Tiger holding three big rabbits. "Rabbits?… but we are in a forest, rabbits don't live in a dense forest… are you saying…"
Katie grinned. "Yes, my old village is just around the corner. I killed these rabbits on the field where you taught me how to use a sling. This means we can spend an entire day at the inn, and you have plenty of time to fill the bath. There are two sacks of coal in front of the smithy, they are a bit damp, but not wet, so hot water is also not a problem."

The next morning they found out that the abandoned village was indeed just around the corner. The weed was high after a few months of growing, but the houses were still in a relative good condition. The lock on the door of the inn worked flawless, but the last use of it has been a few days ago, by Diego closing it for the last time, and with Casper as a locksmith in the village it would have surprised Smith if it didn't work. All the pieces of furniture were gone, only a broken chair in a corner and some tatty curtains were left.
Smith had put his load on the floor, and walked towards the door where the 'bath' sign was supposed to hang. "I'll go check the bath, I hope there is still some water in it, that saves me a lot of pumping."
Melany nodded. "That's fine, I'll go check the kitchen, see if the stove is still there. I just can't get the hang of cooking over open fire."

A few moments later Smith came back. "The bath is still filled, and the water is clean. I''ll go get the coal, and see how damp it it. I also have the key to the smithy with me, if it's too damp to use I can use the coal I put on the forge, that's dry for sure. And maybe I will take a look in Dora's store, maybe she has left some useful items we can bring here."
Katie nodded. "And I know where Charlene keeps the key to her house, maybe we can get some things from there as well."
Smith shook his head. "No, we leave Charlene's house as it is, I think she used it when she was here in this village, and maybe she will use it again in the future if she needs to go to the Inimal kingdom, a bed in a house still sleeps better than sleeping on a sleeping mat in a tent."
Melany nodded. "Of course. But tonight we will be sleeping on the floor in a warm inn… maybe we can rearrange our blankets so we will be sleeping together, with our bodies touching, there is no draft here, two blankets on our sleeping mats to make the floor a bit softer, and one on top of us?"
Smith looked at Melany. "What do you mean? We have a child among us, we will all get our own room, just like at home… I'll go get the coal, I want to spend the rest of the day in a hot bath. Katie, you can go hunt again for our lunch and dinner, and Melany can do the cooking. We can decide our sleeping places tonight."

The sacks of coal in front of the smithy were too damp to use, he had left them for others to take, but they were not taken. Smith got the key to the smithy from his pocket. Smith looked at the key for a few moments, he never knew why he was carrying it around, this was the only place where he could use it. Maybe it was a reminder of an other time, a piece of scrap from the past, just like the piece of paper with the song that his father taught him. A piece of history. The first time he was here he wanted to do something completely different than he was doing today. Smith sighed. He has nothing from his wife, only memories.

Smith opened the door of the smithy. It was just the way he left it, only with a little more dust on everything. Smith decided to move the sacks of coal inside, and put them on the workbench, in case of any flooding happened. The coal on the forge was still dry and usable for heating the bathing water. Smith got the empty slack tub and started to scoop the coal from the forge with his hands into it. The smell of the forest was nice, but he really started to miss the smell of burning coal and hot iron. One part of him wanted to leave again, go back home and be useful again, but an other part of him wanted to stay in this abandoned village for one more day, and enjoy doing nothing but having fun. Smith smiled. Maybe even more days. Then the smile dropped from his face, he was already more days away from home than anticipated, they might get worried at home.

Smith wiped the sweat from his forehead, it was a nice morning, and it was already getting warm. Autumn was not far away, with long days filled with rain and wind, not a nice time to be out of the smithy. Only a few more things to arrange outside the village, and he could go back to the smithy, his own smithy, again to do some proper work. More things? No, only one more important thing, getting his replacement as some sort of mayor out of the prison in Schotenburg. The less important thing to do was visiting Tim. But that could wait for a few more days if the weather was bad.

The slack tub was not heavy, but hard to handle. Smith staggered with it to the inn.
Melany held the door open for him. "That's a lot of coal. Do we really need all of it to heat the water?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, it's a lot of water to heat, and I will go back for a bucket, and fill that with coal for the stove, or is the stove also gone?"
Melany smiled. "You really think of everything. Lucky for me the stove is still here, bolted to the floor and chimney. Fire up the water heater, I want to swim this afternoon. And you also could use a bath, you look like a Human Panther, your face is black from the coal."
Katie entered the inn with a big rabbit, a smaller rabbit and a chicken, and laughed when she saw Smith's black face. "Why don't you take off your jumper and pants, then I can use a piece of coal to draw black lines on you, and make you a Human Tiger."
Smith laughed. "Maybe I can get a razor and shave you, the color of your skin matches that of the Bergvolk, then I can say that you are a fourth species of them."
Katie laughed and handed Melany the rabbits and the chicken. "This stray chicken is yours, because you are so kind to us."
Melany also started to smile. "Half a chicken for you, and the other half for me. Half of the fat rabbit for you, and the other half for me. The Human can eat the small rabbit."
Smith laughed. "Then I suddenly will loose the strength to pump water." and started to pump cold water into the heater, and kindled the fire.
Melany grinned. "Of course you can have the fat rabbit for lunch. You are doing most of the work here."
Smith nodded. "Katie, go catch some more animals for our dinner tonight, then you can stay in the bath if you want to. I also want to hunt something, it feels good to walk around without the things I didn't buy. I will do the hunting tomorrow morning for our breakfast, but you will have to hunt again for lunch."
Melany smiled. "That's a good idea, now go and get that extra bucket of coal you weakling, I want you back here as soon as possible to fill the bath with hot water, and hope Katie does not catch anything soon, not only the water is heating up if you know what I mean."
Smith grinned, and quickly got an extra bucket of coal from the smithy.

"I caught three rabbits this time, I put them on the counter… I'm sorry it took me this long to catch them, I thought I killed four… Wait… What are you doing? And why is Smith not wearing his pants?" Katie entered the bathing area and stared at Smith and Melany in the bath.
Smith sighed. "We were… well… Let's just say it, the water got the right temperature, and we were having sex. Can you please hand me my pants so we can have lunch?"
Katie grinned, and climbed into the bath. "No. I want to see you naked, and what you have done. With Charlene I only have seen your faces, I could not see beneath the blankets, but this water is clear. Can you do it again?"
Smith sighed again. "Melany, can you please get me my pants."
Melany briefly hugged Smith again "Of course." and climbed out of the bath to get Smith's pants, and gave them to Smith.
"Not fair!" protested Katie while Smith put his pants on.
Smith smiled. "You are just too young to know about sex, but I will tell you the basics and why we like it, if you promise not to ask for it again."

"That's gross… but I now also understand why it's so bad what Melany's father has done, and why you don't want to do that by accident… But you are the same as her father, you also seek others who you can't have any children with."
Smith nodded. "In a way, yes… But we are both adults, and we won't damage each other by doing it. And we both want it, that's also a difference."
Melany nodded. "I really offended my mother when I started to dance when I heard that my father had died. You just don't rape a child. I was also raped by a few Cats when I was older, but not strong enough to fight back. Smith is really the first man I feel safe with."
Smith nodded. "I understand. But you really must find a good husband. I also was abused in my past, and for me it's starting again, it was really not nice when you literally threw a sleeping Charlene out of the bed to have me."
Melany grinned. "My estrus was really strong that day, I'm sorry Katie, for pushing you out of the bed as well… And I will apologize to Charlene when we get home. Lucky for her she fell on the blankets which were already on the floor."
Smith grinned. "This time there is no bed to fall out of. And maybe we can put to practice what we have talked about. You told me Tigers have to practice to keep your bodies flexible, maybe we can do some exercises on the floor, and show Katie what we talked about in the bath."
Melany grinned. "I thought you were just very prudish, but you are just very careful with Katie. Yes, we can use my body as an example, and push my feet next to my head. But now it's time for lunch."

The afternoon and evening were… interesting… with a giggling Katie and a complaining Melany, complaining about the fact that she was not as flexible as she used to be. It felt awkward for Smith, to be undressed in front of Katie for the first time, but Melany was a good distraction. After doing the exercises and showing how Smith loved Melany they decided to improvise on how to teach Katie to defend herself against unwanted contact.
Katie was Smith's child, and it was difficult for him to assault her in a sexual context, he was used just to play with her, avoiding the adult spots. Her flexibility combined with sharp claws gave Smith quite a few scratches, in ways he never imagined.
Melany smiled. "If I knew then what I know now my life would have been very different. And Smith, a normal tickle attack to the neck and ribcage is something my father and those Cats never did. And Katie, smart move, bending forward and throwing your foot over your head to go for the eyes, I always used to kick forwards."
Katie grinned. "I know. It seemed like a logical move, Smith has only two hands and they were busy with my ribs, and nothing protected his face, and I have four things with claws."
Smith managed to grin, with the blood flowing from his left eyebrow. "Maybe I will buy you some shoes and gloves, then we can safely practice without you injuring me."
Katie nodded. "That would be nice, then I won't have to hold back, I did not intend to injure you, I almost clawed your eye out, didn't I?"
Smith sighed. "Well… yes… and you also almost castrated me as well… I think the wound on my leg close to my crotch is quite deep. I think I will be wearing some facial and genital protection, and some more heavy leather clothing next time as well. Talking to a customer with a black eye instead of a wound is also something I don't want, and as I showed you male genitals are also very fragile, I want to use them in the future to have children of my own. Even blunt objects can hurt a lot if they hit the right spot… I'm going to wash myself and patch myself up, I think it's almost dinner time, I'm getting hungry."
Melany nodded, and went to the kitchen. Katie went to the bath again. Smith got some bandages from his backpack and tore some of the old curtains to strips of fabric to use as bandages, and went to the pump to wash himself, and patch himself up. Tomorrow they would walk again.

Most of the wounds which Katie had inflicted were not very deep, but the one on his thigh was a bit of a discomfort while walking. A blood stain appeared on Smith's pants.
"Why don't you take off your pants? I have seen it all, and it's not very special after all." Katie said when she noticed it.
Smith shook his head. "No Katie, what we have done a few days ago was an exception, I am still a Human, and Humans wear clothes. I still have some pieces of the curtains, I can use those as bandages. You promised me not to ask it again. It hurts a little, but now I have a reason to visit the doctor, I want to know if he is happy with all the Items I have given him."
Melany started to smile. "I think I recognize this place, this is the place where Smith and I met for the first time."
Smith nodded. "Yes, that is correct, the rock where we sat on is just around the corner. It's still early, we're going slower than I thought, but it's a nice place to stay, I can bathe and wash my pants in the pool, if we leave early in the morning tomorrow we can reach our home in the evening at this pace."

"Look who we have there, maybe it's our lucky day after all." Smith said when he saw who already was at their intended camp-site. It was an Ork coachman with his loaded cart. Loaded with John's books and equipment.
"[Oh, hello Schmied, you here?]" he greeted when he saw the little group approach.
"[Yes, and I see you are taking your time, already put up camp here.]"
The coachman nodded. "[Yes, this is a nice place to camp. I have plenty of time, almost everything was already packed by Floris and Diego, I only had to stack it on the cart… I see you have an injury. You need some bandages? I have plenty of those.]"
Smith nodded. "[Yes, some small flesh wounds, and I think the one on my leg is getting a little inflamed.]"
The coachman climbed on the cart and started to move some crates. "Katie, can you please get me a clean piece of wood? approximately the size of your hand."
Katie nodded, and walked towards the bushes.
The coachman shook his head. "No, in the river is a dead tree without its bark, you can get a piece of a branch there."
Katie nodded, and went to the river. The coachman got the bandages and a small bottle. Katie handed the coachman the piece of wood, who in turn handed it to Smith. "Hold this between your teeth, and pull down your pants. This might sting a little."
Smith did as requested, and the coachman chuckled a little when Smith waddled with his pants on his ankles towards the two stones where he has been with Melany, and sat down. He noticed Melany was already putting up the tents. She gave Smith an angry look when she noticed that the place where he had put the fabric he had carried was not at a clean spot, but soon smiled again. She was a very lucky woman with this Human. She already has forgiven him.

The coachman started to clean the wound on his leg with a piece of cloth on which he had sprinkled a little of the fluid from the bottle. Smith thought he had a very high tolerance for pain, but suddenly he was happy he had a piece of wood between his teeth.
The coachman grinned when he saw in how much pain Smith was. "[I told you, this hurts. You might have survived our tests, but those were harmless. I don't think you should walk on like this, you really must see the doctor.]"
Smith nodded, and got the piece of wood from his mouth to talk. "Y… Yes… Ja… s'il vous plaît"
The coachman shook his head. "You really must take some rest. I think the ladies and I can take care of you. You already have done more than enough for them, you really carried a load of fabric on your back."
Smith nodded. "Can… can we hitch a ride with you? We… we are heading in the same direction after all."
The coachman nodded. "Of course. The cart is not over it's maximum capacity, and it's only a day's tra…"

Someone was shaking Smith's shoulders. Smith opened is eyes, and saw a worried Ork. Smith closed his eyes again. Where was he? Smith opened his eyes again, the light of the setting sun was blinding him. Right, he was in the forest. Slowly he started to realize where he was. He was in the forest, on his way home with Katie and Melany. Or were they leaving home? And what was that Ork doing here? Smith closed his eyes again.
He opened them again when someone was shaking him again, more gentle this time. Smith opened his eyes again. It was Melany this time.
Smith started to smile, his jaws still a bit numb from biting on the piece of wood. "I fainted, didn't I?"
Melany smiled and nodded. "Yes you did… Katie has caught us some fish, and they are ready to be eaten. Hungry?"
Smith nodded. "Yes. But only a small piece, I don't feel well."
Melany handed Smith a large fish. "This is the smallest Katie has caught."
Smith managed to grin. "And if I have had enough I always can give it to a Feral." and slowly started to eat. He felt like he had to vomit, but he kept it all inside.
Melany handed him a canteen. "Drink this, you will feel better afterward."
Smith smelled the contents of the canteen. "This is not water, but it does not contain alcohol either. What is it?"
Melany smiled. "You were out for quite some time. I was worried, and started to read some of the books. This is an extract of some herbs that doctor John also had, they are supposed to help you get better."
Smith smiled, and started to drink some. It tasted awful.

Smith opened his eyes again. A ceiling? The ceiling did not look familiar, he was not in his own house. Suddenly a face appeared above him. A Human face.
"<How are you doing?>" the man asked.
Smith started to look around the room he was in. "<I have felt better in my life, but also worse. I think that saying that I'm alive will be a good answer. Are you the doctor?>"
The man nodded. "<Yes, I am the doctor. Simon. Thank you for all the things you have given me, it is really helpful… and a good deal of knowledge. Unfortunately my Inimal is not very good, but I have some help from someone who is. It's close to noon, she can be here with lunch at any moment.>"

A few moments later a door opened and it was Charlene who entered the room. "Smith! you are awake!" She hastily put the bag she was carrying on the table, and hurried towards the bed. Smith raised his hand to stop her from jumping on top of him. "Good to see you again. How are the others?"
Charlene smiled. "They are at home. Eat some, and take some more rest. Tonight Siegfried and Frank will carry you to your own bed. We will do the talking tomorrow."
Smith went to an upright sitting position. "<How is my leg, doctor Simon?>"
Simon smiled. "<You are lucky you have your own bath. I have stitched it, although it was already a bit too late… Keep the wound clean, and it will be healed within two months.>"
Smith grimaced. "<Two months… I need to be walking in less than that. Can't you put something on it to make the wounds heal faster?>"
Simon shook his head. "<No… well… maybe yes… the Inimals are very good with all kinds of herbs… Charlene told me doctor John had a salve he had made for two Leopards to put on your back, maybe the recipe for that is in one of the books you brought.>"
Charlene was already flipping through the pages of a book. "<I found it doctor, but we need…>" Smith fainted again.

Smith opened his eyes again. This was a familiar ceiling. Smith looked at the window. The light suggested it was late in the morning. Smith saw from the corner of his eyes Robin. "Good morning Robin. Good to see you again."
Robin smiled. "Indeed. Do you think you are strong enough to get out of bed again?"
Smith sighed. "What do you mean, again? I can't remember getting out of bed. The last time I can remember standing upright was a few minutes before sitting down and fainting for the first time."
Robin nodded. "You got out of bed last night. You had a strange look in your eyes, you used the bucket, and went to bed again. We tried to talk to you, but you only grunted a little."
Smith also nodded. "Well… I told you I was something like Feral. And what happened last night must have been an example of it. I can't remember anything of it afterwards. And to answer your first question: Yes, I feel strong enough to get out of bed, I'm hungry. But please get someone at the bottom of the stairs in case I fall."

Siegfried and Melany were standing at the bottom of the stairs when Smith carefully climbed down.
"Good morning Smith, we were worried you would never wake up normal again." Siegfried greeted him.
Smith grinned. "Don't worry. I'm harmless when I'm like that. It's just a survival instinct, and not wanting to wet the bed is also a part of it."
Smith managed to reach a chair. "I hate to ask it, but I'm thirsty. Get me some water and some light food to eat."
The door opened, and Katie entered. "Everybody wanted to give… Smith! you are awake!"
Smith smiled. "It takes a lot more than just a little Tiger to bring me down. And what did everybody wanted to give you?"
Katie smiled. "Everybody wanted to give me the things I wanted to buy for free, I really had to say 'no' to stop them. They are all worried about you. I have bread, fruit, vegetables and a lot of chicken."
Smith grinned. "I don't think you said 'no' to the chicken. Do you have apples?"
Katie nodded. "And cherries. But be quick with the cherries, Robin also likes them."

"Where's Charlene?" Smith asked after he had eaten some apples and a handful of cherries.
"She is with the doctor, helping him translating the books." Melany replied.
Smith opened his eyes. "Then I think I also will be going there… erm…"
Melany smiled. "Jacques and I have made a one-legged pant for you, so you can keep your dignity while you walk outside."
Siegfried grinned. "I have made some estimates about your size, but I was wrong. I always thought it would be bigger."
Smith also managed to grin. "I know it's small, but really hurts. Katie's claws are really sharp, she dug in deep. What were you talking about?"
Siegfried chuckled while he stood up. "I was talking about some other thing that is showing, but the gaping hole in your leg is indeed more important. Do you need some support?"
Smith shook his head. "No, I doubt you are strong enough to carry me on your shoulders. And the wound is still oozing a little, I'll just walk. I start to feel better already."
Siegfried nodded and headed towards the door. "I have other places to be, there are some rumors I have to investigate."

Smith waved his hand as a gesture of goodbye to Siegfried. "Katie, give me an other apple, those really taste good. And some cherries."
Robin grinned while he spat out a cherry-stone in a cup. "Too late, that was the last one."

"<Oh, hello Smith… Already walking I see… I really like your pants, you are a lucky man, you know so many good tailors.>" doctor Simon greeted Smith when he and Charlene looked up from the books they were studying. There already was a pile of books with pieces of paper between the pages.
Smith smiled. "<Living with a tailor also can be a bit annoying, we Humans like to keep ourselves covered, and one of them liked to remove some stitching from my bathing pants.>"
Simon nodded. "<Yes, Melany has told me the summary of your trip. It was supposed to be humiliating for you, but it ended up differently… And now that we are talking about stitching, do you also happen to know more good people who can do stitching? Stitching in flesh I mean, it's getting busy here. I really could use a nurse.>"
Smith shook his head. "<Unfortunately not. But you still like your work and not going to die soon? We would be nothing without you.>"
Simon smiled. "<No, this place is like a heaven. Everybody living in peace together. Totally unlike the hell I came from… And talking about hell, how does the wound on your leg feel? I suspect it must hurt like hell.>"
Smith shrugged. "<I'm not religious, I don't know what heaven and hell are. If how the wound on my leg feels is a metaphor for hell I'll just walk into that place with a smile on my face, kill everything, and walk out again. Or is hell not a place where you sinners end up?>"
Simon chuckled. "<Well… you are mixing things up a little, better stop talking before you insult our God… And about the wound… I did not have the time to make the salve for it, I'll do it right away.>"

Simon stood up and left the room where they were studying the books for a kitchen-like room, and closed the door.
Smith sat down on the chair Simon had been sitting on. "Well… how was your trip. Did you manage to deliver the book?"
Charlene nodded. "I delivered the book. The city was really a horrible place, but I met Mary, and she is indeed very nice, I have spent the night in her house."
Smith shook his head. "My instructions were that you had to leave the city as soon as possible, it is far too dangerous for an Inimal to be there."
Charlene started to smile. "She wanted to know everything about you. We talked too much, and it was already too late to get out of the city, they had repaired the gates, and the guards did not want to open them for us…" Charlene sighed "We headed back to her house… It was a nice house, but she only had one bed, and we had to share it… well… I wanted to sleep on the floor, but she demanded me to be with her in her bed… and the funniest part was that she just kept on stroking and caressing me and saying how soft I was, and that I felt much better than a dead skin."
Smith grinned. "I always keep telling you that you must find a Cheetah mate, but I think I'll have to find her a Cheetah first… you'll just have to wait a little longer… How was her skin? Also nice and soft?"
Charlene stood up to give Smith a hug. "Her skin was nice and soft, but you just feel much stronger, I really like your muscles."
Smith gently stroked her above the tail. "And how was the Wolf. I did not even get his name."
Charlene intended to sit down on Smith's lap, but Smith stopped her to do so. She got the hint, and sat down on her chair again. "Rolph was indeed wild, the guards were honestly afraid of him. They told me you dared to walk around him, unarmed. You were the bravest man they have ever met."
Smith grinned. "Has Mary heard that?"
Charlene nodded. "Yes, she was with me all the time. She really was shocked when we entered the prison. There is some sort of struggle between Inimal Affairs she is working for, and the Ministry of Inimals, but she did not want to tell me the details."

The door to the kitchen-like area opened, and Simon entered the room again, with a little jar with a salve in his hands. "<I heard you talking about the Affairs and the Ministry, I… I used to work for the Ministry. I… I tortured Inimals for interrogation. My medical background gave me an advantage, I could keep them alive for a longer period while inflicting more pain and I… and I did not want to do that any more for a living. God has changed me, and he has told me that what I did was wrong… I had to flee, not only because of my beliefs, but also because I started to help the Inimals instead of torturing them.>"
Smith nodded. "<As long as you don't end up torturing criminals here for information here your history is not important to me. To me you are just like Siegfried, he also was a very bad person in the past, but now he is somebody I completely trust. And I trust you… but I still want to be tied to a bed when you apply the salve on my wound, I don't know what was in that bottle the coachman used on me to clean the wound, but what you made almost hurts as bad.>"
Simon nodded. "<Of course. The contents of that bottle was almost pure alcohol.>" Simon looked at Charlene. "<Charlene, can you please get me some rope. It's… it's in the bedroom, bottom drawer of the closet next to the bed.>"

Charlene went to Simon's bedroom. A few moments later Charlene came back with the requested rope and a carved wooden Human penis. "<Katie told me the coachman asked for a piece of wood for Smith to put between his teeth. You think we can use this… thing?>"
Simon looked at the floor in embarrassment. "<That's… that's my wife's… No, there is also a piece of wood with two pieces of string at the ends, we must use that.>"
Smith grinned. "<Nothing to be embarrassed about. As a smith I also have made some very strange objects. I once had a customer who wanted such a thing in metal, she could warm it up in a pan of water, and when it got the right temperature she used some grease with it to have some fun with herself. And after that I had to make some more for her girlfriends. And I'm sure François also has made some of these things as well… I think François even made that one, it looks human, but my real thing is shorter but thicker.>"
Simon started to grin again. "<And what do you know about little metal rings?>"
Smith nodded. "<Yes, I have made one of those. It is a simple ring you might think, but it was the hardest think I have ever made in my life.>"
The grin on Simon's face widened. "<That ring was supposed to keep something else hard. Unfortunately you made it a tiny bit too small, I had to ask Frank to cut it. You should have seen the look on his face when he saw what he had to cut.>"

A few moments later Charlene returned with the requested object. "<It was in an other drawer. Do you also need a whip?>"
Simon grinned. "<Only if Smith misbehaves. Now Smith, be a nice man, and lie down on the bed. And don't worry, even if you were a woman you would still be ugly.>"

Last thing Smith could remember was him looking at his hand, with red marks around his wrist. He woke up again, and lying in his own bed again. As soon as he opened his eyes Charlene came into sight.
Smith smiled. "Good… morning? evening? afternoon?… how long was I out this time?"
Charlene gently grabbed his hand. "It's early afternoon…You broke a rope with this hand. Simon was amazed that you didn't break your arm by doing it. You still have some strength in you."
Smith smiled. "The pain was intense. I knew this would happen. I also happened to destroy my bed in my old home when the Leopards applied the salve to my back. I held on to the sides of the bed, and ripped them right off. The pain is hard to describe, but something like a hundred of red glowing nails pushed into your skin comes close to it."
Charlene nodded. "I don't want to think about it… Simon asked me to get some more herbs from the Inimal kingdom… do you happen to know what this plant does?" Charlene held up a piece of paper with a crude drawing of a plant.
Smith grinned. "Of course I recognize that plant. If I ever find leaves of that in my salad I will throw it away… The Felines from my old village used that to keep… erm… well… they used it for their own entertainment. It took a full day before I could piss again, and one week to recover. And it took me several times to link that plant I had in the salad they made and my condition. And Inimals making me a salad should have been a warning for me."
Charlene nodded. And grinned a little. "Simon has found the description of it and what it does to a Human in one of the books, and now he wants to try it himself. I'll tell him to be careful."
Smith nodded. "Yes, I had it for lunch, and it took until after dinner before the effects could be noticed. As far as I recall the correct dose is two leaves."
Charlene nodded. "Yes, that's what the recipe said. Two small leaves, more is dangerous"

Smith went downstairs again.
This time it was Frank who was waiting at the bottom of the stairs. "<Good morning Smith. Still as small sized as a long time ago.>"
Smith looked down and grinned. "<Good afternoon Frank, and no, I'm fun sized. The doctor told me you had to cut the ring I made. That must really have been awful for you, knowing that you didn't have the largest one around.>"
Frank grinned. "<Yes, really… but we have a lady among us… better not talk about it. And it's odd, seeing you naked without a reason. You are really becoming an Inimal yourself.>"
Charlene smiled. "<You Humans always talk about the things you normally don't show, and we Felines never talk about the things we show all the time, if we didn't have our fur… Now tell me the story about that metal penis.>"
Smith sighed. "<Well… I lost a bet. We indeed had that female customer who wanted a decent sized fun-rod, she was tired of the wooden fun-sticks, and wanted something different, something she could warm up before use, a metal one, nice and polished. She was really good looking, and we jokingly decided to drop our pants so she could pick the size she wanted. The loser had to make it, and I lost.>"
Charlene grinned. "<Smith's is almost too big for me… Oh… I also told this to Mary… I hope she won't be disappointed… Well… no, I don't think she wants to live here.>"
Smith nodded. "<Well… just tell me if I hurt you. I was forced to to a lot of other things I didn't like but those Felines from my village liked me to do with them, for you I always can make an exception. I know a lot of things that can compensate a painful size, but I honestly don't like my mouth full of wet fur. And I don't care whether Mary wants to live here or not, Katie is still the most important child I have here. In five years Mary will still be fertile, that's plenty of time.>"
Frank grinned. "<Now you are giving a time until you want children, you always used to say that you wanted children when you feel safe enough. You are safely downstairs now, I have to go back to my work, if you excuse me.>"

"Where's Katie?" Smith asked after he had eaten some apples and cherries, and a piece of bread.
"Katie is at school, I don't know enough about the Human language to teach her here, and you never have the time for it. It's her first day, I don't know if she's going to like it, she is the only Inimal there, but in a few days a Wolf will come, but he is a little bit older." Charlene replied from the kitchen.
A few moments later Charlene returned from the kitchen with her backpack already on her back. "Simon's wife is the teacher there… they are really an odd couple, but I think she is a really good teacher." Charlene headed towards the door and turned around for a last time. "You really took your time to wake up. We promised each other that one of us has to stay at home for Katie, and now it's your turn. Don't walk away from your duty, I'm already behind my walking schedule."
Smith smiled. "Just take your time. Don't trip over protruding roots, I won't be there to carry you home."
Charlene returned to give Smith a hug. "I'll just walk. I won't have to go far, twelve days at most, but Simon doesn't need to know that. He thinks I have to run for twelve days."

It was a nice day, and Smith decided to go and sit outside. There had been a bench in front of his house for a long time, but he has never taken the time to use it. It was a nice bench, with beautiful Elfique woodcarving on it. It had been stolen once, but the vigilantes of his village had returned it. Smith looked at the spots where the bloodstains had been, they were washed away by years of rain. Passers gave him strange looks. He has always been a bit odd, born and raised between the two kingdoms, strange looks didn't bother him, for him everybody was equal. A cold draft made him realize why they gave him those looks. He had forgotten to put on his pants. Despite the modification Melany has made, removing one of the pants to give his wound some air, they were not very comfortable.

Smith grinned. For comfort Katie must have clawed a little bit lower, now the edge of the fabric was scouring the wound if he wore those pants, and there was no dignifying way to correct that. Well… maybe a loincloth when he had to walk. Or a skirt or a dress. There were some Human males dressed as females, Robert is one of them, wearing a skirt was nothing special in the Neutral Zone, as long as you don't harm others with your actions you are welcome. Smith decided to go back inside, and go back to bed, he felt weak. But first he would try to apply the salve himself, pain was not pleasant, but it was a bit addicting at the same time. He grinned. Maybe that was why Simon had a whip in his bedroom, letting his wife spank him instead of him hurting others.

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Chapter 18 - The Mission, Part 1: Saving a Life

#21 Post by Neutral Smith » Thu Apr 09, 2015 6:16 pm

Chapter 18
The Mission, Part 1: Saving a Life

The days were boring for Smith. Charlene was away for Simon's herbs, Katie was at school, Melany too busy with her work and too tired in the evening. Even Siegfried and Robin were both away with most of the soldiers, there were some rumors of a poacher somewhere, and they wanted to know the details and to stop him if he was at their side of the border. The pants Melany had made were not comfortable enough to wear all day, and walking around without them was also not an option… so he started to wear a skirt with nothing underneath it.
Smith could not work in the smithy because of his wound, he had tried it for half a day, but the wound was still not closed, and it gave him a yellowish-red stain on the skirt he wore, and Frank had sent him away. But on the other hand it gave him plenty of time to walk around in the… his… village. He had an opportunity to talk to almost everybody. He even had an opportunity to talk to a Tiger coachman, but the Tiger politely declined the offer to work and live in the Neutral Zone, being able to handle horses in a country where horses are rare earns him a lot more money than he could earn in the Neutral Zone, where he was not the only one with a horse. And he did not like Humans, but he understood why the soldier and his wife whose belongings he transported did want to live among them, Smith had saved the soldier's life by bringing him back from the prison. And the Humans here were 'not bad' so to speak.

Smith thought they were building barracks for the soldiers, but every soldier and his family got his own house, complete with basic furniture. There were thirty-two houses in four neat rows, almost half of of them already finished and occupied, and the rest only needed the furniture to be habitable. Thirty-two houses in five different building styles. Four Human-style houses, with a first floor divided in several smaller rooms, eight Canine-style with sturdy stone walls and small windows, eight Feline-style with their thatched roofs and a separate outhouse, four Vulpine-style, with one big room and a lot of high windows, but the beams were still much thicker than needed, but that was on purpose, the Foxes could carve away the wood they did not want and reveal the art that was hidden beneath the surface, and eight houses that were Bergs. Smith smiled, his own smithy and house were also Bergs, and somehow the Berg houses seemed the most practical. Solid, light and still warm.
Smith wondered if the soldiers would pick their own building style, or that they wanted to live under a different kind of roof, like a Tiger under a Canine slate roof, or a Fox living under a Human pantile roof.

"[How do you like the houses?]" Smith heard from behind. It was Olaf.
Smith smiled. "[I thought we would build barracks for the soldiers. Why the change of plans?]"
Olaf smiled. "[We would have built barracks if we didn't have enough stones, but the quarry produces a far better quality of stones and already much more than we anticipated. It was a really good choice to let the Wolves work there.]"
Smith nodded. "[I like the different styles, all living mixed, but each of them with their own individuality. And it are a lot of houses, I only have seventeen soldiers who must live here, the rest of them already have houses.]"
Olaf nodded. "[I know, but maintaining an already built but empty house is easier than building a new house when you need one. Building ahead saves us a lot of time. And I am needed at the foundry, they want to expand as well, they want to build a bigger harbor.]"
Smith nodded. "[Of course. But I heard there are also plans to dig a canal from the quarry to the sea, but that is not going to happen in my lifetime. There are a lot of Wolves working there, barges for transport might be cheaper, but one skipper on a barge could do the work of ten others who transport the stones over land, and I don't know what those nine others could do.]"
Olaf nodded. "[Of course. We have done the calculations, but it never will be profitable. Your house and smithy can stay. But it is a good plan to keep the path where the canal could go empty, technologies can change, maybe in the future there will be faster methods of digging… I heard something about Otters, those can do anything with water… no, let's keep the plans as they are, no canal.]"
Smith nodded. "[That must have been Katie who told you that. She really talks to everybody. But that's good, that way she learns much more than she could at school.]"
Olaf nodded. "[Of course. But school is also important. Have you already learned how to write? Or do you still go to François if you want something written?]"
Smith grimaced. "Auf wiedersehen Olaf,” “[I have other places to go.]"

Smith decided to visit Katie at school. It was almost lunchtime, and that way he could talk to the teacher, to hear how his daughter was doing. On his way to the school he picked up the lunch he already had made in the morning. There were already children playing outside, but Smith could not see Katie. The door of the school was open, and Smith entered. Katie was sitting inside with the teacher, writing in an exercise book.
"<Good afternoon Katie, and good afternoon… Simon's wife.>" Smith greeted them.
The teacher stood up to greet Smith. "<Good afternoon… you must be Katie's father. Nice to meet you, my name is Sylvia.>"
Smith nodded. "<Yes, and I have brought her her lunch… How is she doing?>"
Sylvia smiled. "<She is a very clever girl. She is a little behind the rest of the class, we started a few months ago, but she is really eager to learn how to write. She wants to be like you.>"
Smith nodded, and looked at the ground. "<I… I can't write. I can read Human, Inimal and Bergs, I understand and can talk in all languages, I can make calculations in an instant, give me the dimensions of a piece of steel, and I can tell you the weight… But I always tend to mix up the letters when I write. I especially have problems with the 'b', 'd', 'p' and 'q', and using my hand as a mnemonic is not the right way. Thumbs down for 'perfect quality' and thumbs up for 'bad decision' does not feel right. And also the scribbles with the other letters, I never know where to start when I want to write down an 'a'… I always asked my friends to write for me.>"
Sylvia nodded. "<I can understand it. You always work with your hands, you can create the most beautiful things out of ugly steel. Writing a lot is not a part of your job.>"
Smith also nodded. "<Thanks for your understanding… I have plenty of time… maybe you can…>"
"<Teach you how to write? of course.>" Sylvia completed Smith's sentence.
Smith smiled. "<That would be very nice. But It'll have to wait until Charlene gets home, I can't leave Katie alone… I… I am ashamed that I can't write, and I don't want her around as a distraction.>"
Sylvia nodded. "<Of course… I can wait for a few weeks, there is also a young Wolf coming, and he needs much more attention than you do, he is more important.>"
Smith nodded. "<Of course, the youth is the future, I'm almost something of the past here. Starting it up, and the youth must take it over.>"
Sylvia nodded. "<Yes, and that's why I have become a teacher. We are the foundation on which the future is build.>"
Smith grinned. "<You almost sound like one of the Elfique… have you ever met one of those in your past?>"
Sylvia nodded. "<Yes, and he inspired me to teach the young ones, he was my teacher in the past.>"
Smith nodded, but made no remark about his feelings about the Elfique. He simply patted Katie on her shoulder, and left. Her writing was already better than his.

Nine days passed. Nine days of boredom. Smith had talked to almost everybody in his village, and even modeled for a painting by one of those man-lovers. The painting was beautiful, but not very suitable to hang in his living room. The torso and face were perfect, just like he was, with strong muscles and a cleanly shaven face, although his hair was on the painting longer than it was in reality, but the bottom half was not very much like him. He wore his skirt, but the painter had left that detail out of the painting, and had painted him in the nude. It was really realistic, but the genitals were much larger than they were in real life.
Smith politely declined the painting, he could have cut off the bottom half of it, but that would be a waste, the bottom half contained much more details than the top half, Smith could even count the hairs on 'his' legs. The artist just smiled, he did not seem to be offended, he always could 'sell it to someone else'.
That remark was a bit odd, you don't buy a strange nude painting of someone who was not you. But those man-lovers were strange people.

Charlene would be away for twelve days, only three more days to go. The wound on his leg was finally closed, and it was time to remove the stitches so the wound could heal in a more natural manner.
Simon was busy removing the final stitch when Siegfried entered the doctor's office. "Ah, there you are… We have a problem."
Smith opened his eyes, and looked at his leg. "My problem is almost over, what's your problem?"
Siegfried walked towards the bed where Smith was lying on, and looked at Simon. "<How long before he can walk again?>"
Simon shrugged. "<I'd say a few weeks, but you have a problem?>"
Siegfried nodded. "Do you mind if I continue talking in Inimal? Your language is still a bit difficult for me… We have located the poacher, he is just across the border… the Inimal border."
Smith nodded. "Then just send your Inimal soldiers there. Nobody has to know they crossed it. And if someone does find out they always can say they got lost. You are far too experienced to get lost, the Inimals there would never believe you, and you are not allowed there."
Siegfried nodded. "That's what I suggested, but my men do not dare to go there. Just like around your old village they say it's haunted. And it's infested with Ferals, it's dangerous to go there. And you have experience with Ferals, without killing them, or get killed."
Smith nodded. "Right… experience with Ferals…but only with one, Tim was not a Feral, and I do not believe in ghosts… But it has to wait a few more days, Charlene is not home yet, and someone has to look after Katie when one of us is away."
Siegfried nodded. "<Charlene just got home. She can be here any moment. She has a bag filled with all kinds of herbs, but she was hungry.>"
Simon nodded. "<Your Human is already improving, good to hear… Maybe I have an idea. Smith can not walk, but I'm sure he can ride a horse, I'd say we lend him a horse, and he can use that to go to your poacher and do his job, that way he does not have to walk, and he can transport all kinds of items to help if there are others who need it.>"
Smith snickered. "<All the horses I tried in my life either pranced or ran away… I'm not very good with horses.>"
Simon grinned a little "<Harold has some ponies, maybe you can use one of those. Or a donkey, those are very docile animals.>"
Smith nodded. "<I'll choose a donkey with a cart. They are very calm, that's very good when I encounter a Feral, and yet they are very strong, and with me sitting on the cart I don't have to balance on a saddle… Siegfried, provide me a map with directions about where I can find the poacher, and Simon, make whatever you think I might need, but take your time, I'll leave the day after tomorrow, or maybe even after that, tomorrow I will use to practice with the cart, I'm born to walk, but if a Tiger can be a coachman even I can be one.>"
Siegfried grinned. "<I know you are not a soldier, but I do know you can fight. You are really eager to leave… I'll make sure you'll get everything you need.>"

It was Katie's night to be allowed in Smith's bed. She was a bit uneasy in her sleep, Smith could even hear her mumble 'no!', in a panicked voice. Smith decided to wake her up. He gently shook her, and she opened her eyes, even in the darkness Smith could see the panic in her eyes.
He gently caressed her ears. "Having a nightmare?"
Smith could feel her nod, and she crawled closer to him. "Yes, I dreamed about the poachers who killed my parents. There was a fourth one, an Inimal. He got very close to me, I could smell him, but he said that I wasn't there, and they left."
Smith smiled. "Then he didn't notice you. You are alive, go back to sleep, you have to go to school tomorrow, and I have to leave to catch an other poacher."
Katie nodded, and fell asleep again. She was exhausted. And so was Smith.

The day Smith would leave arrived.
Smith sighed. "All right… I have everything I need, except for one thing." Siegfried, Melany and Charlene did not understand what he meant.
Smith grinned. "I'm going to Feral territory, and I smell like a Human, and a little bit like Katie. The ladies can hug me, and I want Siegfried's shirt.
Siegfried grinned. "Why can't I hug you?"
Smith also grinned. "Somehow I think you will confuse hugging with humping… No, your shirt has enough of your scent in it. Just a good hug from the ladies with a lot of loose hair. It might be itchy for me, but I don't have time for other things to exchange the scent."
It was a warm hug, a hug of goodbye. Charlene also wanted to climb on the cart, to sit on Smith's lap until he was at a running distance from home, but Smith stopped her to do so. He still had a wound on his leg, and he didn't want to tear it open again.

Harold had complimented Smith about the way he handled Dora, the donkey that would be his for the next few days. Smith had to grin because of the name, he knew an other Dora who was a lot less stubborn, but with Smith this Dora did everything he asked her to do. Smith even amazed Harold by letting Dora come to him by just calling her, something that she never did with him. It would be a fairly easy trip, just go south towards the bridge past the quarry, and then to the west for one-and-a-half day, there were some pieces of poisoned meat found and they had seen a glimpse of a cabin or hut before fleeing. Simon had given him a crate filled with all kinds of items, not only for his wound, but also a lot of other items, like antidotes for different kinds of poisons in case he encountered a poisoned Inimal.
It was pointless, Ferals are dangerous, and there was a very slim chance he encountered a poisoned normal thinking Inimal. Everything else Smith needed was in his backpack, including a new spare sleeping mat and blanket, because he had given Tim his other set. The backpack was also on the cart.

It felt odd, to travel without something on your back. Smith regularly checked if his backpack was still on the cart. Dora was a gentle donkey, with a calm trot. Smith almost fell asleep, now he understood why so many coachman were fat. Fat because they let their beasts of burden do the work for them. The thought made Smith grin. More added weight from the coachman means less items that can be transported. But this time he and the things he needed were the only freight that needed to be transported.

It was an easy journey, the weather was nice, and there was plenty of wildlife in the forest, food was also not a problem. Smith even managed to kill a deer which was on the path, with his armbrust while sitting on the cart, Dora did not even have to stop for him to take aim, only a short while to load Smith's dinner for that evening. And breakfast, lunch and dinner for the next day.
Smith decided to halt some distance before the designated area where he had to do his search. Dora could do one day without him, but this time he made sure she couldn't walk away. A large cart draws too much attention when you don't want it. Smith checked the map. There was supposed to be an open area nearby, with a river flowing next to it. Siegfried's soldiers have been on that field, and they have seen the hut in the distance.
Smith followed the path in the forest, a path with clearly two tracks, indicating that a cart or carriage regularly used the path he was on. It indeed lead to an open field, and the path lead straight to a large cabin on the other side of the field. Smith had not the mindset of a soldier, but still thought it would be smart to walk around the field, he would be a target if the poacher spotted him on the open field and used a bow and arrow. Smith had his armbrust on his shoulder, but he had not yet loaded it. He could always do that. In the forest he had a slight advantage with his sword. Poachers are cowards who use traps and poisons, they were never the strongest of men.

If the poacher would run away he could simply follow him at a walking speed. As a child he even managed to capture a deer this way, just walking, chasing the deer ahead of him until it was exhausted. It was a dark thought, chasing the poacher he was after through Feral territory, that would be a game of who would catch the poacher first, him or a Feral. Slowly he walked towards the cabin. It was quiet… almost too quiet. Smith cursed his bad hearing, and pressed his ear against the wall to listen if anyone was inside. He heard nothing. The window was too high to see through, suggesting a raised floor. Slowly he walked around to the front of the cabin. There were a few steps leading to the door, only with a latch and no lock. Smith thought about the options he had. He had his armbrust, good weapon for a medium range, but it only has a single shot. A dagger was also an option, but you must never bring a dagger to a swordfight, and he had the lower ground at the bottom of the short stairs. A sword was not very practical in a doorway, you must thrust to make it effective in that case, and a thrust was easy to deflect when you are higher.
Smith decided to unsheathe both the dagger and his sword, and used the butt of the dagger on the latch. Slowly he pushed the latch upwards, stopping at every noise it made. Despite of his bad hearing he could hear Dora bray in the distance. Suddenly he realized the mistake he had made. He had left her at the side of the path, the path the poacher uses. If he wasn't home, but came home today he would pass her. Smith pushed on, and the latch released and the door cracked open. I was now or never.

Smith pushed the door open and immediately stepped inside to surprise anyone who was in there. There was nobody. Smith sheathed the weapons again. It was a single room cabin, one half of it was used for the living, with a bed, table and a single chair, and a simple kitchen. The other half of it was for… Smith looked at the chains, hooks and knives that were hung on and stuck on the walls and beams… the other half was for the work, the murdering work of the poacher. Indoors so the victims could not run away if they were still alive. Smith looked around in disbelief. How could you sleep in a place of death like this? Smith sighed, he did not sign up to do this, he came here to slay the… beast… the… devil… that lives here, but the beast was not home.

There were some jars on a counter opposite of the kitchen.
Smith looked at them. This poacher used poison to kill his victims. There were some flower-buds in a bin, Smith recognized them, they belonged to a poisonous plant, a slow working poison. Smith looked around further, he had made a plan. He would poison the food of the poacher, and later return to finish the job with Siegfried, that Wolf had far less problems with killing someone than he had, although Smith had killed more than enough people, Humans and Inimals, but only Wolves, alike in his life.
Smith walked towards the kitchen to look for food to poison. There was none. Smith grimaced. Smith looked at the cooking pots and pitchers, and the grimace turned to a grin. The poison of the plants the poacher uses was still potent when dry. One by one he coated the inside of the kitchenware with a thin layer of poison. Smith was glad there was no glassware here, the stains the poison made would betray it.

Carefully he poured a little bit of the contents of every other jar in the jar he had used, so the poacher wouldn't notice some of the poison 'missing'. Smith's job was done here, he could go home and return in a few days, to capture the poacher when he was sick of the poison and in his bed. Smith looked around for a last time, everything looked the same like when he entered. Smith closed the door again, and went to where Dora was standing. She was still braying, couldn't she remain silent? Suddenly Smith thought of something, an old trick to check if anyone had used a door. He got a small leaf from the forest floor, and put it between the door and the door frame. The leaf would fall if the door opens, and it's something you don't notice when you are not looking for it, and impossible to replace when you are inside. For a last time Smith looked at the door. The tip of the leaf was sticking out, a little yellow leaf. Leaf still there when he returned? Door has not been opened, and he could go home again.

