Forge of Kingdoms (mature content) - Chapter 48

Post all your stories, poems, and haiku's here!

Moderator: Moderators

Posts: 2
Joined: Sun Oct 27, 2019 7:45 pm
Fav. Twokinds Character: Flora of course :)

Re: Forge of Kingdoms (NSFW) - Chapter 37

#46 Post by thelvaen »

I just updated the ePub with a foreword providing link for this thread as well as the fact that the story is not complete.

But as the link is only provided here, I think people will already know about that :)

User avatar
Neutral Smith
Templar GrandMaster
Posts: 671
Joined: Mon Feb 24, 2014 5:32 pm
Location: Neitherlands
Fav. Twokinds Character: Saria's father

Re: Forge of Kingdoms (NSFW) - Chapter 40

#47 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 40
The West

The boardwalk was not easy to find, but finally Smith was walking on the narrow structure suspended over the marshes and swamps. He was glad that he didn’t bring a horse, because traversing the boardwalk on horseback or even leading a horse would be impossible.
The boardwalk was not new, far from it. It was an old structure, with occasionally a new plank, or a new piece of rope holding it together, or even a new section because a fallen tree or other damage had destroyed a section. It was a simple wooden structure, two planks wide, with countless poles and beams, tied with rope, holding it above the water. It was not even a straight path, sometimes with bends to reach a sandbank or a fallen tree for easy support or a simple resting place. Someone had been lying to the Inimal king, and probably walked away with a lot of money.
What was correct was that there was a place to rest every night on a larger platform, even with a place for a fire on some stones and clay, and dry firewood, which was most welcome. Smith didn’t care about how it got there, he used it all. Maybe someone with a canoe to supply all those resting places.
The hammock, rope and tarp that Smith got before he left were also very handy. When there wasn’t a place to put a tent there were a few trees close together where he could put his hammock with the tarp overhead to keep him dry from the rain.
Gently swaying in the hammock above the water with the sound of rain on the tarp overhead, and the water beneath him made him dream he was on a boat again.
Smith suspected the too friendly Badger had a hand in it, he knew exactly what Smith needed.
Food was also not a problem. He was given extra fishing line and hooks, from his own smithy, and some ammunition for his sling. There were plenty of fish and waterfowl he could kill and eat, although bait for the fishing was hard to find.
It was a wet summer, and the water level was occasionally very close to flooding the boards, but Smith managed to keep his feet dry at all times.

The only thing Smith regretted was taking his second sleeping mat and blanket with him, with the extra gear he got his backpack was almost too full. He would gladly have given those away to the first person he met who needed them, but he encountered nobody. Just him and animals, and at the same time he was glad for not meeting anyone, because passing each other on the small boardwalk would have been impossible without one getting wet.
The only thing he really wasn’t happy about were the insects, despite his bad hearing he could hear them buzz. The itching of the bites and stings wasn’t too bad, but nonetheless Smith choose to wear long sleeves and pants, the legs tied with pieces of rope so nothing could crawl in. On some days he even put socks over his hands to keep the insects away.
Days were slow, he couldn’t maintain his preferred walking speed due to the uneven, slippery and springy planks. He constantly had to watch where he had to place his feet. But the resting places made him stop every day, sometimes a bit earlier than he wanted, but the next day would be a longer walk.

It was hard to understand the landscape, sometimes grassy, sometimes shrubs, sometimes trees, many times fields of reed, but the ground always had a layer of water over it. Sometimes deep, sometimes shallow, sometimes just mud or peat, but water was never far away and there was always a need for a raised boardwalk, even if it was just planks directly on the soft soil, with some poles preventing them floating away.
‘The land here is a ripple in fabric.’ Smith philosophized while he was walking along. ‘A ripple, the Inimal capitol on higher ground, these wetlands lower, the northern Vulpine territories higher again, then the sea as an absolute low, and then the mountains. A nice green tablecloth that someone pushed, and I really don’t care about it. Leave that to the ladies. I want food on plates, I only get stains on a tablecloth.’

‘The wetlands are four days wide when you manage to cross them in a straight line south to north.’ Smith thought another day. ‘I didn’t have to do that, the east-west boardwalk goes right through the middle. That was correct, because it took two-and-a-half days from the first step onto the boardwalk and until I could go west, and a half day going west until the first resting stop there. No resting place at the crossing to discourage people using the boardwalk. From the east to the west it was sixty-eight stops, but there were twenty-seven stops to the east of the crossing, the forty-one nights next to the boardwalk were also correct. The maker of that map really knew what he was doing.’ Smith’s thoughts continued when he broke up camp after another night, the seventh on dry land. ‘Now it was eight days on dry land, if I am not mistaken. Considering I can walk much faster on this dry land instead of those horrible planks, I think I will reach the Wolves today.’
Smith grinned. ‘I don’t need a map in my hands. Seeing one is remembering it. Just like I do with everything and everyone else… well, unless I go Feral. Then I won’t remember anything… I have no idea what I ate the day before yesterday. And was seven days ago a tent or the hammock?’

Late in the afternoon he saw civilization again. Not starting with a few huts and gradually the numbers increasing with even more people, but suddenly he was on the large dot on the map. His destination.
It was a true Canine village. What could be made of stone was stone. Low buildings without first and second floors, because you need a lot of wooden beams and planks for that. The wood that was visible was rough, like it had been hacked and split with stone tools. Instead of fences there were stone walls, and instead of the wooden steps the Feline and Vulpine houses had there were large flat stones leading up to the rough looking front door.
There were some Wolves outside, but none of them gave Smith the attention he expected, they just glanced at him and walked on. He couldn’t blame them, he was responsible for the deaths of a lot of their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers. There were no Dogs visible.

“Hello sir.”
A young and very dirty White Wolf girl greeted him.
Smith smiled. “Hello young lady. Is there someone I can talk to?”
The little Wolf smiled, almost grinned. “Yes. Me.”
Smith shrugged. “Very well. You have a place we can sit?”
The little Wolf was a bit startled, she didn’t expect that her invitation would be accepted. “What… Why do you want to talk to me?”
Smith smiled. “I want to talk to everyone. You are a good start, because children are the most honest people I know… So, do you have a place where we can talk?”
The little Wolf pointed to a large pigsty. “Yes. Over there, where I sleep.”
Smith nodded. “Very well. You have a name?”
The little Wolf looked at the ground as they walked towards the pigsty. “Pebble... My father is gone, and my mother is looking for him, and the house burned down.”

Smith’s face showed no emotion, he didn’t want to hurt the young Wolf’s emotions, but finally he grinned. “You look more like dirty marble. I have never seen a pebble walk, but when you are clean you can be the Whitest Wolf there has ever been. When you lie down in the snow you will be invisible. Do you know why I am here?”
Pebble nodded. “You are the Human named Smith, and you have come to take us away.”
Smith nodded. “Yes. Now let’s sit down for a moment. You have eaten?”
Pebble shook her head. “No… sir.”

Pebble jumped over a wall of a pig pen, and Smith used the gate to enter an empty pen with the cleanest straw, and sat down.
Smith produced some leftover meat from his backpack, and handed it to Pebble.
“What kind of meat is this?” the young Wolf asked while she sniffed it.
Smith shrugged. “I have no idea. It were birds I killed, that’s all I know. The meat is a bit dry, but edible. I’m a smith, not someone who can identify birds. A bird is either between delicious and disgusting, or I haven’t eaten it before. These were just a very easy kill, but I’m not killing a bird like these again for food.”

“You like it?” Smith asked after there was nothing left but bones.
Pebble nodded. “Yes. Not as bad as you told me.”
Smith smiled. “I never said it was bad, I only said that I am used to better meat. Shall we go for a walk? It’s getting late, and now I am the one who is getting hungry, and maybe you want some more too. Do you have an inn here?”
Pebble nodded. “Yes, on the other side of the village. But it is not a good place.”
Smith nodded. “Not a good place for a Human like me, or not a good place in general?”
Pebble shrugged. “Not a good place for a Human. And the innkeeper doesn’t like the king.”
Smith also shrugged and stood up again. “I may not like the innkeeper as well, but I want to sleep in a bed. You want to share a room with me? It seems that I might need some protection tonight, and you screaming that I have to wake up to defend myself against the innkeeper or his friends sounds good enough.”
Pebble needed some time to think, but finally she stood up as well. “Good. I want to see the look on his face when I get to eat the meat of the last pig I had to kill instead of leftovers.”

When they walked through the village there was a bit of a commotion up ahead.
“I hear them shout something about that the king is here.” Pebble remarked.
Smith nodded. “Good. Let’s meet him.”
Pebble looked in disbelief at Smith. “You can’t just say ‘hi’ to our king. You have to be formal.”
Smith grinned. “I don’t.”

King Leopold was flanked by Walther and Arthur when Smith met him on a square.
“Good afternoon sire, good day for a walk, isn’t it?” Smith greeted him. He choose the more or less formal way to greet the king.
Leopold smiled. “Good day Smith. When did you arrive? I see you have adopted a new child.”
Smith shrugged. “This afternoon. This is the first person that greeted me. Her father is missing, and her mother is looking for him, and her house burned down. Leopold, meet Pebble, Pebble, meet King Leopold.”
Leopold nodded and knelt. “Pebble… I had a White Wolf bodyguard from this region, with a daughter named Pebble, and she must be your age. I’m so sorry about your father, but until your mother returns Smith is the best person to take care of you, trust me on that.”
Pebble nodded. “Smith is nice.”
Smith nodded. “Arthur, Walther… Good to see you here. Had a good journey?”
Arthur nodded. “Yes sir. We were a bit worried about the timing because of a small holdup due to high water in a river, but it seems that you are also later than expected.”
Smith shrugged. “Boardwalk was hard to find, I ended up a bit too far east, and went even further east looking for it. That took me a few days. But here we are, arrived at the same time. Very impressive planning, even with the delays… I wanted to eat and sleep at the inn, but Pebble here warned me that they aren’t friendly, I suggest that you sleep in your tents.”
Walther nodded. “Innkeeper is a Grey, I also advised against staying there for the king. Speech after breakfast, and then assemble for a first night, with packing the carts, setting up camp and seeing how it goes. We leave the day after tomorrow.”
Leopold nodded. “Indeed. For the first few days I will accompany you, and then head home again. Because for the first few days we are heading the same direction.”
Smith nodded. “Very well. See you at the speech. And thanks for the warning there will be a speech, that gives me time to think about what I want to say.”
Leopold grinned. “You don’t have to think. You just talk, and say whatever the people want to hear.”
Smith shrugged. “If you were a better king we wouldn’t have to be here.”
Leopold nodded. “Yes… If I were a better king. Now you will be their king.”
Smith shrugged. “I am not a king, and I won’t be a king. I am Smith, by name and profession… I bid you a good night, and I will see you tomorrow.”
Leopold sighed. “But I do want some food. You think that will be possible?”
Smith shrugged again. “Yes, I think so. I have some experience running an inn, I will do the food.”
Walther nodded. “Yes. You can do that. You need some soldiers to accompany you?”
Smith grinned. “In the early days of my current smithy it doubled as an inn, I didn’t have help at the inn in Schotenburg making breakfast for several people, and I didn’t have help at the second inn at the quarry when I stayed there without the innkeeper but with guests, I think I can handle this one too. And I have experience with Wolves.”
Walther nodded again. “Very well sir. See you at the table.”
Smith smiled. “Good. Like friends, not like kings.”

“Are you sure this is the inn?” Smith asked when he and Pebble arrived at a tall building with a large wooden veranda. It seemed a bit out of place, with having a first floor and a lot of wood.

Pebble nodded. “Yes.”

“This… looks more like a Feline whorehouse.”

Pebble nodded again. “Yes.”

“Do… they have whores here?”

Pebble nodded for a third time. “Yes. Two. But they are Dogs.”

Smith shrugged. “Very well then. Might be interesting.”

Pebble nodded once more. “Yes.”

When Smith opened the door he was greeted by the innkeeper, an older Grey Wolf.
The Wolf adjusted himself to a more formal position, and coughed.
“One room, two beds and two breakfasts for tonight and tomorrow, five people for dinner tonight, and you stay out of the kitchen because I don’t trust you and I will do the cooking. Tomorrow we’ll see how much more I need.” Smith spoke at a firm tone even before the Wolf could speak.
“You think you own this place?” The Wolf replied after some time. He needed it to process the requests because Smith and Pebble were just two people.
Smith nodded and put his backpack on a table. “Yes. I am told that you can’t be trusted. The king and two more friends will eat here tonight, and I can’t afford it that you attempt to poison us… There are two things you can do. You comply, or you protest. The more you protest, the less friendly I will become… Now, what is the price for these requests? And name the normal price, although you don’t have to do any work in the kitchen.”
The Wolf stared at the floor for some time, but finally he smiled. “It’s free. You really are like my cousin wrote me. Rude.”
Smith shook his head. “No. Four Silver for each bed, two Silver for each meal. I’ll give you four large Silver now, and the rest when we leave because I don’t know what plans the king has for food, maybe invite me in return. Does that sound like a fair price?”
The innkeeper nodded. “Fair like he said you would be. You really are rude, but honest.”
Smith smiled. “I try. Kitchen is in the back?”
The innkeeper nodded. “Yes. I’ll retreat to my private quarters, but I have some errands to run later, but I will use the other exit. Have a good evening and night.”
Smith shook his head. “You stay here, just sit at the table. I might have questions, and as I said, I don’t trust you.”
“He is never this friendly. You scare him.” Pebble whispered.
Smith shrugged and moved his backpack to another table, within sight of the kitchen. “Insincere. But he is out of the way for tonight. Let’s make some proper food. Let’s find out where he keeps the pork, we have friends to feed.”
“And a king.” Pebble added.
Smith smiled. “Another friend.”

Pebble was a good help in the kitchen, and just when Smith wanted to ask Pebble to get washed his friends entered the inn.
“Where is the innkeeper?” Arthur asked, looking around.
Smith looked at the empty table. “I asked him to sit at the table. I didn’t want him near the food, but you telling me that he is gone...”
“I had to use a toilet.” The innkeeper said while he sat down again.
Smith shrugged. “Very well. Sire, please sit down, food is almost done. It’s a good piece of meat, Pebble has killed this pig, enjoy it.”

“This is not the way you are supposed to treat a king.” The innkeeper called from his chair.
Smith shrugged. “I treat people the way I want to be treated. And this king has a mouth, when it’s empty he can speak for himself.”
Leopold smiled. “Innkeeper, this Human here is a friend. This Grey Wolf and White Tiger are also his friends. We are all friends here, not a king and subordinates. When I leave this inn I am a king again, but here I am not.”
“Are you really friends?” Pebble asked.
Smith grinned. “Yes. Our first meeting was quite memorable. He arrived unexpectedly, I wasn’t prepared and he had to use the toilet. Let’s say it was quite awkward.”
Leopold nodded. “Indeed. These days I have a hole in the bottom of my carriage. Occasionally I hear some muttering behind it, if you know what I mean.”
Smith shrugged. “I’m sorry Pebble, but the king is just another Lion. Outside this inn I want you to treat him like a king, with all the respect you can imagine.”
Pebble nodded. “Yes.”
Arthur smiled. “She is quite the opposite of Katie, but I like her.”
Walther nodded. “Indeed. You have any idea where your parents are?”
Pebble shook her head. “No.”
Leopold nodded and smiled. “We shall place a sign in the middle of this village telling people that you have left, and where you can be found. Smith is more than capable of taking care of you, you aren’t the first child he adopted. Before he had you he had a little Tiger girl, the Katie Arthur was talking about, and she is doing very well at the Academy.”
Pebble smiled. “Thank you.”
Smith nodded. “That is the best thing we can do. You want me to pay for it?”
Leopold shook his head. “No. This time you don’t have to do that, the only felines that are here are my own soldiers. You take good care of her, and hope her parents are still alive and will find her again.”
Smith smiled. “Thank you. And how do you like the food? A Berg schlachteplatte. I didn’t expect to find all the ingredients in large quantities here and some unexpected items like the cast iron kettles and pans in the kitchen, but I suspect the Wolves still have some contact with the Bergvolk.”
Walther smiled. “It’s like an aunt used to make it… Truly delicious. The potatoes give me a bad breath, but I like these as well.”
Arthur nodded. “A bit fat, but a very good taste.”
Leopold also nodded. “Common food for the Bergvolk, but I like it too. How does the innkeeper like it?”
The innkeeper briefly smiled. “Thanks for the food. Better than I can make it. Especially those potato pancakes. I have trouble with them, but as a Human you are more used to work with other things than meat.”
Smith nodded. “Yes. Now that the food is gone I’d like to take some rest. Tomorrow will be a long day, I have walked quite a distance over the last few moons, and I want to sleep early and in a bed. What room can I use?”
The innkeeper shrugged, but did not stand up from his chair. “Upstairs, end of hallway is a room with two beds. Just rotate the sign at the entrance of the room you use, we don’t have many doors with metal locks here.”
“You don’t need someone at the entrance?” Walther asked.
Smith shook his head. “No. I have Pebble with me. She can warn me. And I ask you to kill everyone here if something happens to me. If I am dead there is no reason to help these Wolves anymore.”
Leopold nodded and also stood up to leave. “As you wish.”

The room was not very large, and had a lot of animal skins and pelts on the floor, and two larger piles of skins acting as beds. It was dry and clean, but smelled a bit musty.
It was totally unlike what Smith was used to as a bedroom. As a Human he used a bed with a mattress which was raised from the floor and blankets, the Felines from the Neutral Zone preferred the same, just as at the Academy, but without the blankets, and the beds the felines between the Inimal capitol and his village had were just a thick mattress on the floor, filled with wool or feathers and no wood because they wanted to keep their work out of their sleep, and those who didn’t work with wood had a ‘normal’ bed again. Smith wondered what a genuine Vulpine bedroom would look like, the room he used in Floris’ house was almost Human with a bed with blankets.
The last time he slept in a Canine village it was at Diego’s old inn, and that was also Human, dating from before the war when Humans frequented that old inn. This would be truly a first time in a Canine bed for him.

“So… This is not what I expected.” Smith noted.
Pebble smiled and hugged Smith. “This is so much better. Thank you for taking care of me.”
Smith shrugged. “Very well… I think I have to go back downstairs again for my evening ritual, it was indeed good food. Do what you have to do, wash yourself, and enjoy your first night with me. Tomorrow another night, and then a few moons in a tent. And then a… normal home with a normal bed.”

“Why did you hesitate? Aren’t you normal?” Pebble asked when she followed Smith downstairs.
Smith smiled. “I am not an average Human. Most normal Humans are boring, it are the exceptions that make life interesting. I have lost my first wife to Wolves, and that has changed me. I became some sort of Feral, and ended up with Elfique and Bergvolk, and those made me who I am today. I can’t change the past, but I am here for the future… Keep in mind that Humans are strange beings who mostly don’t want others to see them doing their natural business… can you please go somewhere else while I use this toilet… I feel a bit exposed with you standing in front of me while I use this toilet.”
Pebble nodded, and occupied the next stall.

When everything was in place with his sleeping mat on top of a pile of skins and his sword and dagger within reach Smith finally laid down. The first night with a solid roof overhead in moons.
Pebble needed a bit more time, and convincing of the innkeeper to sell them some soap, but finally she also was on her ‘bed’. But convincing people, especially Wolves, was one of Smith’s specialties.

It felt odd, there was a ceiling overhead, but he was almost on the floor, and the pile of skins made it feel like he was sleeping on something that was between sand and a pile or fabric. Not soft, not hard, a lot of bumps and dents because the skins were not perfect square and it was hard to create a flat surface with them with some sheep and a lot of rabbit, but also not uncomfortable if you sleep on your back. Which was something Smith normally did with Charlene on top of him.
Smith felt like he was dozing a little instead of sleeping when something screaming fell on top of him. He had his hands underneath his head, and it took some time to realize what was going on. This wasn’t a nightmare where you are helpless, this was real. There was a screaming male Wolf on top of him, and a dagger with a familiar design impaled in the skins next to his head, the flat side touching his wrist
He managed to get his hands free, and pushed the screaming and struggling Wolf upwards again.
When he finally saw what was going on he realized that Pebble was stabbing the innkeeper from behind, with his sword. Several time Smith saw the blade protrude from the innkeeper’s chest, retreat, and pop up in a different spot. Or pop down, as a better word for it, with the tip dangerously close to his own chest.
“Pebble! Stop it! He is almost dead, but I don’t want to be stabbed as well! You don’t have to push the sword all the way through!” Smith shouted, genuine afraid that the little Wolf would kill him too.

The stabbing stopped, the screaming stopped with a gurgling sound, and the innkeeper went limp, he was dead.
With a final push Smith tossed the dead Wolf aside, and checked himself. He was soaked in blood, but none of it was his own.
“I think I am going to wash myself. And find another clean bed.” Smith mumbled while he sat up.
“Yes.” Pebble replied, carefully wiping Smith’s sword clean with a cloth she found somewhere. A sign that she was a butcher, despite her young age, and being careful with the tools.
“And thank you for saving me.” Smith spoke when he went downstairs, followed by Pebble.
“Yes.” Pebble replied behind his back.
Smith looked up at the young Wolf. “You are still clean. You don’t have to follow me because there are more rooms upstairs.”
Pebble smiled. “Now we can sleep in the special ‘Bed Room’.”
Smith shrugged. “I don’t know what that is, but every room with a bed is a bedroom. What makes this one special?”
Pebble passed Smith on the stairs, and when Smith came downstairs Pebble was waiting at a doorway with a curtain and behind that an actual wooden door. “It’s this one. But the door is locked.”
Smith sighed. “Then go find a key. Nobody is going to punish you for that, and if someone does, tell me.
Pebble pointed up behind a curtain. “The key is up here, but I can’t reach it.”
Smith sighed, grabbed the key, unlocked the door and left for the bathroom. The so called ‘Bed Room’ could wait until he was clean again.

When Smith entered the so called ‘Bed Room’ he was surprised. The room was filled with large and smaller, softer and firmer pillows and cushions, blankets and even feather filled duvets. The whole room was literally a bed. In the moonlight everything seemed pale, but Smith imagined everything to be very colorful.
Pebble was asleep on a large pile of cushions, she apparently fell asleep in a patch of moonlight, but Smith needed more time than she thought and Pebble was now barely visible. It was the movement of her breathing that betrayed her. Smith smiled and quietly started to move some pillows and silk to create his own sleeping place and laid down on his back again. He was too tired to choose between his left or right side.

“Sir! Are you awake?” A woman asked.

Smith had trouble opening his eyes, but through the narrow slit he saw that it already was broad daylight.
“Pebble… stay down. She is friendly… I hope.” he mumbled.

“It’s one of the sisters… She works here.” Pebble replied, also sounding very sleepy.

Smith needed some time to recall where he was, but finally it dawned on him, like the harsh sunlight stabbing his eyes. “I’m not interested in your services.”

“That’s a pity. You look ready for some action… Although I expected Humans to be larger.” The woman replied.

Smith sighed and grabbed the nearest pillow to cover himself. He apparently didn’t put on clean underclothes after his midnight cleaning. He still didn’t have the willpower to open his eyes and face the bright day.

“No need to be ashamed. I can’t believe you are the same person.”

Smith’s eyes shot open, and after some focusing and adjusting to the light he stared up at a well-maintained older female Dog.
“What do you mean?” Smith asked, after some time of being torn between looking at the face and see a bit more, or being polite and look somewhere else. It was a Dog he was looking at, not a Feline or a Human, so he decided to look up.
The Dog crouched in a sensual way, allowing a good view, and started to caress Smith’s chest. “Do you happen to know a Lioness from the old border town between the Humans and the Inimals? Do you still have those scars on your back?”
Smith nodded, secretly enjoying the soft touch of a woman. “Yes. A long time ago. She was one of the many… clients I had. She moved to the West, a friend of mine told she became a whore with the Wolves.”
The Dog smiled, and her hand moved down. “She started a bit further south” and moved her hand up again “and then came here and started here because we are nicer. This is her old room. She died seven years ago, and the good business died with her. Did you know she was the oldest sister of the queen?”
Smith shook his head. “I didn’t know. She left, I found a Human wife, you had a change of kings somewhere around that time, I left to hand in my masterpiece to my king, and when I got back my home was gone and I went some sort of Feral. I came back, I started somewhere else with a different name and now a lot of people are my responsibility.”
The Dog smiled. “She liked you. Never stopped talking about you. You were… so good… Other people never could compare to you. She didn’t like the Felines, she couldn’t go to the Humans, so she came here, but she missed you. She was very sad when she heard what happened, and was relieved when she heard you returned, but she didn’t dare to go back.”
Smith smiled. “That’s… good to hear. I never went full on her… I used my hands. I am better than a Feline, but never as good as a Canine… You won’t have pleasure of me.”
The Dog gave Smith’s bare chest a lick. “Here I am the whore. You have the pleasure.”
Smith gently pushed the Dog away. “You know what happened upstairs?”
The Dog nodded and smiled. “You killed him. We are free now. My sister is telling the king.”
Smith nodded. “Thanks to this young child here who will see everything we do. He tried to kill me with a dagger I made, she killed him… Can someone get me my clothes?”
Walther entered the room with a grin on his face and put Smith’s backpack down. “Bloody mess you made upstairs. Despite being a Grey too I told you he couldn’t be trusted.”
Smith shrugged. “I always find the murderous children. First Katie and now Pebble.”
Walther nodded. “And horses… We let you sleep for a while, but your breakfast is ready. We are waiting for you in the dining room.”

When Smith entered the dining room there were a lot of people. Not only the king and his entourage, but also a group of Wolves and Dogs that looked a bit like they were of importance, but were not used to this role.
The room fell silent when Smith entered, like they expected him to hold a speech.
Smith shrugged. “Welcome everyone. I hope you enjoy your meal as much as I will. Unfortunately the innkeeper got killed last night, don’t try to kill me when Pebble is around… and also don’t try it when she isn’t… Now I’m hungry, I will hold my official speech after the king has held his, outdoors and for everyone to hear.”
King Leopold nodded. “I see you are already getting used to your role as a king. Have a seat, as equals.”
Smith shrugged. “We are already equals here. Not as kings, but as friends.”
Some people looked between King Leopold and Smith in disbelief.
Smith shrugged again. “You might think that you are important because you are here, but to me you are not important. For me the important people are outside, helping others. I see that many of those who live here are not at ease here with the king and I, but I assure you, I am a nice guy, just don’t do stupid things that might harm me. Now, let me eat in peace and think about the speech I have to hold later, because I hate speeches.”
Some people applauded, some people started to laugh, Arthur shook his head in disbelief and Walther grinned. King Leopold simply nodded, because this was exactly the kind of speech he expected.

“Do you think it is safe outside?” Smith asked Pebble and Walther who accompanied him to his second room.
Walther shrugged. “I don’t know. You killed the innkeeper, but there might be more. You gave him a very clear warning yesterday, but he still tried to kill you nonetheless, there might be other people he fears more. We don’t have Vulpine with us, only a few climbers. Taking your armbrust to the speech might be useful, but that might scare people. I’d say dagger and sling, but keep them hidden.”
Smith nodded. “Very well then… Pebble, I assume your father was one the King’s bodyguards, I want you to do the same for me. Keep your eyes and ears open, and tell me, Arthur, Walther or one of the king’s soldiers if someone is out of place, but do it unnoticed, without someone screaming… How did you manage to bring the innkeeper to his knees to kill him?”
Pebble shrugged. “Sliced his legs. You have a really sharp sword. I heard him come upstairs, I took your sword and I hid in the shadows.”
Smith nodded. “Very well… Next time just… do the same. At least, when I’m asleep and can’t be woken up in time without sound.”
Walther grinned. “Siegfried told me that when Smith is asleep a building can collapse and he won’t notice it. When we have some spare time I will give you some proper training. Katie Tiger was for Arthur to train, you are for me.”
Pebble smiled. “Thanks.”

King Leopold was giving a speech, Smith couldn’t hear half of it, but what he could hear were exaggerations of what the Neutral Zone where the people would go to was.
Suddenly Pebble tugged on his sleeve. “Wolf on the roof, to the right.” she quietly whispered in Smith’s ear when he bent down to listen.
“Spotted.” was all that Smith mumbled when he saw the crouched figure on the roof, hidden from the king behind a chimney.
Pebble grinned. “He isn’t spotted. He even doesn’t have any stripes. It’s a Grey again.”
The Wolf on the roof was moving slowly, like he was winding something. Armbrust!
Without hesitation Smith opened his pouch, got his sling and a projectile. If he couldn’t hit the target he could at least warn people and distract the Wolf on the roof.

The projectile didn’t miss. It hit the Wolf on the shoulder, the armbrust fired, and the bolt went flying over the rooftops. It shouldn’t have been a few moments later.
In an instant two Leopards and a Tiger were almost running up the walls of the building the Wolf was on. A few moments later they reached him, but the narrow rooftop didn’t have enough space for them all, and they all slid down together. One of the Leopards managed to dig his nails into some exposed wood, but released when the Wolf grabbed his tail. Some bushes cushioned the fall, and there were no further injuries.

“You belong here?” Smith asked the Grey Wolf who was sitting on the ground with the soldiers surrounding him. One of the Leopards held the Armbrust.
“What kind of question is that?” the other Leopard asked.
Smith shrugged. “If he belongs here he is my problem, if he’s a stranger here he is your problem.”

“Does this man have a home here?” Smith asked the group of people surrounding them, because the Wolf refused to answer.
Various people shook their head. “He does not belong here.” “I have seen him a few times.” “He is family of the innkeeper.” were some of the answers they got.
Smith nodded. “Very well… Not my problem. Do whatever you want with him.”
“And what would you have done with him if he was your problem?” King Leopold, who also had approached the little group, despite being in danger a few moments earlier, asked.
Smith shrugged. “Set him free. Set him free so he can tell that he failed, hit by some Human with a sling. But first tie him for as long as we stay here, give him food and water, and a good view to see and hear how the people think of me… Or just let the people here decide. As long as we haven’t crossed the border they are your people, obeying your laws, but without you deciding for them.”
Leopold nodded. “Very well then, the law of the land.” Leopold gestured at one of the Dogs. “Attempted murder, what do you say about that?”
The Dog shrugged. “Death, like with a lot of things. Normally it would have been a stone to the head, to crush the skull, but I think this time ‘The Stones’ are more appropriate, as a warning. This time we won’t have to clean them afterwards.”
Smith also shrugged. “Tonight I got to sleep in the so called ‘Bed Room’, which turned out to be the entire room as a bed, and now I guess ‘The Stones’ are also something big.”
The Dog nodded. “Yes. Think of a large see-saw, one large stone at one end, and a large basket of smaller stones on the other end. Once we start removing stones from the basket the large stone will lower, and eventually crush whatever is underneath it. Last one literally splattered like a full bladder when his rib cage caved in.”
Smith sighed. “Very well… I’ll stay at a safe distance, if you don’t mind. I already have had enough blood over me last night. Pebble stabbed the innkeeper with my sword while he was on top of me because she sliced his legs first.”
The Dog grinned. “I have seen him. It’s even leaking through the ceiling below. He got what he deserved. That dagger won’t be touched by a Wolf again.”
Smith shrugged. “I made it very clear that even attempting killing me would be stupid. Wolf, tell me, what is it you fear more than us? First the Grey innkeeper trying to kill me, and now you, another Grey, trying to kill the king.”
The Wolf prisoner looked briefly up, and back down again. He did not dare to tell.
“Have him executed, we are wasting time here!” King Leopold spoke at a firm tone.

The soldiers dragged the Wolf to his feet, and led him to an odd and old looking contraption just outside the village, close to the path leading south. The whole village followed.
The Wolf did not try to resist, he calmly laid down on the large stone that would be his deathbed. It was a custom that the sentenced wouldn’t be tied, but be held by the victims or relatives of the victims, but this was only an attempted murder, on the king nonetheless, so the guards stood around him to hold him if he tried to escape. It wasn’t necessary.
The wicker basket holding the smaller rocks wasn’t in the best shape, and as soon as one of the village’s Wolves tried to remove the first stones the basket tore and spilled its contents.
The large stone slammed down with a dull ‘thud’, the bed stone cracked, an arm fell, and the execution was over.
“Pity. I wanted to see him struggle.” One of the villagers, a female Wolf, noted.
“And how do you feel about me?” Smith asked.
The woman smiled. “I already like you. You really care about us. You don’t want to send us to our deaths or let us starve like they did.”
“I don’t want to be here. You attacked, I defended, I won. I feel like a stranger, why were you ignoring me?” Smith asked.
The woman shrugged. “We didn’t know what to expect. Us Wolves are normally not this generous.”
Smith also shrugged. “I don’t know what the king has told you, my hearing is a bit impaired by the hammering on the anvil I do. Do you mind if I hold my own speech?”
The woman shrugged once again. “Waste of time. King Leopold told us basically that you are just… you.”
Smith grinned. “He knows me. You know what we are going to do?”
The woman nodded. “Yes. Load up, load off, set up camp for the first time next to our homes, find out what more we need to take along, a second night next to our old homes, break up camp and leave.”
Smith shrugged. “Yes, that’s it, although I didn’t know I’d have to spend a third night here. Travel for a few moons, and then arrive at your new place to live.”

One of the king’s soldiers, a Jaguar, the same he met at the Capitol, tapped Smith on the shoulder. “Lunch with the king.”
Smith looked at the sun. “Already? Time flies when you are busy. Where?”
The soldier took a slight bow. “At the river.”
Smith nodded. “Very well. Clothing?”
The soldier grinned. “As you are. You may be a king, but not the Human king.”
Smith sighed. “I am king of the Neutral Zone for tax reasons. I am the only one who doesn’t have to pay taxes for the metal that is produced in my smithy. But that is because I am away from home a lot of times, I have others working for me. I do have a desk at the town hall, my official title is ‘King of the Neutral Zone’, but I am just being myself.”
The soldier’s grin got a bit wider. “So you are a king. No more ‘sir, not sire’ from you. Sire all the way. Make way for the king of the Neutral Zone!”
Smith looked at Pebble. “Do you want to come along?”
Pebble shook her head. “No. I want to eat with Walther.”
Smith sighed. “You have a choice. I wish I could do the same.”
“This way sire!” The soldier called, still laughing.
Smith sighed again, and followed the laughing soldier.

“What was that all about?” King Leopold asked when Smith sat down next to him. All the seats were next to each other, facing the river.
Smith shrugged. “I told him a secret… You know what, you all may know. I do have the title ‘King of the Neutral Zone’, but in reality it’s just a desk at the town hall and I don’t have to pay taxes for the metal that is produced in my smithy.”
Leopold nodded. “So you know how I feel?”
Smith sighed. “Yes… Nice weather, isn’t it? All those rainy days, and finally a bit of sunshine while we are here.”
They both stared at a Wolf corpse that floated by in the river, coming from the south. They didn’t really have something to talk about, but a dead Wolf wasn’t an appropriate subject as well.
Leopold shrugged. “Yes. Nice weather.”

After a few bites Leopold put his food down and stared at Smith. “You don’t like me, do you?”
Smith shrugged. “No. Not really. Just look at yourself, having a decadent meal with your back towards a village where people die of starvation. I wanted to say that you have to be more considerate of your actions, but I don’t see any other way for you. You are not happy being a king, you want to ignore it, just as I am not happy being called one… But people have expectations. You are like people expect a king to be, decadent, mostly far away, and can’t be approached by normal people because of all the guards surrounding you. I am here to help people with their problems, and to me it seems like you are here to run away from yours.”
Leopold nodded. “Indeed. It is good to be away from home, and talking to an honest person again. It indeed feels… wrong, sitting here with a decadent meal. I wanted to have the biltong again, like I have had many times before on this journey, but the people tell me that I am a king. I have to show people that I am a king. I have to behave like a king… But you gave the right answer. Unlike you the Canines here are not deaf, look behind you.”
Smith turned around and faced a large group of people. He sighed. “You heard it all? How I think of Leopold? how he thinks of being a king? How I want to be?”
One of the few Male Wolves nodded and knelt. “Yes. You killed many of us, but you are my king. My life for you.”
Smith stood up and pulled the Wolf back on his feet. “I don’t want your life, I want you to not take mine. Live your life, be happy, and don’t do stupid things.”
The Wolf smiled. “Thank you.”
Smith grinned. “And don’t try to kiss me. Go do something useful, see if there is someone else who needs help. We leave the day after tomorrow and standing here doesn’t help… If there is nobody for the inn just take anything useful or what can be sold along the way. At least get that dagger the innkeeper used to try to kill me with, find the sheath for it, thick leather with silverware if I’m not mistaken, and give it to Pebble, she can have it. I wish I could help loading the carts, but I am here with another friend who needs more help… And one more thing: figure out how much we can take along. I prefer leaving some things along the way over needing them while we have left them behind. I don’t want to do things in the last moments.”
The Wolf and the other people nodded and left, there was a lot of work to do.
Leopold smiled. He had planned this, and it was exactly like he wanted it to be. The people liked Smith, their new leader, and Smith was leading them.

User avatar
Neutral Smith
Templar GrandMaster
Posts: 671
Joined: Mon Feb 24, 2014 5:32 pm
Location: Neitherlands
Fav. Twokinds Character: Saria's father

Re: Forge of Kingdoms (NSFW) - Chapter 41

#48 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 41
Last Feast

“I told you I didn’t want that dagger to be touched by a Wolf again.”

Smith looked up from sharpening one of the soldier weapons. There was nothing else for him to do today, everything was arranged. “What you want is not important. It is a good dagger, and I don’t want to leave good things behind.”

“He killed my wife with it.”

Smith looked at Pebble who was admiring her sharp dagger, and then looked behind him. It was the Dog who spoke the verdict of the would-be assassin. “So? Wolves have also killed my first wife and unborn child, and several times they tried to kill me. Even if that dagger managed to get my blood on the other side of my skin I would have taken it. I don’t know what is exactly going on here, but this is Canine territory, if those from the south come looking here those might take it, and do harm with it again. And as I said, it is a good dagger, I made it, I sold it, I obtained it again, and now I want Pebble to have it.”
The Dog nodded and shrugged. “As you take everything from here… Although I don’t see any other way. The mines are depleted, there is nothing here… If they didn’t decide to attack you would have never heard of us, and we would have died here in silence.”
Smith smiled. “And how do you feel about it? Feel like they have won?”
The Dog nodded, shrugged and shook his head. “I don’t know. We Dogs get a better life, but a lot of Wolves had to die. If they had won us Dogs would have been slaves in a different location. Now we are still slaves, but with better conditions.”
Smith shook his head. “You are not slaves. You are free to go wherever you please, but now you are welcome in the Neutral Zone because we have a purpose for you. It would be nice if some of you actually left.”
The Dog grinned. “They didn’t conquer you, you conquered us, and now we are going to enjoy it.”
Smith nodded. “I won by killing those Wolves. I lost because this isn’t cheap and I don’t know if you all will have a good shelter before the winter. I don’t think I am a good king.”
The Dog patted Smith on the shoulder. “Still better than the Lion. Want to go hunting?”
Smith nodded. “Yes. This sword is almost done, and plenty of time to do the rest of the weapons on the first days of our journey when we are still together. Let me get my armbrust. And let’s hope the Lion isn’t busy so it wouldn’t be too awkward because it is in the you-know-what-I-mean room.”
The Dog nodded again. “That’s why I asked, you have a powerful ranged weapon, and we Canines have some trouble with ranged weapons. We have plenty of pigs we can take along, but meat from the forest is cheaper. And you killed our strongest… And I don’t mind what the Lion is doing. Just a few more coins for the Dogs.”
Smith shook his head. “That is not a nice thing to say… And about the strength and weapons: I am not stronger than a Wolf, the vulpine are not stronger, we simply had a better strategy… You want to hear what happened on that day?”
The Dog nodded. “Yes, I’m curious.”
Smith smiled and went on with the sharpening, the sword was almost done. “A summary of that day was that we, I, Mary, Chester Cheetah and Charlene Cheetah crossed the border. We were warned that an attack was imminent by a Fox hiding in a dense bush, and he told us we had to go back. I wanted to stay and help. I was a bit rude and got the sword of my fallen master, it was a sacred weapon for them, they told me that only the Ghost of the Neutral Zone was allowed to touch it, and I was still alive… I had given Mary my armbrust and my own sword, ordered the archers to stand on the roofs, and that’s how we fought. I am a bit more agile than a Wolf, and I had borrowed a better sword. We had a lot of Foxes standing on the roofs for a bit more range and making the makeshift shields obsolete, I was on the open field luring the Wolves towards me, Chester was behind me to get those who got past me, and Mary was defending herself and some women and Charlene went running for more help as soon as we saw the Wolves… That’s how we won, a hail of arrows and a windmill of steel. Only one survivor, and he told me about you. I have a fairly good relation with your king as you might have noticed, I could use some people, so that’s how I conquered you while defending others… Do you have anyone who can handle the second armbrust?”
The Dog nodded. “Good story, those Foxes are really going to believe it is a magical sword that can summon a defender to wield it. And yes, we do have someone for that second armbrust. He is just a boy, but he has shot a few times with one. And we have retrieved the bolt that was intended for the king, it has three bolts now.”
Smith stood up, made a few practice swings with the sword he was sharpening to check the balance, and gave it to the waiting soldier and put his equipment away. “Get some soldiers to accompany that boy. We’ll hunt in two groups.”
The soldier saluted. “You don’t need protection? You don’t have that magical sword here, but your own small sword.”
Smith smiled. “No. Two groups, one north, I’ll lead that one, and one south, for a future leader. Might be more dangerous there, that’s why I don’t want to go there. If I have to use this sword there are much bigger problems, but those won’t be mine any more because I’m dead and you as well. This is really my last resort.”
The soldier saluted again. “As you wish.”
Smith gestured at the Dog. “Get that boy to me, I want to see how he aims. It’s easy to do it the wrong way. No time for practice and I don’t want to damage a bolt nor the armbrust, I just hope he knows enough.”

A Wolf boy a few years older than Pebble was brought before Smith. He was shy, and definitely not a fighter.
“So… You are the brave hunter who knows how to handle an armbrust?” Smith spoke at a firm tone.
The boy nodded. “Yes. I have made a few shots with one.”
Smith smiled. “And how many hit where you wanted?”
The boy shrugged. “Only the last one. Because they told me what I did wrong.”
Smith nodded and handed the boy the second armbrust. “This is now your armbrust. It belonged to a now dead Wolf, and unfortunately the front sight is broken off so now you have to trust your instincts. It is not loaded, I want you to aim and pull the trigger, I want to see how you do it by looking over your shoulder, and tell you where I think the bolt would have gone.”

The boy aimed at a tree, and pulled the trigger.
“Looked good, I saw you were aiming at that small twig with the yellow leaf at the base of the tree over there. You took notion of the drop of the bolt and aimed higher, but a bit too high to hit that yellow leaf if that was a real shot, cross of the front sight used to be a bit higher, about the size of your fingernail higher, and not at the stub at the top of the arms that you used as the front sight. You jerked the trigger a bit too much, and moved the armbrust a little bit to the right. If you fire for real be more gentle, and be aware of the recoil. I’m not sure when this armbrust releases, but alternate a little between looking at your target, and at how much trigger you have left, this one is a bit worn and the string can’t be pushed back unless you have very strong fingers. Your stance was perfect, for someone who walks on his toes.”
The boy smiled. “Thank you.”
Smith nodded. “Very well. I see you already have your people waiting for you… or are there also people for me, who help me carry the boar and deer I hope to kill?”
Arthur smiled. “No soldiers, but I will accompany Walter for protection, with six others to carry the kills, you get Walther and two messengers because we don’t know how much you will kill.”
Smith nodded. “Good. I also want Pebble to join Walter, if he can’t kill she can. I can both shoot and make the final cut, and I know that Pebble also knows how to cut, and she has a good dagger.”
Pebble nodded. “Yes.”
Walter also nodded. “Yes. Work together, that’s what we Wolves do.”