For the way back to Dora and the cart Smith decided to cross the field in a straight line, following the path, there was no danger here…
Suddenly Smith stopped. There was… well… it did not look like danger, but it was still odd. A black shape was in the field, lying on the ground. Could it be a victim of the poacher? and was there still a chance to help?
The black shape moved, it was still alive! Smith started to run, and a sharp jolt of pain made him regret the choice to run, but he pushed on. He crouched next to the figure that lied on the ground. A black Wolf!
Carefully he rolled him on his back… No, it was a female! She momentarily opened her eyes, and closed them again. She was in a very bad condition. Smith regretted he had left the crate with Simon's supply of antidotes on the cart, getting it here might take too long, and if Dora refused to come closer to this Wolf…
Smith sighed, a Wolf like her was not very heavy, and the things she needed were not far away. Smith sighed again, and slowly started to push his arms underneath the knees and shoulders. He could only hope she did not use her last strength to attack him.
"You are safe now, I'm here to help you." Smith softly spoke to the black and warm body which was now in his arms. Warm because of the fever the poison caused.

Smith could feel the she-Wolf move while he walked towards the cart with the life-saving supplies, and looked down. She was sniffing the shirt he was wearing, the shirt that belonged to Siegfried. Suddenly she vomited. Large chunks of half digested meat ended up on Siegfried's shirt. The first thought that crossed Smith's mind was to drop the load he was carrying, but that would be very stupid. He almost was the place where he has left the cart with the supplies. Carefully he placed the She-Wolf on a patch of moss, and took off the shirt. The Wolf also had a lot of her own vomit over her chest and belly. Smith got the bucket of water he had placed for Dora, and he started to wash the Wolf. After he was done washing the She-Wolf he threw his shirt into the bucket to soak it, he would wash it later, this She-Wolf was his first priority.

'Induce more vomiting' his second thought suddenly said. Smith nodded with a grin. 'Welcome back old friend' he thought. Simon had given Smith a small lesson about poisoning, and the most important thing was to get the poison out of the body. It was nothing new, but always nice to know what is in the crate. He started to look at the different bottles and jars that were in the crate, until he found what he was looking for, a small bottle. He put a little bit of it's contents in a canteen, and filled the canteen half with water from a nearby stream.
He gently got the she-Wolf to a sitting position. "Here, drink this, we need to get your stomach empty. You are not going to like what will happen next."
The she-Wolf managed to drink half of the contents of the canteen, and started to convulse. Smith got her on her knees. She had eaten a lot of the poisoned meat. Smith patted her on her back, and she growled at him. She was still Feral, but not dangerous.
"I'll give you an antidote after you finished, you understand me?"
Smith could not see whether she was convulsing, or nodding, but she was already throwing up bile, her stomach was almost empty. Smith searched through the supply of bottles and jars, Simon had almost given him his entire pharmacy. There were a lot of strange names on them, and Smith did not remember which one was good for what symptom.

Smith sighed. He opened a few bottles, and started to sniff the contents. It was almost hopeless, he knew what he was looking for, his youth among the Inimals had given him a lot of knowledge about the forest and everything in there, but the names for the things had no meaning here. Suddenly the names disappeared from his vision, and he started to see what the contents of the bottles did. Good feeling… sleep… stopping bleeding… something against pain… better keep that one somewhere else, might need that one later… stopping vomiting… headache… eww… what?… Smith blinked with his eyes, and saw what kind of herb he had in his hands, that was the herb Simon wanted… Why did that jar end up in this crate?… toothache… all kinds of herbs that were harmless and useless and even some that Katie liked on her chicken… but finally he found what he was looking for.

Smith checked on the She-Wolf. She had a frightened look in her eyes. Smith nodded, and sighed. "I don't know if you already can understand me, but I'm going to make an antidote for you. Survive for a little longer, I have to boil some water to make the extract."
She said nothing, did not nod, but only slowly blinked with her eyes. Smith nodded again. "Right… but I'm first going to give you a sleeping mat and a blanket… after the fever comes the cold, and I had to wash you with cold water. It's already getting cold, autumn is coming. I'm also cold, but I'm healthy. You are far more important."
Smith got a mat and blanket from the cart, and placed them next to the place where he would build his fire, behind a few bushes, invisible from the path, and gently placed the she-Wolf on them. He gently had to force her to lay down, but finally she understood what this Human wanted her to do, and laid down, staring at Smith while he made the antidote.
Smith smiled. He thought it would be useless to bring all these supplies, he would never have a use for them he thought when he left, but here he was, helping an other Feral with it.
Smith's smile got bigger. A black She-Wolf, maybe a good partner for Siegfried, to distract him a little from causing mayhem when he was at home.

"Here, drink this." Smith spoke while he gently helped the she-Wolf in an upright position again to let her drink.
She held the cup with both hands, not being able to hold it with a single trembling hand.
Smith smiled while he filled her cup again. "Good… I'm taking you with me, we're going to my home, there is a doctor who really can help you. I'm just a blacksmith. It is too dangerous to stay here, the poacher who poisoned you might return, it's still early, I'm exhausted, we have a long journey ahead, but I want to get away from here. Lucky for me I don't have to carry you… Hey! leave that alone!"
Smith jumped up, Dora had taken Siegfried's shirt out of the bucket, and was chewing on it.
Smith shook his head. "Dora… how could you do that, that's Siegfried's shirt… I'm going to give you some proper food, oats… that's better for you… Oh, for the love of the forest! Let go of that shirt, or I can throw it away!"
The she-Wolf stared at Smith while he pulled the shirt out of Dora's mouth, tearing it in the process. Smith stroked Dora's snout, he could not stay angry at the donkey, it was his mistake, leaving Siegfried's stained shirt in her drinking bucket. Smith got Dora her oats, and turned his attention to the cart, there was more freight to carry.

Smith rearranged the things that were on the small cart to make some room for the passenger. The she-Wolf had to be in a sitting position to fit on the cart. Smith got both blankets he had, and wrapped them around the she-Wolf to keep her warm. Smith had taken a jumper from his backpack and put it on, walking around with his torso uncovered was cold. He looked and smelled like a Human again. When finally everything was ready and on the cart he pushed and pulled the cart himself to turn it, using Dora to do that was still too difficult for him, when he tried to make a sharp tun as a practice the day before he left he almost broke off a wheel, and that was something he could not fix in the forest. For the last time he checked the She-Wolf, she was already asleep.

Suddenly Smith noticed the stain on his skirt, somewhere during the events he had torn open his wound again. Smith got some bandages and the salve for his wound from the crate. The she-Wolf had opened her eyes again, and was staring at him when he applied them to the wound, while sitting on the back of the cart. Each time he applied the salve the pain of it becomes less and less, but this time, with fresh exposed flesh, he started to feel it. Smith winced, but managed to remain consciousness. This was not a good time to faint. He got a bit of the pain-killing herbs from the crate.

For the way back home Smith decided to go straight through the forest, avoiding the path where he could encounter the poacher. There was a small path north, barely large enough to navigate Dora and the cart she was pulling, and it was rather bumpy. When Smith turned around to see how his passenger was doing he saw that she held on to the side of the cart, she was awake again.
Progress was slow, and suddenly Smith pulled the reins, he had spotted the dinner for that evening, a deer. The metallic 'clack' of the armbrust startled the She-Wolf, but soon she closed her eyes again after Smith had loaded his kill next to her, there was no danger for her, only free food.

Smith decided to put up camp at the place where he had shot the deer, that was the largest open area he had seen so far, the forest here was much denser than anywhere else. It was still early, but there were very few options. Smith sighed. A dense forest without Humans or normal Inimals, only Ferals. The she-Wolf would not attack him, although he did not know whether there were more Ferals, more dangerous Ferals around. Smith wished he had his Inimal friends with him, they had a far better sense of smell and hearing than he had, he could only rely on his eyesight, but saw nothing. He lit the fire, and while the deer was roasting over it Smith put up the rest of the little camp.

He and the Feral She-Wolf had to share the tent for the following nights, but so far she hadn't given him much problems. He had to help her with her toileting, she was not strong enough to do it by herself. She allowed it, somehow Smith got the impression she was still Feral, but also understood that harming the Human who was helping her was not a wise thing to do. She was weak, and Smith had to feed her, just like an infant. She once had been a strong Wolf, but now she was almost hopeless, although she was a little more alert than when Smith found her, the antidote was doing what it was supposed to do, and so were the pain-killing herbs from the crate for him.

She followed Smith everywhere with her eyes. Beautiful green eyes, just like Siegfried has. Not as beautiful as the golden eyes that Katie has, or the bright blue eyes of Melany, or the brown eyes of Charlene, with the twinkle of joy in them… but green eyes, green eyes with a sparkle of hope, hope to get better, to get the poison out of the body with the help of a Human. Smith wondered, were she and Siegfried related? Black Wolves were not very common in this area, the majority of the Wolves consisted of the Common Wolves. Smith wondered, how did that White Wolf end up in the prison in Schotenburg?

Progress was slow, and Smith decided to head east again, to where the forest is less dense and maybe even up to the path he used when he went to the poacher's hut if there were no other suitable paths straight back home. The days passed on in silence, Smith was not very talkative, the herbs he used to silence the pain in his leg also silenced him, and the She-Wolf also did not start a conversation either, although she was awake and looking around. When it was time to put up camp for the night she even became more independent from Smith, she could do her own toileting and eating, although she still was feverish. One evening she even came back chasing a rabbit, she was sort of helping Smith with hunting, although the rabbit fled into it's hole. Smith just smiled and showed a rabbit he had killed a few moments earlier with his sling.
Finally Smith reached the path from his village to the quarry. He had ended up further north than he anticipated, even two travel-days past the quarry. The route he had chosen for his return was even a few days shorter than the way to the poacher's hut, despite the slow progress through the forest. Or maybe the map was just wrong, and the hut was further north. Only one more night to sleep in the tent, and then he could hand over the she-Wolf into more capable hands, the hands of doctor Simon, and he could go back to kill the poacher with Siegfried and maybe even Melany.

There were a few Wolves heading towards the quarry, and Smith greeted them.
Suddenly he heard a voice from behind. "Who are you? Where are we going?"
It was the She-Wolf, she was back to normal, although her voice was still very weak.
Smith stopped the cart and turned around. And Smiled, because he had done the impossible again, bringing a feral Inimal back to normal. "You can call me Smith, and I am going to bring you to a doctor. It is a Human doctor, but he also knows a lot about Inimals."
The she-Wolf nodded. "I think I have eaten the wrong meat and that poisoned me… I was hungry, and I did not think about what I was doing. You have not harmed me, I think I can trust you, just like those Common Wolves who greeted you. They see you as a friend."
Smith nodded. "Yes, you were the victim of a poacher. I will drop you off at the doctor's office, and go back to kill him, he wasn't home when I was there. You are just lucky that I found you… What is your name, and how did you end up here?… And I'm not being rude by not looking at you when you talk to me, I just want to steer Dora in the right direction."

The She-Wolf nodded, and Smith turned around to let Dora walk again. The She-Wolf began to talk.
"My name is Beatrice, and I came here to look for someone, someone from my village. Last thing I heard of him was that he left the Academy, and became a criminal."
"Hmm… criminal… they don't last very long here. I started to make this region safer, and we kill everybody who doesn't agree with that." Smith replied, after a bit of hesitation.
"No… I did not come to this region to look for him. I love him, that's why I came looking for him, I was worried… I was looking for him much further south, at the end of the winter. The soldiers I was traveling with got ambushed by Humans, and I went Feral and got away. Somehow I went north, didn't I? This is the Neutral Zone, am I correct?" Beatrice spoke again, already with a weakening voice, talking was still too difficult for her.
"Yes, you went north. Please stop talking, that consumes too much of your strength. To tell you the truth, going north does not surprise me, but I will tell you my story when I get home again, after I really killed that poacher, that will take a few more days, and in that time you can regain your strength. You are not the first Feral I brought back to normal, but now you must rest." Smith replied, he almost could see his village, only a few more hours of sitting on the hard bench of the cart.

The answers he wanted also could wait. He only wanted that Siegfried was home, he also had a few questions for him. He would definitely take Siegfried with him, away from Beatrice, to hear his side of the story. Siegfried was a smart Wolf, a descendant of a king, and it would be no surprise if Siegfried went to the Academy. Drop Beatrice at the doctor's office, eat dinner, and leave again as soon as possible. Not letting Siegfried and Beatrice meet each other this early.

"Can you please stop for a moment, my digestive system is working again. I promise I will sleep after I'm done." Smith heard Beatrice say after a few moments of silence.
Smith stopped the cart, and helped her down. She briefly hugged Smith. "I'll be back in a few moments. Shall we eat after I'm done?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, but I'll eat and steer Dora at the same time. We are close to my village, and if we stop to eat we will lose time, I want to be home before dinner, and walk again after dinner."
Beatrice nodded, and pointed at Smith's wound. "And what about that? You also have a wound on your leg, and if you keep munching on those herbs…"
"Mind your own business Wolf, what I do to myself is not important." Smith sounded a bit agitated, and Beatrice climbed back on the cart herself after she had emptied her bowels.

Smith sighed. He did not want to be like this. He knew that the herbs also alter his behavior, he did not want to be rude, but the absence of pain was tempting.
His hand went to the jar again, but he managed to restrain himself. 'Pain is a friend, he tells you that something is wrong, and that you must take better care of your body.' the Bergvolk had told him. Smith did not want friends, he wanted to kill. Kill the pain.

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Chapter 19 - The Mission, part 2: Kill and Live

#22 Post by Neutral Smith » Thu Apr 09, 2015 6:18 pm

Chapter 19
The Mission, part 2: Kill and Live

Smith reached doctor Simon's office in the late afternoon, and knocked on the door.
"<Smith! back again!>" It was Sylvia who opened the door.
Smith nodded as a greeting. "<I have a patient for Simon. Poisoning.>"
Simon came out of his office. "<So… you did manage to help someone… Have you been eating too much of the herbs… your eyes…>"
Smith walked towards the cart. Beatrice was still asleep. "<You have a stretcher or something? She is in a bad condition.>"
Simon nodded, but before he could say something Sylvia came around the corner with a stretcher.
Simon smiled. "<Right… Let's bring her inside. She must be a very lucky Wolf. And you… I can see you are also in a bad condition.>"
Smith shook his head. "<I know it is your business telling me this as the doctor, but I can survive. For this moment I do not want the pain the wound causes. I will eat, and I will leave again. I… I will leave the cart and crate here, walking is much faster. The wound is closed again, I had torn it open by accident, the extreme pain is now just a dull pain and a lot of itching. It won't kill me.>"
Simon nodded, and gestured at the she-Wolf on the cart. "<Help me get her inside, and then go home. I know I can not stop you from what you are going to do, but I can only ask you to be careful. Somehow I think you also have put some of the herbs in your bag, the dose that is missing from that jar is almost lethal.>"
Smith nodded but said nothing, and left after he and Simon had put Beatrice on a bed. He barely knew the doctor, but the doctor already knew him.

"Smith! You got home early! Did you catch him?" Siegfried greeted him when Smith entered his own house again.
Siegfried, Melany and Katie were sitting at the table. Smith did not see Robin. Smith nodded, and looked around. "No, I did not catch him, I'm just here to eat, and then we'll leave again to finish the job… I don't see Robin, is he away?"
Siegfried looked at the table, with a bit of a sad look in his eyes. "Robin has left to live in the northern village, among his own kind. His uncle came over, and he wanted to start a new farm there, and wanted Robin to help him. Robin was never happy being a soldier, but lucky for us Felix wants to take his place. I will really miss Felix on our patrols, but here at home he is also useful, he has far more patience with Humans than Robin has."
Smith nodded. "I understand. But at the moment I asked Robin to help me… help us… I did not have a better alternative for training archers. But now we have a proper Fox to teach archery, and not just a kid."
Siegfried nodded. "Yes, it's better for all of us… I really would have killed him if he didn't stop the whining he did all the time… I even had to clean Katie's toilet a few times because he refused to do it."
Smith nodded. "Yes, I know. Even I had to do it a few times. Let's hope his uncle won't kill him, now he has to do a lot more work, and those geese won't use a toilet. Let Robin clean the pond for the geese a few times, then he really will appreciate the things he had to do here."

"You said you wanted to leave again? Why? And you mentioned a 'we' instead of only yourself." Charlene asked from the kitchen where she was cooking dinner, with an extra pan because Smith got home unexpectedly.
Smith nodded. "The poacher was not home, but I have poisoned his cooking equipment, that will weaken him and make it easier to catch him, and I mentioned a 'we' because I want to take Siegfried and Melany with me, there are indeed a lot of Ferals there, and I don't feel safe as a Human alone."
Melany nodded. "I see that you don't have Siegfried's shirt on, is it damaged by a Feral?"
Smith grinned. "If you consider Dora the donkey as a Feral then I'll say yes. But I indeed encountered a Feral, but that one is safe now. Just a Wolf, but I'll help everybody if I can do that."
Katie stood up to hug Smith. "Is he or she back to normal? Can I meet him or her?"
Smith nodded, and gently stroked the soft downy hair on Katie's back. "Of course you can meet her. We will leave tonight after we have eaten, I just want to use those few hours before dark to gain some distance. Simon wanted a nurse, and I think you can do that job if you are not at school, you helping that Wolf while Simon can do his real work. That way you also can learn to take some responsibility for others. And yes, I have done the impossible again. She really was sniffing at Siegfried's shirt before she gave me a reason to wash it in Dora's drinking bucket."
Siegfried nodded. "That's no problem. I'm glad that wearing my shirt really helped. I somehow suspected that the poacher wouldn't be home, but I'm glad you have taken measures to keep him home this time. I already have packed my things, and Melany also was ready to leave, she hoped you and Dora with the cart could go with her to the Foxes, she is already out of fabric, it's really getting popular, and my men really like the clothes she made for them. But that has to wait, we are here to help you, isn't that right Melany?"
Melany nodded and smiled. "Yes, and I already have bought you a new blanket, somehow I knew you were going to use your spare again. You think two tents is enough? You and I in one, Siegfried in the other?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, but I don't mind sharing my tent with a Wolf either, as long as they don't try to kiss me."
Siegfried grinned "I will make her the suggestion to try it when we get back home."
Smith also grinned. "Leave that out of your head. I have a few things more to pack I have forgotten, and then we'll leave. I'm sorry Charlene, you have an entire empty house for you alone. But be home when Katie is home."
Charlene nodded, and gave Smith a hug. "Just be careful."

Smith's leg was a bit stiff from the days of not walking, but when it was time to set up camp he was used to the walking again. He had taken a few of the herbs to silence the pain in his leg, and the combination of the herbs and being tired of the walking made him sleep in an instant. Nonetheless he thought he had woken up early in the morning, but only to see that Melany was already cooking breakfast and lunch, a trader had passed them in the morning while Smith was still sleeping, and he had sold them some pork.
"You are really tired, are you sure you want to walk?" Siegfried said after finishing breaking up their camp.
Smith nodded. "Yes, and we take a shortcut, I don't think your map is correct, if we go south-west at the junction next to a big oak we save a few days. The path was hard to navigate with a cart, but on foot it's really much faster."
Melany nodded. "Right… straight through a thick forest. Now I understand why you wanted me to come as well, as a protection against Feline Ferals. And please stop eating those herbs, those are not good for you."
Siegfried also nodded. "Yes, you are really addicted to them. You really walk faster than you normally do, I know you can't feel your legs, but this way you are damaging them. Slow down."
Smith sighed. He knew he really was addicted, but did not want to admit it. He only had enough for a few days more, then he and his pain would be on their own. "Shut up, both of you."

"Well… here we are. And I see he is home, there is a cart which wasn't there last time." Smith finally broke the silence.
Siegfried sighed, a sigh of relief. "Thank the spirits in the forest. If I have to choose between you as you were in the last few days and an entire Feral army I have to fight, I will choose the latter. You really scared us with your behavior."
Smith looked at the Wolf and Tigress next to him. "I did scare you? I'm sorry in that case, those herbs don't only take away the pain, but also the sanity… I knew this was going to happen, I had to warn you."
Melany smiled. "And we must have been more persuasive. But I'm glad you can talk again. It was just like the first night when you got out of your bed to use the bucket, but only worse."
Smith nodded. "I think I have eaten the last of those herbs… I can still feel the effects, stop me if I'm going to do things I'll regret later."
Siegfried and Melany nodded, and the little group started to cross the field.

When they approached the little stairs leading to the door they could already hear some noises coming from the inside. The noise of someone who was very sick, the sound of a person vomiting.
Smith signaled Siegfried and Melany to wait outside, he would go in alone. Smith unsheathed his sword, opened the door and stepped inside. The man inside looked up from the bucket he was filling.
Smith did not smile, Smith did not grin. Smith calmly looked around the room to see if there were others. The man was alone. Smith sheathed his sword again, there was no danger.

Finally Smith looked at his victim. "<Well… how do you feel?>"
The man looked in his bucket. "<If you intend to buy some skins you are too late, I have sold them and came back yesterday… You poisoned me, didn't you? Poison me so you can take my place in this land of plenty.>"
Smith nodded and then shook his head. "<Yes, I have poisoned you, but no, I do not want to take over this hell. I am here to kill you.>"
Despite of his sickness the man managed to grin. "<You have no rights here, you can not kill me. And then what? Let the Ferals rule this barren land?>"
Smith slowly walked towards the man who was sitting on the bed, his bucket still in his hand, and crouched in front of him so the man could not look away if he had to vomit again.
The man deposited some more vomit in the bucket, and then looked at Smith. "<Are you one of those religious idiots? Walking in a skirt and talking about hell, and always trying to help others, even if they can not be helped?>"

Smith stood up, and kicked the bucket out of the man's hands. It flew across the room, splashing its contents across the walls and the floor. "<I don't have an imaginary friend, I have real friends. People I helped, and who became true friends… Siegfried! Melany! come in, and meet the person we were looking for, just a simple Human poacher.>"

Siegfried and Melany entered. Melany gasped in disbelief when she saw the interior of the cabin, and the look on Siegfried's face became murderous for a short moment.
The poacher stared in disbelief at them. "<Black Wolf… his skin in a perfect condition… worth six small silver… and a White Tigress… that skin does not belong on the shoulders of a filthy animal, that's a coat for a queen…>"
Smith grabbed the poacher by his throat. "<You don't talk like this about my friends.>” “Siegfried! get over here, find some rope, and hang him with his hands on that hook over there!"
Siegfried shook his head. "No, we are here to kill him, not to torture him."
Smith dragged the man himself towards the place he wanted him, and threw him at the floor. "I want to know everything, who his clients are, how long he has been here, how many he has killed… those kind of things."
Siegfried nodded. "Of course… But if he refuses to talk we will kill him, swiftly without unnecessary pain."
Smith lost his temper. "Siegfried, get over here! Rope! now!"

"Help!" A weak voice called from somewhere.

Smith looked over his shoulder to locate the source of the sound. "Who is there!"
"<It's nobody, just the wind.>" the poacher replied.
Smith turned around and kicked the man on the floor in the stomach. "<I didn't ask you anything. Be quiet!>"
Smith turned towards Siegfried, who now had some rope in his hands. "Tie him to that hook… please… All right, whoever is there, can you please call again?"
Smith knew his hearing was not perfect, but it was still good enough to locate the approximate location of the person who was calling for help again. It was in a corner next to the bed. There was a little hatch. Smith had seen the hatch the first time when he was in the cabin, but it never occurred to him to check it, because it was locked.
Smith turned towards the now on his arms hanging poacher, and started to search him.
"<There is nothing there klootzak!>" the poacher spat in Smith's face.
Smith's reply came in the form in a punch to the stomach, resulting in more vomit spewing from the poacher's mouth, but nothing of it hit Smith. Finally Smith found what he was looking for, a small key that seemed to fit the lock hanging on the poacher's necklace. "<Found it. Now I want to look into the nothingness that is down there.>" Smith replied while he held the key in front of the poacher's face. The poacher bowed his head. He knew that he lost. Or simply lost consciousness. Smith didn't care.

Smith proceeded to open the hatch, and what he found made him jump backwards. A hideous face without eyes emerged from it. Smith blinked with his eyes, and slowly he started to recognize the face. The face of a Hound, but with empty sockets where the eyes were supposed to be.
"I think the hatch is open, and I scared you, didn't I? Are you a Human or an Inimal?" the face without eyes suddenly said.
Smith slowly regained himself. "Yes, you did scare me… I was expecting something like rats, but not you. And I am a Human."
The face without eyes made an attempt to smile. "I have never met a talking rat. Can you please put me out of my suffering?"
Smith got back on his feet again, and walked towards the hatch. He extended his hand to help the Hound out of the hole, but suddenly realized that the hound could not see him. Instead he gently grabbed the Hound's arm. "If you mean pull you out of this hole then yes, but killing you? No. Maybe you have some answers."
The Hound was finally standing on his feet, and started to brush the dirt off his fur with his hands. "Thank you… I think. I heard and can smell you are not alone. Black Wolf and White Tigress? Very odd friends for a Human, but you also seem to speak our language."
Smith gently grabbed the Hound by his arm again, and guided him towards the table, but the Hound stopped a few steps before it. "I know that I am very close to the table, I think I can feel myself towards the chair. Left of me, am I correct?"
Smith moved the chair a little bit across the wooden floor to make some sound with it to let the Hound locate it. "Here is the chair. Please sit down, I will use the table to sit on. I hope you haven't eaten yet, because I poisoned some pots and pans. And the pitchers."
The Hound sighed. "Yes, I heard you move around in the house, and I heard you mess around with those items. Now let me please introduce myself… I'm Boris, Boris the blinded Hound, but with a very good sense of hearing and smell."
Smith tapped Boris' hand. "You can call me Smith, officially smith by profession, and… Siegfried and Melany, could you please come over here… These are Siegfried the Black Wolf and Melany the White Tigress."
Boris extended his hand. It was Melany who grabbed it first. "You must be Melany, a Wolf does not have hands that are this soft."
Melany shook the hand. "That is correct."
Siegfried was a bit more hesitant to grab the hand. Boris made an attempt to smile again, something very hard for someone who could not see facial expressions. "And this must be Siegfried's hand. Don't be afraid… I can feel you tremble."
Smith snickered. "His facial expression is blank at this moment, but you telling me that he is trembling is a revelation for me. I did not expect him to be afraid of you."

"<Get that filthy beast back to where he came from vuile tyfusleijer!>" The poacher had not bowed his head because he knew he had lost, but because he had lost complete consciousness for a few moments, the poison was doing its work and was helped by the kick and punch in the stomach that Smith had given him, although it was not enough to be lethal. He had regained his consciousness again.
Smith stood up, but instead of walking towards the poacher he walked towards his backpack, and got two small items out of it. His brass knuckles. He put them on his hands, and slowly walked towards the poacher. In the nine years he had the brass knuckles in his possession he had never used them. His fingers had become thicker since he bought them.
Finally they fitted in the way he wanted them, and he dealt a severe blow to the poacher's ribcage, enough to bruise the ribs, but not hard enough to break them.
"<I'll talk to you later.>" Smith spoke with an eerie calm voice.
The poacher was silent again, only a soft whimpering sound could be heard.

"All right Boris. Sorry for the little inconvenience. Now I'm back for you. We will be here for a while, do you mind to use the bed during that time? Enjoy a little comfort while we are busy with the Human over there?"
Boris grabbed Smith's hand, somehow he had located it when Smith put his hands on the table to lean on it.
"Yes, please… I haven't used a bed in a long time… My place was beneath the floor."
"<And that is precisely the place where you belong!>" the poacher replied.

Smith sighed, and looked at the brass knuckles again. Of course, they made a scraping noise when he had put his hands on the table. Smith pulled his hand away from the Hound's soft grip, and walked towards the poacher again, and started to hit him again, but avoiding the vital parts, just like the Bergvolk had done to him, but the difference was that he had a choice back then, he could say 'stop' at any time. And this poacher did not have that luxury.

It was a short barrage, Smith stopped when he noticed the poacher had lost his consciousness again, it was no use hitting an unconsciousness person, that was just a waste of energy.
Smith looked at Siegfried and Melany. "What?" was all he could say.
Melany shook her head, with a sad look in her eyes. "This is not the tender and caring Human I love… What I see is a monster."
It was a soft voice, Smith could barely hear what she was saying.
Smith sighed. He knew what was happening. The absence of pain, but also the absence of feelings. There was only hatred.
"<Get that filthy beast out of my bed! He does not belong there! Get out of my house!>" the poacher screamed again after a few moments of silence.

Boris had found his own way towards the bed, and Smith and Melany were staring at each other. Slowly Smith turned around, but only to face Siegfried, who had drawn his sword and was holding it in a threatening manner, pointed at Smith.

"Siegfried, get out of my way."


Siegfried… Get. Out. Of. My. Way."

"Never. I won't let you do the things you want to do."

"Siegfried, get out of my way. Now."

"I'm going to do things you will regret if you manage to get past me."

"Like what? Kissing me?"

Siegfried briefly smiled. "It's good to hear the Human I love as a friend is still there, but no, I meant killing you."

"Siegfried, if you do that you will lose everything you have."

Siegfried slowly nodded. "I understand the consequences of killing you, but I'd rather die with a clear conscience than letting you have your way with him."

"Get out of my way, Wolf."

"I know what I am, I know your history, but I won't let you become the monster you wanted to kill."

It was Melany who spoke this time. Spoken with a very timid and scared voice.

Siegfried looked at Melany who was standing next to Smith's backpack with the rest of his weapons. If it came to a fight she would prevent Smith from getting them.
Then Siegfried looked back at Smith. "Smith… I know you are a very considerate person, but this time you are out of your mind… I'd say we let an other, a true neutral person here decide about the poacher's fate. Not you, because of those herbs your mind is altered, I really hope you will regain your old calm self again very soon. Not me, because I know what I can do and what I have done in my past, you taught me there are more ways to solve a problem, and that is not always violence. Not Boris, because he is a victim of that man I am protecting from you at this moment, and that does not make him neutral, but Melany."
Smith slowly nodded, and took of his brass knuckles, and threw them in a corner. "Yes… that sounds very reasonable. When I entered this building I wanted to torture. Torture for information… I know, it's not the way I want to be, but you are correct, those herbs mess around with my mind… I knew the dangers when I started using them, I had torn open the wound on my leg again when I helped the last victim of the poacher, and I used the herbs to stop the pain the salve caused… I wanted to torture, but for what cause? What could I do with the information? It is not illegal to trade skins, I can never sentence those who want to buy and use the skins, I only can stop those who kill to obtain the skins. I know I have no jurisdiction here, but I will inform the Inimal king about what I have done here, I will take full responsibility for what happened here… But when I found Boris the urge to torture for information became an urge to torture to cause nothing put pain… Melany, please tell me what to do, anything but torture him."

Melany slowly walked towards Smith, and put her hand on his shoulder. "Let him drink a jar of his own poison, and then cover his mouth to prevent him spewing it out… let the vomit come out of his nose, and then burn down this place."
Smith sighed. "That's… that's cruel. Why not simply say something like 'put a dagger through his heart' and go on? I know this is also not like you… You are also a very gentle person."
Melany grinned. "I hate men. I hate Humans. I want to give them what they deserve, a slow and painful death. No chance of survival."
Smith slowly nodded. "I understand why you hate men and Humans. But you also must understand that you are always free to go wherever you want. You don't have to stay with me because of what I have done for you. You can always change your mind. Please tell me to kill him swiftly."

Melany grin turned into a smile, and her hand on Smith's shoulder changed into a hug. "I know, but thanks to you I'm the wealthiest Inimal tailor around. I know you want to give me my own house and workshop, but that way I'll miss your company, you and all your friends. I'll miss Charlene, who really became a very good friend, I'll miss Katie and the mischief she causes, and I'll even miss Siegfried, the most trustworthy Wolf I have ever met… I already miss Robin, he always has been a good boy, a bit stubborn sometimes, but he has a good heart. I can never hate the person you are."
Smith nodded. "And what about me as a Human male, what about Frank, what about Harold an and all the other Human males?… we are the Human males you hate."

Melany took a step backwards. "Those men are also good men. And Jacques, he is also a good man. If a customer gives problems he is always just around the corner to help me… It's strange, there are only nice men in the Neutral Zone, especially those men who love other men, they are really good customers, always grateful that they can do what they want in the Neutral Zone… but outside of it the world is horrible, and it's a place I don't want to live any more. Please, let me make this outside world a little bit safer… my way."

Smith slowly nodded. "Fine… I understand, and I never break a promise… Now let's do as you asked, and turn this place into a hell. I don't believe in things like heaven and hell, the places your spirit goes to after death according to those religious people, but I have had a good conversation with Gerrit and some others of them while I was forced to stay in the village, and they have given me a good description of it, and hell seems a nice place for this poacher to go to. Can you hold his mouth open while I pour in the poison? Starting the fire is not going to be pretty with the noise he is going to make after I administered the poison, but there is no other way. We don't have the time to poison him when everything is burning around us. That way he dies too soon."

Melany held the poacher's mouth open with a wooden spoon. The poacher initially struggled, but soon realized that struggling with this strong White Tigress with his hands tied was useless. Melany used to be a gentle tailor, but the hatred for the poacher that Smith saw in her eyes even made him afraid of her. Afraid, just like he was the first time they met, when she was still a Feral. Smith carefully poured in the poison while Melany massaged the throat to make him swallow it.
The poacher almost immediately started to convulse, even one-twentieth of the amount of poison he had in his stomach would have been enough to kill him. And even less this time, because the poacher had an empty stomach, he had been busy spewing out the contents when Smith entered the cabin. Smith nodded, the first part of his job was done. He walked towards the bed Boris was on. It was hard to tell if the Hound was sleeping or just listening.
Smith put his hand on the shoulder of the Hound. "Do you mind if I take a few pieces of the blanket?"
The Hound turned his head towards Smith, the empty sockets where the eyes were supposed to be staring at him. "You are a very cruel man."
Smith nodded, an empty gesture to someone who could not see it. "I know. And I am sorry."
The Hound on the bed managed to grin. "I was not talking about what you are doing to him, I was talking about you taking away a piece of my blanket… I do mind you taking it, but I know I can not stop you from doing it."
Smith smiled, and patted the Hound on his shoulder.

Siegfried was already splashing the cabin with lamp oil when Smith finished his second-to-final task, the task of covering the mouth of the poacher. He had to work fast because the vomiting already was about to begin again. He barely had taken a step backwards when the first wave of stomach acid mixed with poison came out of the poacher's nose. It was a horrible sight. More horrid than the worst things he ever could come up with. But now there was no way back, the poacher would die soon.

Smith walked towards the bed Boris was on. "Time to get out of your bed. Tonight you will be sleeping on your own sleeping mat and underneath your own blanket. I always carry a spare set. We have yet to decide who will share a tent with who, because we only have two tents."
Boris nodded. "Yes, this bed is not as comfortable as I expected. I don't like the smell of it. Let's go. And I think I'll be sleeping with the soft lady, Wolves also stink, and somehow I think you will snore a lot."

Siegfried handed Smith a torch he had found somewhere in a cabinet. Smith got his kindle, and was about to ignite it when suddenly a thought crossed his mind. "Boris, I'm sure your… owner… has some money somewhere. Do you happen to know where he kept it?"
Boris nodded. "Of course, he kept it in a chest under his bed, next to his secret stash of bottles. It always made an awful noise when he pulled the box from underneath it, and there are a lot of coins in it. I think it's a lot of big silvers, because of the sound they make… You know, he always uses a key to open it, but the lock is broken, I never heard the latch."

Smith pulled a small chest from underneath the bed. It was quite heavy. It was an old chest, with a lot of heavy metalwork on it which added to the weight, but Smith could feel there were indeed a lot of coins inside. A few bottles rolled over the floor. Smith recognized them, they contained some very strong alcoholic beverages. Smith carried the small but heavy chest outside, and went inside again. The poacher was making horrific sounds, he really sounding like a mortally wounded animal. He even was bleeding out of his eye sockets, the acid from his stomach was eating away the mucosa in his nose. Smith ignored him, and started to throw the bottles against the wooden cabin wall above the bed. He pulled the cork off the last bottle, and threw that bottle on the bed. Slowly the liquid gushed out of it, soaking the sheets in a flammable liquid.

"Siegfred, torch!" Smith simply said after he was done with his work and was back outside, next to the chest he had carried outside, at the bottom of the stairs.
Smith kindled the torch, and threw it on the bed. The bed burst into flames, and Smith closed the door for the last time, and got the chest on his left shoulder to carry it away. Careful to keep it upright, it was indeed not locked, and filled with coins.

Halfway the field the little group stopped to stare at the burning building and listen to the roar of it. It had been a dry summer, and the heat of the fire could be felt even halfway across the field, but somehow the trees surrounding it did not catch fire.
Smith noticed he was standing next to a piece of poisoned meat, and stomped it with his shoe to an inedible mush.

When he was satisfied with the result he walked towards the Hound he rescued. "Boris, you haven't eaten in days… You were there alone when I poisoned everything, and you haven't eaten since. Shall we go to the river, and catch you some fish? Those are easy to digest on an empty stomach."
Boris said nothing, and turned around to hug Smith, knocking the chest off Smith's shoulder.
The chest fell on the ground, and the lid broke off, spilling the contents everywhere. But Smith didn't care, those were just dead coins. He always could lose a few of those in the grass, he had enough of them. He had a new friend. He had pulled François out of the mud, and with him he has lost his own tears over the loss of his wife, unborn child, master and the entire village he had lived in. He moved on to the Bergvolk. There was Uwe, committing a mortal sin by wasting beer, that liquid was to drink and to be tasted, not to spill over someone else. Smith had shrugged at that little incident, and had even defended the Ork against those who wanted to punish him. And there was Olaf, they got drunk together. Smith had laughed at the Troll, because they were so wasted that Olaf had mistaken him for a pillow, with his pale skin he was totally not like him, the people of the Bergvolk all have grey skins. If your vision is blurred it is easy to mistake a white, almost hairless and soft belly for a clean and white pillow. And Olaf drools when he is asleep. All three of them friends who helped him to build the foundations of where he was today, the leader of a prosperous village. Then there was a long time of nothing, there was nobody who Smith could call a friend. Frank was just a competitor when he started his smithy in the Neutral Zone, but became a co-worker in Smith's smithy when his own smithy burned down. But Frank was just… Frank. Helpful, but only if he could get better of it.
Charlene with her sprained ankle in estrus and aroused sitting on his shoulders, without a cloth to keep him dry, Katie on his shoulders, and being a mere child not yet fully toilet-trained. Siegfried on his shoulders, and getting aroused after being alone for too long. Melany, a feral White Tigress with a full bladder… Smith did not know what to think of Robin, the only person he had called a friend, and who kept him dry… But Robin had left his house, even without saying him goodbye… not something a true friend would do. And then there was Tim, he also kept him relative dry, he had only knocked him over on the forest floor and gave him a reason to wash himself… And Beatrice, the black she-Wolf he had left at doctor Simon's office… what would his relation with her become? She had left some fluid on him, in the form of vomit when he was helping her… Would she be as bad as Siegfried?

And now there was Boris, crying on his shoulder. Saved from the nightmare he was living in. An eyeless Hound, but with the tear-ducts in tact, Smith could feel the tears fall on his shoulder.
He patted the Hound on his shoulder. "It's all right… I… I don't know what to say… I do have experience with sadness, but I don't know how to comfort…. Erm… Siegfried, Melany… could you put the coins back in the chest, then we go to the river to set up our camp."
Boris' hug intensified. "You don't have to comfort me, these are tears of happiness. But yes, keep the coins I earned."
Smith patted the Hound on his shoulder. "You can't live in coins. I will use them to build you a house. And maybe pay for someone to help you. Shall we go to the river?"
Smith could feel Boris nod.

"Boris, how did you end up here?" Smith asked after they had put up the tents and Melany cooking some fish Smith caught.

"I walked here with you." Boris replied with a grin on his face.

"I noticed that Boris, and I really appreciate your sense of humor. I'm just glad you didn't kiss me"

"You really should try." Siegfried interrupted the conversation between Smith and Boris.

Boris turned his head towards Siegfried. "No, I don't like kissing males. I guess you did? But, to answer Smith's question: I was sold."

"Sold? Why?" This was Melany, almost finished cooking the fish.

Boris sighed. "Sold because I didn't do my job properly. My previous owners knew there was supposed to be a young Tiger living somewhere, but I didn't want to betray her."
Smith stood up, and went sitting next to Boris. "I know you don't like this kind of questions, but where? I have heard a same kind of story, but from the other side."
Boris sighed. "It's… It's… " Boris suddenly turned his head towards the river. "There is someone in the river! I heard someone cough there!"
Smith looked at the stretch of river that could be seen from the campsite. "Cat! Cat in the water! Hold on there! I'm coming to save you!"
Smith jumped up, ran to the river without thinking, and dived into the cold water. Within a few powerful strokes he reached the almost drowning Cat. "Gotcha… dammit… hold on… the current is strong here… damn rapids…"
Now it was Smith who got in trouble. Last time he was in trouble like this he had to walk back almost half a day. This river was flowing east, if he kept calm he would end up almost at his back porch eventually, but that would take days. Smith gasped, the cold water and his skirt were impeding his movements.

Smith bumped into something soft. It was Melany. "Now I have you. And I see you are still holding her. Siegfried! Pull!"
Siegfried and Boris were pulling on a rope with all their strength. Finally Smith got some solid ground beneath his feat. Melany smiled when they reached the shore. "Good thing you held onto that branch, although I don't think you can remember it, you had that determined look in your eyes again."
Smith smiled. "I'm glad I have friends like you… Well… let's check her, I think she is still breathing."
Siegfried smiled. "Good thing the soldiers have taught me you should always to take some rope with you. I have never done it before, but I have taken it from the now burning cabin, and I already caught a big fish with it."
Smith patted Siegfried on his shoulder. "You are a good friend. Now let's get back to our tents. Somehow I have the feeling that is going to be a long walk."

"Smith? Are you awake again?" Melany gently shook Smith's shoulders.
Smith opened his eyes. "Yes, I'm back. Something wrong?"
Melany smiled. "You have been out for a few hours. A Feral Tiger has taken our fish, and left with it. You are the only one who can catch them again, and we are hungry."
Smith managed to grin again. "Tiger or fish?"
"I prefer the fish, Tiger meat tastes awful. And yes, I was forced to eat that." Boris replied from somewhere.
Smith nodded. "Then I'll catch some fish. How's the Cat?"
"I'm hungry… and I never expected to be rescued by a Human who is accompanied by a White Tiger, Black Wolf and a blind Hound. We did have some time to talk, you behave more like this? becoming something like a Feral, and get out of it by a gentle shake?" the Cat responded from a tent.
Smith smiled. "I expected you would say that you were wet and cold. We'll do proper introductions later, now I'll have to catch some fish, it's already getting late. I suspect you are in a tent, but where is Boris? I'm not blind, but I don't see him?"
"I'm in the same tent, keeping Minou warm." Boris replied.
"You are what?" Smith replied with an honest tone of amazement in his voice.
"You are not deaf, are you? I said I am keeping Minou warm. You told me you had a second blanket and mat for me, and now I have to share it… But I don't mind to be honest."
"And neither do I. Do you know your friend here really has some gentle fingers?" Minou added.
"Well… I really don't know what to say… But I don't care what you are doing in there. Go on with what you are doing… And Boris, watch out for her claws." Smith said laughing.
Melany smiled. "You really don't care, do you? Nobody in the Inimal kingdom would approve what they are doing, and you just don't care."
Smith hugged Melany. "It's the same thing that we are doing. And I do with Charlene. And I have done in my past. I really don't care, as long as nobody gets hurt. Now please release me, I want some fish to eat."
Melany grinned. "It's a pity Siegfried is in our tent tonight."
Smith also grinned. "Wait until we get home, the she-Wolf I brought back was also black, and somehow I think she knows him."
Melany did not release Smith. "Really?" Smith gently pushed Melany away. "Siegfried… I have a few questions for you… but we eat first… And something Boris told me also sounded familiar… We have a lot to talk about…"
Siegfried who was sitting next to them nodded.

"Well Siegfried… I'm back. I never cared about your history, but now I am… Have you ever been to the Academy?" Smith asked while he handed Melany six fishes.
Siegfried nodded. "We are with five, you can't count?… And yes, I have been to the academy, but I left in the fifth semester… I didn't like certain teachers there. I hated a White Tiger most of all, and he really hated me."
Smith nodded. "Yes, sixth fish is to leave behind for a Feral, maybe we can also help that one. But thank you Siegfried, I know enough. And no, I won't answer your questions until we get home."
Siegfried nodded and grinned. "You know I can torture you for information… But somehow I don't think that will make me meet the she-Wolf you brought back. Black, you said?"

Boris and Minou left their tent.
Smith smiled. "Wow… You really look satisfied… No claws?"
Minou smiled. "Melany is correct, nobody would approve what we did… I had a Wolf before and we had to keep our relation hidden, but he was sent away to the war and got killed. And no, no claws… I can control myself… I'm a nurse, and sometimes I had to endure much worse, being a Cat."
Smith nodded, and took off his still wet jumper and turned around. "Look at my back. I don't know what you have been told already, but this is what Cats have done to me."
Smith felt some gentle fingers touching his back. "Those are indeed impressive scars. No, she has given me a little massage." Smith heard Boris say.
Smith grinned. "Given you a little massage, or given the little you a massage?"
Boris swatted Smith's back of his head. "You are as perverted as you are correct… The second thing. But I did return the favor."
Minou smiled, and hugged Boris.

"I don't think Boris is helpless Minou… But Boris, before you heard her coughing in the river… making me to attempt to rescue her… you said something. You said that you spared the life of a young Tiger. Was that north of here?"
Boris swallowed the piece of fish Minou was feeding him. "Hmm… no fish-bones… Yes… That was a few days north of here, I think. We, me and three Human poachers who forced me to work for them, wanted to attack a family of Tigers who had a young child… And I didn't want to do that work any more, I wanted to die."
Smith sighed. "You are alive. You said that she wasn't there, and you hoped that the poachers would kill you, but they sold you instead… You were very close to her, she could even smell you. She is fine, I have adopted her. At least, I have adopted a young Tiger, her parents were killed by three poachers, and there was a fourth, an Inimal who said she wasn't there."
Boris nodded. "That is exactly what I said, that she wasn't there… I really want to meet her… But can Minou come along?"
Smith nodded and patted Boris on the shoulder. "Of course she can. Our doctor asked me if I knew a nurse. Now I do, I think Minou can do that."
Minou bowed her head. "Fine… I'll come with you… I think that in my old village they think that I'm dead… I didn't like living there anyway, but I have nowhere else to go… I was washing a blanket in the river, and a large trunk got tangled in it, and it dragged me into the river, and that's how I ended up here… Time to start a new life. You really have some strange friends Smith… People who wanted to kill you, former Ferals, a messenger who knew you because of the stories her aunt has told her, adopted a child who can already do incredible things… I think I like you. At least I didn't keep you dry, that's a good sign if I'm correct."
Smith nodded. "Yes, I think we will become very good friends, but nothing more. I don't like Cats in my bed."

"And what are we going to do with Boris?" Siegfried asked while he threw away the leftovers of the fish.
Smith smiled. "I'd like to have a little wager with you. The sun is almost below the horizon, but before it is you are convinced you could use Boris."
Siegfried grinned, but Smith didn't notice it. "I don't know what a blind Hound can do for me, but I accept. One big silver."
Smith nodded. "All right Boris, what is your specialty? What was your task with the last poacher?"
"My task was to track the poisoned Ferals so they could be skinned. I had to…"
"Thank you Boris" Smith interrupted "And can you do the same at ambush spots, smell if those are used, and smell where the criminals who used them have gone to?"
"Of course, that is even simpler. That is just follow the tracks. I am even capable of hearing people whisper at two hundred paces, there is no hiding from me."
Smith nodded. "Thank you Boris… Siegfried… what do you think? A perfect addition to your team. Now you can not only destroy the ambush spots, but even the camp-sites nearby those spots. No matter how far the people you are looking for have retreated themselves into the forest, Boris can find them… You are very stupid if you don't take it."
Siegfried nodded. "Sounds good, but let me think about it… he is defenseless."
Smith grinned. He knew that Siegfried was delaying. "You also have a prize on your head Siegfried, you know that. You even have merged the two groups of soldiers into one big group, because of all the attacks on you."
Siegfried nodded again. "I know… but defending one person who can also defend himself is something completely different from defending someone who could not defend himself."
Smith nodded. "Boris is not defenseless. If you want to attack you must communicate about your plan, I don't think that a lot of criminals know sign language."
Siegfried also nodded. "Of course, but I need some time to think about it."
Smith shook his head. "Siegfried, I know you want to delay. Just say 'No, I don't need him', and have your silver, then we won't have to play games with Boris' life. Then his life will be simple, small house where he can live with Minou, and just be a friend."

Boris wrapped his arm around Smith's neck. "I already know Siegfried's answer. He had asked me the same when you were your sort of unconscious. But I think he doesn't want to admit that, he wants his silver."
Siegfried grinned. "You can't see it Boris, but the sun is below the horizon. Of course I need you, just like Smith needed me, just like he did when he met met for the first time I have made that choice in an instant… And now I want my silver."

Smith grinned. "You can have it as soon as we get home, and you haven't tried to kiss or kill me… We, you, me and Melany will be sleeping in one tent, and Boris and Minou in the other, but I want to give them my blanket and mat, that means the three of us have to share two blankets and mats."
Siegfried grinned. "The soldiers told me you had four Wolves next to you and on top of you, and you didn't mind them kissing you."
Smith nodded. "Yes, but those were just very happy to be out of prison and out of the city. This is different."
Siegfried continued to grin. "I have all I want. I don't need that silver, I have you. Puny hairless Human can sleep between Tigress and Wolf for the nights to come."
Minou also stood up to give Smith a hug. "Very kind of you to lend us your blanket and mat. We will keep them clean, and use the other one."

The night was interesting. Smith could feel that Melany was still afraid of him, because of what he had done and wanted to do, but he also could feel that she was grateful that he was back to his 'normal' self. Siegfried was just like he always was. Somehow the Wolf knew that Smith would never hurt him, and was sleeping like a log. Smith's sleep was uneasy. He had woken up multiple times because of his leg. He had managed to keep his wound closed, but it really itched and he had to use all his willpower to keep himself from scratching it. In one of his waking moments he could see the shadow of a Tiger on the canvas of the tent, they were still in Feral territory.

Smith was the last to wake up in the morning.
"Good morning Smith, your fish is gone, there have been a Tiger and a Fox around us this night." Boris greeted him.
Smith put a hand on Boris' shoulder. "I knew of the Tiger, I have seen his shadow on the canvas of our tent. Feral Fox is new for me, I never knew two different species in a Feral state could live this close together."
Boris nodded, his blind eyes staring into the forest. "I never knew there were Foxes around this close. Neither of us is one, but he is the one who took the fish. The Tiger is the same as yesterday, it almost seems like they were working together. And there is also a faint smell of a Wolf, a male, and your Wolf was a female?"
Smith nodded but a few moments later he regretted that gesture, Boris could not see him nod. "Yes, I found a Black She-Wolf… I think I will just catch the fish for our breakfast and lunch, give those to Melany or even Minou to prepare them, and then catch as much fish as possible to leave behind… I don't think I can help all those Ferals in a direct manner, but indirect by leaving food behind for them is the best I can do. "
Melany and Minou nodded. "Yes, I can do the cooking." they replied in unison, and started to giggle like little girls. Those would also become good friends. As long as Melany left Minou out of his bed, Smith thought.

The journey home was far easier than Smith had anticipated. Boris was really good at tracking animals for food, and even managed to find an other abandoned camp-site with a cache of money and other valuables. Smith found out that Boris really didn't mind his blindness. He had lost his eyesight at a very young age, he came from a Human village and just had the wrong friends who acknowledged his hunting skills, but took his eyes to force him to improve his hearing and sense of smell for tracking. The three poachers who had killed Katie's parents were his old friends. He had met them again a few years ago, and they forced him to work for them again. He was very happy to hear that they were dead. He never liked to work for the poachers, but they kept him alive and gave him food and shelter. He had always done what they asked of him, but slowly he started to hate his job, the poachers were not the most friendly so to speak, often unnecessary damaging the skins. Boris second task was healing the wounds they had inflicted. Sometimes it took months, and Boris was locked up with the victims of the poachers, most of them valuable Felines, and many times he had started a relation with them. But he always knew they would take his love away, but he always tried to make the best of their time. Especially with the females.

Minou was just 'a boring person', or so she said. Simple nurse, mistreated by others, fallen in love with a Wolf, and left alone again. She really liked the Canines more than she liked other Felines, but that was also because she did not want children. She really was envious of Melany, she had made clothes for their queen, but Minou never got past healing wounds and curing the sick. Which was just perfect for Simon. Now she also had a chance to start a new life, with people around her who would treat her as equal. Smith had admitted that he never liked Cats, the Cat who was working for him in his smithy was more away from his workbench than he was working, and he had his past with Cats and the wounds they inflicted, and the Cat who tried to rape Charlene and died a gruesome death because he could not defend him long enough to give him a proper execution, but Smith even had called Minou 'different', something that other always had called him. Minou and Boris were different, Boris had saved Minou's life by hearing her, and Minou was just like the nurse she was, helping Boris with everything. And had fallen in love with him.

Smith smiled, Boris was far from helpless, but Boris and Minou were walking arm in arm in front of him nonetheless. Boris could even avoid trees while walking. He could 'hear' them. It seemed impossible for Smith, but Boris told him that he could hear the echo's from the trees. It sounded plausible, he had heard his own echo in the mountains, shout something and a few seconds later you hear the echo, but Boris could do this with trees, at a much shorter distance. But a Hound had far better ears than he had as a Human, and Boris had taken his hearing beyond what seemed possible, to compensate for his lack of sight.
The village that Boris and Minou could call their new home came into sight. Smith smiled when he saw who were sitting on the bench in front of his house, studying a book.

"Look who we have there." Smith said, to nobody in particular.

"I can't see… I don't stumble like you do is because I lift my feet when walking."

"That was Siegfried who was stumbling. But the point I wanted to make is that we are almost home."

"I heard someone wearing shoes stumble, and you are the only one who doesn't have enough callus under his feet. I don't like shoes, always making a lot of noise on the floorboards. And the last point I have ever seen in my life was the point of the spoon which took out my eyes."

"I already hate your sense of hearing… You see…"

"I can't see you idiot! You have two working eyes, use them when you walk."

"All right… smell who's there."

"I know you don't have a sense of smell Human… but we have the wind in our back, all I smell is Siegfried's stinking breath."

"Please try to listen to me."

"Unlike you I'm not deaf… you don't have to shout at me!"

"Boris… please don't be like this, you make me look like an idiot."

"Well… maybe you do look like an idiot, but I can't tell because I can't see you."

"Boris, I really like you. I was always afraid of losing my hearing, but now I know that losing a sense is not that bad… You just lived on without your eyes…"

"Losing your hearing is much worse I think. We can talk, but how do you communicate with someone who can't read nor write and doesn't know sign language? Body language with a female you do like is easy, but something else is not."

"Boris, I am the one who can't write… But we have arrived at my house, and I want you to meet my daughter Katie and… erm… the she-Wolf is… erm… now I have forgotten her name."

The she-Wolf stood up. "My name is Beatrice in case you have forgotten… a teacher who came looking for Siegfried… Siegfried! You look… healthy!"

Siegfried smiled. "Beatrice… from the other side of my old village… How did you end up here?"

Beatrice smiled and stepped forward to hug Siegfried. "I loved you and I came looking for you when I heard you had left the Academy… But now I have found you, and we can live in our own house."

Siegfried took a few steps backwards. "Whoa… slow down woman!…"

Smith grinned. "It appears that now I have a very good reason to kick you out of my house, Wolf. Congratulations with your partner."
Siegfried grinned. "I also was secretly in love with her, but my father never allowed it, she was from humble origins, and I am a descendant from a king… But here is who you are not important… This is all a bit rushed, but it really feels like I'm old enough to settle down."
Beatrice smiled. "That is very good to hear, you promise to never run away from me?"
Siegfried nodded. "I promise… But you always must know what work I am doing here, it's dangerous in the forest."
Beatrice gave Siegfried another hug. "I know… that's why you are here. Smith needed you to make it safer, you are the best."
Katie also smiled. "And I helped with the decoration of your house, Siegfried, with a lot of flowers. Beatrice likes flowers. Just like I do… I think I have heard the voice of that blind Hound before… are you…?"
Boris dropped to his knees and stretched out his arms. "Yes… I recognize your scent… you are the little Tiger I did not betray. Now let me hug you."
Katie smiled and hugged Boris. "Thank you… and now you are also saved by Smith… but… I smell Cat on you… have you been doing the same thing Smith does with Charlene and Melany?"
Boris nodded. "Yes… And it's nice to know that you are not afraid of me… your father jumped almost across the room when he saw me for the first time, I think that I must be glad I can't see myself like this in a mirror. And yes, it is Minou you smell… I do the same with her as your father does with Melany and Charlene."
Katie laughed. "That's gross… but I like you, you are not scary. And did Smith really jump across the room?"
Boris nodded.

Smith tapped Boris on his shoulder. "And now it's time to meet my other woman, Charlene. Charlene, meet Boris and Minou, they will take Siegfried's and Robin's rooms… at least, if they don't want to use my double bed until their own house is given furniture."
Charlene smiled. "The blinded Hound… Katie has told me about you, and she sometimes has nightmares, that you said that she was there… Somehow I think Boris will be used for his tracking skill, and what are you Minou? Nurse? Katie has done a wonderful job according to our Human doctor Simon, but she is still a child."
Minou smiled. "Yes, Boris has a new life, and indeed, I'm a nurse… and you are just as wonderful as Smith has told me… You seem to know exactly what to say and what to do… I think we will use a single bed together… I don't have to share my Boris with anyone… You and Melany have to take turns on Smith… and I heard Katie also loves to sleep in his bed."
Charlene smiled. "Smith… Katie has replaced our bed again for an even bigger one… Now Siegfried and Beatrice will have our old bed… Now we can sleep together in one single bed… You, me and Melany."
Smith smiled. "And don't forget Katie, if she is in my bed neither of you is allowed. I am still too Human to consider it normal to have fun in bed while a child in the same bed."
Charlene nodded. "Of course… she is the most important thing you have."

"Beatrice, I want to write a letter to the Inimal king, but as you might have heard, I can't write properly, do you want to help me to correct the errors in my spelling and grammar? I don't know what you have been told already, but I have crossed the border to kill the poacher who had poisoned you, in a gruesome manner, and now I want to inform him about what I have done and about you and Melany, Ferals are no danger." Smith spoke after eating dinner.
Beatrice nodded. "Of course I will. I am a teacher. Sylvia already has told me about your wish that you want to learn how to write, and François told me your handwriting is terrible but you always had too much pride to admit it. You can write your letter tonight, and I will make the corrections tomorrow, and then you can rewrite it, and send Charlene running."
Charlene nodded. "Yes, we really need that Wolf from the prison, I have the feeling we will get an influx of refugees from the east, things are not going well there… We even get more Bergvolk here, they have a new king, and they don't like him, he is a brute… and he hates you, Smith."
Smith nodded. "I think I know him. He didn't make it through the tests, while I, a weak Human, did… I don't like him either, he and some friends wanted to kill Uwe at a feast, while I was protecting him, and now he killed the old king… I think, it could also be someone else… But that's far away from here, it won't affect our lives, only some more good metal-casters."
Charlene nodded. "Yes, and now they want me to run orders, they want to create some kind of ordering system. They want me to bring lists of goods they produce to different villages, and after a few days I return to collect the orders, and then they will deliver the goods and collect the money."
Smith shrugged. "Fine… Maybe those Vulpine in the north also can make such a system… After I return with Rolph Melany will drag me along again to them to carry her fabric… But after that I will be home, back at the forge and anvil where I belong."

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Chapter 20 - Back to Schotenburg

#23 Post by Neutral Smith » Thu Apr 09, 2015 6:21 pm

Chapter 20
Back to Schotenburg

It felt good to sleep in his own bed again. Alone, after the nights with both Melany and Siegfried in the same tent, the three of them sharing two mats and blankets. It was a new bed, and it barely fit in his room. Even if Smith stretched his arms in all directions he could not touch the sides of it. Smith smiled. It would be very interesting with Melany in it. The first night with Katie was just as usual, without any nightmares. The night with Charlene was also just as usual, with Charlene falling asleep on top of him. Melany on the other hand did not want to be with him in the same bed, she still was a bit afraid of him Smith thought. But he didn't mind, he would go to the Humans again, his intention was one more night alone before he left to get Rolph from the prison, and now it were two nights.
He had sent the letter to the Inimal king using a Dog messenger, Charlene would have been faster, but Smith wanted to leave as soon as possible, and even for Charlene it would have been more than a week away.
Beatrice had shook her head in dismay when she saw how Smith has written it, with a lot of stupid mistakes like mixing up the letters. But she had rewritten it in a beautiful handwriting, and now the letter was on its way to the Inimal king. Smith wondered what the reply would be, he has illegitimately crossed the border to kill and burn. And the response about that Ferals could be 'brought back'… Also a thing that seemed impossible, but he has done it twice already, and no other Feral has attacked them.

Smith opened his eyes, he felt some movement in his bed. Someone giggled. It was a female voice, an adult. It was not Charlene, nor Melany, it sounded more Canine. It was a strange voice, although he had heard that voice before.
Slowly Smith turned to his other side to see who was in his bed, but only to face Siegfried, who was having sex with Beatrice, in his bed.
Siegfried grinned, his teeth glistening in the moonlight. "Good morning Smith, you are really deaf. We have been busy for almost an hour, and you didn't even notice us."
Smith sighed. He knew that his hearing was impaired, but this was really bad. "Siegfried, you have your own bed. Why don't you use that one?"
Beatrice also grinned. "What is the fun in that? We had a little wager, and I lost. It was about how long it would take until you noticed us. It was really exciting, having sex with a sleeping Human next to us."
Smith sighed again, and left his bed. It was still too early to wake up, but he did not want to sleep with those two perverts next to him either.

"Good morning Smith… why are you sleeping on the floor in the living room, on your sleeping mat and travel blanket?" It was Melany who woke him up this time.
Smith's eyes fluttered open again, but only to face the legs of his table and some chairs. He needed some time to think about the question, seeing the underside of the table was not something he was used to.
Finally Smith sighed. "Well… Siegfried and Beatrice are busy in my bed, and we don't have more beds."
Melany laughed. "Deaf, no sense of smell, sometimes your behavior changes… and now also loss of memory. Siegfried and Beatrice have their own house, and we already have repaired the beds that Boris and Minou have destroyed during their wild nights here… But… how did they get in? You always lock the door?"
Smith sighed. "I don't know… I will ask them when they are finally done with soiling my sheets… And thank you for reminding me that we have two beds free again."

"We are two tidy Wolves, we don't leak in the morning. And I have a key to the smithy where me and my soldiers keep our weapons, and the door between your house and the smithy has no lock." Siegfried answered while he came down the stairs.
Smith went to a sitting position and sighed again. "I will give you and your soldiers a proper place to store your weapons so you don't have to be in my house. I want this house to be my own again, only for me, Katie and Charlene."
Melany wrapped her arms around Smith. "And what about me? You don't like me?"
Smith caressed Melany's ears. "Of course I like you… But I asked Charlene to take care of Katie when I'm away from home… It is fun to have you, but I sense that you don't like me as much as you did before I did what I have done. I am really sorry about what happened, I know I scared you with my behavior…"
Melany knocked Smith over, and went sitting on top of him, the blanket between them. "It's not about you, it's about me… I am far too busy with other things. I want to save my energy for the trip we are going to make to the Vulpine again, ten whole nights the two of us together, alone in a tent."
Smith managed to smile, Melany was much heavier than Charlene was. "That's nice… but not every night, and please let me be on top… you are almost as heavy as my wife was… "
Melany grinned. "But I bet she was not as tall as I am. Are you going to sleep in the Kicking Pig again?"
Smith sighed, it was hard to breathe with a heavy Tigress sitting on his chest. "Yes… I know that place and they know me… but I don't know… I prefer to stay out of Schotenburg… I talked to a beggar who got killed after I talked to him… He lied about some scars on his face and I told him the truth… those weren't inflicted by Tigers and other people heard it… and I humiliated someone else who got killed by soldiers a few moments later… They might have friends who want me dead in turn… But the biggest problem is that I can't remember which name I used where… Bob at the Kicking Pig… Peter at the prison… Mary knows me as Smith, maybe some people from my past I could encounter who know my real name…"

"At the Kicking Pig they know you as Peter the smith, and in the prison they know you as Bob the constructor" Charlene said when she entered the living room.
Smith managed to smile "Thank you Charlene… if I didn't have you I would be in a lot of trouble."
Charlene grinned "In more or a bit less trouble?… Melany, Smith has some trouble breathing, please get off him."
Melany smiled and stood up again, just when Katie entered the room. Katie ran towards Smith, and jumped on top of him.
Smith winced. "Ouch… good morning to you too Katie… And what have I told you about jumping on the bed? The floor is my bed at this moment, and I only can hope everything is still at the correct place and nothing is crushed… No Katie, you don't have to check it… Please don't, you curious little brat…"
Katie grinned and laid down beside Smith. "Even I could not sleep because of Siegfried and Beatrice… they even made more noise than Boris and Minou made, and those were sleeping in a room above mine."
Siegfried grinned "Smith was sleeping like a baby, while we were making babies."
Beatrice hugged Siegfried. "Then my estrus must start again, it is still disrupted due my Feralness and the poison… And it is still too soon for children, we have a lot of work to do, we don't have time for children. Or Smith wants to be a babysitter, Katie told me he is really good with a Fox kit."
Smith nodded, sighed and then shook his head. "Yes… Johanna… but no, children are fun, but I want them when they are my own, or toilet trained, or with a diaper… Vulpine are easy, they move before they have to do something, Felines have to be stimulated before they do something, and what about Canines?"
Beatrice smiled. "So… you don't want to do it, but you still ask… well… Canine go after eating or drinking… On a different note, how about all of us heaving breakfast together? I'll make it, we used your bed after all."

They ate breakfast together and Smith decided that he would leave today instead of tomorrow. He was already a few days later than expected, and he didn't want to let Rolph wait any longer. Smith packed everything he needed. He considered taking a third sleeping mat and blanket with him, but he came for only one Wolf. This time he would be taking his sword with him, the Neutral Zone got safer by the week, and with Boris as a new tracker it could go even faster. He had heard the rumors about criminals fleeing the Neutral Zone, and committing their crimes just across the border.

Sparing Siegfried's life was the best thing he had ever done for the Neutral Zone, and now there came a second Wolf, an even more important Wolf for the Neutral Zone. Smith sighed. Wolves had taken away everything he had in the past, and now the Wolves were responsible for the… well… rise was the best word Smith could find… the rise of the Neutral Zone, a safe place where Humans and Inimals lived together in peace.
While walking Smith thought about Rolph. He didn't know why he had chosen Rolph. It was an odd choice, a Wolf to take care of Humans, but he had made the choice in an instant. There was a spark of hope in the Wolf's eyes, and maybe a will to change for a better life.
When they first met Rolph was a very dangerous Wolf, and now the hopefully calmed down Wolf had to do an important task, the task of telling Humans if they were welcome or not to live and work in the Neutral Zone. Smith had often thought about choosing an Inimal to take care of the Humans who wanted to live in the Neutral Zone, but he had never thought of choosing a Wolf for this task.
A more plain personality like a Lion or even a Badger would be a more obvious choice, those were the thinkers and the bureaucrats of the Inimals. Not an other kind of Feline, those were most of the time far too gentle for the Humans, but Smith knew he did not have an unbiased view of the Felines, sometimes he even felt a bit like one when he climbed trees to play with Katie.
Wolves… following orders and relying on instincts. Very keen on sensing emotions with other people, but also being able to shut down their own emotions. Perfect if you need an unbiased view of the person who is before you. Rolph had to take over Smith's task of taking care of the village. Just as Smith was towards the Felines, Canines, Vulpines and all other Inimal species Rolph had to be towards the Humans. Unbiased towards their beliefs and ways of life, and allowing only those who are useful to settle in the Neutral Zone. Smith grinned while he walked. There was already a surplus of Humans who wanted to become a black- or even bladesmiths in the Neutral Zone, a lot of them already master smiths, but Smith and Frank did not want competition, and they sent them away. But now the time of 'no competition' could be over, if Rolph decided there were more smiths needed in the Neutral Zone then there would come more smiths.
Smith and Frank had a few more people working for them besides Robert and Willem, but most of them were at this moment at the quarry, but Smith wanted them back in his own smithy to work for him again. He had made a little mistake by promising the Vulpine in the north a lot of arrowheads, and Charlene was just in time with some food for him, or he would have collapsed again on the floor in the smithy.

Smith reached Schotenburg again in the late afternoon. He couldn't remember much of the journey, but somehow his backpack was a bit heavier than it was when he left.
"<Smith! You are back!>" It was Mary who called him.
Smith smiled. "<Hello. good to see you again Mary. How is the life here?>"
Mary also smiled briefly. "<Quiet… There are no free Inimals left here, and every day I try to get into the prison to see how the Inimals there are doing, but they don't allow me there… Where do you intend to stay?>"
Smith shrugged. "<The Kicking Pig again. I know it there, they know me…>"
Mary shook her head. "<That place is horrible… It's a meeting place for poachers and other killers.>"
Smith started to grin. "<Then it's time to start another fight. Do you know the story behind it? Why they changed the name?>"
Mary nodded. "<Yes… And I think you also know it.>"
Smith's grin widened. "<I was that boy. It was me who fought there. That girl I defended was my future wife… This will be the last night I sleep there, and you hating that place is a good reason to do some remodeling again.>"
Mary also started to grin, and so did her soldiers. "<You need some backup?>" one of them asked.
Smith shook his head. "<No, that won't be necessary. I was just a boy then, now I am much stronger and I can fight much dirtier. But if you or Mary offers me to wash my clothes tomorrow… that's an offer I would take.>"
Mary nodded. "<If you help me to get into the prison. You really have some influence here in this city, immediately after you left they have repaired the gates, and the soldiers now all have new clothing… You talk again to get me into the prison to see it there again, and I will wash the bloodstains out of your clothes.>"
Smith nodded. "<That's nice… And new clothing for the soldiers at the gates yes… I also noticed that… But clothing offers only protection from the cold weather, not from a cold piece of steel in the form of an arrow or sword.>"
Mary also nodded and gently stroked Smith's chin. "<Yes… But it's still an improvement. Now you must teach them how to shave themselves… You are the best shaven male I have ever seen.>"
Smith smiled. "<You really like to touch and feel. Charlene has told me about your night together… Come visit me and you can stroke me all night long… I'll even shave in the evening for you.>"
Mary's gentle caress changed into a slap to Smith's face. "<You pervert… But it is a tempting offer… But no, my father does not want me to go to the Neutral Zone.>"
Smith nodded, his face glowing from the slap Mary gave him. "<Then send him first. If he tells me you sent him then I will pay for his stay there.>"
Mary nodded and smiled. "<I will ask him… It's very close to the 'Feast of the Harvest' or whatever you call it… Maybe he can come then.>"
Smith nodded. "<That's possible… but please tell him I might be too busy to talk to him.>"
Mary also nodded and started to smile. "<Then that's settled… But I don't think he will tell you he is my father… He wants to know you like you are, and he does not want to be treated differently because he is my father.>"
Smith nodded again. "<That's very wise of him. Now I have a really good reason to make a big feast to make every visitor feel at home.>"
Mary smiled. "<That's very nice of you… I'll wait for you outside the Kicking Pig tomorrow, then we will go to the prison together.>"
Smith nodded and grinned. "<That's fine. But please stay away from the windows, some people might fly out of them. I'll tell them who I am before I leave, I want to sleep in a bed tonight.>"
Mary also nodded and her grin got even wider. Mary's grin even became a bit unsettling to Smith.

Smith arrived at the Kicking Pig again. Smith was still grinning, and took a few deep breaths to get the grin from his face again, and opened the door.
"<Good afternoon sir. You have a reservation?>" the innkeeper greeted him.
Smith looked at the man behind the bar, and looked him straight in the eyes. "<You don't remember me? I have been here two months ago, and you told me you never forget a face.>"
The innkeeper shrugged. "<Then my memory is not as good as I thought. What was your name again?>"
Smith grinned. "<I will tell you when I leave. Let me give you one hint: I am a smith by profession, but last time I didn't have my sword with me.>"
The innkeeper shrugged again. "<Whatever. Backside of frontside room?>"
Smith looked at he men sitting at the bar. Fewer than there were last time. "<Backside. I don't like the street-side.>"
The innkeeper shrugged again. "<Fine. But I hope you don't mind the screams, there are a few Inimals in a cage in the courtyard ready to be skinned, and they don't like being there.>"
Smith nodded, trying to hide his emotions. "<My hearing is impaired… I won't change my mind, I'll keep the backside room. And please keep the path to the toilet free and a few candles lit, I don't feel very well, I'm still hungry, but there is a chance I can't keep the food inside of me, and I'm not sure about which opening it will use to get out of my body.>"
The innkeeper got an angry look. "<Then please don't use the toilet… you can use a bucket in the courtyard instead. If you stay clear of the cage it's safe enough.>"
Smith nodded. "<Thank you… I'll give you an extra copper for that service… I would pay a gold for my full health, but not here.>"
The innkeeper shrugged once more. "<Whatever… But if you soil the sheets you will pay for cleaning those. Beef?>"
Smith nodded. "<Yeah… beef is fine. The pork I had last time was burned on the outside, and still raw on the inside. I don't mind my beef like that this time.>"
The innkeeper shrugged again. "<Well… the only good butcher we had died seven years ago, he died of a broken heart because his daughter had died… I feel sorry for renaming this inn, I thought it would be funny… No… I don't want to talk about it.>"

"<So… How is the skinning business? Last time I was here you didn't mention it.>" Smith asked when the innkeeper returned with a plate with something that resembled more of a piece of leather than a piece of meat, and the key to the room.
The innkeeper sighed. "<It's quiet. Last year three friends got killed, two months ago two friends got killed, and now I haven't heard from an other friend who works in the Inimal kingdom. He has a hut there, and often brings me the best kinds of skins… And those idiots of Inimal affairs have killed a friend of mine here two months ago, and liberated the two Inimals who were working for him… Those people from Inimal Affairs are really a pain. They really work like madmen, and I have to be very careful, I'm one of the last who is still in business.>"
Smith nodded. "<And those Inimals in the cage? I haven't seen them, but maybe I am interested in their skins.>"
The innkeeper grinned. "<How I obtained them is none of your business, but we will skin them tomorrow, and we will auction their skins, you are wealthy and you have traveled a long way to get here. Three o'clock is the time of their auction.>"
Smith nodded "<I'll be there. Now please, let me eat, and hope I'll keep my food inside of me.>"
The innkeeper nodded. "<Of course. Lucky for me I sleep on the street side of this building, I don't have to hear you vomit.>"

Smith managed to chew away the piece of leather, and went upstairs to put his backpack in his room. The men sitting at the bar also left. Now he had a few new problems, the Inimals in the cage. But he also had a lot of useful information. Smith looked out of the window down at the courtyard. A large cage with three Inimals inside of it. A Tiger and a Cheetah standing over a Wolf who was lying on the ground. Smith saw how the Cheetah checked if the Wolf was alive, and Smith saw him shake his head towards the Tiger. The Wolf was dead.

The Cheetah looked up towards the window Smith was standing in, and Smith quickly stepped backwards, away from the window. Suddenly Smith heard a knock on the door.
"<I don't know what you are going to do tonight, but I'm going to bed. I have closed the front door, whoever knocks, don't open!>" Smith heard the innkeeper call.
"<Fine, I… I don't feel well… If you hear me run down the stairs you must know there is no fire!>" Smith replied.
"<Whatever. The door to the courtyard is unlocked, the candles are lit, and the bucket is next to the door, you must take it outside if you want to look at the merchandise.>" the innkeeper replied, and even Smith could hear him beat down the stairs and slam the door to his private quarters.

Time to solve the problems. Smith stood up again to look at the cage from his window. Smith saw that the Tiger and the Cheetah were sitting in a corner, the Cheetah had put his hand on the shoulder of the Tiger. The lock looked like a very simple lock from this distance, it would just take a few seconds to open it if you have the right tools. Smith grinned. Today he was not a builder, but just a smith. And he would have been a worthless smith if he didn't have the right tools. His gloves, a few pliers, his sharpening stones, and his lock picking set.
Smith put his lock picking set in his pocket, and went downstairs. The door to the courtyard was in the same hallway as the door to the pumps and another door to the kitchen, but there was no door to the private quarters here. Smith suggested that that door must be in the kitchen, one kitchen both for private use and use for the inn. The bucket was indeed next to the door. Smith picked up the bucket, and opened the door. It was a small courtyard, with just enough room around the cage to walk around it out of the reach of whoever was inside. The lock was just as Smith thought.

Smith smiled. "All right you two, don't be scared, don't make a lot of noise, but I'm getting you out."
The Cheetah jumped up when Smith started to work on the lock. "Who says we can trust you."
Smith nodded. "Good question. Who says I can trust you… I'm not armed, and you have claws."

The lock popped open, and Smith smiled.
Smith lifted the door of the cage a little to prevent it from squeaking while he opened it. "Alright you two, come with me if you want to live." Smith whispered.
The Cheetah nodded while he gently lifted the Tiger to his feet. "Come… I don't think we have much choice but to trust this Human."
Smith nodded. "I know. I will tell you everything tomorrow after I have made a lot of noise, but now you have to be quiet. You will sleep in a bed tonight, but it's upstairs."
The Cheetah and the Tiger followed Smith to his room, and Smith closed the door behind them.
Smith smiled. "We'll do the proper introductions tomorrow, but you can call me Smith. I only have one double bed here, I will sleep on the floor." he whispered.

Smith woke up at first light. Was he home again? There was a Cheetah next to him, but there was something odd. Smith started to sniff the fur of the Cheetah next to him with his eyes closed. She did not have Charlene's scent.
"Why are you sniffing me? And why do you have your arm wrapped around me?" the Cheetah next to him said, with a distinct male voice.
Smith opened his eyes. "Why are you on the floor?" he whispered.
"I… I don't know… somehow you smell a little bit like one of our females, and I think I dreamed a little as well." The Cheetah replied, also whispering again.
Smith smiled. "We all make mistakes sometimes… Now I will do my normal morning routine and go downstairs to make some noise, don't show yourself until I call you, and I don't think you'll like what you will see. But don't worry, I'm on your side."
The Cheetah nodded. "Somehow I think this is your last night here as well."

When Smith came downstairs, with the feeling he had forgotten something, he saw the innkeeper behind the bar and the two guests, the same as last night, and they were not happy. "<Good morning gentlemen.>" Smith greeted them.
"<You have seen the merchandise?>" the innkeeper asked with an angry tone in his voice.
Smith nodded, slowly walking towards a chair, but not with the intention to sit down on it. "<Yes, Tiger, Wolf and Leopard, they look good.>"
"<You set them free, you idiot! You don't even know what they are, and you set them free!>" one of the guests shouted.
Smith shrugged. "<If I set them free, how could I have survived? As you can see, I have no scratch.>"
The three men looked at each other, and after a while the innkeeper shook his head. "<You opened the door for someone, didn't you?>"
Smith saw through the window Mary and her men walking by, and slowly slowly shook his head. "<No… but it's good to be back.>"
The innkeeper squinted his eyes. "<What do you mean? Good to be back?>"
Smith started to grin. "<You don't remember me from two months ago, but that's no problem, I used a false name then. I was afraid you would recognize me, but you didn't. I have really changed my name since my first visit, now everyone knows me as Smith… But I was that fat fighting boy from the Neutral Zone. And I am still neutral… Yes, I have liberated those Inimals in that cage. It's a pity the Wolf is dead, but two free Inimals is a good score.>"
One of the men drew his sword and stormed towards Smith. Smith grabbed the chair he was standing next to, and hit the man with it. The chair shattered, and so did several bones of the man. The man fell unconscious on the floor.
Smith grinned. "<One down, two to go… Like I said, it's good to be back.>"

The innkeeper was tugging on something. Smith noticed it, and instinctively grabbed a second chair and threw it at him, just when the innkeeper lifted something. The bolt of a Human crossbow ended up in the ceiling above Smith. Smith turned his attention to the third man. In the mayhem the third man had crept away, and was now cowering in a corner. Smith grinned, and turned his head towards the still open door he had used to enter the tavern again. "Alright you two, you can come down, it's safe now… although I am a bit disappointed, I intended to smash more furniture."
The Cheetah was the first to enter the room. When he looked around he started to grin. "You, a single Human without a weapon, fought three armed men?"
Smith shook his head. "No, only two, the third one is a coward, hiding in the corner over there, but as a boy I have fought… I don't remember exactly… maybe twenty men in this tavern… But thank you for your concern. But now I need your help… Outside is a woman with two soldiers… her name is Mary… call her in. They will take care of these men."

Smith noticed that the door towards the kitchen was moving. Smith jumped over the bar, and landed on the ankle of the innkeeper, who in turn started to use words Smith had never heard before in his life. Smith ignored the words, and started to drag the struggling man from behind the bar to a place next to the still unconscious man in front of it.

Mary entered the inn with a grin on her face. "<Smith… you disappoint me… you promised flying men.>"
Smith also grinned and shook his head. "<No… I have met some others here I don't want to teach how to fly… I… I don't even know their names, but I found this Cheetah and Tiger in a cage at the courtyard.>"
Mary walked towards Smith and hugged him, her soft breasts pressing against his chest. "<You are forgiven… this is even better.>"
Smith nodded. "<Yes, they were on the schedule to be skinned today, and their skins auctioned at three o'clock… There was a third one, a Wolf, but he is dead.>"
Mary nodded, with a sad look on her face. "<Yes… We can't save them all… what are your plans with them?>"
Smith shrugged, and gently pushed Mary away. "<I honestly don't know… they are free to go, but I think you can really use them.>"
The Cheetah came standing next to them. "<Tell us what we can do, and we'll do it.>"
Smith nodded. "<As you noticed, the Cheetah speaks Human… very good… And for those Humans… I'd say torture them for information and then give them a proper trial.>"
Mary got a questioning look in her eyes. "<Torture them? How? We don't torture.>"
Smith snickered. "<Then give them the same treatment as you give Inimals at the Ministry, they torture for information… At least… used to torture, the person responsible for a lot of torture is now a doctor, healing Inimals because he did not want to torture any more.>"
Mary nodded. "<Very well… You seem to know a lot about torture… but let us first do our introductions… Tiger, please, don't be shy… I'm Mary, Inimal Affairs… We are here to take care of the Inimals.>"
The Tiger made a few steps forward and gave Mary a hand "My naam is Timo… My Human is niet very good… but dank je for helping us."
The Cheetah also shook hands with Mary. "<And my name is Chester.>"
Smith smiled "<And you all know me as Smith… When I was here thirteen years ago I had a different name, but some things made me change it. And you, soldiers, what are your names? Although I have seen one of you before, you were sitting at the bar two months ago when I was here.>"
One of the soldiers nodded. "<That is correct… And you must understand that our names are not important for you to know, as long as they put the correct name on our graves.>"
Smith nodded. "<Of course… I understand.>"

"<What are we going to do with these men?>" One of the soldiers asked while he dragged the third man from his corner, leaving a brown smear on the floor.
Smith grinned. "<Like I said… torture for information… We save that one for last, and hope that the second one regains his consciousness very soon… I have other places to be, but I'll show you the basics…>” “Timo, can you please get me my gloves from my backpack? I'm a smith, but I still can't hold red glowing metal with my bare hands."
Timo nodded and went upstairs to get the requested items.
Mary shook her head. "<I can't believe you… One moment you are a nice man, an other moment you want to torture…>"
Smith nodded. "<I know… And I have a confession to make… a confession that this innkeeper wants to hear… Yesterday he told me that last year three of his friends… poachers… got killed. They got caught in my village, and I approved their extradition to the Inimals, where they got executed. The man I humiliated and you killed two months ago was also a friend of him, I killed two in the forest on my way home from here, and a few weeks ago I also killed an other friend of him… also a poacher… and burned down his cabin in the Inimal kingdom…. Let's say that I am on your side of this fight, but I follow my own rules and my only punishment is death.>"

"Vuile klootzak!” “<I won't tell you anything!>" the innkeeper suddenly shouted.
Smith nodded. "<I know you won't tell me your confession in a normal voice, but you will scream it at the top of your lungs, and you will regret that you don't know anything more.>" Smith said in a very calm voice.
Timo handed Smith his gloves. "What are you going to do with them? Hit him?"
Smith shook his head. "No, much worse… Someone has taught me that a gentle touch sometimes has more effect than the hardest blow, and this gentle touch will be with a red glowing roasting pin or some other metal rod from the kitchen, heated in the furnace or oven or something I really can heat up… Hungry? I haven't eaten, and it's a waste to only burn coal for torture."
One of the soldiers shook his head, "<You are insane.>"
The other soldier nodded. "<Yes… yes… you really balance on the edge of insanity… And yes… some eggs and bacon sounds good.>"
Smith nodded. "<Yes, I know that I am very close to the edge of insanity. But I will never harm innocent people… My past has made me bitter… But now let's see if there is something edible in the kitchen…>”
The soldiers nodded, and tied the innkeeper and the conscious guest, and sat down at a large table with Mary and the Inimals.

"<These eggs and bacon were lovely, why don't you take over this tavern?>" Mary asked Smith after she finished her second breakfast.
Smith shook his head. "<I used to be an innkeeper in the early days of my smithy, my clients slept in my house, but that's something I never want to do again…. Now I have a village to look after…>"
Chester grinned. "<I can see you prefer to look at different things… Mary's chest… what is so special about that? She has her clothes on.>"
Mary stood up and walked around the table towards Smith, and slapped him on the back of his head. "<You pervert! Quit staring at my breasts!>"
Smith grinned. "<Well excuse me lady, those are a very pretty pair. It's a waste not to stare at them.>"
Mary slapped Smith again. "<At least you are honest… but you don't have manners.>"
Smith continued to grin. "<Well lady, I grew up in the Neutral Zone, good looking Human females are very rare there…>"
This time Timo stood up and showed Smith his claws in a threatening manner. "You stop insulting her… Our breakfast is over."
Smith nodded. "<I was just testing you all… See how far I could go before any of you interfered…>” “You surprised me, Timo, I never expected that response from you."
The soldiers nodded. "<We know you are harmless towards those you trust. We can take care of the Humans here, now go and get your Wolf from the prison.>" one of them said.
Smith nodded. "Timo… Chester… you were just lucky I wanted to spend the night at this inn… The food I always got here is horrible, it seems that mister innkeeper kept the best food for himself… My real purpose for my visit is that I want to take a Wolf from the prison, I want him to be my replacement in the village… some sort of mayor… But I want you to stay here, in Schotenburg, to help Mary and her men. Last time she told me there were no more free Inimals here, I had liberated two of them working for a Human in construction… more like slaves… but finding you in that cage makes me doubt that statement. Do you mind if I continue my speech in Human?"
Timo and Chester shook their heads. "<No, not at all… we both understand Human>" Chester spoke on their behalf.
Smith smiled. "<All right… I will show you how to extract information by torture… I don't like doing it, but it's far more efficient than the polite way. I'm sure these men know a lot more than you know.>"

The two conscious and the unconscious man were dragged towards the kitchen. The unconscious man moaned a little, he was regaining consciousness again.

Smith nodded. "<All right… Effective torture is about being efficient… Cause a lot of discomfort, without causing too much damage. Can you please take off the clothes of the innkeeper… I don't want to see him naked, but I also don't want to burn his clothes.>"
The soldiers nodded, and did as requested, undressing the struggling man and tied him down again. Smith nodded, and sighed. He did not want to do this, but these man from Inimal Affairs needed every bit of information they could get. "<All right… Now let me get the red glowing rod… The basics: don't hit him, don't puncture the skin, just a gentle touch… burning the hairs on his skin so to speak… If he talks put the rod back in the oven… Write down everything he says… Repeat when he stops talking. Understood?>"
The soldiers and Inimals nodded. "<We are not Wolves, but I think we can make them talk.>" Chester said while he got Smith's gloves.
Smith nodded. "<Right… I don't think I will be seeing you again today, but I want my gloves back. I will get the rest of my belongings from my room, and go to the prison. With the lady with the nice butt.>"
Mary slapped Smith again on the back of his head. "<It's a nice bottom for you, sir.>"
Chester grinned. "<She likes you.>"
Smith also grinned. "<I think she also likes Cheetahs.>"

"<You didn't mention Charlene… why was that?>" Mary asked Smith while they were walking towards the prison.
Smith shrugged. "<I don't know… Maybe I am afraid of losing her. I am always telling her that she must find a good mate, I trust Chester… but…>"
Mary smiled. "<It's because of Katie, isn't it? You asked Charlene to take care of Katie when you are gone, like you are now, and if she has someone else she can't be there for Katie.>"
Smith nodded and sighed. "<Yes… for Katie. She is my child, and I want her to give the best youth possible.>"
Mary put her arm on Smith's shoulder. "<You are the best father possible for her. She is a Tiger child, with a Human father, a Cheetah mother, growing up in a mixed village with all four kinds… If you manage to find the perfect partner for her Katie might be the next Inimal queen.>"
Smith shook his head. "<No, the next king must be a Canine… The Wolves are not happy, because the previous king was a Leopard, now we have a Lion… Three Felines in a row is not good… I really hope that Siegfried and Beatrice will have children soon, one of them will be very suited to become the next king.>"
Mary let go of Smith's shoulder. "<I understand… And sorry I let go of you, they must not see us like this.>"
Smith nodded. "<Of course. We are colleagues, not lovers.>"

They passed the house where they had liberated the Tiger and Wolf who worked there and halted a few moments to look at the still unfinished house.
"<Excuse me, do you happen to know the owner of this house?>" a passer-by suddenly asked.
Smith looked at the man and shook his head. "<No, I don't know the owner of this house. Two months ago we liberated a Tiger and a Wolf who were working as slaves here, and their owner got killed in that action. It seems that nobody has claimed this house.>"
The man nodded. "<Then I am talking to the right people. You are from Inimal Affairs, am I right?>"
Smith nodded. "<I am not, but she is. What is it?>"
The man smiled. "<If you are from Inimal affairs I have a hint… At the courtyard of the Kicking Pig is a cage with Inimals.>"
Smith nodded. "<I have spent my night at that place, and those Inimals are no longer in that cage. They are doing fine at this moment, busy with extracting information from some Humans who wanted to skin them.>"
The passer-by nodded. "<Right… And knowing Inimals they are not very friendly… But I'm glad to hear that they survived.>"
Smith nodded. "<Yes… But thank you for your concern. If you know anything else let her know. I will be gone in a few hours.>"
The passer-by nodded. "<Of course. I hate injustice, whether it is towards Humans or Inimals. You are going to the prison?>"
Smith nodded. "<Yes… There is someone I want to get out… We have to move on now… Goodbye!>"

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Chapter 21 - Freedom

#24 Post by Neutral Smith » Thu Apr 09, 2015 6:22 pm

Chapter 21

Even before Smith could reach the door knocker the door was opened by the warden himself. "<Good morning Bob… Peter… Smith… whatever your real name is.>"
Smith nodded. "<You can call me Smith, although that is not the name my parents have given me.>"
The warden nodded. "<Of course… Smith… We all lie sometimes… I am not happy about your previous lie, but let's get inside to talk about that. And I see you have Snouty Affairs also with you… She is allowed this time>"
Smith nodded. "<Yes… But I don't want her to see your office. I have seen a lot in my life, but your office comes at the second place for the worst.>"
The warden nodded, and walked on towards the actual prison. "<I understand. I have found out who you are… although I could not find anything about your past… you are like one of the Elfique, suddenly showing up out of nowhere, spread your poison, and disappear again.>"
Smith shook his head. "<No, I am not one of the Elfique. But something happened that forced me to disappear for a while. I do have a past here in this city, before my disappearance… I was the last one who slept in The Prancing Pony.>"
The warden nodded. "<I suspected something like that. You are the famous smith from the Neutral Zone.>" The warden smiled briefly "<Those Inimals you have taken with you were indeed soldiers, but now they are working for you, pushing the criminals out of the Neutral Zone and giving us a lot of trouble on our side of the border.>"
Smith grinned. "<That was my intention. Get the Neutral Zone safe, without caring about the neighbors.>"
The guards opened the last door, the door to the area where the Inimals are kept imprisoned.
The warden grinned. "<You were very brave to walk around that Wolf… One of my men tried to do the same with a Dog, but he got killed.>"
Smith nodded. "<Let me guess… the Dog in a cage near a corner… When I told you I didn't dare to walk around certain Dogs I meant him… He is very dangerous. You killed that Dog?>"
The warden shook his head. "<No, last time you asked me to keep everyone alive, and we did. You are saying that we are allowed to kill?>"
Smith also shook his head. "<No, only kill if it's necessary, like with that very dangerous Dog… But only to save others. Now, let's move on.>"

They walked on in silence until Smith suddenly stopped in front of a cage. "You, Dog. Stand up and turn around!"
The female Dog in the cage did not respond, and even crawled further in the corner she was in.
Mary came standing beside Smith. "<What is it?>"
Smith sighed. "Dog, I gave you an order. Listen if you want to live."
Slowly the Dog got on her feet, and Mary gasped. "<She's pregnant!>"
Smith nodded. "<Yes… I noticed that the previous time I was here, but I had to pretend I didn't see it… Warden, how much for that Dog?>"
The warden also came standing next to Smith. "<The Dog is worth one small silver, and her child another small silver.>"
Smith pulled three small silver out of his pocket, and handed them to the warden. "<Here's three, now get her out!>"
Mary looked in disbelief at Smith and the Warden. "<You just can buy them free?>"
Smith nodded. "<Yes, I can buy them free. You also can do that, but I wouldn't advise it. You heard what a Dog has done, there are many more like him here, and you don't want them to walk around freely.>"
The Dog in the corner cage grinned. "You are correct foolish Human."
Smith nodded. "<He told me that I am correct… All my life I have lived among Inimals, and I know them and their behavior. Everyone makes mistakes, and I don't want to make one today…>” Smith turned towards the Dog. “What's your name Dog?"
The freed Dog smiled. "<My name is Dory.>"
Smith smiled. "<You even answered in Human. Very good. Maybe I even have a job for you.>"
The Dog hugged Smith. "<Oh please, tell me what to do, I'll do anything.>"
Smith nodded. "<Survive. Make sure your baby has a chance to grow up… But now we have to move on, I already can see that Rolph is waiting for me… He is the one I came for.>"

"<You… you did return!>" Rolph said in Human while a guard opened his cage.
The warden nodded. "<You have done the impossible Smith, you have calmed him down… What was that book about?>"
Smith smiled. "<Why don't you ask Rolph? He has read it recently. I didn't like that book, it was not about me, but maybe it's about him.>"
Rolph nodded. "<Yes, that book was about me… The Lone Wolf is exactly like I was and am.>"
Smith patted Rolph on his shoulder. "<You also answered in Human. Ready for the next chapter in your life?>"
Rolph hugged Smith. "<Yes. I have not yet written it, but I'm sure that it will be a second edition of The Lone Wolf… But… Why?>"
Smith smiled. "<I'll tell you on our way home. We have a long walk ahead.>"

Mary had walked again past all cages, and was now standing in front of the cage with the White Wolf and the Lioness. "<They all live in horrible conditions here. Is there something you can do about that?>"
The warden shook his head, and Smith nodded. "<I can see that the warden wants to say 'no', I guess it has something to do with budgets, but I will give you money for sleeping mats and blankets for the Inimals here.>"
The warden looked at Smith. "<Do you have that much money? You pulled without blinking three small silvers out of your pocket for nothing but an extra mouth to feed, but we have… one hundred fourteen Inimals here… that's…>"
"<Six small silver for each set of blanket and sleeping mat… that's sixty-nine big silvers if you do some rounding up… I'll give you nine small gold. Give each of them a sleeping mat and blanket, give them better food, and allow Mary to come here every week to check them. No more killing for their skins.>" Smith interrupted.
The warden nodded. "<Fine… I'll see what I can do.>"
Smith shook his head. "<No more seeing what you can do, but actually do. Because if you don't I still want to see your head on a silver plate. Maybe there will be a treaty between the two kingdoms, with an exchange of prisoners… and it will be very bad if there are only empty skins here.>"
The warden nodded again. "<Fine… I'll keep the Ministry of Inimals out and keep the Inimals here alive and healthy. Now please go.>"
Smith handed the warden the nine small gold and smiled. "<The Neutral Zone is getting safer, but let's say I can defend myself against criminals. I killed someone who thought that he could rob me the day before yesterday, and he had some money on him.>"
The warden grinned. "<No problem, that's one less we have to house.>"

"<Mary… can you get us a stretcher or something? Dory is not capable of walking the entire distance home, and with a stretcher we don't have to stop to let her rest.>" Smith said after the door slammed shut.
Mary nodded. "<Right… wait here, I'll be right back.>"

Smith smiled when he saw Mary run away. "All right Rolph… How do you feel about Humans?"
Rolph looked at his feet. "I hate them. They have taken away my family."
Smith nodded, and patted Rolph on his shoulder. "Wolves have taken away mine. But I learned to trust them again…. And you telling me that you hate Humans is just perfect, I want you to take care of them."
Rolph looked up in surprise at Smith. "What?"
Smith smiled. "As you might know, I'm from the Neutral Zone. A place where the Inimals and Humans live together in peace. It's formed by refugees from everywhere, as you can see I am taking care of Inimals, but I need someone to take care of Humans… I want you to listen to their stories, who they are, what they can do, why they want to live in the Neutral Zone… Humans are sometimes biased towards other Humans, because of their ways of life, just like Felines are biased towards Canines and things like that, but I am Neutral among the Inimals. You are not biased, you hate every Human equal, and I want you to make cold calculations if the Human before you is useful for the Neutral Zone."
Rolph nodded. "I understand. Of course I am willing to do that. Everything but that prison. And I don't hate every Human, you and Mary are nice."
Smith nodded. "Right… and do you think that Mary is a valuable addition to the Neutral Zone?"
Rolph smiled. "Of course she is. She is nice."
Smith shook his head. "No. Mary is worthless in the Neutral Zone. She is taking care of Inimals, the same thing as I am doing… and well… I know of a profession where beauty is an asset, but…"

Smith again got slapped on the head again by Mary. "<You must know that I can understand Inimal… And here is the requested stretcher with some shoulder straps for it. And I also have two extra blankets and a sleeping mat.>"
Smith nodded. "<Two extra blankets… of course… Giving birth is a bloody process, and having a spare blanket when one is dirty is always handy. You want to accompany us to the gate?>"
Mary nodded and hugged Smith. "Of course."