“You said it isn’t safe in the south. Why did you say that?” Walther asked when Smith slit the throat of his seventh kill, a roe deer.
“You weren’t facing the river when the king and I were eating there. A dead Wolf floated by, with his throat slit. He has not been in the water for days.” Smith spoke while he got the rope to prepare the kill for transport.
“Maybe less than a day… That worries me. Shouldn’t we warn the others?” One of the messengers, a Hound, asked.
Smith shook his head. “If south of the village is as much wildlife as here they don’t have to be in the forest for long. River runs fast, and I don’t think that body has been stuck somewhere. And I don’t think that their armbrust will last long, seven shots at most if they don’t lose the bolts first. And as you saw I am quite capable with a sling too, they aren’t, you are the only hunting hound as far as I saw.”
The hound nodded. “Impressive. Nice throw, for someone with flat feet. But there are more hunters, but they wanted to spare them. We have supply points every four days, but we are afraid it wouldn’t be enough. More people than anticipated want to come along.”
Smith nodded. “Understandable. You can’t walk every day and hunt every night as a replenishment for the supplies and I guess that hunting is also not your main source of food… The wildlife here is quite different than I have at home. Here are more wild hogs and roe deer, while the Neutral Zone has more boar and common deer. And we have larger fish.”
The hound nodded. “Yes. Those boar and deer taste better, and were hunted more here… I hear the carriers, and I think I have the scent of another offspring of an escaped pig. Eastbound.”
Smith nodded. “No need to tell me, the ground is still wet and soft. You use your nose, I use my eyes and the trail is right there, adult and some yearlings. This adult is for my armbrust, and Walther, can you do the yearlings?”
Walther nodded. “If you also take whatever you can.”
Smith nodded and together they killed in silence. The sow with the armbrust, and the seven yearlings with the slings and stone daggers. Some ran, but not fast enough.

“I think that’s enough. We already have more than enough meat for tonight, we are supposed to take along what we hunted today, and that is even more.” One of the Wolf carriers noted when he saw Smith return from the forest, dragging two of the pigs along.
Smith shrugged. “I guess so. If you follow my trail there will also be another roe deer. Those are plenty here, and they are stupid.”
The Wolf grinned. “Or they are not used to Humans with ranged weapons. I rarely see one, and you killed three today.”
Smith shrugged. “Last day of danger for them. Indeed enough, let’s head back… If you can promise I can get a warm bath I can carry two yearlings and a roe deer on my back.”
The Wolf nodded. “You don’t have to prove that you are strong. You are helping us, and we make sure you’ll be comfortable. And after your bath you’ll get food.”
Smith shrugged again when they were walking. “This gives me the feeling that I am actually doing something. I am not someone who ‘is there’ to help, I actually do something… Or maybe I am not smart enough to give orders and trust others enough to do what I asked them.”
The Wolf grinned. “We are the smart ones. You want a hot bath, you will get a hot bath. And the best soap the inn has to offer. Just give us some time… I have to walk ahead of you so I can prepare it… Don’t walk that fast… You want some more pigs?”
Smith nodded and dropped on his knee. “Just stack one more yearling on top. If I want something done I almost always have to do it myself.
The Wolf grinned. “Walking slower is also something you could do yourself. But thank you, I’ll take care of your bath.”

The bath was nice. Pebble was already clean and gone, the armbrust they had in their team lasted only for four shots, and they only managed to kill three animals.

“Are you getting ready for the feast?”

Someone interrupted Smith’s slumber. Actually doing something instead of walking with just a backpack is tiring, and the water of the bath was very nice. It was the Wolf who had prepared the bath.

“Feast?” Smith asked after a few moments of wondering where he was. His whole back hurt, his legs hurt, and a part of him wanted to stay in the bath.

“Yes. Our last normal evening here, eating together and talking about the memories we have about this place. This time tomorrow we will be one day closer to our new home.”

Smith shrugged. “Not my memories. I don’t want to remember my past, I only don’t want my past to repeat… Will Leopold also be there?”

“No, just you and us. You are our king now. And I don’t think he feels safe here at night on the open field.”

Smith sighed. “Very well then… Do you think a king has to speech?”

“Yes sire. All the time. And sit on a throne and take long baths.”

Smith grinned. “I have been long enough in this bath… If you tell me that a king has to take longer baths I believe you.”

“A good king knows when the time to do something else has come. See you outside, although we don’t have a throne for you yet.”

Smith shrugged. “A nice chair is good enough.”

“Wolves sit on the ground or on a stone, but for you, our king, we will get you a throne: the best chair from the inn.”

Smith smiled. “Thanks.”

It was already much later than Smith anticipated when he came outside, almost dinnertime.
“Ah, there you are. Food is not done yet, roasting whole pigs takes some time.” the Wolf greeted him.
Smith nodded. “Good. You want me to speech to fill some time?”
The Wolf nodded. “I was joking, but I heard you are very good at it. You know your audience, and you tell them what they want to hear.”
Smith nodded, and grinned a little. “I told Wolves what they wanted to hear, sold them what they needed, and got the price for the metal that I wanted, and that was much more than others had to pay. You are far too easy to manipulate. But alright, get everyone who can be missed to the town square, little speech there.”

The square was filled with people when Smith climbed the small podium, a group of larger stones with a flat top. All eyes staring at him, feeling very exposed, but Pebble was in the front row, she could warn him if someone wanted to attack him from behind.

“You might see me as your new king, but I am not.” Smith started his speech. “The Wolf here on the front row, I assume he asked you all to come here, told me that a king has to hold long speeches, sit on a throne and take long baths. I just had my bath and now my Human skin is all wrinkled… I could make a very long speech, that would be handy because the food is not ready, but, to be honest, I don’t even know how to open a speech for you. I could say ‘beloved people’, but I do not know you well enough to say that. I could say ‘dear people’, but you have lost loved ones, some maybe killed by me… But in my defense, they tried to kill me and the people I tried to protect. But you must know I am also willing to do the same for you… I just say: Greetings.”
Smith sighed. Thinking was hard. More than a moon without seeing anyone, and talking when you are alone is odd, but he had to fill some time.
“You all know what we are going to do, I assume everything is arranged, I came here a few days ago and I honestly don’t know anything. Except that I am going home, and you get a new place to live. The journey will be long and hard, but I have no idea about how long and how hard it will be, it took me more than a moon to get here, but I had to take a longer way, but carts are slower… I understand that many of you see me as your new king, officially I am a king, my title is ‘King of the Neutral Zone’, but I don’t want to be treated as a king. I am a normal smith who also can do some other things, and I want to be treated like that, just a normal person. On the journey we are going to make towards your new life, my old life, I want you to remember one thing: I am not here to lead you, I am here for those who fall behind… That is all I wanted to say.”
Many of the Wolves nodded. Some smiled, some looked relieved. They agreed.

It was a huge gathering on the open field, the entire field was filled with people sitting around fires. Smith estimated it would be at least five thousand people, twice as much as he expected. It were not exclusively groups of Dogs and Wolves, but all mixed, like it was ordered. A bit uneasy, but not hostile.
Preparing the meat took a lot longer, and Smith didn’t want to be the first to eat, so he took his time to put up his tent. He was a Human after all, and not quite used to sleep in the open. And there was still a chance of rain, and he wanted to keep his belongings dry. Last night in this village. Or at least, on a large open field east of the village. This field was not for hunting rabbits and target practice, or killing Wolves, or just a site for a camp for soldiers a field like this usually was, but this time it was for a gathering. The last gathering of the people of this region. After today the forest could reclaim the field again.

The pork was good. Smith was sitting against a tree, a bit apart from the large group at the edge of the forest where the path leading east and his tent were. Pebble, Walther and some other Wolves and Dogs and the Hound who was with Smith at the hunt were sitting close to him around a fire, also enjoying their food.
“What are you thinking about?” One of the Wolves, an old female, asked.
Smith sighed. “Home. My home. What they are doing at the smithy. My horse. What the weather is like. What things have changed. Who has children and who died.”
The woman nodded. “Very normal thoughts. I can only dream about what I lost.”
Smith sighed. “Don’t be sad. Everyone here has lost things in their past. Sometimes the lost things can be found again, but many times the past is gone, and those things and people as well. This is your last day of your past here.”
“You talk like Elfique. I don’t like that.” One of the other Wolves replied.
Smith shrugged. “I have spent a few moons with them. Their influence goes deep within me, but I have never lost my sanity… At least, not as far as I know. There are a few gaps in my memory. Like the one time I woke up surrounded by Human corpses, but that was because they killed my friends.”
The Wolf grinned. “I have heard of that story. Good job.”
Smith sighed. “I want a proper trial, for everyone. Even a chance for redemption if there is a chance they can be useful again. Like you.”
The Wolf shook his head. “You can’t hold an individual accountable for the sins of his kind.”
Smith grinned. “Now it’s your turn to talk like an Elfique.”

There was a bit of a commotion next to another fire at the eastern edge of the field, south of the fire Smith was at. It looked a bit like a fight with some unintelligible screaming. Some Wolves ran away into the forest, and it looked like others were trying to help a Wolf very close to the fire.
Smith jumped up to assist.

“What happened?” Smith asked the little group standing around a very frightened looking young Grey Wolf woman.
“Some cowards kicked my daughter Rose from behind and fled into the forest.” One of the Wolves, presumably her father, replied. It was a Wolf he had seen before, always when king Leopold was around, so Smith suspected he was someone of importance.
“You can’t track them?” Smith asked.
The Grey Wolf, a bit older than Siegfried was, shook his head. “Unfortunately not, too many smells for them to stand out.”
Smith sighed. “I know one individual who can do that, but he isn’t here right now.”

“I have a sense to know when people are talking about me. It’s hearing.” Someone with a familiar voice suddenly said behind Smith.

Smith spun around, and there were Boris, Minou, Wulver and Lilith. After a few moments of blinking with his eyes he concluded this was real. “I’m sorry, but we have a little situation where a young woman was kicked from behind and the attackers fled into the forest. I was talking about that you are the only one I know that can track them… Please, I know you had a long journey to get here and it’s getting late, but can you help?”
Boris nodded. “Off course. Where is the start of the trail?”
“It’s over there.” One of the Wolves replied. “We didn’t want to contaminate it with our own smells so our best trackers could follow it, but it’s all Wolves here. We already have an armed group ready.”

“Nice that you point me in the right direction, but I am blind.”

“Oh, I’m sorry… Maybe you could smell Rose’s back where they kicked her, but she is deaf.”

“As long as I don’t have to smell her butt.”

“What?… No, you don’t have to do that. She was sitting next to the fire. You can start there.”

Boris was led to the deaf Rose, and after some awkward moments he grinned. “I know enough. I have heard and smelled them on the path. They quickly left the path when they noticed us, I think that they thought that we were more soldiers.”
Smith nodded. “People of the west, meet Boris, the tracker of the Neutral Zone. I don’t know what’s better: his sense of humor, or his senses of smell and hearing. Make sure he gets a nice meal after his work is done. And some food for my other friends, I wonder what they are doing here. Arthur: join Boris in case the Wolves want to do things I won’t allow.”
The father of the deaf she-Wolf nodded, and gestured at some other Wolves, who almost immediately came with food and water.
One of them looked at Minou, and smiled. “I remember you, long ago. We still don’t have any milk today.”
Minou also smiled. “No problem. Water is fine.”
“You have been here before? I know you have some… history, but we have plenty of time to talk about that later. I want to know what happened here.” Smith spoke when he sat down again. There was nothing he could do but talk.
Minou smiled. “Yes… We all got a message that the king wanted to see us, and I wanted to meet some old friends, so, now we’re here. We decided to walk on because Boris could smell the meat.”
Smith shrugged. “Sounds reasonable. You are all free to do as you please, no reason to stay at home because I am gone. Although I would have avoided me.”
“Why?” Wulver asked.
Smith shrugged. “I don’t know. I like to see new faces and listen to their stories. So, Greys, who are you, and why were you attacked?”
The Grey Wolf sighed. “I’m Edward Grey. Nobility. I’m…”
“Black king, White king, Common king, and you are, or were, in line to be the Grey king of the Wolves.” Smith interrupted.
Edward sighed and nodded. “Yes. But there is another Grey family in the south who also wants to be on the throne.”
Wulver raised his hand. “But… The last Black gave the throne to the Vulpine, and now we have a Lion. You can’t be king.”
Edward smiled. “Just like Smith is not a real king I am not a real king. People respect me here, and I was a bit afraid that Smith did not want to talk to the important people.”
Smith shrugged. “We are all equal. If you didn’t brag about being nobility I would have thought that you are just like me, a nice person but nobody really special. People like you, you do a lot for them and they do a lot in return. Now, let’s talk about your daughter. She is deaf?”
Edward nodded. “Yes. Just like her mother. Shall I translate?”
Smith smiled. “))That won’t be needed. I also know sign language((“
Rose emitted a sound of excitement and jumped up to sit in front of Smith. “))Why did you learn?((“
Smith sighed. “))I am a smith. A smith makes a lot of noise. Bad for hearing. Afraid to lose hearing, so learned this.((“
Rose smiled. “))Not afraid, already deaf. I can work for you, I want to make a metal rose.((“
“What are you doing? I also want to learn it.” Pebble interrupted.
Smith made a gesture of apology towards Rose, and turned towards Pebble. “It’s called ‘sign language’. Instead of speaking with our mouths we use our hands to form the words. That way a deaf person can communicate.”
Smith turned towards Rose again and said something in sign language, and Rose eagerly began to nod.
“What did you ask? I understand that her answer is ‘yes’, that’s hard to miss.” Pebble asked.
Smith smiled. “I asked her if she wants to help me teaching you. Tomorrow after setting up camp we begin. Gives us something to do along the way. Sharpening weapons is not important, it’s just a pastime.”
Edward smiled. “That’s wonderful. Others never wanted to learn.”
Smith nodded, and turned his body a little towards Rose to both speak to Edward and use sign language for Rose. “I assume you were always busy helping others. Never thought of others helping you. You would be surprised of how many people in the Neutral Zone know sign language. I know of at least twenty.”
Rose smiled. “))I know the Neutral Zone is a good place.((“
Walther nodded. “))Yes. All the soldiers know sign language. It is important that we can stay silent. Humans have bad hearing, but talking is just too loud.((“
Rose smiled, but didn’t sign anything. Smith suspected that if she were a Human she would be blushing. Walther was also acting different in a very subtle way.

“I hear screaming.” One of the Wolves noted.
Smith nodded. “I guess they have found them. Good, get some rope to tie them. How many were there?”
Edward shrugged. “I don’t know. It all happened too fast. Three or four I think.”
Smith also shrugged. “We’ll see when they get here. You have any idea how far they are? I want to look them in the eyes, see that they are properly tied, and go to my tent for some sleep.”
The Wolf who heard the screams also shrugged. “I don’t know. He really screamed at the top of his lungs. I really hope that the Tiger can save him.”

Some time later Boris, some shocked looking Wolves and a bloodied Arthur returned.
A tired looking Smith looked up in surprise. “No prisoners?”
One of the Wolves shook his head. “We couldn’t save them.”
Smith sighed. This was not the answer he wanted. “Could not save who? What happened? Why is Arthur covered in blood?”
“We couldn’t stop the Tiger… He killed them all… All twelve of them… Armed Wolves… The look in his eyes… Like he was… Feral.” A second Wolf answered.
Smith sighed. “I forgot to mention that Arthur is afraid of the dark. And I forgot to mention that Arthur has been a Feral… He has been like this one time before, and I was able to stop him then… And now I have more questions, for Edward… Twelve armed Wolves attacking… What in the forest is going on here? This is almost politics, and that is your area of expertise.”
Edward stared at the dying fire. “They don’t want us to go. They want us to think that you can not protect us. They want to divide us.”
Smith sighed and stood up. “This really is politics, and that gives me a headache. They did not want to kill, they wanted to maim. Kick your daughter into the fire, maybe injure some more to prevent them and those who want to help them from leaving, giving others fear… Walther, I want you to protect Edward’s daughter until we get home.”
Edward stared in disbelief at Smith. “This doesn’t make any sense. Killing you is far more effective. You are the one who needs the protection.”
Smith smiled. “I don’t know where Arthur is, but Minou is also gone, so I think she is taking care of him right now. He will protect me. Goodnight.”
“You want to know how we met Smith?” Was the last thing Smith heard Wulver say when he left for his evening business. He could only hope Wulver was not the exaggerating kind, that would make his life more difficult with people expecting too much of him.

User avatar
Neutral Smith
Templar GrandMaster
Posts: 671
Joined: Mon Feb 24, 2014 5:32 pm
Location: Neitherlands
Fav. Twokinds Character: Saria's father

Re: Forge of Kingdoms (NSFW) - Chapter 42

#49 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 42

It was a good night of rest in the tent with Pebble. ‘Being there for those who fall behind’ meant that they were the last to leave, and that gave them a bit more time to pack. And as a Human Smith was the only one who almost always uses a tent, even when it was good weather.
It was a long procession, led by some Wolves who Smith had seen a few times at the town hall of the Neutral Zone, but somehow had managed to escape his attention here. Like Edward almost did too. Smith could not determine whether they were local Wolves or in service of the king. Or local Wolves in service of the king.
Leopold would be somewhere halfway the long string of walking people and loaded carts, and he was about to leave.
“Being there for those who fall behind… Are you sure you are not a descendant of the old Human kings? You are really here for the people.” he spoke when he saw Smith standing besides the path, nodding and patting people on their shoulders to encourage them.
Smith grinned and slapped the Lion on the shoulder. “Move on Lion, you are halfway there. It’s a miracle you are not in your cart but actually seeing people.”
“You can’t do that to our king!” A shocked Pebble called out.
Smith grinned. “I can’t do that when he is my king. I can do that because we are friends… I think it’s time to empty our bladders for a last time here, because the last people on the field are moving.”
Arthur nodded. “Yes… Although I disapprove that you are the last one walking, attacks from the rear are a possibility, and you can’t hear them coming. Boris is walking a few hundred paces ahead of the king to smell and listen for danger there, that’s why he was asked to be here. If they are just too far away…”
Smith shrugged and walked away to do what he really needed to do, emptying his bladder.

Smith smiled when he returned. “Don’t worry about me. I got here without trouble, Pebble saved me once, she noticed the Wolf on the roof and saved the king, and I think she will help again as long as I feed her enough. I am even willing to carry her if she can’t walk, and she won’t be the first Wolf on my shoulders.”
Arthur grinned. “Don’t tell her what happened then, let Siegfried tell her. He has told it dozens of times.”
“Siegfried Black? Descendant of the Black king? You know him as well?” Edward asked.
Smith nodded. “Yes. That one. But he isn’t home right now, he is now at the court of king Leopold, I think he has a lot of power right now… You could say he is the deputy king… But I am sure you will meet him one day.”
Edward smiled. “I’d love to. It’s time to go.”
Smith nodded. “Yes. Although I don’t like it when you walk with me, I want you to walk at front. Not as a leader, but to slow down those who want to go too fast.”
Edward smiled and shrugged. “Yes. I will. Tomorrow.”

The pace was a little bit slower than Smith liked. But there were some heavy carts loaded with pigs in the long line of people, those couldn’t be pushed and pulled at a normal walking speed.
A few times he almost had to wait because someone needed to urinate or take another break, but as soon as Smith got to them they briefly smiled and hurried back to their place in the line. It was just a bit too awkward to have a Human staring at you while you were doing your business, so running ahead, do the thing and if it took a bit too long run back was the way to do it. No need to ‘be there’ for Smith.

“Are you not upset about last night?” Arthur asked while they were walking.
Smith shrugged. “You are alive, that’s all that matters. You made it a bit safer here. Weren’t you scared?”
Arthur shook his head. “No… It’s odd. We didn’t have torches, but I did not even think of it. I… woke up when everything was over. Thanks to Boris.”
Smith shrugged. “Feral again, but because you knew you were not alone and the danger was gone you turned back. When you go Feral and you are alone you will never know when the danger is over.”
Arthur nodded. “Yes, that is a good explanation… Just look at Walther and Rose. He finally has someone to care for. Thanks to your quick thinking.”
Smith looked at Walther and Rose walking some distance ahead of them, with Edward walking in front of them.

“Hey Walther!” Smith shouted.

Walther and Rose unlocked their arms to turn around to see what Smith wanted to say.

“))Hello.((“ Smith signed.

Walther made a rude gesture in return.

“Did you salute Walther?” Pebble asked.

Smith shook his head. “No. That was the sign for ‘hello’. A salute is more focused on the hand towards the head, a hello is more focused on the hand away from the head.”

Pebble nodded. “I understand. A salute is more a forced hello, and you are friendly… What did Walther say?”

Smith laughed. “Something between copulation and go away, often used by Humans. Better forget that one.”

Arthur grinned. “That was not a very nice thing to do. You brought them together, and you forced them to release each other to see your stupid hello.”

The day was as slow as the walking speed, but the weather was nice. Smith was wondering if Leopold had taken the slower speed of the carts into account when he planned the supply points. But he would be disappointed if the Lion hadn’t.
There was not much to talk about, and it seemed that the Wolves liked it that way, walk in silence. Humans and Felines were always talking. Or the Wolves just had nothing to talk about, knowing each other for all their lives, and Smith was walking a bit too far behind them to talk to over your shoulder.

In the early afternoon Smith saw an older woman who was leaning against a tree, head hung down like she was tired. It was the same woman Smith had talked to the evening before.
“Looks like we got another straggler.” Smith noted.
“Shall I also wait?” Arthur asked.
Smith shrugged. “I don’t know… I have the feeling this is not a normal break to rest.”
The old woman shook her head and sat down. “You go on to your house, smithy and your horse. This is my final resting place.”
Smith shook his head and also sat down. “Arthur, Pebble… You go on. I don’t know how stubborn this old lady is, but I am far more stubborn.”
Arthur nodded. “Very well. See you… Tomorrow?”
Smith shrugged. “I don’t know. Good thing we all have rations with us, so I can take my time. And there is some fowl here, although not the good tasting kind. You teach Pebble some sign language, I’m afraid I’ll teach her the wrong things to say first. Katie was also terrible with that in Human, she also learned how to swear in Human first. And somehow even some Berg swear words.”
The old woman smiled painfully. “It won’t be long. I can feel that my heart is giving up.”
Smith nodded. “I just hope there won’t be others dying without me knowing. Dying of old age is nice, dying alone in a forest is not… But that’s me as a Human talking.”

The woman smiled some time later, after the others were out of sight. “They know you, that’s why they didn’t argue. I wish I had time to get to know you better, but my grandson is waiting. I can see him.”
Smith politely smiled. “You are delirious. You want some water?”
The woman shook her head. “No. He is right there, behind you in the bushes!”
Out of courtesy Smith looked over his shoulder. There was indeed a Wolf crouching in the bushes at the other side of the path. “He is alive. But Feral.” Smith noted.
“His body is here, but his mind is gone. And I am going with him.” the woman spoke with a weakening voice.
Smith sighed. He did not want to argue with the old woman in her last breaths.

When Smith was absolutely certain the old lady was dead, no response for a fly landing on her eye, he carefully moved her in a more decent position, leaning against a tree and looking up towards the sky, like Inimals do when they have to move a dead body out of the way. The old woman looked peaceful.
Smith sighed, stood up and turned around, facing the Wolf who was now standing where Smith first saw him. “You knew her?”
The Wolf nodded. “My father’s mother.”
Smith gestured the Wolf to sit down with him, sat down himself and opened his backpack. “You want something to eat? You have… missed a few things and I want to fill in the gaps.”
The Wolf nodded. “Yes… What’s happening? War? Here?”
Smith shrugged. “Something like that. I won.”

“I still can’t believe you won.” Will spoke louder when they were walking again. He had mumbled something earlier, but Smith couldn’t hear him.
Smith shrugged. “If I didn’t win we wouldn’t be walking here and disturbing you, I would have been dead and nobody knew of them. And you would still be Feral.”
Wallis nodded. “Sounds reasonable. You want to walk on, or rest?”
Smith shrugged. “Walk on. Until dark. We even may catch up with the rest, I don’t know where they planned to stop. It is a long line of people, I think twice as long as anticipated so if they want to give everyone a good rest the leaders must stop rather early.”
Wallis nodded. “Yes. Good thing you have some rations, and killed those birds. If we catch up with the others we can toss those away, if we don’t we can prepare and eat those as soon as the sun goes down.
Smith smiled. “Now I have someone with better ears. If I say we camp but you say the others are nearby we’ll walk on, even after dark. It wouldn’t be the first time someone was just a few minutes of walking away from me in the forest.”

They arrived at the large group a bit after sundown. Smith wanted to stop, but Wallis heard them.
“That didn’t take too long. I see you have another Feral brought back.” Wulver greeted Smith and Wallis.
Wallis nodded. “Yes… You act like this is normal? I’m Wallis.”
Wulver grinned. “I’m Wulver. And yes, with Smith the weirdest things are normal.”
Arthur nodded. “Indeed. I was a Feral too, and so was Lilith, and there are some more but those are not here. My name is Arthur.”
Wallis smiled. “So I am in good company?”
Boris nodded. “Yes. I heard you coming. Smith really stomps the ground when he walks. I think the food is coming, a roe deer Smith killed yesterday. Pebble is going to get it.”
“You are blind?” Wallis asked.
Boris nodded. “You have good eyes. Yes. Boris, blind tracker. I smelled you earlier, but I didn’t consider you a thread, so you lived. We had only three people trying to rob the king today, so it was a good first day of walking.”
Smith smiled. “Boris has a good sense of hearing and smell. And a good sense of humor too. Now, let me introduce you to my other friends. First there’s Boris, not a Feral, he worked for a poacher and I was… not very friendly for that poacher. Over there we have Arthur White, former Feral, what would you think when you saw me wrestle a Common Tiger to save him? Saving Arthur from that Common I mean.”
Wallis grinned. “That would be very stupid… I mean confusing.”
Smith nodded. “The male Wolf is Wulver, also not a Feral, but he was on the other side of a field where we killed some more poachers who were hunting Ferals, the female Wolf next to him is Lilith, former Feral and one of those captured by those poachers, don’t make her angry, and the Cat is Minou, also not a Feral, Boris heard her in a river, I pulled her out with some help. Over there at that fire is Walther, I got him from the prison in Schotenburg. The others are not from the Neutral Zone.”
Wallis smiled. “I recognize some of them. Edward and his daughter… The king is also here?”
Smith nodded. “Yes. If you want to say ‘hi’ tell them I sent you… I understand there was some trouble?”
Boris shrugged. “Same as at home, people wanting to rob travelers, I hear them, others get rid of them. I don’t know what happened, I only warned. Only difference was that the king’s soldiers did the dirty work this time.”
Arthur nodded. “But I dragged the bodies a bit further away from the path like we always do, maybe that’s why you missed them. They just left them on the side of the path.”
Smith shrugged. “Welcome to the Neutral Zone. Although this is not the Neutral Zone. Wallis is also a soldier.”
Wallis nodded. “Yes. Far south. Is that Pebble? She has grown much since I saw her last time.”
Smith smiled. “Yes. That’s Pebble. Her mother is looking for her father, and until they are reunited my friends and I will take care of her. She saved me from the innkeeper, and she saved the king from another Grey.”
Wallis nodded. “Just like her father. A good guard.”
Pebble nodded and handed Smith and Wallis a large piece of roe deer. “Yes.”
Smith grinned. “And as talkative as ever. How are the lessons going? It’s a pity I couldn’t be here, but I trust my friends enough to leave her with them.”
Pebble stuck her thumb up.

Arthur smiled. “So, you are a soldier. We could use that ourselves. Smith may have told you about the battles, and we have lost a lot of soldiers. You want to join us?”
Wallis nodded. “Yes, of course. Smith already promised me a sword, a shield and armor. Something we didn’t get. It seems that our king followed the Human strategy to get rid of the soldiers, just send more instead of better equipped. And that even before Smith told him.”
Smith raised his hand. “Your past is over, and your future in the Neutral Zone is more than a moon away. The food is gone, and now it’s a time for rest. In contrast to others I won’t tell you what to do in the following days and weeks, but I will observe. So far you disappoint me a little, you are polite but didn’t tell something was wrong, namely the blood on the path.”
Wallis looked a bit shocked at Smith. “I didn’t tell you because I saw that you saw the blood. You turned your head to look at where the trail was going to. I did not want to state the obvious.”
Smith shrugged. “Then I recall my last statement. You are better than I thought. Time for sleep.”

“Smith?” Wallis asked when Smith was almost asleep, on his sleeping mat, but he hadn’t put up his tent.
“Hmm? What?” Smith mumbled. He was almost asleep.

“Can I kiss you for everything you do?”

“Yes, you can do that.” Walther replied. He apparently was also still awake, and close by.

Before Smith knew what was going on he was on his back and received another Wolven kiss.
Wallis was a bit more gentle than the other Wolves, but on the other hand Smith was a bit too surprised to actually struggle.
Smith sighed. “Go to sleep, Wolf.”
In response Wallis lied down, against Smith. From the other side a giggling Pebble dragged her sleeping mat closer, and lied down at Smith’s left side. “Mommy and daddy” she giggled.
Smith grinned in the darkness. “I’ll be the daddy.”, and hugged Wallis, who in response rolled away and put the sleeping mat which he had gotten from someone a bit further away and lied down again, just out of Smith’s reach.

The days were slow, and to the surprise of Smith nothing really special happened, nobody died and no children were born. Minou had to treat only a few minor injuries.
Wallis got along well with Arthur and Wulver, and in the evening Smith sharpened the soldier weapons and occasionally spoke a few words with Rose, teaching her a bit about sharpening. The only real surprising thing was that Harry’s mother who he had met at the Academy was also in the group. It were not the inhabitants of a small region, but of a much larger region, all the way up to the sea in the north, where he got people from. They joined the original group on the first day, but Smith walking at the back didn’t notice it. But they were also friendly and were told about what Smith has said and done.
Everyone was healthy, thanks to the help they got in the moons before Smith arrived. It seemed that the help was sent as soon as Smith left the castle.
And even the boardwalk was not a secret for the Wolves. They knew it exists, but they didn’t use it because they can’t take all the food they need along, and hunting and fishing is hard for them. The Hounds can not use their slings and metal fishing hooks are rare and expensive.
And Smith was wrong about the ‘Canines walk in silence’, on the first day they were just a bit overwhelmed with emotions. The only disappointing thing was that Smith didn’t get to talk much with the Dogs and Hounds, it seemed that there was still some fear, and they didn’t want to interrupt the Wolves. Only on the hunts for more food Smith got to talk to them, albeit briefly.

Arthur, Walther, Minou, Edward, Wallis and while Smith was sharpening their weapons even some soldiers were teaching Pebble sign language in a very clever way. Rose sat in Smith’s tent, invisible for them, and Pebble sat in front of them, mimicking, not mirroring, their gestures while they spoke the words aloud. If Pebble had it wrong Rose couldn’t understand what they said, or they couldn’t understand what Rose wanted to say, and Pebble had to try again until she got it right, and the conversation was one word further.

After ten days Leopold and his entourage left the column of people and carts to head north, back to the capital. A few days later than everyone thought, and he took Boris and Wulver with him. Boris for protection, and he wanted to discuss something with Wulver about the poachers that entered the Inimal kingdom. Minou and Lilith stayed with the rest to go home. After the king left the supplies at the supply points got larger and there was less need for hunting. It was like a message was sent, that the group was much larger. But that was no surprise, as a king you don’t admit you were wrong in front of your people. Smith really missed the hunting parties.

The landscape was barren, only dense forests and open fields, no signs of people living there, only paths and roads, many old paved ones. But the Inimal kingdom was sparsely populated, with large areas of no-mans land. It was roughly Vulpine in the north, Feline in the south, Canine in the west, and the mixed capital and surrounding villages in between, with the now abandoned Canine/Vulpine village across the border as the most eastern example.
The Feline village they would pass would be the most northern village of the Felines.

“Edward, can you assemble everyone. I want to say something about where we will be in a few days.” Smith asked Edward, who was eating. They were six days away from the Feline village where Smith promised to sharpen things.
Edward nodded. “Yes, but let me finish this first.”
Smith nodded. “Of course. Take your time. It’s about the village we will visit.”
Edward smiled. “Don’t worry about it. I already have sent messengers ahead, they know we are coming, and they are most helpful. At our next supply point we’ll meet Carl and Casper.”
Smith nodded again. “It’s not about the village, and what they can do for us. It’s about us, and what we can do for them. I promised them some sharpening of everything metal that is supposed to be sharp, but you, the Canines, also can do a lot of things. We will enter Feline territory and they… had some trouble with Wolves in the past, and I want to show them that not all Wolves are bad.”
Edward shook his head. “Smith… You have nothing to worry about. Nine blades of the head saw, five sets of chisels, but not the ones you made, nine handsaws, twenty-three axes and a lot of knives and smaller tools for you… they also got them from surrounding villages, and we are going to help with the foundations of three buildings, dig a lot for drainage, some heavy logs that need transportation and a lot of cleaning and other things.”
Smith sighed. “You think of everything. Or was it the king?”
Edward smiled. “Bit of both. That Smith Tiger is already at that village, you don’t have to do all the sharpening.”
Smith started to laugh. “Why am I even here?”
Edward grinned. “You are here for those who fall behind, watching them piss and poo.”

When Smith reached the supply point in the evening a few days later he saw that Carl, Casper and Tina were there, surrounded by Wolves who were admiring their horses.
“Those are not food.” Smith spoke loud enough to be heard, but not loud enough to startle the horses.
Some Wolves turned around and laughed. “It’s been a long time since we have seen horses. Horses are a Wolf thing, not a Tiger thing. Although they all have the sign of the Wolf cavalry.”
Smith nodded. “Ask Lilith how Casper, the young one, got his horses.”
Lilith grinned. “We killed some Human poachers for them.”
The Wolves also grinned. “Is there a time when you create life to do something good?”
Smith sighed. “I have created life, but Wolves have taken it away. My first wife was pregnant with my child, a few weeks to go, when an attack by Wolves happened. I have created that life, your kind has taken it away, and if you had not done that I would still be a simple smith making chisels.”
Carl nodded. “Best chisels ever. Be prepared for a lot more orders. Smith Tiger is very busy sharpening, but also collecting orders for chisels and other tools. And my horses got the little wooden horse head at the quarry. I’m… now officially a friend of the Wolves.”
One of the Wolves, a Grey, nodded. “Yes. I got a message that my cousin William is now working for you. Did he carve the heads?”
Casper nodded. “Yes. You should have seen the smile on his face when he saw the pregnant Antoinette and Louis again. And it got even bigger when he heard that Harold Human spoke Inimal, and was looking for someone to replace him.”
Smith smiled. “That’s good to hear.”

The journey to the village was uneventful. Smith was walking at the rear, and did not have a chance for long talks with Casper while walking. The only opportunity was in the evenings.
He learned that at home not much happened, everyone at home was very busy with making baskets, forging and quite a few orders to deliver, and Mary was away on Louis while William took care of Antoinette and the other horses. Recently a large group of Humans had arrived, but Casper didn’t know the details of it.
The news about the Humans worried Smith a little, and he fell silent, remembering what happened last winter, and the next cold of winter was just a few moons away. But Rolph and the Humans of Smithsville took care of those, Smith had nothing to worry about. When he was sunken in thoughts a few Wolves patted him on his shoulder, and assured him that they would help the Humans when they got the chance, just like Smith was helping them.
Smith sighed. What could he do? Those Humans were not his problem. His problem was the large group he brought in. They were building barracks, but not for this many.

Smith, Pebble and Arthur walked as the last people into the village in the early afternoon, and headed straight to the sawmill, which was located on the west side of the village. The rest of the people went to the field south of the village, over a wooden bridge large enough for a large cart.
“You are going to do your sharpening work?” Pebble asked.
Smith nodded. “Yes. I promised to do this work in exchange for their help. Normally I ask money for sharpening, but it’s useless to ask for money for the sharpening, and giving them money for the help they give. It’s a good thing this is the only village we encounter, if I had to sharpen everywhere it would take until next summer to get home.”
Pebble nodded. “Or give a lot of money.”

“Good afternoon Smith, I see you are already busy!” Smith greeted his colleague who was working under the roof that was for storing wood. Smith imagined that on normal days this working area would be full with tree trunks, timber and lumber, but now there were a number of makeshift shelves with a few items that were sharpened, makeshift shelves of items that needed sharpening, and two working tables.
Smith Tiger nodded. “Yes, a few simple things. Some knives, and an axe they need.”
“I thought you would be with the Canines.” the Jaguar owner of the sawmill greeted Smith.
Smith shrugged. “I have been long enough around them. This is the only one I want to keep around. This is Pebble, her mother is looking for her father, somewhere, and I take care of her until they are reunited. The White is Arthur, he is here for my protection.”
Smith Tiger nodded. “Katie’s successor I reckon. I just hope she is… not as mischievous. I heard some stories. Black as Panthers, and you were the smart one. You got the old general to shut up, the only thing I could do was hammer a bit more on the anvil to drown out his voice.”
Arthur grinned. “He didn’t dare to enter the smithy, and he sent his adopted son in first.”
Smith shrugged. “And I was thinking the old general was teaching his son something. Good to hear the story from the outside.”
Arthur nodded. “Yes. Katie, William and Pebble… I wonder what your own children will be like. At least you have some experience.
Smith smiled. “Yes. They are quite different. And the same at the same time. But they are not Humans, or Foxes, or Dogs.”

“Why don’t you take a little break?” John the sawmill owner asked Smith a few hours before dinnertime.
Smith stood up to look at the sun for an estimate of the time. “Why? It’s still early. I have not finished this set of chisels.”
John smiled. “Because I say so. You have done so many things for this village, you deserve it.”
Smith shrugged. “I am not doing this for you, I am doing this for the Neutral Zone. We need people, and I have these people, and I want them home as soon as possible.”
John shook his head. “No. You are going for a swim, and you are going to enjoy it. The water in the millpond is clean and still warm at this time of year.”
Smith Tiger nodded. “Yes. You have walked the entire day, you enter the sawmill and start sharpening without a break. Go and relax. You didn’t even notice me taking a break.”
Smith sighed, and got his bathing pants from his backpack. “Pebble, you also want to go for a swim?”
Pebble shook her head. “No. I’m going to the others. And I already swam today. The people here are nice.”
“Arthur?” Smith asked.
Arthur also politely shook his head. “No, I… also have other things to do. I think it’s safe enough to leave you for a while.”
Smith shrugged, and went to a secluded part to put on his bathing pants.

The millpond was a nice body of water held by an old stone dam with some sluices. The water wheel was a simple breastshot in a medium sized mill race, but that was a good model for the limited height the water fell. It was an old mill, and Smith could see that there were some Canine influences, mainly in the foundations and dam, but no Berg. The Bergvolk used more the overshot and pitchback kind of water wheels, and Smith had even seen some reversibles during his time there.
When Smith entered the water he understood why the others didn’t want to come. Tina, Tine but also Tina Too were already in the water, and swam towards him as soon as they saw him. Nobody told him about them being here.
“Good afternoon ladies.” Smith greeted them. He had been alone and without privacy for far too long, and didn’t care about his promise of one of a species at a time.

“You enjoyed your evening swim?” Edward greeted Smith when he walked onto the field to put up his tent somewhere.
“Yes. Almost lost my bathing pants.” Smith replied.
Edward smiled. “You want something to eat?”
Smith nodded. “Yes. That would be nice.”
Edward shrugged and handed Smith some meat. “I thought you would… show more emotions.”
Smith sighed. “I’m not proud of what I have done. You talked to Arthur? About what happened at the Academy when we were there to bring Katie there?”
Edward nodded. “Yes. I’m sorry. You do have a reputation.”
Smith grinned. “There’s a third Tigress at home. She can get a whole night with me. If she wants to… You must know about my… outside my own species activities, but Wolves are also not shy of it.”
Edward nodded. “Yes… Thank you for killing… those. It would have made being here a bit more difficult, but now we can build the best buildings here. Stone foundations that will never rot.”
Smith nodded. “We all must enjoy it.”
Arthur who also joined them also nodded. “They asked me if you would be fine with it.”
Smith shrugged. “I’m not fine with it, but I needed it. It felt good.”

Days were slow, with a lot of items that needed sharpening. Especially the head saw blades were tedious, with all sets of teeth looking alike. It felt a lot longer than the two-and-a-half days it actually took to sharpen all nine of them to perfection. But the normal handsaws were also boring to sharpen. In the evenings a few women were interested, but Smith declined.
The Canines also had done their part of the deal, and they were just lingering around in the village, talking to the people and doing tasks they could do. Even the Dog whores had a few clients, the Wolves that Smith and Tine had killed had been around for quite some time and they had taken a lot of women.

“Smith, do you have some time to talk?” John Shopkeeper suddenly asked. He was accompanied by John of the sawmill, Carl, Casper, and Edward.
Smith looked up from sharpening of one of the last knives. “About what? I’m almost done.”
The shopkeeper sighed. “It’s… about us. This village. We want to join the Neutral Zone.”
Smith also sighed, and inspected the blade he was sharpening. “In my opinion you all are free to go wherever you want, if you want to come to the Neutral Zone that’s no problem, but the only problem is that we don’t have people to help you settle. There are a lot more people coming than anticipated and I promised those a stone and wood shelter, we can’t reassign builders to build for you. You can offer more money to do their work for you, but in the end that won’t benefit you. Wait until after winter, then we’ll have time for you.”
The shopkeeper nodded. “I see. And what if we help you?”
Smith shrugged “Depends. With how many are you?”
The shopkeeper sighed. “About a thousand. This village and a half day around.”
Smith also sighed and started sharpening again. “That’s too many. When I left home to get these Canines I thought it would be about three thousand, but it turned out to be six thousand. That already are three thousand that don’t get the shelter they deserve before winter… But I have an alternative for you. There is a now abandoned village four days west my home, you can live there. Still in the Inimal kingdom, but close to us. It is mostly Canine buildings, a few Feline, and it’s surrounded by empty Vulpine farms. It has an inn, a store, a smithy, doctor’s office… The only thing it doesn’t have is a sawmill. Smith Tiger can tell you more about it.”
Smith Tiger nodded. “Indeed. My old village. Just as Smith told, good enough. Only one building is occupied, a Cheetah messenger who sleeps in her old house when she has a delivery in the Inimal kingdom.”
John of the sawmill nodded. “We can build what we don’t have. If we can ‘borrow’ some of your Canines it will be perfect. That way you don’t have to give them all a place to stay.”
Edward nodded. “I think some will be willing to do that. A few have second thoughts, they thought they would live closer to you. But it’s still four days instead of five.”
Carl nodded. “Closest village to us is six days away, and then four onto the next one, or nine from here. A lot more people, all kinds of people, only four days away, is much better. A lot of trade.”
Smith nodded, and grinned. “A Wolf is responsible for housing the Humans that come to the Neutral Zone, I am responsible for the Inimals. That village is outside of the Neutral Zone and my mandate, so it’s not my responsibility. I welcome the trade, but don’t you dare to cause trouble on my side of the border.”
The Jaguars nodded. “Sounds like a deal.” they spoke in unison. They did not look they were related to each other, but it was still creepy.
“And what about all the work we have done here?” Pebble asked.
John of the sawmill shrugged. “We didn’t think of that. We talked about it yesterday.”
Smith also shrugged. “Use messengers about what you want. I don’t know what your king has promised you, but I think he won’t be happy if he suddenly has to defend an abandoned village.”
Edward nodded. “I am willing to stay here to help them with the paperwork.”
Smith also nodded. “Edward, Smith… When everyone is settled I want you to return here, not sooner. You know more about your old village than I do, help them making a list about what they need. Casper, you also return here because you know what we have in the Neutral zone.”
Smith Tiger and Casper nodded. They did not look happy about what they were asked, being far away from home in winter, but they were willing to do it. For their own kind.
Edward smiled. “I understand why everyone calls you a king, and soldiers salute you. It would be an honor to work for you.”
Carl nodded. “Indeed. That village is a good location for a transportation hub, there are also a few Wolves interested in handling horses, those are easier to obtain from you than from us. At first I wasn’t happy about moving towards you, but now I’m looking forward to it.”

The last supply points were manned by Bergvolk and Humans from the Neutral Zone, the Bergvolk on the Inimal side of the border and the Humans on the Neutral side.
The Canines were relieved that the Humans spoke Inimal, and the Dogs and Hounds already tried to speak some Human, to the amusement of the Humans because of their accent and misuse of words.
The remainder of the journey was easy and on the last days the speed was really slow. And on the last night Smith missed a lot of familiar faces, including Walther, Rose and Edward. Lilith left a few days earlier, there was no reason for a detour to her home. Minou headed north to go home as soon as she entered the village, her task as being the medical support was done.

When Smith finally entered the quarry village around noon he saw that there were some large Human military tents with neat queues of Wolves and other Canines. As soon as one or a family left a tent the next in line entered.
“Pebble, come along. I want to see what they are doing.” Smith spoke at a firm tone, but relieved at the same time. He was almost home.
When Smith entered a tent through the back entrance he startled the people inside a little, but as soon as they recognized him they smiled.
“Welcome. Normal people have to wait for their turn, but I assume you have a place to stay.” Wilhelm greeted them.
Smith grinned. “Yes. And also for this young one, assuming my smithy didn’t burn down.”
Wilhelm nodded. “Erm… What’s his name… Edward already told me yesterday.” and flipped through some papers that were on the table. “Pebble White Wolf, age four, daughter of Marble White Wolf, housewife, and William White Wolf, king’s guard. Occupation: child, education needed. Wants to be: unknown.”
Pebble nodded. “I want to be a guard.”
Smith grinned. “What you want is not important. Where your life takes you is. I wanted to be a lumberjack, strong and always outside in the forest, but became a smith and now I’m becoming even something else… I assume you do this for every Wolf and other Canine that I brought here today?”
Wilhelm nodded. “Indeed. I do this in this tent, Diego, Rolph and some other Wolves and even a few Humans are in the other tents. Writing down who they are and what they want. In this tent we have seen approximately eighty people yesterday and today, and already seven of them said ‘cesspit cleaner’ on the question of what they want to be. And I don’t think they were lying, they really were desperate to do something useful.”
Smith nodded. “Very well… I’m going to do some walking around and talk. I don’t know what else I can do here, my work is done. I didn’t have time for a lot of talking on our journey.”
Wilhelm grinned. “And being kissed?”
Wallis who just entered the tent for his turn to give his information also grinned. “I can do that too.”
Smith laughed. “Wallis. Adult. Former Feral. I don’t know his living family relations, I was there when his grandmother from his father’s side died, trained soldier, and I want him far away, guarding that bridge beyond my old village. No kisses from him today.”
Wilhelm grinned. “It’s good to have you. Soldier… Kick that Human out so I can write down the correct information. Don’t worry, you are not the first Feral, so not a lot of questions about how you feel.”
“We’re leaving.” Smith spoke when he walked out again, Pebble following him.

The greetings of the other Wolves of the quarry village were passionate.
“So we were allowed to kiss him?” One of the Wolves who were done with the registering noted.
Smith laughed, and shook his head. “There is no law that prohibits it, it’s just me who doesn’t like it.”
The last Wolf who kissed Smith grinned. “But we do like it. Welcome. Had a good journey?”
The other Wolf nodded. “Yes. More food than we had at home, and I even got to talk to the king.”
The villager nodded. “The Human king was here too. He was proud of what Smith was doing, helping us. He provided us the tents for the registration, but I think Mary also has something to do with it, she also does a lot to help. I heard he stayed at the smithy in Smithsville, because the owner wouldn’t be home for some time.”
Smith nodded. “If the others allowed it and he behaved I’m fine with that. Sturdy walls, easy do defend, no secrets. Safer than a tent or the inn, and free warm water when the forge is used.”
The villager nodded. “That sounds very reasonable. Do you want to see what we have for the newcomers?”
Smith smiled. “Yes, of course.”

“As you can see we have a lot of dormitories.” The villager explained when they approached the buildings on the south side of the village, relative close to the quarry. “Twenty large eight-room buildings with their own kitchen with water pump and lavatory, twenty-four sleeping places in each room, and sixteen smaller but twelve-room buildings, eight people in the downstairs rooms, and six in the upstairs, but those dormitories don’t have their own kitchen, every four of them have their own separate buildings with kitchens, and lavatories for every two buildings. And a lot more space between those buildings for more temporary shelters, that’s why the kitchens and lavatories are larger than you would expect.”
Smith smiled, but quickly his smile dropped. “You really sound proud of your work… The buildings… that’s… about eight hundred we don’t have a place for. I got more at the village than we thought, and along the way even more people joined us. We got six thousand instead of four.”
The villager shrugged. “You are fast with your calculating. But we have the second inn, and I think there are still some other buildings not occupied in Smithsville. Humans don’t dare to live in a building where people have died, some kind of superstition. They prefer to stay in tents… Just a few days a bit cramped with more people in a room than intended, and when everyone and everything is sorted out the people can move to their destinations. I think a lot of them want to be farmers, because of the good supply of the fodder the Humans produce, those can move in with Human farmers, leaving their place at the dormitories for others.”
Smith shrugged. “The Humans and their superstitions are not my problem. The Canines I brought in today are. But I think everything is arranged, I think we can go home tomorrow.”
The villager nodded. “Yes, you could. But we want you to stay here for a few days. Relax. Not thinking about walking or working.”
Smith sighed. “I miss home. I want to go home… But alright, we’ll leave the day after tomorrow. I have a young Wolf I have to take care of, she deserves a good bed, good food and someone figuring out where her parents are. It might involve a lot of letters I have to write, and fast messengers. And I have two Cheetahs at home.”
The villager nodded. “I’d say the day after that, and go with the people who are going to live in Smithsville. You know a lot, and we might need your advise here.”
Smith smiled. “You work with Wilhelm, and you already talked to Edward, haven’t you?”
The villager nodded. “Another village coming, but Felines. Going to our old village. We want to know more.”
Smith nodded. “Yes, that’s a good reason to ask me questions I don’t have answers for. I’m going to put my tent somewhere around here I think. If you have a question you can find me, and this way the newcomers still have a familiar face around. Are you fine with that?”
The villager nodded. “Yes. It’s good to have you as our king. The Human king wanted the entire second inn for himself, you just sleep in your own castle you take along.”
Smith grinned. “Inimals sleep in the open air when they are away from home, normal Humans prefer solid walls and a roof so that’s why the Human kingdom has so many inns, taverns, lodges and other buildings where travelers can sleep and eat, and I am in-between, in a tent.”
The villager nodded. “We will bring you food… By the way, we have one of those Human tents left, we could put that one here, with a table and some chairs so you can talk to the people here.”
Smith nodded. “That’s fine. There’s rain coming, make it quick.”

When Smith and Pebble were sitting in the entrance of the tent Walther and Rose walked by.
Smith and Pebble greeted them, surprising them, they didn’t expect a hidden Smith sitting behind a table.
“))What are you doing here?((“ Rose asked.
“Pebble, tell her that we are here to talk to people.” Smith asked Pebble who was sitting next to him on a higher chair from Diego’s inn. The same one that Katie had used a long time ago.
Pebble nodded. “))We here to talk to people. People ask stupid questions, Smith give silly answers.((“
Smith grinned. “))Yes. I think they want to talk about the people of the Feline village who want to move here, but they are still too busy registering people, and let us wait here, for a few days.((“
Walther nodded. “We are going home. My home. Edward stays here, so, see you in a few days.”
Smith also nodded. “))See you in a few days. You want to borrow my tent?((”
Walther shook his head. “No, we are not Humans. And we don’t care about privacy.”

User avatar
Neutral Smith
Templar GrandMaster
Posts: 671
Joined: Mon Feb 24, 2014 5:32 pm
Location: Neitherlands
Fav. Twokinds Character: Saria's father

Re: Forge of Kingdoms (NSFW) - Chapter 43

#50 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 43

The afternoon was boring, not a lot of people had time to talk. Everyone was busy with giving people a place to stay or getting a place to stay, even after a few days. It seemed that not all the dormitories would be for the Canines Smith brought in, but two of the smaller ones would be for Humans from Schotenburg, and that gave some additional problems.
Pebble was not the usual bored child. She also sat calmly on her chair, looking around.
“Why don’t you go and play with some children? Or at least inform me how Hope and Faith are doing, children of people I helped, those are working at the inn, Dory and Diana Dog.” Smith suddenly said.
Pebble shrugged. “I’m tired. I want to sleep.”
Smith sighed. “I’m tired as well. I also want to sleep, but in my own bed at home. Just five more days of walking is all it takes, but nooo, they want to keep me here, I could give them advice.”
Pebble grinned. “You sound like a cow. Moo!”
Smith nodded. “Yes I am ‘moe’, m-o-e, the Human word for tired. Pronunciation is pretty good.”
Pebble briefly smiled and closed her eyes. Smith wondered if she could sleep upright.

“<Smith is here.>” Someone said.

‘Mommy!” Pebble shouted.

Smith’s eyes shot open. Was he really sleeping on a chair, sitting behind an empty table?
There were two heavily armored soldiers on horseback, and a white female Wolf between them. Tied.

“<Release that Wolf.>” Was the first thing Smith said.

“<No.>” One of the soldiers replied.

Smith stood up and walked slowly around the table, keeping as much distance between him and the horses as possible.
“<Do you have any idea who I am?>” Smith asked.
The other soldier nodded. “<Peter… Bob… Smith… A fourth name lost in history… A murderer.>”
Smith nodded and slowly walked forward, making the horses uneasy. “<So yo know who I am. Your horses are smarter than you are. Don’t you feel how uneasy they are?>”
To add to the tense atmosphere it started to rain again.
“<By the might of the glorious leader.>” The other soldier muttered while he had some trouble controlling his horse.
“<Second and final warning. Release her. Otherwise I have to step forward and cut the rope with my sword, and your horses don’t like me that close.>”
The first soldier snickered. “<You don’t have your sword.>”
Smith held his left hand out, and Pebble gave him his scabbard with sword. “<Now I have.>”
The soldier whose horse the woman was tied to hastily untied the knot that bound her and the saddle.
The woman ran towards Pebble who immediately started to cut the rope that tied her hands with her dagger.
Smith looked at the soldiers. They were not the normal soldiers of the Human kingdom, they were different. The color accents on their clothes, armor and shields were not the royal blue, but purple, and even the fact that they were so well equipped was odd, they had helmets, more armor plating than the royal guard, and they both even had chain mail.
“<Who are you, and why did you bring that Wolf to me?>” Smith finally asked, taking a few steps backwards.
One of the soldiers produced a piece of official looking paper. “<Our glorious and benevolent leader has decided that this Wolf was allowed to live as a sign of good will. She attempted to enter our capital of Schotenburg to ‘get her husband out of prison’, or so she declared.>” He read, or pretended to read.
Smith nodded. “<Good. You stay here.>”
“<You can’t force us to stay! You have no mandate!>” The soldier hastily spoke. This was not according to his plan. They did not like being here, surrounded by Wolves.
Smith jumped forward and waved his arms. “Yaaa!!!” He shouted.
The reaction of the horses was predictable. One broken collarbone and one badly injured foreign soldier.

Smith saw that the horses were captured, sighed, and got to get his backpack. The soldier with the broken collarbone was beyond swearing and simply stared at Smith, clasping his shoulder. The other soldier got his foot tangled in a stirrup, and was dragged along for quite some distance until he got loose and got kicked by the horse.

“What do you think you are doing?”

Smith turned around and hanged his backpack over his shoulders, and faced Wilhelm. “Getting a certain male White Wolf out of the prison in Schotenburg. And the rest of the prisoners… Get some help ready at the border.”
“You can’t do that!” Wilhelm protested.
Smith shrugged “Talk to the people of the town hall of Smithsville, they declared me king. I can do whatever I want.” and started walking. Not east, but northwest, towards the smithy of the quarry village, there was something he needed first.

There were a few new faces working at the smithy, but they were most helpful with Smith’s request. Two hours later Smith finally walked east with the special tool he needed. The only thing he hoped for was that the gates of Schotenburg weren’t fixed.
Someone tapped on Smith’s shoulders. It was Rolph.
“<I thought you were gone.>” He finally said, after a few moments of contemplating whether he should kiss Smith or not.
Smith shook his head. “<No. Not yet, but I leave now. Remember the gates of Schotenburg? Big crack between them?>”
Rolph nodded. “<Yes. And now I understand that strange thing you have on your backpack. Something to lift that block that keeps the gates closed from the outside. Clever.>”
Smith shrugged. “<These soldiers… Last thing I know about Schotenburg is that there was a lot of trouble. And seeing these different soldiers makes me think I need a different approach. Wish me luck.>”
Rolph grinned. “<You don’t need luck, you just need to be yourself. No diplomacy.>”
Smith nodded. “<Treat that White Wolf well, send her to my smithy to stay there with her daughter, and I need some help at the border when I return. I know it’s much to ask in these times, but I’m getting all the prisoners here… If they are still alive… I’m worried.>”
Rolph sighed. “<You should be. Things are awful there. I heard horrible things from the Humans that have fled from that place… I know I’m not in the position to say this, but do your worst.>”
Smith grinned. “<I will. Do they still have wooden stakes there?>”
Rolph also grinned. “<I don’t know… What do you want to do with those soldiers?>”
Smith shrugged. “<Heal them. Keep them here until I have returned. Interrogate them. Show them how we live. I don’t care, but mainly keep them here. Maybe send a letter to the Human king, tell him what we caught.>”
Rolph nodded. “<Yes. That’s the best we can do. All of that. Have a safe journey!>”

A day before Smith reached the border he left the path, and headed through the woods and fields towards his destination. He did not want to encounter anyone.
When he could see the gates of Schotenburg in the distance Smith hid in a small valley, more like a deep ditch with steep banks where a small creek flowed through, ate something and took some rest.
He was close to a farm, but everything was burned down. There was nobody around, and if someone was… they would be dead.

Smith waited until dark to move again. There were some clouds, but the moon gave just enough light to see where he was going, and it was windless, no noises to mask his own. Slowly, creeping from bush to ditch to ruin to boulder he approached the tall city walls while the moon disappeared behind some clouds.

The first thing Smith noticed was that the pavement next to the gates was removed. There was only compacted dirt and gravel, and some boulders too large to move by one person.
The second thing he noticed was that the gates weren’t closed, the right gate was slightly ajar. Smith looked around to make absolutely sure there were no sources of light to betray his silhouette or patrols outside the city walls, and moved on towards the gate.
It started to rain again. A gentle drizzle, not a lot of sound, just very uncomfortable cold droplets. A perfect time for guards to take shelter in the gatehouse, and notice that the gates were not properly closed.
Smith stood still for several minutes, scared to make a sound.
On the other side of the gates nothing moved, nobody coughed, talked, or scraped his or its feet.
Nothing. A dead silence.
Carefully Smith tested the large wooden door. It moved, but the resistance of the rusting hinges made it move back. Pushing through the resistance would make an awful noise, so Smith moved it very slowly, one tick of a creak at a time until the opening was wide enough to slip through, but without moving it further.
He was in.
There was nobody. Only one lonely sputtering torch, almost burned out. An empty city, where all the buildings had their shutters closed.
There was something else missing. The pavement. Where the cobblestones used to be was now bare dirt and a few patches of gravel. Smith looked around in disbelief, even under his feet there were no stones, and there was a crack the height of the missing stones beneath the gates. Finally he saw the block, repaired, that was meant to keep the gates closed, balancing on the hook of the other door, as much to the left as possible, like someone tried to make it look it was still there like it was supposed to be and the gates were closed. Smith silently sighed, he also had to make the gates look closed, and that meant he had to move the noisy door again. He should have brought some grease to at least silence the lower hinge instead of the hook he had.
After several minutes of repetitive ticks, it almost sounded like large drops hitting something hollow, he had the gates ‘closed’ again. He was in. Time for the next part, some rest inside the city walls. Preferably close to the prison. The burned down house of Peter and Helena was perfect, a detached building where you could walk around in search of a quiet place to sleep. It could have been a doctor’s home and office with a garden with herbs around it, but thanks to Smith a shoemaker briefly lived there. Smith wondered what happened to the intended owner, it had not been claimed between his first previous two visits.

There were patrols in the city. When Smith saw the flickering lights of the torches approaching he panicked. Quickly but quietly he ran back and dove into an alley, and hid behind some large barrels. Six armored soldiers with four large torches marched past him. Blinded by their own lights and bored they marched on, not noticing Smith’s backpack.
Smith sighed. ‘Next time put my backpack behind me’ he thought. Time to move on, if all the patrols are like this it would be easy.

Finally he reached the burned down house.
Smith found a good, clean sleeping spot to rest, against the fence, hidden from view when you stood at the gate. He did not bother to undress, just did his evening, or this time almost midnight business behind the house, and went to a semi-sleep sitting in an upright position against the fence, his blanket wrapped around him. It was a good thing he had rested a bit during daytime, but he still was tired. He could have lied down alongside the fence, but he deemed sitting upright safer. It still was a sturdy fence, it did not buckle or creak.

Something or someone was prodding Smith. It felt a bit like a dream, but not the good kind.
When he looked up he saw the silhouette of a man, gently kicking him.
Smith sighed. “<What?>”
“<You are on my sleeping spot.>” The silhouette replied, whispering.
Smith shrugged. “<Didn’t see a sign.>” Smith also whispered.
The man sat down next to Smith, turning invisible in the darkness again. “<You are not from here, are you?>”

“<Not really.>”

“<Who are you? Are you here to help us?>”

“<Not you. Inimals from the prison.>”

The man sighed. “<Then I know who you are. They already killed seven. As a warning for the king when he showed up.>”


“<Five Cats and two Dogs. I know those won’t be missed… Quiet now, patrol coming. They always look in and behind the house, but never here.>”

Smith could hear the marching feet and saw the glow of the torches through the cracks in the fence.

“<I’ll go. I also have to take a dump.>” Smith heard one of the soldiers say.
“<You ate too much. Just admit it, you glutton.>” Another said.
“<Very funny. You go on, there is nobody here, never has been and yet we still check this. Just write this down as a very thorough check of the entire site.>”
“<You know what has happened here. He might return.>” A third one, presumably the commander, added.
“<He won’t catch me with my pants down. Nobody is here, just me struggling with my armor like I have done a few times before, remember? Why do we have to remove the leg pieces when you want to remove the crotch piece to unbuckle your pants? Who made these? I really want to tell him what I think of it.>”
“<Don’t know, don’t care. We take your torch. Lone torch might attract people. Stay quiet.>”
“<Yes I know the drill. Just go and give me some privacy.>”
“<We are going to check out that whore.>” A fourth soldier added to the conversation.
“<You know that’s not a whore. But if mister poopy wants to spent some time here we might as well spent some time there.>” A fifth added.

The five soldiers marched away while the sixth went behind the house.

“<He’s dead.>” Mumbled Smith while he got his dagger.

“<Are you…>”

“<Yes and yes. I will catch him with his pants down in the moonlight.>”

Smith did not catch the soldier with his pants down, but the pants were completely off, and the soldier was leaning against a post and grunting. He had not bothered to take his helmet off, only the parts of his armor and clothing that made defecating clean and easy were hanging on a large piece of wood.
Quietly Smith sneaked behind him, covered the soldier’s mouth with his left hand and used the butt of the dagger to slip his right hand holding the dagger under the armor and chain mail that protected the torso.
There was not much room to move the wrist under the armor, but finally the sharp dagger was stirring the guts and the soldier slid down. With a final deep stab Smith could rotate his dagger to pull it back out.
The dagger and the hand that held the dagger were a black mess with chunks in the pale moonlight, but luckily there was a clean cloth in the shape of pants available. There was also a cloth in the shape of underpants, but Smith doubted that was clean.

“<Is he dead?>” The man asked.


“<You have a tipped knife?>”

“<No. I used my double edged dagger. But I also have an assortment of knives and cutlery for hunting and eating, my sword, my armbrust with six bolts, but I can also use my sling with an assortment of projectiles as a ranged weapon, and my razor for shaving.>”

“<That’s illegal.>”


“<You really are Smith. Remember me? I’m Bart, from the inn.>”

“<Yes… but illegal? What’s going on?>”

“<New government, but really scared. We had some murders so they took all the sharp things, every household is allowed only one sharp blade but with a rounded tip and it has a number etched, and then they were scared of riots so they took all the loose stones so those couldn’t be thrown in large numbers.>”

“<Including the pavement?>”

“<Yes. When you can take one stone out you can take them all out. So the glorious and wise leader has decided to take them all out.>”

“<That’s insane.>”

“<We all think so, but we can’t fight them. They can do whatever they want.>”

Smith sighed. “<I noticed. Time for some rest.>”

“<How can you rest when you just murdered someone?>”

“<How can you sleep when you tortured someone?>”

“<The faces of those Inimal women still haunt me. That torture we did was nothing.>”

Smith woke up at the first light, just when Bart walked through the gate.
“<We have to leave. Now.>” He hastily spoke, while he handed Smith some raw but washed carrots and a late apple.
“<They found two dead guards at the city gates.>” Bart added, while he grabbed his belongings together.
Smith shrugged. “<Not my doing. I only killed this one. But the gates were open when I got here.>”
“<You think they are going to believe that?>” Bart asked while he stuffed his last belongings in an old burlap bag.
Smith shrugged. “<I don’t think so. I’m going to the prison.>”
Bart grinned. “<Has anyone told you that you are insane?>”
Smith also grinned. “<Too many times.>”

Smith felt lucky that he didn’t encounter anyone on his way to the prison. All shutters closed, nobody outside, but also no sound of chickens or other animals that people kept, even in a city.
He wanted to go the side entrance of the prison, a bit hidden from view in case he had to wait until the door was opened, but when he approached the prison the front door opened, opened by the warden himself.
“<Come in. Quickly.>” Were the first words the warden said.
Smith entered and the warden quietly closed the door again.
They entered the warden’s office again, and the first thing Smith noticed was that the animal skins and pelts were gone. It was a bare room with only a table, three chairs, one of those close to the window, and some books and writing equipment.
“<Things really have changed here.>” Smith spoke, opening the conversation.
The warden nodded. “<Yes.>”
Smith sighed. “<And not for the better.>”
The warden shook his head. “<No… How did you get in?>”
Smith shrugged. “<Walked in. The gates were open tonight.>”
The warden nodded. “<Escapees. Lucky.>”
Smith shrugged. “<Yes. But they killed two guards, that might complicate things for me.>”
The warden briefly smiled. “<A challenge for you. I’m sure you can handle it.>”
Smith nodded. “<Yes… I’m only a bit worried about the armor those soldiers have, it might be enough to compensate for their lack of skill. I think I have to use words again.>”
The warden nodded. “<I think you can do both. Fight and talk.>”
Smith shrugged. “<Yes. Now I want to see the Inimal prisoners. That’s why I am here.>”
The warden nodded again. “<Yes. Given the current circumstances you can have them for free. It’s hard to explain the money while the prisoners are gone.>”
Smith smiled. “<Thank you. Now I want us to go to the Inimals, we can talk there more.>”
The warden looked at Smith. “<Why?>”
Smith grinned. “<Because I say so. I want them to understand my actions.>”
The warden nodded. “<Of course. But I want to ask you some questions first.>”
Smith shrugged. “<Go ahead.>”
The warden smiled. “<How do you know when an Inimal can be trusted or not? We have a lot of troublemakers here, murderers and thieves, but there may be some innocent people in that group.>”
Smith nodded. “<I understand your question. Unfortunately it’s experience… I could give examples, but there are always exceptions.>”
The warden also nodded. “<I understand. Tell me.>”
Smith sighed. “<Alright. The basics are speech and behavior. You first have to know what is normal, and what is not. Felines and Canines differ greatly, but their normal behavior is quite similar. It’s when they are up to no good when they start to differ, a bit like Humans getting drunk. Some get quiet, some get excited, and with Inimals it’s no different, although you can see on the outside what to expect. When Felines lie they tend to talk a bit slower, and become more careful in choosing their words, while the Canines get more excited, try to talk a lot to avoid the subject. When they are on a target, whether it’s something to steal or someone to kill their approaches are also different. In battle they are mobility for the Felines and straight lines of attack for the Canines, but when a single Feline or Canine has his or her eyes on a target it’s quite different. Felines tend to stay in one spot, a bit hidden, keeping their eyes on the target, while Canines tend to circle their target constantly. Both waiting for an opportunity of course.>”
The warden nodded. “<I understand. I never learned to know what is normal.>”
Smith shrugged. “<A prison is not a normal environment… I have to be very careful. You say there are troublemakers, and last time I was here I have seen them. Don’t be surprised when I kill a few.>”
The warden nodded again. “<I understand.>”

Smith and the warden entered the Inimal part of the prison.
The warden sighed. “<These Inimals are the only prisoners left. They let all the Humans go, and many of them joined their ranks.>”
“<You… have returned.>” a Dog in one of the cages spoke, sounding a bit weak. Or just sleepy, it was still early in the morning.
Smith nodded. “<Yes. I try to keep my promises. Although I wish it would be under different circumstances.>”
“<Shall I get the keys?>” The warden asked.
Smith shook his head. “<No. Not yet. First a few more questions from me.>”
The warden shrugged. “<Fine. Go ahead.>”
Smith sighed. What he was about to ask could lead to a lot of trouble.
“<How many of the guards want to leave this city, don’t have people they have to care for, and are here right now?>”
The warden needed a few moments to think.
“<All of them. All of them. All of them. Being a prison guard is not a job that is loved, family can be blackmailed so we selected those who don’t have living family, and this prison is the safest place to sleep for us. And we are hiding a few former soldiers.>”
Smith nodded. “<I want them all in full gear here. The gear your guards have, all of them looking alike… And I want all the prisoners, including those who came in later.>”
The warden nodded. “<Yes. But why do you want all the guards here?>”
Smith smiled. “<I want the guards to accompany us. The city is not safe, maybe even right up to the border we need protection.>”
The warden also started to smile. “<Us? Including me?>”
Smith nodded. “<Yes. You are also allowed to come along. Although I will not protect you, I don’t know what the others are going to do when they get the chance, but I am also not going to stop them… maybe it’s not me, but you who needs the guards.>”
The warden almost saluted. “<You want me to get them now?>”
Smith nodded. “<Yes. But give me the keys first, I know how locks work.>”

Smith proceeded to open the cages, and hesitantly the Inimals left them, forming a group that slowly followed Smith around the area.
When Smith was halfway the warden and twenty people returned. Some of them briefly looked shocked when they saw the Inimals out of their cages, but quickly they regained their posture.
Smith smiled when he saw them. “<Welcome. You don’t have to salute me like some of you did last time. I do have the title ‘King of the Neutral Zone’, but that’s mainly for tax reasons.>”
“<Why are we here? I know you want the prisoners, but why us?>” One of the guards, a true guard, asked.
Smith shrugged. “<I don’t know, I just thought about it. Everyone who wants to stay in this city turn around and go back to your quarters, the rest has to follow us for protection. I know that some of the prisoners here can’t be trusted...>” Smith spun around and hit a Cat who was standing very close to him in the face with his elbow, drew his dagger and killed the Cat “<Like this Cat who tried to grab my sword… Or from outside attacks because this city is not the nice place that it used to be.>”
The guard who spoke first nodded. “<You… want to help us escape? Just pretending we are protecting you? And that what you just did was very impressive. How did you know?>”
Smith smiled and also nodded. “<Yes… Although I can’t promise you will make it out of this city alive, and I don’t know how you will be treated in the Neutral Zone… I don’t even know if I am going to survive, but I want to give you a chance to get out.>”
The guard knelt before Smith, and the rest of the guards followed his example.
“<My life for yours.>” They one by one spoke.
Smith sighed, walked past the kneeling guards, and stopped in front of the cage with the White Wolf and the Lioness. “Thank you.”
The Wolf nodded. “You understood.”
“<What was that about?>” The warden asked.
Smith smiled. “<I noticed that that Cat was standing too close to me, and that White Wolf pointed at his hip where I have my sword. I thanked him for that, and he was glad I understood his subtle hint. Now let’s get him out. And that Lioness of course.>”

“<Is there still some food left?>” Smith asked while he opened the last cage, the cage with the people he actually came for.
The warden nodded. “<Yes. Not much, but we have some reserves. In three days we would have had a problem, so you are just in time.>”
Smith also nodded. “<Good. We eat what we can eat, but not too much, and take the rest with us. I want to be as far away as possible from this city tonight, so it’s going to be a two meal day, one now and one when the sun goes down. Are there horses?>”
The warden shook his head. “<No. They reasoned there was no need for horses when you are not going anywhere, and they took them away.>”
Smith sighed. “<Anything of value? Weapons?>”
The warden shook his head. “<No… They have taken everything except the things they thought we would need. We only have one sword, although the tip is cut off. And we have one knife, but that’s registered to this building, we are not allowed to take that outside.>”
Smith sighed. “<Is there also a bit of food for me? I only had two carrots as breakfast. And I was given an apple, but that was rotten on the inside.>”
The warden nodded. “<Plenty of salted meat. And clean water from our own well>”
Smith shrugged. “<Fine.>”

The meat was not as bad as he had at the Kicking Pig in the past, but there were a few fights and Smith had to kill a few more of the inmates because they were absolutely unmanageable, even though there was enough food they were stealing it from others and starting fights.
One-hundred-and-fifty-two. One-hundred-fifty-two mouths he had to feed. Two he wanted immediately, eighty-six he wanted some time later, a few of the second group he trusted, the rest he didn’t want. And twenty-one Humans. Not as bad as thinking there would be three thousand Wolves to give a place that turned out to be six thousand, but still… It was a lot.

“<Everyone has their sleeping mat, blanket and the food for tonight? Unfortunately I only have one tent, my own, I did not expect to be here at this moment, but I will tell you at the border why.>” Smith announced.
The warden nodded. “Time om to leave.”
Smith laughed. “<Almost correct. It’s just:> time to leave.”

Smith was the first who stepped outside, and he was met by six soldiers, none of them having swords, but the batons they had also hurt a lot. They didn’t kill their victims, but when you are in severe pain because of a beating you also can’t work to pay your taxes.
“<In the name of our glorious leader: Halt! Where do you think you are going?>” The soldier closest to the door called out.
Smith stopped, and looked at the soldiers. He could have taken them in a fight if they didn’t have all that armor.
“<What?>” He couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“<You are under arrest.>” The soldier replied.
Smith shrugged. “<I am not the one who has a problem then. Do you have any idea who I am?>”
“<You killed two of our men.>” Another soldier answered. Discipline was not their strong point.
Smith shrugged. “<I only killed one. But I guess you haven’t found that one yet. Those two at the gates are not my doing.>”

There were some more soldiers in the distance shouting something.
“What are they shouting about?” Smith asked a Dog who was standing next to him.
“Ik begrijp je niet.” The Dog replied.
Smith shrugged. “<Sorry. What are those soldiers in the distance shouting about?>”
The Dog grinned. “<Riots, and they need reinforcements. Quite early, normally those riots start late in the afternoon, we can hear them from the prison. And the previous riots were three days ago, normally it’s once every seven days.>”
“<Stop your talking with those animals. What do you mean that you are not the one with a problem?>” The first soldier commanded.

Before Smith could answer one soldier on horseback, this one did have a sword, approached the group.
When he recognized what was going on he got really scared. “<By the might of the glorious leader! That’s Smith! Get away while you can!>”
The first soldier smirked. “<This is just a Human who just confessed a murder.>”
The soldier on horseback now really started to panic. “<Don’t you understand? Who confesses a murder like that and stands there like it’s nothing? Who can defeat an army all by himself? Who can defeat Wolves? Who can walk among Inimals like they are equal? Who has a sword!>”
Smith grinned and pointed at the soldier on the horse. “<He is the smart one. I am indeed Smith, the leader of the Neutral Zone… Before I left I made sure that if I am not back in time a seven nation army will be assembled, and nothing is going to hold them back. First army you will see will be my own, well trained Inimals and Humans, trained together so even the Humans are better than the Royal Guard the Human king has. Second is the army of the Human Kingdom, power in numbers. Third army are the Inimals, like my own army, but more and no Humans. Fourth army are the Humans from the east, might take a while until they get here, but they have permission from King Alexander to cross his kingdom to assist me, and they are the better fighting Humans. All you can do with your sticks is pleasure each other, they can really fight with them. Fifth army are the Wolves. Just like you and the Humans from the east they seceded from their kingdom, but they are also my friends. Sixth and seventh army are not great in numbers, but they are the Bergvolk and loyal Elfique with their technology and skill, helping the others with machines and knowledge… So, what were you saying?>”
The first soldier sighed. “<Fine. You win this round.>”
Smith nodded and pointed a the soldier who just arrived. “<He also wants to ask you something. My guess it has something to do with riots… So, what is it going to be, stay here and fight us for real and let the rioters defeat the others, or join your colleagues and let us go?>”
The soldier on horseback nodded. “<Let them go. We have no time to lose. The riot is on the south square, heading towards the west gates. March!>”

The six soldiers marched away.
They were not trained soldiers, two started to run, four started to walk, one who ran walked again after not even fifty paces, of those who started walking three started to run when the distance between them and the first two became too great, and the fattest one, barely fitting his enlarged armor, never ran.
Smith sighed. “<They are heading towards the gates. Give them a head start before we catch them?… No, I’m just kidding. One dead last night is enough for me. Let’s go to the gates. At a safe distance behind them.>”
Most of the second group of prisoners dropped everything they had and also ran away.
Smith shrugged. “<Let them run. I don’t need them. But do get what they dropped. I have a tendency to need more blankets and sleeping mats than I have.>”
The rest nodded, and gathered everything. One of the guards headed back into the prison, he remembered a cache of money.

“<I can hear fighting.>” One of the remaining Cats noted when they approached the last bend before the gates.
Smith nodded. “<Hammering metal has damaged my hearing, but I am not surprised. I wonder if I am going to see an old friend.>”
The soldiers in front of them all started to run, and Smith unsheathed his sword.
“<What are you going to do?>” One of the guards asked.
Smith grinned. “<Help them. The people of this city. But don’t worry, I fight like a coward and run away when it’s too dangerous.>”
“<But the armor? We never got that much.>” The guard, presumably a soldier disguised as a guard, asked.
Smith nodded “<Forgot about that.>”, and gave the White Wolf his sword, checked his dagger and pulled his sling and a heavy projectile from the pouch. Losing an armbrust bolt would be too expensive.
“Last resort?” The Wolf asked when he read the inscription on the blade.
Smith nodded. “If that thing gets blood on it I have failed talking.”
When Smith saw the two groups, the soldiers with their backs towards them and the civilians facing them he shook his head and put his sling away. “<Too dangerous. To the gates! And Willi… Wolf, I want my sword back.>”

Smith lifted the block and tied it to his backpack. “<Little souvenir. Or some dry wood for the fire.>”
The warden grinned and pushed the gate open. “<Good luck making a new one when you don’t have the tools.>”
Smith sighed and started walking. “<I will attend to this problem as well… Schotenburg wanted to join the Neutral Zone, they did secede, but I don’t think this is the way the common people wanted. But first get these people here a home.>”
The warden nodded. “<You have your reasons to hate me, but you don’t. You just tolerate me being here.>”
Smith smiled. “<You have proven yourself to be a reliable person, you kept the prisoners alive. I know that seven have been killed, but those were from the second group.>”
The warden nodded. “<Indeed. How did you know? Last moon nobody escaped, tonight have been the first in a long time.>”
Smith shrugged. “<People tell me things. Tiny bits of information, and I put them together. Last night I talked with an old friend here, he gave me some information, and when we left the prison and those other soldiers started to call in the distance I asked one of the Dogs what they were saying, and he told me that the riots usually start late in the afternoon, never this early, and not expected today. I have not seen my friend, but I guess he has a hand in these early riots, to give the soldiers a distraction.>”
The warden nodded. “<Always nice to have people you can trust. Unfortunately I don’t have those outside the prison.>”

They walked on in silence, at a quite decent pace given the time they had been sitting in a cage. It would be a nice distance they would be away from Schotenburg tonight, just a few days away from the border. And they had enough food to reach the border, where help was expected.
In the distance a large group of armed people, walking and on horseback was coming towards them. Smith didn’t see them immediately, his view was obscured by others because he was walking at the back, but when the rumors reached him he forced his way to the front of the group.
He smiled when he saw who or what the group was. “<I see people with and without ears on top of their head, round ears and pointy ears, even a few bald people with the little bit of sunlight we have reflecting on their heads. These are people of the Neutral Zone. We are far from home, but I think they crossed the border to help us.>”
“<This far out? We are not even close to the border, are we?>” A Cat noted.
Smith sighed. “<No. They are not allowed to be here. This could be seen as an illegitimate invasion. Quick greeting, and walk on westward until dark.>”

It was almost the entire army of the Neutral Zone, not only those from Smithsville, but also a lot of Foxes, armed with bow and arrow. There were even some Kobolder and Orks with their heavy armbrusts and carts with barrels of something.
And there were also a lot of civilians, many Humans but also a lot of Wolves that came to the Neutral Zone with Smith not too long ago.
Mary was the first to greet Smith. All she could do was smile and hug him.
Smith sighed. “<I’m sorry I had to leave just after I got back. There were… more important people I had to get home.>”
Mary kissed Smith on his cheek. “<You have the queen. That’s the most important.>”
Smith sighed. “I wanted to keep that secret until we got home.”
Mary looked at Smith and smiled. “Everyone from the Neutral Zone knows. They were even making plans to get her out without your permission.”
Smith nodded. “<Shall we continue in Human? Most of the Inimals I have with me only understand that.>”
One of the Cats nodded. “<I understand both languages. We all knew the Lioness was the queen and that White Wolf was her bodyguard. And I think he has found his wife and child again.>”
Smith nodded and pointed to the west. “<Alright everyone! Time to go home. I… may have done some things in Schotenburg that were not permitted, like taking this block that is supposed to hold the gates closed with me, and I want to be as far away from Schotenburg as possible.>”
One of the Humans from the Neutral Zone grinned. “<That’s the best thing you could take. But knowing what you have done in the past that’s probably the least of the things you have done in Schotenburg. Can we have that block?>”
Smith nodded. “<Of course you can have it.>” And untied the dead weight from his backpack.
The Human gently handled the block, admiring it from all sides. “<Did you know we have encountered six people who escaped?>”
Smith nodded. “<Yes. Not the number, but they left the gates open. The are here?>”
The man shook his head. “<No, we sent them on.>
Smith shrugged. “<Pity. I wanted to thank them.>”

“<We’re being followed! Horses!>” someone called out. They had been walking for some hours.
“Defensive lines! Archers ready! Civilians move on!” Arthur called out.
Like it was trained a defensive line was set up across the road, extending into the fields. Humans and Wolves with long spears at the front, crouched, the ranged weapons behind them with enough space between them for the swordsmen to come forward to defend them if needed, and mixed groups with a bit more Felines at the flanks. There were already some Wolves on horses, but they lacked the experience, and those moved on westwards with the rest. The guard with the prison sword got a few strange looks because of his weird sword, but his face was pure determination.
“Smith! You are a civ too, get behind the line!” Arthur called.
Smith shook his head and got his sling and went standing in front of the soldiers. “No. Those soldiers from Schotenburg have too much armor and chain mail… Archers, aim for their faces, I don’t think our standard armor piercing arrows or even the armbrusts are good enough. Blades are also not going to be very effective, what we need are accuracy, heavy projectiles and hammers.”

It were twenty-four soldiers that came. Eight with swords, eight with spears, and eight with long batons like they had in Schotenburg. Stopping at what they considered a safe distance, halfway the range the archers of the Neutral Zone had. They looked very uncertain.
Smith loaded a projectile in his sling, and without saying a word he knocked a spearman off his horse.
The others were scared, but remained on their position while Smith loaded a second projectile.
He saw that one of the soldiers with a spear closed his eyes and sighed, like he was accepting death. He would be the last to be killed. Or spared if he decided to run, that’s what Smith hoped for, fleeing soldiers who could tell there was an army facing them.
Another throw, twenty-two left, one swordsman down. These were not the main attack force, these were the distraction. That’s why they didn’t all have proper weapons. They were supposed to hit and run, spreading chaos and slow Smith and the people he left Schotenburg with down until they could properly be disposed off.
“Kill them, get the horses, and retreat. Good thing we brought an army, because I expect another attack. Smith, quit your playing.” Wallis called out.
Smith nodded, and crouched so he was not in the way of the arrows and bolts.

Some of the arrows hit the armor of the soldiers and were indeed ineffective, but there were far more arrows than soldiers, and in a few moments all the remaining soldiers were dead, shot in the face. You can’t compensate lack of skill with armor there.

“Good call Wallis. It seems that you fit in nicely.” Smith spoke while he dug out his projectile out of the skull of the first soldier. His aim was still very true, he had hit the target right between the eyes.
Wallis nodded. “Thanks. You taught me that I have to talk and listen. We have some former soldiers from Schotenburg, they have given a lot of information in a few days. I don’t speak Human, but a lot of the others do, and they did the translation for me.”
Smith nodded. “Good. Don’t let those horses get away, seems like a nice addition to our cavalry.”
Wallis grinned. “And it seems that not all archers are good. Who released that arrow that Smith has sticking out of his backpack?”
One of the Humans stepped forward. “It was me, sir.”
Smith checked his backpack. The arrow had penetrated the bundle of rags he had on the outside, with no other damage except for a minor chip off of a sharpening stone. “You are as good as a Wolf with your bow and arrow. Not good enough for me, you train with the Wolves from now on, until there are three Wolves worse than you are. And Wolves, don’t be gentle. I don’t like being shot, this is a punishment. Train him as one of your own, but don’t be unfair.”
The Wolves nodded, and patted the soldier on his shoulder. He dared to shoot Smith, and lived.

All twenty-four horses were caught. Only six of them had minor injuries because not every archer was very skilled, but they could make the journey to their new stables. Better stables, they were skinny.
“Time to move! Double speed! We have to catch up with the rest!” Arthur called out.
“No, wait!” Smith replied while he got one of the spears the soldiers from Schotenburg had.
“Why?” Arthur replied, a bit annoyed.
Smith pointed at the dead soldiers. “I want their armor and chain mail. And I want to do something else, but that after they are stripped of their valuables. Leave the helmets, but erase all of our traces. No arrow left behind.”