"So, you do speak Inimal." Smith noted when the little group was walking again.
Mary who was walking next to him nodded. "<Yes, of course… It's always handy to speak the language of someone you are trying to help. You grew up in the Neutral Zone?>"
Smith nodded. "Yes, I am the last native Inimal speaking Human. All Inimals say that I have a Feline accent in my speech, but I grew up among mostly Felines, so that is no surprise."
Mary smiled. "<You are a Human, please speak Human to me.>"
Smith grinned. "Je parle aussi la langue Elfique. Vous comprendre qu'est que je dis?"
Mary smiled. "<No, I didn't understand what you said. Was that really Elfique?>"
Smith nodded. "Ich spreche alle vier Sprachen. Sie verstehen was ich jetzt sage?"
Mary started to laugh. "<I never thought a Human could speak all four main languages, but you can. Do you know any more languages?"
Smith shook his head. "<I know some words and songs in a fifth language, but I don't know the meaning of it, I only know that my father knew them.>"
Mary nodded. "<Then your parents must have come from the far south, the Humans there speak a different language.>"
Despite the load of the straps on his shoulders Smith shrugged. "<I don't know… My mother died when I was three years old, my father died when I was thirteen, and my last brother died when I was fifteen, I never had the time to learn it. I can't remember they spoke it.>"
Mary gave Smith a hug. "<But you did have time to learn the other languages, or was that later?>"

Smith slowly nodded. He would tell Mary the summary of his story. "<I was born in the Neutral Zone, a village south of the present village I live in, even south of the quarry, straight west of here. Born in a family of lumberjacks. My father did not want me to become a lumberjack, it was too dangerous in the forest, and I became the apprentice of the smith. Sweeping the smithy as a seven year old child, learning how to sharpen, learning how to forge. When I got older and learned that my penis was not only for pissing the Feline females in my village got interested in me. Looking back at that time I know they were abusing me, having a Feline in my bed every night, I have had almost all species, and not getting a single one of them pregnant. But that ended when I met my wife. I met her in this city, in The Prancing Pony as it was named then. That was when I did the first round of remodeling there. My wife was not the prettiest woman, and the men there were making fun of her, and I defended her. Just like I do today I didn't like injustice then. She went living with me in the Neutral Zone, and she got pregnant. I left to hand in my masterpiece, and when I returned she was dead, murdered by Wolves. I am not going to tell you the details, but I went wandering, I ended up with the Elfique and Bergvolk, that's why I know their languages, I returned eleven years ago, and started my smithy. More people started to live next to my smithy, and now it is a large village. Too large for me, and that is where Rolph comes in, he has to take care of the village while I return to my smithy.>"
Mary nodded. "<I understand you better now. You have been through a lot in your life, and now you don't want children.>"
Smith smiled. "<Oh, I do want children. But I want to feel safe first… Oh look, I think that man is interested in that house.>"

The man that Smith and Mary have been talking to on their way to the prison and a woman were standing in front of the almost finished house.
The man looked sideways when he heard Smith's voice. "<Oh, it's you… I see that you have saved a Dog from the prison?>"
Smith shook his head. "<No, not the Dog, but the Wolf. The Dog is just… collateral luck.>"
The woman walked towards the stretcher Dory was on. "<She is… she is pregnant!>"
Dory nodded and smiled. "<Yes… and now my child can be born in freedom. I have lost my husband because he fought for me…>"
The woman nodded. "<Very brave of him… You are very lucky there are still good Humans here. Are you hungry? I can get you some food. Food for all of you.>"
Smith who was walking at the rear end of the stretcher because of his large backpack nodded. "<Yes… That would be nice. It seems that you are interested in this house. Shall we get inside to talk about it? I have nothing to say here, but maybe Mary knows the laws about ownership, her men have killed the person who was building it.>"
Mary nodded. "<Of course… this house now belongs to Inimal Affairs, I think we can arrange something.>"

The house was just like it was two months ago. It did not need much work to finish it. Mary had no experience in negotiating about a price, but finally a fair price was agreed upon with the man.
Just when the man and Mary were shaking hands his wife returned, with a crate filled with all kinds of food. "<I have enough for lunch and even dinner for you. Do you think I can do anything for the Inimals in the prison?>" She asked when she put the heavy crate down.
Mary shook her head. "<No, but that also won't be necessary because Smith here has paid for blankets, mats and better food, and I am allowed to check them.>"
Smith nodded. "<There is one thing you can do. There were no females in the prison, Dory here and a Lioness were the only females there. Try to find out where the female Inimals are, and try to rescue them, and send them to the Neutral Zone, because that's where they're safe.>"
Mary smiled and hugged Smith. "<You really think of everything. I haven't thought of that, but most of the Inimals in the prison are from this city, there must be females somewhere… I really hope we get some information out of those skinners, I don't want to know what the females are used for.>"
The man nodded. "<Breeding machines, just like you breed cattle or pigs. But this time for the skins of Inimal children.>"

Smith stood up and hung his backpack back on his shoulders. "<Time to get moving again. I really want to be far away from this city tonight. Thank you for all the food, that… that saves us a lot of time.>"
The man and woman nodded. "<Of course. You are from the Neutral Zone, aren't you?>" the man asked.
Smith nodded. "<Yes I am.>"
The man smiled. "<I am a shoemaker, and you produce the best leather I could find. Send my regards to that Dog tanner, he knows who I am.>"
Smith nodded. "<I will… Now I will bid you and your wife farewell, enjoy your new home. I'm sure the payment will be arranged, for you it was a real bargain, and for Inimal Affairs it is a lot of money which is very welcome.>"
Mary nodded. "<It is indeed a lot of money. We will buy items for Inimals of it, for those in the prison or other rescues… I will accompany Smith to the city gate… We have some thing to discuss in private… See you tomorrow or whenever you have the money for the house.>"
Smith nodded. "<And if you don't have the money after ten days the house will be sold to someone else.>" he added.

Mary smiled when the little group walked towards the city gate. "<Did you really have to threaten that man that I will sell the house to someone else?>"
Smith nodded. "<Yes, that was necessary… As a smith I hate customers who promise that they will pay for their metal in a few days, and I am still waiting for some money, after four years.>"
Mary nodded. "<You are still a businessman, but I think you are never unfair.>"
Smith grinned. "<Let's say that I don't hate Wolves, but they always had to pay a lot more than their metal was worth.>"
Rolph looked over his shoulder. "<And I will get much more money than I am worth, right?>"
Smith laughed. "<Well… You are the new mayor of my village. Don't pay yourself too much, or you will get an angry mob on your doorstep.>"

They passed the gate, and after a while Smith suddenly realized that Mary was still walking next to him. "<Mary, we are far out of the city… Shouldn't you go back?>"
Mary smiled. "<I wanted to ask you something, but I don't want to ask that with others around.
Smith nodded. "<But we have Rolph and Dory here… Shall we leave Dory and Rolph here and walk on a little?>"
Mary shook her head. "<No… It's not what you think… Charlene has told me all about you, and you told me that you don't want children until you feel safe… But do you think that I can have sex with Timo or Chester?>"
Smith nodded. "<Of course. But I don't think that they will like the idea, having sex with a Human… But you can always ask… But let me give you one advise: Stay away from Cats, Lions and Dogs. Cats are not nice, the males are known as the rapists of the Inimals, Lions are a bunch of perverts, and Dogs… Let's say that they are too large for the other species.>"
Mary smiled. "<Well… and what can you tell me about the duration? How long will the fun last?>"
Smith started to laugh. "<Well… don't be disappointed… Felines last very short, five minutes at most, and Canines… Well… they have the knot, and they can be stuck for hours.>"
Dory grinned. "<That must be a very bad lover. My husband and I were not stuck, but it was intense lovemaking the entire night long.>"
Mary nodded. "<Thank you for the information. What do Felines like?>"
Smith shook his head. "<I am not going to tell you everything. Some things you must find out yourself… Now please go back… It's already getting late, your men might become tired of the extracting of information from those people at the inn… It's already past three o'clock, maybe there are some more people who thought there would be an auctioning of skins… Please go back and safe as many Inimals as you can.>"
Mary nodded, and gave Dory, Rolph and Smith a hug. "<I will… And Smith… You have forgotten to shave this morning. You have some stubble on your chin.>"

When Mary was out of sight Smith turned towards Rolph and Dory. "Did you smell a Human male on her?"
Rolph and Dory shook their head. "No… I don't think she is married." It was Dory who answered Smith's question.
Smith nodded. "Very well… Time to go home. We will take a longer way to get home, but it is a safer path… If we didn't have to carry you we would take the shorter route. On my way to get here I had to kill, although I can not remember it… I want to visit some friends at the quarry, south of my village. Let's hope Dory doesn't give birth on our way back home, but if she does we will do what we can, right?"
Dory nodded. "The baby is just a few days away… Your friend has an inn at the quarry?"
Smith nodded. "How did you know that?"
Dory smiled. "Dora is my sister. Just before I got caught I received a letter from her, brought by someone of the Bergvolk."
Smith nodded. "Very well then… I think you can stay there. I only came for Rolph, and you were just lucky I noticed you. On our way I will tell Rolph the story of my life, it is important for him to know it, and I will tell him all about what I expect him to do. It is good to see that he calmed down."
Rolph nodded. "Yes… violence is just an answer to problems, but not always the best answer. I have learned that now… Thank you… I think."
Smith nodded. "Yes… And it was a gamble for me as well, and I won. Now let's get walking and talking… I have my reasons to hate Wolves, and I want you to know my entire story about the why."
Rolph nodded. "Just tell me when to go left or right. I will listen."

Smith learned that his and Rolph's story were very similar. Rolph has lived his entire life in the Human city, until the fateful day that he found his family, murdered by Humans. But in contrast to Smith Rolph went on a rampage, killing as much Humans as he could… Men, women, children and the elderly. Smith simply nodded, Rolph was a Wolf after all. The Humans did not have a death penalty as a punishment, only imprisonment until Inimals die of 'pneumonia' or an 'infection'. The tale of the Lone Wolf had calmed him down, and just like Smith he has forgiven the murderers of his family, because just like Smith he had killed them in return… Killed the murderers of his wife and children, but in contrast to Smith who walked away from the dead he went on with killing the family of the murderers, then he went on killing the friends of the murderers… If he didn't get caught he would have killed every Human in Schotenburg, and maybe even beyond that.

It was a bit cramped in the tent that night, but Smith didn't mind. Dory had the middle spot in the tent, and she looked really peaceful asleep. The next morning Smith was again the last to wake up, and they ate the last breakfast of the food they had gotten from the man and woman in Schotenburg. This day they would pass Smith's old village.
Smith sighed. "Don't worry if I start to cry today… You have heard my story, and today we will be passing my old village. It… it might bring back some memories."
Rolph put a hand on Smith's shoulder. "It's all right. It was a hard choice for you to make, walking defenseless through dangerous territory, or walking through sad memories."
Smith nodded. "I don't know if my old sword is still there, but leave everything we find in peace… I think the old path past my village is still there… and I… I… That's where I found my wife… Just walk on fast, and hope nothing bad will happen."
Rolph nodded. "Then let's get moving. The sooner we leave, the further we can get."

They walked on in silence for several days until Dory suddenly let out a cry. "The baby! the baby is coming! It's… it's…"
Rolph and Smith stopped, and gently lowered the stretcher. Smith gently carried Dory to a patch of moss next to a big oak, Rolph got some water from a nearby stream while Smith helped Dory giving birth to her child.

It was a quite normal Canine Inimal birth, fast and without complications. Smith acted on his instincts, and did exactly what he had to do. He used a cloth to dry the baby, and wrapped it in a blanket. And smiled.
"Congratulations, it's a boy." he simply said while he handed Dory her baby.
Dory somehow also managed to smile. "Hope… I think I'll call him Hope."
Smith nodded, shrugged, and finally started to cry.
Rolph again put a hand on his shoulder. "What's the matter?"
Smith sighed, nodded, and sighed again. "I remember this place… Left of this big oak… This is where I have found the headless bodies of my wife and child… Congratulations Dory, for you this is a place of life, but for me this is a place of death."
Dory nodded while she caressed her newborn child. "Humans have far more problems with death, I know… I'm sorry it happened here…"
Smith shook his head. "No Dory, I must learn to leave my past behind. You must know that I am very happy for you, your child is born in freedom… I think that Hope is a very fitting name for him. He will be bullied with it, but I'm sure he will become a strong man, just like you are a strong woman, and I will bury him when he dies of old age… Just like all my… Just like almost all my friends… Now I really understand why the Elfique don't want anything to do with other species."
Rolph nodded. "You really must find a Human mate, and make some children that will bury you when you die of old age."

The rest of the journey was simple. Smith grinned when Dory held her child over the edge of the stretcher to let him empty his bowels.
"What?" Dory said when she saw Smith's grin.
"You just could ask us to stop to give us a rest." Smith replied.
Dory also managed to grin. "No stopping for you slaves, walk on… Smith, can you reach for some food for me?"
Smith reached over his shoulder, letting the stretcher balance on the straps over his shoulders, and got a pheasant from his backpack. "Here you have a pheasant your majesty."
Dory grinned. "Can you please stop. I want to try if I can sit, leaning against Smith's fat belly."
Rolph also grinned while he looked over his shoulder. "I'm sure Smith is not pregnant. He really must start forging again, loose the lazy fat. The way you are sitting now really give Smith something to carry."
Smith nodded and started to walk again as soon as Dory had found a comfortable position, Hope wrapped in a blanket at her feet. "Yes, we deliver Dory at the inn, stay there for the night, and then get home. One more trip with Melany to help her carry the fabric she wants to buy at the Vulpine, then the Feast of the Harvest, and then back to forging. The life I want."

When the four approached the quarry suddenly everybody stopped working and came running towards the little group.
"By the spirits of the forest, Smith!… is she injured?" One of the Wolves asked.
Smith smiled. "No, no problem. She fell in half."
They all laughed when they saw that Smith meant that Dory has given birth to a healthy son.
Dory also smiled. "Smith has freed me from the prison in Schotenburg because I was pregnant. Now my son can grow up in freedom."
The Wolves patted Smith on his shoulder, and he had some trouble fending some off who tried to kiss him again.

Rolph grinned. "Knowing your story and see how you act with these Wolves is remarkable."
Smith nodded. "Well… I rather have a group of happy Wolves instead of Wolves who have nothing to do. Like I told you, I am a cold and calculating Human, I really don't care about the lives of those I don't know if they don't suffer."
Other Wolves now were carrying the stretcher Dory was on, and even one of the Wolves had taken Smith's backpack.
He patted Smith on the shoulder. "You really did care for others you didn't know, namely us."
Smith shook his head. "No. Doing this was only caring for myself. I won't profit in the form of money, but profit in the form of safety… I don't know if you know my story… and I won't tell it to you… but let's say I never want Wolves to attack me again."
The Wolf nodded. "I know a bit of your story… Like what that Wolf who is accompanying you said, it is remarkable how you are towards us. We tend to be not very friendly towards Humans, they always pay more for the stones than the Inimals."

When the inn came in sight Smith saw that Diego and Dora were already standing in front of it, accompanied by a lot of customers.
"Smith!… Dory!!!" Dora greeted them.
Smith smiled when Dora ran past him. "Good to see you too Dor-a."
Diego grinned. "So… you do know the story behind the names?"
Smith nodded. "Yes… a little bit. Dor-a, Dor-b and the latter renamed to Dory. I wonder if there was a Dor-c."
Diego continued to grin. "No, Charles was the youngest brother, but he is dead."
Smith nodded. "Well… people die, people get born. Do you have three rooms empty?"
Diego shook his head. "No, completely occupied… My cousins haven't shown up… It it really busy here."
Smith nodded. "So… private quarters then. You have four private bedrooms, and as a friend I want to use them."
Diego nodded. "Fine. Help yourself and your friends then."
Smith smiled. "My intention was to leave Dory here, and hearing that you are very busy also gives her something useful to do here… I'm sure you heard that I wanted someone to take care of the Humans… and here he is: Rolph."

One of the Human customers nodded. "<That Wolf… be careful… he is very dangerous.>"
Smith smiled. "<I know his history. If you want to live in the Neutral Zone you have to get past him. He now is the one who can say 'yes' or 'no' to you. We get too many useless Humans here, he has to stop it. He is just perfect for that task.>"
The Human nodded. "<Just like you are to the Inimals. Somehow I don't think you are very friendly, but they love you.>"
Smith nodded. "<They know me as a Wolf-killer, and they also know that they must not mess around with me.>"
One of the Wolves who was standing nearby suddenly grabbed Smith and gave him a kiss. "We don't care about your past. You only killed those who tried to kill you." and gave him another kiss.
Smith washed his mouth and shook his head. "<Maybe I should swap 'kill' for 'kiss', no matter how often they do that, I will never like it.>"
The Human customer laughed and went inside the inn again. Smith followed.
When Smith entered the inn everybody cheered. Dora was standing in the doorway towards the private quarters beckoning him. Along the way towards the door a lot of customers wanted to shake his hands and patted him on the shoulder. Finally Smith managed to reach the private quarters.
Diego was already busy with the customers again. "Smith! can you help me with a few plates!" he called while he left to the kitchen again.
Smith shrugged in a 'I'm sorry' gesture, and looked around the room he intended to enter. Dory was sitting on a couch next to Dora, who was holding her baby, simply nodding. They were busy too at this moment.
Smith smiled "I'll leave you two there for a few moments… Where's Rolph?"
Rolph tapped Smith on the shoulder "Right behind you… May I enter? You are in the doorway, and Diego is getting impatient."
Smith smiled and shook his head, and went to the kitchen where Diego already was.

It was a busy evening with quick bites of food between serving meals and drinks, but finally Smith could sit down. "You really need some help Diego… This is indeed working hard… Unfortunately Dory can not yet work entire days, but cleaning the rooms is a good start for her."
Dory stood up and hugged Smith. "I'll do anything for you."
Diego nodded. "You really are a very good innkeeper. I'm impressed… And Dory… take your time, you don't have to rush it. We didn't have you yesterday, and you won't be missed tomorrow. We are glad you are healthy and Smith… Smith…. Smith!"
Smith didn't respond, he had passed out on the couch, he was exhausted. Diego laughed and gestured Rolph and Dora to help him to put Smith in a bed.

Smith woke up with the smell of a Dog in his bed. It was already light, and when he opened his eyes he saw that the Dog was Dora.
Smith laughed. "I know what I have told you… or you promised me or something… but no… I don't like Canines."
Dora wrapped her arm around Smith and smiled. "That's a pity… I was hoping you would do something more."
Smith gently pushed Dora away and got up. "I want to get home… It's already late, let's see if there's a table empty, and have my breakfast. Don't bother maki… oh… is the food I want in that package on the table?"
Dora smiled. "You really were exhausted. We already have had our breakfast, lunch will be in less than an hour, but Rolph asked me to pack it. There was already a messenger this morning to see if you were here."
Smith nodded while Rolph handed him his backpack and put the lunch in a backpack he had gotten from someone. "Let's get going. I don't think I even have time for introductions in your village, there are already Humans waiting there." he said while he was already walking towards the door.

The journey home was easy. Smith told about the various Humans who lived in the Neutral Zone, and the why. They agreed that the oppressed minorities had the priority if two people with the same occupation wanted to live in the Neutral Zone, but also that there must be a zero-tolerance policy against those who can't control themselves, and hinder others in their way of living. Rolph was really becoming a nice Wolf, and he didn't even try to kiss Smith. Smith had the feeling he was walking next to a mirror image of him, walking next to someone who is nice to talk to, but also someone with a dark side.
Smith patted Rolph on the shoulder. "One more turn in the path before we get home. You can turn around now if you want to."
Rolph looked at Smith in disbelief, and hugged him. "Turn around? Never. The Tale of the Lone Wolf has taught me an important lesson, and that is never to turn away from changes."
Smith nodded. "Change… yes… From a happy life to sadness and imprisonment… And now back again. I don't care about the way you want to live, but you must always be fair and honest to everyone. I don't like you, you have done terrible things to Humans, but I also have done terrible things to Wolves. I don't like you, but I trust you… Caretaker of the Humans of the Neutral Zone."
Rolph nodded, and they shook hands. The Human part of The Neutral Zone was now out of Smith's hands.

Smith dropped to his knee when Katie came running towards him. "Daddy! you're home. Is that Rolph? I was expecting a more imposing Wolf."
Smith hugged the enthusiastic little Tigress. "It's not important how you look, but what you do. What did you expect? Someone with stature like Siegfried? I wanted a normal person, and Rolph here looks quite normal to me."
Siegfried shook Rolph's hand. "So… Rolph… Yes… Smith is correct… He is just a simple smith and he has done something extraordinary, and you are a simple Common Wolf, but you also have something special about you. Impressive what you have done in Schotenburg, murdering dozens of innocent people."
Rolph bowed his head. "And now I feel bad about it. I should have stopped after killing the murderers of my family… but how did you know?"
Siegfried grinned. "I am the head of security here, information is a very important thing. Let's say I talk a lot with a lot of people. A lot of them end up dead as well, but I am very good friends with a Human commander of the border patrol, working on the Human side of the border, and he always gives me a lot of information for free… Smith, have you killed again in the Human kingdom?"
Smith bowed his head and grinned. "Yes… I have killed again… although I can not remember it. Or were you talking about what happened in the Kicking Pig again?"
Siegfried grinned. "No, I was talking about some criminals… But let's go to the town hall, and tell me… us… all about what has happened."

Siegfried opened the doors of the town hall, and they entered the building.
Siegfried smiled. "<Welcome in your new office. As you can see, there are already people working here, we even have a pencil-licker over there (gesturing towards a Badger behind a huge pile of paper), everything is going smoothly already, but we are in need of a suitable leader… You… Welcome in your new office.>"
Rolph smiled while he looked around the huge room. "<Human… is the common language here Human? Well… I grew up in a Human city, talking Inimal is a bit unnatural for me.>"
A woman stood up and walked towards the little group. "<My name is Linda… I will be your assistant… If you need anything ask me.>"
Rolph nodded. "<Well… you can show me around. Let's kick that worthless smith out… He belongs at a forge and anvil, not in my tidy office. Smith! get out!>"
Smith put his hands up in the air. "<All right… Fine… Do your job and don't get an angry mob on your doorstep. Like I told you: You are perfect for your job.>"

Siegfried grinned when they were back outside. "I already like him. I can never command you, but you listen to him."
Smith nodded. "Yes, and he deserves it. But if he starts misbehaving I will kill him. Or banish him, that will be a new punishment here, banishment. And he wants to build a proper prison, for the smaller crimes like theft… Now let's go home"
Siegfried nodded. "Yes… a prison. Some criminals have a prize on their head, but only if they are brought in alive, and we always kill… But that's not for you or me to decide. You only wanted him to sort out the Humans, but we, the village, want to give him a lot more responsibility, make him the mayor… I am sure he is capable of that. You are our official leader, but you have never seen the inside of the town hall."
Smith sighed. "That is correct… I have never been there. But now I don't have to go there. There are not many civilian Inimals coming here, I can receive them in my smithy if they have nobody else to go to, that is my office. Or I bring them in… We were not alone when we left Schotenburg, there was also a pregnant female Dog, but she will live with Diego and Dora, because she is Dora's sister."
Siegfried nodded. "Yes, that's what the messenger told us already. You have really taken your time to get here, he came back the day before yesterday."

"So, how was the Kicking Pig?" It was Charlene who greeted them when Smith opened the door of his house.
Smith started to grin again. A grin combined with a smile. "I only smashed two chairs, damaged a lock, bent a metal rod and broke some Human bones… And helped Mary."
Charlene went sitting on Smith's lap as soon as he sat down. "Sounds interesting. Tell me all about it."
Smith nodded, and started to tell everything, but he didn't mention that Chester was a Cheetah, in the story Smith told about what he has done Chester changed into a Leopard.
Charlene caressed Smith's cheek. "Smoothly shaven… I also like that about you… And you can stare all you want, I don't have breasts."
Smith grinned. "Then I'll just stare at those beautiful long legs…"
This time it was Charlene's turn to turn her caress into a slap. "Stop staring at my legs… that is… that is very inappropriate."
Smith grinned while he massaged the soft thighs. "But I like them. I would never want to have Human female breasts, but those nice running muscles make me jealous… But not your fur, it's nice and soft to touch, but too flammable for my work."

Melany entered the house. Her face changed from worried to happy as soon as she saw that Smith was home. "Smith! Finally… I'm out of fabric… You get one night with Charlene, and then we go to the Vulpine, there are rumors that we are going to get some very important guests for our Harvest Festival, and I want to sell as much clothes as possible!"
Smith had some trouble controlling his laughter. "Good to see you too Melany… Can't I get two nights in my own bed? One night of rest with Katie, and one with blanket Charlene. I am really exhausted of my previous trip."
Melany grinned. "You went Canine, didn't you… Just keep it with us Felines, you really exhaust us, both of us in a single night, but you don't have what it takes for a Canine."
Smith grinned. "Then that messenger has made some mistakes. One: Dory was pregnant and gave birth along our way home, and two: I did not have sex with Dora. Like I told you, I only like certain Feline and Human females, nothing else."
Melany nodded, and hugged Smith and Charlene who was still sitting on his lap. She made some room, and also included Katie in her hug. "I don't care, really… Like you always tend to say: all fun and no babies for us."

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Chapter 22 - A New, Strong Friend

#25 Post by Neutral Smith » Thu Apr 09, 2015 6:23 pm

Chapter 21
A New, Strong Friend

It had been a short amount of time Smith had to show Rolph around in his new village and meet everybody relevant or interesting, only one full day. Smith really was exhausted, and both nights in his own bed he instantly fell asleep as soon as he laid his head down. The second morning when he came downstairs he saw that Melany already had packed his backpack, but without the spare blanket and sleeping mat.
Melany gave Smith a hug. "Good morning sleepy-head. As you can see, more room for fabric. And we'll walk, donkey Dora is needed somewhere else."
Smith got his second sleeping mat and blanket. "No Melany, I'd rather leave something behind along the way than not packing what I need. I regret I didn't take my second set with me to Schotenburg, but that ended up all right, thanks to Inimal Affairs, but I don't want that to happen again."
Melany nodded, and shoved Smith a plate with his breakfast in his hands. "Here, eat, and fast. I know you want to waste some time with Tim, so you better not waste it here. Eat and get ready."
Smith nodded. "Thank you. And thank you that you want to take time for Tim. But we will take the short way towards the Vulpine, and on our way back we will visit Tim. That way we can show the Vulpine in the Neutral Zone how much you buy, and maybe they will set up some weaver workshops there, that will save us a lot of time. Again almost two weeks away from home… Festival of the Harvest, Harvest Festival… I can't decide about how it should be called… But that is not my problem any more… and then I will be forging until spring, no more interruptions. And no, I don't want to walk for fabric in winter. You just send some carts to get it."
Melany hugged Smith again. "And miss all the fun with you? Never."

The journey to the now abandoned Inimal Village was without trouble. Smith didn't speak much, and in the nights he instantly fell asleep. They used the old inn as some sort of tent, only sleeping and cooking there, and move on early in the morning.
"Smith!" Melany suddenly called out.
Smith had the feeling he woke up, but he had been walking all the time. "What?" he asked while he was trying to figure out where they were. Poles at regular intervals along the path, they were on the path between the abandoned Inimal village and the Vulpine village.
"I smell a Feral. And Tim." Melany replied.

Now Smith was awake. "What species?"
Melany looked around. "Male Tiger… I don't see him… Tim! is that you?"
A few moments later Tim stood up in some bushes behind them, and pointed at a few bushes across the path before them. "Danger! There!" Tim shouted and he ducked down again.
Suddenly Smith saw the face of a White Tiger in the bushes, and instinctively hid behind Melany. "By the spirits…" he muttered while he threw off his backpack and released the strap that was holding his sword in place, but did not draw his sword. The White Tiger twenty paces away from him and Melany stared at them.

"H… Hello! We… We mean you no harm!" Smith finally managed to stutter. The Tiger stepped out of the bushes. He was little bit shorter than Melany, but still very impressive. Slowly he walked towards the middle of the path.
From the corner of his eye Smith saw Tim rise again. "Danger! Attack!"
Smith turned around and started to run to catch Tim who really was stupid enough to attack the White Tiger. Smith managed to grab Tim around the waist and together they fell on the ground, a few paces short of the standing still White Tiger. "Tim! No, he is also a friend! He is no danger!" Smith called while he held the struggling Tim. Melany also came running towards them, positioning herself between the Feral White Tiger and the struggling Smith and Tim.

"Tim! No! calm down!" Smith shouted again.
Finally Tim gave up the struggle.
Smith sighed. "Tim, are you calmed down?"
Tim nodded. "You strong, like Wolf!"
Smith stood up again to apologize to the White Tiger. "I'm sorry… Tim here is a bit… protective… He means no harm… unless you are a chicken of course."
The Tiger said nothing and stood blinking with his eyes.
"Smith… He is a Feral… remember that." Melany finally said after a few moments of awkward silence.
Smith nodded. "Right… Sometimes I seem to forget that… Just like some Inimals forget that they are talking to a Human when they are talking to me."

"Hey! Where did Tim go?" Smith asked after he finished brushing the dirt he could see out of his clothes.
"Tim left." Melany replied while she brushed his back. "What are we going to do with him?" she added.
Smith shrugged. "I don't know. You can talk?" The White Tiger nodded and cleared his throat. "Y… Yes, I understand you. What happened?"
Smith smiled. "You were Feral, and well… I have a talent of bringing Ferals back to normal. You are not the first."
The White Tiger shook his head. "No, I understand the Feral part, but… Who was that Common Tiger?"
Smith looked at the forest where Tim had disappeared. "That was Tim… I'm not sure what he is doing here, he lives further to the east, next to a Vulpine village in the Neutral Zone."
The White Tiger nodded. "Right… and what about you bringing back Ferals? I thought that is impossible, but it seems that I am a living proof of it that is not the case."
Smith nodded and smiled. "You are the third one so far… But let us first do our introductions. You can call me Smith, smith by profession but now here to help this White Tigress carry some things she wants to buy."
Melany gave the White Tiger a hand. "And my name is Melany. Tailor. We want to buy some fabric from the Vulpine further north, and Smith offered to help me carrying it home."
The White Tiger slowly nodded. "And I am Arthur, Elite soldier who got betrayed and went Feral. I don't want to be reminded of that time, but please tell me about your talent of bringing back Ferals, that might be useful information."

Smith nodded. "The secret in it is confusion. Melany here also was a Feral, and I was the victim of a little prank which caused me to look like a Human, but smell like a Tiger, and being friendly towards her also helped… The second one was a She-Wolf, I had to kill a poacher, and because of that I had to travel into dangerous territory, and I wore a shirt with the scent of a Wolf from my village, I am living with Inimals, and this time it was a poisoned Wolf who didn't know who or what was helping her. And now you are the third one, a Human accompanied by a White Tigress, defending you… a Feral… from a… well… Tim's mother was a Feral but he is not, he just has just missed a normal youth… a common Tiger who doesn't quite understand the consequences of his actions."
Arthur nodded. "Confusion… I can't remember much, but one little thing I do remember… A Tiger child with a sling… a Hound weapon. But when I saw a Human appear I fled again, Feral again."
Smith slowly nodded. "Then it wasn't a villager or a soldier I saw… I saw you, you saw me… And indeed, there are not many Tigers who can use a sling like she can."
Melany also nodded. "Katie… You saw Katie!"
Arthur also nodded. "Yes… And I have seen her again some time later. She was hunting rabbits on the same field, and I have taken one of those rabbits.”
Melany started to smile. "Yes, I remember that. We stayed the night at the inn in the now abandoned village, and she told us that she thought she had killed four rabbits, but had only three. You took the fourth one."
Arthur nodded. "Then I want to meet her and tell her I'm sorry."
Smith patted Arthur on his shoulder. "No problem. I'm sure she will forgive you. But now we are traveling in the other direction, do you mind to come along? Melany here wanted to leave my second blanket and sleeping mat at home, but now we have a use for it… although it's a normal size… There are not many Inimals that are as large as White Tigers."

Arthur smiled briefly. "I am quite small for a White Tiger. And I am used to sleep in the open. I'll come with you."
Smith nodded. "As you can see we do have two tents, but one of those is a short Vulpine tent, and I'm not sure if Melany wants to sleep with a strange male she barely knows in the taller Human tent… She… has a history."
Melany smiled. "I don't have a problem sleeping with two males in a tent, as long as I don't have the middle spot, and I am not sleeping next to a stranger."
Smith nodded. "Then that's settled… Let's get moving again, I want to set up camp next to the border crossing."

Just before they reached the intended destination Smith managed to kill a deer with his sling.
"You are really capable with a sling." Arthur remarked.
Smith smiled. "Now let's set up the camp, and talk about us. Unfortunately it's starting to rain already."
The camp was set up with ease, and before the drizzle turned into a steady rain Smith had started the fire to cook the deer.
"Ugh… I hate rain…" Melany muttered from the larger tent. Smith gave no attention to the rain, and was sitting with his bare chest in the rain.

"You don't mind the rain, do you?" It was Arthur who finally broke the silence.
Smith smiled. "I don't mind getting wet, I only don't like wet clothes. And someone has to do the cooking and keep the fire lit…. You got betrayed you said. May I ask how?"
Arthur stared at the flames. "I don't want to talk about it. That time is over. I… I… For the first time in my life I don't know what I want. I am an elite soldier, the best of my year, second fastest on the obstacle course ever when I left… only my best friend was faster, but that was because he is… was… a Cheetah. And now I am nothing, and talking to an enemy."
Smith shook his head. "No, I am not an enemy. I may be Human, but I am neutral in this war. I am born in the Neutral Zone, that's why I speak your language, and I never want to choose a side in this war… A long time ago I got betrayed as well. I handed in my masterpiece, and while I was away Wolves attacked my old village and killed everybody. After that attack I wandered around, ended up with the Elfique and Bergvolk, and eleven years ago I started a new smithy with their help, and that is now a prosperous village. I have learned to trust Wolves again, a Black Wolf is now my best male friend, and now I also have an entire village of Wolves south of my village, working in a quarry. You can do the same, learn to trust Humans."

Arthur sighed. "Black Wolves… the reason of my demise. At least, a Wolf with a Black father… Dolf… If I ever get to see him again I don't know what I will do to him…"
Smith raised his hand to stop Arthur talking. "Partially Black Wolf named Dolf you said? I had a hand in killing such a Wolf… Let's say we quit talking about this subject. At least, I'll tell you how the life of a certain Dolf I know, not entirely true Black, ended. That little Tiger child, Katie, has killed him… The hand I had in that killing was because I threw her at his back, and she cut his throat."
Arthur nodded, but his face showed no emotion. "Very fitting end for him. May I ask you the name of your friend?"
Smith nodded. "Yes, you may."
Arthur sighed. "Don't try to be funny with me Human. What is his name?"
Smith turned the almost done deer over. "His name is Siegfried. His great great grandfather was the Inimal king a few generations ago."

Arthur nodded. "Fine… I'll tell you my story, because that was the one I was hunting for… After I left the academy and joined the army one of my very first assignments was getting a gang of Black Wolves to work for us, the proper military. They were almost as efficient as the regular army, and on some subjects even better, like remaining stealthy, they were the masters of ambush. In my year there was a partial Black Wolf, but he was the bully of our year, always picking on the weaker ones. We had to infiltrate that gang of Black Wolves, and Dolf, with only a few brown and gray patches, was almost perfect, we only had to make those patches black with soot… I was against it, he was the worst of our year because he wasted too much time on bullying the weaker Felines, but he convinced the superiors he was perfect for that job. Somehow he managed to infiltrate the gang, but instead of turning the gang towards the army he changed that gang… It ended up with us hunting that gang, time after time they deceived us, and led us deep into Human territory… I don't know who got the idea, but those Wolves lead us straight towards a large Human camp, and vanished. We got spotted, I think our little unit killed maybe hundreds of Human soldiers until my friend and I were the last standing. I went Feral, and I never knew what happened to my Cheetah friend, I think he did the same and ran away."

Smith nodded. "Right… We are talking about the same deceiving Dolf… The deer is done… Melany, can you please get out of my tent, I still do have some stains of a deer on my backpack, but I don't want them on the canvas of my tent!"
Melany left the shelter of Smith's tent. "Ugh… I hate the cold rain. But thank you for entertaining me, it was indeed an interesting story. I think the Humans attacked my old city as a retaliation for your attack."
Arthur nodded. "Might be… I am sorry for that… I… erm…"
Smith handed Arthur piece of meat. "Here… eat this. And don't be shy… But let me tell you one thing: If you ever harm her I will kill you. You might have been an Elite, but I will kill you with my bare hands."

Arthur swallowed a piece of meat. "You are the first Human who dares to threaten me like that, and yet… somehow I believe you. You really are different. And you are the only Human who doesn't seem to mind getting wet. As a training we spied on Humans, and the only thing they did was complaining about the weather."
Smith grinned after he ate his piece of meat. "I don't mind getting wet with others, all the times that I got wet I made a new friend. Let's just give you the summary of my last year… Charlene, a Cheetah messenger who I found alongside the path with a sprained ankle was in heat, and didn't warn me before I put her on my shoulders to carry her to her village, Katie, the young Tigress, I have adopted her, was just too young to walk long distances and was not fully toilet trained when I put her on my shoulders and she peed on me, Siegfried was too weakened by your Dolf when I found him, Katie and I had killed the rest of his gang and he thought I would put him out of his misery, but I spared his life and carried him on my shoulders because I had the feeling he could be useful, and he got aroused… But I used Katie for revenge, by putting her on his shoulders… Siegfried got his revenge by letting Katie pee on my towel before putting it in my backpack, and you can guess how I smelled after I used it, that attracted this beautiful female Tigress here, I thought she would kill me because she was a Feral, and I acted friendly towards her, caressing her, brushing her with a brush I had bought for Katie or Charlene, she leaped on my lap in the evening, and emptied her bladder in the morning, still sitting on my lap. Then I had to kill a poacher, he wasn't home, but I found his last victim, Beatrice, Black Wolf, now Siegfried's wife, poisoned and she puked on my shirt when I was helping her, then I returned to kill the poacher, and found a blind Hound, Boris, and he cried on my shoulder, then Boris heard a Cat in a river, and I jumped in to save Minou, who now lives with Boris. And now here with you, sitting in the rain."

Arthur nodded. "And what about the scars on your back?"
Smith shrugged. "I grew up in the Neutral Zone as one of the few Humans. Let's say it was all fun and no babies, and those wounds were inflicted by Cats, and I still don't like them."
Arthur nodded again. "And you still have sex with Felines, I think also with Melany here?"
Smith nodded. "Yes… You know… In that attack on my village those Wolves have killed my pregnant wife… I don't want children until I feel safe enough… I have met a nice woman, but she lives in Schotenburg, in the Human kingdom, and I don't want to live there, but I also don't think she wants to live in the Neutral Zone. She is taking care of the Inimals there, and I don't think she can be missed there… And as long as I don't feel safe I don't want to ask her."
Arthur nodded. "Feeling safe, ending the war… I think I know who you are, your real name is not Smith… I already noticed that, you introduced yourself with 'You can call me Smith', instead of 'My name is Smith'… Very clever, but it takes a lot more to deceive me."
Smith nodded. "Yes… But if you do know my real name please don't tell it… It is a part of my past, I want to look to the future. Going by the name of Smith was a new start for me, just like some more Inimals do and have done."
Arthur nodded. "Yes… I also have changed my name. Can you keep another secret? And Melany, you too?"
Smith and Melany nodded.
Arthur sighed. "My old name is Walter, I was a weakling, a runt, but when I knocked on the door of the academy I went by the name Arthur. The name Arthur, not something I call myself, but… I… Am… Arthur… The best of my year, second fastest on the obstacle course, and the pride of my parents after I left the academy… But… But…"
Melany put a hand on Arthur's shoulder. "It's all right to cry. You are safe now. Please don't get nightmares and kill Smith, he is just too much fun for me… But my biological clock is also ticking. I know Smith wants to use you in his militia, you are just perfect, and he is always telling me I should find a good mate, and I think you are good enough for me."
Smith nodded. "Yes Arthur, you and Melany will be a perfect couple. There are a few houses empty, you can move in there, and let me live with Katie and Charlene. But you must know you are always welcome in my house…" Smith turned towards Melany "You know what I told you, I will protect you, Melany, but now you even have a stronger mate… I am going to do my evening business, please tell Arthur your history, make him understand why I am so protective about you, tomorrow you can cross the border together. But I will carry my share of the load."
Melany stood up to hug Smith. "Thank you."

The night in the tent was even more cramped than it was with Rolph and Dory. Now he had to share his tent with two large White Tigers.
Smith grinned after they had eaten breakfast. “All right Arthur, first mission for you working for me… If you really are as smart as you say you are I only have two words for you: Stop Her.”
Arthur looked a bit confused at Smith. “What do you mean, stop her?”
Smith continued to grin. “You will know it when it’s too late. Then we both are in trouble. Now go, Melany is getting impatient.”
Arthur nodded. “All right… I’ll try to figure out what you mean before it’s too late… I really have no idea… She wants to buy fabric and I have to stop her… Well… See you in an hour.”

Smith broke up the little camp, and sat waiting on a trunk with his eyes closed until Melany, Arthur and two Foxes returned after a few hours. Smith shook his head when he saw the two Foxes, both of them carrying a load of fabric. “Arthur, such a simple mission, and you fail. With that ‘Stop her’ I meant stopping her from buying too much. I will carry what I can carry, she will carry the tents, blankets, mats and the other camping equipment, but as a punishment you have to carry the rest.”
One of the Foxes managed to grin despite the heavy load he was carrying. “She told us that she now has two strong men to carry her things, we saw what you could carry, and that is what we have.”