When the first of the Schotenburg soldiers was stripped of his belongings Smith got his knife and cut the head off. Two of the Neutral Human soldiers started to vomit when they saw what Smith was doing, but Smith ignored them and continued. A few of the Wolves followed Smith’s example.
A short time later the headless bodies were in a ditch, and the heads with their helmets on were in three rows by the side of the road. Eight impaled on the spears, eight impaled on the swords, and eight in front of them on the ground, all easy to see when you came from Schotenburg.
Smith grinned when he admired his work. “<Let this be a warning for those who dare to follow us.>”
One of the Humans who vomited nodded. “<Indeed. If I didn’t know it was you who ordered this I would run away screaming.>”
Smith nodded. “<Noticed how easy the Wolves did this? Imagine seeing this for the first time, but with your wife and unborn child… Time to move, you get a horse, I’ll walk.>”

The camp the people from the Neutral Zone had set up was not very far, just a few more hours of walking, on the edge of a forest. When Smith, Arthur, Wallis and a few more soldiers for his protection arrived they were just setting up roasting spits for some boar that were killed by the Bergvolk.
They arrived just before dark, but there were no torches ready to be lit, and the fires were in pits, surrounded by stones. In the dark and from a distance nobody would suspect an army would be there.
Again it was Mary who greeted Smith first, this time accompanied by Pebble and her parents, and the Lioness and the warden.
“Welcome William… And Marble of course. Sorry I was so rude and did not even introduce myself. And some Lioness, but you are not important. A few days of rest at home and then I’ll get you home. We have enough people who can do administration.” Smith greeted them.
The Lioness smiled. “I am the Inimal queen. A bit more respect please.”
Smith grinned. “Your older sister may have told you about a Human boy she had as a lover. I was that boy. I have used all my respect for her, she is the reason I don’t really like Lionesses any more.”
The Lioness shrugged. “Pity. I could use some action, at some point I would not even mind a Human. William treated me with a bit… too much respect. He just looked the other way when I wanted.”
Smith shrugged. “Too much happened… Let’s say that your husband had a lot more action, but we have plenty of time to talk about that… To be honest, I don’t even know your name.”
The Lioness smiled. “Lilian. Most people describe you as ‘does too much to summarize’, and they really adore you. My husband really hated Humans, but it seems that he has changed.”
Smith grinned. “Our first meeting was… Well… Ask Arthur.”
Arthur also grinned. “Smith was working in his smithy, and was not properly dressed at the first meeting. Everyone in nice clothing, except Smith. Smith told Leopold to be as he was, and he did. He really needed to go to the toilet, and he didn’t say that in the most diplomatic way. But our relations with both kingdoms are good, we only couldn’t get you out sooner because that might have raised some suspicion.”
Lilian nodded. “But thanks to Mary life in prison before the regime change wasn’t that bad. Smith really shook things up, they feared him.”
Smith looked at the warden. “<You understand what we are talking about?>”
The warden nodded. “<A bit. Seems like we had the Inimal queen in our prison for three years, could have been a good hostage for our demands. Explains why that White Wolf was so protective.>”
Smith shrugged. “<Yes… But now I have her. And I want to return her, if Mary approves.>”
Mary kissed Smith again. “<Yes… But I’m not coming along, we have a lot to do at home. I’m sitting behind your desk at the town hall.>”
Smith nodded. “<And I think you are much better at that. You are not strong enough to destroy the furniture when you are angry.>”
Mary grinned. “<The calculations you shouted were correct after all. You were only two tenths of a percent off, in our advantage, the meat was a bit cheaper. But the smashed furniture nullified that.>”

It felt odd, being in a tent with both a Human female and a Lioness, but the sleep was good, with them both cuddling him.
In the morning it was again a bit awkward, but they were all satisfied.
Smith was the last one to leave the tent, he needed a bit more time to recover. Moons with nothing, three Tigresses, and again a few weeks of nothing had taken their toll. At least he had soft hands after not using tools in a very long time, only a bit of sharpening, weeks ago.
“Good morning, anything happened?” Smith asked some Inimal soldiers who were guarding.
“No, not really. You have to be more gentle, you don’t have to be that gentle, try to avoid the tail, and you really moan a lot.” One of the soldiers replied, grinning.
Smith shrugged. “And besides that? No attacks or spies?”
The soldier shook his head. “No, not here. We had some scouts watching the road, they reported over a hundred torches, but when they reached the point where we fought they turned around and left faster than they came, like a ghost was chasing them.”
Smith nodded. “Good. Ask the Vulpine if they also know of a ghost.”
Vince put his hand on Smith’s shoulder. “We do. And now those Humans are going to believe it too. Time to get our queen home.”
Smith nodded. “I left for the Wolves, came back with them, was forced to sit behind a table for a few days because people might want to talk to me, Marble was brought to me, she turned out to be Pebble’s mother, people kept telling me that Pebble’s father was a King’s Guard, then I remembered the White Wolf and the Lioness at the prison of Schotenburg and I left to get them. Now I have them, and I firstly want to go home, and take a few days of rest. And I want to wait for Casper, I am not going to let the queen walk home in bad weather.”
Lilian nodded. “Impressive what you have done. I wonder if there is a kingdom left when I get home.”
Smith shrugged. “I don’t care about kingdoms. I care about happy people.”
One of the Wolves kissed Smith again. “Yes. Like a king is supposed to do.”

User avatar
Neutral Smith
Templar GrandMaster
Posts: 671
Joined: Mon Feb 24, 2014 5:32 pm
Location: Neitherlands
Fav. Twokinds Character: Saria's father

Re: Forge of Kingdoms (NSFW) - Chapter 44

#51 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 44

The journey back to the quarry village was uneventful. Even the weather was improving a little. The nights were colder, but the rain had stopped. They had not spoken much, and were a bit shaken because of the fight and what Smith had done. Smith reasoned it was the best thing he could do, it was effective because their pursuers had turned around.
The Wolves were proud of him, and even the Humans who fled from Schotenburg were, although they did not dare to admit it in front of their fellow believers of The One True God, because that was a god of peace and not killing. At least, that’s what they want others to believe.

The people from the Neutral Zone had brought enough tents for everyone, but most of the Inimals from Schotenburg preferred to sleep in the open air. They had been indoors for far too long, and wanted to see the stars. Only a few of the Cats slept in the provided tents.
“<So there were plans to get the queen out?>” Smith spoke when they were walking again. Smith walking, and Mary riding Louis.
Mary nodded, a bit startled by Smith speaking Human after not saying anything for days except for the basic things. “<Yes. When we heard what you were going to do we all rushed to get here, they really wanted to blow a hole in the city walls.>” She finally answered.
Smith nodded. “<I saw the barrels. I didn’t know there was that much black powder available. It’s dangerous.>”
Mary also nodded. “<Yes. But it all will be brought back, they don’t want it in Human or Inimal hands.>”
“<What is that black powder you talk about?>” John the prison warden asked. He and the other Humans from the prison were walking close to Smith, despite being free to go wherever they wanted. Nobody left for the Human kingdom.
Smith shrugged. “<A secret recipe. Bergvolk use it for the so-called blasting of rocks, you can do a lot of damage with it. Don’t ask, or you will be killed.>”
The warden nodded. “<I believe you… I know the rumors about it.>”
Smith shrugged again. “<A lot of people do, but very few know what is true and what is a myth. And I want to keep it that way. It is dangerous, that part is true.>”

They reached the quarry village around lunchtime. Smith just let the kissing happen. He still did not like it, but it was pointless to complain about it.
“You have the queen.” Wilhelm greeted him.
Smith nodded. “Indeed. And William, Pebble’s father. He is more important.”
William finally embraced Smith, he was a lot like Arthur, quiet and mostly keeping his emotions hidden. “Thank you, my king.”
Smith patted the White Wolf on his shoulder. “You are free to go with your family wherever you want. Take good care of Pebble, she is a sweet little girl, I really enjoyed taking care of her. But I will always be there if you need help.”
Edward, who was also standing next to them, nodded. “Yes. I heard that some of the Wolves were jealous because of how Smith treated her. He really took his time to educate her and if he didn’t have the time he made sure others did. She already knows some sign language, that’s because Smith used my daughter to teach her.”
Smith shrugged. “There was nothing better to do. Just sit and relax in the evenings. And have a bit of fun.”
“Rose… How is she?” William asked.
Edward smiled. “Thanks to Smith she has a Grey version of you, the best Wolf soldier of the Neutral Zone.”
Smith nodded. “And the most caring. Don’t try to harm innocent people or animals when Walther is around.”
Wilhelm nodded. “What are you going to do now?”
Smith shrugged. “Go home. A few days of rest, waiting for my coachman Casper Tiger, give him a few days of rest, and then get the queen home.”
“Are you allowed to do that? Go to the Inimal kingdom?” William asked.
Mary hugged Smith. “Smith can do whatever he wants. I could not tell you everything that happened, but we have some time for it now.”
Smith nodded. “Yes.”

“<How are our prisoners?>” Smith asked Rolph in when they walked towards the second inn, which would be their place to stay for maybe a few days, for everyone who came from Schotenburg today. The soldiers left for their own homes, to Smithsville and the Vulpine further north.
Rolph shrugged. “<One died, he didn’t wake up in time to eat or drink, the other one is extradited to the Human kingdom, we just sent him with an escort and accompanying letter, just like how Marble was brought in.>”
Smith sighed. “<No prison? I thought we would build one.>”
Wilhelm, who was also walking along, grinned. “<We have an annoying person who keeps on bringing people in and asking us to build for them instead of for ourselves. We just keep executing our criminals. Short time in a holding cell, and then to the gallows or chopping block or extradition, just like we did in the past. And we don’t have the people who want to do the work of guarding, Floris is too far north.>” He spoke, also in Human.
Smith gestured towards John and his guards. “<Here I have the warden from the prison of Schotenburg and his guards. Maybe they want to keep doing what they did in Schotenburg.>”
The warden eagerly nodded. “<Yes please. When we walked out of the gates I didn’t know what I could do, but if you want a warden… Well, here I am.>”
One of the guards nodded. “<Yes. I don’t like the work, but I think you do need some help.>”
Wilhelm nodded. “<Well… That’s arranged then. Now we have to hope that Smith doesn’t bring in more people so we can finally build our prison… Although I don’t think there are many criminals left.>”
Smith grinned. “<Well… From now on it’s people leaving. I don’t know how many are going to live across the border, and the queen is going home… You have a place where I can hold a speech?>”
Rolph nodded, and grinned. “<The gallows. It is a nice place where everyone can see you… But there is no need for a speech, I think that everyone understands that you want to get the queen home.>”
Smith smiled. “<Thank you. Now I have people to take care of.>”
Wilhelm grinned. “<No, you don’t. Look over there.>” and pointed at a group of villagers also heading towards the inn, carrying steaming pots and crates. Unfortunately nobody from Diego’s inn. No talking to Donald, Dick or Dory for Smith.
Smith sighed. “<Thank you.>”
Wilhelm smiled. “<Just make the new people feel at home.>”

The food was good, but the rooms would be a bit cramped tonight, there were far more people than rooms. Smith would sleep on the floor of a room he shared with Pebble and her parents, queen Lilian and Mary. It was the smallest room the inn had, barely large enough for the single bed, a chair and a small table. If he was given the choice he would have slept under a table in the dining room, but then two others would have taken his place in the bedroom.

When the food was gone Smith went standing on a chair, he wanted to welcome the people from Schotenburg officially.
Wilhelm and Rolph smiled and nodded.
“<So, still going to speech. Don’t you have metal to hammer like a smith does?>” Rolph joked.
Smith shook his head. “<No. Have you welcomed the Humans here yet?>”
Rolph sighed. “<No, I didn’t have the time for it.>”
Smith shrugged. “<I can do that too.>”

“<Can I have your attention please?>” Smith called.
Everyone went silent, and turned around to watch Smith.

Smith sighed. He was still not used to holding speeches.
“<Time to do a formal introduction… I assume most of you understand Human, so I will hold this little speech in Human… Welcome to the Neutral Zone. You can call me Smith, and I am the king here… But don’t worry, I’m only a king for tax reasons, I don’t have to pay taxes for the metal that is sold from my smithy and I can do whatever I want… First a short history of what the Neutral Zone is… I am a smith. I always have been a smith. Ever since I was a little boy I have worked in a smithy. I grew up, found a Human girl who tolerated me, I have done some stupid things in Schotenburg, the inn most of you know as The Kicking Pig got that name because of me because I defended that girl and I did some serious kicking… I handed in my masterpiece for the Human king and when I returned… my village and the young woman I loved were gone… Attacked by Wolves. Those Wolves were still around, they killed my master, I killed them and I went some sort of Feral. I ended up with the Elfique and Bergvolk, and after some time I returned with some friends I made there. I started a new smithy north of here, and that lone smithy, inn and some other shops were the beginning of the new Neutral Zone, in a no man’s land between the two kingdoms… The village grew, I didn’t care, I wanted to learn something new and went to an Inimal village across the border, the village where Wilhelm comes from. They wanted to leave their village, me visiting them was a reason to stay. I offered them this place, a quarry where they could live, that’s where we are now, and a place for the Vulpine from around their village north of my village… In their village I met a group of soldiers, some time later they were caught and brought to the prison of Schotenburg. I got them out, that was when you saw me for the first time. I noticed Rolph there, I saw some potential in him, some time later when he was a little less dangerous I got him out to take care of the Humans here and also Dory, she is now working at the other inn, and she has given birth to a healthy son. We learned about the existence of the Inimal women of Schotenburg, and we also got those here. Unfortunately we had an attack from Wolves and lost a lot of those women. A lot of those women had a partner in the prison, so you saw me a third time, this time to get those men. It was not a happy reunion, but those men were on a list, and I could not tell them ‘sorry your lover is dead, stay in prison’, I’m not like that… The ‘I can do whatever I want’ means I can take friends to other places. Mary wanted to visit the Vulpine across the border in the north, so we went there. And another attack of Wolves, one surviving Wolf and he told me about that large group of Canines who are also here. I left home to get them, and thirteen days ago we got back… I took care of Pebble, her father was missing and her mother was looking for him. Her mother was brought to me, I remembered the White Wolf and the Lioness from the prison, and I left to get them, without consultation the people here, so they are a little bit mad at me. Things got a bit complicated in Schotenburg and I alone decided to get you all out.>”

“<And we are grateful for that.>” One of the Dogs replied.
Smith sighed. “<No. You being here right now means that I can not give you what you deserve. I intended to get you out, but after we have given the others a permanent place to stay, but Marble, Pebble’s mother, changed those plans. When I left I wanted to get only William and the Lioness out, but that also changed because of the situation. So, now you are all here, but not in the way I want it to be for you.>”
“<It’s still better than the prison. We wouldn’t have lasted another moon.>” One of the Human guards said.
Smith shrugged. “<I don’t know. But you are from a prison. People might think you are criminals, if anything happens you will be the first suspects, and the Humans have done some terrible things. At least, that’s what I think they think.>”
“<Those Humans are gone.>” John Warden spoke at a soft tone.
Smith shrugged again. “<How? You sound like they didn’t go in a way they liked.>”
John sighed. “<We got them killed. We are in a way just like you.>”
One of the Dogs grinned.
Smith nodded. “<You know that, but the people outside this inn don’t. Remember that.>”
John nodded. “<I understand.>”

“<Why don’t you tell them what the Neutral Zone is?>” Wilhelm asked, breaking the silence.
Smith nodded. “<Yes. Well… In summary the Neutral Zone is a place where you can be who you want to be, as long as you don’t do any harm. And by that ‘don’t do harm’ I also mean don’t be lazy. Everyone has to earn their money. There are more rules, but we will tell them the first time you break them… I don’t think that I am a good example here.>”
Wilhelm grinned. “<Not really. But our rules are more common sense. When we agree that you don’t fit in, you are forced to leave, and if everyone agrees you are a criminal who only thinks of himself you will be killed. If you steal food because you are hungry that’s tolerated, if you steal money because you want more that’s not.>”
One of the Cats nodded. “<That’s… reasonable.>”
Smith nodded. “<Yes. But you have to return something equal when times are better. It is not without punishment.>”
“<What can we do?>” someone else asked.
Rolph smiled. “<We registered the last of the Canines from the west the day before yesterday, who they are and what they want to do, we will do the same with you. It’s good to see you all in good health.>”
Smith shrugged. “<These are not all. I had to kill a few, and some ran away when they got the chance. And I see there are a few more missing. Warden?>”
John Warden shrugged. “<They ran when those soldiers showed up and we got the order to move on. Opportunists, I think we will see them soon but it’s better to… kill them, because you don’t have a prison.>”
Rolph nodded. “<Good to hear you already fit in. John Human Warden, age fifty-three, one brother, previous occupation prison warden, wants to be a prison warden… We do have our sources, do you know where your brother is?>”
John nodded. “<Yes, he is here in the Neutral Zone, he deserted.>”
Wilhelm nodded again. “<Indeed. A farmer. Not the best one, coming from a city, but I think he is happy here. Maybe you can stay with him until you get your own place. We have a bit of trouble housing everyone.>”
John shrugged. “<We don’t like each other very much, but it’s better than sleeping outside.>”
Smith nodded. “<I will leave tomorrow, with Lilian, William, Marble and of course Pebble. That will also give you more room here.>”
Wilhelm nodded. “<Yes, your work is done. First you got the Canines from the west, and now the queen and the rest of the prisoners, and more Humans. See you… Whenever.>”
Smith sighed. “I don’t know… There are some things I want to talk about. There is a lot of trouble in and maybe coming from Schotenburg, and I want to be prepared for that. Be prepared in your way, but I want to discuss some things, at the town hall of Smithsville. I really like the armor those soldiers have, and I also want something like it for our soldiers. We are a bit… exposed with only recognizable clothes.”
Wilhelm briefly smiled nodded. “Flawless switch to Inimal again… You want that armor also transported there?”
Smith also nodded. “Yes. Can you also arrange a cart for the Lioness? I’m not going to let her walk.”
Lilian gave Smith a hug. “You can be a gentleman.”

The cart was large enough for everyone and the armor suits, and Alex Coachman was their transporter, and he had a lot of interesting stories to tell. He even had been to the castle of the Human king with an order of fowl, accompanied by Robin and Marian, and the king personally was there to receive the shipment.

Smith, Lilian, William, Marble and Pebble got home late in the evening, but they had seen Charlene earlier today and Wilhelm passed them too, and when they got home it was not just food on the table, but an entire feast.
“Is this all for us?” Pebble asked.
Charlene nodded. “Yes. And a few more guests, Walther and Rose will also join us.”
“Who is going to pay for all this?” Smith asked.
Mary swatted him on the back of the head. “We have a queen here, then you don’t talk about money.”
Smith grinned. “The last time a king was here he brought the food.”
Charlene nodded. “Yes… The Human king.”

It felt good to be home, and even though he had to sleep under his table again Smith was relieved everything was done and everyone was happy.
Even Rose was delighted when Lilian used sign language to talk to her, and understood why Leopold didn’t talk to her, he didn’t know sign language, only a few rude gestures.
Just a few more days of waiting until Casper returns, then a few days more to give Casper and Tina some rest and talk about what the people of the Feline village need when they move, and then return the Inimal queen to where she belongs. And really get some rest for himself, in his own bed. He did not even notice the others having breakfast at the table he was sleeping under.

“Do you want to come with me to the town hall? See how we do things, and I assume you know how things were done at the Inimal court so I think you can help us a little.” Smith asked Lilian, the only other person in the living room. The basket weavers were gone to deliver some baskets, they would return in the afternoon.
Lilian grinned. “And do administration?”
Smith shrugged. “I really didn’t know who you were back then. But the amount of paperwork has increased I guess.”
Lilian smiled and nodded. “I’d love to.”

“Well… Here we have the town hall. I haven’t been here in… moons because I had other places to be. I’m supposed to have a desk somewhere, but it looks a bit different.” Smith spoke when he and Lilian entered the remodeled town hall.
“Smith… Your majesty… Welcome.” Jacob greeted them, in Inimal.
Smith sighed. “Don’t treat her like a queen. Might give people who don’t know who she is some bad ideas. Her name is Lilian.”
Jacob nodded. “As you wish sire. Had a good journey? You look a bit… rough.”
Smith shrugged. “More people in my house than bedrooms. I slept under the table again. The queen had the king’s bedroom.”
Jacob grinned. “I really like the ‘slept under the table again’ part of your answer… There is still a paper that needs to be signed by you, after that you are officially a king of the Neutral Zone.”
Smith nodded. “For tax reasons. But I will be here at last quarter to work. Or shall I come in at half moon to read what I have to sign, and propose some changes if I see something I don’t like?”
Jacob shrugged. “We decided to let you do whatever you want, as long as the people are happy with you… How was Schotenburg?”
Smith grinned. “People there are not happy with me.”
Jacob nodded. “Responsible for the death of twenty-six Human soldiers and one extradited to the Human kingdom. Four of them you killed yourself. And yes, we included the one whose horse you scared.>”
Smith shrugged. “Anything about that group that turned around?”
Jacob nodded. “No… The soldiers refused to tell the details, but it was a nice deterrent… For a long time the Humans and Inimals believed the forest around your old village was haunted, nobody could have killed twelve Wolves all by himself… More than eleven years later you head north to visit the Vulpine, they feared an attack and only the Ghost of the Old Neutral Zone could help them, you show up and you really showed them, wielding the sword of that ghost they had as a relic… We have that sword here in case you wonder what happened to it.”
Smith smiled. “Good to know, my own sword is a bit small, and we really need a protector. Me.”
Jacob nodded again. “Yes. And now you some sort of have done the same. The people of Schotenburg saw you leave their city with only a small sword and a dagger, and now they believe you killed twenty-four of their cavalry with only those and disappear again.”
“<That is indeed unbelievable if you don’t know the truth.>” Lilian added, in almost perfect Human.
William nodded. “<Yes it is. But Smith was, and I believe still is, a good fighter.>”
Smith grinned. “I always practice with my customers. No Wolf has ever beaten me. And not a lot of Humans can.”
William also grinned. “I’d love to try. And I love you switching between the languages. It was all Human for us the days we were in prison, good to hear some Humans speaking Inimal.”

The little group walked on.
“We have remodeled the town hall a little. The front rooms, the old town hall, are for the normal villagers who come here to arrange their things, and towards the back we now have the large halls where the decisions are made. Eventually they will give us, Inimal leader of the Humans and Human leader of the Inimals a proper castle, but until then this has to do.” Rolph spoke while they walked through the large doors towards the back part of the town hall. His Inimal accent was terrible, but he was speaking the correct language to the Inimal queen.
Smith shrugged. “I don’t care. Don’t get an angry mob at your door… and keep them away from mine. And I don’t like the distance. I want to be here for the people, see what I can do about their problems.”
Jacob grinned. “You will be bored of their little problems within a week.”

When Smith sat down on one of the two similar tall chairs at the head of a large table Jacob put a small stack of parchment and a beautiful signature set on the table. White swan feather quill, ornamented inkwell and a beautiful little knife on a tray with both pounce powder and blotting paper containers in the same style.
Smith got the little knife and admired it. It was a Vulpine work of art.
“<You ordered this quill set… Do you even know how to use a quill?>” Jacob asked.
Smith smiled. “<No, I don’t. I’m used to pencils for drawing, and the modern Berg pens for writing… I guess this knife is for sharpening the feather… Can you show me?>”
Jacob smiled. “<I’m also more used to the modern pens, but this is tradition. It’s only a signature, this quill will survive that, it’s already good to go. Dip it in the ink and place the cute little anvil you use as a signature at the bottom of the last page of every language.>”
Smith nodded. “<But I first will read what I have to sign… First act as a king will be talking about the dangers from Schotenburg. Can you assemble people who have experience fighting in and against armor? And I also want people who also know a lot about metal, and François and Jacques and Melany and other tailors and shoemakers who produce for the soldiers. And wood carving people too. And I want one of those armor suits from Schotenburg on the table, including the clothes… But take your time, it is a lot to read and I want to compare versions, there might be some translation errors. Take Lilian with you to show her around.>”
Jacob nodded. “As you wish… Smith.” and left to do so.

When Smith was halfway reading all the parchment one of the armor suits was brought in, and the pieces were put on the table.
“Put everything on the correct place, in case of layers what goes under to my left, what goes on top to my right.” Smith mumbled while he gestured with his empty hand.
The soldiers nodded, and after some debating about what was the correct way everything was on the table and the soldiers left again.
Smith stared at the set of items on the table, sighed and stood up to correct a piece, the soldiers had been wrong about how it should be. The way they placed it wouldn’t be comfortable, although it would be more effective protecting the waist. But when Smith sat down again he realized he was the one who made a mistake, the soldiers were right after all.

His status would be a ‘Half-King’, the Neutral Zone would be ruled by two persons. One Human, in this case Smith, his title of king would be hereditary to one of his Human children, true child or adopted, that he would entrust with the task of being the next king, and one Inimal, chosen just like the Inimal kingdom does, but with the rule that there must be a rotation between the species. Canine, minor like Ursine or Mustelid, Vulpine, Feline and then a Canine again, but not the same kind as the previous Canine and also an exception for the Wolves, alteration between the colors. But it would take several generations until a Wolf of the same kind would be king again. Apparently Rolph was already chosen to be the Inimal Half-King.
The ‘child that you trust’ for the Humans seemed a bit odd and could cause rivalry between siblings, but the person who wrote these texts must have had his or her reasons to write it down in this way. Maybe there had been some examples in history where the firstborn child was not the best choice.

When Smith was done reading everything and didn’t see any discrepancies between the four texts he put them aside to sign them later. He subconsciously wanted an audience.
When Smith stood up to examine the suit better the first of the soldiers entered the room, it were Wallis and a few Humans.

“What do you think of you wearing this?” Smith asked, gesturing at the armor.
Wallis shrugged. “I thought armor would be effective, but you taking out two with a sling makes me reconsider.”
One of the Human soldiers grinned. “They didn’t see that coming. Maybe some visors would have helped.”
Smith nodded. “Yes. I want to discuss that, armor for our soldiers. What do you prefer? Protection or comfort? For Humans armor is just another layer of clothing, for Wallis it might be different.”
Wallis nodded. “I was thinking about a few layers of boiled leather or a fabric gambeson with maybe a few strips of metal, but this is a full metal suit… All those tiny rings, that must be a lot of work.”
Smith smiled. “No, not really. You need a bucket of solid rings, and a bucket of rings you can close with a rivet. Lucky for us we have the Bergvolk on our side to help with the production of those rings and the tools. It’s at about a fifth speed of knitting, so in a few days an experienced person can produce a decent sized sheet that can be tailored with plate armor into protective clothing. But we’ll discuss this when the others are here. And I’m hearing things I’ve never heard before. I assume you went to the Academy?”
Wallis nodded. “Yes. We learn everything there. Did you know that some Wolves use laminated wood as armor? They are a bit ashamed of it, but it is very effective to stop a few blows.”
Smith shrugged. “I only know how to heat, hammer and sharpen metal. Until last year I couldn’t even write.”

Slowly the people entered the large room. Jacob and Lilian were the last one to enter. A lot of familiar faces, even Floris and Frank were there, and some of the Bergvolk.

Smith sighed. This would be his first act as a king.
“Welcome everyone. Welkom iedereen. When I sign this stack of parchment I will be a king. The Human king. Als ik deze stapel perkament heb ondertekend ben ik een koning. De Menselijke koning. Your king. Jullie koning… I thought it would be for tax reasons, but according to these papers I will become much more. Ik dacht dat het voor belastingredenen was, maar volgens deze papieren zal ik veel meer worden. But before I do that I want to be an advisor. Maar voor ik dat doe wil ik een adviseur zijn… As you might know the Inimal queen is here, and I am willing to bring her home. Zoals jullie weten is de koningin van de Inimalen hier, en ik ben bereid haar naar huis te brengen. That means I won’t be here again for a long time. Dat betekent dat ik hier voor lange tijd niet zal zijn… I do not want to make decisions and burden you with them, I want you to make the right decisions while I am away, and I am only here to help you. Ik wil geen beslissingen nemen and jullie er mee opzadelen, ik wil dat jullie zelf de juiste beslissingen nemen als ik weg ben, en ik ben hier alleen om jullie te helpen.”
Smith sighed again. Being a king of and above all for all people wasn’t as easy as sitting on a throne and examining masterpieces.
“Just speak your own language. We’ll understand!” someone from the crowd, Frank, called out.
Smith smiled. “Thank you.”

Smith stood up and cleared his throat.
“What we have here is an armor suit of the cavalry of Schotenburg. You haven’t seen their infantry, but those have an extra piece of armor plating protecting the crotch area, and the mail is a bit shorter for better movement of the legs. What I want to do is start a discussion. What we can do to protect ourselves, our version of armor, and what we can do against armor, because seeing this brings back memories.”
“What do you mean?” One of the Humans, a tailor, asked.
Smith smiled. “I’ll just… talk and you listen. I ask the questions, you answer… You might know a bit of my story, my old village got attacked, I wandered north and I ended up with the Elfique… Jacques was a smith back then, and to help me with my grief I had to make something for them, a pollaxe. I didn’t understand why, because there are a lot more things that are hard to make and I really could put my anger in, and at that time a pollaxe was a bit odd. Jacques didn’t come up with the idea of creating a pollaxe, it was the idea of someone else… I made what they wanted, and until a few days ago I didn’t understand why. Does anyone of the soldiers knows what a pollaxe can be used for?”
One of the Human soldiers nodded. “Yes. It’s against armor.”
Smith nodded. “Indeed.”
The soldier sighed. “And now the person who asked you to make that pollaxe is now the glorious leader of Schotenburg, or very close to the glorious leader.”
Smith nodded again. “That’s what I suspect too. The armor the soldiers of Schotenburg had also looked familiar to me.”
Jacques nodded. “Indeed. My old friend is in Schotenburg. He is not the glorious leader, but he is an advisor. You remember some of the helmets with the visors you saw when you were with us?”
Smith sighed. “Yes. When you take a looking glass and take a look at a head of a dragonfly you see the inspiration for some of those helmets. Hundreds of tiny holes to see through, smaller than the shaft of an arrow. We could make arrows with long and thin heads, almost like a needle, but those are fragile.”
Jacques nodded. “You already think about how to counter those helmets. I like that.”

Smith smiled. “I want Jacques to know what we are doing. And I want him to help us with designing our armor. I want it to be protective, that’s why I need people who know armor, comfortable, that’s why the tailors are here, and good looking, that’s why Jacques is here. If he says something is better for protection or comfort take a very good look at it and test it because I don’t trust him.”
“Protection, comfort and good looking. Now pick two.” One of the soldiers joked.
Smith shrugged. “I won’t be here when those decisions are made. You are the one who has to wear it.”
The soldier nodded. “Yes. I still want a visor.”
Smith smiled. “To protect you against who? The best archers are on our side, and you know the safe distance. When you see a hail of arrows coming your way it’s easier to hide behind your shield.”
The soldier nodded again. “Yes, but I still want my visor. It also protects against larger weapons, a good one can stop a sword.”
Smith shrugged. “We have the disadvantage… or the advantage that our army is not all people of the same kind. When you only have Humans you only have to make different sizes of the same kind, we have small Cats, large Tigers, agile Leopards, fast Cheetahs, strong Wolves, Dogs who are trackers and often are on their knees, and Humans… And a lot in between, so if you want a specific armor for your role I don’t think that is going to be a problem. I only ask you to make it look like all kinds of people fighting on the same side.”
Jacques nodded. “Of course. Good looking, but without a lot of decorations. Plain and simple, and recognizable, just like this set… You are thinking of a letter.”
Smith grinned. “A large ‘V’ on the chest. When an arrow bounces off and goes up that will be a bit more protection for the chin. I may have forgotten some things, but not that. It looked odd, but not seeing that V on this armor and the dent here makes me think this is the one who got that arrow up his chin.”
“I shot this one, and that arrow deflector is a great idea. Also put a brim on the edges, to prevent arrows bouncing off sideways, ending up into a side of a soldier next to you.” One of the other soldiers said.
Smith nodded. “Yes. Talk about it, bring in ideas and have them tested.”
“Why are we here?” One of the woodcarvers, more an artist who could make elaborate but practical items out of wood, asked.
Smith smiled. “We now have our defense, armor, but I also want to work on the offense side, weapons. I also want to make weapons like a pollaxe, and I want a few prototypes, made out of wood. I want you to understand why you make wooden weapons. A pollaxe is a weapon with not only a blade and a spike, but also a hook. You get the hook behind an armor plate, and you can pull someone down. But I don’t remember how the hook was, more curved or more straight. I don’t want you to be upset when you have to make up to a dozen variations, I just want to tell you now.”
The man grinned. “Give some Wolves large hammers or even mallets to hit the Schotenburg armor. That mail is not going to protect against that, and I think dented armor joints have trouble moving.”
Smith nodded. “See, I never could think of that. Great idea, heavy blunt weapons.”
The man nodded. “I dreamed about it. Wood that could defeat metal.”
Smith shrugged. “My father was a lumberjack, and I helped making the axes. That was metal defeating wood.”
The man nodded again. “But you need wood to wield the metal. You might be strong, but a long metal staff is hard to handle. Wooden grips, handles and shafts, that’s what you need. Or again the poles, like you had on your pollaxe. Or did you make all parts including the wood?”
Smith sighed. “Only the metal parts. But I don’t want to talk about that.”
The man shrugged. “Fine… This is why I like you as a king, you listen to the ideas of others… I was a bit afraid I would be outcompeted by the Felines and Vulpines, but it turned out to be me helping them with the larger things while they help me with the details.
The Tiger next to him nodded. “Indeed. And I understand you want to practice with our wooden weapons? We could make some holes in them to fill with lead, that way we can get an impression about the weight and if they are really easy to handle.”
Smith smiled. “That’s why you are here. Ideas. Keep them in mind, and tell them to the right people.”

Jacob nodded. “Well then… Everything is settled. I really like the ‘simple but effective’ approach you want, no elaborate decorations and feathers and gold.”
Smith nodded. “Yes… Just like me. You have also something for me in mind? I have tried the crown of the Human king, he admitted it looked good on my head, but I don’t like it, far too heavy and uncomfortable.”
“You have worn the crown of the Human kingdom?” A surprised Lilian asked.
Smith nodded. “Yes. It was during the first visit of the kings. Somehow Alexander forgot his crown, and Dory placed it on my head, just when he returned. It was just a funny moment.”
“And how do you want your crown to be?” One of the artists, a goldsmith, asked.
Smith shrugged. “You saying this makes me assume you don’t have a crown for me yet… Take a helmet, cut it open, and work from that. Open, but a possibility for a warm lining, and some straps for comfort. Not too high, not too heavy, not too elaborate. Metal, wood, stone inlay… surprise me.”
The man nodded. “A nice challenge. I didn’t hear gold and gems, but we will make something you’ll like.”
Jacob nodded. “Yes. We wanted to be absolutely sure you want to be a king. But your crown will be made of gold. But the inlays you suggest are interesting, just like the normal stone you put on the pommel of the Human king’s sword.”

After a long pause Smith finally nodded and sighed.
“Yes. I want to be your king. According to these papers not the only one, but I will do whatever I want, and I hope I won’t be too upset when an angry mob stands before me shouting for my head… It is good to see that all other kingdoms are represented here, François and Jacques for Les Elfiques de la Vallée et de la Forêt, Uwe, Olaf and Günther for das Bergvolk, Lilian as the Inimal queen and a lot of Humans… Mary, I assume you still have some connections to the Human kingdom, can you send them a message that I am officially a king… the Human king of the Neutral Zone now?”
Mary nodded. “Yes, I will inform… the king. There will be a few weeks between your departure to get Lilian home and being absolutely sure you are back here and stay home, that gives me some time to… arrange things.”

Smith smiled. “A king is nothing without a queen… I know I may not be the best man for you… but… I want you to be my queen. I also want you to keep doing what you are doing, I assume it’s a lot of good things, and I want to help you with that, and I also want you to be there for me when I have problems. I truly want to meet your father, and I want to ask him for permission to marry you.”
Mary nodded and grinned. “Yes of course I want to. Just promise to get back in good health, I will send him a message, and I will make sure you won’t run away again. You stay in your smithy until my father arrives, you already missed him twice because you were away.”
Smith sighed. “I promise. When I return I will stay home until I meet him and I know he is your father.”
“You are getting soft, Smith!” Frank called out, to the amusement of the others.
Smith shrugged. “I am not afraid to change, unlike you.”

Smith silently got the stack of parchment, powdered the areas where he would put his signature, and drew the four little anvils that were needed.
He considered also using the blotting paper, but the ink dried fast enough. He was a king, there was no turning back. Unless he tossed everything in the fire.

Smith was congratulated by all the people in the room. Many of the people didn’t know how to act now he was a king, some bowed, some kneeled. Smith pulled those who kneeled back on their feet and hugged them, the Humans and the Wolves alike. He felt like he still was their equal, and wanted to be their equal again, just like Alexander and Leopold wanted to be.

One by one the people left, leaving only Smith, Mary, Lilian, William, Rolph and Jacob.
“I should go too. I have some… work to do. Haven’t worked in a long time, and I really want to hammer some metal again.” Smith spoke at a tired tone.
“You sound a little like you don’t want to.” Lilian noted.
Smith nodded. “Yes… How did you feel on the first day that you were a queen?”
Lilian smiled. “Wealth. Luxury. Good food… Those were the things I wanted. It was all a bit of a disappointment when I realized how much work there was. You have the advantage that you don’t have a large kingdom and that the people love you. You don’t have to be surrounded by soldiers at all times, and you can get home in less than a week, no matter where you are in your kingdom. And there is peace between the kingdoms, I think you can get a lot of help in case you want to obliterate Schotenburg.”
Smith shrugged. “But I don’t want to obliterate, I want it intact. With the inhabitants.”
“Are you serious?” a shocked Mary replied.
Smith grinned. “Of course not. I want the Neutral Zone to be left alone, and if others don’t do that I want to make it very clear that is a mistake. Everyone who dares to cross our borders with bad intentions will be killed or captured, what happens outside our borders is not of our concern.”
Jacob nodded. “But think of the trade. War is not good for that.”
Smith shrugged. “Depends on your trade. I was and still am neutral. Selling weapons to both sides again isn’t bad.”
Mary’s reply came in the form of a slap to the back of Smith’s head. “Bad king! We must have peace. Swords to plowshares!”
Smith grinned. “I have sold a Wolf a former plowshare. He wanted a huge sword, so that’s what he got. Fortunately for me it was a bit too heavy for him, and when he attacked me I had to kill him with a very small dagger I made for a lady. And then I turned his sword into a plowshare again. He lifted his new and heavy sword above his head to hit me, but it got stuck in a beam, and I stabbed him right through the heart.”
Mary grinned. “Wolves either want to kiss you or kill you. There is no in between.”
Smith shrugged. “I am the neutral one. Victim of both.”

When they got home they saw that Casper and Tina were already there.
“Good morning Casper and Tina, you got home early, it’s not even noon.” Smith greeted them.
Casper nodded. “Yes. We heard you were… going to do something crazy, and you might need help to bring someone important home as soon as possible. Pleased to meet you, I’m Casper, your coachman, and this is Tina, my wife.”
Smith grinned. “Are you still not used to me being myself? I’m sure you have heard a few more stories about me.”
William smiled. “I am William White, Pebble’s father. And yes, I know him for a few days now, but Smith is indeed insane. Some people call him even the son of their god.”
“And you can call me Lilian.” The Lioness added, slightly grinning.
Casper nodded again. “They told me you were heading to Schotenburg to get Pebble’s father out, and he is the bodyguard of our queen, and they expected something like this. Shall we go? I’d love to hear your stories.”
Smith shook his head. “I wanted to give you a few days of rest. Be home for a while… And I don’t care what the people tell you, I am the son of a lumberjack, a destroyer of things, not a carpenter, a creator of things.”
Tina shrugged. “Home is boring. A lot of hammering sounds, always the same people around… Let’s get a few fresh horses and let us be on the road again.”
Mary nodded. “Yes. But it is not our decision, what does Lilian want?”
Lilian shrugged. “Go home. My home. It is still early, and this way we can gain some distance… I really don’t like being this close to Schotenburg now that they know who I am.”
Smith sighed. “Fine. But I want a few soldiers to accompany us. I’m sure that William wants to be one of them.”
“Your hearing is still very bad.” A voice from behind Smith called out. It were Wulver and Walther with Marble and Pebble.
“What are you doing here?” Smith asked.
Wulver grinned. “When I heard what you were going to do I wanted to see how crazy you are, and if you succeeded. And you did. And I need to talk to the Inimal king, so that’s a good reason to accompany you.”
“William for Lilian, and I want to protect you. Arthur wants to stay here.” Walther added.
“I want to come along too, and see the court!” Pebble finally said.
Smith grinned. “Common, White and Grey… When we meet Siegfried we are complete, all colors of the Wolves. What about the women, do you want to take yours along?”
Walther shook his head. “No. This is a mission to get the Inimal queen home, not a leisure trip. I am against taking Pebble along, but maybe we can leave her at the academy. She has some potential.”
William nodded. “That would be an honor.”
Pebble also nodded. “Yes. But I want mommy to come along too.”
William nodded. “I’m fine with that. Don’t you really want Rose to come along? I don’t know her that well, but she and the queen really got along.”
Casper nodded. “It’s no problem, my cart is large enough. Is Lilith also here?”
Wulver nodded. “She is. She wanted to buy some things. I think it’s good for her, being in a more civilized environment. She sometimes scares me with her actions.”
Smith shrugged. “Fine. Let me get my gear again, say goodbye again, and let’s go. I didn’t even have the chance to sleep in my own bed.”
Lilian grinned. “It’s a really nice bed. Although I could feel nobody has slept in it for moons.”
If it moves but shouldn't: Duct tape. If it doesn't move but should: WD-40. With a hammer everything fits, and if it still doesn't fit: bigger hammer. If it can't be fixed with a hammer it's an electrical problem.

User avatar
Neutral Smith
Templar GrandMaster
Posts: 671
Joined: Mon Feb 24, 2014 5:32 pm
Location: Neitherlands
Fav. Twokinds Character: Saria's father

Re: Forge of Kingdoms (NSFW) - Chapter 45

#52 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 45
Not home yet

The journey was long, cold and hard. Maybe the weather was not as cold as the previous winter, but the thin layer of fabric the wagon and the tents had to protect the cargo and occupants against the elements was not as good as the stone and wooden walls and roofs of buildings. And an open fire instead of a fireplace or a stove also didn’t provide a lot of warmth. But they all had nice and warm clothing, Smith because he was a weak Human who needed clothes to stay warm, and the Wolves and Tigers to be recognizable as members of the Neutral Zone. Even Wallis came along, although Smith didn’t want him to, he had to get to know the other soldiers of the Neutral Zone, and you can’t do that when you are away. But an extra soldier for protecting Lilian was also welcome, so Walther and Wallis allowed it.

It was a nice thing that Lilian wasn’t shy of body contact in the nights, but Smith wished he had Charlene on top of him. Lilian didn’t want to be on top, and if she wanted it she was uncomfortably heavy.
Already after four nights Smith applied the Lilian-nobody-Pebble-other woman-Lilian rule, not only to get some rest for himself, but also give Pebble’s parents some time for themselves without their child watching them. Of the ‘other women’ nights only Tina spent a few nights with him, but that was only because she was in heat, and she and Casper didn’t want children yet.
The female Wolves didn’t want to. Why should you go to a small Human with no stamina when you have a Wolf?

The visits to the villages were ‘interesting’. There was no need to avoid them because they knew the Human Smith, but they also remembered him from the previous visit.
In one village almost a fight broke out because all the feline women wanted him in their bed. They spent three nights there, and after that Smith had to take a rest for five days on the wagon because he was exhausted and sore. But for the rest the villages were quite hospitable. Many times free food and lodging.
Smith wasn’t sure it was because of him or because of the Inimal queen visiting them.

They had taken along a lot of metalware and spices. Axes, saws, chisels, knives, but also hinges and Bergvolk cooking pots to sell along the way, and the spices for the cooking for a queen. There was not a lot of room on the cart, so Smith and the Wolves usually walked. In the evening the items on the cart were rearranged, and four people could sleep on a mattress on the bed. Usually it was Lilian and a pair of Wolves, but a few times Smith used the cart, mostly after a visit to a village where he had lost the strength to put up another tent.

Finally they came closer to the Inimal capitol. Just a few more hours.
“Smith… Milady… Better stay out of sight.” Walther warned them.
“You are expecting trouble?” Wulver asked.
Walther nodded. “Yes… There are some rumors. None of our concern… none of concern for the Neutral Zone, but there could be hostiles here.”
Smith sighed. “I’ll talk to Edward when we return. Maybe he knows more, he at least knows a lot more Wolves.”
Walther smiled. “Edward is the one who told me, you really know the people you have to go to with questions, I really like that you also taught Katie that and now Pebble… Some Wolf separatists in the southwest giving trouble again, and they want to get rid of the king and his friends, and that includes us.”
Smith shrugged. “I am smart enough to ask the people who have the answers. I don’t know enough myself… Southwest… Bordering Feline territory. I hope they don’t cause too much trouble. Time to get inside.”

Smith climbed on the wagon, and Pebble and Rose followed him.
“You are not staying outside?” Smith asked.
Pebble shook her head. “No. We can’t fight, and I am tired of walking.”
Smith nodded. “Alright… Stack those empty crates on the sides, we are going to sit on the floor in the middle. If there is an attack and they start to slash the canopy we are a bit more protected. Keep the exits clear, I can use my sword there or we can use then to flee when they set the wagon on fire.”
William smiled. “You know a lot. From forging to being a king, hunting and strategy… Walther and Wallis will walk ahead of us, and Wulver and I cover the rear.”

When Smith assumed they were in the capitol, the sound of activity around them could be heard and the road was better, Pebble tugged his sleeve.
“What?” Smith asked.
“))[censored] [censored] in in.((“ Pebble signed.
“Assassin is in… I heard it too, and something like ‘long live…’ I couldn’t hear the rest of it. A Wolf said that.” Lilian whispered.
Smith sighed. “Damn. Those Wolves are still trouble… Casper, straight to the stables of the Academy, and make sure the doors are closed behind us. The only thing we know there is an assassin on the loose, in here somewhere. Could be the town, could be the castle.”
Smith heard no reply from Casper, but he assumed he heard it.