Arthur shook his head. “I have really lost my prestige, I could not even convince a woman to stop buying too much.”
Melany grinned. “But I do love you. I am really a very lucky woman, first Smith who helped me become one of the wealthiest tailors, and now thanks to him I have you, the best male Feline I know.”
Arthur nodded. “Yes… Smith, I now completely understand you. You are nice when you need to be nice, but you also can be very dangerous, especially when innocent people are suffering. Then it is your turn to cause suffering… I really do never want to upset you.”
Smith nodded. “Most of the time Humans suffer when I am angry, I have never hurt a Feline in my life, despite of what they have done to me. I only have thrown a Cat across a room, but he wanted to rape Charlene, but after that I was even willing to defend him against a mob of angry Wolves.”
Arthur nodded. “Melany has told me everything you have done with her. I hate poachers as well, but even I felt sorry for him when she told me about what you wanted to do. You are lucky you have friends like Siegfried and François, and now I also want to be one of those friends… I have taken a woman out of your life, and I will help to make the Neutral Zone safe for an other woman, Mary.”
Smith nodded and sighed. “Thank you… that is all I can say. Thank you for what you want to do… Tell me what you need, I will make sure you will get it.”

“You are awfully quiet… What are you thinking about?” Arthur asked after almost a day of walking in silence.” Smith stared at the clouds. “It’s just… me. I’m sure Melany told you that I also can be something like a Feral, I do have a second personality who takes over my body when things get boring. I continue to live, but I can’t remember it. Can you remember anything besides the times you have seen Katie?”
Arthur shook his head. “No, just like Melany I can not remember much. Only to go north.”
Smith nodded. “Actually I was thinking about Tim, wondering what he was doing that far away from home.”
Arthur nodded. “I think he just wanted to follow you. You really have bad senses, he has been following us all the time.”
Smith turned around and then he saw Tim, following them at less than a hundred paces. “Tim! Come over here, don’t be shy. We are all friends.”
Tim came running towards them.
“Other White Tiger also friend?” Tim asked in a timid voice.
Smith nodded and patted Tim on his shoulder. “Yes, Arthur is also a friend. Now give him a hand as a greeting. And don’t run away with him.” Arthur extended his hand as a friendly gesture, but Tim stopped to gain some distance again.
“Where Katie?” he asked, looking around as if he wanted to flee or was looking for Katie.
“Katie is home, she has to go to school” Smith answered in a soothing tone.
Tim nodded and started running again to catch up with the rest. “Me want to come with you.”

Smith needed some time to think about his reply. He wanted to help Tim, but it would be very difficult for Tim to live in a normal village, with a lot of new people, and a lot of visitors. Finally he made up his mind, and shook his head. “No Tim, that is not possible. I live in a large village, with a lot of strange people. You live alone in a forest, and everyone you meet who is taller than you are scares you. Are the Foxes not nice to you?”
Tim shook his head. “No, Foxes give me chicken, but they don’t talk like you.”
Smith nodded, in a few moments he had changed his mind. “All right Tim, I have an idea. I will build you a house in the forest, very close to my home, but far enough to not be bothered by strangers. In a day you can visit me and get home again. Is that something you want?”
Tim eagerly nodded. “Yes… Yes… You will do that for me?”
Smith nodded. “Of course I will do that. I’m not sure about how we can get you chicken, but maybe you can care for chickens, that way you don’t have to ask others to help you.”
Tim was silent for a while, thinking about the answer he would give. Finally Tim nodded. "Yes. Me make own food, no help from others."

"It's getting late again, isn't it time to put up camp again? We still have some parts of the deer left, we can eat that as dinner." This time it was Melany who broke the silence.
The two men carrying her fabric, Smith and Arthur, nodded.
Tim nodded as well. "And me give food tomorrow. Boar here, me go hunting for you."
Smith looked at the nimble, almost skinny Tiger. "You killing a boar?"
Tim nodded. "Yes, me kill boar with claws. Very easy, jump on back and claw throat."
Smith shrugged and Arthur nodded. "Yes… Claw out the throat. Bloody but effective. I once killed a horse like that. I don't know why, but some Human let a horse walk free. I did not go for the Human, but I wanted to eat horse meat."
Smith sighed. "Then we have met before. I am not very good with horses, and I have seen one of them run into the claws and jaws of a feral White Tiger… But your story is interesting, you say you can't remember being feral, but somehow talking brings back memories."
Arthur nodded. "Or a Human who can't handle a horse is confusing. Even I can ride a horse. And they have really tasty meat, because that's what we did after those lessons, eat the horses."
Smith nodded. "Of course… Tomorrow we are going to meet an other… well… they didn't get me wet so officially I don't call them friends… but a family of Foxes, and Floris, the head of that family, told me something similar about horses. He has also been to the Academy I think. You know him?"
Arthur shrugged. "I really didn't care much for the other species at the Academy, but there was a Fox called Floris in a higher year, and he was usually the one who broke up fights between Dolf and others."
Smith nodded. "That is the Floris I know. He was a law enforcer in the Inimal village, and now he is something like that for me… There is not much trouble, he now has an easy life as a law enforcer in a Vulpine village, but that old Inimal village was mostly Canine, maybe your king has put him there because of his experience with Wolves."
Arthur nodded. "Yes, he was not a good fighter, and not a talker, but by staying silent and staring he could stop fights."

The next morning Smith missed the departure of two large White Tigers out of his tent. Melany and Arthur insisted he would keep the middle spot. Smith had given Tim his blanket, and he and Melany had shared the only large blanket they had left, Melany's blanket. When he came outside he saw that a large boar was already on the roasting pin, Tim had indeed managed to kill a boar with his bare clawed hands.
Smith sighed. "Good morning everybody. I'm sorry I was still asleep again. If you want me to do something wake me up, you don't have to do everything."
This time it was Tim who gave Smith a hug. "You good friend, you sleep, we work."
Arthur nodded. "Yes Human, you already have done more than anyone of us combined. You deserve your rest."
Smith shook his head. "I never want to be called lazy, if I can do something please tell me. Today we will reach the Neutral Vulpine village."
Melany grinned. "And hear how much Robin complains these days. I wonder if he regrets his impulsiveness."
Smith nodded. "I have warned him multiple times not to make hasty decisions, but he never seemed to learn from his mistakes. Let him suffer this time, he is allowed to stay a few days in my house if he wants to, but may never live in my house again."

"You don't seem to like that Robin, do you?" Arthur asked when they were walking again. Tim has left them again to go to his own home, taking the blanket with him.
Smith shook his head. "No… He tried to kill me on our first meeting, but his sword was stuck… eating my food, sleeping in my house… the only thing he had to do in my house was cleaning Katie's toilet… But he never said 'thank you' for the things I have done for him. He wanted the life of a criminal, and I have given him something better… I am aware of the fact he is just a boy, but he had a purpose, he trained the archers and went on patrol with Siegfried. It would be nice to see him, but I am really looking forward to see little Johanna again, that is a young Fox I like. And she likes me."
Melany nodded. "Yes… Don't be surprised if you see Smith with her on his lap… If you think he is nice to us then you are mistaken. He really is like a father to her, even more than with Katie."
Smith also nodded. "Yes, but that is because when I am tired of her, or she is tired of me, I can give her back to her mother or father, and Katie can not be handed to someone else, she is my daughter."
Arthur simply stared at the village which could be seen at the end of the path. "It's nice you like children. I never got the attention I deserved, Melany got the wrong sort of attention… You are just nice to children."
Smith shook his head. "No, with Dory's child I don't have a bond. I helped him to be born, but… well… he is just a Dog. I have helped more, especially in the years before our real doctor came. Children are born every day. Last time I was in the village at the quarry I saw a lot of pregnant Wolves, that means that they feel at home there, and in my village are also a lot of children, but the only care I have for them is that they will grow up in safety."
Arthur nodded. "And I will be there to make it safe. Nice to have a babysitter for our child if it's time for one… Let's say we plan our child born together with your child."

Smith nodded and grinned. "Then you may figure out who Mary's father is. She said he will come to the Neutral Zone, but he will not tell me that he is Mary's father. I think he is some adviser, or even a minister… talk, listen, repeat. You failed your first mission, stopping Melany… Normally I don't give second chances, but this time you deserve one."
Arthur simply nodded where Smith expected a grin. "There must be a reason… And if he wants to keep it a secret, I'll just keep it secret. Trusting me is trusting you."

Floris and Florette were sitting in front of their house when Smith, Melany and Arthur entered the village. Smith could not see little Johanna.
Floris stood up when the little group approached the house, but not with a smile on his face. "Smith… Good to see you, we will talk about who is with you later… I believe that is Arthur, I know him from the academy… but first I have bad news for you… Johanna is dead."
Smith put his load down, and sat down on the bench next to Florette, and sighed. "That is really bad news… I… I don't know what to say."
Floris put a hand on Smith's shoulder. "We want you to have Johanna's skin."
Smith stared in disbelief at the Fox.
Florette also put a hand on Smith's shoulder, and smiled. "You kept her warm on that fateful night, and we know that she would have done the same for you, and this way she can, although not in the way we would have wished for."

Smith slowly nodded. "I will accept it. As a neutral Human I have never worn fur, but in this case I will. I will accept your gift, and wear it with pride. I'm sorry Melany, but I will ask you to use her fur for a coat… You know how I feel about poachers and skinners… but I also hate letting things go to waste. Thick leather on the outside, and her fur on the inside, where nobody can see it, and very close to my skin to keep me warm, just like I did for her in that night."
Floris nodded. "Good to hear you don't want skins to go to waste. We have an other skin for you, John's. He did indeed die the night Johanna was born, and he died in our house. His last words were that he wanted you to have his skin."
Smith sighed and nodded again. "All right… then my new coat will have the fur of a kit I loved and an elderly who came at peace with me."
Melany nodded and grinned a little. "That will be a horrible coat to see, with red and black fur as lining, but it will be very special for you… I will make it."
Smith nodded, but said nothing. He sat in silence on the bench.

"So, how is that Robin doing?" It was Arthur who broke the silence.
Floris slightly grinned. "He is doing relative fine. He keeps saying that the work he is doing today is not as bad as he has done in Smith's house, but I don't believe him."
Smith nodded. "But it is his choice, he alone has to suffer the consequences of his choices, am I right Robin?"
Robin who had approached the group nodded. "Yes… But I lied when I said it is not as bad as I have done when I lived with you… It is just as bad. The stench is not as bad, but getting wet is worse, and no warm water to wash myself… But I have to go now, there are a lot of geese that need to be put in cages for transport… Huge order you know, both kings are fighting over my… our… geese."
Smith nodded. "Good to see you Robin. It's a pity you don't have more time to talk. I really want to talk to your uncle soon."
Robin waved his hand as a goodbye. "I will tell him. We will be there at the feast of the year."

"Smith… you are awfully quiet. Let's have something to eat and talk about you and Arthur." This time it was Florette who broke the silence.
Smith nodded, sunken in thoughts. "Yes, that's fine… and Arthur is not Feral any more, he can talk."
Arthur gently grabbed Smith's arm to pull him back on his feet. "Thinking about the dead is not good for you, Human, let's get inside, eat and talk. I never knew that a Human could be so sensitive about the death of someone he loved, but you are different."
Florette gave Smith a hug. "Smith is different, he cares about us Inimals. I was afraid of him the first time I saw him, but he is the best Human I know. We must be very lucky we know him."
Floris nodded. "Yes. And now we have some food… Florette… go buy some quails, we have something to celebrate, Smith has done the impossible once again, Am I right Arthur?"
Arthur nodded. "Yes. And it also has something to do with that Tim. You know him, right?"
Floris also nodded. "Yes… the Tiger who was raised by a feral mother. We haven't seen him in weeks, I hope nothing bad happened. Did you kill him?"
Arthur shook his head. "I would have killed him if Smith didn't stop him. Can you imagine Smith struggling with a Common Tiger? Because that was what he did. Tim wanted to attack me because he thought I was a danger, and Smith stopped him. I never thought that a Human could stop a Tiger with his bare hands, but Smith did. I am the third he has brought back to normal, he told me that the secret is in the confusion."
Floris looked inquisitively at Arthur. "Third you said? Who is the second? I only know of Melany."
Smith smiled. "I gave Siegfried a wife in return for his shirt. I… I have killed a poacher somewhere, and she was his last victim, poisoned but rescued just in time. I wore Siegfried's shirt, she smelled him but only saw me. Beatrice, a black She-Wolf and a teacher who already was in love with Siegfried and came looking for him, but got Feral after an attack… And as a bonus I saved a Hound and a Cat, now a tracker and nurse."
Floris nodded. "All right your majesty, I see your entourage growing."
Smith grinned and shook his head. "I do not want to become a king. I already told you that. You are in charge in this village, Rolph is in my village, and I believe that the Wolves at the quarry have some sort of council."
Floris nodded. "Yes… But the kings also have their men across the country, people they trust, and they do what the kings order them. You ordered me…"
Smith raised his hand. "I did not order you anything. You were allowed to live here, I trust you, and if you cause trouble I will kick you out again. I do not ask you anything in return."
Floris smiled. "Yes… trust. I trust you, you trust me. And I am indeed in charge here… Melany, I have some good news for you: Some White Foxes from the west are coming to live here."
Melany started to smile. "White Foxes… those are the best with fabric. I don't want to offend the common Foxes across the border, but the Whites are far better. And closer by…"
"Why?" Smith interrupted.
Floris stared at the window. "There is some trouble in the west. I do not know the details of it, but it has something to do with the Wolves there… There is some sort of Wolven separatist movement there, and those White Foxes know they will have some very good customers for their fabric, who in turn sell clothes to Humans… Melany and Jacques… and that combined made them decide they want to live here."
Smith nodded. "Right… more weavers. Bad news for the weavers across the border, they will lose a good client…. Melany, I ask you: also continue to buy fabric from those Foxes at the other side of the border. If they don't have other clients I don't know what they will do, maybe even attack the weavers here to eliminate the competition. I want to keep everyone happy."
Melany nodded and Floris grinned. "Like I said and will say many more times: You are just like how a king should be, keep everybody happy. I see that Florette is returning… Somehow I have a bath in this house, please use it before we eat. I'm sure you Tigers will like that. And Smith of course, his sweat stinks."

"You know, I never thought of falling in love with someone." Arthur spoke while they were sitting in the bath.
Melany smiled. "Neither did I… And best of all is that Smith is not jealous. I think he is happy for us."
Smith nodded. "Of course I am happy. A year ago I had nobody to love, then I had Charlene and Katie, then came Melany… I was afraid I would relive my old days of abuse again. It's still hard to say no to a willing female, but when I finally have Mary in my arms I will introduce Chester to Charlene, no more substitutes for me. Only Katie, Mary and some Human children."
The sudden movement of Arthur startled Melany. "Chester you said? Chester Cheetah?… but… but that means that he is alive!"
Smith slowly nodded. "Yes, Chester is indeed a Cheetah, and I met him in Schotenburg, deep into Human territory… You can guess under what conditions."
Arthur briefly smiled. "Let me guess… You saved him?"
Smith nodded. "Yes… I spent my night at the Kicking Pig, and he was in a cage at the courtyard there with a Tiger, Timo, ready to be skinned. I saved them, and I have asked them to help Mary, save the Inimals there. He does speak Human, and I think he is capable of fighting."
Arthur nodded, his face showing no emotions again. "That is… really good to hear. How have you met Mary?"

Before Smith could answer that question Floris announced that dinner was ready. When they were sitting at the table Smith answered Arthur's last question while eating the delicious quail dish, Vulpine cuisine. "How I met Mary and Chester… It is a bit of an odd story… Floris, do you mind that I talk while eating?"
Floris shook his head. "It are not good table manners, but I am also interested in that story. Please go on."
Smith nodded, and took a bite of his quail. "Hmm… lovely… It's quite different than I am used to, my cooking is more Canine and Charlene and Melany like the more spicy Feline… This is almost Elfique…" Smith took another bite, and after he swallowed it he continued to talk "All right… From the very beginning… I am a smith as you might know, Floris has given me permission to work in his old village, I wanted to learn something about Inimal symbolism… I worked there a few days as smith and a group of soldiers arrived, and they wanted their weapons sharpened. Some of them knew a very good smith in the Neutral zone, and they were very happy when they found out that the famous smith was working on their weapons, for free… Hmm… quick bite… it's a waste to let this quail go cold… Where was I… Ah, yes… I gave them a small demonstration of how sharp their weapons were, and I shaved my arm with one of their daggers, and they did the same with their weapons, except the Fox. A few weeks later when I was home again a group of Human soldiers came by, looking for a Human separatist… I lied to the soldiers, I told them I have not seen that man, but he and I share a fighting skill…"

Before Smith could continue Melany shoved a piece of meat into Smith's mouth. "Here, eat this… While you chew I can tell that part… Smith and that man were almost brothers, they fought with little metal rods. Siegfried also wanted to try, he tried to attack that man with a dagger, but he ate mud, twice, but with Smith that man had a lot more trouble. I don't know why, but suddenly Smith started to talk Bergs with that man."
Smith had swallowed two bites of quail, and now it was his turn to talk again. "Well… That man is not important for my part of the story, but those Human soldiers I mentioned were looking for that man. But they also told me that they had captured a group of Inimal soldiers with bald patches on their arms, and a Fox who was shaved around the genitals, and they had very sharp weapons, and I immediately understood that those were the same soldiers I met in the Inimal village where I had sharpened their weapons. They were held prisoner in Schotenburg, and I wanted them. You know what happens when an Inimal has been imprisoned by Humans, they are not wanted back in the Inimal army, but I could use them. I went to Schotenburg, there I met a Tiger and a Wolf, working as slaves for a Human. While I was humiliating that Human Mary stopped me, she thought I wanted to buy Inimal skins because I told that in the Kicking Pig, she wanted to prevent that… Melany, can you please feed me again?"
Melany grinned, and shoved an other piece of quail into Smith's mouth.
"Lovely, thank you dear… If you are as good for Arthur as you are for me he will become the luckiest Tiger around" Smith spoke after he swallowed the piece of meat.
Melany smiled. "You forget Katie, I think she is the luckiest Tiger ever. Our lives were not that good when we were her age."
Smith nodded. "Right… losing your parents to Humans, and get adopted by an other Human… But well… Mary stopped me from killing that Human. She was accompanied by two soldiers who had Royal Guard weapons, and I realized that it was no use to continue my lie. I told her who I was… I succeeded in getting those Inimals free, but in that prison I met an other Wolf, Rolph, murderer of Humans… he went on a rampage after Humans killed his family… but after I returned home I had to send Charlene to give Rolph a book, The Tale of the Lone Wolf… Charlene also has met Mary, and has told her all about me and my life… But before I finish my story I want to finish my meal, it's getting cold."

All the others around the table already were finished, and nodded. "Of course. I'm glad you enjoy it. Quail is a feast for us, I forgot that Tigers prefer the cheaper chicken." Florette replied while she went to the kitchen with some empty plates. Smith quickly finished his plate.
"All right" Smith continued "How I met Chester… I returned to Schotenburg to get Rolph from the prison… I hated the inn where I stayed, but I have been there before, thanks to me they had changed the name from 'The Prancing Pony' to 'The Kicking Pig'… As a kid I have destroyed the old furniture there because some people there were making fun of my now dead Human wife… But I wanted to do some remodeling again after Mary told me she hates that place… But there suddenly was a cage in the courtyard, between my first visit to get the soldiers from the prison and the second I have killed some Humans who were in the poaching and skinning business, and the innkeeper thought it would be wise to keep some Inimals in a cage there for some profit, because he had lost his suppliers of skins. A Wolf, who died in that cage, a Tiger and a Cheetah, Chester… I pretended to be sick, and the innkeeper took the bait, and asked me to use a bucket in the courtyard, where the cage was, instead of the indoor toilets. In the night I opened the cage, and released Chester and Timo. The next morning I woke up with my arm wrapped around Chester… Very funny… Now realizing that he is an elite soldier… he could have killed me that night… But I went downstairs, the innkeeper and two other men were not very pleased when they found out that I released their prisoners, I smashed some furniture again and after that Mary's men took over. I have asked Chester and Timo to stay behind at the inn to help Mary's men to extract some information"
"You mean torture them." Melany interrupted.
Smith nodded "Yes… torture them with a glowing rod and you were not there to stop me… But Chester is free now. The odd thing is that Mary asked me if she could have sex with Timo and Chester… I don't know, but somehow I think that Chester and Mary are doing the same thing as Charlene and I are doing."
Arthur nodded. "And knowing Chester he will. He tried every female he could get his hands on. Lucky for him there was only one Dog interested, but she quit in the first year. Relations were forbidden at the Academy and in the army, but he just kept talking about it, in the end he told that he even wanted to try a Human, he had heard some stories about a Human male who was doing the same with Inimals… could be you, Smith."

Smith nodded. "Yes… As far as I know me and a butcher are the only Humans who have sex with Inimals… But the problem is that I have not told Chester about Charlene, he has no reason to visit the Neutral Zone, but if he is in a relationship with Mary I assume they eventually will visit us together, and then we can swap partners. And I want my forging gloves back, Chester has them."
Floris shook his head. "Sex is only for reproduction, and not for fun. I don't like you talking about it so easily… It's getting late. Unfortunately we don't have enough beds for all of you. Smith can sleep in the spare bed we have, but Arthur and Melany, you have to use your tent. You can put your fabric inside the house, we will eat breakfast together, we will give you lunch, and you can be on your way again."
Smith nodded. "Yes… that's fine. Maybe we will have to leave behind some items because of the skins of Johanna and John, maybe Robin and his uncle can bring them when they come to my village."
Floris nodded. "That is no problem. Leave behind what you can't carry, we will keep it safe and dry here."

The bed was much softer than Smith was used to. Somehow he expected Florette to be at his side when he woke up, but she wasn't. Smith smiled. His days of being the toy of the Inimal females were over. He really hoped he could figure out who Mary's father was, and then have her at his side. The good smell of a chicken stew reached his nose. Not the spicy version of the Felines, or the larded Canine, but more refined, with fine herbs.
Someone entered the room. "Can you please get Melany and Arthur? Breakfast is almost ready." It was Florette who greeted him.
Smith nodded, got dressed and went outside to get the two Tigers from the tent.

"Erm… Smith… Erm… I don't know how to say it… but… erm… there is a huge tear in the canvas of your tent…" a Fox outside greeted Smith.
Smith walked around his tent, and there was indeed a huge tear. He heard some giggling coming from the tent, Melany's giggle when something naughty happens. Smith peeked through the tear, and quickly turned around. Melany and Arthur were busy with things Smith could never imagine.

"Arthur… I… erm… You know what I told you about harming Melany… You owe me a new tent."

Smith heard Melany giggle again. "Oops, my mistake. You should have brought a larger tent Smith. Don't worry, I am a tailor, I can fix it… Or we will buy you a new tent… Do you mind sleeping alone tonight in the second tent with all my fabric?"
Smith smiled to no-one in particular "No… But breakfast is ready, that's what I came for, to tell you that." and went back inside Floris' house.

When Smith came back inside he saw Floris, also smiling. "Not as bad as Diego and Dora, but still horrible to hear. What I told you is true, we only have sex for reproduction purposes, but that is more because we only last for seconds instead of minutes. Just like the Canines we have the knot, but we pull out before that happens. The knot is just… boring."
Smith nodded. "I understand. Somehow I expected Florette to end up in my bed, but she didn't. I could erm… No, let's not talk about it, I want to quit that habit. Let's try to get Mary into my bed, a normal Human instead of a substitute."
Florette gave Smith a hug. "Once per year we do have something special. But that is only for the Vulpine. Let's figure out how we can get an invitation for you and Mary, that will be quite… interesting."
Floris nodded. "Yes… the Festival of the Touch… But… No… getting an invitation for someone who is not a Vulpine is impossible, no matter how special that person is for the Vulpine."

"I'm still surprised of how fast you Inimals adapt to new situations." Smith greeted Melany and Arthur when they finally entered Floris' house.
Arthur nodded and Melany smiled. "Of course. We are here for the present. What happened in the past can not be changed. We are careful for the future, but I see no problems. Have fun while it lasts. I am not in estrus, so there is no chance of getting pregnant yet, but with Arthur as a soldier I will never know how long I am going to enjoy his company."
Arthur nodded. "Yes… I have some catching up to do. Thank you my king, for that you allow me to enjoy this fine female specimen. Now let's eat and get home to get your queen. I want to hear Chester's story."
Smith grinned. "I am not a king, and Mary is not a queen or even a princess… If the Human king has a daughter I'm sure he would not let her marry a simple smith. And certainly not letting her do the dangerous work she is doing, helping people most Humans hate."
Florette handed Smith his breakfast. "You are our king and savior. We will tell everybody that the lining of your new coat is our daughter and an old friend, wear it with pride."
Smith nodded, and sighed. "I will… I only hope it doesn't offend Mary."
Floris patted Smith on the shoulder. "She won't be offended as long as you are honest. It is good that you want to go for a Human after all. Same species."
Smith nodded. "Yes… Wait for a few years, let Katie grow a little bit older so she can be a little more independent, and then Chester for Charlene, and Mary for me… I still love Charlene. She is someone I always want to be close to me."
Floris nodded. "Of course… And she will, your house is big enough for two families… Six bedrooms, one for you and Mary, one for Charlene and Chester, one for Katie, that means that you still have three bedrooms left."
Smith nodded. "Yes. And I always will keep one room empty for a friend who wants to visit me. Or a family of friends, like you and Florette."

Melany gave Smith a hug. "Time to go my king… I know you like to talk, but your kingdom awaits. And your bed, we will invade it and claim it our own. You can have my room while we get the furniture for our house."
Smith grinned. "No use fighting an elite soldier over it. You can take it with you when you move out to your own house."
Arthur nodded. "You are indeed very generous. Thank you, we will make good use of it."
Smith nodded. "That bed is just too big for me. I want a normal sized bed, not a king-size. And now I don't have a big White Tigress in it anymore."
Melany hugged Smith again. "But when Arthur is on a mission I might come back to you."
Smith shook his head. "No Melany, I am not your toy. Those days are over. You may have noticed it, but I am not as active as I was before Katie gave me that wound on my leg. I… I want my old life back, only one woman at a time. And until I have Mary in my arms Charlene is the lucky one."
Melany nodded. "I understand… Thirty minutes… for both me and Charlene. With Arthur it's five minutes on, ten minutes off… but he is much more intense as a lover."

The journey back home was boring. At least, it was for Smith. Despite the heavy load on his shoulders he was most of the time walking far ahead of Melany and Arthur, who were clearly in love. And sleeping alone in a tent, along with all the fabric he and Arthur carried, nothing was left behind in Floris and Florette's house.

"Smith! Slow down. You almost look angry!" Arthur called at Smith.
Smith stopped and turned around. "Oh… I'm sorry. I just want to get home… When we get home you have plenty of time together. I will even let you two use the bath first."
Melany gave Arthur another hug when they reached Smith. "Oh… we will. And even if you didn't offer it we would have done it. It's a pity our new home won't have a warm bath, but I have more than enough money to buy a new home which has one."
Smith started walking again. "A new home… Arthur is a soldier, so that gives him the right to live in a house for free, but if you are willing to buy a house yourself that is also fine… I must admit, I'm sure that Katie will miss you. But with an elite soldier as a friend she now can get a youth nobody ever has had in his or her life."
Arthur nodded. "Yes… With the proper training. Melany has told me about the wound she has inflicted, and everything after that… Good fighter for her age, killing Dolf and another Wolf, injuring a Wolf, almost killing you…"
Smith grinned. "Just call her 'fluffy' a few times, and then you will learn to know a real fighter."
Arthur simply nodded instead of grinning. "You provoked her a few times. You are still fast enough to catch her, but after some of my lessons you can not stop her anymore."
Smith sighed. "She is not a soldier. Just some basic things, I still want to play with her, she is just a child… Just show her what she can do against unwanted contact, because that is what I wanted to teach her… You know, I never had the intention to adopt her, but now I have to make the best of it, make her a strong Tigress."
Arthur nodded. "Yes… She is your daughter now. The luckiest child alive."
Smith also nodded. "Yes… we are almost home. Time to meet her. And apologize for that rabbit."

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Re: Forge of Kingdoms (rewritten) (NSFW) april 9th, 2015

#26 Post by red.wolf » Thu Apr 09, 2015 10:36 pm

Hey youre back, guess that means i should start up again too.
The first shot is not the one that matters. The last shot determines everything. Both Sides > My Fanfic
Both Sides: A TwoKinds Fan-fiction

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Chapter 23 - Trouble

#27 Post by Neutral Smith » Sat Apr 18, 2015 9:42 pm

Chapter 23

Finally they made it to Jacques' sewing workshop with the load of fabric.
“Bonjour Jacques” “{we have a load of fabric for you.}” Smith tried to appear friendly like he did to everybody when he finally put his load down.
Jacques smiled. “Comment ça va?” “I think it's better to continue in the language Melany understands, she is not Katie… It's been a long time since I have talked to you. How is the life for you? Still miss your wife?”
Smith shook his head. “No… I'm over my loss, and I even have better friends these days. Friends who help me make this place a save haven for everybody, and an example for both kingdoms.”
Jacques nodded. “I see. But the Felines will never be a replacement for a Human. Katie is there just for fun and you will outlive her, and I somehow think that Siegfried will betray you one day. Who is that male White Tiger who is also carrying a load for Melany?”
Arthur shakes hands with Jacques. “I am Arthur. I am here to make the Neutral Zone safe… to help Siegfried. But first I want to see a toilet. I have eaten too much. Do you mind if I use yours?”
Jacques shook his head. “Yes please go somewhere else. I have a lot of customers here, and I do not want you to scare them away.”
Arthur nodded “Of course. Smith, Melany… will you show me my toilet?”

Smith grinned when they left the sewing workshop again. “Of course… Au revoir Jacques, nice talking to you! I have more important things to do… And Arthur, after that I will show you the rest of my house, and maybe even your new house. One little Tiger in my house is bad, one little and an adult White is horrible, and I don't think I will light candles as long as I have three Tigers in my house, far too dangerous.”
Arthur nodded, but showed no emotions. “I believe you know things you will take with you in your grave. I have heard of an Inimal cesspit cleaner who died in a fireball, it is still a mystery how that could have happened, but you saying something about a candle combined with our fumes might be a clue. You have lived with the Bergvolk? They have quite some technology. You might know the answer.”
Smith nodded and sighed. “Yes… I have seen incredible things, but I will never talk about it. The things I have learned will not only disrupt the balance, but can blow it away. Please don't ask… And you don't seem to like Jacques, I feel the same about him, but there is nothing I can do. I just can not kill or banish people who have done nothing wrong yet.”
Arthur nodded again. “He talks to Katie. I don't trust him, you don't trust him… I already noticed he tried to put a wedge between you and Siegfried… Forbid Katie to talk to him!”
Smith sighed again. “She is a child, if you try to forbid things they will become interesting, and then they try to do the things you do not want them to. The best thing I can do is be more interesting for Katie, and make Jacques look boring compared to me… I am lucky she does not have the patience for sewing, and she is more interested in the woodcarving François does, and he is the Elfique here I do trust… Try to steer her, but don't try to stop her.”

Katie came running towards towards Smith as soon as she saw him.

“And Arthur… one last piece of advice… You will be wearing clothes to be recognized as a member of our defense… Drop to you knees when Katie comes running… It hurts on impact.”
Smith was too late to drop to his knees.
Katie released Smith to give him the opportunity to drop to his knees, and hugged him as soon as his neck was within her reach. “I'm sorry daddy, clothes are not natural… I keep forgetting there is something behind the fabric… And who is that White Tiger you are talking to? Is he sent by the king to help you?”
Arthur crouched to give Katie a hand. “No. Your father has helped me. I was a Feral, just like Melany and Beatrice, but now I am back to normal.”
Katie looked at Arthur. “And how did he confuse you?”
“Your father and Tim were wrestling. Tim wanted to attack me, and he stopped Tim with his bare hands. Your father is truly incredible. And now I am here to make it safe for Mary.” Arthur answered.
Katie nodded. “You are going to help Siegfried, aren't you? Siegfried is gone for… four days I think. We will get some very important guests for the festival, and everybody is working very hard to make it the best festival ever.”
Arthur nodded. “Yes… And one of those guests is Mary's father. The first thing I have to do is find out who he is. And I have an other confession to make, I'm sorry about that rabbit.”
Katie grinned. “I already had noticed you, and that's why I walked away from my killed rabbits. I left them for you.”
“Arthur… Didn't you want to go to the toilet?” Smith interrupted.
Arthur shook his head. “No… not really. I wanted to get away from Jacques, not a single hair on my body trusts that man… But thank you Katie, very kind of you to leave that rabbit for me.”
Katie nodded. “I try to do the same thing as my father does, helping everybody.” Katie looked at Jacques' workshop. “And I don't trust Jacques either. He always wants to talk to me. And says silly things, like that I must find other parents. Tiger parents. But then I can never be with people I really love… He says that Smith only has lust for me, not love…”
Smith grinned. “I must confess something Katie… The first thought I had when you stretched your leg and held it next to your body was that you were just ten years too young. And I made a little mistake when you slept next to me at the inn, I thought you were an adult, and I thought I could touch your hip, but I touched your knee instead. Now I only love you as a good father.”
Arthur nodded. “And I will teach you how to defend yourself, you know what that Cat wanted to do to Charlene, you know about Melany's youth… I will teach you the proper ways. I was an Elite soldier, and I still know some very painful tricks.”
Smith stood up again. “I have bought Katie some thick leather gloves and shoes, that way she can keep her claws extended but can not do any harm with them… Let's go home, this time it's me who wants to use the toilet for real… I believe that Melany is still with Jacques, but I can show you your new home as well.”

“Smith! You're home!” Charlene called out when she saw who left the toilet.
Smith smiled. “Yes… I'm home. And I'm sorry.”
Charlene hugged Smith. “You are sorry about what? Staying away for so long with Melany? Leave me with Katie? Not saying that you were home and heading straight to the toilet?”
Smith smiled. “No… I am sorry I lied to you… Chester, the one who is helping Mary, is not a Leopard, but he is a Cheetah.”
Charlene continued to hug Smith. “I could have guessed that. Chester is just a silly name for a Leopard… But I see you have someone else with you?”
Smith nodded. “Yes… This is Arthur, an old friend of Chester. I lied because I needed time to get Mary here, and didn't want to lose you at the same time. Arthur will help me get it safer here, and he will find out who Mary's father is so I can talk to him… This house is big enough for two families raising a little Tiger.”
Charlene grinned. “So you did manage to find Mary a Cheetah before you have found me one. But I don't mind sharing, and I am sure that Mary does neither.”
Arthur nodded. “And I think that Chester will be delighted to hear that he now has two women. Yes Smith, I will find out who Mary's father is, and get it safe here for you and Mary… But first we will conquer your bath and bed… I'm sorry Charlene, but Smith will be sleeping in a single bed tonight. Although it will be Melany's old bed.”
Charlene also nodded. “No problem. Smith does not want to be abused by all the females living in his house, and he keeps a strict schedule about who is when allowed in his bed… A female, nobody, a female, nobody… This night was supposed to be a 'nobody' night, Melany was supposed to be next, and after that it is Katie's turn, and they only sleep. Plenty of time to get a new bed. But I am sure he will make a new schedule.”
Smith nodded. “Yes… After a night with a female it will be two nights of nobody, now you and only Katie have to take turns. I promised I would be home after this trip, but now Tim wants to live close by, and I want to give him a house. And after that I will give Melany and Arthur their own house. Arthur is a soldier, that gives him the right to live in a house for free, but I think that Melany wants more luxury. But she also has to pay, I think that she has more than enough money.”

“How is Johanna?” Katie asked when Smith had positioned himself on the couch, and Katie and Charlene next to him.
Smith sighed. “Johanna died. Me keeping her warm was not enough to prevent her getting ill.”
Katie shrugged. “People die. Those things happen.”
Smith nodded. “Yes, those things happen. But she will be very close to me, she will keep me warm. Floris has given me her skin, and I also have John's skin. I think that Melany is making a coat or a jacket out of them at this moment.”
Katie started to smile. “Can I also be under your coat? Then Johanna can keep us both warm.”
Smith sighed, and Charlene put a hand on his shoulder. “Dead is not always the end for us. My mother has kept me and my brother warm after she died. We used her skin as a blanket, because we couldn't afford a real blanket. Humans have always used our skins, it is nothing to be ashamed of. Your hairless skins are worthless.”
Smith nodded. And grinned a little. “Now I know why I always call you 'Blanket' in the morning. But alive you are much more fun. May I ask you how your mother died?”
Charlene nodded. “Yes… She died of starvation. We were even too poor to buy even liver for all of us. We had nobody to teach us how to hunt like you have done with Katie. I like eating liver because that reminds me of the fact that now I can buy any food I like.”

Smith nodded and looked up at Arthur. “Arthur, take a seat, make yourself comfortable. For the following days, or at least until I have bought a new bed this will be your home.”
Arthur nodded, but did not take a chair to sit down. “I am an Elite. I am used to stand for a long time. And you are indeed very generous.”
Smith grinned, and stood up. “All right Katie, you and I will bring this new recruit in this house down. When we sit down we want him in a lazy position on this couch. Nobody has to suffer anything here… Well… as long as everything goes as it went… Make some room Charlene, big Tiger coming down!”
Katie and Charlene nodded and grinned.

Katie, Smith and Charlene had surprisingly little effort to bring the big White Tiger down, they got him stretched out on the couch in no time.
Smith sighed and grinned. “All right… Second problem. We have overdone it a little, now there is no room for us on the couch.”
Katie grinned. “No problem. We have defeated him once, and we can defeat him again.”
Arthur nodded. “You know… I think that buying a bigger couch is easier than getting me off it this time.”
Smith also nodded. “Of course… But I also do know some tricks. Katie, can you get me my metal rod?”
Katie got it from the bedroom, and handed Smith his metal rod. Smith nodded once more, now grinning while he twirled the rod between his fingers. “Thank you Katie… Arthur… You have heard the story about my fight with that man. This is one of those rods. You want to feel it?”
Arthur shook his head. “Remember that you fought a Human. I am a White Tiger. You can not beat me.”
Smith nodded, and handed Katie his rod. “All right… Katie. Your turn. Just like tickling. Prod him a few times in his ribs with it, see how high he can fly.”

A few moments later Arthur was behind the couch, with a laughing Katie on top of him. Smith calmly sat down on the empty couch. Charlene sat down next to him. Smith smiled. He heard Arthur laugh, something that he hasn't heard before. But Katie hasn't seen Charlene smile before he asked her to come with him, Arthur could have been the same with Melany. Smith gently caressed Charlene. They would have to wait a few days until they could sleep together.

Katie was chasing Arthur around the house with the metal rod, jumping over the tables and even making a few steps upside-down like a Leopard on the beams of ceiling with the use of her clawed feet when Melany entered, with a half-long coat made out of leather in her hands. She stared a few moments at the two Tigers chasing each other before she noticed Smith, sitting calmly on the couch. “Smith… Do you mind if I join in?”
Smith shook his head. “Please no… Katie! Arthur! Stop!… Arthur, I have some sort of an idea what an obstacle course is, but I suggest that you and the other soldiers design one and let the builders build it, and then you can use that to train the soldiers and Katie. This is a living room, not a playground.”

Arthur nodded slightly panting. “I agree. And she truly is remarkable, now I understand how you got these claw-marks on those beams, she has walked on them before. You are not giving her a normal Tiger youth, but you just do whatever you like.”
Smith looked at the beams. They were indeed lined with scratches and little holes, many in groups of four of them in a slight arched formation. Smith sighed. Learning Katie how to climb indoors was a mistake. He should have waited until it was dry outside so they could go to the forest. But it was fun, with Katie running up one wall, and coming down the other. Finally he nodded. “Yes… It was a rainy afternoon, and I did not want to go outdoors with her. And Arthur, you are not allowed to do that… I have to build a house for Tim, build a house for you and Melany, and after that we can build your obstacle course for training the soldiers. See if we can incorporate four versions of it in one structure, running over it for the Cheetahs, climbing parts for the Leopards, heavy things that have to be moved for the Wolves, something where you need agility for the Tigers, and shooting from different positions for Foxes. And the Humans must be second best on everything.”
Arthur nodded. “And I thought you only could think of metal. Your idea is really good. But now I think that Melany has something for you.”

Melany nodded, and handed Smith his new coat. “Somehow Jacques was really eager to help me making this. He said that he never wanted to use fur, but for you he wanted to make an exception.”
Smith nodded. “And I think that Arthur and I understand why. He hopes that the Inimals will be angry when they see me with fur, but as long as we keep telling the truth nothing bad will happen. Just tell everybody what you have made for me, and whose skins you have used, and above all the why I have them. They were friends, and this way they will always be close to me when it's cold.”
Melany nodded. “And if you keep it closed the lining is not visible.”
Smith grinned a little when he saw the lining. “I have no sense of fashion, but the lining is just ugly. Black and red. But it is the skin of someone who knew my past, and of someone who loved me and I wanted to give a future.”
Melany nodded again. “And what you said is correct. I also don't trust Jacques, that is something I wanted to talk about. I want a house with a sewing workshop.”
Smith nodded. “Of course. Arthur is a soldier, that gives him the right to live in a house for free, but I always knew you wanted your own house. The village will provide the money for a standard soldier's house, you can pay for the extra's like a bathroom with heated water, and I will pay for a workshop for you, but I want half of the profit you make, same arrangement as I have with Diego and Dora. Until then you can live here, and use the big bed. I will move the beds, big bed for you downstairs, and my new bed, a normal size double bed and not a king-size like I have now, upstairs again. Katie can keep her own room.”

Arthur nodded. “Sounds good. You really have no problem with me living in your house until ours is finished?”
Smith shook his head. “Of course not… If I could tolerate Siegfried and Robin I can tolerate everybody. If you or Melany misbehave I can always put you in a normal soldier's home, and then Melany has to cook every day instead of once in every three days. And speaking of food, Katie, can you buy us some food? Arthur is an Elite soldier, so I don't think he will complain about eating chicken.”
Katie nodded, got some money, and left.
Melany smiled. “Smith, I know it's your day to cook, but this time I will… Extra spicy.”
Smith grinned. “Being away a long time messes with your sense of the days. Today it's your day to do the toilets.”
This time Katie who was already at the door grinned. “But tomorrow it's your day. Last week there was a trader who sold us our favorite spices, now we don't have to ration them, but we can use the amount we like. Every time.”
Smith shrugged. “Honestly I don't care. I live with more people in my house, everybody does his or her thing. Soon it will be only the three of us.”
Charlene nodded. “People come and go. While you were gone I have done your work. I have given shelter to the two Cat carpenters from my old village. I have talked to Rolph, and he agreed they could live in one of the soldier's houses until their own house is finished.”
Smith smiled. “That's wonderful! Then they and that Tiger and Wolf builder from Schotenburg can work on Tim's house. I was a bit worried, I do not want Humans to work on his house, but with more Feline's it's not a problem. I will talk to them tomorrow.”

“<Good morning Frank and everyone else!>” Smith greeted his employees when he entered the smithy the next morning, still with a bit of a burning sensation in his mouth. Cleaning the toilets would be horrible tonight.
“<Smith! Finally! I thought you would never come back here. You won't leave this time?>” Frank replied while he got a sword he wanted to finish from a rack.
Smith nodded. “<Yes, this time I will stay home. I brought back another soldier, Elite this time.>”
Frank grinned. “<And how did he got you wet this time?>”
Smith smiled a little. “<We sat in the rain and talked. He knows Siegfried, and he will work together with him. It's a pity Siegfried is still away, but now we have a White Tiger with some experience. Siegfried is far too friendly for the soldiers, if someone even gets a cold he will get home with all of them.>”
Frank continued to grin. “<Or Siegfried wants to be with Beatrice, or that blind Hound with his Minou, and they use that sick soldier as an excuse… Well Smith, there are a few swords that need sharpening, but I think that you have an order for a new sword. I think your new soldier wants one.>” Frank spoke those last words while he nodded in the direction of Arthur, who also had entered the smithy.
Arthur nodded. “Yes… erm… Can I ask for any weapon?”
Smith smiled. “You, my friend, can ask for any weapon. Tell me what you want, and I can make it. The only limit is that you always must carry the weapons I give you. If you want more you have to pay for them.”
Arthur nodded, and even smiled a little. “That's the kind of smith I like. No standard weapons for everyone, but individual weapons… I'd like to get one sword, thin, narrow and a slight bit longer than a standard Tiger sword and two daggers.”

Smith nodded and got a long stick. “I have learned a technique that can produce incredible sharp and strong swords. It might take weeks to make your blades, if you had to buy them it would have cost you close to a small bar of gold… Arthur, hold this stick, and tell me how long you want your sword to be.”
Arthur held the stick at almost the end of it, and flung it around a few times. “This is a nice length for me. I want my sword this long.”
Smith nodded. “All right. But be careful with your knees, in my opinion it is a bit out of proportion this way, can you hold that stick in a way that it touches your hip when you hold your arms straight in front of you? You are a Tiger, and the way you hold your future sword now makes it look like a Wolven sword.”
Arthur smiled, and held the stick as Smith proposed. “You know… this is even better” Arthur flung the stick around “You are correct, this way I can swing it around without touching my body with it. You know what?” Arthur held the stick along his arm “Take the distance between my wrist and shoulder. That would be perfect.”
Smith nodded. “That is the standard length I take for Tigers. Wrist to shoulder. Wrist to knees is for the Wolves, and for Humans I have to see their fighting style, some stab while others prefer to swing with their swords.”

Robert nodded while he walked past. “Smith always takes his time for his customers. In practice he has beaten all his Wolven customers, and he can beat most of the Humans who want to buy a sword. Frank always makes what the customers ask, most of his customers won't last very long with their new weapons.”
Smith grinned while Robert walked on. “I am expensive, I have happy customers, and a happy customer tells his friends, and those friends buy from Frank because he is cheaper.”
Arthur nodded. “I see you have some practice swords over there. Do you want to practice with me?”
Smith nodded, but before he could open his mouth a Human rushed in.

“<Is Smith here? Thank god! You are! Come quickly!>” The Human spoke with a panicked voice.
Smith turned around to look at the panicked man. “<What is it? Fire?>”
“<Inimals… Dozens of Inimals!>” the man replied, with a clear panic in his voice while he ran out of the door again.
“I'm sorry Arthur, our practice has to wait. It seems that I'm needed somewhere else.” Smith apologized while he ran out of the smithy to follow the man.

When Smith turned the corner and ran across one of the bridges he saw what the man meant. In the distance eleven carts loaded with Inimals could be seen. Carts coming from the direction of the Human kingdom.
“<Where do they come from?>” Smith asked, already panting. He just came home for a rest, not for a run.
“<I don't know… But I do know that they do need help!>” the man running ahead of him replied.
Smith stopped running. “<Then don't go that way, but get some others… Simon, Rolph, Uwe, François, Frank, every Human who speaks Inimal… all the other Inimals you can find. Let everyone get others, and tell them to meet me in front of the town hall, there we can figure out what we can do!>” Smith shouted.
The man stopped and nodded “<Great idea!>” and started to run in an other direction.

There was nothing Smith could do but wait. Wait until the carts were close enough. It was no use to walk to them, and walk back again. Nonetheless he walked in the direction of the carts when he saw that the horses had blinkers. Good for the horses.
Smith noticed that the horse of the cart closest to him was already panicking. He walked aside, to a position where the horse could not see him.
The coachman pulled the reins. “<Are you Smith?>”
Smith nodded. “<Yes, that's what they call me. Do you need help?>”
The coachman nodded. “<I don't need help, but my passengers, and those on the other carts do. I am just a coachman. Ask the male Tiger on the fourth cart, he is in charge of this… and it's odd, my horse panicking as soon as it sees you.>”
Smith nodded and walked past the carts, and looked at the passengers. All of them were females. Finally he reached the fourth cart, and saw a familiar face.
“Timo! What are you doing here? What in the forest is going on?” Smith asked as soon as he was next to the cart Timo was on.
Timo smiled. “We did what you asked us to do, save the females.”
Smith nodded “<All carts go left, towards the town hall! There we can decide what we do! Timo, good to see you, we will talk there!>” he shouted and also started to run again in the direction of the town hall.

Halfway between the point where he started to run and the town hall Smith stopped to regain his breath again. He was made for walking, not running.
“<You need a ride?>” someone asked. The first cart already had passed Smith. Smith grinned and climbed on the second cart, and looked at the eight passengers. Two of them pregnant, a Cat and a Dog, and an other Cat holding a child in her arms. They all looked frightened.
“Are you going to kill us? Kill us and take our skins?” one of the Cats asked.
Smith shook his head. “No, I am not going to kill you. I am here to help. But please, let me regain my breath first. And think.”

When the carts stopped in front of the town hall Smith noticed that there already was a large group of villagers.
Smith got off the cart. “All right everyone! Get those Inimals off the carts and help those who need help! Get those carts away, I need some space!”
It all went like it was practiced before. In a short amount of time the carts were unloaded, and driven off the square. Finally Smith had a good look at the Inimals. Most of them were Cats and Dogs, and an occasional Tigress and She-Wolf, and one Vixen. One of the Tigresses was holding a child, a half-breed. Pregnant Inimals, Inimals with children… Finally Timo walked towards him, accompanied by a pregnant Tigress.

Before Timo reached Smith he turned around, and sighed. “All right ladies, we are safe. We made it. This Human is here to help us.”
Smith put a hand on Timo's shoulder. “What in the forest is going on?”
Timo turned around and smiled. “We did what you asked us to do, safe the females and get them here… It's a massacre in Schotenburg, almost a civil war… I don't know what you have done there, but the Humans are murdering each other. If there is a suspicion you have harmed an Inimal you are not safe there. It all started when they heard what others have done to these females.”
Smith sighed. “And Mary? And the prison?”
Timo smiled. “Mary, Chester and the soldiers are doing their best to defend the prison, to keep the dangerous Inimals in. Last thing I know is that everything is calm again, she has convinced the people that the Inimals in the prison are dangerous.”
Smith sighed. He was relieved. “And these?”
Timo continued to smile. “These are the women you wanted to find. Abused as breeding machines. We left with seventy-three women and children, two children were born and nineteen women and children have died. Seventeen of them are pregnant at this moment. One of those is my wife, Tina, who is standing here beside me. We had three children, this will be our fourth, and the first one to survive.”
Tina simply nodded towards Smith, who nodded in return. It would take some time to make her trust Humans again.

Smith nodded. “All right everybody! You, rescued females from Schotenburg, are safe, but you will give me a lot of trouble! But I have an idea!”
Smith turned towards the group of villagers. “Everybody who has room in his house for someone to stay form a group. You will provide these women a safe shelter until I… we… have a better solution. Pregnant women and mothers with children closest to doctor Simon and Minou… If you need anything for those you give shelter ask, the village will provide it. Don't break up friendships, they have had a hard time, it's best for them if they stay together.”
Smith turned towards the females again. “Just walk to someone you like, and ask if you can stay with them. That would be the easiest way.”
The females nodded, and shyly they walked towards the villagers. Some of them cried.

Smith felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Rolph.
Smith smiled. “<I'm sorry Rolph… letting the village pay for the people I am responsible for.>”
Rolph patted Smith on his shoulder. “<No problem. We run this village and the Neutral Zone together, not just you or me. Good call, letting the villagers help. I will ask my men to register where everyone will stay.>”
Smith nodded. “<That's fine. But please, don't scare those women. I assume they have had a hard time before they got here.>”
Rolph nodded. “<I see that Charlene is also talking to three… no… four people… one has a child… I reckon you will also take this Tiger and Tigress at his side also to your house? Charlene has asked me for a house for two Cats while you were away, and I see they already have two other Cats who want to stay with them. They also look like twins.>”
Smith nodded again. “<Yes… These are Timo and Tina, I have a lot to talk about with him, and that is difficult when he stays somewhere else. He is some sort of leader of this group. And thank you for giving the carpenter brothers a place to stay. They are very good with their carpentry.>”
Rolph grinned. “<No problem. I had a few Humans sleeping in the town hall because I could not give them a place, and did not think of the soldier homes, and you can place almost sixty Inimals in less than half an hour. Did you know that some people say that you are someone who is sent by their god?>”
Smith shrugged. “<I am just a Human smith. But some also call me a king.>”

Smith walked towards Charlene, who was still talking to the three others. The Tigress assumed a hostile posture when she saw Smith approach, and the Vixen tried to hide behind Charlene. From the corner of his eyes Smith saw Katie running towards him. He crouched to catch her, and held her in his arms when he stood up, as some sort of protection from the Tigress.
“What is going on daddy? Why were Beatrice and Sylvia called away?” Katie asked.
Smith smiled and scratched her behind her ears. “There will be some changes in our house. Three more Tigers, a Vixen and a Dog and her daughter I think.”
“But… then there will be eleven people living in our house. We only have six bedrooms.” Katie said after some counting on her fingers.
Smith smiled. “That is correct. But Timo and Tina will be sleeping together, just like that Dog and her child, and every night I will have both you and Charlene in my bed, then six bedrooms will be enough. We will take the big bed again, but only for sleep.”
Charlene smiled. “You are correct Smith, these are Mia, Violet and Diana with her daughter Faith.”
Smith nodded. “I'm sorry to see that Mia and Violet don't seem to like me, but it is only for a few months. Diana can live at the quarry, and I'm sure that Violet will want to live with the Vulpine in the north, that is also possible, I don't know what occupation Timo and Tina have, but I'm sure they will want their own house. That only leaves Mia. What do you want?”
“I want to be left alone!” Mia called out, sounding almost angry.
Smith nodded. “All right. I happen to know an other Tiger who also wants to be left alone, but who needs a lot of help.”
“Tim! You are thinking about Tim!” Katie shouted.
Smith sighed. “Damn it Katie, I'm not deaf. Don't scream when your mouth is this close to my ear!… I'm sorry Mia, but you have to tolerate me while you live with me in my house.”
Mia shrugged. “I don't care. That little Tiger said I could live with someone else. Who is that?”
Smith nodded. “Yes… Tim Tiger. Son of a Feral mother, but he is not Feral, he only has missed a youth, and is now limited. He lives close to a Vulpine village who give him food, but he wants to live closer to me. But that gives problems with how to get him food. I already wanted to build him a house, four hours away from here, but if you want to take care of him would be perfect. But I need some time. In a couple of days we have a feast, and that also needs a lot of preparations, we are expecting some important guests.”
Mia started to smile. “You are not as bad as I first thought. You really care. I'm sorry about my behavior. I just hate Humans, but somehow I have the feeling you are different. I think I can tolerate you for a few months.”
Smith nodded. “No problem. You've had a hard time. Do you mind getting a warm bath? And I'm sure that Timo and Tina also have no objections to that… Timo, we can talk later, I first have to talk to others in the town hall.”

Smith put Katie down. “Katie, you show our guests their rooms. Melany and Arthur have to keep Melany's bed, Charlene's bed for Timo and Tina, the bed that Boris and Minou used for Diana and her daughter, Robin's for Violet, and finally yours for Mia. You and Charlene would have to sleep in my bed with me every night. And Katie, show them how to fill the bath, I will go and talk to others first, this much women will give the village a lot of problems, and I want to solve them before it's dark.”
Katie and Charlene, who was also listening, nodded.
Smith gestured Rolph, Arthur, Melany, Françios, Simon, Sylvia, Uwe and Olaf to follow him to the town hall.

“<Smith, you must sit at the head of this table, you are the most important person here.>” Rolph said after Smith had taken a random chair at the large table in the meeting room in the town hall.
Smith nodded, and took the large chair. “<All right… I suggest we will speak Human this time, that is a language we all speak. If you can't find the correct word you can say it in your own language, I can translate it.>”
Sylvia snickered. “<I don't know you like this, so formal. You almost sound like the Elfique teacher I had. Outside the school he was very friendly, but he was a horrible teacher. And I notice an unfamiliar face at this table. Who is that White Tiger?>”
Smith nodded and grinned a little. “<I know, normally I am a bit more blunt in my talking. I do not want to know what you and Simon do when you don't have to teach and he has no patients, but I think that you are also very different outside your school and office, but please, we have a lot of problems walking around, and there will be more problems, when the pregnant women give birth. That's why I asked you to come along. I don't know how many of those women want to stay here, but those children need some education. And that White Tiger is Arthur, he was also a Feral, we sat in the rain and talked a lot, and I trust him enough to let him be here already. He has not yet met the other soldiers, but I will put him in charge of them, because he has more experience than Siegfried has.>”
Sylvia nodded. “<Sounds fair. And on the subject of this meeting, the children I have seen are still too young to go to school. I suggest that we give the women some shelter first. I think that Uwe and Olaf are better suited to give an answer to that.>”
Uwe nodded. “<I suggest we build some barracks. It will be a temporary shelter, and those can be used by both Humans and Inimals who want to live here, but don't have a house yet. I have some Humans in one of my houses, but I'm not sure if they can afford it to stay there for a long time. We are already giving those who we want to stay, like the soldiers and builders, a good house, and those who are not sure if they want to stay can live in a simple shelter with shared facilities like the kitchen and the bathrooms instead of tents. I don't think we have to change the strictness in our admission policy, the strictness of Rolph is already a very good deterrent for the Humans, and the few Inimals that do come here are also welcome, recently a few good carpenter Cats came in, and we get a lot of pig and cattle farmers who appreciate the co-operation with Humans. And Vulpine of course, there is a huge demand for their travel equipment, strong and light.>”
Smith smiled. “<All right… that is settled then. Barracks for everybody who wants to live here, and is welcome to do so… I'm sure you all know of Tim Tiger, I have offered him a house closer by, but now there are more important people who need a place of their own. Tim's hut is on the brink of collapse, but I'm sure it can stand another few months while we build those barracks. I will go to him, and explain it. I have given shelter to six of them, including Timo and his wife, and yesterday I came home Arthur, and he wants to live with Melany. They also have to wait.>”
This time it was Olaf who shook his head. “<Schmied, those women can wait, they have a place to stay for now. That Tim of yours has nothing as far as I can understand it. Let's give him a house first, and then we can help the others. You are doing your part, let us do our part by helping you.>”
Smith nodded. “<Fine. But I do not want you or any Human to work on his house. That Tiger and Wolf I have brought in from Schotenburg, and those two Cat carpenters from Charlene's village will have to build it for me.>”
Olaf smiled. “<You only ask for four builders, there are plenty more. Not as good as those four, those Cats really know what they are doing as far as I could see, and they are already liked here because they can work with everybody, they really have an advantage because they know how to work with Wolves, but It'll have to do. I'll make sure you will get everything you need for Tim. I don't think he wants an elaborate house?>”
Smith shook his head. “<No, only for him and one of those women from Schotenburg. I trust Mia who now lives in my house enough to let her live with Tim.>”
Arthur nodded. “<Smith now has eleven people living in his house. If there are more women who need shelter I think he is going to sleep in the living room. Let's get some rooms in his house empty first… I am not the first one he has taken into his house, and I don't think I will be the last… Smith, you are the most important person here, you don't have to suffer because of your generosity.>”
Smith nodded. “<Thank you Arthur. But yes, I try to help everyone. I have changed. François, Uwe and Olaf know how I was, but now I know that it's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice, even if I have to suffer. The Neutral Zone does not have to pay for the people I give shelter. Arthur and Melany will get their own house. You only have to give enough money for a standard soldier house because Arthur is a soldier, Melany will pay for the luxury she wants, and I will pay for a sewing workshop.>”

Melany nodded but before she could open her mouth one of Rolph's men entered the meeting room without knocking. “<We have given almost everyone a place to stay. There are a few who do not have a place, but I suggest we can give those a place in the houses we have reserved for new soldiers. But they have a severe trauma and they need…>”
Melany raised his hand. “<Then Arthur and I will take care of them… Smith, I'm taking your bed with us, you have to sleep on the floor in your bedroom. Sorry, but a normal bed is just not large enough for me and Arthur.>”
Smith nodded. “<Fine. That's settled then… François, after this meeting I will order a new bed, and for the rest, I will talk to you later. I declare this meeting over, we have work to do. Olaf, cancel all the other building activity that is not necessary, Simon, you must instruct everyone who has a pregnant woman in their house what they must do, I don't think that everybody has the right experience… and those who live with a Human family might have other problems with a Human helping them. Minou will get very busy I think, if you need any help you know where you can find me. Rolph and I have helped Dory in the forest giving birth to her son, that means we do have some recent experience… Sylvia, I'm sorry I called you in, but you are correct, the children in the group are just too young for school, Uwe, thanks for your opinion, and Rolph, one Feline house for Melany, Arthur and those they will help. I declare this meeting closed.>”

François snickered. “<You really start to sound like Jacques, but only you talk for a good cause. Keep everybody together instead of fighting each other. I have nothing to add… Your majesty.>”
Smith shook his head. “<I don't rule. We rule together. We have to work together to maintain peace, and please, don't call me a king. I am a smith called Smith. You know my past, and you know why.>”
François nodded. “<Of course. I have sworn to protect your bloodline, and you want Mary in your arms. When you wanted to go to that Inimal village to learn something new I knew there was very little danger… I was mistaken about those Wolves, but you managed to protect yourself and others. And even better, you started to assemble people around you to make it safe for others. Others failed to protect the ones you loved in the past, but now it is your turn to protect others, you are giving more than nine thousand people hope. Here, at the quarry, the Vulpine, the farmers, the lumberjacks, the artists… You may not realize it, but for many people you are their king. I want you to act like a king. Attend to the festival, walk around, show interest in others, just like you did when you had that injury on your leg. You might already have heard it, but the Human king himself wants to visit us.>”
Smith nodded and shook his head. “<I have asked Arthur here to find out who Mary's father is, he would also come. If the Human king himself comes here he has to protect him. Soldiers are not allowed here, but there is always a risk that some Inimal wants to be a hero and kill the Human king. Well… thanks for the information, and now I will act like a king, and let you all do what you can do best. Now you really are dismissed, I have to talk to Timo, and hear his story about what is happening in Schotenburg, because that can affect our lives here.>”

Simon grinned. “<One last thing… This village does not even have a name. I know that the Inimals never give a name to the place where they live, but I suggest we will call this Smithsville.>”
Smith shrugged. “<I don't care. It… it sounds nice. François… put a sign somewhere. Let the Human king know where he is.>”
François nodded. “<No problem. You pay for it?>”
Smith shrugged. “<Fine. A sign is not very expensive. Just a wooden plank on a pole with some letters painted on it… You know what, let Katie make it, teach her already some woodcarving techniques.>”
Fraçois nodded. “<I'll do that. I'll let her make a sign for this village. I think you'll like it. And I'll make your new bed for free. I still have the size of your room somewhere, same length and a bit narrower so you can walk around it?>”
Smith nodded. “C'est parfait, je n'ai pas de problème avec cela."
Rolph looked at Smith. “<What?>”
Smith was a bit startled by that question. “Oh… I'm sorry. I'm used to speak in the language of the person I am talking to. I said to François that I don't have a problem with that.”
Rolph grinned. “And now you speak Inimal. My native language is Human in case you have forgotten.”
Smith smiled. “<At least you speak in the correct language to me.>”
Rolph continued to grin. “Raus! Und schnell! Du hast arbeit zu tun!”
Uwe also grinned. “<That is almost correct. But in our language we have a difference between the formal and informal language. When you address your king you must say 'Sie haben'. But your pronunciation is very good.>”

When Smith entered his house he saw that Beatrice was also there. Charlene was busy for dinner in the kitchen with Violet. Charlene smiled when she saw Smith. “Smith… the bath is full, Beatrice has taken the Tigress with the half-breed in, and offered them a bath here, now there are six Tigers in our bath.”
Smith nodded. “No problem. I will help Melany and Arthur getting my bed to their new temporary home, they want to take care of others, and I don't have more rooms. Moving rooms again, but I think that Melany's old bed is good for Timo and Tina, and you have to share your own bed with Katie, or one of you has to sleep with me on the floor in my room.”
Charlene grinned and hugged Smith. “You know only my knees touch the mattress when we sleep together. Just two small pillows on the floor for my knees is enough for me.”
Smith grinned a little and gestured Arthur to follow him. “All right Arthur. This is now your bed, your new home is at the other side of the village” Smith spoke when he opened the door to his room.
“You mean Smithsville” Arthur interrupted.
Smith grinned. “Smithsville yes… but as you can see, it is a large bed. I really hope it fits in your temporary home, or you must put it in the living room, and be more separate from the women you are helping. I don't think they would like to have males around.”
Arthur nodded. “I think Melany is already at our new home, preparing the women there that a very large male will come to protect them.”
Smith nodded. “Very well… Now, let's get this bed disassembled… I have no feeling for wood, I have the urge to take a big hammer from my smithy and smash it to pieces, but I don't think I can forge wood back together. You see a way to take it apart?”
Arthur lifted the mattress and nodded. “I can see this is a top quality bed, it is easy to take apart. Let's get the mattress to our new home first, there we can see where we place the bed.”

It took a few walks to bring the bed and some other of Melany's items to the new house, there already was a cart with new furniture for the house, six chairs and table, and four more beds. Smith only got a glimpse of the Inimal women, two Cats and two Dogs, one of them pregnant, but as soon as they saw Smith they hid away. Smith decided to go back to his own house, there was nothing he could do at Melany's and Arthur's new house. Smith declined a hug from Melany, he did not want her to have some of his scent. He simply shook hands with Melany and Arthur and left. They would have to assemble the bed themselves.

“Smith, dinner is almost ready. You don't have time for a bath.” Charlene greeted Smith when he entered his house, his home, again.
Smith nodded. “All right… do we have enough chairs?… Oh, I see that the living room is filled with chairs and tables. Now it really feels like the old days again. When Uwe had built his inn I sold him some of my furniture, as a single male I never had the need for more than one large table and six chairs to talk with customers for large orders of metal. Somehow I have forgotten to sell the beds, not being in those bedrooms made me forget I had them. But that's something I don't regret now.”
Violet nodded. “Yes, and it seems that Robin has forgotten his brush when he left. Can I have it?”
Smith nodded again. “Of course you can have it. I have no other Foxes living here. You came with nothing, let this brush be my first gift for you, but please take it with you when you leave. You are a little bit too old for Robin, but I'm sure you will find a good mate, you only have to gain some weight again and your fur is also not in the best condition. But I think you did that on purpose.”
Violet smiled but did not hug Smith. “Thank you, and y-yes I kept my fur in a poor condition on purpose. I have lost all of my friends because of their pride. I heard that some of them were worth six small silver.”
Smith sighed. “You are priceless. Live and enjoy your life. I see that the others are leaving the bathing area. Take a seat, I will put the plates on the tables.”
Violet nodded. “Thank you. And I know about you and Johanna. It's all right, she wanted to be close to you, and now she can.”
Smith nodded, and got the plates.

When had seated himself he looked at the people who were going to live in his house as long as needed, and the Tigress who already was feeding her half-breed child.
Smith smiled. “I will not say that your… son… is beautiful, but neither am I. It's what he can become that is important. A Tiger with Cat finesse, of a Cat with Tiger strength. He will be able to single-handed make and hang the doors of a castle.”
The Tigress smiled. “I have never thought of that. Yes, he is not as pretty as a Tiger, but you already give him a purpose in his life. Not become the next king himself, but making the doors that a line of kings will use, and they will all admire the doors he made.”
Smith continued to smile. “Now you are exaggerating a bit. You only notice a door if it's not good, when it's stuck or has some cracks. But yes, what I wanted to say is that I want your son to live. If you, any of you, need help, just ask me, and I'll see what I can do for you. And now let us enjoy our meal in silence, after dinner we can talk some more.”

“Timo” Smith said after dinner “Please tell me everything that happened in Schotenburg. I want to know everything, what is happening there, how Mary and Chester are, if the prison is not breached, those kinds of things.”
Timo nodded. “All right… I do not like to talk about it, but we got the information you wanted… It seemed that you and Mary have talked to some other Humans, and they also gathered even more Humans. Together we went to the place those men at the inn told us about, and what we found there enraged those Humans, but made me very happy, because I found Tina again, pregnant with my child… Those Humans who helped us were wonderful, but it soon turned ugly because they knew how good Inimals were with their trade, and seeing them used as simple items instead of people was… enough to start something close to a civil war. They killed everybody who was involved with the mistreatment of those women, some Humans did things that even would confound Wolves, and after that they wanted to storm the prison, but Chester and the soldiers prevented that as far as I know. Mary and I stayed behind to help those women, in no-time we had arranged everything to get them transported here. Last thing I know is that everything is under control now, Chester came running a few hours before we arrived here, and told me everything was fine for the time being. I believe that the Human king has sent some soldiers as reinforcements, or at least, a message was sent out with that request.”
Smith sighed. “And what about Chester and Mary?”
Timo grinned. “I believe you and Charlene do the same thing as they are doing. Now I realize I have forgotten your gloves, I'm sure that Chester will bring them one day.”
Smith smiled. “I really hope so. That White Tiger who was here to take my bed is an old friend of Chester. I'm sure they have a lot to talk about. I want you to go to him tomorrow, and tell him everything about Chester. What is your occupation by the way? You don't seem to be a builder.”
Timo sighed. “Tina and I are basket weavers, but I don't know how to start again. We have nothing.”
Charlene smiled. “I know some very good suppliers of wicker and reed. As a messenger I have been to a lot of places, I am sure they still sell.”
Smith nodded. “And I will pay for a simple house with a workshop, half of the profit you make for me. I have the same arrangement with others, those who work in my smithy are working for me, I have an inn at the quarry, soon Melany the White Tigress will work in a sewing workshop that belongs to me… Some basket weavers in a workshop is no competition for my smithy.”
Timo nodded. “That sounds fair. We don't need much tools, and in Schotenburg there was a huge demand for our baskets, because we were the best. I think we were taken out by some competitors, but I saw smoke coming from one of their workshops, I think that other Humans have taken care of that.”
Smith nodded. “That doesn't surprise me somehow. But what does surprise me is the amount of Inimals that have lived in Schotenburg. I never cared much about what was happening outside my smithy, but it has taken months to get permission for me as a Human to work in that Inimal village across the border.”
Timo nodded. “Humans are second best at everything, except metal. If they want the best they use and abuse Inimals. You can bring a sword to the Inimal kingdom, but transporting a finished house is impossible. The Inimals don't need Humans, only their metal.”

Despite being in the last weeks of her pregnancy Tina gave Smith a very strong hug to change the subject. “Thank you. Thank you… thank you for everything.” was all she could say.
Smith sighed after Tina released him. “I only do these kind of things for people I like. I do not want you to be my slaves, you always have the choice to say 'no' to my offer. We, the village, will build some barracks for you women to live in, when those are finished all of you have to stay there, I want this house to be for me, Katie, Mary, Charlene and Chester. Yes I am rich, but I do not have an infinite amount of money. Please don't tell the other women what I have offered you. And for Diana and Violet: You must find a partner first, I do like you being here, but I do not want some male to abuse you because you get rich because of me, you also have to do something. And same for you Tigress, I do not have to know your name, but your child can be useful here, I will not help you in a direct manner, but if you need anything for your child ask me.”
The Tigress nodded, and looked at her sleeping child. “He can not yet say it, but thank you… Beatrice, let's go home and put him in a bed. A real bed for him. I never had that luxury as a child.”

Smith sighed when he was the only one left in the living room, everybody else had left to their rooms. He felt helpless, although he was helping. There would be dozens of stories like that of the Tigers. Charlene wanted to climb on top of him when he laid down on the floor in his now bed-less bedroom, but he pushed her off. He was not in the mood. Too many worries.

The following morning Smith was the last to wake up.
“Good morning” Charlene and Violet greeted him from the kitchen when Smith came down the stairs.
Smith saw that Siegfried, Boris and Arthur were also in his living room. “Good morning Siegfried, Arthur, Boris, Charlene, Viola, Katie, Tino, Tiny… erm… Dian… I think I'm mixing up the names a little… Good morning to you all. And now I'm returning to my bedroom to get an extra chair, It's really getting crowded in my living room.”
Smith got his chair and sat down at the corner of a table, between Siegfried and Arthur. It was a wrong spot, because Siegfried tried to give Smith another kiss. “Good morning Smith. Thank you for what you are doing for all those women.”
Arthur nodded. “Yes indeed… And that Chester is indeed my old friend. Good to hear he survived.”
Siegfried grinned. “And you, a humble smith have managed to do where Arthur has failed. You caught me alive. But I'm glad you did.”
Boris nodded. “Yes, same for me. I'm glad you saved me and Minou as well. She is very busy, and I have the feeling she smiles a lot these days. We've been very busy lately, but now there is a safe route between Schotenburg and this village… Let the festivities begin. The day after the day after tomorrow, am I right?”
Smith nodded. “Yes, you are right. That gives me some time to do some forging. Arthur's sword has to wait a few days, I want to work full days at that, but I can make a start with a dagger.”

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Chapter 24 - The Kings

#28 Post by Neutral Smith » Mon Apr 27, 2015 6:54 pm

Chapter 24
The Kings

It was the day before the big feast. François had made a new bed for Smith, and it was indeed a bit smaller than the previous, Smith could open all his wardrobes without moving his bed. It was again Charlene's turn to be with him, but again he had ignored her, to the dismay of Charlene.

Smith entered his smithy through the door between his house and the smithy.
“Good morning Smith… Why use that door? Normally you use the front door… And are you going to talk today? Yesterday was horrible, you were really focused on that dagger, but it is incredible.” Frank greeted him.
Smith looked at Frank. “<You speaking Inimal to me? Why is that?… And yes I… erm… I told you using that door gave me the feeling I could never leave my smithy, and now it gives me the feeling I am not leaving my home. And I'm sorry about yesterday, please don't talk about it, only warn others when I'm on the brink of collapse.>”
Frank nodded. “<Fine… And I am sorry, I now have two Cats living in my house, Inimal clients here… I only hear Inimal these days. I can't switch between languages like you can.>”
Smith smiled. “<So… More females in your house. How does that feel?>”
Frank sighed. “<The butcher's ex-wife left me, and went living with him again. She called me a filthy pig and my house a pig-pen. And worst of all, those Cats went on a cleaning spree, I don't even recognize my own house any more.>”
Smith laughed and shook his head. “<Frank… You tell me two things. First you tell me that the butcher's wife left you because you are a filthy pig, and second you complain that two Cats are doing something about that 'pig-pen' thing… Be grateful that someone is taking care of you.>”
Frank nodded and sighed. “<Yes… I should be grateful… You know, when you came back with Charlene and later Melany I got a bit jealous, but those Cats are also very nice to me. They even asked if they could become locksmiths here.>”
Smith nodded. “<Of course they can become locksmiths. He has never been here, but I still miss Casper from that Inimal village. I think that Robert is the best locksmith we have here… Robert! Do you mind if I pay you for teaching those Cats to do locksmithing?>”
Robert shrugged. “<I don't know… Of course I can teach them, but, you know, Cats… I'm not sure. They also could use that knowledge for a less good cause, burglary.>”
Smith nodded. “<Right, we'll talk to them when everything here is over, and find out what they want and why. Today we clean this smithy, I don't know when exactly, but the king is coming to visit this village.>”
Frank smiled. “Yes, the Inimal king. I wonder if we can sell him anything else than arrowheads.”
Smith looked in disbelief at Frank. “<Frank… you switched to Inimal again… But Inimal king? I thought that the Human king would come?>”
Frank shrugged. “<Well… In the case that both kings come here, I have to tell you: It was nice working for you. I know you are a talker, but I don't think you are smart enough to stop a war. Both kings will come with an army of their own, you just can't order them to hand in their weapons and make them sing together.>”

Smith nodded and grinned. “<Let's have a little wager… If the Inimal king comes here and leaves before the Human king does I'll give you a small gold, if the Human king comes here and leaves before the Inimal king you give me a small gold.>”
Frank nodded. “<Deal… But what if they meet each other?>”
Smith smiled. “<Then we need those coins ourselves, if it comes to war here.>”
Frank sighed. “<Yes… I prefer losing a small gold instead of a war here. You know, I'm not going to work at the forge today, cleaning up this smithy is a good idea, you know, just in case a certain Lion comes here.>”
Smith nodded. “<Yes… And I don't know, maybe Mary's father could also come here. I want him to have a good impression of me.>”
Frank grinned. “<You just hope that the Human king will come, you just want your small gold… I don't know, I've heard the name 'Mary' before, but I can't quite place her. But that also could be because I heard some people talk about Inimal Affairs.>”
Smith nodded again. “<Could be… I don't know, the soldiers that were accompanying her had Royal Guard weapons, I just hope she isn’t the Human king's only daughter, because that means that if I marry the king's only daughter I will become a king, and I don't want that.>”
Willem, who already had gotten a broom looked at Smith “<Why don't you want to become a king? You are already an excellent leader, you know when to talk, and you know when to fight. Somehow the soldiers here never fight when they meet each other, they even are admiring each others weapons when they meet here, Siegfried told me you can get both sides to salute you, and Rolph told me that the warden of the prison in Schotenburg is afraid of you. It's because of you that the Inimals there are safe.>”
Smith sighed. “<I don't want to be a king because… well… I have to end the war with the Inimals, there is some trouble in the far east, and also in the south with some ports which want more independence, you and Robert are here because of some trouble that need to be solved, and I think that there will a million more problems that need attention, and I can't solve them by doing the things I like, like hammering metal and other things.>”
Willem nodded. “<But at least you are willing to give those problems attention.>”
Smith shrugged. “<But at this moment they are not my problems, and they will not be my problems. I just want Mary in my arms, and some little children running around, my own, and of course Charlene's and maybe even Katie's.>”
Willem nodded again. “<The simple life, like we all want. But at least you have brought peace here.>”
Smith shook his head. “<The peace here is not my doing. It's just because of a treaty. I don't know how, but François and I have explained what we wanted to almost everyone except the kings, it has taken years until we were fully acknowledged as true neutral, but finally we got respected here and this area between my old village and the sea was no longer used for attacks, and it could start to grow into what it is today. But now it's not the time to talk, but time to clean… although I do not want this smithy to be spotless, just some basic sweeping and dusting, and remove some of the rubbish. It must still look like people work here.>”
Frank nodded. “<Yes, I keep telling those Cats in my house the same, I live there, it's not a tidy shop with furniture.>”

They were almost done cleaning the smithy when somebody entered the smithy.
“<King approaching!>” he announced, almost shouting.
“<Which one?>” Smith asked.
“<Inimal. Please receive him, François asked me to get you.>” the man replied.
Smith nodded. “<I am not properly dressed, but I am a smith after all, we don't have to be equal.>”
The man looked at Smith's clothes, and snickered. “<Not properly at all with those stains. But you don't have time to get changed, he caught us by surprise, we were expecting the Human king.>”

It was a large caravan of Inimal-drawn carts that came from the Inimal kingdom, Smith could not see a single horse. When Smith was waiting for the caravan he saw it split, the majority went to an open field, Smith presumed they would set up their camp there. Not asking for permission, but just do. One cart accompanied by soldiers on foot crossed the bridge to the island where Smith's smithy was located. Siegfried, Arthur, Boris, Rolph and the Inimal soldiers from the Neutral Zone came standing next to Smith, forming a very neat line. Smith felt a bit odd, in his tatty and dirty working clothes between the neatly dressed Inimal and Human soldiers.
Smith grinned “I'm sorry to embarrass you in these clothes.”
“Be as you are, I can't tell how you look, but I think you look great… I can only smell you, you have been working, your sweat stinks” Boris replied.
The others, except Arthur, snickered.

The cart stopped and a majestic looking Lion stepped out.
“Smith!” he simply called.
Smith stepped forward. “That's what they call me. At your service”
The king looked at the line of people before him. “Not as impressive as I thought, but somehow you are different. I could have guessed you are the famous Smith. Even dressed as one.”
Smith snickered, to the dismay of Arthur. “Welcome to my village, or Smithsville as others call it. Be as you are, as long as you don't do any harm you are welcome here.”
The king nodded. “You sure have some courage Human, and… erm… can we talk inside?”
Smith nodded. “Of course sire. But let me first tell you about my frien…”
“I want to use your toilet. I'm not a Bear, and I don't [censored] in the woods, and that damn cart doesn't have a bucket.” the Lion interrupted Smith.
Smith nodded again. “Of course sire. This way.”
Arthur shook his head in disbelief, and before he went inside to show the Lion in need the toilets Smith grinned. “As you can see Arthur, I can command a king. I ordered him to be as he is, and apparently he is not quite a royal.”

A few moments later the king returned, looking relieved. “Thank you Human, and thank you for not letting me to have to wear my mask. And yes, I am not very royal. I wanted to be a general, just like my older brother, but my namesake chose me as his successor nine years ago.”
Smith nodded and sighed. “Then you are not responsible for the death of my wife. We can talk in a normal manner. And if you forgive me sire, but I never have been interested in both kingdoms, I am only interested in the things I can sell them, I don't even know your name.”
The Lion got a chair, and sat down, and gestured Smith to do the same. “My name is Leopold. Leopold the second… And your given name is not Smith, I know…”
Smith sat down and nodded. “That is correct sire, my old village was attacked by Wolves, they have killed my wife and that sent me wandering. I returned, and started again, and now this village is the result of eleven years of work.”
King Leopold nodded. “And I also have a confession to make, one you won't like… My brother ordered that attack on your old smithy. His advisers told him, and he listened… It was a stupid attack, there was not much to be gained, only lost, your chisels were the best in our kingdom… I'm sorry.”
Smith stood up and put a hand on Leopold's shoulder. “If your brother is alive send him here, because I want to thank him. If he didn't order that attack we wouldn't be sitting here, you still would have been a king, but I still would have been a simple smith making chisels.”
King Leopold nodded and stood up. “If you have forgiven him I will… Now introduce me to your friends, although I think I have seen that White Tiger before. Elite, am I right?”
Smith opened the front door, and saw that a lot of people had assembled in front of his house, including the people that live in his house.
“Is it true that the king is in our house?” Katie asked.
Smith nodded, and made a sidestep. “Yes, this is the Inimal king… Sire, let me introduce you my Inimal friends and the rest of the people here.”

It surprised Smith how many people from his village he knew, of almost everybody in front of his house he knew the name, their occupation and why they have moved to the Neutral Zone.
King Leopold started to look bored.
Smith noticed it. “Am I boring you?” he asked, almost expecting a polite 'No, not at all, please go on' as an answer.
King Leopold nodded. “Let's be honest… You are. I hate this part of being a king, getting to meet all kinds of people I don't have a connection with. You are the first one who actually cares.” he whispered in Smith's ear.

“<King approaching!>” someone called.

“<The king is already here you idiot!>” Smith replied.

“<No! It's the Human king!>” another woman called.

“Cer I grafu! Arglwydd Mawr! Mynyffarni!… Arthur! Siegfried! Neutral soldiers! Rolph! Take the weapons of all the soldiers who do not belong here, take even the wooden spoons if you have to!” Smith called out, almost shouting at the top of his lungs. “If you fail there will be a lot of blood flowing here, and I don't want that! Store those weapons in my smithy!”
He was starting to panic. This was something he did not want to happen.

A few moments later the disarmed soldiers stood staring at each other. Smith also stood staring. Was he really able to disarm both armies?
Smith finally looked at the Human king. “<Your sword sire, here you are no more than a soldier.>” “And Leopold, I demand your scepter, I don't want you to hammer the crown through the skull of an unarmed man with it.”
King Leopold nodded, and handed Arthur his scepter. The Human king unhooked the scabbard of his sword, and handed it to Smith.
Smith pulled the blade out of the sheath, and admired the blade. “<Masterpiece?>”
The Human king nodded. “<Yes, it was given me more than eleven years ago.>”
Smith continued to stare at the sword, gently caressing the rough marble pebble at the pommel. “<You remember who offered it?>”
“<Y… Yes… It… It was given by… by an apprentice from the Neutral Zone. Unfortunately I have forgotten his name.>” the Human king stuttered.
Smith nodded. “<Me… This was my masterpiece. I made the blade. Let's get inside and talk.>” “And Leopold, you are also invited… Katie, please go do something else, you are just too young to be here with the kings, and Arthur, you know what I asked you to do.”
Arthur and Katie nodded, and left with the other people.

Smith sat down, and gestured the kings to do the same.
“We hebben een probleem, we have a problem. Ik spreek zowel Inimaal als Mens, I speak both Inimal and Human. Maar ik wil niet alles twee keer zeggen, but I don't want to say everything twice.”
Smith pulled a coin from his pocket. “I have an idea, ik heb een idee. You both speak both each others languages? Jullie spreken beide elkaars talen? I know that Inimal Soldiers can speak Human, en ik denk dat de koning van de Mensen ook Inimaal spreekt.”
The kings nodded.
Smith smiled. “Ik gooi deze munt op, I will toss this coin. Bij kop spreken we Mens, with tails we speak Inimal.”
The kings nodded again. “Sounds fair. I really like the sign you put on the village's edge.” the Human king spoke, in Inimal with a heavy Human accent.
“<What sign?>” Smith asked, replying in Human again.
The Human king smiled. “<The sign that says 'Welcome to Smithsville. Out of respect we speak in the language of the person we are talking to', in four languages.>”
Smith nodded. “<Hmm… That must have been Katie's work… Now let's toss, you get head, I don't want to offend Leopold by talking without a proper chance.>”
Smith tossed the coin and skillfully he caught it again on a flat hand. “Tails… Today we speak Inimal.”
Leopold nodded “Fine, but I won't be offended if you speak Human with the Human king, his accent is terrible.”
The Human king nodded “But if I don't practice it will never improve.”
“Sire” Smith spoke while he looked at the Human king “Do you mind if I just call you by your name, Alexander.”
King Alexander nodded. “I noticed you also called the Inimal king by his name, and he does not seem to be offended by it, so yes, you are allowed to call me Alexander. But in public you must address me with 'sire'.”
Smith nodded “Of course. Sire.”

“You seem to be admiring that stone at the pommel of the Human king's sword. Why is that? It's only a piece of rock.” Leopold asked after an awkward silence.
Smith sighed. “I have nothing of my now dead wife. I indeed made this blade, I wanted to put a gemstone in the pommel, but my wife gave me this stone, and she asked me to use this. I have a confession to make sire… Alexander… I only made the blade, and the metal parts of the hilt. The grip was made by a Tiger, the leather of the scabbard is from a Dog, and the locket and chape are Vulpine. I only brought them together in this masterpiece.”
King Alexander nodded. “I suspected something like that. What you told me will remain our secret. And I also have a confession to make, I sometimes use this sword to peel an apple, and I have abused the pommel a few times to crack some nuts. The blade is really sharp, still after all those years.”
Smith nodded. “I am not offended by it. You telling me that you actually use this sword makes me proud, but please, no more abuse of the pommel.”

Katie entered Smith's house again, without knocking. “Daddy, the soldiers want to sing.”
Smith looked at his rude Tiger daughter, but nonetheless he smiled. “You wanted them to sing?”
Katie shrugged “Yes… But now they also want to sing.”
Smith nodded, and stood up. “Well… It's already past lunchtime, let's hear the soldiers, and then we'll eat.”

Smith and the kings followed the little Tiger to the square in front of the town hall. There were four distinct groups of people, the soldiers who came with the Inimal king, the guards of the Human king, Olaf with Uwe and the people that worked for them, and François with Jacques and Melany with some other Humans, Smith recognized most of them as artists, and already a lot of audience. Suddenly Smith also saw Floris and Florette. Smith smiled and lifted his hand to greet them.

“Attention! Attentie! Achtung! Attention!” Katie shouted.
All the soldiers and guards went standing in attention, and the other two groups went standing in a neat order.
Katie smiled. “All right people, today we sing a song we all know.”

Katie pointed at the Inimals, who started to sing.

“Are you sleeping?”

Second she pointed at the Humans

“Vader Jacob”

Katie shook her head. “Sorry, this is the wrong order… Humans and Inimals, swap places!”
The Human guards and the Inimal soldiers did as the little Tiger requested. Smith noticed that most of them were smiling, and while they passed each other some of them even shook hands.
When they were at the intended place Katie pointed this time at the Humans, who immediately started to sing, this time already with some more strength in their voices, because now they understood what was expected of them. Katie did not have to point to the group she wanted to sing.

Vader Jacob
Are you sleeping?
Frère Jacques
Bruder Jacob
Vader Jacob
Are you sleeping?
Frère Jacques
Bruder Jacob

Slaapt gij nog?
Brother John
Schläfst du noch?
Slaapt gij nog?
Brother John
Schläfst du noch?

Alle klokken luiden
Morning bells are ringing
Sonnez les matines
Hörst du nicht die Glöcken?
Alle klokken luiden
Morning bells are ringing
Sonnez les matines
Hörst du nicht die Glöcken?

Bim bam bom
Ding ding dong
Ding ding dong
Ding dang dong
Bim bam bom
Ding ding dong
Ding ding dong
Ding dang dong

The kings were staring with open mouths at the singers.
“<This… this is incredible>” King Alexander finally said “<The best choirs in my kingdom have sung to me, but nothing compares to this.>”
King Leopold nodded. “This is indeed incredible… I am speechless.”
Katie curtsied. “Thank you sire, sire… Singers! You can go again!”
Smith picked her up. “Time to go home and eat lunch.”
Katie shook her head. “No, the women have made a banquet at the town hall, we have to eat there.”
Smith sighed. “I'd rather talk to my friends instead of the kings. But all right, let's go left to the town hall oh mighty commander of armies.”
Katie grinned. “And tonight I want to light some fires to let them sit around and talk to each other.”
Smith nodded. “That is a very good idea. Go ask Rolph to get every inhabitant of the Neutral Zone who speaks both languages to act as interpreters, I don't want fights over misinterpretations of what is said.”
The kings nodded. “You are indeed a very clever girl. I give my guards permission to talk to the enemy.” king Alexander spoke.
“<And so do I.>” Leopold added.

Smith put Katie back on the ground, and she immediately ran to François.
Smith smiled. “She has a good teacher. I'm glad François is here.”
Arthur, who was now also standing next to Smith nodded. “And did you notice Jacques? He was also there, singing like nothing is happening.” he whispered in Smiths ear.
Smith nodded “Of course… He would reveal himself as a traitor if he didn't do this.” Smith whispered in return. “Now let's get inside. Floris! You also!” Smith finally spoke at a firmer tone.
Floris timidly nodded. “But… but you are talking to the kings. I am just a law enforcer.”
Smith smiled. “Look at my clothes Floris, do they look like the clothes of a ruler? Look at my behavior, do I behave like a king?”
Floris nodded again, this time with more confidence. “Yes… You are just Smith. Talking to everybody like they are friends. Did you know that Diego, Dora and her sister are also here?”
Smith smiled. “Then also call Diego, today you represent the Vulpine in the north of the Neutral Zone, and he will represent the Canines at the quarry.”
Floris nodded “He is either at the inn or your house.”
“<Or right behind you. I thought your castle would be larger.>” Diego greeted them.
Smith smiled and extended his hand. “Welcome representative from the quarry-village. I see that my head of security, Siegfried, is also arriving. Time to go inside, eat and talk… Siegfried, have you locked the smithy?”
Siegfried nodded “Locked, two of my Inimals, two of my Humans, two soldiers of the Inimal king, and two guards of the Human king.”
Smith grinned. “This morning Frank and I were joking that we could not order the soldiers to hand in their weapons and make them sing, but we managed to disarm them, and Katie got them to sing. But now it's time for some food.”
“And maybe negotiations for peace.” Siegfried added.

The town hall was filled with the smells of food, and a lot of women were running around with trays loaded with food.
Rolph and Linda were waiting at the door. Smith wanted to enter, but Rolph stopped him. “Get some proper clothes Smith, you look like a… erm… you look like a smith who is going to fix things instead of a guest of honor.”
Charlene also came running towards them. “Smith, Violet and I have put some clothes on your bed, you can put those on.”
Smith sighed. “Fine, I'll become someone I don't want to be.”
King Leopold also came standing next to him, with a formal look on his face. “Charlene Cheetah, if this Human does not want to wear his fancy clothes give him that freedom… Smith, come in, as you are.”
Smith nodded. “Drop your mask sire, here you are no king, but just a Lion. But please behave, Lions do have a reputation here.”
King Alexander also came standing quietly next to Smith. He did not seem to be happy.
Smith looked at him. “<Something wrong?>”
King Alexander sighed. “<Yes… I feel lonely. I miss my advisers.>”
King Leopold nodded. “<Yes, somehow mine also did not want to come along.>”
Smith also nodded. “Let's grab some food, and go to my house to talk in private. I'm neutral in this war, you don't have to listen to me, but I'm curious about something… And forget about that coin, just speak your own language.”

After informing Arthur, Siegfried and a few others Smith wanted to talk to that he would leave with the kings and that he would talk to them later he left to his house.
The people who were guarding the smithy also had a lot of food, and were eating and laughing.
“You like it here?” Smith asked.
The soldiers jumped up, and went standing in attention.
Smith smiled. “The kings and I are going to talk in my house, only the people who live in my house, Arthur and Siegfried are allowed to come in, others have to ask.”
One of the Neutral Human soldiers translated what Smith had said. The Human guards nodded.

“I think you both have advisers of the same species.” Smith said while he sat down.
“That's classified.” Leopold replied.
Smith nodded. “<Alexander?>”
“<I don't want to say that either.>” King Alexander said a bit annoyed while he put his crown on the table and also sat down.
Smith smirked. “Elfique. You think they give you good advice, but they don't. I'll just say it in my blunt way, but those cheap weapons the Humans use are worthless, and each species of Inimal has it's own specialism.”
King Alexander slammed with his fists on the table. “<Thanks to those cheaper weapons we have more soldiers than ever before.>”
King Leopold growled. “And my army now can do anything. We don't have to think about what species we put where on the battlefield. Mind your own business, blacksmith.”
Smith nodded. “<You think that you are smart. Alexander, your army might be larger than ever, but you are draining your country, you send tens of thousands of soldiers to the killing fields, with very little metal. You think it's cheap, but you are sending those men and boys to their death> Smith looked at king Leopold “To their death if Leopold has his soldiers at the correct places. Wolves can't climb, Cheetah's can't handle heavy swords… You are also sending your men to their death, if the Humans have proper weapons.”