“You can come out, we are at the stables and the doors are closed.” Casper softly spoke while he opened the canopy for his passengers to climb out. He hadn’t rushed to the stables to avoid suspicion, and had quietly informed the others. Apparently they had heard it too. Maybe that message was meant to be heard, to scare them away.
“What kind of guard is at the door?” Smith asked whispering, staying inside the wagon and also gesturing Lilian to stay inside. Pebble and Rose climbed out.
“Gray Wolf… Damn, those are the ones who give trouble… And he is on the inside.” Walther replied, also making sure that only Smith could hear it.
Smith grinned. “Just like you.”
Walther also grinned. “I forget that I am also a Gray, and I keep forgetting that you are a Human.”
Smith sighed, and got his armbrust ready. He hadn’t armed it because of the limited space, a stab with a sword would be sufficient to repel an attack, but now there was an unsuspecting enemy at a range.
Wulver looked at Smith, but pretended he was looking at something in the wagon. “Why do you get your armbrust? We are safe here, Walther only said it was a bit odd.” he whispered.
Smith shook his head, got up, and as soon as he had the Gray Wolf in his sights he pulled the trigger.
His intention was to pin the Wolf to the door, between the ribs and missing the spine, but he shot him dead center in the chest. The Wolf collapsed without a sound, but with a surprised look on his face and the tip of the bolt touching the spine on the inside.
“Why did you do that?” Wulver asked.
“That was no guard. I have been away for too long, but he was on the wrong side of the doors for guarding, they wanted to replace his uniform when we left years ago, and that spear is no weapon for a Wolf. Smith did the right thing.” William answered.
Smith nodded. “We have an assassin in, he must have passed a guard unnoticed, or that guard has been replaced by an accomplice… I don’t think that that Wolf is the one we are looking for. You don’t stay at the stables guarding the entrance when your target isn’t there.”
Wulver nodded. “I understand. What are your suggestions we should do next?”
Smith shrugged. “Wait for the real guards. Somebody must have noticed us entering the stables. We might have some explaining to do.”

A door was unlocked, and Siegfried, Boris, Minou and a few soldiers entered the stables.
Siegfried started to laugh when he saw Smith, but his smile dropped when he saw the dead body next to the stable doors. “Who is that?”
Smith shrugged. “I don’t know… But we have a passenger you might know… Lilian, you can come out, it’s safe.”
Siegfried looked at the Lioness who climbed out of the cart. “Is that…”
Smith nodded. “Yes, that is queen Lilian… I don’t think anyone thought she was still alive, except those who were in prison, and they wanted to keep it a secret until they got a way to get her out. The White Wolf here is William, Pebble’s father and the queen’s loyal bodyguard.”
Siegfried grinned. “I assume you did something rather… daring again. We did know that the queen was in the prison, but we couldn’t think of a better way of getting her out than waiting for you to get them all out.”
Smith nodded again. “Yes, but I don’t like to talk about it. There is a lot of blood on my hands. Twenty-six Humans… Although I only killed four of them myself.”

“Why are the doors of the stables closed? We wanted some fresh air in now that the horses are gone.” Boris asked.
Smith sighed. “That’s a different problem. When we entered the capitol Pebble and Lilian heard someone say that an assassin was in, so we decided that we should go straight to here and close the doors behind us. That… Wolf… did close the doors of the stables, but he was on the wrong side of them for guarding, he had the wrong clothes for recognition as a current guard, and he had a spear that is better suited for a Cat.”
Walther nodded. “But that leaves the question where the real guard is… Boris, good to see you, can you smell anything out of the ordinary?”
Boris grinned. “No matter how often I hear that joke it still isn’t funny… And I don’t smell anything strange. Just the usual smells, I can’t remember everyone I smelled, but I don’t smell things like a dead body or blood, only that Wolf you are talking about.”
“So that guard must be alive if he isn’t leaking in here?” Lilith asked.
Boris shook his head. “No, he is… I think he is in the straw next to the door, I hear something rustling there, and it’s not a mouse.”

“I found him, but he is unconscious!” Pebble called from the large heap of straw next to the door.
“Minou! Get over here! Help me!” Smith called while he waded through the straw to reach the Cat guard. The Cat must have been knocked out and tossed into the straw.
“Can you get him out? Be careful not to move his neck too much.” Minou warned Smith.
Smith nodded. “Yes of course. It is not at an odd angle, I see no blood, I think it’s only a concussion.” and carefully lifted the Cat out of the soft straw to get him to a better location.

When Minou was examining the slowly consciousness regaining Cat Smith loaded his armbrust again and walked back to the center of the stables, looking around to see anything out of place and shoot if necessary. The ladder that Katie and William had used a long time ago, a time of a different assassin, was still pulled up and resting on some beams, although it looked like it had moved a little. But the stables also were cleaned, so maybe it was just an ‘out of the way’ place to store it. A ladder that was accidentally knocked over could scare horses, and if it’s out of reach it cannot be knocked over. Although you might need a second one to get it, or an agile Feline.
The high windows let a bit of the winter sun in, and in the dark corners were torches, but it wasn’t enough to illuminate all the dark corners, especially those high up in the ceiling beams and trusses.

“What are you looking at?” A voice asked behind Smith. It was King Leopold.
“Aren’t there things that you didn’t expect here?” Smith replied.
Leopold nodded. “Yes… You here at this time of year… But… also someone I haven’t seen in a very long time… Lilian… How?”
Lilian smiled. “Don’t you know who Smith is and what he can do? He got me out of the prison of Schotenburg… Although you have different problems now, there is an assassin somewhere in here.”
Leopold shrugged. “In here? That explains the dead Wolf at the doors in old guard clothing. But I’m sure Smith can handle it.”
Smith sighed. “Sire, I am a visitor here, you have an army… I only have Walther, Wallis and now also William.”

When the Cat guard was carried out on a stretcher Rose tugged on Smith’s sleeve to get his attention, and pointed up to a dark corner.
It was hard to see, but one of the beams had a bulge, someone was trying to hide behind it.
Smith aimed his armbrust. It was not a very hard target to hit. “Alright you up there. I see you, and I have a ranged weapon with high accuracy. You must know I can’t kill you from here, but I can give you a nasty flesh wound, maybe even hit a kidney. You get a reasonable amount of time to get down.”

“They will kill me!”

It was a female Feline, almost crying.

Smith sighed. “No. Unless you do something stupid I will protect you.”

“Are you sure? You are with Wolves.”

Smith lowered his armbrust and started to disarm it. “Yes. The doors are closed, and the foreign Wolf who was guarding is dead. The Wolves who are here are my friends, you can be assured they will kill me if I harm you.”

“Smith is telling the truth. He made me make that promise.” Siegfried added.

“I want to kill him first. You don’t harm innocent people.” Lilith spoke while she put a hand on Smith’s shoulder.

“It is… not very polite to harm people, especially when you are a visitor. Come down, lay down your weapons, and you will be treated with respect.” Leopold spoke.

“But… Then I will never see my child again.”

Leopold sighed. “Come down, and we will talk about it. We will find a solution. You fear Wolves, I have a problem with certain Wolves, Smith has experience with Wolves.”

Smith shrugged. “Yes. They either want to kiss me or kill me… I haven’t got all day, I have done what I wanted to do and I want to go home.”

Finally the Feline climbed down, tossed her weapon aside and sat down on the ground to cry.
Smith retrieved the weapon, and smiled when he recognized it. “Look, the second of the pair. Got any information about the Wolf who Mary’s Antoinette killed?”
Leopold shook his head. “No. It’s not that they carry pieces of paper around with their information like who they are and where they are from. He is dead and no longer a problem.”
Smith gestured at the Panther Jaguar. “And what about her?”
Leopold shrugged. “Also not a problem anymore. I don’t think she ever has been a threat.”

Smith handed the weapon to a soldier, and sat down next to the crying woman. “Talk.”
The woman sighed. “I am Petra, and they sent me to kill the king.”
Smith nodded. “We heard that. ‘Assassin is in’, that means that you and that corpse over there are not alone. Who?”
Petra shrugged. “Gray Wolves from the Letzi. They have my child, and force me to work for them.”
Smith looked at Siegfried. “You know that place?”
Siegfried nodded. “Yes. That’s the region where Beatrice and I are born. It is a huge valley closed off with a wall on the eastern side. Old Bergvolk stronghold. That wall is amazing, it is like a half circle and it takes three days to walk from one end to the other. My guess is the old castle?”
Petra nodded. “Yes, there.”
Siegfried sighed. “The old castle is the point of defense for the other side of the valley, at the south flowing river. It’s not a place where you simply walk into, not even from the valley.”
Wallis also nodded. “I am also from that region. Things have changed, and not for the better. That’s why we left. Wall on one end, castle on the other, and if you ignore everything it’s relative good, but my parents couldn’t ignore it.”
“We have to take care of those others here first. Can you tell more about them?” Leopold asked.
Petra nodded. “Yes, we were with three. two Gray Wolves and I. One is the dead one here.”
Lilian also nodded. “Good. That means that there is at least one Wolf we don’t know left. Because we heard them say ‘assassin is in’, and you don’t say that aloud to nobody in particular.”

Before anyone could say something a soldier stormed in.
“Sire! You have to get to safety! There is an assassin!” He almost shouted when he located the king.
Leopold nodded. “Yes I know, it’s this woman. Who told you?”
The soldier gestured at the wagon and horses in which Smith arrived. “Suddenly a Gray Wolf told a Wolf civilian here, out of nowhere, just when this cart… is that Smith?… What is he doing here? passed. He said that the assassin was in and ‘long live the rudel’. That civilian informed us.”
Leopold nodded. “Understood. I want that Gray Wolf who said that apprehended, arrest every Gray Wolf who doesn’t live here if you have to… And yes, Smith brought Lilian home.”
The soldier saluted, smiled and left.
Smith shrugged. “Well… That’s easy… Petra, I have seen you before, is that correct?”
Petra nodded. “Yes, at the Wolf owned inn… That Wolf I was with was the brother of our leader. I was there for my first attempt to kill the king.”
Smith nodded. “But instead of the king you killed someone else.”
Petra shrugged. “A Wolf. Nice opportunity to kill one, and say that I succeeded in the dark. Pity you betrayed me by talking to the innkeeper.”
“And what about that Wolf who got killed here in the stables? Was that the one you were with?” Leopold asked.
Petra nodded. “Yes. He wanted to steal that horse who kicked him to flee. He got what he deserved.”
Smith shrugged. “He was not a pure Gray. Maybe an interesting fact for you.”
Petra nodded. “I know. Pure Grays that are liked are rare. Brother from a different mother, and he just wanted to fit in with the Pures, or the Silberrücken as they call themselves.”
Smith shrugged. “I do not look at what they are, I just judge people on their behavior. Here we have Walther and Rose. And I also like Edward, Rose’s father. And William, the son of the innkeeper here. But on the other hand the Gray innkeeper I met in the west tried to kill me. But I had a little White to protect me.”
Petra shrugged. “Different people… The king said you could help me?”
Smith sighed. “Yes. I can help… Today I brought Lilian home, and I have done some very daring things to get her here, and in the past I also have done some things… But, the day before I left to get here I was declared King of the Neutral Zone, I just can’t go and kill some more in a neighboring kingdom… And to be honest, I want to go home.”
Petra also nodded. “I also want to go home, to my child. Do you have any children?”
Smith sighed. “No… Wolves killed my first wife when she was pregnant. I killed them in return.”
Petra put a hand on Smith’s shoulder. “Wolves killed the father of my child when I was pregnant. I want to do the same… You really are Smith, they fear you.”
Smith shrugged. “I have lost count of how many I have killed. I don’t want to kill any more… And besides, this isn’t my kingdom.”
Leopold smiled. “Our kingdoms could… forge an alliance. I will get the paperwork done, and you can go kill some Wolves for me. You can lead an army.”
Smith sighed. “You didn’t listen… But what’s in it for me?”
Leopold smiled. “You can ask what you want. If you want Schotenburg to be destroyed I am willing to sacrifice soldiers for that. If you want free coal for the whole Neutral Zone I can offer you that too. Tell me what you want.”
Smith sighed. “I want to know what I am up against. Get all the information on a table, and if I think the odds are in my favor I will help Petra get her child back, and help you getting rid of some unruly Wolves.”
Leopold smiled. “That is very reasonable… Although I want to keep this a secret so you can’t ask anyone about details of the Letzi.”
Smith nodded. “I understand. But I think that Siegfried, Beatrice, Wallis and Petra can tell me enough. And I assume you also know a lot of things about your kingdom… But since you mentioned I can ask anything: I want something to eat for us and a place to sleep for us, and maybe Wulver also wants something, he wanted to come along too, and he has been here recently.”
Wulver nodded. “Yes. The land I defend against Humans is not in the Neutral Zone, it’s in this kingdom. There are also Wolves hunting Ferals in my area, and I need more help than I thought.”
Leopold nodded. “I understand. But those individuals are not a thread to my kingdom. I’m sorry, I have done everything I could do for you.”
Smith sighed. “Then I will conquer the part Wulver takes care of, and do your work… Sire, you also have your kingdom, and you must defend it. First I want to decide where I will go, west to help Petra, or back home because it’s too dangerous and help Wulver.”
Leopold nodded again. “Fine. But first: Food.”

The food was good, and Petra almost fainted because of the generosity. Pebble was brought to the Academy, and was immediately accepted, even though they were halfway the year. Just like with Katie weapons were not allowed, so William would take care of her dagger until her graduation. Smith got a chance to greet Katie and Wiliam, but did not want to tell more than that he had taken care of Pebble for some time. There was no need to worry the children.

Maps and drawings were put on a table.
“What we have here is a map of the Letzi, and some drawings of the buildings and the wall.” Leopold spoke at a tone that really fitted him. A king who liked strategy. Someone who liked to impress a woman again. Not the shadow of a king that Smith knew. “Wall is taller than the longest portable ladders, three gates for a wall that is twenty-six leagues long on the outside, and bastions at regular intervals. Path on top, but not a lot of stairs to man the wall or the bastions, worst case you have to pass six bastions before you get where you want to be. Battlements all along, and the ends are built into the mountain walls, which are really steep slopes, we believe they are excavated. No way to walk around.”
“The sides of the valley are also cut. Just steep stone walls, and no place for ropes to attach to. It isn’t natural, but we don’t know how the Bergvolk did it.” Siegfried added.
Smith sighed and studied the map. “What’s outside of the wall? What are these little dots and scribbles here?”
Siegfried looked at what Smith meant and smiled. “These in the south are sheepfolds, and in the north there are clay pits and kilns and some related buildings. In the summer moons flocks of sheep are herded outside the wall and when the weather is bad they are given shelter in the folds, and those are also used for shearing. Same for the production of pottery and bricks, that also only takes place during the summer moons.”
Smith nodded. “I remember. I sold some equipment for the sheep shearers. They also called the place where they are from the Letzi, and I think I also used coal from it.”
Leopold nodded. “That is possible. The Letzi is a connection between the Inimal kingdom and the Bergvolk. We conquered a bit beyond it a long time ago, and it is a rich source of coal.”
“We have to concentrate on getting there. There is a wall in our way.” Casper changed the subject.
Smith nodded. “I see that. I think that only the gates are manned, we can’t go through there, not even by force knowing Bergvolk architecture. So over the wall it will be.”
Wallis shrugged. “And how do you want to do that? Fly?”
Smith shook his head. “No. We need someone else to climb it. If I am provided an armbrust that you can afford to be damaged I can modify it to shoot a grappling hook. I don’t think the builders of that wall have gone as far as rounding the backside of the stones. I assume there are square edges on the other side, so the hook won’t glide off. Sire, you offered me an army, and I ask for one soldier, a lightweight Feline. He doesn’t have to be a full soldier, but he does need to know how to fight… Sire, in summary I need the use of a smithy and some metal and wood for a grappling hook and maybe some other things, a powerful armbrust that can be sacrificed, a lightweight soldier, a thin rope that I can shoot over the wall and the soldier can use to climb the wall, and a thicker rope that the soldier can attach to something on top of the wall so the rest of us and everything we carry can climb the wall… Is that reasonable?”

After some thinking Leopold nodded. “So you are going to help Petra… Just like you have helped so many people before and I hope you will do many times again.”
Smith shrugged. “I am a king now. I hope this is the last stupid thing I do myself… What are your days as a king like?”
Leopold shrugged. “Read reports and decide what has to be done. I like the thinking of strategies and writing of laws part and let others check them if they are reasonable. Accounting, writing letters, that kind of things… I’m glad I don’t have to inspect the masterpieces like Alexander has to do, I have no idea what makes an item a masterpiece.”
Smith smiled. “That sounds boring. I’ll just let me being a king happen, and hope I do it right because I never had an example, only people who fled other kingdoms and they can tell me what they don’t want.”
Leopold grinned. “And an occasional attempt to kill me, but I’m glad I have good friends who are around at the right time.”
Smith shrugged. “I can defend myself… I really hope the first masterpiece I receive will be a good sword.”

Petra smiled. “You really get along well… I am truly honored, I was sent here to kill a king, but now I have the feeling I am with friends here, just talking about everyday life as a king, and making it sound boring.”
Siegfried shrugged. “Get used to it with Smith. I also tried to kill him, and look at me now, I’m an advisor for the king.”
Smith nodded. “Yes, you are… Wolves… Siegfried Black, Walther Gray, William White and Wallis… the four colors. Siegfried told me that the Wolves have a rotation of colors from which group their king came. I have all four here at the table, and all four of you are my friends who also know how to fight… I could ask for regular soldiers to accompany me for my protection, but I want to take you along. So me, Petra, the four of you and one lightweight soldier… I want you to come along with me. Last time I went to the west I could avoid other Wolves, but this time it will be impossible. I want you to come along to be my advisors, Wallis and Siegfried know the area, Walther because he is a Gray I trust and maybe others will trust him as well, and William because he is the missing color for a full council of Wolves and a good fighter… Do you really want it? We will be away from home for a long time again.”
Marble nodded. “Yes. But this is something that needs to be done. I was lucky there were some good Wolves there who helped me.”
Casper also nodded. “I don’t dare to go to that region, and other transporters are also hesitant. Go and do something about it.”
Rose said nothing, but simply hugged Smith.
Wulver shrugged. “Maybe those Wolves I’m dealing with are from there, just like those who harassed Casper’s father’s village. Do what you must do.”
Boris, Minou and tho others who were in the room simply nodded. A few walked away to arrange things.
“You didn’t answer me.” Smith asked again.
Siegfried’s reply came in the form of a kiss, and when he was done Walther took over, and when he was done it was Wallis’ turn, and finally William.
Smith sighed, and grinned. “I’ll take that as a yes.”
“I’m not a Wolf, but can I lick you too?” Petra asked.
Smith shrugged. “Plenty of time to do that while we get to the Letzi.”

The food and the night at the castle were good. The Wolves slept at the castle, but Smith and the Felines chose to sleep in the stables. Somehow the soft straw felt better and safer.
The second Wolf was killed in a fight the following day, killing one soldier and wounding four. He attempted to enter the castle to kill the king himself with a simple dagger.

The smithy that Smith was allowed to use was adequate. It was not really suitable for heavy hammering, a lot of flammable materials were close to the forge and anvil, but the people didn’t protest when Smith wanted everything gone, or at least at three times the safe distance. The quality of the metal was good, it was the same as he had at home.
The practice shot with the second modified armbrust and grappling hook ended on the roof of the castle. But the rope was strong enough to help Smith onto the roof. All in all everything was perfect. Except the getting down part, there he needed some help.

“Smith! We have something for you.”
A Cat and some sort of white Leopard woodworkers entered the workshop where Smith was doing some final adjustments on the things he had. Sharpening all the edges of the blades, and modifying his backpack for the second armbrust, and making some cleats. The others were also busy getting clothes and shoes and other gear. The local shoemaker had a very busy day. Smith had given them money to do so, and Petra was almost Human in her enthusiasm to buy things.
Smith smiled. He never felt at home in a different building, but the people here were very helpful, and the materials were also very cheap. “What do you have?”
“Skis and a sled.” the Leopard answered.
Smith looked at the odd two wheeled cart he was pushing, loaded with indeed five pairs of skis.
“I know those bindings. Those were made in my smithy, I think it was Robert who made them. You don’t have a lot of those… at least, not made in my smithy. but I see you also have one pair of skis suitable for Human shoes.”
The Leopard nodded. “Yes… Odd thing, we got the Human pair for ‘just in case a friendly Human comes along’, and you are that friendly Human. We killed the previous owner in a battle in case you wondered.”
Smith nodded. “And the sled? I see you have a very odd looking cart.”
The Leopard and Cat nodded, unbuckled a few straps, and lifted the top part off and put it on the ground, turning it into a sled. Without saying a word they lifted the undercarriage, flipped it upside down, and put it again on top of the sled.
Smith nodded in admiration. “Very clever. Runners for hard snow and ice, but the flat bottom close to the ground for the soft snow. And some sturdy wheels when there is no snow or ice.”
The Cat nodded. “See. I told you he would like it.”
Smith smiled. “I appreciate it. It will be a long journey again… can you arrange a few tools to fix things along the way? I never carry a hammer because it’s too heavy, but in the sled it won’t be much. Hammer, nails, leather straps, a jar of grease… those kind of things.” and handed them a few small gold and silvers.
The Cat and Leopard nodded. “Yes. We will.”
Smith smiled. “I have one last question… I recognize you as a member of the Leopard family, but I have never seen your kind before. What are you?”
The Leopard smiled. “I am a Snow Leopard. We come from the Western Mountains, but we were expelled from there by the Wolves. Not many of us left, but we try to make the best of it.”
Smith nodded. “I appreciate it. Snow, skis, sled… I could have guessed it.”

It was time to pack everything they needed for the long journey that would start tomorrow. Pack, eat, sleep, and leave while it’s still dark. Smith hoped that the soldier who had to suffer them would also get some time to prepare himself. There was plenty of room on the sled, but Smith kept his backpack full, including the second armbrust and the thin rope. His spare sleeping mat and blanket could go on the sled.
A Tiger general tapped Smith on the shoulder and saluted. “Smith! The requested soldier is here!”
Smith looked at the Ocelot who arrived. Not very old, Smith guessed the age at around twelve years old and fully equipped. He looked a bit familiar.
“Welcome. You can call me Smith. You are?” Smith greeted the shy Feline.
“I’m Kris.” the Ocelot replied.
Smith looked better at Kris, walking around him. “You have grown a lot since the last time I have seen you. You look like your father.”
“You know him?” Siegfried asked.
Smith nodded. “Kris, where are you born?”
Kris sighed. “I was born in the old Neutral Zone. When I was just a few moons old my parents had to flee with me because the village was attacked by Wolves, they killed my mother but my father and I hid in the trees.”
Smith smiled. “Kris is an odd name. Do you know who gave you that name?”
Kris nodded. “Yes. It was the apprentice of the smith there. He was good friends with my father.”
Smith nodded, almost crying. “It was me. I gave you that name… I still remember having you in my arms… I see you have an exotic weapon from the far south, that weapon is a kris.”
Kris nodded. “Yes. When I learned about it I knew this would be my weapon. Lightweight, and suitable for quick stabs.”
Smith smiled. “You were named after your father, Christopher, back then I didn’t know it was a weapon… How is your father?”
Kris shrugged. “He died a few years ago. It’s a pity I haven’t talked to him a lot because I was at the Academy, but we can’t change the past. But when we did talk about the past… Well… I don’t want to talk about it.”
Smith nodded. “I understand. I have some fond memories of your father, we had a lot of fun. But we are here for the future, do you know what we are going to do?”
Kris nodded. “Yes. Revenge.”
Smith shrugged. “That’s a part of it… Your task for us is getting us over a wall, I will use this armbrust to shoot a grappling hook with a thin rope, you climb that rope to attach a bigger rope somewhere on top of that wall, we climb over it and your task for us is done and can go home again. I don’t want to risk the life of the son of an old friend.”
Kris also shrugged. “I also have my orders.”
Smith nodded. “You are hiding something for me… You are not your father, you are not my friend… yet… but also don’t get in my way.”
The Tiger general nodded. “We will wait for a few days, and then more soldiers will cross the wall the same way you want to do. You will fail, but the Wolves will never know where you came from when it’s snowing and your tracks will be covered again. We will succeed and capture the Letzi again.”
Smith shrugged. “Thanks for the confidence in me.”
The Tiger smirked. “What do you think you and four Wolves can achieve?”
Smith shrugged. “Go ask the Vulpine in the north. Go ask the people of Schotenburg. Go ask people in the Neutral Zone. Everywhere where I was a part of a fight we were outnumbered, and still won.” Smith unsheathed his sword. “You see this? Last Resort. If I have to use this it means I’m in trouble. I don’t intend to get in trouble, usually my words are enough to prevent harm. I intend to go to the Letzi, and just walk in, do what I want to do, and see what happens. People fear me.”
The Tiger nodded. “They might. They don’t know you are coming. But you still need a plan.”
Smith shrugged. “Lions are the planners, I am not, and neither are you. We will leave tomorrow.”
The Tiger grimaced. “You are nothing but a Human civilian. You are nothing.” and walked away.

“Is he always like that?” Smith asked while the general walked away.
Kris nodded. “Unfortunately yes. It is uncertainty. He will make mistakes.”
Smith grinned. “In that case you pull the rope up and are coming with us. Let him be the distraction at the gates.”
Kris nodded. “That sounds good… You asked a Tiger and a Cat to buy some equipment, and don’t be surprised when they return with some white cloaks. I thought it would be good to bring those along.”
Smith shrugged. “Why? We have plenty of clothes.”
Kris smiled. “You and my father were always playing hide and seek. A white cloak helps to hide in the snow. It might not be very convincing nearby, but in the distance it is better than two black figures, a gray figure, and three brownish figures.”
Smith nodded. “I hope your father learned you to control your tail better. I was always looking for a twitching tail.”
Kris smiled. “Yes. He told me that. When he thought he was not well hidden but had tucked his tail in you had a lot of trouble finding him, and when he thought he had a good spot you pulled his tail. Or hit it with a stick.”
Smith grinned.

The food was good, the night’s rest also, although a bit short.
Three hours before dawn they left the castle, heading west.

User avatar
Neutral Smith
Templar GrandMaster
Posts: 671
Joined: Mon Feb 24, 2014 5:32 pm
Location: Neitherlands
Fav. Twokinds Character: Saria's father

Re: Forge of Kingdoms (NSFW) - Chapter 46

#53 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 46
The White West

It was Siegfried who opened Smith’s tent. They had been traveling for a few days through the snow at a decent pace thanks to the skis, but pulling the sled was hard for a Human, and Smith’s day to pull was yesterday.
Smith was quite comfortable under his blanket, but someone saying a word he could not place was a good reason to open his eyes. And his bladder was also screaming at him, that also was a reason to leave the tent. “What?”
“It is a Human custom that they celebrate every year on the day they were born, isn’t it? And last night was longest night, and you said you were born on a longest night.” Siegfried answered when he closed the flap again.
They were up to something. There already had been a few friendly snowball fights, and the snow around their current campsite was perfect for another one.
Smith got out from under the covers, quietly prepared a few snowballs himself, and slipped out of the back of the tent. The snow was cold on his naked skin when he slid out, but he had the element of surprise.
Four snowballs in rapid succession for Siegfried, Walther, William and Wallis. Unfortunately for Smith they were indeed prepared, and only Siegfried got hit on his shoulder. The rest was behind the cover of larger trees.
The reply came in the form of dozens of snowballs in Smith’s direction. Even Petra and Kris were throwing.
Smith dropped on his knees to make his profile smaller, and protect the softer regions. His underwear did not offer any protection.
Slowly the barrage died, the solid balls turned into chunks of snow that were tossed in Smith’s direction.
Smith quickly grabbed some snow to make his own projectile, to throw at the first one he could hit.

His victim was Petra. He hit her right in the face.
Petra let out a cry, and fell.
“Cease fire!” Smith shouted, and got up to help the fallen Feline.
When Smith got close Petra got up and shoved a handful of snow down Smith’s underpants.
Smith’s first instinct was to also grab a handful of snow and shove it up Petra, but instead he grabbed her and pushed her face down into the snow.
Petra wrestled herself free, and in turn she pushed Smith down.
Smith just let it happen. The cold snow on his back was not comfortable, but the soft Feline on top of him was. He made a few attempts to hold Petra, preventing her to put more snow on him.
“Smith! Do you need assistance?” Kris asked.
Smith grinned. He was not holding Petra with a lot of strength, but Petra also did also not try to escape his grip. “I’m sure your father has told you about me.”
“About what?” Petra asked.
Smith grinned. “That I’m quite comfortable with Feline ladies, and I must admit that this position is quite comfortable… But I don’t want to force anything.”
“Aren’t you cold?” William asked.
Smith grinned. “I think the nails on my fingers are longer than my dick right now, and I have to pee.”
Petra grinned, and got up. “Time to get going again.”

“How was your life in the Letzi?” Smith asked Petra when they were traveling again.
Petra shrugged. “Not very pretty. When they knotted me they punched me in the face like it was my mistake. You are the first men I feel safe with.”
Smith sighed. “Lady, I don’t want to take advantage of you, and I don’t want you to take advantage of me. I’ve had sex with countless Felines and the queen, I am a whore.”
Petra smiled. “So was I.”
Smith sighed. “Free food and lodging while you have the money to pay for it? Or was your alternative much worse?”
Petra shrugged. “I survived, and so did my child.”
“And we are going to change that!” Siegfried yelled from behind.
Smith nodded. “Yes… What… No… not the opposite of surviving… Yes! Not just surviving, but going to live a better life!”
Petra smiled. “Sounds good. With you?”
Smith shook his head. “No… I already live with a Human female and a few others in my house, one of those is a female Cheetah I have a healthy relation with. Those are more than enough for me… I know a Jaguar builder living at the quarry in the Neutral Zone. A former Feral I helped, maybe he is willing to help you, we have a bit of trouble housing everyone these days.”
Petra nodded. “Sounds good.”
“How about a change of subject?” Smith asked. It was already getting late in the afternoon, but the weather was too good to set up camp already.
“I like spankies!” Siegfried yelled.
Smith sighed. “Siegfried, that was not very appropriate. Petra told today that she suffered raping and beatings, and now you tell me that you like being hit.”
Petra smiled. “I really don’t mind… Siegfried, tell me: Are all Humans this prudish?”
Siegfried grinned. “Some are, some are not, some are far from it. I’m sure Smith remembers doctor Simon and Sylvia, and the things they had in their bedroom.”
Smith nodded. “I sure do. I broke their rope.”
Siegfried grinned. “I provided them a new rope, and learned them a few new knots that will put you in a very awkward position. We didn’t have metal handcuffs, so we Wolves have learned to do a lot with rope.”
Petra shrugged. “The Wolves I was with this time were not that bad, they didn’t hurt me much.”
Wallis nodded. “Maybe they were ordered to not to harm you until your mission was done. What would your next assignment have been after you would have killed the king?”
Petra shrugged. “I don’t want to think about it. I failed, and they will know.”
Smith sighed. “We’ll get your child out, and we’ll see what more we can do. I don’t want to kill too many Wolves, but maybe there are more people who want them dead, and are more friendly towards us… Reinstate the council again, maybe that’s what we are going to do. Get some friendly Wolves there on the… throne? Does your leader have a throne? I want to sit on it.”
Petra nodded. “He does. And a lot more things.”

They were making good progress through the empty woods thanks to the skis and sled. Not a lot of conversations, mostly they were gliding single file through the forest, the leader finding the easiest path for the sled. Most of the times old roads, but there were no inhabited villages. They were between the species in a no-mans land.
“What’s your child named?” Kris suddenly asked. They were about to cross a river, and were looking for a spot to do so. The old bridge had collapsed a long time ago, but the water seemed very shallow between the sheets of ice.
Petra smiled. “He is named Siegfried, after an old Black Wolf who is a good friend and who is taking care of him while I am away.”
Siegfried smiled. “Ever since my great great grandfather Siegfried has taken the throne the oldest male child was named Siegfried. That man could be my father.”
Petra shrugged. “Maybe. You do look familiar, like a younger version of him.”
Siegfried nodded. “How is he? I haven’t seen him in a long time.”
Petra sighed. “He is weak… I’m not sure if he is still alive. We are both prisoners, the only difference is that I am allowed to go outside to do things.”
“So you are Siegfried the fourth? Not very creative, although Smith went from Christopher to Kris when my father asked him to give me a name. Didn’t your parents want to go to ‘Sigmund’ or something?” Kris asked.
Siegfried nodded. “Sigmund was an uncle. A really nice person, everyone called him ‘Sigmund Freudig’, or ‘Joyful Sigmund’ in the common language. It was really like he could read your mind, and give you want you wanted, even if it was just a hug… Thinking of him, he was really close with my mother, maybe my brother was not really a son of my father.”

“We are getting close to the Letzi. Let’s put up camp and scout the area a little, I don’t want to exit the forest in plain sight close to a gate.” Siegfried announced. They had been walking and gliding for over a moon in the desolate landscape.
Wallis nodded. “There is a clearing up ahead. We must be close to one of the abandoned Berg farms.”
Smith also nodded. “Yes… And I see some old tracks in the snow, it has snowed a little, and I think they can’t be older than a few days.”
“It must be winter patrols. Stay in one place, and regularly check for fresh tracks in the snow, like we are making. Then it’s simply follow the tracks and catch or kill whoever made those tracks.” Petra added.
Kris grinned. “Find the farm and… conquer that?”
Smith nodded. “If there are people that would be the most logical place to find them. Catch them by surprise instead of them catching up with us by following our tracks.”
Siegfried nodded. “And if I am not mistaken we are also very close to a collapse in the wall. It has been repaired, but it’s still recognizable and usable as a waypoint. We might be further south than we thought, although by only half a day.

“It looks like we found them.” Smith said while they were looking at the abandoned farm in a large clearing. The house was destroyed, but the barn that tripled as the butchery and smokehouse was still standing, with a bit of smoke coming from the chimney.
“I don’t see fresh tracks outside going to the forest, yellow and brown snow next to the doors, I think they are all inside.” Smith mumbled.
Siegfried nodded. “Those barns can hold bulls. Doors open outwards, and the beam to lock them is next to them. Close the doors, place the beam and we got them.”
Petra nodded. “They also can use them as a holding cell, look at the barred windows. Once we close the doors they can’t escape.”
“It’s still day, why are they inside? They should be patrolling the area.” Kris noted.
William shrugged. “How long have they been here? Every day patrolling, expecting nothing and finding nothing. They are slacking.”
Smith nodded. “Yes… William, Walther: Go and close that door, but avoid being seen or heard. Approach from the rear and go around, one left one right.”
Siegfried looked in surprise at Smith. “What do you know about strategy?”
Smith grinned. “I have played a lot of hide and seek with old friends. I cheated a few times by changing locations.”
Kris nodded. “My father told me. But they let you because you were far too easy to find. You were more a searcher and tracker using your eyesight. They could hear you breathing forty paces away.”

Walther and William were already gone, leaving their clothes behind. Especially William was hard to see in the white landscape, but Walther also disappeared when he was standing still in the shadows.
They reached the barn from the rear, ducked under the windows and Walther pushed the doors closed as soon as they reached them, and William placed the large beam to lock them.
Immediately a lot of commotion erupted inside. “Who is there?” “Let us out!” and banging on the doors.
Smith calmly walked towards a window to look inside, but stayed at a safe distance away from it.
The first Wolf who saw Smith almost fainted, he stumbled backwards until his back was against the wall opposite of the window.
“It’s Smith!” “He is going to kill us!” “Have mercy!” the Wolves cried.
“Quiet!” Smith shouted.
The silence that followed was deafening, it seems that not even the frozen trees dared to creak.
“Who is your commanding officer?” Smith asked.
“I… I am.” The only Gray Wolf replied.
Smith pointed through the window at the wall opposite of the door. “Soldiers face that wall, you, officer, you are the only one who is allowed to get out. Without weapons.”

William and Walther opened the doors again, and the Wolf stepped outside. Behind him the doors were closed and barred again.
Before Smith could say anything Petra attacked the Wolf. Not with her dagger that she has gotten as a weapon, but with her bare clawed hands. The Wolf tried to resist, but Petra was somehow stronger.
Even when the Wolf was as good as dead on the ground Petra continued her assault, hitting and clawing the helpless Wolf. Smith and the others were staring at the carnage, but not interfering.
When she was done she got up and staggered away, crying. She must have had her reasons for the way she acted.
Smith sighed and walked back to the window. “I’m not sure what happened, but we have Petra here, and it seemed that she knew your commander. He is resting in pieces.”
The Wolf closest to the window shrugged. “No big loss… What are you going to do with us?”
Smith sighed. “Keep you here for a while. We want to do something in the Letzi, and we don’t want you to warn them. You have enough supplies for more than a week?”
The Wolf shook his head. “No, not really. A few days at most. We wanted to go on a hunt-patrol again tomorrow.”
Smith nodded. “I will provide you with some fresh kill.”
“Why would you do that? They are Wolves.” Kris spoke with a tone of disgust in his voice.
Smith sighed. “I am not a bad person. I don’t hate without a reason… Wolves, if there are more people who have harmed Petra in the past let them be known, I also want to execute those. Not like Petra did, but with a clean beheading. Keep in mind that I will provide you with a limited amount of kill, every mouth less to feed is more food for the rest.”
“We are common Wolves, we don’t have the privileges the Grays have.” One of the captured Wolves replied. Smith nodded. “Stay here. My people will gather firewood and I will do the hunting.”

Smith managed to kill five wild pigs and a few rabbits, more than he anticipated. But with the help of the sled they all were transported to the former farm.
The others already had set up camp and had tossed in a lot of firewood for the Wolves through the window.
“Five pigs? That’s generous.” Petra noted when she saw what Smith had. She was her own calm self again. The corpse of the commanding Wolf had been covered with a pile of snow.
Smith nodded. “Yes. One pig and the rabbits for us, I don’t think we should let ourselves be known by smoke after today, and four pigs for them, they can do their own cooking.”

“Wolves! I have kept my promise, I have four wild pigs for you. But in return I want your weapons. You are allowed to keep three blades for cutting.” Smith called through the window.
“Why three? One is more than enough… Or maybe two in case the first breaks.” One of the Wolves replied. It was the same Wolf who spoke earlier.
Smith smiled. It was an instant idea. “One blade for one Wolf. He can do a lot of damage with it. Two blades for two hands, you can do a lot more damage with that. But a single Wolf can never hold three blades, there will always be a second Wolf to stop him. Unless you do something stupid like throwing the other blades out of the window, but that’s not my problem, I’ll be long gone and will return after more than a week.”

It was an assortment of stone and crude metal weapons that were thrown out.
Two knives and one dagger were in plain sight on the table. Kris kept an eye on them through the window.
William and Walter opened the doors again, and Smith walked in with two pigs on his shoulders, followed by Siegfried, Wallis and Petra who were carrying the other two pigs in.
Smith sighed after he put the pigs down. “I’m sorry it has to be like this. I don’t want you to harm us or warn others.”
The Wolf spokesperson nodded. “We understand. You are already taking better care of us than our leaders. Do what you have to do, and send them our regards.”
Smith nodded. “We will.”

“That was… easy.” William spoke while they were out of hearing range of the Wolves they temporary imprisoned.
Smith nodded. “Yes. And I learned a lot of new things.”
Siegfried grinned. “What did you learn? That you should be careful with Petra?”
Smith shook his head. “No, I learned that they also hate their leaders. Might be some advantage in it for us.”
Siegfried nodded. “Wolves follow the strongest leader… You are strong enough to care for them, that is what they are missing.”

Finally they saw the wall. Large and gray, and hard to miss. It was hard to see the gates in the long row of bastions and watchtowers, but the ridge on which the road was to one of them could be seen as a slight elevation in the snow. There were no tracks, nobody has left the Letzi through that gate since the last time it had snowed.
“It is still an impressive sight. Massive stone.” Siegfried noted.
Smith shrugged. “It would be better if it was stone, wood and metal. Where was the damage?”
Siegfried pointed at a piece of wall with fewer interruptions. “Over there. There was a collapse, and they reused the stones of the collapsed bastion to repair the wall and they removed a tower. There is a tiny creek there, and it eroded the foundations a little.”
Kris nodded. “If it is important enough to repair I think there will also be guards around there. Those jagged stones look easy to climb from this distance.”
Petra nodded. “Yes. We should cross the wall a bit north, that’s closer to a forest on the other side of the wall.”
“A forest is what I should patrol to catch trespassers.” William noted.
Smith shrugged. “We’ll wait until dark, see where fires are lit, watch for moving torches and that kind of things. Then we’ll decide where to cross the wall.”
“And what are we going to do after we crossed the wall? We don’t really have a plan.” Petra asked.
Smith grinned. “Follow the roads and bluff. Say we were allowed to pass the gates because I got a message and I need to talk to the leaders. You were a messenger for me.”
Petra shrugged. “I hope you will succeed.”
Smith nodded. “Yes. What is the name of the most important person of the Letzi?”
Petra shrugged. “Two people. Reinhard and Heinrich.”

There were no fires visible on the wall, and the people with better hearing, not Smith, didn’t hear a thing that could indicate guards. They would take a few hours of rest, and cross the wall a few hours before sunrise.
“We should walk single file, Kris up front, Smith behind him, and the rest behind Smith. Smith could fire his armbrust over Kris, Kris could climb the thin rope to lower the stronger rope, then Smith climbs, and the last one has to make sure the sled and supplies are also can be pulled up.” Wallis suggested.
The others nodded in agreement.

They walked in single file, their track was a straight line from the forest to a point between two bastions. An odd flat track was made by the sled, erasing all their footsteps.
Looking up at the large walls on the side of a bastion against the night sky Smith took a deep breath. He really hoped that the ropes would be long enough. In the darkness it was hard to see.
He prepared the grappling hook and armbrust, tied the thicker rope to the thinner rope he would fire up, aimed up at a gap between two battlements and squeezed the trigger.
The grappling hook flew perfectly, in a perfect line between two battlements.
The thin rope was just long enough, but thanks to the thick rope it stayed close to the ground. When Kris gently pulled on it to set the hook the knot that tied the ropes together touched the ground.
Kris skillfully climbed up the rope, stopped momentarily to look over the parapet to see if anyone was there, and climbed over it, and immediately started to pull the rope up.
It took a few moments of walking back and forth, but finally he tied the rope to something, and signaled that Smith could climb up.

The patrol path on top of the wall was clear. An undisturbed layer of snow, nobody has been there since the last snowfall. But there was no reason to patrol the wall, they didn’t expect someone to climb over.
Petra, William, Wallis and Walther also climbed up and joined Smith and Kris on top of the bastion, a small outcrop in the wall, large enough to give a few people a place to fire ranged weapons at anyone who was climbing the wall.
From the outside the bastions looked impressive, but standing on top of one not so much. It was barely large enough for all of them to stand on top of it.
Smith stared at where the rope was tied to. It was just the grappling hook, pushed in a corner of a battlement. “Why is that?”
Kris pointed at the stones. “Look at them crumbling. If I tied the rope around that you would pull them down when you tried to climb up.”
The part of the wall they were on was indeed in a bad condition.

“Yo!” Siegfried called from the base of the wall. He had tied the first shipment of equipment to be lifted up to the rope.
Smith pulled the load up with ease. “I can do twice as much weight!” he called down.
Siegfried nodded, and prepared a pig for lifting.
It was a bit harder to pull up, but Smith managed also managed to pull it up. “No more weight than this!” he called down.
“What are we going to do next?” Petra asked.
Walther shrugged. “Get off the wall. When the sun rises our silhouettes will be very visible. I think that tower over there has stairs, go check that.”
“And use the thin rope to lower our equipment here, that way we don’t have to walk a long distance with it. Smith pulling up, two of us lowering it on the other side, and the rest down there packing again.” Wallis added.

The sled was the last thing that had to go up. It was big and heavy, and it spun around and banged against the wall while Smith struggled with it.
It was too large to fit through the crenel, so the sled had to go over the ramparts. Smith tried hard to pull the sled over. Siegfried was observing from a safe distance. If Smith let go of the sled it wouldn’t fall on him.
“Be careful!” Wallis shouted, but it was too late.
Slowly the high part of the wall moved inward, the sled riding on top of it like it was a huge wave. Wallis and Walther jumped away, and Smith did the same, but sideways while holding on to the sled.
The wall came crashing down and fell through the roof they were standing on.
In an instant the whole bastion was crumbling.
The whole wall with all the bastions and towers were a huge facade, looking impressive but no real defensive strength, and now it all came crashing down.

Smith was on one side of a huge gap in the wall where the bastion had been, Wallis and Walther were on the other side.
“Are you alright down there?” Smith called at Siegfried.
“Yes. No need to climb a rope for me, just some rubble!” his black friend called back.
“We are also fine. Good thing we moved everything a bit away from the wall.” Petra called from the other side.
“And stay away from that gap, it really looks unstable and if nothing comes down on top of it we could save the sled!” Kris added.
In the commotion Smith had let go of the sled, and it was undamaged on top of all the rubble.
A falling brick broke his staring at the carnage, it was time to get away. It was a wide gap in the wall, Siegfried could cross it without much trouble and take the sled with him.
Smith grinned. “Time to go down. How many bastions did we have to cross until we reached stairs?”
Wallis also grinned. “Worst case six. But the nearest stairs for us are on the next bastion, yours?… I think at least ten.”
The grin dropped from Smith’s face. “Oh.” was all he could say.

It was a long walk, on the fourth tower there was a way down. The wall really was there to look impressive, but also a bit to keep the people of the Letzi in. Around the stairs there were some old tracks, four Wolves had passed the stairs, had stopped momentarily without too much walking around, and had walked on.
“What are we going to do now?” Smith asked when he was at ground level again.
Petra shrugged. “To our north is a forest, easy for hiding, but it might be suspicious if people go there to hide. We leave huge tracks in the snow. To our south is a path we can take, it will take us through villages where we will meet other people.”
Smith nodded. “I vote for taking the path. If the people we meet are like the Wolves in the barn they might be friendlier than we thought.”
Siegfried grinned. “We don’t have to vote. You are a king, you can command us.”
Smith shrugged. “And what do my council of Wolves, local guide and my bodyguard say?”
Kris grinned. “That you are better at talking than hiding. We’ll take the path. And get rid of the armbrust, that thing and the rope might rise suspicion about how we got here.”

Walking on a smooth maintained road felt good. And it was also a good thing that the sled also was undamaged, William had no trouble pulling it over the thin layer of snow. The snow was still a little bit too thick for the wheels.
“How many villages are there in the Letzi?” Smith asked when they were walking again.
Siegfried shrugged. “I don’t know exactly, many are abandoned, some have grown considerably. It takes five days to walk from the wall to das Schloss, I think we will pass three villages on this road from the gate to the castle, in one of those I am born, it’s the last one.”
Smith nodded. “And how many do have an inn? The last Wolf owned inn I stayed in wasn’t very good… Well… The inn itself was decent, but the innkeeper tried to kill me.”
Siegfried shrugged. “Only the last one. Inns are a Human and Bergvolk thing, that last inn is there to give people a place to prepare themselves for important meetings at the castle half a day away. But there are a few public baths, almost every village has one of those.”
Smith grinned. “Nice slip of the tongue. You called the castle ‘das Schloss’, and that is a Bergvolk name for castle. But sleeping next to the road is fine… Are there shops where we can buy food? I don’t think they will like us when we are hunting animals that live in some sort of enclosed area. That could be their livestock.”
Petra nodded. “Plenty of them. A lot of mutton is sold here, I don’t really like that kind of meat, it’s a bit bland.”
Smith smiled. “But I do like mutton. And not having to do a lot of work before I can eat is also nice. Just sit down, light a fire, and cook. Almost like home.”

A lot of people, all Common Wolves, stared at the little group as they entered the first village. The night in the fields was uneventful, and they encountered the first village after just an hour of walking.
Smith grinned. “Let me guess: You wanted to avoid this village because of me.”
Siegfried shook his head. “No, honestly… I didn’t know we were this close. There were no tracks and the snow dampens all the sound.”
Smith shrugged. “Well… Time to buy some fresh meat. It doesn’t matter if we buy too much, it’s still freezing so there is no risk of spoiling it.”
William shook his head. “No, I think it’s too dangerous here. Let’s move on.”
“We are with Smith, not some random Human who doesn’t know what he is doing.” Walther protested.
“I’m sure that Smith can handle himself, although he doesn’t have the protection of Pebble.” Wallis added.
Siegfried nodded. “I have seen Smith fight against Wolves. He is not as agile as Arthur, and not as strong as Walther, but his agility and strength combined make him a formidable fighter.”
Smith sighed. “I am here to talk, not to fight. Maybe a little fight at the castle, but I prefer a clean stab through the heart of anyone who dares to oppose me.”
“Are you here to overthrow the Silberrücken?” One of the villagers asked. He had heard the conversation.
Smith shrugged. “Depends on what they have to say. I got a message that King Leopold had some trouble here, and needed a neutral negotiator, and that’s me. If those Silverbacks are agreeable and nice people the talks will be easy, if they are not I am not… Is there a butcher here? I really want to buy some mutton.”
The villager nodded. “Yes there is. Follow me.”

“Good morning sir.” Smith greeted the butcher who was cutting meat with his back turned towards him.
The old butcher turned around to take a better look at the owner of the unfamiliar voice.
“Another Elfique? Here?” Was the first thing he managed to say after a long stare.
Smith smiled. “No. Not Elfique. Human.”
The butcher smiled. “And good to see you too Wallis. You have grown.”
Wallis nodded. “It’s good to be back uncle. You are old.”
The butcher pointed at Petra. “Be careful, that’s a dangerous woman.”
Smith shrugged. “A bringer of bad news. I had to leave the comforts of my home because my friend King Leopold had some trouble here. It’s safe to talk here?”
The butcher nodded. “Yes it is. But keep in mind that I’m just a killer of sheep, I don’t know much of what’s going on.”
Smith smiled. “You don’t have to. I am a negotiator, I listen to what people say. I don’t know much about the conflict that King Leopold has, he told me his side of the story, and now I want to listen to this side of the story… But… I hear things that don’t add up. We encountered some Wolves outside the wall who were not happy with their leaders, one of the villagers here asked me if I was here to replace your leaders… How do you feel about it?”
The butcher shrugged. “I stopped caring a long time ago. I want the sheep to come in, the meat to go out and to make a living out of it. Now, buy some or leave.”
Smith nodded. “I understand. You refuse to say it because I am with a Gray.”
The butcher shrugged again. “Well… Yes… Buy or leave.”

Siegfried grinned when they left the village with three days worth of mutton. “And what did you learn here?”
Smith shrugged. “They also hate the Grays… I’m sorry Walther, but next villages you have to pull the sled, to show that you are not more important than us… And I know you are a proud soldier, but slouch a little when you walk, you walk like you are a commander, and the people in this village didn’t like that.”
Walther nodded. “I’ll try. And to be honest: I didn’t feel safe there. Maybe it was indeed my posture.”
Smith shrugged again. “I really felt safe. Safer than the last time I was in a Canine village.”
Siegfried grinned. “They didn’t dare to kiss you, next village I will tell the people it’s safe.”
Smith shrugged. “I’m used to it… I don’t like it, but I’m used to it.”

The areas between the villages were empty. No signs of people moving between them, no tracks, but also no buildings, only a few ruins.
“What happened here?” Siegfried asked.
Petra shrugged. “I don’t know. Everyone is forced to live in villages or very close to villages.”
Smith sighed. “I don’t like the ‘forced’ part of your answer… But I just do and see what happens. First priority is getting your son out, second priority is getting Siegfried’s father out, third is making the life of the Wolves here better. It can be a rich area if they allowed others to help them. As the son of a lumberjack I saw some very nice trees some felines are willing to pay a decent amount of money for, and sheep not only means mutton, but also wool that the Vulpine could buy.”
Petra nodded. “Old Siegfried also told me that. We must be willing to share. Things we can’t use might be very useful for others… But those Grays are very stubborn.”
Walther grinned. “Yes, I know.”
Petra smiled. “You are different, not the right family. It’s… You will see when we get there. The innkeeper of the last village is friendly, but the leaders hate him.”

“There are soldiers in the village ahead.” Kris reported. He had scouted the area ahead. It was just before noon, on a gray winter’s day.
Smith nodded. “Good. Let me do the talking, and only speak when you are spoken to.”
All the Inimals nodded. “You really know what to say.” Siegfried said on their behalf.

They walked single file at a decent pace into the village. Smith leading, followed by Kris, Petra, Siegfried, William, Walther pulling the sled and Wallis as the last man.
The four soldiers, three Common and a halfblood Gray commander who was talking to a villager stared in disbelief at the odd group that passed them, but Smith pretended to ignore them, and walked on.
When they reached the edge of the village the soldiers caught up with them.
“Halt! State your business here!” The commander shouted.
Smith stared with a bored look at the commander. “Talks with Reinhard and Heinrich. You can call me Smith, and these people are my personal guard Kris, messenger and local guide Petra, and my Wolf council Siegfried, William, Walther and Wallis.”
The commander stared for a long time in disbelief at the group before him, like he didn’t know what to think.
Finally he shrugged. “I don’t think it’s my problem. I don’t want it to be my problem when I stop you. If you are not supposed to be here I could say you escaped… Unfortunately I have to kill my own men then.”
Smith shrugged. “If I am here without a proper army or reason, how could I be here? And how could I have crossed the wall?”
The commander also shrugged. “I don’t know, you do have a well armed guard… But the gates are closed, for everyone, nothing is allowed to enter. Not even messengers.”
Smith grinned. “Kris is not here to protect me against Wolves, he is here to protect the Wolves against me.”
The guard stepped back. “Fine. Go on. Leave us alone! I don’t want to hear the answers.”
Smith smiled. “Do no harm, and no harm will be done to you.”

“Those soldiers were terrified, and not by you.” William said when they were well out of the village.
Smith nodded. “Yes… Let’s move on. One more night in a tent, and then a proper roof above my head for the night.”
William nodded. “Yes. Good thing we burned the rope and armbrust and buried the metal parts. We are welcome, and not welcome at the same time.”
Petra nodded. “Smith really is different. Many Wolves never have seen a Human before, but many forget it when he starts to talk. I really like his cute Feline accent.”
Smith shrugged. “I’m being myself. Friendly to everyone who is friendly to me.”
William nodded. “A true king. But the Humans feel the same way about Rolph. I heard when he visited the Human kingdom he was treated the same way, and there are a few cities that have a lower crime rate since his visit there.”
Smith nodded. “Rolph and I are opposites and the same at the same time. You can’t have a coin with only one side.”
“Safe side on a weapon you can hold, stabby or slashy side on a weapon you can use to kill.” Siegfried joked.
Smith shrugged. “And many more things where one side can’t exist without the other. You can’t have an inside without an outside.”
“We could call Smith ‘Walkie Talkie’, he can walk at a decent pace in silence and talks a lot when he isn’t walking. And I also heard that quite a few people had their insides hanging outside after meeting with Rolph in a dark alley.” Siegfried joked again.
Smith grinned. “Shut up Big Bad Black Wolfie, or you are going to get… Wait no, you said you like that.”
Siegfried kissed Smith. “You can’t harm me, you need me.”
Smith grinned. “Sorry old Siegfried, your son is dead. He tried to attack me, but I was stronger. I did not carry him on my shoulders, I did not give him a new life, and he is definitely not second after the king when it comes to power and influence. Do you want to be my friend instead?”
Siegfried’s grin dropped. “Hmm… I did not think of that. Next village is a just a few hours away, but it’s getting dark. Set up camp here, and stay a bit longer in the next village?”
Smith shrugged. “No problem. Gives you the opportunity to talk more with the people you knew tomorrow, maybe for some information about what we are going to face.”
Siegfried sighed. “It’s not going to be pretty, that’s what I already know. We really need to give Walther the protection he needs, you’ll have to handle yourself.”
Walther nodded. “Yes. I think I’ll stay with the innkeeper, maybe he will talk to me and introduce me to more people who might need help.”
Smith shrugged. “Or can help us.”

“Are you really going to walk around unprotected asking for help? I can’t be of much help against a group of Wolves.” Kris noted.
Smith smiled. “Sitting in a nice hot bath. I’ve had some very interesting conversations in a bath in the past, I don’t think it will be different here. Just local villagers visiting the bath, me being there, and talk. I’ve made peace with an old Panther Jaguar, Doctor John, brought Diego and Dora, now the two owners of an inn at the quarry, together and Katie asked me if I could take care of her in the bath at Diego’s old inn, and I asked in return if Charlene also wanted to come along. So talking in a bath is very useful.”
Petra smiled. “A Panther Jaguar in a far eastern village named John and doctor by profession? We are family. I have never met him, but I heard he is not very friendly.”
Smith nodded. “When I first met him he threatened me, I didn’t like him. But later he realized who I was, and we became some sort of friends.” Smith opened his jacket. “See the lining? The black is his fur. He wanted me to have it after his death.”
Petra sighed and nodded. “And the red? That looks Vulpine.”
Smith smiled. “That is the daughter of a Vulpine couple. She really loved me and escaped her parents to be with me in my tent on a cold night. She got sick and died, and her parents offered me her skin to keep me warm in return. That’s why I either keep my jacket closed or stowed away, I don’t really like people to see it.”
Petra nodded. “I understand… And the scars on your back?”
Smith sighed. “I have had a lot of sex with Felines, and Cats were a bit… enthusiastic.”
Petra grinned. “So you were good at it?”
Smith sighed again. “Yes. I was good at it… Still am. Smooth and stamina… But I don’t want you to find out how good, that just feels wrong. Maybe in the end, when everything is over and we can’t control ourselves, but I will regret it like I have done so many times.”
Petra nodded. “I understand. You don’t want to feel like you take advantage of me, you already told that numerous times. But I also have my needs.”
Smith sighed. “So do I. But I do will regret it.”
William grinned. “You were a lot easier with the queen and the villages along the way to the capital. Is Petra not good enough for you?”
Smith also grinned. “The queen was awful, even worse than her sister. Everything is better than her. Those females from the villages were to escape the queen.”
Siegfried also grinned. “For three days? Even the last one there said you were the best she ever had.”
Smith shrugged. “I’ve had her before. Smooth and stamina… Or I used my hands, I can’t remember. And did we have to pay for anything there?”
Siegfried sighed. “That’s not the point.”

“You are really good.” Petra whispered while she was snuggling Smith. It was close to midnight.
Smith sighed. “Yes. You were a bit passive but… I think you deserved it. Goodnight.”
Petra got into a more comfortable position and gave Smith a little lick. “Goodnight.”
“I don’t hear anyone saying ‘goodnight’ outside. I guess they are also asleep.” Smith mumbled.
The night was comfortable. Soft and warm. It felt good for both Smith and Petra that they not only had each other for the night for pleasure, but also comfort. But Petra was not Charlene, and also not Melany.

“Thief! Stop!” Wallis, the first guard of the night, shouted.

“Ow! Let me go!” A Canine woman shouted.

“Mommy!” A Canine Child screamed.

When Smith got out of the tent in his underwear he hastily had put on he saw that Kris had a Wolf pinned to the ground, and Wallis was struggling with a Wolf child in the pale moonlight.

“What’s going on?” Was the first thing that Smith could say.
“This woman was stealing our food.” Kris replied while he struggled with the much stronger Wolf.
Smith nodded. “She must have her reasons for it. Make sure she doesn’t grab a weapon and let her go.”
“What? Are you insane?” Kris was clearly not used to working with Smith.
Siegfried who also came out of his tent nodded. “Yes. Do as Smith says and let her go… And Wallis, if that child has no access to weapons also let him go.”
The woman immediately ceased her struggling and stared at Smith. “Are you really Smith?”
Kris let go and also looked at Smith. “You know her?”
Smith shook his head. “No, I don’t think so. You know what I have done north of here, and I think this woman also knows. Woman: Talk before I get too cold to listen. Quick summary.”
The woman nodded. “Wanda, my son Wally, we are hungry.”
Smith smiled. “That’s a good summary. We are with four Wolves, one Jaguar, one Ocelot and me as one Human. We only want our breakfast, you can take the rest and my spare blanket and sleeping mat. I’m going back to sleep.”
Wanda sighed. “You are not allowed to help us.”
Smith shrugged. “Goodnight. I don’t think anybody noticed it when you stole it. I think we never had it.”
“But…” Wanda protested, but Siegfried put his hand on her shoulder and nodded.

Smith was the last to leave his tent. “Good morning everyone. Is that Wolf… Wanda wasn’t it? and her son or daughter or child still around?”
Wallis nodded. “Asleep in my tent. They were exhausted.”
Siegfried also nodded. “Yes. Another one who deserves your help.”
Smith shrugged. “Does it harm us when we help? I bought a little too much mutton, and this way it isn’t going to waste.”
Siegfried smiled. “You are a good man. You can do horrible things, but you are a good man.”
Smith nodded. “Evil devil to some, benevolent god to others. I’m neutral.”

Just when Wanda left her tent Kris returned.
“There is a patrol nearby.” He quietly said when he sat down, pretending he had been there for a longer time.
Wanda sighed. “They are not allowed to find us here. We have to go.”
Smith shrugged. “No. We stay here. You also stay here. It’s easier to explain for us why you are here than to explain whose tracks left our campsite and didn’t return.”
Wanda shrugged and also sat down to eat something.

It was the same patrol they met in the village, the three Common Wolves and the half Gray commander.
“Good morning. We will clean up the mess we made and leave.” Smith greeted them.
The squad leader pointed at Wanda and her son. “You know who that is?”
Smith shrugged. “Someone who is under the protection of the Neutral Zone right now. If you harm her or her son you will face me.”
The leader nodded. “These are the partner and son of a terrorist. You are not allowed…”
But before he could finish his sentence Smith had the tip of his sword at the throat of the Wolf. “Tell those at das Schloss I am coming, and that they better have the gates open, because I hate doing more damage than necessary. Next night we will stay at the inn in the next village, and don’t even think of harassing us there. Verstehen Sie?”
The Wolf nodded as much as Smith’s sword allowed. “Jawohl sir!”
Smith smiled. “Bergs doesn’t require the ‘sir’ part, aber Sie haben die Nachricht bekommen.”

“I didn’t know you spoke Bergs.” Kris remarked when they were walking again.
Smith shrugged. “After the attack on our village I became some sort of Feral. I ended up with les Elfique, they sent me to das Bergvolk, and there I learned those languages. But I only speak and understand Bergs and Elfique, I can’t write it.”
Kris nodded. “That explains why you went missing and suddenly someone who really was like you, but not the same, showed up and started a smithy again in the Neutral Zone with those people.”
Smith smiled. “Thanks to that attack I changed. This is much more fun than just making chisels and being the toy of the Felines.”
William nodded. “Yes. Between your return and now you have done amazing things. Peace, freedom, prosperity, hope… A lot of things.”
Smith nodded and put a hand on Siegfried’s shoulder. “This man also has done a lot of things. Sparing his life brought safety, and the idea to get Walther and the other soldiers out of the prison of Schotenburg. It is not only me who has done it all, I had the right people around me.”
Wally tugged on Smith’s sleeve. “Are you a king?” He asked in a shy voice.
Smith smiled and nodded. “Indeed I am. But for tax reasons. I am a smith by profession, but I have done so many things that the people I care for decided I don’t have to pay taxes, and asked me to to be their king. My official title is ‘Half King for the Inimal side of the Neutral Zone’, the other half is at this moment a Wolf, and he takes care of the Humans. As a Human I am neutral among the Inimal species, and an Inimal is Neutral towards Humans.”
Petra nodded. “That is very clever. The Wolves did have a council with all the colors represented, but now the Grays have taken over. As you might have noticed that’s not good for the rest.”
Smith smiled. “Look around you. Do you think it’s a coincidence that I am traveling with all four colors?”
Petra smiled. “What I have learned about you in the past moon I don’t think so.”
Smith nodded. “Getting your son out is just a little thing I want to do. But you’ll see when we get there. But knowing myself it’s going to be bloody… again.”
Wanda grinned. “The way you pointed your sword at those soldiers… I don’t think the father of my child would have dared to do that.”
Smith shrugged. “That’s what I do… With a kind word and a tip of a sword at a throat you can get a lot further than with a kind word alone.”
Siegfried grinned. “Those were my words.”
Smith nodded. “Yes. I know. And I haven’t met a Wolf who is a better fighter than me. Yet.”

The inn looked decent from a distance with a strong Bergvolk design, but when the traveling group got closer the age showed. But it was the only inn days around, so it had to do for the night.
To Smith’s surprise the innkeeper was a Gray.
“Good morning… early afternoon… It’s a very gray day and I have a bit of trouble keeping time… One night for all of us here, and food… and access to the bath please.” Smith greeted the innkeeper.
The innkeeper stared at Smith for some time, but finally he nodded. “Good morning. I didn’t know there were more Elfique around… That will be… You are with nine? nine times six Small Silver five Big Copper… Five Big Silver, eight Small Silver, five Big Copper.”
Smith smiled and reached for his pocket. “I am not Elfique. I am a Human, far from home… Here are seven Big Silvers, keep the change but I also want a place for our sled, good service and a friendly talk, and no attempts to kill me.”
The innkeeper shrugged, but smiled. “This won’t be enough to keep the soldiers out, although I think you already took care of those, it looked like they were fleeing towards the Castle. You must be Smith, nobody is stu… How did you get past the wall?”
Smith grinned. “We went over and through it. Don’t ask.”
The innkeeper nodded. “Very well… I see you have Petra with you, I assume she failed?”
Petra nodded. “Yes, and now Smith is going to help me get my son out.”
The innkeeper smiled. “And Wanda and her son… If Smith wasn’t here she would be a reason for them to kill us all.”
Wanda smiled. “Smith told the soldiers I am under his protection, and they believed it.”
Smith nodded. “I wasn’t lying. You are under my protection… But that also means you are stuck with us. You want to go on?”
Wanda nodded. “I really want to see if those stories I heard about you are true.”
Wallis also nodded. “As far as I know they are.”

“So, how is life here?” Smith asked the innkeeper when he brought them their lunch.
The innkeeper sighed. “Awful. As you can see I am also a Gray, but I was born in the wrong family. They have taken my wife and they are using her for breeding… And I’m sorry, they also have taken the cutlery.”
Smith shrugged. “I’m not at home, as a Human in Inimal territory I always carry my own. But Wolves do terrible things, I am aware of that. Anything else?”
The innkeeper nodded. “Yes. I also had a nice dagger, I assume it was made by you, but that innkeeper you killed north of here got it. Confiscated, and given to him. I wish I could retrieve it.”
William nodded and put Pebble’s dagger on the table. “This one? And it wasn’t Smith who killed him, it was my daughter. He tried to kill Smith with this. My daughter is now at the Academy, and I have it for safekeeping.”
The innkeeper started to smile. “Your daughter killed him? She deserves to have this dagger. I can always order a new one, when times are better.”
Smith nodded. “When times are better and I get home I’ll see if I have a similar one in stock and send it here with the first messenger who needs to be here. You can have it for free.”
The innkeeper smiled. “You really are Smith… Do you need some help tomorrow?”
Smith shrugged. “Depends. What do you have to offer?”
The innkeeper’s smile turned into a grin. “An army. I can rally up the whole village and some surrounding villages, and together we can conquer the Castle again. More if you stay longer.”
Smith sighed and shook his head. “No. No unnecessary bloodshed. I warned those soldiers that I was coming, and that they should open the gates for me. I don’t want an army with me, but I don’t have a problem with an army following me close behind. There is an army of King Leopold a few days behind us, I just hope they don’t do too much harm.”
The innkeeper nodded. “You care for people, even if they are enemies.”
Smith shrugged. “I don’t care. I don’t want more enemies.”

The bathing area was nice and clean, and warm. It felt good to walk around in only bathing pants, although the pump provided very cold water for the pre-bath shower that he needed as a Human.
Even Petra, Kris, William and Wally were relaxing in the bath, the others would take their bath as soon as Kris and William were done, they felt the necessity for staying vigilant. There always could happen something unexpected.
The unexpected thing that did happen was that there were no other people coming in for their bath.

“Nobody wanted to visit the bath?” Smith asked when he left the bathing area again. He had been in the bath for far too long.
The innkeeper shook his head. “No… But it’s always quiet here in winter. People don’t like to walk outside with damp fur in this weather.”
Smith shrugged. “Pity, I really like to talk to more normal people.”
The innkeeper smiled. “Siegfried had some old friends over. He is a really interesting person. Did you really carry him on your shoulders and did he really do that thing?”
Smith grinned. “Yes and… yes. I’m sure he also talked about Katie Tiger, and she sat on his shoulders and did something similar. Those were a few very interesting days after meeting him for the first time.”
The innkeeper smiled. “You are really good friends. He adores you and your patience with him. Fair punishment for his crimes, letting him help to make your home area safer, and up to getting him close to the king… And the bringing back of Ferals, I never thought it would be possible, but even Wallis has been one. I really wish we have someone like you to be our leader.”
Smith shrugged. “As you might have noticed I have all four colors of Wolves with me. I’m not sure how, but I want to reinstate the council again, get a more friendly leadership. Not only more friendly towards me, but also towards others. I don’t think you trade a lot with the other species, but I think the Vulpine are really willing to buy wool and Felines would be jealous of those beautiful oak and beech trees you have.”
The innkeeper nodded. “Yes. You and I as traders see that, but those boulderheads at the Castle refuse to trade with others. Wölfe über alles.”
Smith nodded. “Yes… I always use the analogy of a building, that’s not only the Canines as the stones for the walls, but also the Felines as the woodwork and the Vulpine as the thatching of the roof. And the Humans and Bergvolk for the little things as metal for the hinges and glass to make it more comfortable.”
The innkeeper also nodded. “Yes I like that. Without the rest we would be living in cold caves, or little huts.”
Smith shrugged. “As a Human I am part of a race that is second best at everything, that means we can do everything. Not in the best ways, but definitely not in the worst ways. Humans can do without Inimals. But the only thing that Humans don’t do is buy a lot of metal, and that is why I like the Inimals, they are very good customers… Do you know a good supplier of coal? It may be cheaper if I buy and get it transported myself than using a trader.”
The innkeeper sighed. “Slave labor.”
Smith shrugged. “Then I’m also going to do something about that, but you will lose me as a customer, the distance is just too great. Higher price for fair wages and transporting costs on top of that is just too much. I’m sorry.”
The innkeeper smiled. “You are an honest man. I like that.”

The rooms were very familiar, with a lot of animal skins and pelts on the floor, although this time the majority of those were sheep and lamb. Smith shared his room with Petra, Siegfried shared a room with Walther, William shared a room with Kris and Wallis shared a room with Wanda and her son Wally.
“Well… this looks decent enough to sleep in.” Smith noted.
Petra nodded. “Last time I slept in straw, but that was in the shed outside. This is going to be fun.”
Smith sighed. “No, it’s not going to be fun. I don’t know how old your son is, but I don’t want it to be awkward when he smells me when he hugs you.”
Petra smiled. “We can wash away the smell tomorrow.
Smith sighed. “No. We use the night for rest. I want to leave after breakfast.”
Petra made herself comfortable against Smith. “You are no fun.”
Smith made an attempt to shrug. “I know.”

When Smith came downstairs there were a lot of armed Wolves and an occasional Dog. With far better weapons than Smith expected.
“These are the fighters of the resistance.” The innkeeper introduced them.
Smith nodded. “Impressive. I really want to practice fight you, but we don’t have time for it… Isn’t it a bit dangerous to have you all here? I’m sure it is not going to be unnoticed with suddenly all those tracks in the snow leading here.”
The innkeeper grinned. “All the soldiers are pulled back to the Castle, we are free.”
Smith nodded. “Do whatever you want. Do what you were not allowed to do. Help the people like Wanda, give them food and shelter. Make things you are not allowed to have.”
The innkeeper started to smile. “See, this really is the Smith. He doesn’t ask us to die, he wants us to live. Like those north of here he is going to help us too… Smith, you are not alone, we are with you.”
Smith nodded. “Yes, I can see that. Yesterday I asked you to stay out of sight, but I think it is better that you stay close to me. We are going to the Castle, I asked soldiers we met along the way to open the gates for me and I really hope they are. What I ask of you is that you look threatening, but be friendly. Fight the soldiers who are willing to fight us, take the weapons of the soldiers who don’t. Feed the soldiers who are hungry, give those who are thirsty something to drink, comfort those who are afraid… I have done the same for some soldiers outside the wall, we caught some outside the wall by surprise, and they thanked us because we took better care of them than their Gray leader we killed. I want to do the same here.”
“Let’s go?” One of the Wolves asked.
Smith started to laugh. “No, I first want to eat something. Then we go.”

User avatar
Neutral Smith
Templar GrandMaster
Posts: 671
Joined: Mon Feb 24, 2014 5:32 pm
Location: Neitherlands
Fav. Twokinds Character: Saria's father

Re: Forge of Kingdoms (mature content) - Chapter 47

#54 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 47
The Black West

Das Schloss was less than half a day of walking away from the inn.
Siegfried shrugged when he saw the low complex of connected buildings. “I guess I wasn’t a fast walker when I was young.”
Smith sighed. He felt an old fear, an uneasy feeling when you encounter something unfamiliar, but somehow knew it. This was what a Berg city looked like. Not a capitol city, just a smaller one, but with strategic importance. But there were no gemütliche leute with lots of drinks and good food, there were enemies.
“Walk on, don’t stop and stare.” Smith spoke to nobody in particular.
“Are you not afraid of their ranged weapons?” William asked.
Smith shook his head. “No. I’m sure they will hit someone if they have armbrusts, but not who they were aiming at. And if those armbrusts are the same quality as the last one a Gray from this region a bit north of here used, the one Pebble spotted when he tried to shoot the king… Well, I think they used their best one for that, and that one was in a very bad shape.”
William nodded. “Sounds reasonable. Can you see the gates? It looks like they are open, very welcoming.”
Smith nodded. “Yes, I see them. And no, those large gates are for carts and horses. They lead to an enclosed area without doors leading to the city you can walk through, it’s only stables and warehouses there. Freight is lifted and lowered with a lot of hoists. It will be a deathtrap when you enter through there, it’s a dead end. Our gatehouse is to the right of them, with those two weird looking smaller doors.”
Petra nodded. “You really have been with the Bergvolk… Yes, the smaller doors are what we have to go through. Strange, isn’t it?”
Smith shook his head. “No, not really. Bergvolk really enjoy their peace and quiet, they don’t allow horses and large carts in their cities, too noisy. But some of their cities have large canals with barges for transport, those are quiet… I could talk for a long time about all the things I have seen, but we don’t have time for that.”
Wally smiled. “I want to see the world too. Horses and large… things.”
Wallis also smiled and lifted the child on his shoulders. “Now you are also tall. Almost as high up as on a horse.”
“You have seen horses?” Wanda asked.
Wallis nodded. “Yes. And rode them too a few times.”

“You sound you have been to Bergvolk cities.” The innkeeper noted. He was also walking close to Smith.
Smith shrugged. “Yes. Wolves have attacked my old village, and killed my first wife and unborn child, and I became some sort of Feral. I ended up with the Elfique, and they sent me to the Bergvolk where I also spent more than half a year. I have seen seven of their cities, including their capitol and even have met their king. But that was over ten years ago, things might have changed. I don’t recall them mentioning losing this area.”
The innkeeper nodded. “The Letzi was conquered a long time ago, and we have conquered Das Schloss and the area behind it almost ten years ago in a daring move, it was just after king Leopold got the throne, there are a lot of mines there… It might have been the time when you started your current smithy and they their foundry in the Neutral Zone. Bergvolk refugees coming from there.”
Smith shrugged. “I didn’t care much about them, I tolerated them. Do no harm, and I also won’t do no harm.”
The innkeeper grinned. “Now those Grays did harm, and you are here to avenge them. They have lost a big part of their army thanks to you and they are getting desperate, they fear that the Bergvolk will retaliate.”
Smith nodded. “Yes. Maybe… Do you have any idea what we will encounter?”
The innkeeper shrugged. “Slave soldiers. It’s easier to force someone to kill five others than to kill them yourself. But we don’t have much information about the Castle itself. It has been remodeled, but those who did it are either dead or relocated doing some slave labor somewhere else, maybe at the mines.”
Smith nodded. “Berg cities all have the same kind of layout, especially when they are in a valley. Soft things like food and living quarters on the fertile side, hard things like production and ore and coal storage on the barren side, preferably downstream of the river. Their cities are quite beautiful with a lot of open areas with fruit trees, grapes, berries and hops growing, but at the same time many the buildings are connected by tunnels and bridges. Some cities even have a clean water distribution system, and sewers.”
“So you know the way? Because we don’t.” The innkeeper noted.
Smith nodded and grinned. “When we encounter enemies who are trying to stop us we are going the right way.”
“But we were promised a free passage!” Wanda protested.
Smith shook his head. “No. They promised to open the gates for us. Nothing more.”

When the group arrived at the gates that led into the city they were not only closed, but also locked.
Smith grinned. “Siegfried, has anyone told you about the closed door at the Academy when I brought Katie and William there?”
Siegfried nodded, and also grinned. “Indeed. I don’t think you have changed.”
Smith nodded and picked up a large boulder to use as a battering ram. Destroying these doors would be hard, but not impossible.
Just when he was about to hit the with tiles covered door for the first time it was opened. Opened by a trembling lone Common Wolf. No showers of burning oil that this passage into the city could provide. Smith wondered if the Wolves knew this little trick, the oil holes above the doors looked plugged in a Canine manner. He was relieved when he noticed it.
“Good morning. We are here for talks with your leaders.” Smith greeted him.
The Wolf looked down, like he was afraid to look at Smith. “N… No. You are not allowed to.”
“You are standing here because they expected us to attack you.” Smith spoke at a comforting tone.
The Wolf nodded. “Y… Yes… No.”
Smith smiled. “Don’t worry. If you don’t attack us we won’t have a reason to defend ourselves. Please hand over your weapons and your life will be spared.”
The Wolf dropped his weapons, and sat down next to the door. Immediately a few of the villagers took care of him.
Smith stared a few moments, but they meant him no harm. They also wanted to help, which was a good thing. “Layout of a Berg city is easy, if you know what a spiderweb looks like you know the layout of most of their cities. Most important building in the center, with straight roads leading to it… This looks like an important city. Still very impressive… Let’s visit the leaders… And maybe some people can close those big gates and barricade them with big stones and boulders on the outside. It is designed for an army to breach those large visible gates, walk in, and when the first of the attackers realize they have walked into a dead end a huge wall of strong wood will be dropped behind them and they will be trapped.”
Some of the Wolves nodded, but not entirely understanding what Smith was talking about. But they went outside again to close the large doors. Smith hoped the Wolves didn’t have the means to break out again.

“You do not belong here!” A well armed Gray Wolf snarled. They were halfway, and the buildings changed a little, more open space between them but all the wood had been cut down. No beautiful orchards in this city.
Smith nodded. “I know. I am sent here as a neutral person in the conflict between king Leopold and your leaders. I am far away from my home. I indeed do not belong here, and I do not want to be here, but there are things that need to be resolved!”
“I will send your head to that Lion as a warning!” The Gray Wolf shouted while the two Gray Wolf guards that accompanied him unsheathed their swords.
At that moment Smith realized that both Kris and Petra were missing.
A few moments later they dropped down from rooftops left and right behind the three Wolves. With a few stabs from Petra and a lot more from Kris the two guards were killed, and Kris and Petra retreated again.
In the confusion the group of Wolves who were with Smith stormed forward.
The screams of the remaining Gray Wolf suggested that the others were not hugging and caressing him. He had no time to react, and he and the two dead Wolves were stripped of their belongings.
It was hard to see for Smith what they were doing, but suddenly someone held something up in the air that looked like a bloody rag, and everyone cheered.
“That’s no longer a Silverback!” One of the Wolves shouted.
“Thank you for letting us get our hands on Reinhard.” Another added.
Smith nodded. “So that was Reinhard. What has he done to be so hated?”
The innkeeper shrugged. “It was his idea to drive all the other species out. Wölfe über alles.”
Smith nodded and stepped forward to stop what was happening.
“Cease.” Smith calmly spoke, but loud enough to be heard.
The Wolves immediately stopped what they were doing, hitting, beating and kicking the Wolf on the ground, and stepped aside to give Smith a free path.

“Please kill me. This is unbearable.” The bloody Wolf whispered with a hoarse voice.
Smith sighed. “I’m sure they had their reasons to do this… How many times have your victims begged you for mercy? Begged but received none?”
The Wolf winced, the pain of having no skin on his back kicked in. “Torture was not my thing. A waste of energy. Torture is when you want to scare people, I wanted them dead.”
Smith nodded. “People of the Letzi. I know it is not my place to tell you what I want, but… what you did to him is not something I approve of. This man was a murderer, but that is no reason to torture him like this. Kill the murderers, torture the torturers. Understood?”
The Wolves who were standing around Smith nodded.

Smith sighed. “I, Smith, born Human, Half King of the Neutral Zone, here on a mission to bring peace to this region, to minimize and try to end the suffering of the people I am trying to take care of, sentence this Gray Wolf by the name of Reinhard, to death, by a clean beheading. If there are people against my judgment let them be known, I will listen to their arguments and if they are better I will change my judgment. Anyone?”
“Just let him suffer!” “Yeah!” “Kill them all!” The Wolves started shouting.
Smith sighed. “I only hear calls for violence. I hear no reason for it… Your arguments are dismissed… Reinhard, on your knees.”

Reinhard sat upright, the bare flesh on his back glistening in the pale sunlight. He stared up at the sky.
Smith sighed, his sword was far too light for these kind of things, he was afraid he could not do it in one cut. He closed his eyes and unsheathed his sword. Briefly the image of his dead wife and unborn child flashed before his eyes.

“I said that’s a very good sword you have there.”

Smith opened his eyes. “What?”

“Your sword, it’s a good one.” The Wolf who was talking to him said again.
Smith stared at his already cleaned sword. “This? It’s just a small one. Yes it is sharp, and it is a bit heavier than a normal sword of this size. Light sword I use for my travels. Can you read the name?”
The Wolf nodded. “Yes… Last resort. Odd name.”
Smith also nodded. “Yes. When I have to use this I really am in trouble. As you might have noticed I’m more a talker. Time to move on.”

Siegfried grinned when they were walking on. “Those were some very formal words you spoke there.”
Smith shrugged. “When you are a king you should act like one.”
Siegfried nodded. “And you became your kind of Feral again. Briefly closed your eyes, when you opened them that strange look again, you did what you had to do, and at the third time that Wolf asked something you came back again.”
Smith shrugged again. “Did I harm an… innocent… person?”
Siegfried smiled. “You always know what to say and what to do, even when you are your kind of Feral… Well… You don’t say much, but you know what I mean.”
Smith shrugged, but said nothing. Their destination was in sight.

“You don’t feel at home here, do you?” Siegfried asked Smith.
Smith shook his head. “No, not really. I have a few friends around me, and a lot of enemies. I am far away from home, and I miss home.”
Siegfried nodded. “I understand. I think I would feel the same way if I were in the far south of the Human kingdom. Friendly people, but no real friends.
“You know what I also miss here?” Smith asked.
“What?” Siegfried replied, looking around.
“I miss people in general here. Everything is relatively well maintained, but we only encountered four Wolves, and three of those are dead.”
“I wish I could answer that.” The innkeeper answered. “But I think they all are at the big gates, in the enclosed area. You gave them a problem coming back here when you ordered to close those doors.”
Smith grinned. “Good.”
William nodded. “But I think the leaders kept the elite soldiers around them, you don’t send everyone away.”
Siegfried shrugged. “Never underestimate pride. We and Smith have dealt considerable blows to the Wolf armies, many times with help, but we still were outnumbered four to one, and when Smith visited the Vulpine in the north even it was even ten to one. My guess would be two hundred Wolves locked out.”
Smith shrugged. “I don’t know, and I’m not going to speculate about the numbers. Our destiny is up ahead, and finally I see other Wolves up there.”
Walther nodded. “Yes. But there are more Wolves, they already know where we are. Those are just guards standing at the… fake gates again?”
Smith shook his head. “No, this is the main hall of a Berg city. Steps leading up to a large gate, long corridor with living quarters and small shops where visitors can see what the city has to offer, and that corridor leads to a central hall. Around that hall that are the Büros where all the paperwork is done, and the living quarters of the leaders with a huge kitchen and banquet hall. And oddly enough the prison cells are just a small hallway away from that, it is not only a governmental building, but also a courthouse… At least, in Berg cities.”
Petra nodded. “Yes… Every time I had to leave my cell I had to pass… him.”
Smith nodded and put a hand on Petra’s shoulder. “This time you and I are going to face him, and look him straight in the eyes. I can’t allow unnecessary violence, but Siegfried knows how I can be, and it won’t be pretty… And no, I don’t need some herbs to dull some pain caused by a wound I once had.”
Siegfried nodded. “But this time I won’t stop you. Time to put all the suffering of the people here in a few hours for them.”

“Good day. We are here for talks with your leaders.” Smith greeted the two Common Wolves who were guarding the gates.
“Very well sir. Follow me.” One of them replied and turned around to walk in.
Smith shrugged and unsheathed his sword. The others who also had weapons did the same. It felt like a trap.
The corridor was empty, but it was definitely a Berg building. Not a lot has changed. Smith wondered about what had been changed, and why it was so secret that those who worked on it had to be killed.
The Wolf guard who was escorting the group did not show signs of fear, he walked ahead of them and looked almost relieved. When he momentarily turned around to check if the group was following him he didn’t seem shocked about the weapons. It seemed that he even was smiling when he turned his back to Smith again.

“Mein Führer, Smith is here.” The Wolf guard announced.
Smith looked around the big hall that was the centerpiece of this complex. A large square hall, with a balcony almost all around it, and huge windows that still had their glass to let an enormous amount of light in. There was no furniture, except for a large chair and a smaller chair in a corner almost hidden by one of four large pedestals, one of them having a statue of a Wolf.
The chair was in front of a roaring fireplace, the fireplace itself was the size of a small room. At night it would have looked impressive, a silhouette of someone sitting on a chair, not clear if he was facing the fire or away, but in the pale daylight it looked a lot less impressive, almost puny with the worn wood and stains.

“Greetings… Smith. You must know it is not polite to enter a room with your weapons drawn.” The Gray Wolf in the chair greeted them.
All the doors leading to the other areas were closed, but Smith suspected there was an army hidden behind them, ready to come to action in an instant.
Smith shrugged. “It is common courtesy that people stand up to greet me. Let’s call this even… And I’m a bit suspicious… Reinhard tried to kill me, send my head to king Leopold as a warning… Me being here unharmed is proof that he failed.”
The Wolf in the chair nodded. “I could have guessed that. He always was a man of extremes, never taking prisoners… Pity.”
Smith shrugged. “I’m not here because I want to kill, I am here to talk.”
The Wolf smirked. “What is there to talk about?”
Smith shrugged. “Where should I start? I want the attacks on the Neutral Zone to stop. I want the attacks on villages in the Inimal Kingdom to stop. You even wanted my friend, King Leopold, dead. I don’t like that.”
The Wolf shrugged. “Why won’t you just die? Then it’s no longer your problem.”
Smith sighed. “Our talks are over… Wolves: Block all those doors, and tie Heinrich to his chair. Arms, legs, torso, but not too tight around his neck, don’t strangle him.”
A lot of materials were brought in from the hallway where they entered, including a lot of heavy stones that were found somewhere. Silently but efficiently all doors were either blocked with stones, or had thick pieces of wood stuck through the door handles effectively locking them.
“You can’t do this! You have no power here!” The Wolf protested.
Smith shrugged. “Heinrich… That is your name, right? That chair is just a symbol of power. What I have is real power. Your reign is over.”
Heinrich shook his head. “No, you are mistaken!”
Smith grinned. “Said the helpless man who was tied to a chair, with no friends to help him.”
Heinrich struggled to get loose, but the Wolves indeed know how to handle rope, there was no need to even adjust the knots that held him in place. “You have no rights here! I am the supreme leader! The Führer!”
Smith shrugged. “And that is where you are wrong. The Wolves in the Neutral Zone have me as a leader, but they also have a council for their daily things. You sit here alone, although you are surrounded by four pedestals. Black granite, white marble, reddish brown sandstone, and finally a gray limestone one with a gray limestone statue of a Wolf. I have made and sold a lot of tools to sculptors, and I also know a bit about sculpting. Limestone is easy to work with, good for details, but it is not very strong. It’s a pity that those other statues are missing, and only one made of an inferior stone remains.”
“And where is your council now? You are far away from home!” Heinrich shouted.
Smith gestured at his friends. “Siegfried Black, William White, Walther Gray and Wallis. I think I have all four… Bring in some chairs for them! And a table, that’s easier for reading and writing.”