“<I Thought you wanted peace, but now you are giving advice about how to win.>” King Alexander finally said after an uncomfortable silence.
Smith nodded. “<Yes, but I gave you both advice. I don't want to disturb the balance. I want peace, but that's in the end. First I want to get rid of the soldiers. I don't want people running around with fighting experience, weapons and no money because they only can fight and nothing else, because those will become hardened criminals, and civilians are easy targets for them. You have a lot of trouble in the east and south>” “and Leopold has some trouble in the west. Send your soldiers there.”
Leopold nodded. “You don't want peace for us, you want peace for yourself. The Neutral Zone is indeed a safe haven for those who are tired of the war. It is impressive what you have done here, letting the species work together, the Humans producing food for the cattle of the Inimals, building together, everything.”
Alexander also nodded. “<Yes, and after this we will go to the quarry, I want a new wing at my castle, and those Wolves have the best stones. You'd be surprised how far east those stones end up.>”
Smith shook his head “<No, sire. I do not want you to buy stones at my quarry.>”
Alexander was a bit startled by Smith's reply. “<What? Everybody would be proud if they could sell stones to their king. Why aren't you?>”
Smith sighed. “<If those Wolves sell you stones that means that there are Humans in your kingdom who won't. You are the king of the Humans, that means that you should care for the Humans. If some citizens want to buy Wolven stones they may, but if you, the Human king, want to buy Wolven stones you are some kind of saying that the Human stones are inferior, and that could make some Humans who work at a Human quarry angry, and angry people might want to take out the competition, and that gives me a problem. I do the same with Melany, the White Tigress who is a tailor here. Due to some trouble in the west some White Foxes have moved to the Neutral Zone, but I asked her to continue to also buy some fabric across the border at the Common Foxes. She uses a lot of fabric, and if a customer suddenly buys somewhere else… well… I think you understand.>”
Alexander nodded. “<I understand… You know, my Elfique adviser told me to use your stones, but you telling me that doing that might lead to some trouble makes me doubt that decision.>”
Smith nodded. “<That's just what the Elfique do, from now on I want you to doubt everything they say. Their advice might not be harmful in the beginning, but in the end it could become an avalanche of trouble. Be careful, but I want you to look at every advice they have given you in the past, use your own wit and senses, ask others if you doubt. Turn back the stupid decisions… Be careful, because I don't want that your advisers know I have you both at the same table without a fight. You both showed up at almost the same time, one day before the feast, that can not be a coincidence, I think they hoped you would kill each other, and they would not be harmed.>”

Leopold nodded, but before he could say anything someone knocked at the door. Smith stood up to answer it. It were Diana and Dory with their children.
Smith smiled. “If you want to feed your babies I have to ask you to do that in a bedroom, I am… talking to these people here.”
The kings nodded. “But we will leave. This is your house Smith, with your friends. I don't know what Alexander is going to do, but I am going to talk to some people. I haven't forgotten about your letter.” Leopold spoke while he stood up to leave.
“<What letter?>” Alexander asked, also standing up.
Smith nodded. “<A letter about that Ferals can be brought back, and something I have done on his side of the border. I have killed a Human there, a poacher.>”
Alexander nodded. “<If it's in the Inimal kingdom it is not my problem. Time to go, nice talking to you Smith. You are not as bad as I thought.>”
Smith nodded. “<I know. I will talk to you later, there is some trouble in Schotenburg, and I have a part in it. I want to talk to you about it in private.>”
Leopold turned around. “Trouble? Is it important for me to know?”
Smith shook his head. “Don't ask me, but ask others. The trouble is now here, in the form of fifty-six women and children. But at least they are safe here.”
Leopold nodded, and left. Alexander followed him.

Smith waited for the women to return with their babies, and stood up when they did. “Time to go ourselves.”
Diana nodded. “Yes… The other women have prepared another banquet for dinner… I really wish that my husband was here, he is still in Schotenburg I think, last thing I heard of him was that he is in the prison.”
Smith sighed. “There were indeed a lot of Dogs and Cats there, but unfortunately there is nothing I can do at this moment. I asked the people there to take care of them, and Mary is allowed to check them. There is much to do here, we have a lot to build like barracks for you and the other women, and a lot of other buildings. When the planned things are built we go on with the next step, get the husbands from the prison and then the women who have a husband can go live with them in houses we will build. And after that maybe the rest of the usable Inimals from the prison, although there are a lot of Inimals there I do not want here.”
Diana nodded. “That's… reasonable. Now let's feast your majesty.”
Smith sighed and stared at the crown that king Alexander had forgotten. “Why do you all call me a king?”
“Because you act like one, and the other two kings see you as an equal.” Dory answered.
Smith nodded. “Maybe… To me those kings are just a Human and a Lion.”
Dory grinned and put the Human king's crown on Smith's head, just when king Alexander entered again to get it because he had forgotten it. “<I have forgotten my… Smith… Dogs… I… erm… my crown really looks good on you, Smith.>” he said while he stared at Smith. “<I wish we could trade places, me living a simple life here and you as a king.>” he sighed after a short pause.
Smith shook his head and took the crown off his head and handed it to Alexander “<My apologies sire, this was not my idea… And I do not want to be a king. There is just a Human woman I want in my arms, and just be a simple smith.>”
Alexander nodded, and left again.

“He was not even angry.” Dory remarked after king Alexander had closed the door again.
Smith nodded. “I noticed. I have learned a lot today… Now, let's feast. There are so many people I want to talk to.”
Diana nodded. “Faith and I will leave the day after tomorrow, some Wolves from the quarry are taking care of Diego's inn at this moment, and Diego asked me if I also could help because they are quarrymen, and not innkeepers. We are not going with them because we will go on a cart with supplies for them, that way I don't have to walk.”
Smith nodded. “You still have to wait for your husband, just like the rest of the women. I don't know, but maybe there are some other Canine females who want to live at the quarry, I will talk to Diego, see what else is needed there… I have so much talking to do.”
Dory smiled. “You are a king. You just don't want to admit it.”

Smith was the last to arrive at the town hall.
“<Finally you show up… Still wearing those ugly and dirty common clothes.>” Rolph greeted him.
Smith sighed and followed Rolph to his place at the table, between Katie who was sitting next to king Leopold and Charlene.
“<Speech!>” someone called out. It was Frank, neatly shaven and wearing beautiful clothes. And somehow he looked very natural in them. But that was thanks to the effort of Jacques and Robert's friend. He was sitting between the Human king and Jacques.
Smith sighed. He did not want to speech, but Charlene was already prodding him. Reluctantly he stood up again. Smith sighed once more. He was a blacksmith, not a wordsmith.

“Ladies and gentlemen, dames en heren” Smith spoke at a loud tone. “Welcome in the Neutral Zone, welkom in de Neutrale Zone. The place where we all live in peace, de plek waar wij allemaal in vrede leven. Inimals and Humans, Inimalen en Mensen, all working together with a common goal, allemaal samenwerkend met een gemeenschappelijk doel. Bringing the best of both kingdoms together and make it even better, het beste van de twee koninkrijken samenbrengen en het nog beter maken. Inimal pork, beef and poultry gecombineerd met de groente, fruit en graanproducten van de Mensen. Today we feast like we have never done before, vandaag feesten wij zoals wij nog nooit eerder gedaan hebben. Let the kings be ashamed of the feasts they have had at their castles, laat de koningen zich schamen voor de feesten die zij op hun kastelen gehad hebben. This is a feast from our heart, dit is een feest uit ons hart. Men and women are different, mannen en vrouwen zijn verschillend. But they need each other to make a beautiful baby, maar ze hebben elkaar nodig om een mooie baby te maken. That baby of the Inimals and Humans here is peace, die baby van de Inimalen en de Mensen hier is vrede! Friends and good food, vrienden en vreten… erm… goed eten!”

A deafening applause erupted, and lasted for minutes. Smith was a bit overwhelmed by it, but slowly it subsided when the plates with food were brought in. Smith sat down, and noticed François, simply nodding at him. A nod of approval.

Smith stared at his plate. A huge juicy steak.
“Hey!” Smith heard Katie call out “Leave my chicken alone!”
Smith saw that king Leopold was switching plates with Katie.
Leopold grinned when he saw Smith looking at him. “Quail for the little Tigress, I've had enough of that in my life, just like doves and peacock. Have you ever had peacock?”
Smith shook his head. “No, I have never tasted that. What does it taste like?”
Leopold snickered. “Dry, tough, and awful… Just like doves. I don't mind eating pigeons, but they only feed me those small doves. Once we had a shortage of doves, everybody at a banquet got big juicy pigeons, but I, the king, got two skinny doves.”
“We can sell you some fat geese” someone at the other side of Leopold spoke with a very familiar voice.
Smith bent forward to see who spoke. It was Robin, sitting next to another Fox who Smith didn't recognize. 'Must be Robin's uncle' Smith thought, because he could see Floris and Florette sitting somewhere else. “Hello Robin, I'll talk to you later. It's not very polite to talk over the king's head.”
Smith saw that Robin was slapped on the head by the other Fox. Smith sighed. Life must be a lot harder for Robin these days. He also would talk to Robin's uncle, you just don't hit children.
“You just don't hit other people, especially not when they are Smith's friends.” king Leopold spoke to the other Fox.
Smith smiled. Leopold also had noticed it.

“<How do I look?>” It was Frank who was the first who got to speak with Smith after dinner.
Smith looked at Frank “<You look good… Special occasion?>”
Frank smiled. “<Jacques told me that the Human king has a daughter, and he thought it would be wise I would make a good impression on the king. For you just a woman, for me a queen.>”
Smith grinned. “<And what if she is ugly?>”
Frank now also grinned. “<Flag over her head and go for the country.>”
Smith nodded. “<Hmm… and now go and ask Jacques what you should do if the king hears you talk like this… He is standing right behind you, and I am not talking about Jacques.>”
Frank turned around and turned bright red before he walked out.
“Great way to get rid of him” Smith heard behind him. It was Arthur.
Smith smiled. “Yes… He really looked good, until I started to talk, then he looked like an idiot… Have you had any luck?”
Arthur shook his head. “I don't know who has selected the soldiers who accompany the Human king for his protection, but it was soiling pants, wetting pants, fainting, or running away screaming as soon as I tried to talk to them. Siegfried has selected the only two who didn't do that, but he has a nose to find the correct people. The rest of the people are a bit better, but nobody seems to know Mary.”
“But I also had no luck finding out who Mary's father is. I also talked to everybody except the king. And try to be more friendly.” Siegfried added while he also came standing next to Smith and Arthur.
Smith nodded. “Then let's forget it. We had a good meal, now just let's have some fun instead of work.”
“{Your work is now walk around and talk, sire.}” François interrupted.
Smith smiled “{We have two kings visiting, I am not a king. I don't know how often I have to keep telling you this, but I am a smith.}”
“<You also speak Elfique?… Oh, I'm sorry, you are talking to your friends.>” king Alexander interrupted.
Smith smiled “<A king who apologizes… Well, that's unusual I think. And yes, I speak all four languages which are spoken here. Me switching between those languages was the inspiration for that sign.>”
Alexander nodded. “<I like it. Now let's go outside and see the fires. You really have a wonderful child, but I noticed you also have an Elfique friend. Do you trust him?>”
Smith smiled. “<There are two of the Elfique living here, François who is standing here, he is the one I trust, and Jacques, the one who dressed Frank. I helped François in the past, and he promised me to protect my bloodline, and now he is not only helping me, but also teaching Katie. There is also a struggle among the Elfique, but that is none of our business. François and Jacques are from the as far as I know two different factions… But now I want to talk about what is going on in Schotenburg, and not about my feelings about the Elfique.>”

Smith and king Alexander sat down at a fire with Timo, Arthur, Rolph and some Human guards, the same who were guarding the smithy, they were relieved from their guarding duty.
“<Please tell me what you think that is going on in Schotenburg, sire>” a very blunt Smith asked.
King Alexander was a bit startled by Smith's bluntness. “<I… erm… I don't want to talk about that.>”
Smith sighed. “<Sire, there is someone I love there. Timo here comes from Schotenburg, and he told me that there is something close to a civil war there. Arthur's friend is also there, and I want them to be safe. Last thing we know is that there was a message to you for reinforcements, and I want to know if those arrived, and what they are doing. There are a lot of husbands of the Inimal women here in the prison in Schotenburg, and I want them to get here, but there are also a lot of Inimals in that prison I do not want here. If the Inimals in the prison are all released I have a problem, if they are killed you have a problem, is that clear?>”
One of the Human guards nodded. “<Yes, there is a lot of trouble there. Rumor goes that they want to join the Neutral Zone. That friend of Arthur is a Cheetah, am I right? He is an incredible fighter, good thing he is on our side now.>”
Arthur nodded. “<Stab and run, stab and run… That's not what I call fighting, but it is very efficient.>”
King Alexander sighed. “<Yes, I got that message, and reinforcements were sent. When I get home the Ministry of Inimals will go there to help, although I don't know what they can do there.>”
Smith shook his head. “<Damn it sire, that was not the reply I wanted. You know the Ministry, don't you?>”
King Alexander nodded and grimaced. “<Damn adviser… Of course. Lucky for Schotenburg the minister is now in charge while I'm away… Smith, what would you do?>”
Smith smiled. “<Send the minister here first, let me talk to him. I've heard about him, and I think he is very weak, and highly under the influence of the Elfique.>”
King Alexander nodded. “<It's not him you should worry about, it's his wife… It won't be a loss if she 'accidentally' gets killed here.>”
One of the guards gasped. “<Sire… That would be a big problem, you just can't let her get killed here.>”
Smith grinned. “<Then we accidentally forget to give her the proper protection. She is really hated here, and you heard it, your king has no problem with her death. I will deal with the consequences.>”
The guard nodded. “<This is the safest place my king can be, I think the minister and his wife will also be safe here. I saw some people I have bullied in the past, but now I am envious, because they have far better weapons, and I think their skill surpass even the best soldiers in our army, because they are trained by born fighters. I think you'll just make it look like an accident.>”
Smith shook his head “<She is hated, a lot of people want her dead. Let her own guards try to protect her against angry Inimals and maybe even some Humans.>”
The guard grinned. “<Then those guards are dead as well… Let's change the subject, do you think we can practice together? Our Human army against your mixed army?>”
Smith shrugged. “<Don't ask me that question. Ask Arthur, he is in charge of my… well… we are not allowed to have an army here, and there are only… forty?… enforcers.>”
Arthur nodded. “<Forty-two. Me, Siegfried, Boris, eighteen Inimals and twenty-one Humans. I was an Elite, before I went Feral my unit consisting of twelve Elite soldiers has killed… I don't know, maybe close to two hundred Humans. Siegfried was a criminal, and he led us straight towards a Human camp to lose us, because we were chasing his gang.>”
The guard nodded. “<But now you are not all Elite soldiers, and Boris is not a fighter but a blind tracker, five-to-one would be a good ratio, but that still means we have to bring two hundred soldiers for a victory.>”
King Alexander nodded. “<Sounds like a good idea. But no, I need my soldiers somewhere else. There is no need to let them practice with Inimals when we have trouble in the east and south with other Humans.>”
Smith nodded, but said nothing. King Alexander was already heeding his advice, keep the army in a bad state to get rid of the soldiers. The loss of lives would be tremendous, but unemployed soldiers who could do nothing but fight is not something you want.

King Leopold and Katie approached the little group sitting around the fire.
“Smith, we need to talk.” he said while he sat down.
Smith nodded. “I reckon it is not private… Go ahead.”
Leopold smiled. Suddenly he did not look like a king, but just like a normal Lion. “It's about my brother. I'm sure Arthur knows him. He is close to retirement, and I want him to spend his last active days here. He is a general, and I think he can give some good advice here how to organize your militia.”
Arthur nodded. “Leon… A brilliant strategist… Of course he is welcome here… Smith, what do you think?”
Smith shrugged. “No problem. And if he wants to stay after his retirement that is also possible. Retired in your army, but I don't think he suddenly can stop doing the things he loves. Send him, we really can use someone with experience. The surroundings of the villages are becoming safer, but we also have to look beyond those areas. There are not enough enforcers for the entire Neutral Zone, if he can make a planning for when and where they are needed would be nice.”
Arthur nodded. “That would indeed be nice. We are running around like madmen with no goal, some strategy would be nice, then we can be much more efficient making it really safe here, and not only giving the feeling of safety.”
Leopold smiled and stood up again. “I promised Katie to put her in bed… She asked it, and it's hard to say 'no' to her. I have some nice stories to tell her before she goes to sleep. Thank you, Smith and Arthur. I think Leon will be here within a few weeks.”

Just when Leopold spoke those last words also Diego, Dora, Dory, Floris and Florette joined the group around the fire. “Smith, do you also have a sleeping place for us? Everything is occupied.” Diego asked.
Smith also stood up. “That might be a problem. I hope that Diana doesn't mind sleeping in my bed with Dory, together with their babies, and Floris and Florette can share the room with Violet, Mia has to move in with Timo and Tina to let Diego and Dora sleep in her bed, and I, Charlene and Katie will sleep on the floor in the living room.”
Arthur slightly grinned. “I told you, you would sleep in the living room if there would be more people in need for a sleeping place in your house.”
Leopold nodded. “Sorry Katie, no bedtime story for you tonight, it would have been for you alone to hear, maybe another time, I'm sure I'll visit again. Your father has his house full.”
Alexander nodded and also stood up to leave. “<And so would I. Despite the high number of Inimals I never have felt safer in my life as I do here… sorry guards… I will talk to you tomorrow Smith, I want to ask you something in private… Goodnight.>”

“What was that about? King Leopold comes back with Katie, suddenly he wants Leon to come here, and he even wants to tell Katie bedtime stories nobody else may hear.” Arthur asked while he and Smith were walking back to their homes.
Smith shrugged. “I don't know, and I honestly don't care. Have a good night in your bed, I'll have to sleep on my sleeping mat on the floor.”
Arthur nodded. “Yes, a very good night. Your old bed is indeed very nice. And yet barely big enough for me and Melany.”

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Chapter 25 - I'm not an Adviser

#29 Post by Neutral Smith » Mon May 25, 2015 5:02 pm

Chapter 25
I'm not an Adviser

Smith fell asleep with ease, it had been a very busy day. Asleep on the floor of his living room, with both Charlene and Katie. Halfway the night he woke up with the feeling that someone was staring at him. After he recognized where he was and remembering why he was in the living room between Katie and Charlene he saw Violet standing in the moonlight. “Violet” he whispered “why are you here?”
Violet sighed. “I want to be happy.”
In the darkness Smith nodded. “We'll talk about it tomorrow. Now please go back to your bed.”
Violet shook her head. “I can't stand the happiness of Floris and Florette, holding hands while they are asleep. I also want someone to hold. You.”
Smith sighed. “In my past I wouldn't have said 'no', but now I don't want it. I promised that Charlene would be the lucky one until I have Mary in my arms, and she has Chester.”
Charlene also woke up. “You never told me that. I... I don't mind if you have other women, the only promise I want you to make is that you have one of a species at any time. Violet is just like what Melany was and still is, a good friend. We will make a new arrangement about who is when allowed with you.”
Smith caressed Charlene and sighed. “See... that's the problem. You see me as a toy you can share, just like the female Inimals in my past did. But all right... a night with you, a night with Katie, a night with Violet, a night with Katie, a night where I won't kick Mia out of my bed, a night with Katie, and then a night with you again.”
Katie who also was woken up by Smith’s voice giggled. “That are a lot of nights with me. Why?”
Smith sighed. “A lot of nights with you to keep the other women out. You have the freedom to sleep somewhere else, but I will not allow anyone else to be with me. I do want my rest.”
“But... I can sleep with you now?” Violet finally said. She was clearly tired.
Smith nodded. “All right, get your blanket. Are you going to sleep next to Katie or next to Charlene?”
Violet said nothing, and crawled between Smith and Charlene.
Smith sighed. “I meant on the other side of those, and not next to me.”

“Smith... Violet... What are you doing? We have rules!”
It was Florette who woke them up.
Smith opened his eyes and noticed that Violet had wrapped her arms around him. “It appears that Violet does not follow Vulpine rules.”
Violet gave Smith a hug. “He is nice. I don't care about your rules, I live here now.”
Smith nodded. “My rules are simple: don't damage, don't make things unnecessary dirty, and don't waste... I do have some other rules, but those are none of the guests business. Now please let me get up and dressed, I have some guests to take care of. And I think I have to hurry, I also have the feeling this house could be stormed by a king.”
Florette nodded. “Yes... I noticed that our king is very fond of Katie. I think she impressed the whole world.”
Smith also nodded and stood up as soon as Violet released him. “Unfortunately she can't be the next queen. The predecessor of the current king was a Leopard, now we have a Lion... three Felines in a row will really upset the Wolves, they are already giving a bit of trouble in the west as you know, and I don't want that to become worse. But I am no king, so it is not my problem. My problem is the number of people in my house, I can't make breakfast for all of us at the same time.”
“Then I will help you. You helped me with my inn when you stayed with us, and now I'll help you.” Diego spoke while he entered the living room.
Smith smiled. “It's not the amount of work, it's the kitchen, it is designed for ten people, there is enough food for one breakfast for all of us. I still have all the cooking pots and other equipment, but now there are thirteen people in my house, not counting the babies. I will make two breakfasts...”

Someone knocked at the door. Smith opened it, and saw it was king Alexander surrounded by people with trays filled with food. “<You have shown us great hospitality, and our cooks decided to make you breakfast as a gesture of gratitude.>” king Alexander spoke.
Smith nodded and smiled. “<When I woke up I was joking that I was afraid that my house would be stormed by you, and now you actually did... But I don't mind, you do it as a friend... I'm afraid I don't have enough chairs for all of you, but come in, you and your men don't have to stand in the cold.>”
King Alexander politely shook his head “<No, we will go back to our camp. I want you to show me around in your village today. I heard that you already had introduced a lot of people to Leopold, and now I want to know the people who have fled and... ahem... deserted from my kingdom.>”
Smith nodded. “<Fine... I'll see you in an hour. I want to enjoy my breakfast, and taste if your cooks are as good as the people here.>”
Alexander grinned. “<I doubt it. Like you said in your speech, the combination of Human vegetables and Inimal meat here is unbeatable. A lot of my people have been in this village to buy food, and everyone tells me that the best food is produced here. It is expensive, but it's worth every copper.>”

When the king and his men had left Smith's house everybody stared at Smith.
“What was that about?” Mia finally managed to say.
Smith shrugged. “I honestly don't know. And to be more honest, I don't care. He and the Inimal king are not fighting each other, and that is enough for me. I think he wants to hire me as an adviser, and now he wants to please me. He can try, but I will never abandon my friends... Never abandon you and this village.”
Floris nodded. “An adviser for the king is an honorable position, you should really think about it.”
Smith sighed. “Just never... I just want to be a simple smith, and have Mary in my arms. And now I want to eat. With friends, and not politicians.”

After breakfast Smith went to the Human encampment. It was a rather large camp, with a lot of carts and a lot of people already talking to various villagers. Smith spotted Robin, but without his uncle. “Hello Robin!” Smith greeted the Fox.
Robin looked up from the list he was checking with a Human. “<Hello Smith! If you excuse me, I'm busy.>”
The Human also looked up from his list. “<Robin, this is the most important person here, and you tell him you are busy?>”
Robin smiled. “<I know him as Smith, the person who helped me, but somehow you see him as someone important.>”
Smith also smiled. “I am just a smith, I also see myself not as an important person, but somehow the people respect me. I wanted to talk to you and your uncle, do you have time for that? And please, talk Inimal to me.”
The Human Robin was talking to nodded “<I will do business with you later. Having friends is the most important there is.>”
Robin smiled. “You wanted to talk to my uncle? Too bad he left. He was really upset by the fact that the king reprimanded him for hitting me... I never thought that a king would defend me... Very funny actually, you and Katie talking to the king, me interrupting, my uncle slapping me on the head for being that rude, and instead of getting mad at me for interrupting him the king gets mad at my uncle.”
Smith nodded. “And you? How are you doing? Not making stupid mistakes like selling more than you actually have? I reckon you don't have much experience with trade.”
Robin grinned. “My uncle would have, but some Orks have taught me the art of trading, supply and demand. I'm selling the geese at a bit higher price, but not too high. I intended to sell them to our king, that buyer from your king offered me more, and the Inimal king has other good suppliers of geese, something the Human king doesn't have.”
Smith nodded again. “And you are almost fluent in Human. You really have learned a lot since you left my house.”
Robin shrugged. “Yes... I had to. Life with you was easy, but now I have to live on my own. I have inherited half of what my parents had, and that was enough to start my own business, even though I'm not yet an adult. It's hard work, but everybody has to work hard.”
Smith also shrugged. “I don't have to, but I want to. I wanted to be a simple smith, but here I am, and going to give the Human king a tour around my village.”
Robin nodded. “Yes... And now I have to find that buyer again to close the deal. I don't think I will see you again, because as soon as I have my money I will return back home. Goodbye, friend.”
King Alexander smiled when he approached Smith. “<You just talk to everybody. Who was that?>”
Smith nodded as a greeting. “<That was Robin Fox, I have helped him in the past... Shall I show you around, and tell you about my past?>

King Alexander and Smith went to the smithy. Smith started to tell.
“<All right... Here we are at my smithy. Started over ten, almost eleven years ago. My story starts a lot earlier, I was born in a family of lumberjacks, but at the age of six I was sent to the smithy in my old village to learn to become a smith. I started with simple things like sharpening, but soon moved on to making simple tools and other items, the simple tools soon became the famous chisels, and then I moved on to the weapons. We, my old master and I, didn't care and I still don't care to which side we sell, we have made arrowheads for the Inimal Red Brigade and swords for your Royal Guard...>” Smith sighed. “<I lived in an almost Inimal village. But nonetheless I fell in love with a Human woman in Schotenburg, and she moved in with me. I got older, and made my masterpiece, your sword sire, and we, my master and I, left to hand it in... I was as rude as I am today, you just kept staring at my masterpiece, the sword which blade I have made but brought all the other components together because I could, and I really had to pee, and I was just waiting for you to say the words 'You are now a master smith', but you just kept staring at the sword.>” Smith grinned “<I interrupted you, and all you said was just 'Yeah, yeah, you are. Dismissed.', you never officially declared me a master smith. But nonetheless the papers were filed.>” Smith sighed again. “<When we approached my old village there were Wolves, sent by Leopold's brother. Advisers told him I was a thread, and they were correct, we were producing very good swords for the Humans... I had the feeling there was something wrong, and those Wolves attacked. My master fell, and I got his sword. My wife was pregnant with my child, and I had a really bad feeling. I wanted to see my wife, and I fought those Wolves, and I won.>” Smith sighed again. He was close to crying, but he wanted the kings to know his story. “<I killed eleven Wolves. I don't know why, but I have counted the heads. When I got closer to my village I found my wife and unborn child, dead. I don't know what happened next, but I went wandering. Going north, and ended up in Territoire Elfique. Let's go outside, and walk around the village to show the people who helped me and I helped.>”

Smith and the king left the smithy, and went to François' workshop. Smith walked towards François, and put a hand on his shoulder “<The first person I met after I went wandering. François, un Elfique de la Forêt. He had forgotten how fast fallen trees rot, and he had fallen in waist-deep mud. I pulled him out, I had helped him, and he swore to protect my bloodline. Now we will walk on to the next person.>”
They went to Jacques' workshop. “<I was desperate, I had lost everything I had. The Elfique recognized me as a strong person, and asked me to help them make a gift for the Bergvolk, a pollaxe. Jacques helped me with it, he was their blacksmith back then. Now we move on to the Bergvolk.>”
The two Humans went to Uwe's inn. Olaf, the Tiger and Wolf builder from Schotenburg and the two Cat carpenters were also sitting at a table there.
“<François kept an eye on me all the time, even though I did not see him all the time. I also have spent months with the Bergvolk, almost a year, these are Uwe, the Ork innkeeper, and Olaf, the Troll builder, friends from those days. I left with Olaf and François to start my smithy here, and a few months later Uwe built his inn. A lot of people came, some people left, Frank's smithy burned down and he came working for me, and the village started to grow. A lot went on behind my back, I was only busy with my smithy. Now let's go to my house, I think that most of my friends are there.>”

The two went to Smith's house again. Everybody except Violet were there. Even Robin was at Smith's house to say goodbye to Siegfried, Charlene and Melany.
“<Good to see that everybody is here... All right, now the real story begins. Orders were declining, you wanted cheaper swords and we only sell good swords, and I wanted to learn something new, Inimal symbolism. I got permission go go to the Inimal village across the border. The last message, the message with the permission, was brought by Charlene Cheetah. She was in a hurry to get to her home in that Inimal village, and tripped over a root, resulting in a sprained ankle. I carried her, brought her to the doctor, and went to Diego Dog's inn. There I met Katie Tiger. I Went working as a smith, met the rest of the village, had some interesting talks with the Black Jaguar doctor and Floris Fox the enforcer and that resulted in becoming friends with the Wolves who are now working at the quarry, where Diego Dog and Dora Dog now have their inn with a shop. When the day came I would go home Katie Tiger asked me if she could come along. I agreed, under the condition that Charlene Cheetah also would come along to help me with Katie. Charlene already was taking care of Katie because Katie's parents were killed by Human poachers, those poachers were caught at Uwe's inn and extradited, and Charlene agreed. We went home, and we met Robin Fox, he was a runaway Fox who didn't know what to do, he tried to rob me, but his sword was stuck and he cut his hand and I helped him. The following day we met a gang of Black Wolves, the Black Fangs, we killed them, and a bit further down the river we met Siegfried Black Wolf. I acknowledged he could be useful, and I was not mistaken. Then I met Melany White Tiger, the tailor. She was a Feral but I brought her back to normal. Now we move on to the soldiers. Siegfried, Arthur, would you be so kind to follow us?>”

Siegfried and Arthur nodded, and followed Smith and the Human king to the houses of the soldiers.
“<Here we have the houses of the soldiers. I have met eight of the Inimals before in the Inimal village, I have sharpened their weapons there. Later I learned that they were captured by Humans, and held at the prison in Schotenburg. I went there, and got them out. I also liberated the Tiger and Wolf who were talking with Olaf at the inn. The Humans are deserters from your army as you might know, but we don't care, as long as you do no harm you are welcome here, no matter who, what or how you are.>”
King Alexander nodded. “<And what about that blind Hound?>”
Smith smiled. “<That's Boris. There was a poacher active at the Inimal side of the border, and the soldiers did not dare to go there. I killed that poacher, and I saved Boris, he in turn heard Minou, who was almost drowning in a river, and I saved her as well with some effort, Melany had to rescue me. Some time later I met Tim, who is not here but lives north of here. His mother was a Feral, and he is rather limited in his understanding, I am going to give him a house closer by, and Mia is going to take care of him. Thanks to Tim Arthur is here now, Tim wanted to attack him, and I stopped Tim... Now if you excuse us, king Alexander wanted to talk to me in private.>”
The soldiers nodded. “<Of course. He is your king after all>” a Grey Wolf spoke on their behalf.

King Alexander nodded when they walked away towards the town hall. “<I have the feeling you have omitted a lot of details... You have been to Schotenburg again, haven't you? To get a Wolf.>”
Smith also nodded. “<Yes, Rolph Wolf. The Wolf who is taking care of the Humans here, the mayor. When I saved the Inimal soldiers from the prison I noticed him, and I made sure he got a book, The Tale of the Lone Wolf, to calm him down. It worked, and the day I went to get him from the prison I also got Dory out. I talked to some people there, and that resulted in all those Inimal women here, they were kept somewhere as breeding machines, and Humans in Schotenburg have liberated them and made sure they got here. And now I want you to tell me what is going on in Schotenburg, sire.>”
King Alexander sighed. “<There is a lot of trouble there. They... they want to join the Neutral Zone.>”
Smith nodded. “<That soldier told us the same yesterday, and I believe the common people more than people who live at a desk... You should go talk to Rolph then, he is responsible for the Humans here, and Schotenburg is now a Human city. Do you have any idea why they want to be a part of the Neutral Zone?>”
King Alexander nodded. “<You are blind if you don’t see it yourself. Look around, this is the best place you can live.>”
Smith sighed. “<If you did your job correctly the Human kingdom would also be a nice place to live. Remember what I told you, listen very carefully to what people tell you. A lot of the farmers and artists here are here because we just tolerate everybody. You can do whatever you want to do, live the way you want to live as long as you don’t do any damage to or offend others. Yes, Schotenburg is a dying city, the military keep it alive, and if those soldiers are gone I don’t know what would become of that city. It is notorious for the fur-trade, but I think that most people are not happy with that. Seeing the Neutral Zone and how we treat each other, and becoming famous for that cooperation could make others envious. I have nothing to say about the Humans here, if you want to know what you should do you must talk to Rolph, not me, he is here for the Humans, not me. I already have relocated a village.>”
King Alexander nodded. “<I will. And about the situation in Schotenburg I… I will get my people that work there but are no soldiers out of there, and already have sent the military to control the situation. I'm sorry to say it, but somehow I think you have far more information about the situation there than I get.>”
Smith nodded. “<Of course sire, you are one of those deskhuggers I hate, you only know what people want you to know... But I will go there in a few weeks or maybe months to get the husbands of the women here out. Yes, I intend to save as many Inimals as I can, but there are a lot of pure criminals there, those are better off dead, and I want to tell the verdict.>”
King Alexander nodded. “<I will give you the permission to do that... Heh, that fool of and adviser would be mad if I tell him.>”
Smith shook his head “<Don't... don't tell him. Just let me do my work in silence. Only inform the people who need to know. It's already bad enough that half the city of Schotenburg will know when I march through the streets with those Inimals, but I do not want to attract too much attention. I just want to help those Inimals. And the women who are already here, they also deserve a better life, a life in safety.>”
King Alexander nodded. “<Yes... And I hate to say it, but I will leave tomorrow. Make a list of the people you want to get out of that prison, and I'll be your messenger.>”
Smith also nodded. “<Right away s-sire... w-why are you like this?>” Smith started to stutter a little. Was King Alexander really almost treating him like a friend?
King Alexander smiled. “<You deserve better, I know you will never abandon your friends, but I want to be welcome in your house as a friend. Is that possible?>”
Smith also smiled. “<You have a kingdom to rule sire. But you are always welcome. You are welcome to come over here and tell me your problems.>”
King Alexander nodded. “<I appreciate that... This might be an odd question, but can I use your bath?>”
Smith started to laugh. “<Of course sire, that's no problem. I will light the forge right away, it has never been cold for more than one night. Yesterday the Tigers in my house were heating water on the kitchen stove for warm water in the bath, I think they hate me now for not working at the forge, using the forge means warm water for the bath, and Tigers love water.>”
King Alexander grimaced. “<Rumor goes that the minister's wife bathes in Tiger blood. She is awful... I do not want to talk much about it, but my own men are not here, and I ask your Inimal soldiers, to kill her.>”
Siegfried who was quietly walking behind Smith and King Alexander despite Smith's request for privacy stepped forward and shook his head. “<No sire... Human sire... we will not kill her actively.>”
Smith sighed. “<If you want me to kill her I will... But there is a price, I want a better treatment for every Inimal living in the Human kingdom.>”
King Alexander nodded. “<That's... reasonable. You know, I always fantasized about hiring a killer, but actually it's very easy.>”
Siegfried shook his head again. “<Human sire, Smith is not an assassin. A true killer is much harder to find, and they only talk to you like this when you are their target. They lure you to a secluded place, and do their job.>”
King Alexander nodded. “<Wolf, do you happen to know good killers?>”
Siegfried grinned. “<I do, but they are dead now. Criminals don't last very long here... Let's say we won't give that minister's wife the proper protection here. Boris heard you talk about that yesterday.>”
Smith also grinned. “<We have no secrets here with him around sire. Siegfried here is the head of security, information is his job, and he has a set of very good ears in the form of Boris, and a good fighter in the form of Arthur, and soon they will get a Lion general, for some strategy. I'm sorry, but Humans are just inferior compared to them. We Humans are only good with metal and vegetables.>”
Siegfried nodded, and gave Smith another kiss. “<A very beautiful baby we make here. Pieces of metal and good meat thanks to the food those Humans produce for the animals. And safety, you can do whatever you want.>”
King Alexander smiled. “<Forging the species together, and maybe even the kingdoms, like a true smith. Now go light your forge Smith, I want to talk to some other people besides Rolph here, see if I can hire them to work in my kingdom and at my court.>”
Smith nodded and grinned. “<Good luck with that sire. Like you said, this is the best place anybody could live. Go ask Rolph for that list of husbands in the prison of Schotenburg, and then go to talk to some Humans who have an Inimal woman or even women from Schotenburg in their house, I really think they would appreciate a visiting king, a king who cares about them.>”
Alexander nodded. “<I will. Thanks for the advise. I've been locked up in my castle for too long. When I thought I was finished that adviser came in with more work, he really was keeping me in. Time for a walk.>”

Smith ignited the fire on the forge. A fire that would burn much hotter than it has ever done before. He put some metal plates around the forge to direct the heat towards the water tank in the chimney. It all felt unnatural, burning an immense amount of coal, not for forging but because a king wants to use his bath, instead of the bath at Uwe's inn, or even one of the public baths.
After some hours of sharpening the weapons that were stored in his smithy Smith went to the bathing area to fill the bath.
Suddenly the door opened and Floris entered. “Smith, do you know where Violet is?”
Smith shook his head. “No, I haven't seen her since this morning. But neither I have seen king Leopold. Everybody is busy, huge feast, and a lot of trade.”
Floris nodded. “If you see her, tell her that we are sorry. She lives here, and doesn't have to follow our rules.”
“<And neither do I!>” king Alexander shouted when he entered the bathing area and started to undress himself. He did not have any bathing pants with him.
Smith turned away and covered his eyes in disgust. “<Sire please, put on some pants.>”
Alexander slapped Smith on the shoulder. “<Why should I? As far as I know I am not breaking any rules here. The Inimals are technically naked all the time.>”
Smith sighed. “<Sire, the Inimals have their fur. Yours is bigger than mine, but even I don't have enough hair to cover my... well... let just say it bluntly, my penis. I prefer to stay covered at almost all times. The sight of you is almost as bad as an excited Diego.>”
Alexander grinned. “<You do know the joys of running around naked, don't you?>”
Smith sighed and shook his head. “<No sire. I do know how it feels to run around naked, but I do not enjoy it. It's... it's a thing from my youth. I prefer to stay clothed at almost all the time.>”
Alexander nodded. “<I understand. But you are not going to tell me what to do and what not to do, are you? I am a king, remember? I can do what I want.>”
Smith grinned. “<Honestly I don't care. You are the one who wanted to take a bath, you can do whatever you want, as long as you keep the bathing area tidy. I'm not a lackey or servant or whatever you have at your palace, here you... even you, sire... have to do everything yourself, especially the cleaning when you are done... Floris, let's give that normal man named Alexander his privacy, let's get out of here.>”

Smith sat down on the couch, shaking his head in disbelief. “How can the king be like this?”
Floris shrugged. “Technically he is correct, he is not breaking any rules here. You can do whatever you want, as long as you don't do any harm. Nobody gets harmed when you run around naked. And I think he just wants to be a normal man, just like you are, although he has a strange view on what is normal here.”
Smith grinned. “Well... it is forbidden to show your genitals outside, and since Humans don't have enough hair to cover everything we are forced to wear clothes. These are not my rules by the way, there was a struggle between two groups of Humans, one group wanted more freedom, they did not live in the oppressive Human kingdom they said, others did not want to be offended... I tossed a coin to decide.”
Floris started to laugh. “I thought you were a wise man... but... you are. You did not want to offend either of them with your decision, and you are very stupid when you get angry at a tossed coin.”
Smith grinned. “I had to toss twice because at the first attempt the coin got stuck between two floor boards. Upright. It was me who got angry at that coin, I pounded so hard on it that now it's permanently embedded between two floor boards, right over there.” Smith spoke those last words while pointing towards a rim of a coin that was barely visible between two floor boards. “And then I had to get a second coin, and the religious people had head.”

Smith and Floris sat some time in silence, thinking about what was going on. There were no guards at the door, and they decided they would stay in the room as long as the Human king was using the baths. Smith guessed that only Siegfried and the people he trusts know where the Human king is.
Some time later the Alexander opened the door to the living room. “<Smith... erm... it's lonely in the bath. Can you please join me?>”
Smith shook his head. “<Sire, I prefer women. I... erm... I think I know somebody who might be interested as a male, but not me.>”
Alexander started to laugh. “<Smith, that being lonely in the bath was a slip of the tongue, with anybody else it would ave been a huge scandal, you just act like it's normal. I like that attitude. I wanted to talk to you some more.>”
Smith nodded. “<Very well sire. I have no idea what we should talk about, but all right, let's go to the bath again. After I have put my bathing pants on of course, you can stay as you are.>”
Floris also nodded. “<I'll go outside again. See you at dinner Smith.>”
Smith smiled. “Warn some others that the Human king is here. I think that only Siegfried knows that Alexander is here, but he is a Wolf of secrets, I doubt that he has told anyone.”
Floris smiled. “You also have a very nice bench in front of your house. There are no guards, but I think that nobody dares to disturb two Foxes in love, Florette has been sitting there all the time, and I haven't heard her talk, so I guess she has been there all alone.”
Smith smiled. “All right... Nobody except those who live and stay here tonight are allowed to enter. And please don't upset Violet when you see her. She... is lonely, and she didn't like the sight of you holding hands in her room last night.”
Floris nodded, and went outside.

“<So, how's your family?>” Smith asked Alexander when he entered the bath.
Alexander briefly smiled. “<You really live outside my kingdom, don't you? My wife has been dead for over seven years now. Avoiding scand... I mean I don't want to talk about it.>”
Smith nodded. “<I guess you had sex with others after your wife died. Scandals. After I found my dead wife and child I only focused on my work for over ten years.>”
Alexander nodded. “<Yes... I had some affairs while she was alive, and some after she died, but nothing serious, only whores. I guess you also have more than one partner?>”
Smith nodded. “<I had a terrible youth, I was forced with almost all the Feline women in my old village. I tried to make the best of it, and I was very happy to meet my now dead wife, because that meant I could say 'no' with a good reason. And now there is only Charlene, but that is until I have the Human woman of my dreams in my arms, and she a nice Cheetah mate. But I also had Melany, and they had to take turns.>”
Alexander also just nodded. “<And what if I want to have sex with an Inimal?>”
Smith shrugged. “<Just ask. I only have experience with Felines, all I can say is avoid Cats, those caused those scars on my back, and the Lioness was really a pervert. I have no idea if there are Inimal whores here, most of the Inimals try to avoid Humans if they have no business with them. I guess starting a relation with an Inimal is almost the same as starting a relation with a Human. But my recent relations never started in a normal way, I helped Charlene and Melany, but I didn't have sex with others... Yet. Somehow I think Violet will also end up in my bed, but that's her choice, not mine. And if one of us doesn't like it the first time will also be our last time... Let's change the subject, I heard you have a daughter?>”
Alexander nodded. “<Yes, I have one daughter. A single twenty-four year old woman... Hmm... Thinking of my daughter, I asked Frank to come to work at my court as smith, the smith at my court is close to retirement, and Frank said 'yes' to my offer.>”
Smith grinned. “<And seeing what Frank tried to do yesterday now makes you doubt that decision to get him closer to your court and daughter... I'll try to keep Frank here as long as I can, although he is not my slave, he is free to do whatever he wants. I'm sure your daughter will find a good husband before your smith retires and you actually need Frank at your court.>”
Alexander nodded again. “<Lucky for me she does not live at the court, she lives... somewhere else.>”
Smith smiled. “<And if your kingdom becomes too unsafe for her she can come here for a while. I don't know what she does for a living, and I do not need to know, but if she wants to stay anonymous until it is time for her to take the royal stage...>”
Suddenly he bathroom door opened, and Violet entered and went straight to the shower.

“Violet, why did you take a shower? I am talking here with the Human king.” Smith asked when the Vixen entered the bath.
Violet stared at the water. “I have been with Leopold... we... we had sex.”
Smith shrugged. “All right... fine... it's your life and body.”
Violet smiled “Thank you. I talked to Floris and Florette before I entered the house, and they told me the same. I live here, I can do whatever I want.”
Smith nodded. “You can, but it's not something I approve. If you want to be a whore you can, but not in my house. Understood?”
Violet nodded, and was close to crying.
“<Smith, why are you like this to her?>” Alexander asked after an uncomfortable silence.
Smith shrugged. “<I don't help people to waste their lives. I'm sure she was honored when Leopold asked for her body, but it's no way of living.>”
Violet smiled briefly. “<It was my way of life. I was a whore in Schotenburg. Even the warden of the prison was one of my clients. I was his 'soft woman' he told me. It was the wife of some client who got me captured, she was jealous because I was much better in bed than she was.>”
Smith nodded, and left the bath. “<Fine. Whatever... Alexander, here is your chance for having sex with an Inimal. Remember what I told you, same goes for you. It must be her choice, if she doesn't want it please don't force it, if you do rape her I won't tell the truth, then it suddenly will become an orgy with seven Human males.>”
Alexander gave Smith and inquiring look. “<Why would you tell a lie?>”
Smith grinned while he got a towel. “<What the Elfique advisers do is helpful first, but gives trouble later. What I as a Human adviser do is damaging first, but in the end it will be better. Non-consensual sex with an enemy in what will become hostile territory versus consensual sex with the same species but also the same gender as you are... It's your choice sire, if you want me to tell the truth I'll tell the truth. If I really hated you it would have been an orgy with seven male Dogs.>”
Alexander nodded and slightly grinned. “<I wonder if I can get it up after this thread. I... I trust you.>”
Smith walked to the door, turned around and smiled. “<When you are done I do not want to hear the details if it was consensual. One more secret is no problem for me, but it doesn't have to be a secret if I don't know it.... And clean up after you are done, drain the bath and no stains, and Violet, knock first before you enter, we were talking about important matters, something that was not supposed to be heard by strange ears.>”

Violet was the first to leave the bathing area. She was grinning at first, but the grin dropped from her face when she saw Smith staring at her. A stare of disapproval.
Violet sat down next to Smith and started to cry.
Smith put a hand on her shoulder. “It's all right. It is your life, I am not the one who should be angry. But no other males in my house.”
Violet nodded. “I know... but I want to end this life, and start a new life...”
Smith nodded. “Of course... I have been thinking, you can't live with the Vulpine in the north because they won't accept you for who you are, you can't move back to Schotenburg because... well... it's not safe there. You are a little bit too old for Robin, I haven't talked to Robin's uncle, but I think you are perfect for that Fox archer I have here.”
Violet smiled between her tears. “Felix... You are thinking of Felix. Can you ask him for me?”
Smith shook his head. “No, I won't ask him, we go together. You and I. I am a bit disappointed that there are still not more Foxes here, but I think that Felix is good enough for you. I guess you already have seen him?”
Violet embraced Smith. “Yes... You think he will accept me for who I am?”
Smith nodded. “He doesn't have a partner, he works with Humans and Wolves, I think he is fairly open-minded, knowing the tolerance to dirty talk you must have when you work with Humans. Maybe you can even continue your work and have your own income.”
Violet got a look of disgust on her face. “Smith... I don't want to do that work any more. I've had two kings on a single day, and woke up next to a third. Doing it again makes me feel... dirty. I've had everything, even Dogs. I've been beaten up several times... I don't want to do that any more. Let others receive the beatings.”
Smith nodded. “If someone gets beaten here you must inform the soldiers, the law-enforcers here. Now let's wait for the Human king to come out of the bathing area, and get him out of my house, and then we'll go to Felix, and hears if he wants you to live with him.”
Violet smiled. “You know, my friends were good-looking because of me. They were simply artists, very good artists, could make beautiful paintings, but they were very vain. And that got them killed. They even were decorating their cage because they thought I would get them out again.”
Smith nodded. “Artists... very strange beings. But nice people. At least those who live here in the Neutral Zone are. I don't know, maybe Felix is also very artistic. I wonder what his house will look like, he has bought some carving tools the day after you came here.”
Violet started to look a bit uncertain. “And what if Felix doesn't like me?”
Smith smiled. “Then you can stay here. But we won't do what I told you this morning, you are just here for your bed and food, not for me. Here until you can move to the barracks, like all the other women who have nowhere to go.”
Violet nodded, but said nothing again.