“What are we going to do here? Bore him to death with you talking?” One of the Wolves spoke at an irritated tone.
Smith sighed. “If I have to. I want information, and talking doesn’t tire me.”
Petra stomped on the ground. “I want my son out of the prison.”
Smith nodded. “Fine. My council can handle it from here. Show me the way… Although I think it’s over there, through that door.”
Siegfried stopped Smith before he could make a step. “Are you sure you want to go alone?”
Smith nodded. “Yes… Although… Is there one of you with a weapon who wants to accompany and maybe protect Petra and me in the prison? Maybe someone who knows people there who can be trusted that also can be released.”
The innkeeper stepped forward. “I will do that. Maybe there are some friends who are still alive there.”
Another Wolf also stepped forward. “And maybe my brother.”

Smith armed his armbrust, and a third Wolf unblocked the door and made himself ready to open it as soon as Smith gave the signal.
Smith nodded, the Wolf opened the door, and when Smith was sure there was nobody behind the door he stepped forward.
It was a short hallway, only twenty paces, and immediately the building was different. This was no longer Berg, but more Canine, rougher. The small hallway lead to another larger hallway, but this time with cells along the left wall. It was still a bit like a Berg prison, but the cells themselves were much smaller. Where one cell was supposed to be there were now two much smaller cells.
The innkeeper, Petra, and two other Wolves stayed behind Smith while he slowly walked on.
“There is someone around the corner, I can hear him breathing.” The innkeeper softly mumbled.
Smith nodded and crossed the hallway to walk on the left side. The cells were either empty ones with gates or had wooden doors where you couldn’t see through.
When Smith reached the corner he did a final check on his weapons, looked behind him to see where his backup was, and stepped sideways aiming his armbrust down the next part.
The scenery was almost the same, cells on the left, a wall with torches on his right, but this time there was a Gray Wolf halfway next to a doorway in that wall. Kitchen for the prison. At least, that was what the area behind the door probably used to be.
The Wolf raised his hands when he saw Smith and his armbrust, but as soon as Smith saw the Wolf had keys he wasted no time and squeezed the trigger, killing the Wolf.
“Why did you do that?” The surprised innkeeper asked.
Smith shrugged. “He was of no use. We now have the keys and can help ourselves.”
One of the other Wolves nodded. “I don’t think it’s our place to question Smith.”
Petra grinned. “Why did you kill him? Just kept him at point and let me have my time with him.”
Smith sighed. “We are here… for justice. Not for fun.”

“Forgeron! Help me!”

Someone at the end of the hallway was calling Smith. ‘Forgeron’ was the name the Elfique had called him a long time ago.
Smith sighed, took his time to get the bolt from the dead Wolf, cleaned it a little, and loaded him armbrust again.
With brisk steps Smith walked to the last cell, aimed, and squeezed the trigger.
The Elfique in the cell with a gate was fast, and he dodged the first bolt.
Smith quickly but calmly got a second bolt, and aimed again. It would be impossible to hit the torso, the Elfique was just too fast and agile, but the hips were also a good target to slow him down.
The Elfique grimaced when the bolt hit, but kept his eyes on Smith.
“What are you doing? He is a prisoner!” Petra called.
Smith said nothing and loaded his third bolt. His target was already a bit injured, so he wouldn’t be too hard to hit.
The third bolt hit the stomach. Not as deep as Smith expected, the Elfique had presumably some chain mail under his clothes. The Elfique fell on the ground, but still could be very fast, he already had a foot ready to jump away when needed. Not far, but Smith didn’t have an infinite amount of bolts, every missed bolt is one that couldn’t be used again.

Smith was now completely calm when he loaded his fourth bolt. Knee of the leg that was ready to push the body out of the way in case Smith was aiming at the more vital body parts.
Fifth bolt, shoulder of the arm that was now leaning on the ground. Again not as deep as expected, but still a decent wound and the Elfique no longer could use that arm.
Smith sighed when he got his sixth and last bolt. Never before the storage of his armbrust had been empty. He took a deep breath and squeezed. Not quite right between the eyes, a bit above the left eyebrow, but the target was down.
“What are you doing?” Petra asked again.
Smith refused to answer, and proceeded to open the gate.
When Smith got it open he grabbed his dagger and immediately started to cut the tendons in the arms and legs to incapacitate the Elfique. A surprising amount of blood flowed from the open wounds.
With a knee between the shoulder blades Smith started to cut the throat of the somehow still alive man. All the way around, and with a few last tugs the head was separated.
Calmly he set the severed head on the ground, and stood up again.
“This man could have been here for… I don’t know… two moons and you didn’t even say a word to him.” Petra protested.
Smith shrugged. “Whatever they say, don’t believe them. When he would have talked he would have said things that he had been here since the day after you left, that they were treating him wrong, that he is innocent and all that kind of words. But take a closer look at this cell, take a closer look at his clothes, and draw your own conclusions.”
Petra, the innkeeper and the other Wolves looked around.
“I don’t see it. This is just a cell.” the innkeeper remarked.
Smith shook his head. “No. Look closer. The bed, does that look someone has been sleeping on it in the past few moons? The bucket, it’s dry. The layer of dust on the floor with just a few of his footsteps. His clothes.”
The second Wolf pulled the garment aside, and revealed a fine chain mail.
Smith grinned, he was right. “This is not something you would expect here.”
The innkeeper nodded. “Yes, I see. Sorry I doubted you.”
The third Wolf also nodded. “Yes… And was he bleeding when you cut him? I thought that the bolt in his head would be fatal, but he seemed alive.”
Smith nodded. “Yes. The Elfique can’t die of natural causes, can heal from a lot of wounds very fast, but they are not immortal.”

Smith retrieved his bolts, two more damaged, one beyond repair, and started to undress the Elfique. He was not very old, middle aged, well fed and all in all good looking head and body.
“What are you going to do? Rape him?” Petra asked.
Smith shook his head. “No. Loot him, I want his mail. And Elfique also have beautiful daggers, small but strong and very sharp. It’s a good gift for your son. I will give it to him when the time is right… Or not, if he turns out to be a brat who doesn’t deserve it.”
The innkeeper nodded. “Just like my old dagger was a gift for the daughter of William. Let’s get the other prisoners out?”
Smith nodded. “Yes. We are here for Petra’s son after all.”

The procedure for every cell was the same. Everything that was not needed for fighting on the ground, Smith with his back against the opposing wall, aiming the armbrust, the innkeeper unlocking the door and pulling it open, and the other Wolves for ‘just in case’ ready with their crude sword and stone knife.
The first cell contained a single White Wolf.
“What are you in for?” Smith asked.
The Wolf shrugged. “I started a revolt of miners. They wanted to execute me at the spring equinox.”
Smith nodded. “Good. Out, and out of my way. I don’t think you know who is in what cell?”
“No, not really. There used to be a Common Wolf here in the next one, the only one, but he died a few weeks ago.” The White Wolf noted.
The cell next to his indeed turned out to be empty.
One of the two Wolves who were there for Smith’s protection sighed. “I could have guessed that. Pity, but those things happen.”
The third cell they opened was the home of five Vixens.
Smith immediately aimed his armbrust at the ceiling. “You are free now. I’m… not sure what you can do, but we’ll figure something out.”
“Mommy! Are you there?” A child from the fourth cell called out.
Smith handed Petra the keys, and stepped back, while gesturing the other Wolves to do the same, and after a bit more gesturing the other Wolves lowered their weapons.
Petra opened the door, and a boy, the same age as Katie and William, walked out.
“Who are these people?” Young Siegfried asked.
Smith smiled. “You can call me Smith, I am a Human, and these people are an innkeeper whose name I don’t know, two other Wolves whose names I don’t know, a White Wolf from a few cells back whose name I don’t know, and a few Vixens whose names I also don’t know. And you are?”
Young Siegfried smiled. “I’m Siegfried. And that old Black Wolf is also Siegfried.”
Smith nodded. “Nice name. I also know another Siegfried, also a Black Wolf. He is waiting in the big hall. Let’s free the other prisoners here, and then go and meet him.”
Old Siegfried nodded and smiled. “Yes… I heard some rumors.”
The fifth cell had a pregnant Gray Wolf. The innkeeper started to cry and hugged her. It was his wife.
The sixth and seventh cell were empty, but the eighth housed three Common females, looking very rough.
Smith sighed and checked the remaining cells alone. Only a few female Dogs, most of the remaining cells were empty.
“You can’t work when you are in a prison cell… All the strong males are at the mines.” The White Wolf noted.
Smith sighed. “And the working place for the women was somewhere nearby, in a bedroom.”

When Smith entered the great hall again there was a group of Gray Wolves tied and sitting on the floor, and a larger group Common Wolves standing in a corner.
“I see you also have been busy.” Smith noted.
Siegfried nodded. “Yes. Capture everyone who is part of the old government here to sentence them. They were indeed waiting behind those doors.”
Kris also nodded. “And a few tried climbing up chimneys.”
Smith nodded. “That’s good. I have all the former prisoners… And chimneys… Were there no fires in the other fireplaces?”
Kris shook his head. “No… The other fireplaces were cold. I think they have a shortage of firewood, and only let the big one burn.”

“Father!” Siegfried called out when he saw the old Siegfried.
“Hello son. I see you are doing great. Sitting on an important chair.” Old Siegfried greeted his son.
Smith nodded. “Indeed… Siegfried, make place for the next Black Wolf on the council of the Letzi, I need you back in the Neutral Zone, although I think I have to fight Leopold over you.”
Siegfried stood up and gestured his father to sit down. “This is your home, and your place.”
Old Siegfried nodded. “Yes… I am the last Black Wolf here… Did you know it was never specified what species the colors had to be? Only Wolves can be Gray, but even Humans can take the Common seat… Young Siegfried, do you want to sit in my place in the council. I will be there to guide and advice you, but I want your voice to be heard, to represent all the minorities here.”
Young Siegfried shook his head. “No… I am too young. I have so much to learn.”
Smith shrugged. “Does Petra have an objection to sit there? I know I promised her that she and her son are allowed to live in the Neutral Zone, but this is her home.”
Petra nodded. “I will take it. Until my child is old enough.”
Smith nodded. “Good… Innkeeper… I still don’t know your name, but do you want to take Walther’s place? You talked about that it’s a bad thing there is no trade between the Wolves and the Vulpine, I think you are the perfect person to start that again.”
The innkeeper nodded. “Yes… My name is also Walther by the way.”
Smith smiled. “Good… William. Your seat for that White Wolf I liberated. He told me he was in the prison because he is a leader, he started a revolt at the mines, I assume he wanted better conditions. That sounds fair, and I think that would make him suitable as a leader.”
William let out a sigh of relief. “Thank the spirits in the forest. I was afraid I had to take responsibility, yes, please, take my seat.”
The White Wolf nodded. “My name is Wilhelm… Thank you.”
Smith shrugged. “Better conditions make the coal more expensive. Find a good balance between fair conditions and actually selling coal… Finally, Wallis. Who do you think is suitable to succeed you?”
Wallis smiled. “That’s easy. Wanda.”
Smith nodded. “Good choice. All colors, two males, two females, a minority… I assume you also want to stay here?”
Wallis nodded. “Yes… This is my home. Stay here to take care of Wanda and Wally.”

Smith looked at the group of Wolves who were sitting on the floor. Some looked a bit dirty, but nobody had severe wounds.
Smith sighed, and looked at the three Wolves and Panther Jaguar. “Council of the Letzi. You are still part of… a kingdom. I represent that kingdom here. Your actions will determine my reaction. The previous leadership was under Elfique influence, his words resulted in actions, and those actions resulted in me being here, and that is not something I like. You are a council, you can ask anyone for advice, but your actions are your responsibility.”
“What are we going to do with these?” Wanda asked.
Smith shrugged. “Whatever you want. But let me tell you this: When I notice you abuse your power, when you harm innocent people I will come back and replace you the same way I did today.”
Wanda shook her head. “That wasn’t an answer.”
Smith shrugged. “I don’t know. Grab the chair Heinrich is sitting on, and toss it in the fire, with him sitting on it.”
Wanda gestured with her hand to do so, but nobody moved.
“Come on! Do as Smith suggested. In the fire with him.” She commanded again. The hatred in her voice was real.
Smith shook his head. “That’s not the council speaking. That’s the same Wolf as the previous, only a different color and gender.”
Wanda looked at the other council members, and they all nodded. Especially Petra.

Four Wolves grabbed the chair Heinrich was sitting on, and walked towards the fireplace.
“Any last words?” Smith asked.
“Go to your hell!” Heinrich shouted.

The words suggested that Heinrich and the Elfique had long talks, he knew a lot, but all that knowledge would be lost.
The chair was lifted in front of the fireplace, and tossed forward.
It wasn’t a scream, more a shriek. What followed were sputtering hair and sizzling flesh.

“Well… That’s done. I don’t know about the rest of… my council, but I am hungry. We are guests here, we can’t demand things, but can we get something to eat?” Smith asked nobody in particular. The Wolves had to figure out how to form a new government now that the old one was disbanded.
A Wolf nodded. “Yes sire. I think there is some meat in the kitchens… I don’t know where the dinner hall is, but I think you know the way a little. If you wait there we will bring the food… If we can find the kitchens and everything.”
Smith nodded. “That’s fine. And also take care of your new leaders, but don’t spoil them. I think they will have a busy day sentencing all of the old leaders… Also take good care of the others.”
The Wolf nodded. “We will. Like you are taking care of us.”

“It’s a miracle they didn’t kiss me.” Smith noted when he and Siegfried, Walther, and William were sitting at a table in the dining room.
Siegfried grinned. “I haven’t mentioned it… Yet. But I know you don’t like it.”
Walther nodded. “Yes. In a day you have done more for them than Heinrich and his gang in the past few years. You really chose the right people as their new leaders.”
Smith shrugged. “Normal people, just like I am.”
“Why did you kill that Elfique without hesitation? That’s not like you usually are.” Siegfried noted.
Smith shrugged. “I did not want to hear him talk. I don’t remember seeing him, it could have been one of Leopold’s old advisors, but he also could have been here for a lot longer. Diego mentioned an Elfique going west a long time ago, that could have been this one, but I don’t know. I’m not going to take his head to Diego to ask if this was the Elfique he met… I’m sure he was the source of all the misery. Suggesting the Wolves should be independent of the rest, suggesting they should eradicate the Vulpine, suggesting they should conquer the Neutral Zone. Sowing hatred and harvesting real hate… I have never seen Wolves this angry.”
Siegfried nodded. “Yes… You may think they give good advice, but in the end it’s much worse. Good thing you told the other kings to get rid of their Elfique advisors. Leopold sent them away.”
Smith sighed. “Sent away… I wonder where they went. Back home?”
Siegfried shook his head. “No… I don’t know. For you it’s easy to keep an eye on them, you know them. For someone else they can be a valuable source of wisdom… at least, that’s what they think. You think we should kill François and Jacques?”
Smith sighed. “No… François is a friend, and Jacques… I think he will disappear as soon as he suspects something. You heard how hard it was to kill this one, and he was in a cage. Fast as a Wolf, agile as a Tiger, cunning, hard to kill… You need more than an army when they are outside. And now imagine a few of them working together to help each other… No, it’s better to keep an eye on them and think four ourselves. My generation and your children will live in peace, but Jacques told me it takes seven generations to forget everything… But that’s no longer our problem, we will be dead and forgotten by then.”
William nodded. “Yes… He was dangerous. But you must realize that you are the same, also talking and giving ideas, that also may end up wrong for the people you give advice.”
Smith shrugged. “Yes… I only care about myself, and my safety. Customers come when it’s safe, and the Neutral Zone is a very safe place these days. Happy people, happy customers.”
Siegfried grinned. “You haven’t changed.”

“Do you mind if we join you for a late lunch or an early dinner?” Wilhelm asked while he was standing in the doorway. Behind him were Old and Young Siegfried, Wallis, Wanda and Wally, and Walther and his wife.
Smith smiled and shook his head. “No, not at all. We are the guests here after all. No real trouble sentencing them? No doubts about what they have done?”
Walther the former innkeeper shook his head while he and his wife sat down. “No, everyone knows what they have done, and most of them have confessed. Those women from the prison are good witnesses… Most of them will be put to work at the mines, that way they can be useful.”
“Is Petra not joining us? I see old and young Siegfried, but not Petra.” William noted.
Old Siegfried shrugged. “She wanted to do some executions herself.”
Smith nodded. “That’s fine, but a real leader doesn’t get his or her hands dirty. Those who make the law, the council, those who protect the law, the enforcers, and those who check the law, the judges. I know it’s hard to keep it separated, but that’s how the Bergvolk do it. Maybe you should do that too, Petra is far too emotional.”
Wanda shrugged. “I wanted to do some myself too, but Wallis won’t let me.”
Wallis nodded. “Yes. Exactly what Smith says, you are too emotional, too much hate for a clean execution.”

“Erm… can someone help us? We have a bit of a problem.” Someone interrupted the waiting.
Smith shrugged. “No problem, I’ll come to assist you. What is it?”
The Wolf shuddered. “It’s the Women… Especially the Vulpine women.”
Walther of the Council nodded. “I’ll come along… I’m here for good relations between the Wolves and Vulpine after all.”

They were lead to the kitchens where there were some Wolves tied to contraptions.
“Please! You have to help us! We never used glowing rods!” One of them cried out. Some others had lost consciousness or were already dead, in a very bloody display.
Smith looked at one of the Vixens who was approaching them with a big flint knife. “What are you going to do with that?”
The Vixen grinned. “You may guess once.”
Walther of the Council shook his head. “No, small cuts, and use salt, that way he lasts longer.”
Smith turned around and walked away. He knew this would happen, he told that he would allow it, but actually seeing it made him almost lose his appetite. The tied Wolf screamed in agony.
“Your meal is almost ready.” One of the Wolves alerted Smith. They were cooking and torturing in the same area.
Smith nodded. “Good, then I’ll head back. What’s for dinner?”
The Wolf grinned. “We already had a lot of lambs, so it’s lamb fries. Real ones.”
Smith sighed. That was not his favorite part of a sheep.

“I know this is a delicacy for you, but next time I want some real meat. Lamb, mutton, pork, those kind of things. As a Human I always have my own cutlery so you can give me big chunks of it.” Smith spoke to the Wolves who were acting as servants after the meal.
One of them took a slight bow. “As you wish. I never expected you to actually eat it, I heard that Humans are usually grossed out when they know what they have to eat.”
Smith grinned. “I’ve had worse in my life, like salads. I know salads are a Human thing, but eating flat green leaves as food is just weird. I prefer eating round things, like potatoes and fruit. And good meat of course, not intestines.”
The Wolf nodded. “Understood.”


Someone interrupted Smith’s slumber. Now he really felt how tired he was after the moons of walking.
Smith opened his eyes. It was still not time for dinner. “What?”
The Wolf was a bit nervous. “I think we are under attack.”
Smith shot wide awake. “Where? Here?”
The Wolf shook his head. “No. We believe it’s at the goods handling, you know, the area where we locked a number of Wolves in. We hear sounds like fighting there, some screams are Feline.”
Smith sighed. “We, the people I came with, had an army of king Leopold following us. They promised they would be a few days behind us, but I don’t know how many days, and we were slowed down a little trying to find an easy path. Try to lead them here, I will receive them… I don’t think they know what is going on here, so they might attack every Wolf they see, so be careful, and I don’t know where Kris is, but ask him to come along. You are faster, make sure you run ahead of them, mind the roofs they can use… I will wait at the front door of this building, at the top of the stairs… Do mention that I am here and have everything under control if you can.”
The Wolf nodded and left.

Smith sighed. It was all too soon, they had no time to prepare for the arrival of the army of the Inimal king.
“You think this is a bad thing?” Siegfried asked.
Smith shrugged. “I don’t know. There is a council here, but still they asked me.”
Siegfried smiled. “Your words to the council: ‘You can ask anyone’, and they did. They asked you for advice.”
Smith shrugged. “Yes. Asking a smith. Someone without any military knowledge.”
Siegfried nodded. “A military leader without an army would have panicked, you said you will wait at the front door and see who will come and what will happen next.”
Smith shrugged. “If you have a better suggestion let me hear it.”
Siegfried smiled. “No. I don’t. Just let things unfold.”
Smith nodded. “As usual… Young Siegfried, can you come over here, I have something for you.”
Young Siegfried hopped off his chair. “What is it?”
Smith smiled. “You are a good little boy. There may be another fight coming, and I want you to be able to defend yourself, to give at least one attacker a scar to remind him that he dared to attack you… I have taken two things of that Elfique I killed. One is a chain mail, I am going to give that to a Human woman I love, and the other thing is a dagger. I promised your mother I would give it to you if you proved yourself to be a good little boy, and you did. As far as I know this is the only dagger that is not in the possession of an Elfique, so be very careful with it.”
Young Siegfried pulled the dagger out of its scabbard, and examined it from all sides. “Is it silver?”
Smith shook his head. “No. It is not silver, but it is a very hard metal that is resistant to rust. That blue stone on the pommel is a polished star sapphire, and around it are tiny diamonds and rubies set in gold. This single dagger and scabbard are worth more than everything I have ever created in my life. My work is just too crude for this beauty, my work is making tools for killing and creation, I can only make the blade… But I do have people working for me who can make things of beauty.”
Young Siegfried put the dagger back in its scabbard and wanted to give it back to Smith. “I can’t accept this… What if it gets stolen?”
Smith smiled. “Just hold the dagger briefly between the ribs of the thief. The Human king has a crown and a sword, the Inimal king has a scepter, and I want the council of the Letzi to have this dagger as a symbol of their power.”
Young Siegfried nodded. “I think I understand. Everything has two sides, a beautiful side that is nice to hold, like the hilt of this dagger, but the nasty bit is usually hidden, like the blade in the scabbard.”
Smith smiled. “Old Siegfried has taught you well.”
Old Siegfried nodded. “Yes… There was not much else to do except talking in that cell. It is a good reminder of what happened here, and a warning. Never fall for the lies of the Elfique again.”
Smith shook his head. “They don’t lie. They don’t tell both sides of the truth… But for me it’s time to put on a coat and get outside. You want to come along?”

User avatar
Neutral Smith
Templar GrandMaster
Posts: 671
Joined: Mon Feb 24, 2014 5:32 pm
Location: Neitherlands
Fav. Twokinds Character: Saria's father

Re: Forge of Kingdoms (mature content) - Chapter 48

#55 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 48
A New Front

It was a cold afternoon. No snow, but low clouds and a cold wind. Smith and young Siegfried were the only ones who were waiting at the top of the stairs, the others were sheltering at the gates. Spring was close, but not there yet.
Smith hoped that the people he was waiting for would arrive soon, so he could go back inside.
Just when Smith was about to go back to the gates to stand out of the wind Kris and a small group of about thirty Feline soldiers arrived.
“Finally, you are here… Where is that Wolf messenger I sent?” Smith greeted them.
“He… he got killed.” Kris replied.
Smith nodded. “Good to see you too general. Let’s get back inside, you have taken longer than expected to get here.”
The Tiger general shrugged. “We… lost our way.”
Smith also shrugged. “You are not a good leader. Leopold does have maps of this city, you should have studied them.” Smith spoke while he unbuckled the scabbards for his dagger and sword “The new leadership does not like foreign weapons here, we have to leave them here at the door, only young Siegfried, Petra’s son, is allowed to keep his dagger. We were carrying ours because we thought there was a fight.”
“I have seen that Wolf before, he left with you, is he not leaving his sword here?” One of the other Tigers asked.
Smith shook his head. “No, Wallis is born here in the Letzi, and he is going to live here again, with Wanda, one of the new council members and her son, Wally, that young Wolf over there.”
“Why doesn’t he have a weapon?” A Leopard asked.
Smith sighed. “We are not here to talk about weapons. We are here… to talk.”

After Smith made sure that everyone who did not live in the Letzi had left their weapons a the door he gestured the new guests to follow him. They did it without hesitation, the general walking at the rear.

“I’ve got the… army that was attacking us here.” Smith announced the new guests.
“The Feline Empire will prevail!” The general suddenly shouted.
Smith shrugged. “As you heard, the enemy.”
“Why… don’t they have their weapons?” Wilhelm noted.
Smith smiled. “At the door, just like those of the people from the Neutral Zone.”
Walther of the Council also nodded. “That… general said something I don’t like. Feline Empire… I thought that was something of the past.”
Old Siegfried sighed. “Yes, it is. But just like Heinrich and King Leopold had Elfique advisors the Felines might have them as well, and here are the results.”
Smith nodded. “Yes. And again, what happened to that Wolf messenger I sent?”
Kris grinned. “He was just a Wolf. We killed him.”
Smith nodded understandingly. “I understand. You killed more here in the Letzi between the crossing of the wall and here?”
One of the other Felines, a Panther Jaguar, shook his head. “Yes. We decided we did not want to draw attention, but that idiot made a mistake.”
Smith nodded again. “I guess it was your suggestion to be peaceful?”
The Panther Jaguar smiled. “Indeed.”
The general grinned. “But we also killed twenty-three Wolves you locked in a barn. Thank you for those.”

Before Smith could reply young Siegfried jumped forward and started to stab the Tiger.
“Killing… innocent… unarmed… people… is… wrong!” he shouted while stabbing.
When he was done he threw his dagger on the floor and ran crying to his mother.
Smith sighed. “Siegfried Panther Jaguar, son of Petra of the Council, holder of the Dagger, that is not the way to treat that dagger!”
Through his tears Siegfried stared at Smith. “What?”
Smith sighed again and smiled. “I understand you are angry. I also want to kill people who are doing wrong. You have a lot to learn, and I have learned a lot. When you are done killing you make sure you don’t do more damage. You threw that dagger away, if it bounced wrong it could have hurt someone.”
“I… I don’t understand. You say that… killing is wrong… I expected you to say I could have damaged the dagger… I… I’m sorry.”
Siegfried of the Neutral Zone smiled. “You are talking to Smith, he sometimes says weird things that somehow make sense. My father has taught you well, I wish I have listened to him more often.”
Old Siegfried nodded. “Yes, but then you wouldn’t have met him. Just be glad this is a smooth floor, it did slide far, and it barely missed one of the people here.”

Smith looked at the remaining Felines. “If there are more supporters of the Feline Empire let them be known. You must understand you are outnumbered, and without weapons. I’m sure that King Leopold will consider you traitors, and will have you executed when you return. If you have committed crimes against the Wolves I’m sure they will… put you to work. Being a Feline means that you will have to do a lot of carpentry.”
The Snow Leopard nodded. “Yes. One of the villagers asked if we could help with that, but… he… ordered to kill them.”
Smith sighed. “I will leave you to the council. And Kris…”

“Y… Yes?” Kris answered behind Smith’s back.

“You are a terrible liar.”

“But… But I am your friend!”

Smith sighed. “Your father was my friend, you are not. For me you were just a tool to get me… us… over the wall, thank you for your service… You also said you came along for revenge, you said you had your own orders, and I guess you fulfilled those as well.”

“Yes, I did. But that does not make me a traitor.”

Smith sighed. “That’s not for me to decide. I’m leaving you to the council.”

“You can’t do that!” Kris protested.

“I just did.” Smith replied while he walked away. He wanted to take a bath until it was time for dinner, he guessed he had about two to three hours of relaxing and warming up.
Before he reached the door he stopped and turned around. “There may be some survivors of the fight, take care of them. Either kill them or help them, I don’t care, but I will keep in mind what you have chosen.”
The people who Smith left behind in the room all nodded, even the Felines.

The bathing area was just where Smith expected it, behind the huge fireplace where it used the heat to not only warm the water, but also provided warm air for other rooms, with one channel leading to a huge bed room. The whole installation was a huge Bergvolk masterpiece, and Smith was going to enjoy it.

“Smith?” It was Petra.
Smith sighed and interrupted his undressing for the bath. “You have a question?”
Petra nodded. “Yes. How can you take a bath knowing people have died?”
Smith shrugged. “I don’t know their faces, I don’t know their names… I don’t even know how many have died or are wounded today. But I don’t think that is the question you wanted to ask.”
Petra nodded again. “Yes… I came here with a different question. How do you know who can be trusted?”
Smith sighed. “It is not my job here. I have not talked to all the Feline soldiers. First of all Kris can not be trusted. You heard him, you saw how he acts when he is with his friends, totally different than he was with us. Don’t even put him to work, maybe he is a nice gift for Leopold to execute as a traitor of the Inimal Kingdom… One of the Leopards noted that young Siegfried has a dagger, and Wallis does not. You don’t say that kind of things when you don’t care about Wolves. That Panther Jaguar said that he was against killing in the Letzi. It’s easy to hide the bodies, they also might have noticed that there was no traffic between the villages, but he chose a peaceful approach, and I can respect that. That Snow Leopard was asked if he could help, and I guess he was willing to… So that is already three you could trust enough to ask about the others. And I saw a few human-made weapons, I think one of those was even made in my smithy. You don’t use Human weapons when you are proud of your own kind, and Feline weapons are often relative good.”
Petra nodded. “Yes. Those you mentioned were in the group we declared innocent. You asked them who are guilty, but my son asked them who were cowards who refused to kill.”
Smith shrugged and continued to undress. “Then why are you here?”
Petra smiled. “Do you want to talk to them?”
Smith shook his head while he tested the water. “No. This is not my kingdom, these are not my people nor my prisoners. I just want to take a bath, have a meal, a place to sleep, breakfast, some use of a bathroom again and go back home, with a little detour to report to King Leopold about what I think of all this.”
Petra sighed. “And what do you think of all this?”
Smith shrugged while he lowered himself into the water. “I don’t know. I have some time to think about it while walking back.”

The bath was indeed very nice, sitting in silence to warm up did him well.


Someone dared to interrupt Smith’s solitude. It was one of the Wolf servants.

Smith sighed. “What?”

The Wolf bowed slightly. “Dinner is ready. Shall I bring it here?”
Smith looked around, but in the bathing area were no tables nor chairs. “If I eat here in the water and drop something it will pollute the water, I don’t want that.”
The Wolf smiled. “Our old leaders didn’t care about that. This bath has seen a lot of blood.”
Smith sighed and heaved himself out of the water, the sight of his bathing pants reminding him that he was naked. “Give me some time to get dry and dressed.”

“That was a wonderful meal.” Smith complimented the Wolves who were cleaning up the table. Everyone was there, not only the council and Old and Young Siegfried, but also the former prisoners of the Wolves.
The Wolf nearest to him shrugged. “We kept it simple this time. A lot of people got killed today, including our best cooks. What you got for lunch was supposed to be a delicacy, but it wasn’t the best.”
Smith sighed and shrugged. “Killed by us, or at the gates? And don’t worry about the food you give me, as long as I don’t get sick I won’t complain. I’ve had worse in my life.”
The Wolf shrugged again. “At the gates, they worked here as slaves. And a good steel knife has been lost today.”
Smith nodded. “Lost as in not found, or lost as in damaged? If it’s damaged I can repair it.”
The Wolf shrugged once more. “Broken. But what can you do in a smithy without coal or equipment? Everything is gone.”
Smith nodded. “I understand. Good luck building everything up again, I think you will have a lot of trouble with that.”
The Wolf also nodded. “Yes… Don’t you want to stay a little longer? To help us?”
Smith shook his head. “No… I want to go home. I don’t know what the others want, if they want to stay here I suggest you send a messenger to King Leopold and the Neutral Zone to tell them their decision, and that I am on my way, alone, with only my personal belongings, and of course the extra blanket and sleeping mat.”
Siegfried of the Neutral Zone nodded. “Yes, I want to stay here a little longer.”
Smith smiled. “I respect that, you want to be with your father. If you want to stay here for the rest of your life with Beatrice that is also your decision… I’m sorry Old Siegfried, but your son is still in love with Beatrice, she now lives in the Neutral Zone, and is a teacher.”
Old Siegfried nodded. “Yes, I know… They even had permission of Leopold the First to marry, and become the king and queen instead of that Lion we have now.”
Siegfried nodded. “But then we wouldn’t have had Smith, I think this is better.”
Smith looked at Walther. “And what do you want?”
Walther shrugged. “Stay here as well. There is a lot that needs to be done here, and I want to help.”
William nodded. “There are a lot of things that we don’t know, we only have seen a small part of the Letzi. You walk ahead, we will catch up with you and can give Leopold a better report of what is going on here.”
Smith nodded. “Fine. I will go to do my evening business, and go to use the large heated bed room. I don’t want to hear what happened there.”
Petra smiled. “They wanted to keep that room clean… nothing happened there, at least, nothing with me.”
One of the Vulpine women nodded. “Yes… Do you mind if we join you?”
Smith shrugged. “No, not really. But I will only sleep there.”
Petra gently caressed Smith. “And what about me? Not goodbye gift for me?”
Smith sighed. “No… But you could ask that Panther Jaguar to join us, I think he will be a very good… personal servant for you. Give you nice massages, teaching Siegfried the ways of the Felines, being a bodyguard when you are outside, that kind of things.”
Petra smiled. “Yes… I think that will be a good punishment for him.”
Smith shrugged. “You declared him innocent. Innocent people don’t deserve punishment. But it’s not up to me to make the rules, I only want your rules to be fair.”
Petra nodded. “Agreed. I will ask what he wants. My son likes him, and he seems to like my son.”

The bed room was huge, large enough for more than twenty people sleeping with room to spare, and the floor was covered with a lot of snow white lamb pelts.
Smith thought he was the first to enter, but when he settled down one of the piles moved, and one of the Vixens emerged.
“Do you mind if I join you?” She asked in a seductive voice.
Smith sighed. “Yes. I do mind. I am here to sleep.”
The Vixen also sighed, and settled next to Smith, gently stroking him over his chest, stomach and in the direction of his sleeping pants. “Pity. I really want a gentle man for a change. We could do it quick, Humans have no knot, am I right?”
Smith sighed again, and turned away. “No, we don’t. No knot, no spines, just a smooth rod… But I don’t want to take advantage of you. Go ask the Felines if they are clipped and want to.”
The Vixen sighed, and left, just when Petra and the Panther Jaguar soldier entered.
“Good evening.” Smith greeted them.
“Why… am I here?” The Panther Jaguar asked, looking around.
Smith smiled. “I want to know you better, and don’t worry, I won’t touch you. Just lie down and relax.”
“Are you… going to watch us?” Petra asked.
Smith shrugged. “No, I’m either on my right side watching the door, or on my back. And my hearing is impaired, I could even not hear Siegfried and his Beatrice in my bed.”
Just when Smith spoke those words a grinning Siegfried showed his face in the doorway. “That was a fun time.”
A lot more people entered the bed room. Not only the four other Vixens, but also the three female Wolves from the prison. Siegfried left again, but Smith suspected he was standing guard at the door.

“What is your name soldier.” Smith asked.

“Johann.” The Panther Jaguar replied.

“Alright… Johann, what do you think of Petra and her son Siegfried?”

“They are nice. They have been through a lot of hardships.”

“And how do you feel about taking care of them? I don’t think it’s wise to return to the Inimal Capitol, you and the others who don’t support the Inimal Empire are safe here.”


“Yes what?”

“Yes sir.”

Smith sighed. “Yes sir what?

“That I also don’t think it’s safe to return.”

“And are you willing to take care of Petra and her son, protect her, give her nice massages, educate her son in the Feline ways and be there in good and bad times and that kind of things?”

“Oh yes.”

“Oh yes!” Petra added.

“Good. Goodnight.”

“Was that it?” Johann asked.

“Yes. Don’t interrupt my sleep.”

“Are you not going to join us?” Petra asked.

“Eww… No. I don’t want to be the second one.”

“You can go first.”

Smith sighed. “I said goodnight.”

“You really are a prudish Human.” One of the Vixens noted.

Smith sighed. Part of him wanted to try a Vixen, but he also wanted to sleep.

“Good morning, had and exhausting night?” It was Walther of the Neutral Zone who woke Smith up.
Smith sighed, and opened his eyes. “Go ask the women how exciting our night was.”
Walther grinned. “They all left. And almost all the breakfast is gone, I suggest you eat something fast if you want to leave today, otherwise you have to wait for lunch.”
Smith nodded. “Yes.”
Walther crouched next to Smith. “You are not very talkative. Something wrong? Need a kiss?”
Smith sighed. “Only thing I hope is that the first kiss I’ll receive is a nice one from Mary.”
Walther nodded. “I understand. I already told the others, you will be safe.”

Breakfast was done, and it was time to say goodbye. A lot of people greeted him at the bottom of the stairs when Smith came outside, many of them he had not seen before.
“Welcome everyone.” Smith greeted them “As you may have noticed there has been a change of leadership, there is a council again… And I’m sorry about what those Felines have done.”
One of the Wolves, presumably a leader, nodded. “We understand. You can’t have a war without victims. We really could use some carpenters, we will try to keep them alive for a bit longer.”
Smith smiled. “Good to hear. Now I bid you a farewell, it’s a long walk I have. I really hope I don’t have to return here, but I will when needed. Just send a normal messenger instead of an assassin.”
The Wolf nodded. “We will. Shall we carry you to the gates? We have a sänfte… a carrying chair you can use.”
Smith nodded. “That’s… fine. Just take me to the gates.”

It were not the gates of Das Schloss that Smith was brought to, but the most northern gates of the wall of the Letzi. Four days of walking in a single day.
“The gates are locked from the outside!” one of the Wolves shouted.
Smith nodded. “If you walk north you will encounter a part of the wall that is collapsed, that’s how we got in. We could go to the collapse, or someone could run around and open the gates.”
“We’ll go!” Three Wolves replied, and ran off.
“You can go back if you want to.” Smith said to the Wolves who were still with him.
The leader shook his head. “Go back? Why? We will carry you all the way to the Capitol. It’s just ten days. We have plenty of food for the first two days, and after that our scouts can hunt and set up camp. You are a bit heavier than we thought, so they have plenty of time until we arrive.”

While they were waiting a lot of other Wolves and Dogs joined them. Many of them carrying their belongings, like they wanted to leave as well.
“Where do you think you are going to?” Smith asked a few of them.
The Wolf Smith spoke to sighed and looked at the ground. “Away from here. It’s a trap.”
Smith shook his head. “It’s a wall. Made out of stones. Tear down this wall, and build other things with the stones, better things. There is no need to keep it here.”
The Wolf sighed again. “But the Felines…”
Smith shrugged. “I will ask Leopold about what he wants to do with them… I have no use for you in the Neutral Zone, there already are too many Canines there. I want thirty percent Humans, twenty percent Canines, twenty percent Felines, fifteen percent Vulpine and the rest minor species, including Bergvolk and Elfique, and now already forty percent of the inhabitants of the Neutral Zone are Wolves… Just make the Letzi a good place to live where eventually the Canines are only sixty percent of the inhabitants. You have wool for the Vulpine and wood for the Felines, you don’t use that.”
The Wolf nodded. “You think we also can get some Humans?”
Smith shrugged. “Don’t ask me. Let Walther and Petra of the council handle that. In the Neutral Zone we have Rolph Wolf to handle the Humans, just let them have some correspondence. And of course with Leopold, this is still the Inimal Kingdom and as far as I know only Mary and I are the only Humans who are allowed here.”
The Wolf nodded. “Yes, we should do that. It’s just… We are not used to this. It gradually became what it was yesterday, we almost didn’t notice, but this sudden freedom is just… I don’t know how to say it.”
Smith smiled. “Just live your life, and don’t do thing that makes me angry, because then I will return.”

Finally the gates were opened. Smith climbed in the chair again, waved a final goodbye, and the almost forty Wolves that carried and accompanied Smith started running again, although it would be for only a few hours until dark.

The journey was fast, with every two hours a change of carriers, and on the eleventh day they reached the Inimal capitol.
In the evenings the Wolves were too tired to talk to, but they really appreciated the fact that Smith was willing to help them. The previous user of the carrying chair never did that, he even had a whip to make them run faster, Smith complained that they were going too fast.
The nights were uneventful, often the Wolves did not put up Smith’s tent, just put his sleeping mat and blanket on a dry spot, and slept close to him. He was still a ‘puny Human in need of extra layers of fabric to stay warm’, but they did not kiss him, although there was one little incident with one Wolf sleeping on top of him leading to some awkward moments with Smith caressing him before waking up. But they all could laugh about it.

“Better stop here before they think this is an invasion of Wolves!” Smith called from his seat when they saw the first buildings of the capitol.
The Wolves stopped running, and when Smith got out of the seat a few soldiers from the capitol came running towards them.
“Smith! Back already!” The Dog commander greeted him, with a salute.
Smith nodded. “Yes. It’s incredible how fast these Wolves are. Eleven days instead of the forty I thought it would be with me walking. The others are still at the Letzi, I want to give King Leopold my part of the report and go back home.”
The Dog nodded. “Very well sir… sire. I will inform him that you have arrived.”
Smith looked at the Wolves. “Do you want to come along? Maybe you have some things to say to the king.”
The leading Wolf shrugged. “Not really. We are just servants.”
Smith nodded. “And I am just a smith. I prefer talking to normal people instead of important people…. How is your ear commander?”
The Dog commander smiled. “Better. I… I got a promotion because of that incident.”
“What incident?” One of the Wolves asked.
Smith grinned. “One day this Dog was standing guard. He refused me entry because of some paperwork. In turn I asked him to only inform King Leopold that I was in town, the king dragged him back by his ear.”
The Dog nodded. “Yes… That was humiliating.”
Smith nodded. “Is he a good commander? I don’t like people on places they don’t deserve to be.”
One of the Tiger soldiers nodded. “Oh yes, he brought back the common sense we used to have.”
Smith shrugged. “Very well… Paperwork or not, or do you want someone else to get promoted too?”
The Dog commander smiled. “Just follow us, just… go sit in that chair like the king you are.”
Smith shook his head. “No, they have carried me for long enough, give them a rest. What do you think? Can they sleep at the castle as guests, or shall I give you money to make a reservation at an inn?”
The commander shrugged. “I don’t want to make that decision. Ask what the king wants.”

“Smith! Welcome!” Leopold greeted them.
Smith politely bowed. “Good afternoon sire.”
Leopold pointed at the Wolves. “You brought an army?”
Smith shrugged. “No. They said they had a carrying chair for me, and wanted to carry me. I thought it would be to the gates of the Letzi, but they brought me all the way here. What would you do when you were in my place? Punish them because they disobeyed an order to leave me at the gates of the Letzi, pay them for their service because they carried me and my belongings, or ask a friend, who happens to be their king, to take care of them?”
Leopold sighed. “You usually come up with a solution in an instant… And now you wonder if I will say the same… I’d say let their king solve their problems.”
Smith nodded, and got ten Small Gold and one Big Gold out of his pocket. “Here is some money to give them a place to stay and something to eat, and the rest of the money is a payment for their service. I want you to talk to them tomorrow, about their problems and what they need. The Letzi does have a council now, Petra is now one of the members and Wallis is taking care of the son of an other member, but you have more experience as a leader and I want you to help them.”
Leopold smiled. “Are you their king, or am I?”
Smith shrugged. “I don’t want to be their king, that’s why I pay you to take care of them. And now I want to talk to you in private.”
Leopold nodded. “I understand.”

Smith sat down in a comfortable chair that looked like it was made for a Human. “Tell me, what do you know about the Feline Empire?”
Leopold sighed and stared at the fire. “New problem that suddenly shows up. I was too late to realize that the army that was following you were only Felines… I don’t think it all ended well… I’m sorry for what they have caused.”
Smith shrugged. “Don’t apologize to me, apologize to those Wolves. We have taken care of them, only five or six of them did not support the Feline Empire completely, the rest of the survivors are working for the Letzi as a repayment of the damage they have done.”
Leopold nodded. “Understandable, I would have executed them. What do you want to know?”
Smith shrugged. “Only one thing: Is it going to be a problem for me?”
Leopold smiled. “Not really. They want the forests. The part that Wulver is taking care of would be the northern border, what they did with the Letzi was… probably revenge… Getting rid of the… Wolves.”
Smith sighed. “See. It is my problem. The southern Neutral Village, that at the quarry, is mainly Wolves. We already have a potential thread with Schotenburg nearby, and I don’t want a new front, this time with the Felines. If you don’t stop them I’m losing the reason for a good relation with the Inimal kingdom.”
Leopold sighed. “So you are making it my problem?”
Smith slammed his fists on the table. “Your kingdom, your problem!”
Leopold stood up and leaned over the table in a threatening manner. For the first time ever Smith feared an individual Inimal. “You know I never wanted to be a king! I try to make the best of it!” He shouted.
Smith sighed calmly, and leaned back in his chair. “The we at least have one thing in common. The difference is, I care about others.”

Leopold sighed. “Then I will appoint you and Mary as my successors, then you can rule the Inimal kingdom. Then you can become a king of all. ‘Most suitable child as your successor’, wasn’t it? That means that you also have to choose a successor. And Mary can never give birth to a Cheetah, so the Inimal kingdom will be ruled by a Human after all, let’s see how everyone likes that.”
Smith shrugged. “Katie and William as the first vassals for the Felines, a Canine Council who answers to me, the Vulpine with some permanent representation, someone to take care of the minor species… Really sire, I also have had history lessons, although it was from the Elfique.”
Leopold sighed. “Elfique… Do you think they have a hand in this?”
Smith nodded. “Certainly. At Das Schloss in the Letzi there was an Elfique who pretended he was their prisoner. I killed him. In Schotenburg there is someone who calls himself ‘glorious leader’ and is making all kind of stupid decisions, just think of someone much worse than Jan-Peter and his wife, and I also think that the Felines have someone who tells them that they could do without others.”
Leopold nodded. “And now I have to outsmart him too. Find a good balance to treat everyone well.”
Smith nodded. “Yes. That’s why you are their king.”
Leopold nodded. “Yes… You want something to eat? We have biltong.”
Smith shrugged. “I only asked for that once because I know you liked it… But I don’t mind eating it.”
Leopold smiled. “You could say that you wanted to eat something else. And sleeping?”
Smith shrugged again. “Wolf-owned inn. I want to know how he is doing.”
Leopold nodded. “I understand you want to be friendly, but remember that he is a Grey enemy. Be careful with him.”
Smith sighed. “Just a spy, with nobody left to report to. I don’t know where you sent the Wolves who were with me, but I hope they can behave.”
Leopold sighed. “Then get your belongings, and go there, you know, to protect him. I’m sure you have a good influence on them.”
Smith grinned. “And pay for my own food. Clever Lion.”

“Good afternoon Smith! Thank you so much for all that money for your horse, you shouldn’t have done that.” Wilco the innkeeper greeted him.
Smith shrugged. “That’s just how I am. And I call it ‘fair’, not generous.”
Wilco smiled. “Mary came here with five Big Gold for your Louis, and she explained me the value of horses. I guess that’s why my son William hasn’t sent any, they really are expensive. I guess it’s hard to find horses that are strong enough to get here at a reasonable price.”
Smith nodded. “Yes. People at home who know more about horses were very upset when I told them how little I paid for him, they said he was worth at least a Small Bar, so almost nine Big Gold is fair.”
“I thought you have more horses in the Neutral Zone, what’s so special about this one?” one of the Wolves from the Letzi noted.
Smith nodded. “Yes, of course there are more horses in the Neutral Zone, there is even a beginning of a Wolf cavalry. It’s just that me and most horses are not a good a good combination, but this innkeeper sold me a horse who tolerates me… And about the horses we have in the Neutral Zone: maybe we can start some trade, horses for coal or something, and the son of the innkeeper here maybe can help us with it… I don’t know how the coal deliveries are going these days, but there have been some changes at the Letzi. Coal is going to be more expensive.”
Wilco sighed. “I guess there will be no Grey supremacy, but I don’t care, it was a stupid idea after all. They wanted me to be a spy for them.”
Smith grinned. “I know… At least, I figured that out when I saw Petra again. I thought that that Wolf was the killer, and Petra the next client.”
Wilco nodded. “Yes…”
Smith shrugged. “If I meet Petra again or have to write her a letter I will ask her if you also harmed her. If she says so you better get away.”
Wilco also shrugged. “I have a wife and a life. I am not going to risk that, I treat every customer with the same respect, because if I don’t customers don’t dare to talk freely here.”
One of the Wolves who were with Smith nodded. “We can also do that, you don’t have to do everything.”
Smith sighed. “No, don’t. Just let this Grey live in peace, I like him.”

“Is your horse here? You didn’t come on a horse.” an other Wolf noted
Smith smiled. “No, Louis my sixteenth horse isn’t here. There was a bit of a situation in Schotenburg, and I had to get the Inimal queen out. I came here with a Tiger coachman, he has his own horses, and I met Petra here, and I decided to help her and eventually you. I arrived walking at the Letzi. I usually walk, but the Letzi was the farthest I have ever walked as far as I can remember.”
The Wolves looked in surprise at Smith. “As far as you remember? An almost two moon walk is hard to forget.”
Smith shrugged. “Wolves attacked my old village, and that sent me wandering, almost like a Feral.”
One of the Wolves nodded. “Oh right, I forgot that part… We are sorry.”
Smith smiled. “Don’t feel sorry. Because if Wolves didn’t attack me I still would be making chisels for the Felines.”
The Wolf nodded. “Yes… It’s odd how history goes.”
Smith grinned. “Misquoted and exaggerated… I don’t care about how you are going to see me, but I am just a humble smith trying to make the best of his life. Live in safety, and die as an old man in my bed. And I can tell you it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.”
The Wolves grinned. “Yes… But you are doing a good job.”
Smith sighed. “Yes… And today king Leopold threatened me to make me his successor.”
“Wanting to make you a king a thread? It would be an honor.” One of the Wolves said. The others nodded in agreement.
Smith shrugged. “I already am the half king of the Neutral Zone, taking care of the Inimals there. It is mainly a title I have for tax reasons, I don’t have to pay taxes, but in return I have to read and sign things. I want to have peace and be home with Mary and be in my smithy all the time, but now I can’t do that.”
The Wolves nodded. “Yes, but now there won’t be more attacks from us… Can we visit the Wolves at the quarry? I have some friends there.”
Smith shrugged. “Of course you can.”
The Wolves nodded. “Then we will bring you home as well.”
Smith shrugged. “Tomorrow you have talks with your king, those are more important.”
The Wolves grinned. “You are a walker, not a runner. A day of walking for you is just a few hours of running for us, we will catch up with you the day after tomorrow before lunch.”

“Speaking of food, do you want something to eat?” Wilco asked.
Smith nodded. “Yes, and a place to sleep if that’s possible.”
Wilco smiled. “Food is no problem, I can ask my wife to get some more pork, but a room for you is, or you must have no problem with sharing your room with a few of the Wolves you came with.”
Smith shrugged. “I want some privacy, I think I can find that at the stables of the Academy again.”
Wilco nodded and grinned. “Not the first time he sleeps there.”
Smith also nodded. “Yes. I’ve been in this city several times… well… four times, and three of those I slept in the straw. But I don’t mind, I’m not used to sleeping in a castle.”

Smith was awakened by someone lying down behind him.
“Who are you?” He mumbled.

“Lilian. I want you.”

Smith sighed. “I don’t want you, I want to sleep… Don’t you want to be with Leopold?”

“I’ve been with him for long enough.”

“It’s not even three moons. You have been in the prison without him for three years.”

“I know. But I really love you.”

Smith sighed. “It’s not love what you feel, it’s lust. Same as your sister had.”

Smith felt Lilian’s hand slide over him and over his stomach towards his pants. He grabbed it before it could venture too much down and gently held it. Or he was just too tired for a lot of strength. “Don’t.” He mumbled.

“Hmm… Did Leopold really want to make you the king of the Inimals? I know he gave the Neutral Zone the part that Wulver is taking care of and that village across the border where the Felines are going to live, and the most eastern of the northern Vulpine villages so you have a nice straight border from north to south, but you and Mary king and queen of the Inimals? He really was impressed by your reply.”

Smith sighed. “I am one of the two kings of a country with a mixed population. Half Inimals, half not Inimals. I am that because I am neutral, neutral between the Inimal species.”

“And that’s why you will be the best king. You don’t favor a species above an other.”

Smith sighed. “I want to sleep. Please.”

Lilian was gone when when Smith woke up. Smith used the dung heap and a pump with surprisingly cold water for his morning business startling a few people who didn’t expect him there, and went to the inn for breakfast, taking his belongings with him.

“Good morning. Is there still some breakfast for me?” Smith greeted the innkeeper.
Wilco nodded. “Yes, of course.”
Smith nodded at the Wolves as a greeting. “And you, you know what you are going to say to the king?”
The leading Wolf shrugged. “Not really… What do you think we should talk about?”
Smith sighed. “I don’t know… Don’t talk about your personal problems, talk about the problems you think others may have, or maybe he will ask you a lot of questions. Give him honest answers, that’s all I can say.”
“You are leaving after your breakfast?” One of the other Wolves asked.
Smith nodded. “Yes. See how far I can get before you catch up with me. I want to visit a village that was given to the Neutral Zone, ask Leopold about it, if you don’t you might miss me because I am a bit more north than you’ll think.”
The Wolves grinned. “Just have some lunch ready tomorrow.”
Smith shrugged, and started to eat. It would be hard to walk at a decent pace again after all those days sitting in a chair with the Wolves carrying him.

“Gotcha!” Smith heard behind him when he was thinking about stopping for lunch. The day of walking he did yesterday was really tiring, and today he started a bit later than he wanted.
Smith turned around and saw the first Wolves, scouts who usually ran ahead. “Good morning to you too. I thought you would travel as a group without me as a burden, where are the others?”
The leading Wolf smiled. “We got a lot of food, that slows us more down than you do. Sit down and wait, you look tired.”
Smith sighed. “I’m used to walk, but the first day of walking after a long time of sitting still is tiring. Even at home I’m constantly walking around. I wonder how my arms will feel after the first day of forging at home, and how big the blisters on my hands will be.”
The Wolves nodded. “Yes, we understand. You are a bit heavier than a Wolf, so we also had some trouble the first few days carrying you, but we got used to it. We are really going to miss you.” The leader spoke.
Smith sighed. “I know. A lot of people do… And I miss them. Thank you for bringing me home this fast.”
The Wolf smiled. “You deserve it… We never thought someone would come to help us.”
Smith shrugged. “So you sent an assassin to kill Leopold?”
The Wolf sighed. “If you were in our position, what would you do? Believe a Human was willing to come and help?”
Smith looked straight at the Wolf. “Wrong answer. Be very, very careful around me. Or stay close to me, because I am willing to give you a fair trial.”
The Wolf sighed. “I did not oppose them because I believed they had the best intentions.”
Smith nodded. “I also believe I have the best intentions. But what I believe and what is truth might be different. You don’t know until you know the differences.”
The Wolf nodded. “Yes…” But before he could finish his sentence the others arrived.

The food was good, the Wolves seemed happy, but there was no time to talk, the Wolves wanted to run again. Smith barely got time to get in his seat again, he had to button up his pants sitting.
The days and landscape flew by, with an occasional wave to villagers, and a few stops in a village to get some food, but no rest, the Wolves ran on until dark.

They reached their destination, a now Feline village and now a part of the Neutral Zone early in the evening, a bit after the sun had set.
It was not dark, a lot of torches lit the way to the inn.
When Smith and the Wolves reached the village a lot of villagers already were outside of their new homes, cheering. It seemed that the Wolves who ran ahead warned the village they would arrive.
“Welcome to our new home!” John the Jaguar Miller, now acting as an innkeeper greeted them.
Smith smiled. “You like it? I wish I could do more for you, but I think we are all busy with those Canines from the west.”
John nodded. “Yes of course! Don’t worry about us, here is trade! There already were some Humans asking for furniture, and we don’t even have built the new sawmill yet, that’s why I am here acting as an innkeeper.”
Smith smiled and nodded. “That’s good to hear… You have no objection to Wolves being your first guests?”
John smiled. “Of course not, as long as they can behave. And they are not the first guests, Mary already has been here along with a lot of others, she is doing your work making sure all the paperwork is in order. And a lot of people who used to live here are going to help us, in a few moons we will have our new sawmill, here is a much better river for it.”
Smith shrugged. “Good to hear. And also good to hear that Mary is acting like a queen. I don’t want to be a king, I just want to do whatever I want. Just get in line with the people who want to kill me when I turn out not to be a good king. I think Mary will be waiting home with a frying pan.”
John Innkeeper grinned. “Being the last one I want to kill does not mean you are not on my list.”
Smith shrugged. “Just like the old doctor here… Is there already enough food?”
John Innkeeper nodded. “Of course. We… were expecting you here around this time, they knew this would happen.”
Smith looked surprised at the Jaguar. “Who knew?”
John shrugged. “The people of Smithsville. They are waiting for you at home, with some important guests.”
Smith sighed. “Fine. Food, sleep, more food, and then go home. I don’t like it when I can’t live my life the way I want it, I wanted to stay here for a few nights.”
John Innkeeper nodded. “I understand, but you are a king. For a whole kingdom, not just for a small village.”
Smith sighed again. “I want to be there for people whose names I know, not for a population with anonymous faces… And I have some questions, maybe you have an answer or know someone who has. What do you know about the Feline Empire?”
John sighed but smiled. “You are here for your kingdom… And those people who want the Feline Empire to return? Fools. They think they are better off alone. There is nothing wrong with living in different places, but in times of need you must help each other. We… had some contact with them, and they told us what they wanted, and that’s not pretty. I hope they are not going to do something stupid, because that will lead to war between the Felines and Canines.”
Smith nodded and sighed. His fears were real. He needed time to think, and with each piece of the puzzle he got the size of the puzzle increased. What was really going on? Who were waiting for him? He did not have enough time to think, within three days he would be home and he would get the answers. Or just more questions. Eat, sleep, eat, travel. No time for thinking. He never thought a lot about things. He just did.

The Jaguars and Wolves understood Smith’s worries, and did not bother him again with more talking, they let him eat and sleep in peace. There even were no women disturbing his night.

User avatar
Neutral Smith
Templar GrandMaster
Posts: 671
Joined: Mon Feb 24, 2014 5:32 pm
Location: Neitherlands
Fav. Twokinds Character: Saria's father

Re: Forge of Kingdoms (mature content) - Chapter 49

#56 Post by Neutral Smith »

Chapter 49

The night was good, in a real bed, but it was cut short. Everyone was in a hurry to get Smith home, he barely had time to get dressed, even a few hours before sunrise.
“See if you can catch up with Charlene!” John Shopkeeper called when Smith was seated for the final part of his journey home, just a few more nights in the forest. John Innkeeper was still asleep when they left.
“Charlene was here?” Smith asked, but before he could get an answer the Wolves started running.

The Wolves ran faster than before, now with new Wolves carrying every hour instead of every two hours.
“What was that with Charlene?” Smith asked when the Wolves stopped for a short break with a bite of food.
“You have guests at home, and she knows your tendency to waste time talking, that’s why she was avoiding you. Now get on, we have to move.” One of the Wolves replied while he got ready to run again.

Two short nights in the forest. Not the short summer nights, but they got ready before sunrise and walked until it was safe enough to run, and continued walking for some distance after the sun had set.
“You really have to do something about the safety of the paths in the forest, lots of protruding roots, easy to trip.” One of the Wolves noted the second evening when they slowed down when it got too dark to run.
Smith nodded. “Yes. But if Charlene didn’t sprain her ankle on one of those roots the history would have been different, then I would have never cared much about others, only cared about my money. She sprained her ankle, I carried her home, I met Katie, decided I wanted to help them, met others and I ended up giving my money away instead of making more money.”
The Wolf smiled. “We are glad you changed… Small things with big consequences. It’s… hard to imagine.”
Smith shrugged. “Don’t try it. You can’t change the past, you don’t know the future.”
The Wolf sighed. “It is hard… You are a smart Human, how do you cope with your thoughts?”
Smith shrugged again. “I don’t know. I imagine closing a door, put them away, imagine I look the other way… and they… I ignore my thoughts, my thoughts ignore me. But I can also be something like a Feral, people tell me I do things and I can’t remember doing it, maybe that is also a part.”
An other Wolf nodded. “Yes, I noticed. You sit more upright but with a strange look in your eyes. Just staring in the distance. Slow blinking like I heard a Feral also does, very weird.”
Smith shrugged. “Yes. Just stop me when I harm innocent people.”
The Wolves nodded. “Of course we will… Although I don’t think we will survive that.” another of them replied.

Charlene was waiting at the edge of Smithsville.
Smith smiled when he saw her. “Good to see you.”
Charlene nodded and gestured the Wolves to follow her. “You have important guests waiting at home, don’t let them wait.”
“Can’t you at least tell me who is waiting?” Smith called.
“You’ll see.” Charlene shouted without looking over her shoulder, and ran ahead.

Finally they arrived at Smith’s home and smithy.
“Charlene… these Wolves wanted to see the horses, and after that take them to Uwe’s to stay for the night. I don’t have much money left in my pocket, but you can take what they need and give them a reasonable amount for their journey onward because they want to see the Neutral Zone and we aren’t cheap… And if they want to sell the carrying chair find someone who knows the value, and pay them that. I like this chair, it’s a nice reminder of what I have done and what people are willing to do for me.”
Charlene nodded. “Very well… Wolves, follow me, I will get your money later, and Smith, they are waiting for you.”

When Smith entered his house he did not only see Mary, but also King Alexander, François, Jacques, eldest Elfique Jean and two other rather young looking Elfique he didn’t recognize, but also Uwe and Olaf.
It had started to rain and it was a bit windy outside, so Smith had closed the door behind him, and now he was contemplating what he should do first. Greet Mary, greet Jean, ask what Alexander was doing here, kick out Jacques, ask François, Uwe or Olaf what they were doing in his house, or ask who the two young Elfique were.

“<Good afternoon sire, don’t you have a kingdom to rule?>” He greeted the king first. The most important man of the Human kingdom surely had other places to be.
Alexander smiled. “Good afternoon Smith, looking good… I don’t have a lot of problems at home, I wanted to visit my daughter.” He answered in almost flawless Inimal.
Smith nodded. “Family is important. Keeping people safe also, I never learned who your daughter is, and I guess not many people know.”
Alexander smiled. “Mary is my daughter.”
Smith was shocked. “Mary your daughter? Please tell me you have more children and she is your youngest child.”
Alexander sighed, but smiled. “She is my only child, and I could not wish for a better husband for her.”
Smith sighed and got to the only empty chair to sit down. “Your kingdom is hereditary, that… that means that if you die or abdicate Mary will be the next queen of the Human kingdom, and that means that I will be the next king.”
Alexander nodded. “Yes, that is correct.”
Smith grinned. “And a few days ago Leopold threatened me to make me the next king of the Inimals… I already am the Half King of The Neutral Zone, so if I am your successor, and Leopold doesn’t change his mind and on top of that I also succeed at the second test of Das Bergvolk I will be king of almost the entire known world.”
Uwe nodded. “Yes… Our new king has changed the second test, now it’s just ‘impress me’, and it’s easy to pretend that you are not impressed.”
Mary grinned. “Smith can just punch him in the face, I’m sure that would impress him. Knock him out of his throne.”
Jean also nodded and grinned. “Yes. We don’t have a king, but we have a legend that there will be an outsider who we will accept as our king, one who has seen and done a lot, and you seem to fit that description… I really like your attitude Mary, you and Smith are perfect for each other.”
Smith sighed. “{I don’t want to be your king, I killed two of your kind already, and I don’t like you.}”

Jean smiled a few moments later, like he needed some time to think. “Smith, you don’t have to speak our language here, this is your home… This is all part of our plan, and you are executing it flawless. You also got here within an hour of when we were expecting you.”
Smith stared at the ceiling, and looked back at Jean again. “You didn’t listen, I said I killed two of you, I don’t believe you plan killing your own kind.”
Jean smiled. “Gabriël at the Letzi was reckless, and so are Sacha and Maxime, and so was Naël. They all deserve to die as an example for the rest of us. That lesson is ‘be more patient’, a hundred years is nothing for us.”
Smith nodded. “Those are two more names, I killed one more, the one with Jan-Peter’s wife. If that was Naël of course.”
One of the younger Elfique smiled. “No, you didn’t. We killed Naël, he was disturbing the balance and needed to be taken out prematurely. You took care of… her… and the soldiers, we took care of the rest, and your popularity grew even more. Maxime is still in Schotenburg, and Sacha is with the Felines, both are not going to be very liked if you do your part right. Show then the Neutral Zone is better than what they have to offer.”
Jean shook his head. “Almost correct. Naël was not effective enough, he just got one person to target a few people, and got herself very hated. What we need is large amounts of deaths, on both sides, when the time is right. Maxime was on the right path, but he has just one city and it’s about to fail because of the panic Smith caused. Gabriël was doing the right thing, but he went a tiny bit too far, he had to wait for a few more decades until Smith was no longer capable of interfering. Sacha on the other hand is on the right way, slowly getting the Felines together, maybe in sixty years we will have a new Feline Empire. You really made it tough when you got the kings to send their advisors away, Michael, who was with Leopold, is now back home. There are still a few Elfique in the Human kingdom, but they are instructed to wait until the time is right.”

Smith sighed. “So Jacques was lying… Oh well, history can’t be changed, only learned. Who are you by the way? I don’t remember seeing you.”
The other young Elfique shrugged. “We haven’t earned our names yet. And we gave you something to forget.”
Smith nodded. “Very well. Or and Argent, Gold and Silver.”
François smiled. “You don’t even know your relation, and you named them after your brothers.”
Smith shook his head. “No, that were Penge, Florijn and Oro. I don’t know exactly what those names mean, but I do know that those weren’t Elfique names.”
François nodded. “I know what I said… Do you know what you are?”
Smith sighed. “Yes… No… You asking me that question makes me wonder.”
Francois smiled. “You remember our sessions when we helped you to forget?”

Smith nodded and closed his eyes. “Yes.”

“We are related.”


“That wasn’t a question, that was a statement.”

“I’m sorry, go on.”

“You are a seventh.”

“A what?”

“Seventh generation Human born.”

“I have an idea what you are talking about, but tell me anyways.”

“We need Humans for our reproduction.” This time it was Jacques speaking. “Us, and a Human woman. Normally only boys are born, but one in a thousand births is a girl.”

Smith sighed. “So… Eight generations ago one of you and a Human woman had a baby, and that was a girl.”

“Yes, that is correct. One in about a thousand of our children is a girl, one in about a thousand of those girls will get old enough to get children of their own and so on… I was the father, and she… was my first child. Female children and their children are not considered Elfique, so we didn’t protect them. But it seems that they are worth protecting after all, at least, you are.” François spoke.

“And François is my son.” Jacques added.

“And Jacques is my son.” Jean added on top of that.

Smith opened his eyes to look at Or and Argent. “Let me guess, one of these other Elfique here is your father, my guess it is François because you were helping me because he asked you.”
Argent nodded. “Yes, and I am the youngest one, we are only sixty-three years apart, that’s very close for brothers.”
Smith grinned. “So this is some kind of family reunion. Mary is not part of the family?”
Jacques shook his head. “No, Mary is not related, although she is also an Elfique daughter. Noé is her father.”
“Mary is not my natural daughter… My Beatrice couldn’t have any children, and I just learned that my trusted advisor had some other women, I thought she was someone else’s daughter. Good for him, and it explains a lot, she is a lot like Smith.” Alexander remarked.
Smith sighed. “Elfique… don’t want girls so they abandon the mothers, how did she end up being with you?”
Jacques shrugged. “Circumstances… A plan… Noé knew that Beatrice couldn’t have children, this was just a happy coincidence with some whore. Human Kingdom would have crumbled and fallen if he didn’t have a daughter. We made up a story that we didn’t know about the pregnancy, Beatrice a bit… too much enjoying the good life was a good cover.”
Smith sighed again. “Mary is ten years younger than I am, so you must have known about my existence when she was born, and then you made plans… My whole life was a lie?”
François smiled. “Not your entire life, we knew you existed but didn’t care much about you until your talent for forging showed… A Human being friendly with and selling metal to Inimals could be very useful to bring Humans and Inimals together. Yes, after that we made plans, a lot of ‘what ifs’, and yet you are still here. If you were dead the whole future would be different.”

“Were your brothers like you?” Argent asked after some time.
Smith shrugged. “No, not really. We did not look like each other.”
François smiled. “That’s because they were brothers of different fathers, your mother was not very… faithful.”
Smith sighed. “Who was my father? The lumberjack, or the smith?”
Jacques also smiled. “Your father was the lumberjack, although the smith also was a second generation Humanborn. What do you know about your mother?”
Smith shrugged. “She died when I was three.”
Jean nodded. “Yes, that is a… disadvantage. Only the first girl survives after giving birth to a son, most mothers die at the birth of their child with an Elfique bloodline. Your mother was very strong, but… having previous children of Human fathers might have helped a little.”

Smith sighed. “What do you know of my past, my forefathers. I would like to know it.”
Jean smiled. “Your forefathers were ancient kings and that girl married one of them. Just like you are now, kings of a small kingdom with diverse Humans. Beloved, especially the third, but… circumstances changed and they had to go in hiding. Your grandfather went north and became a carpenter, and your father a lumberjack. Haven’t people noticed you are different?”
Smith sighed. “Yes, and I know it myself. I consider myself smarter than an average Human, I am stronger than an average Human, I can’t run as fast as an average Human but I can walk longer distances, and my penis is… well… much smaller than an average male Human, and a lot of people call me different.”
Jacques nodded. “Yes… We don’t use it very often for reproduction so big enough to get it out of our pants and pee with is is good enough for us.”
Smith grinned. “Good thing I grew up in a Feline village. It was slightly bigger than the average there, and the women loved it. I can’t imagine what my youth would have been like in a Canine village.”
Mary also grinned. “I think you would have loved men if you have grown up in a Human village, it really doesn’t hurt when you put it in… there.”
Smith started to laugh. “Mary… Have you seen that painting that was made? Men also love a big one.”
Charlene entered the room and immediately pointed at Alexander. “Is King Alexander alright? He looks very red in his face… Shall I get doctor Simon?”
Alexander shook his head. “N… No, nothing is wrong. I just heard some things I have never heard before… Can you please go somewhere else, we are talking about important things.”
Charlene took a slight bow, took some money from the safe, and left.

Smith sighed after Charlene left. “Tell me, how special am I?”
Jacques smiled. “Very special. At this moment there are besides you only one woman, Mary, two first generation males and one fourth generation male alive… You even have met that last one. It never has gone beyond five generations. They always tend to… stand out, just like you are, and not everyone likes that.”
Smith nodded. “I think I know who you are talking about. That man from the far east, that separatist. Smart and strong, also stands out, it was almost like I was fighting a brother I never had.”
Jacques nodded. “Indeed. Too bad you lost that fight.”
Smith shrugged. “I still felt my shoulder because I threw Katie at a Wolf a few moons earlier.”
Jacques also shrugged. “Excuses. But in your defense you also didn’t have years of practice with experienced opponents, just a few who didn’t know how to fight, and you prefer blades.”
Smith nodded. “I understand. And what about my some kind of being Feral?”
This time it was Jean who shrugged. “It’s a technique the Elfique use to meditate. Thinking about the world while our bodies continue living. With you being not fully Elfique the thinking part gets lost, but your body lives on. For us it takes a lot of time to master, for you it came natural, although it had to be with a lot of stress, pain or boredom to trigger it.”

Smith sighed after some time of silence, thinking about the answers he got. “Elfique… I have another question for you. I know that Alexander’s wife has been dead for over eight years, do you have something to do with that?”
Jacques nodded. “Yes… She could not live with the secret that Mary was not her daughter.”
Alexander nodded. “I knew… she did not give Mary the love she deserved, and the odd thing is, she also approved Mary doing the things that wouldn’t make her be loved by Humans, but now I understand, they were preparing Mary so Smith could love her. I don’t think Smith would have noticed her when she would have been just like another Human.”
Mary smiled. “Thank you for that. Did you know that I have seen Smith when he handed in his masterpiece?”
Smith nodded. “I know. That hall had a lot of mirrors, chandeliers with large polished surfaces and other shiny things, you were standing on a balcony behind a curtain, in a blue dress.”
Jean also nodded. “And that is also proof that you are of Elfique descent, flawless memory of events.”
François also nodded. “Yes, I bet he remembers all his customers.”
Smith shrugged. “Yes… I saw a glimpse of someone who owes me money, I never managed to catch him… damn Wolves were so fast… I hope he is still around tomorrow, he lives seven days east of Schotenburg and that is too far for a couple of Silvers.”
Jacques grinned. “And that is what we meant.”

Smith sighed. “Elfique… What is your role in this world? You are advisors, yet you give bad advice. You bring knowledge and the wisdom to use that knowledge, you start wars… François is from the Forest and Jacques and Jean are from the valley but I can’t tell where Or and Argent belong.”
Jean smiled. “You already know. Jacques has told you. Try to remember.”
Smith sighed. “Of course, you don’t want to be overrun by Humans, but you also don’t want the Humans to be overrun by Inimals, so you start wars to cull their numbers, on both sides. But I still don’t understand the La Forêt and La Vallée, it’s like you are two separate groups of Elfique.”
Jacques smiled. “It’s just a game, a game of ‘who trusts you’, if Humans knew we also work with Inimals they wouldn’t trust us, so we pretended to be two groups.”
Smith nodded. “And why do you tell me this? We have the Human king here in this room, and even Bergvolk.”
Jacques grinned. “Seven generations, that is all it takes to forget. You can write down what we tell you, but who is going to believe you when nothing happens? It will sound like weird conspiracies when we stay friendly for a few of your generations.”

Smith sighed again after some long thought. “I understand… and I… would do the same if I were in your position. As a future king I have a lot to learn, and I’m sorry I ever doubted you. You are evil, but a necessary evil. This world has four main groups of people but limited resources, if it’s all peace and quiet there will not be enough for everyone, and you need the Humans for your children… What would you do when there only would have been Humans?”
Jacques smiled. “Religion. Give those Humans imaginary friends. Tell one group their friend is the best, tell a different group their friend is the best, and they will fight. We already have the planted the seeds for that, just in case the Humans eradicate the others. And if they realize they were fooled we will give them something else, like the suggestion there won’t be enough food, or the seasons will change so much everything will be flooded or dried, with them trying to do their best to prevent that and making a lot of people unhappy to start the fights again.”
Mary nodded. “It’s terrible, but it is a helpless feeling that you don’t live long enough to do something against it. I think we will just enjoy our lives, and hope that you will keep our children and grandchildren safe.”
François nodded. “Yes, we will. You will be king and queen, your child will be, your grandchild will be, and after that we will make sure the wife of one of your bloodline will cheat and that pure Human child will be declared the best suited to be the successor, while the legitimate child and the bloodline will go a different path, out of harms way. No need to worry about that.”
Smith nodded. “I understand… And what about the others, we have Humans, Bergvolk and Elfique, but there are no Inimals in this room.”
Jacques smiled. “No need to inform the Inimals. They will have their own conflicts to cull their numbers… Don’t worry, not in your lifetime, but no need to include them here. And you will be their king for this generation after all, all you will achieve is bind them together like the black powder in a tight container, all it needs is a tiny spark.”
Smith sighed. “Fine… I say it’s fine, but I feel helpless.”
Mary nodded. “Yes, I had the same feeling when they told me… To change the subject, how was the Letzi?”

Smith needed a few moments to recollect his memories. A lot hat happened between leaving home to get Lilian home and now.
Finally he smiled. “What do you know?”
Mary shrugged. “You got Lilian home, there was an assassination attempt, you left with that assassin to get her son out of the hands of the Wolves, and as far as I can see it you succeeded.”
Smith nodded. “Yes. There… is a new leadership, the Wolves have their council again.”
Uwe shrugged. “The Letzi has changed hands quite a few times in the past. It’s just the plans of the Elfique. It was an area just like the Neutral Zone, with Bergvolk and Inimals living together in peace.”
Smith nodded. “I thought something like that. All those Berg names they had there, Siegfried as one of them.”
Olaf nodded. “Yes. Have you seen the wall?”
Smith grinned. “Seen it, destroyed it. It was not very sturdy… It was more to look impressive and keep the people in.”
Olaf shrugged. “Yes. Sometimes it’s better to have something that looks impressive and not be of good quality than have the best quality that never will be tested.”

“We don’t have a lot to talk about, do we?” Mary asked after an awkward silence.
Smith shrugged. “What do you want to talk about?”
Mary smiled. “Our new home… Our castle. Have you thought about it?”
Smith shrugged again. “Not really, I just got home and learned I will become a king of a much larger kingdom… Keep it simple, keep it comfortable, keep it economic. Keep it… easy to defend. But first we have a prison to build if I’m not mistaken.”
Uwe nodded. “Good. That’s exactly what we are going to do, your castle will be just halfway here and the quarry, a bit more towards the center of your kingdom. We… will take your anvil, and that will be mounted high above your throne. We… and the Elfique… will create a legend that the anvil will fall when the king is untrue and betrays his kingdom or something like that… And of course the prison, we are already building that, almost ready to move in.”
Smith shrugged. “Sounds good enough. The castle part, that is.”
Alexander smiled. “And what are you going to do now? You are going to be the next king of the Human kingdom, you have to learn a lot.”
Smith shrugged. “I don’t know. I think I will travel around in your kingdom, get to know the people there. That way I can learn much more than from reading books and reports. Get to know them, learn how they feel about you, and what can be improved. The Humans here in the Neutral Zone are not a good source of information because they got it so bad they fled your kingdom.”
Alexander nodded. “That is exactly what I wanted to hear. I assume you don’t need a guard?”
Smith shrugged again. “Not really. I have taken Gabriëls chain mail and I wanted to give that to Mary after fixing it, but now I have to figure out some hidden armor for myself. I don’t want to draw too much attention, just be myself.”
François nodded. “Yes. But we want to accompany you.”
Smith sighed and bowed his head. “Yes… protection. I don’t want it, but I will need it. I assume the Elfique will arrange attacks and uprisings against me, I somehow will survive them all and my popularity will grow. I want to go back to forging metal, but I have to go forward forging kingdoms.”
Jacques shook his head. “No, you will be left in peace. Your child and grandchild will get it a lot harder, but not as hard as you have had it in your past… Yes we will arrange attacks and uprisings, and when the time is right we will let it all come crash down… after getting your bloodline to safety of course.”
Jean smiled. “No, no attacks, but you have a lot to learn, we want to be your teacher. You have a lot to learn, especially good manners. In the Inimal kingdom you can get away with a lot of murders, in the Human kingdom even giving someone a bruise can be a serious offense.”
Smith shrugged. “Accepted.”

Mary smiled. “Good. What are you going to do now?”
Smith sighed. “A meal and good night of rest, in my bed.”
Mary nodded. “Yes. But tomorrow we are going to visit your old village, I want to see where it all began.”
Smith shook his head. “No, there is nothing to see there.”
Mary smiled. “No. There are things to see there. Dory gave birth to her son Hope next to the tree your first wife was killed, a big oak. Even if there are foundations of the buildings you have memories of to be found I want to see them. I want to see the river where your first wife found the stone for the pommel of my father’s sword… I want to know you.”
Smith sighed. “You mentioned a ‘we’, I assume Alexander and the Elfique are coming along?”
Alexander nodded. “Yes. We will have a simple but formal ceremony there, to seal your fate… I mean it’s just a formality, to know you really are the person you say you are. Evidence is quite convincing, but like I said, a formality.”
Smith shrugged. “Fine. Barely home, and leaving again.”

It was indeed a good meal and a good night of sleep, alone in his bed. Again Smith was the last to wake up, despite not having to work nor walk much in the past few weeks he was exhausted.
When they were ready to leave for Smith’s old village they were approached by a Human in robes accompanied by a Fox, also in robes. Smith also noticed that there were not many people he recognized around.
“Good morning gentlemen.” Smith greeted them, sitting on his horse Louis. It felt odd, greeting someone who was not at eye level.
The robed Human lowered his hood, and it was Gerrit, a farmer from the western part of Smithsville. “Good morning Smith… Sire… Mary… Elfique. We know you are heading towards your old village, but would you mind visiting our temple along the way to give it a blessing?”
Smith shrugged. He stopped caring about his guests, and was now a king of the Neutral Zone, and cared about the people living there. “Of course. Along the way you said? You can… get a ride on one of the carts.”
Gerrit shook his head. “No, we prefer to walk, just like our savior used to do.”
Smith sighed and climbed down. “Gerrit… You are not a walker like an Inimal. Go and sit on my Louis, I demand it.”
“Smith, get on your horse and let him walk. If he changes his mind he can ride your horse.” An impatient Alexander called.

The so called temple was a simple building a few hours away. Outside there were a few more people waiting, Smith recognized a few from the Longest Night celebrations at his smithy.
Smith got off his Louis and looked at an exhausted Gerrit. “I offered you transport, and you refused… I might not be the savior you are waiting for, but I prefer to walk and I hoped you would take my offer and let me walk.”
“Smith… Mary… Sire… Welcome. We know you have other places to be, but we are honored with your presence.” The priest, the same who kissed Smith’s feet a long time ago, greeted them.
Smith nodded. “The honor is ours… Quick visit, see what you have, hear what you want, think about what we can do for you, and be on our way again.”
The priest briefly smiled and gestured his guests to come inside. “Welcome to our temple, our shrine with your word, your hammer, your sword, and our freedom.”

Smith looked at the shrine, a case made of stone, wood, metal and glass that looked like it was meant to be, sheer perfection in every detail, he dared not to touch it but he suspected he could not feel the joints between the different materials.
In the shrine there was his speech for Longest Night from over a year ago, the paper in a pristine condition between two sheets of glass in a frame, his favorite hammer from the smithy, the medium sized one, free of dust but the greasy stains were still on it, the sword of his fallen master he had used again in the north to defend the Vulpine there, the blade cleaned but still a bit of Wolf blood on the hilt, and the block that held the gates of Schotenburg closed and he had taken with him when he got Lilian and the others out of the prison there.
Smith sighed. He would never use that hammer again. And then he grinned. “You didn’t want the anvil?”
The priest shook his head. “No. The hammer is the tool you use forging, the anvil is unmovable. Unstoppable force meets unmovable object, and anything in between is formed… or forged of course.”
Smith nodded. “I… I like it… Just creative, word, hammer, sword, freedom… Order, work, result. And some rest of course.”
The priest shrugged. “We know you are not one of us, you are above us. It’s good to hear we have your blessing.”
Smith sighed. “I don’t have an imaginary friend, but even I mutter sometimes something about the spirits in the forest, although I have never seen one. I am real, but if you haven’t witnessed what I have done you might interpret the things you see wrong. In my past I have killed eleven Wolves, people thought that would be impossible and because there were no witnesses, people thought a ghost did it because I left. People think I defeated armies, but I was never alone but there were no other witnesses except the people I trust, with the Vulpine in the north, where I used that sword, it was just ‘right place, right time’, and when we returned from Schotenburg with this block I have ordered some terrible things, and I think the people in Schotenburg don’t know what really happened and believe I alone, maybe with a bit of help of the warden, defeated their army.”
The priest sighed and Smith patted him on the shoulder. “Do what you can to help others. Not only read the words, but understand the meaning… We have to go now, you have my blessing but be the bringers of light I try to be.”
The priest dropped on his knees and started to kiss Smith’s shoes again.
Smith sighed and stepped backwards. “Priest… This is not what I want you to do. It is too late now, but I really would have appreciated you asking us if we needed something for our journey, then we would have politely declined and left. Now we will also leave, but I will be a bit disappointed. It’s not anger, just something I will laugh about when I think of it.”
The priest sighed and stood up again. “I’m sorry… When I pray I never get a direct answer, it’s just my emotions. I’m sorry.”
Smith smiled. “Don’t be sorry, just try to remember I don’t like you kissing my feet.”

Jean and Jacques had some trouble with getting their horses to ride next to Smith, but finally they managed.
“How do you feel about those religious people?” Jean asked.
Smith shrugged. “Knowing what I learned yesterday I’m not happy with it, but I let it be. I know there will be a war coming between these extremists and those who I like more, those who are there to help others, but I won’t prevent it. I just hope the ones I like win, but I know they won’t, because if everything is fine there will be no more conflicts with casualties.
Jacques nodded and smiled. “He understands.”

The night in the large Human tent felt awkward. Smith could hear the outside world, but was not confined to a small tent, he could even stand upright, and instead of sleeping on a sleeping mat on the ground he had to sleep on a field bed. It had taken a day to set up this camp, and it would take a day to get everything in the crates again, and there were more camps like this up ahead. But he was a part of a large convoy with the Human king, and Alexander never traveled alone.
Smith wondered how fast he could travel as a king, because you need to plan ahead, and he never does that. Just walk in a general direction and end up where he needed to be. Most of the time.

The days were much slower than he had gotten used to, no running Wolves, but also not deciding his own walking speed, but held up by the slowest carts in the convoy. He on his Louis and Mary on her Antoinette rode at the rear of the convoy, because when the other horses saw Smith they refused to come closer.
Finally they reached his old village, although it was a bit with a detour, an easier route to take with the big carts, but they traveled like they knew the way, without hesitation or slowing down to check the map.

The clearing next to his old village was cleared again, and by the looks of it, it had been done in the last year, even before he left to get the Wolves. It was now a big open field. An open field with a lot of tents, a podium, a lot of things going on with a lot of people. It was almost like a festival.
When Smith got closer he could see who they were. A lot of people from Smithsville, a lot of Vulpine from the north, a lot of people from the quarry, and even a lot of people who just moved to the abandoned village where it all began were arriving, looking a bit tired like they had run the entire way. Even a lot of customers of his smithy who did not even live in the Neutral Zone. When he thought of a name he saw that person. He saw even some faces of people he met on his travels in the past years. Almost half of the people Inimal, half of the people Human, and the rest Bergvolk and quite a few Elfique, some of those in Human clothing, almost unrecognizable as Elfique.

“Hello Katie and William, what are you doing here?” Smith asked with a smile on his face because he saw his adoptive daughter and son again.
Katie hugged him. “We wanted to attend to your wedding. With our entire year and a lot of their mothers but also Boris Bear and a few teachers. Boris is wrestling Olaf.”
Smith smiled. “Wedding?… Oh right, the ‘formality’ that Alexander was talking about. You can’t be king and queen… or first prince and princess of the Human kingdom… when you are not official bound to each other.”
Katie grinned. “Smith, Half King of the Neutral Zone, but only for tax reasons, crown prince of the Human kingdom, next king of the Inimal Kingdom, Protector of the Vulpine… Lover of the Felines… Friend of the Canines, Voice of the minorities… I’m sure you have some more titles, but I can’t think of any.”
Smith shrugged. “Also something with a religious leader maybe?”
William nodded. “Ghost of the Neutral Zone, destroyer of armies… Anything else?”
Smith sighed. “Master smith… That’s all I really wanted to be. And a father of course.”

“<Smith… Your presence is requested.>” A royal guard interrupted Smith, who was shaking hands with everyone. He almost had taken the challenge to wrestle Boris again but had to greet more people.
Smith sighed “<Yes… Of course, I really like this… I see so many people I haven’t seen in years…>”
The guard nodded. “<I understand… You can go on like this when the ceremony is done… You have to… put on better clothes.>”
Smith sighed and nodded. “<Very well… Leave my old life behind.>”

It were beautiful but rather uncomfortable clothes Smith had to wear, they really restricted his movements. He really hoped he didn’t have to fight.
Mary was in a beautiful dress that really felt out of place in a forest, as white as snow, but also with dark blue and dark red and even green accents.
“What do you think?” Jacques asked.
Smith sighed. “Looks… nice, but awful fit. You made it?”
Jacques smiled. “No, of course not. How would your Human subjects feel if I or an other Elfique made this?”
Smith nodded. “Of course… This is the same I told Alexander when he wanted to buy stones for his castle here in the Neutral Zone… Let’s just assume the Human who made this didn’t have my size and I lost some muscle and gained some fat in the past few moons.”
Jacques nodded and slightly grinned. “That’s not hard to see.”


This story is not finished, but I don't have the time nor inspiration to do it.
This is just a 'draft' version of the final chapter, posting it after several months with just editing a few words, but I want to leave it.

I don't know if I ever get to finish it, but it already ties some loose ends together in this state, so it's fine.
If it moves but shouldn't: Duct tape. If it doesn't move but should: WD-40. With a hammer everything fits, and if it still doesn't fit: bigger hammer. If it can't be fixed with a hammer it's an electrical problem.

Post Reply