Some time later king Alexander exited the bathing area, looking tired but smiling. “<I thought that the Human women in my past were ferocious, but she... wow. You must be a very lucky man to have her in your house.>”
Smith shook his head. “<No sire, we won't do what you have done. She wants to end this life, and start a new. She has had two kings on a single day, that was the apex of her low career, and now she wants to be a sewing lady or something like that. I think she will be working with Melany.>”
King Alexander nodded. “<I think she was the Red Whore of Schotenburg the troops were talking about. It's... actually quite degrading. I'm glad there are people like you Smith, really taking care of others, and not only thinking of themselves... I'm sorry Violet, I didn't know.>”
Violet nodded again, but still said nothing.
Smith also nodded. “<When we would have met a year ago you would have thought completely different of me. I have changed. Now please go, I have other things to do.>”
King Alexander nodded. “<Of course... Thanks for your hospitality, the bath is clean again, we will leave tomorrow at dawn. I... I really hope to see you again soon.>”
Smith smiled. “<While the water for the bath was warming up I have sharpened the weapons of your guards, and those of king Leopold's. I don't know who maintains those weapons, but even Frank could do it better. Please only use them to cut those who are a thread, nobody else. I will ask Leopold the same. I have done it for free this time, but next time you have to pay for it.>”
King Alexander grinned. “<Already advertising. You are the smith of the Neutral Zone who is really good at sharpening I heard. I had forbidden my troops to use your services because you are expensive. It is... was... cheaper to have twelve soldiers with weapons of normal sharpness than ten armed with razors but... thank you.>”
Smith nodded. “<I know. Now, please, go. Let your soldiers get their weapons, I will open the smithy. I don't think they are going to do harm here tonight with their weapons. And if they do... well... they won't see the sunrise again.>”

Just when king Alexander left Arthur entered Smith's house. “Smith... King Leopold is about to leave. His soldiers want their weapons back”
Smith nodded. “Of course. I have sharpened them, make sure every soldier gets his own weapon back. I will take Violet to Felix, she is going to stay with him.”
Arthur nodded. “Of course... There have been some changes, the soldiers were not here when those women came here, now almost every soldier who didn't have somebody now has someone, except Felix, he has nobody, and there is a Wolf with no-one. It's odd, in the Inimal army we were not allowed to have a partner, but having a woman here gives me the feeling I actually fight for something, instead of fighting for money.” Arthur slightly grinned. “Thea the Tigress with the half-breed Tinker is now living with Theo, the Tiger builder. Siegfried was getting tired of her talking that her son could be the 'carpenter of kings' or something like that. Now he has a Cat and a Dog.”
Smith nodded. “Of course. Everybody must go and live with the people they like. I guess you know what happened with Violet and the king?”
Arthur also nodded. “Of course... Your words were correct, 'Lions have a reputation', you must be glad your king is not like that.”
Smith grinned. “Even my king does things I wouldn't dream of, like using a bath with others without pants... It was horrible. But he is a king living in an oppressive setting, I think he really was enjoying himself.”
Arthur nodded, and went to the smithy using the door in Smith's house to open the front door of the smithy.

Violet hugged Smith while they walked towards the houses of the soldiers. “Thank you for not telling everybody.”
Smith grinned. “I do tell everybody what happened, but I do not tell everything as you might notice. You must be honest with Felix, tell him about your past. I will invite him for dinner tonight, unfortunately we can't eat together at the same time, but the first dinner will be for you, Felix, Floris, Florette, Katie and I, and when the rest is eating we will get your belongings to Felix's house and see what else is needed.”

Smith knocked on Felix's door, and a few moments later Felix opened. He started to smile when he saw Violet. “Violet... What brings you here?”
Smith smiled. “I brought her. She told me she wanted to live with you, and Arthur told me you don't have someone to care for. She is the last I am giving a permanent place, Timo and Tina will get their own house with a workshop, they are basket weavers and half of the profit they make will be mine, because I will pay for their house and workshop, Diana will leave tomorrow to go and live at the quarry and her husband who is still in the prison of Schotenburg but will soon follow, they will be helping Diego, Dora and Dory, Mia is going to take care of Tim, that makes Violet the last one who does not really belong in my house. We intend to give the women barracks to stay in, but I thought of you, and maybe you would enjoy some Vulpine company.”
Felix smiled. “Violet the Red Whore... Why would she want to live with me? You know that we Vulpine have a boring reputation.”
Violet also smiled. “I never want to be a whore again. I want to be happy. Smith is a wonderful man, he brings people together, and now it's my turn, with you.”
Smith nodded. “Now you two talk, be honest, don't lie, and we'll have dinner together tonight, at my house.”
“No you won't. Schmied, you and all your friends, and those who are helped by your friends, will be eating at my inn. The festival was marvelous, sales went insane, it won't be the best meal you have ever had, but it will be from our heart.” Uwe called out.
Smith smiled. “[Are you sure you have enough chairs? Where are your other guests?]”
Uwe grinned. “You know it's not polite to speak in a language others don't understand. And the other guests?... Schmied, my inn has for over two hundred chairs, it was completely occupied, but tonight there will be... I don't know... maybe twenty eaters. Everyone else has left.”
Smith nodded. “All right then. I'll tell the people in my house, and knowing you I think you already have invited the rest?”
Uwe grinned. “Of course. All the soldiers and their families, and the women from Schotenburg and those who take care of those women. Everybody from your smithy, the town hall, and of course a lot of farmers and artists, it is them who really make the Neutral Zone, we only started it.”
Smith nodded. “As long as I don't have to shake hands with everybody, and have time to eat. I skipped lunch because I was too busy with sharpening.”
“And you have done a marvelous job. Now all the Inimal soldiers who accompanied the king have a bald patch on their arm, no exception.” Siegfried interrupted.
Felix grinned. “So... no exception. Nobody left out. Good to hear.”
Smith also grinned and pushed Felix through the open door back into his house. “Now go show Violet what you are talking about. My job is done here. See you tonight.”
Siegfried nodded. “He deserves it... Good call Smith, Violet for Felix. I don't think he would have dared to ask it himself. It's a miracle he is still here, but he is very loyal, and now his loyalty payed off.”
Smith nodded. “Yes, working with Humans must really be horrible, especially for an introvert Fox like Felix.”
Siegfried shrugged. “You are supposed to hate Wolves, but you don't. Only Walther is left now, but I don't think you will find a partner for him, and he has too much pride to let a Human help him find one.”
Smith nodded. “Walther... He is the one who has taken two Cats in, am I right?”
Siegfried nodded. “Yes, that's Walther Grey. Doesn't say much, but he really cares.”
Smith also nodded and slightly grinned. “When we came home and slept for the first night in the forest he was not the first one to kiss me, but he was the first one who crept next to me, 'to keep me warm' he said. I think he knew what was going to happen when the other Wolves saw it, because a few moments later the other three Wolves were all over me, and he was out of arms reach.”
Siegfried grinned, and gave Smith another kiss. “That's the Walther I know. Caring, but you don't want to stand in his way if he tries to protect someone. You know we now we have one Cat soldier less? That Cat wanted to eat a little bird, and Walther has forbidden that.”
Smith nodded. “That is really caring. I like that. But little birds are useful, they eat mosquitoes. Good reason not to eat them if there is enough other food.”

Smith entered his house with a smile on his face. “All right everybody, tonight we won't eat here, but at Uwe's inn... I think he has made a little mistake, he said he has over two hundred chairs, but if I make a quick calculation I come to three hundred people who have an invitation. I'm going to put on my decent clothes, and then we'll take some tables and chairs to his inn, and see what else is needed, I think he also could use some of our spices in his kitchen, it won't be a meal like we had last night, but this one is for everyone.”
Charlene nodded and grinned. “Fortunately for you the kings didn't care what clothes you wore, they saw you as you really are. I've put your clothes back in the wardrobe, I thought you wouldn't need them again until one of the kings comes again. I am not your maid, you can get them yourself. And about those chairs and tables, don't you notice something missing?”
Smith looked around and started to laugh. “You know... Even if there is a nail missing from my smithy I will notice it. We are back at the normal amount of tables and chairs. I am just ignorant towards wooden items. I guess that our guests are staying at Uwe's inn?”
Timo nodded. “Yes, some of Uwe's men came over to get them, and the furniture. Only one chair to go.”
Smith looked at the chair which stood next to the door. A heavy chair with arm rests. “All right, I'll bring it.”
Smith walked towards the chair to grab it, but before he reached it he was grabbed by Charlene. “First you have to put on your decent clothes, after that you can work.”
Smith grinned. “You know, Humans put on their decent clothes after work. Work, wash, put on decent clothes. But moving a single chair doesn't make me sweat... All right, I'll change clothes first.”

When Smith came downstairs again and opened the front door to bring the chair to Uwe's inn he saw some Orks. Grinning. “All right Schmied, climb on that chair, and we will walk you around.”
Smith shook his head. “[I am too old for this. Find someone else, I think Katie would love to sit on that chair while you carry it.]”
Smith could protest all he wanted but in the end he was seated, and with Katie on his lap he was lifted onto the strong shoulders of the Orks. He smiled nonetheless. “[I am not a king, just straight to the inn.]”
The Orks did not comply with Smith's request. Instead they walked across the bridge of the Inimal side of the Neutral Zone. Soon the four Orks with Smith and Katie on the chair on their shoulders were followed by others, all cheering. By the time they reached the inn it was a huge procession.

“<Long live the king!>” someone called.
“And the queen!” someone else added.

The three 'Hurrays!' that followed were deafening. Katie covered her ears when they were lowered.
Smith shook his head and sighed. “I am not your king. Ik ben niet jullie koning. Ich bin nicht dein König. Je ne suis pas votre roy.”
François nodded. “{You are. You are the king of us all. You are the king of kings. Your wit and wisdom rivals that of the Elfique, and you are not even thirty-two. Jean has taught you well.}”
Smith shook his head. “{Don't talk about that time here. There might be someone who understands us.}”
François smiled. “{You are afraid that Mary's father or one of his men hears us talk like this?}”
Smith sighed, and went inside.

“Schmied! Over here!” Uwe called Smith.
Smith walked towards the smiling Ork. “Why here?”
Uwe's smile turned into a grin while he pushed Smith into the private quarters. “You are not allowed to do any work here my king... Ladies, keep him occupied.”
Smith looked around, and was almost instantly led to a couch by some women, where they forced him to sit down, and immediately they pushed two Inimal babies in his arms, a Dog and a Cat. The mothers of the children sat down next to him.
Smith smiled. “Babysitting is also work. But I don't mind. They both are beautiful.”
Smith looked at the puppy. “I can see you have a very strong father. I can't remember all the faces I have seen in the prison, is he still alive you think?”
The Dog shook her head. “He is dead. He started a fight, but it was bare hands versus a spear. But he did manage to injure a Human.”
Smith nodded. “I'm sorry to hear that.” Smith looked at the kitten. “And you, you look like your mother.”
The Cat smiled. “The father of my child is still alive, he was brought back to the prison. He has had a lot of children, I don't think he even remembers me.”
Smith nodded again. “And I'm also sorry to hear that.”
The Cat smiled. “That's all right... My daughter will live, and that is the most important. You really scared me when you climbed on the cart I was on, but I think I like you.”
Smith smiled. “And what about the rest of the Humans here in the Neutral Zone?”
Before the Cat could answer the door opened, and more female Inimals with their babies, and Katie, who was almost pushed in, entered. Then an audible 'click' of a lock could be heard.
Katie tried to open the door, but it was indeed locked. “Hey! Let me out! I want to help!” she shouted.
Smith hushed her. “Katie! Quiet! There are babies here who try to sleep.”
Katie looked at Smith and the two Inimal children he was holding. “Can I also hold one?”
The Dog mother nodded. “Of course you can. Uwe asked us to keep you busy until he is finished. I guess that you also wanted to do work?”
“Yes... Just like we did yesterday, feeling useful.” One of the women replied.
Smith sighed. “You and I have done enough yesterday. You work and I talk. And you, Katie, what have you been doing all day? I was busy with the kings, but I haven't seen you much.”
Katie also smiled. “I sold cookies.”
Smith laughed and shook his head. “How can you, carnivorous Tiger, sell some sweet cookies? You can't even taste the way Humans do.”
Katie grinned. “If buyers don't believe me I tell them that they have to ask others how the cookies taste. And before they buy I give them a free sample, a few crumbs.”
Smith nodded. “That's very clever of you. I always tell my customers that if they have complaints they must tell me, and if they have compliments they have to tell others. Do you have any left? I'd love to taste one of those cookies.”
Katie shook her head. “No, I have sold everything. Nothing left. I earned a big silver with it.”
Katie sat down between the Dog and Smith, and got the Dog's son, who almost instantly fell asleep on Katie's lap. The Kitten on Smith's lap also fell asleep.

Some time later the door was unlocked, and Uwe entered. “Smith... ladies... Everything is ready, you are allowed to come in, but you are not allowed to work.”
Smith nodded. “Fine... And holding a speech is also working, I'm not going to do that again.”
When Smith entered the dining room he saw Frank. “<Hey Frank! I want a normal person to speech today! Your turn.>” he called out to Frank. He only could hope Frank wouldn't embarrass himself again.
Frank grinned and stood up. He waited until everybody was seated, and took a deep breath. “<All right. Fine. I'll do it... I'm not a good speaker like Smith is, but I tell you this: Smith, you are a wonderful man. Most people here don't know you like I have known you, a cold and calculating man, but you have changed in the past... well... a little bit more than a half year. You always have been a caring person, helping me when my smithy burned down, allowing others to come to the Neutral Zone, or Smithsville as this village is called today, forging everyone together like a oneness that nobody has ever seen before. I see it in the smithy every day, Robert and Willem would never have liked each other if you weren't there. And it goes beyond the smithy, Humans working together with Inimals. But you don't see Humans and Inimals, you see people, people with their own strengths and weaknesses, you use them and you exploit them, but you always make sure they leave with a smile, and above all live here with a smile. A half year ago we didn't know how to defend ourselves, but sparing one life has saved the lives of many. Saving the life of Siegfried. And after that saving eight soldiers from their fate in the prison of Schotenburg.>” Frank looked at Arthur “Arthur, you have been here only for a few days, the Smith you know is not the Smith I have known. You think this is the normal life here, meeting kings, making peace, but it's not. Smith now has a purpose in his life. Yesterday he ruined my chance with the king's daughter, I was stupid and Smith knew it, I made a fool of myself, but the king has asked me to work for him as his royal blacksmith.” Frank looked back at Smith “<But I will decline. I, and I think everybody else here wants to make it safe, safe for you to have your Mary in your arms. You are our king Smith, and Mary will be our queen. You will be a forging king, I know, but you will be our king. The king of the Neutral Zone, working a the forge of kingdoms.>”
There was no applause. It was silent.
Reluctantly Smith stood up. “<All right... Thank you Frank. And erm... well... as a king I will now announce the plans I have for the Neutral Zone. I have a friend, Tim Tiger, who lives north close to the Vulpine in an almost collapsed hovel, and I will give him a new house, four hours north of here. He is very shy, his mother was a Feral but he is not, he just has missed a normal youth. I'm sure he will visit me very often, and if you meet him I want you to be friendly towards him. Mia Tiger will go and live with him, and take care of him. After that we will build barracks for the women from Schotenburg, give them a place to live without being dependent on others. After that I will give Melany White Tiger and Arthur White Tiger a house with a sewing workshop. Arthur is a former Elite soldier, and he has a lot of experience fighting, Siegfried and Boris are more trackers, they will get a more supporting role. In a few weeks a Lion general will come to help them. Unfortunately king Leopold caught me by surprise with that announcement and I said 'yes', he knows that soldiers from either side are not permitted here, but I want you to treat him like he is one of us. I have two more Tigers in my house, Timo and his pregnant wife Tina from Schotenburg, they are basket weavers, and I will also build them a house with a workshop, half of the profit they make will be mine. After I have built everything for my friends I will take a look at the money I have left, look at how much money I need to live a good life, and the rest goes to Smithsville and the entire Neutral Zone, there is a lot more to build. Many women have a husband in the prison of Schotenburg, and I intend to get those men here. They will get houses, because they have lost everything. I do not know how many houses are needed, maybe some of them never want to see a Human again, but I want Rolph and the people from the town hall to take care of them, because they will have my money. And now let's enjoy our meal, I did not want to speech, but now I'm talking longer than Frank did.>”
An applause erupted again.

Smith sat down when the trays with food were brought in. Not the lush food they had yesterday, but today it was proper food, without any decoration. It was a lot of poultry.
Smith noted that he was seated next to the man Robin sold his geese to. This could not be a coincidence. Smith tried to hide a smile. “<How do you like it here??”
The man smiled. “<So, you are the king here?>”
Smith shook his head. “<No, I am not a king, I am just a smith. All types of metal, although I prefer to make blades, knives and swords. But the people here like me, I started this all.>”
The man nodded. “<I noticed that. They really adore you, in contrast to our king. I think he is a complete idiot.>”
Smith shook his head “<He is not an idiot, he had the wrong advisers. He was looking in the wrong direction, listening to the wrong advice. I have told him to be more careful, to listen to the common people.>”
The man nodded. “<I understand. Now let's eat my geese, instead of bringing it to the king. The innkeeper payed me more for it than I have done for the them.>”
Smith smiled. “<I thought I recognized you. How do you like it here? You didn't answer my first question.>”
The man also smiled. “<That is something I won't tell. Now eat, and don't ask me questions.>”
Smith nodded, but said no more. He knew enough.

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Chapter 26 - The end of a Beginning

#30 Post by Neutral Smith » Wed Jun 17, 2015 7:02 pm

Chapter 26
The end of a Beginning

Everything was back to normal in Smithsville. The weather seemed still nice, a lot of work had been done in the smithy because a lot of metal has been sold and the stocks needed to be filled again, Tina has given birth to a healthy daughter and named her Mary as a tribute to the woman Smith loved. Everything was as good as it could get.

Smith wanted to make a start with a new sword for stock when someone knocked on the door.
It was Theo, the Tiger builder.
Theo smiled when he entered the smithy. “Smith, I am here to tell you that Tim's house is finished. Mia is already there, she didn't want to stay here. And some Foxes helped with building a chicken pen, and already have brought some fowl.”
Smith nodded. “That's good. I guess Mia also has told me before she left, but when I'm concentrating on my work I don't listen, or I don't remember. It's... fast. I was expecting you needed a few more weeks.”
Theo nodded. “Yes... I had a lot of help. You told me you didn't want too many Humans to work on his house, and I only had help from Olaf for the foundation, for the rest only Inimals. You know, it's odd for me to say, but I really missed the Humans. But I also did have Timo's help, he helped me with thatching the roof. He really knows what to do with wicker and reed. I think I could use him more often.”
Smith smiled. “So... Timo helped you. I thought he would be at my house with his wife and child.”
Theo shrugged. “He told me he didn't want to fight Katie over helping his daughter. He told me that little Mary with Katie is just like what Johanna was to you. Katie is the only one who can get her to sleep he told me.”
Smith nodded. “All right. Let's see if I can get permission from Beatrice to take Katie with me, I think that Tim would like that... Hmm... Thinking of the journey, I think I'll have to buy a second tent.”
Theo raised his hand. “Smith... You don't have to. You can borrow mine. It's still at Tim's house, I intended to get it back here as soon as we have a dry day.”
Smith nodded. “That's... good. You know, I haven't even noticed the weather the past few weeks. I thought it was nice weather.”
“<That's because you are your old self again. You are impossible, Smith. You just work on, answer questions, eat, sleep, but you don't seem to live.>” Frank replied while Theo left the smithy to go to his home.
Smith sighed. “<I'm sorry... again. You know, I never knew how much money I had, but although I do still have enough money left after I have paid for the houses with workshops for Melany and Timo something in my mind tells me I don't have enough, and that makes me work hard and long again.>”
Frank nodded. “<That amount of money you are going to give to the village is insane. But asking a lot of money for your metal, and only using money to buy the things you need instead of the things you want is a very good way to save a lot of money. No wonder women love you.>”
Smith grinned. “<I find my women alongside the road, I didn't have to pay for them. Sprained ankle, Feral, me helping Inimals and meeting a Human woman who does the same... The only women you did get in your bed were those you had to pay, the rest saw you as a friend or a brother, am I right?>”
Frank laughed. “<Yes... I have bought so many things for so many women that half of the economy of the Neutral Zone depended on me in the early years. But you and your women do live a good life, you spend a lot of money on them as well.>”
“<But now we bought you a jacket.>” one of the Cats Frank has given shelter and wanted to become a locksmith replied. She was eager to learn how to work with locks, and already had a feeling for it. She just had finished a lock.
Frank nodded. “<Yes, a jacket without lining. Just some thick leather on the back, and no sleeves. I can't imagine where I can wear that.>”
Smith nodded. “<That sounds like a jacket you wear in bed when you want to have a good time with a female Cat and have a sensitive skin. Remember what I told you about my back, and why I don't like Cats. Those Cats also have given me such a jacket, but I had too much pride to put it on. Take this advice from someone with experience.>”
Frank nodded. “<I... I will. Those scars on your back are horrible, I can't imagine how much that must have hurt.>”
Smith shrugged. “<The wounds did not hurt very much, it was the salve that brought the real pain.>”
Frank also shrugged. “<If you say so... Well... Goodbye. I guess you are back in ten days?>”
Smith nodded. “<Yes, nine or ten. Four days to get to Tim, four days to get him back, and one or maybe two with him in his new home.>”

Smith left the smithy to prepare himself to go for the last journey before winter, to get Tim 'home'. He knew that the smithy was in good hands. There was a lot he wanted to do, but metal is patient, winter is not. And he didn't want Mia left waiting.

“So, how do you like your new home?” Smith greeted Mia, who was unpacking the last items from a crate, in her new home.
Mia smiled. “It's wonderful. Thank you for everything.”
Smith shook his head. “It's not for you I'm doing this, it's for Tim. Theo told me he has left his tent here, shall we go and get Tim? On our way to Tim we can share a tent if you want, but on our return you have to share my tent with him, and I can use the other tent. Unfortunately Katie was not allowed to come along, but school is more important for her.”
Mia nodded. “Of course, education is the most important thing there is. You just can't drag children away from it when you want to go somewhere. You are a wise man, you should know that.”
Smith sighed. “I've never been to a school. I barely know how to write.”
Mia smiled. “I have been to the Academy, I have been a diplomat in the Human kingdom for over seven years. I was our queen's best friend until I got captured. Shall we go? I think you might be interested in my story.”
Smith nodded. “Yes... And don't be offended when I'm not telling you my story, that's something I want to forget, I want to look at the future, not at my past.”
Mia nodded. “That's alright. Others already have told me, but I'm not sure what to believe and what not. There are different versions of it. But I can understand how you are. You are not like the other Humans.”
Smith smiled. “You are not the first one to say that I am not like the other Humans, but I do have some sort of different personalities. The one you are talking to right now is the one I want to be, friendly, but I also have my work personality, and I have a fighter. There might be more, but I don't want to know about them.”
Mia nodded. “I know. You didn't seem to listen to me when I told you I left. You just said 'All right, fine, goodbye', and went on with your work. You have a family, Smith, and you will become a king. A king can never act like that.”
Smith shrugged. “Stop telling me that I am a king, or will become a king. I am a smith and I want Mary, the daughter of a trader, in my arms and live in peace without politics... Let's talk about Tim, what do you know about him?”
Mia smiled. “He seems to be a nice boy. Katie told me he is very friendly and likes chicken, means well but has no manners. He is very enthusiastic in his emotions, and very strong for a Tiger, that is what Melany and Arthur told me. For the rest.... I don't know. When you told me you were thinking I could take care of him I was happy because that meant I would be away from Humans, but now I've grown fond of you. When we drove away from Schotenburg I wished I would never see a Human again, but at this moment... I won't even mind sharing a blanket with you, if you know what I mean. Just like Charlene and Melany.”
Smith shook his head. “I'm sorry to disappoint you... When we would have had this conversation fourteen years ago I wouldn't have said no, but now I want Tim to be happy with you.”
Mia gave Smith a hug. “You are forgetting that most of the females from your past also had a husband. I bet a lot of them even had children of their own.”
Smith gently pushed Mia away. “Yes... But I have changed. I will never do those things again with someone who has a partner. I'm afraid we have to explain Tim a lot, it might even get to the point where I have to undress and have to show Tim the basics, but it's... it's not going to be a thing I would enjoy these days.”
Mia nodded. “I understand. Charlene is a very lucky woman with you, and Katie is a very lucky child. A child that is going to have two mothers and two fathers. And an entire village that loves her.”
Smith nodded. “Yes... And you telling me that you were a diplomat, maybe you can teach Katie some tricks when she gets older. She is a very clever girl, she can do anything, she will learn flawless Human and Inimal, and even Bergs and Elfique, I think she can be the best diplomat ever. We already have witnessed what she can do as a child, making enemies sing together, imagine what she can do as an adult... True peace, thanks to her.”
Mia smiled. “Smith... Without your fast thinking the soldiers and guards would have killed each other. You took away the weapons, and Katie made them sing because they got bored. You are the Human king of the Neutral Zone, and she is the Inimal queen. You work together.”
Smith nodded and grinned. “I am not a king, I will not be a king, I am the son of a lumberjack, Mary is the daughter of a trader, Katie is an orphan I have adopted with Charlene, and we will live and get old in peace. Nothing more, and nothing less. Now let's stop talking about this. We have a few days of walking ahead, plenty of time to talk about you, and your future.”
Mia smiled. “My future? Talking about children? I don't know. I had two children, but they were taken away. Humans have killed my children, but I have the feeling that you, an other Human, would kill to defend my children. But you are not just around the corner, it's quite some distance for a woman alone.”
Smith nodded. “Yes... but you are not entirely alone. Tim has survived for many years alone. I don't think you should underestimate him... You know what, I pretend to be stupid, you and Tim have to figure everything out yourselves. I saw two bedrooms in your house, you don't have to sleep in the same bed.”
Mia nodded. “Yes... One for a guest. Or two, we have two double beds. Or you must want to sleep in a tent outside.”
Smith shrugged. “We'll see when it's time to decide. You know, it's always remarkable how you Inimals see relations. One day you have nobody, when you find someone it's immediately intense, and when it's over it's over, you just go on with your lives. But I want you to work for me, your work is to take care of Tim. Relation or no relation.”
Mia nodded. “Yes... But we are the same species after all. The war and how other Humans treat us has shortened relations, I never had a partner, and the fathers of my children were just Cats who almost immediately got killed after they had done their job with me. Now I can start a proper relation with Tim I think. Did you know I also have met Mary before? She is a very nice woman, she really cares for us Inimals, just like you do. We have worked together for a while. She is just the perfect woman for you.”
Smith smiled. “I know. Not that you have worked with her, but that she is perfect. She might have her flaws, but I am also not perfect.”
Mia smiled. “Nobody is perfect. But some are just better at compensating their flaws.”

Smith and Mia had walked on in silence for some time when Smith suddenly spotted Tim, walking towards them, accompanied by Floris and Florette.
“Tim! What are you doing here?” Smith called out.
When Tim saw Smith he ran towards him, and almost knocked him over. Smith had the impression that Tim was crying when he embraced him.
“Smith... There is a problem. Tim's house has collapsed in the storm.” Floris said when he reached them.
Smith smiled while he patted the Tiger on the shoulder. “That's all right, we are here to take you to your new house.”
“Really? House finished?” Tim asked with his timid voice.
Smith nodded. “Yes Tim, you are going home.”
Tim released Smith and also smiled. “This Mia?”
Mia extended her hand and smiled. “Yes, I am Mia, and I am going to take care of you. You can try to run away with me, but that way you will never see our house.”
Tim nodded. “Me not running away with you. You too heavy.”
Smith had some trouble controlling his laughter. “Well Tim, this is Mia, Mia, meet Tim. We are not far away from your new home, if we turn around now we can even reach it before dark... Floris, Florette... Do you also want to come along?”
Floris shook his head. “No, we won't invade a house without an invitation. It's Tim's house now, and I think he wants to see it by himself, not too many others around. We now know that Tim is in good hands, we are going back to our home, we have a few days of walking ahead.”
Smith nodded. “All right... thank you for taking care of Tim.”
Floris smiled. “That's what friends are for... One more thing Smith, huge order for more arrowheads coming in a few days. Those you made are already sold.”
Smith shrugged. “No problem. But you must know that the war is almost over, there might not be a huge demand for war-arrowheads. I want to work on Arthur's sword first, but send a hunter in a few weeks, there might be a bigger demand for Vulpine made hunting arrows. Blunts for smaller game, broadheads for bigger animals, arrows with a wire to prevent losing them in the vegetation, for birds, maybe even arrows for fishing, I don't know... I only know how to make Human arrowheads, and with some improvements those became the Red Brigade arrowheads, I only know of the existence of those arrows, those are almost a myth, but with my skill combined with his design it might even be something special again... You know what, send two hunters, preferably two hunters who always argue. If they both are satisfied about a design I know I have made something right. And when that is done send some carvers, they might want some tools the Inimals can't make, but I can.”
Floris nodded. “Smith... You are the wisest man I know.”
Smith grinned. “If I were a wise person I already knew how to make those things. I am not wise, but I am smart enough to ask the right people for advise. Goodbye, friend.”
Floris nodded. “Just send Charlene running when you have time, and if the weather allows it. I guess they can stay at your house?”
Smith shook his head. “No, but I will pay them well for their help. And now I have to run, I already don't see Tim and Mia.”
Floris nodded. “Yes... Tell him we will visit them in spring!”
“Goodbye!” Florette added.

Smith reached Tim and Mia's house some hours after dark. There were some torches lit to make it easier to find.
Mia laughed when she opened the door for Smith. “Did you get lost?”
Smith shook his head. “I never get lost, sometimes it takes a bit more time to reach the destination, but I wanted to talk some with Floris, I will get a lot of work from the Foxes, and I asked for some help.”
Tim hugged Smith again. “You need help? Can I help?”
Smith shook his head. “No, I don't need your help. I am a smith, I work with metal, and I asked for some hunters to help me with designing new arrowheads and carvers to think of new types of metal tools I can make. But I am hungry, I would like some food.”
Mia nodded. “Of course... We have been here for a few hours, we already wanted to eat without you.”
Smith grinned. “All right... I took my time with Floris and Florette, I am not a fast walker like you are, and I ended up a little bit too far east. Sunken in thoughts I ended up on the path towards my own house, instead of yours. But now I'm here. What do we eat tonight?”
Mia smiled. “Just admit that you got lost. And you are correct, Tim is far from helpless... He killed a few pheasants on the way here, he did not want to eat his own livestock yet. Combined with the food we brought along for our journey it will be enough for dinner and breakfast, and when you leave tomorrow we go hunting together. I have never hunted before, this is truly a new life for me.”
Smith also smiled. “So you get along very well. To be honest I was a bit worried about that.”
Tim hugged Smith again with his childish enthusiasm. “You good friend, you give beautiful woman. Now we eat, then you sleep alone.”
Smith shrugged. “No problem. I am happy when you are happy. And by the looks of it you are... erm... very happy. Eat, and then have a good night, in your own real bed. With a I guess very nice woman. I can do the chores. You have plenty of time to learn how to do them.”

Smith had to clear the table and do the dishes alone, Tim and Mia were already in their bedroom. It was no problem for Smith. While he did the chores he thought about Tim. Who was he? At what age did his education stop? He did have a speech impediment, he could not form complete sentences, but his actions gave him the impression that he was far from being dumb.
It didn't matter, he could help two people with a new life, Tim with a proper place to live, and Mia away from Humans. Smith washed himself and went to bed with a smile. There was nothing more he could do, tomorrow he would go home again, a lot sooner than he thought.

It was already light when Smith opened his eyes. He suspected that Tim and Mia were already up and had their breakfast, and maybe even went hunting for lunch. When he entered the living room he saw that everything was just like he had left it yesterday. He heard a sound come from the other bedroom, it was a giggling Mia and a moaning Tim.
Smith smiled. Mia and Tim really got along very well. Two entirely different personalities, one almost Feral boy and a woman who has been to the Academy and had been a diplomat. Two Tigers with an intense relation, already in the first night. Just like Melany and Arthur, and just like Siegfried and Beatrice.
Smith only made breakfast for himself, he suspected that Tim and Mia would be in their bed for some time.
He ate his breakfast alone, and was contemplating about what he would do next. He could call out that he would leave, or just write a note and leave it for them to read.
He chose for the latter.
He managed to find some paper, and wrote 'goobdÿE' on it, they would understand.
Smith got Theo's tent, stacked it on his, and left without saying a word, he did not want to disturb the two Tigers.

“Smith! Back already!” It was Tina who greeted Smith when he entered his home around lunchtime.
Smith nodded. “Yes, back already. We encountered Tim very close to his new home, we didn't have to walk the entire distance, and we... I mean I reached his new home just after dark... I mean a few hours after dark. I talked some to Floris, huge order coming in, but I asked him to change that order.”
Tina smiled. “That's good. Charlene is gone for a few days, she had some messages to run.”
Smith sighed. “I asked her to stay home while I am away, but now we have two Tiger babysitters. You don't mind?”
Tina smiled and shook her head. “No, not at all. It's good for Katie to be around more Tigers, although I really like the way you try to raise her. We Felines give our children a more protected youth, but you just let her run around and only interfere when she gets in trouble, that's more Canine. It's odd, Charlene is more around for her, but she likes you more.”
Smith nodded. “Charlene really protects her, and I give her the impression that she has a lot of freedom. I never really punish her like a Canine does, but I teach. If you kill chickens I teach you how to use a sling, if you make something dirty you have to clean it, if you damage fabric I'll send you to Melany to learn how to mend it. Those kinds of things.”
Tina nodded. “That's a very good way to teach children to behave. Somehow I think you just take what's good from every species, and combine that.”
Smith nodded. “Katie is very mischievous, but never malicious. I'm not sure what I'll do when she does unnecessary harm. She already has killed two Wolves and injured one, that's more than enough.”
Tina grinned. “Don't forget that beating she gave that Wolf boy and that Cat” Tina's grin widened “Heh... Beating a bully that was taller than she is and almost castrating a Cat who thought she was a weak victim. Good thing that that Cat fled, Melany with some assistance from Arthur would have shredded him to pieces.”
Smith sighed. “I honestly didn't know about that... I'm not sure whether I should be proud or upset about those incidents. What would you do?”
Tina smiled. “You should be proud. You Humans always have rules for everything, common sense is drowned in them. Humans call us Inimals primitive, but it are you Humans who are primitive. You need rules for everything because you can't think for yourselves about what is good and what is bad. Somehow I don't consider you a Human, you are far more, you have set some rules, but those rules are only common sense for us. That's why the people love you. You can do whatever you want, as long as you don't damage, spoil, make unnecessary dirty or offend, and speak in the language of the person you are talking to. I really like the way every Human here at least tries to speak Inimal to me. You should see the relief on their faces when they realize I also speak Human, like all the Inimals from Schotenburg.”
Smith sighed. “You sound like I am a king... But to change the subject, I'm hungry, shall I make us lunch?”
“You have common sense, but your other senses are very bad.” Timo replied while he left the kitchen with a steaming plate in one hand, and holding little Mary in his other arm. “If you hold Mary I will get the other plates.”
Smith smiled. “I'm sorry I didn't notice you. Let's see if she also likes me. But I'm not going to help her toileting, I don't want to touch her down there.”
Timo nodded while he handed Smith little Mary. “Of course. Foxes are far easier, they just kick their legs, we have to stimulate the excretion. Rubbing a towel between the legs of what is not your child is awkward.”
Smith grinned. “I have never rubbed a towel between Katie's legs to make her pee, but when we got home I had put her on my shoulders because she couldn't walk long distances, and the back of my head felt a bit like a towel... I'm sure Katie has told you that story.”
Tina nodded while she gently caressed little Mary's neck and ears, sitting very close to Smith. “Yes... And Charlene, and Siegfried, and what happened with Melany. And Beatrice... And I see it's true, Mary also presses her ear against your chest to listen to your voice, Florette has told me all about it.”
Smith smiled. “With little Johanna it was waiting until she had to pee, but now I'll hand her back to you when I'm done eating. I want to work on Arthur's sword the following weeks. Eating times might be irregular with me because I want to finish a complete step of the forging process, you just can follow your own times, I will eat the leftovers. I will ask Frank to stop me when I work too much, I have collapsed quite a few times in the past because I kept on working.”
Timo nodded. “Yes, we noticed. You weren't very talkative past few weeks while you were working for the stock, I assume that can get much worse?”
Smith sighed. “Yes, much worse. Up to collapsing because I forgot to eat. I try to avoid that, but I'm afraid you will have to force-feed me.”
Timo nodded. “I know the feeling. Wanting to finish a basket, but knowing that will take a few more hours. But I have Tina to take the wicker away so I have to get up from my seat, and that is a good reason to do something else. Metal seems a lot harder to work with, you just can't jut leave a glowing piece behind to eat.”
Smith shrugged. “Everybody specializes in something, mine is metal, and that needs a different timing. But you at least understand that I can't interrupt forging to talk to someone like you can. There are some Tiger smiths, the old smith from the Inimal village from across the border was a Tiger, but he left, and his successor was a Cat, but that was not a true smith... You know, I don't mind if you use a corner of this living room for your work, I want you to be here, with your wife and child, and not away helping Theo. I don't mind if my smithy with an inn changed to a smithy with a basket weaver workshop.”
Timo nodded. “Then that's settled. I'm not sure where I can get the materials I need, but Charlene told us that she knows suppliers of wicker. I hope you don't mind that I send Charlene again. Now she is running for Jacques.”
Smith smiled. “No, not at all. You know the deal, half of the profit for me, and I pay for the things you need. If you need a running Charlene that can be arranged, I'll be home for the following weeks, Charlene can run her messages if she wants. And if you excuse me, I'm hungry, I want to eat.”

“<Smith! Back already!>” It was Willem who greeted Smith when he entered his smithy again.
Smith nodded. “<Yes, Tim was already on his way here, and very close to his new home. I'm glad he and Mia like each other, that was no trouble. Where's Frank?>”
Willem grinned slightly “<Frank didn't listen to your advise you gave yesterday. Even I heard him scream when Simon applied that salve to his wounds this morning, he thought you were exaggerating when you told him how it feels, but now he is convinced you were downplaying the pain. I don't think you will see him today or tomorrow, or maybe even the rest of this week.>”
Smith nodded. “<And the Cats? Are they harmed?>”
Willem smiled. “<Not at all. Frank didn't blame them, and they are with him at this moment. They are some good women, I don't know where that hatred for Cats in general comes from.>”
Smith shrugged “<Every species has their good and less good examples. Even Humans can do terrible things... But I'm here to work, not to talk. I'm only asking you and Robert to look after me, because the following weeks I will be really concentrating on Arthur's sword, and I want you to stop me if I go too far, and neglect my body or others. Just force me to eat when you see I can because a fold is complete or something.>”
Robert nodded. “<Of course. You are far too heavy to carry to your bed alone. Shoving some food into your mouth is far easier.>”
Smith sighed. “<Thank you. Now let's do some work. And see if I can leave it behind tonight and just be with Katie, I consider her more important than a piece of dead-bringing metal.>”

Willem tapped Smith who had just finished another fold of Arthur's blade on the shoulder. “<Smith! You have a visitor!>”
Smith looked up from the anvil, and pulled the beeswax he used for hearing protection out of his ears. “Beatrice... What brings you here?”
Beatrice held up the 'Goodbye' note that Smith had left behind at Tim's house. “This brings me here. One single word, four mistakes. Not starting with a capital, mixing up the 'd' and the 'b', the 'y' has no dots in contrast to the Human 'ij', and you ended with a capital 'E' instead of a lowercase 'e'. Mia asked me if I could educate Tim, and also urged that you need to learn how to write. The only advantage you have over Tim is that you know how to hold a pen, because you often make drawings.”
Smith nodded. “I understand... But you must also understand that there are more important things to do. I want to finish this sword first without interruption so Arthur can do his work with it. I can do my work without writing.”
Beatrice nodded. “I understand. We, Sylvia and I, have talked to Arthur and Charlene, and the first thing we want him to do with his sword is to point it at your throat and force you to the classroom. Tim will also be attending, and as long as your writing is bad he has to stay at your house, that's the part Charlene approves. I will be abusing Katie to send him his first assignments, she can help him with the first steps.”
Smith nodded. “That's... fine. I thought of sending more Tigers to Tim to teach him, but actual teachers are even better.”
Beatrice nodded. “Of course. But it has to be a slow start for him. I will instruct the Tigers here how to learn Tim the very basics, and slowly he can come here. First Katie and Melany because he knows them, then Katie with Timo, Timo with Tina and their daughter, and so on all the way up to sending all the Tigers from here at once, and let them convince him to come here.”
Smith nodded. “I need at least four weeks for this sword, I guess that's plenty of time?”
Beatrice smiled. “Oh yes, you are friends with eleven Tigers here, including the children, and Melany and Arthur as being Whites. There are more Tigers here, but those are a good start. Four weeks might even be a bit on the short side of the time we need for a proper introduction to a busy village, but winter is coming, and I don't want him to walk in the cold, he deserves to be with Mia.”
Smith nodded. “Fine, that's arranged then. And if you excuse me, I have work to do.”

“Smith... I see that Arthur's sword is almost finished, but we are needed south, and maybe even in Schotenburg, things are going wrong there. We even can't wait for that sword, Arthur has to do it with his current.” It was Siegfried who interrupted Smith with his sharpening task.
Smith looked up, nodded and shrugged. “All right... You know, it's not of my concern, but thanks for informing me. I'm wondering what is taking that general so long, he should have been here weeks ago.”
Siegfried shrugged. “I don't know and I honestly don't care. I won't let him send me to my death.”
Smith sighed. “There is trouble, and you don't even know how much. You might even send yourself to your death. When that general is here I want you to do what he says. I am convinced he has learned from his past mistakes. I know you can't be steered, you do what you want, but let me give you this order: I do not want you to cross the border. No Inimal soldier may cross the Human border, is that clear?”
Siegfried nodded and grinned slightly. “Yes sire, that is understood. I only will send the Humans to what you presume would be their death... And he did not make a mistake when he sent those Wolves to kill you, he just underestimated you. Normal is three Human soldiers on one Wolf soldier, you fought with the strength of forty Humans.”
Smith shook his head. “Siegfried... you are more royal than I ever will be. You have a king in your family, and I don't think that a Human king suddenly will abandon his castle and become lumberjacks or whatever my ancestors were. Now go, and keep the Neutral Zone truly neutral, only protect us, don't interfere in Schotenburg, keep your men alive… And one last thing: Never ever compare strengths. If there had been one single Fox with one arrow I would have been dead. I had an advantage over those Wolves because I wielded a much better sword.”

Siegfried nodded and left. He didn't seem happy with Smith's order to not to interfere.
“<Trouble in Schotenburg? I thought that was resolved?>” Frank noted. He was back in the smithy, wrapped in bandages, and doing some light work.
Smith sighed. “<I only hope that Mary is safe. The king told me that he would get all his men that are not soldiers out of there, and I don't know if Inimal Affairs is also a part of the government... I only can hope for the best. Schotenburg is a Human city, I should ask Rolph if he knows more.>”
Frank grinned. “<Not of your concern, but you still want to know. Of course she will be safe, the cause of the trouble was people mistreating Inimals, and I don't think she does that, she is on the good side of the fight.>”
Smith nodded. “<We are not fighting, what does that make us?>”
Frank grinned. “<Neutral. There are no different species here, only people with different strengths.>”

“Daddy... Me, Timo, Tina, Theo, Thea and their children will go to Tim, and stay there for the night.” This time it was Katie who interrupted Smith. She already had her backpack on her back, with her own tent. The others were standing behind her.
Smith nodded. “All right... This sword is almost finished, just a few... no, just some polishing, and it's completely ready. The sharpness of it even scares me, and I don't see parts that need more sharpening. What shall we name it?”
Katie frowned. “I think that 'Duty' is a good name for it. Arthur will use it for his work, to make it safe here, his duty, and 'Duty' will be special for him alone, nobody else wants to use that. Just like you have named my dagger 'Chicken'.”
Smith nodded. “I think that will be a very fitting name for the sword. He named his daggers 'Honorable' and 'Fair', 'Duty' is a nice name for a tool of death that his sword will be.” Smith's stomach grumbled. “Now it's my time to be hungry. I guess you already have eaten, it's way past lunchtime already, and for the first time I actually feel the hunger. Do you have the assignments that Beatrice gave you?”
Katie nodded. “Of course. Tim is already better at writing than you are. G-o-o-d-b-y-e.”
Smith sighed. “I would be very disappointed if he wasn't. But I think I can make prettier drawings.”
Katie grinned. “No, Tim almost draws like a Fox. He draws what he sees, the present, and from memory, the past. You draw what you want to make, the future, and that's not always pretty... Maybe we'll stay away for two nights, don't get worried. We are going to have a little feast for Tigers. It's his last day in his house before he comes here, and maybe he doesn't dare to come here.”
Smith nodded. “One last thing before I let you go Katie. Be careful. I've heard what have done to that bully and that Cat, and I don't want you to do such things again. Tell others, violence is not the best solution for everything. You should have told Beatrice about that bully, and just scream when someone tries to do something you don't like. Get away, and let others solve it. I know you can fight, you can kill, but I only have one little fluffy daughter, and I don't want to loose her because she picked a fight she could not win.”
Katie nodded and smiled. “I will daddy.”
Smith tilted his head. “You are not going to fight me because I called you fluffy?”
Katie continued to smile. “You just told me that violence is not always the best option... Thanks to my thick coat of downy hair I don't need clothes in winter like you. I like it. You have to put on an extra layer of clothes, I can roll in the snow without them.”
Smith sighed. Katie was already outsmarting him.

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