For your enjoyment...
Dominions of Glory: 7
Errant sun rays filtered in through closed shutters, but that wasn’t what woke Baelin from his sleep. Usually he would have been up before the amber sun crested the horizon, but being injured, he slept longer. Today, he woke because there was a great turmoil somewhere in the village. People were making an awful lot of noise for the hunt, Baelin thought.
He gingerly dressed and went outside with little more than a cold sausage for breakfast. Forden’s house was on the outskirts of the village proper and didn’t have a straight view to the center of town. So Baelin couldn’t see anything, but the sound was certainly loud enough. Funny, the hunting party must be much larger than he’d thought.
But before the crowd came into view, he knew something was off. Everyone within ten miles was standing in a massive crowd. He had to climb on Miss Jeffers’ porch to see what was happening.
In the center of the roiling crowd stood and sat several dozen soldiers, fully armed and armored, and covered in dry and flaking blood. Limbs were missing. Red stained bandages covered every appendage. A few of the soldiers moaned quietly, but most sat in unusual silence, their eyes glazed over as they stared blankly ahead. Baelin knew that look. He’d worn it before, when he realized his mother had died.
“What happened?” Baelin asked a nearby little girl he didn’t recognize.
“Momma said they were attacked by a thousand devils!” Her eyes went wide as she spoke, but she didn’t seem to understand what she was saying so much as mimicking the way her mother had likely said it.
Baelin looked at the broken and wounded soldiers and believed the little girl. Suddenly, the need to make his suit of armor pressed forward in his mind.
“Baelin,” Dilirian whispered from behind him.
Baelin turned round and frowned. Dilirian was hiding behind the porch support beams, giving darting glances toward the crowd before turning away.
“Gaulder’s gone,” Dilirian whispered. “I heard the Captain. They got there and found nothing but bodies, and not even many of those. They were ambushed by devils while looking for survivors. Baelin, that unit was over a thousand men! There’s not even fifty of them left now, and maybe fifteen are in fighting condition.”
“The little devils we fought wiped out Gaulder?”
“No,” Dilirian whispered, again glancing to the crowd before hiding behind the beam, and Baelin. “Different ones, big, eight feet tall, skin as tough as armor, horns all over their heads, foot long claws, chests as thick as a boulder. I listened to them and almost wet myself.”
That was quite an admission, coming from Dilirian. “Why are you hiding?” Baelin asked, looking into the crowd for a possible reason. “They know who you are, don’t they? You stole your armor and sword from one of them!”
“What? No!” Dilirian said, his tone clearly indicating he thought Baelin’s accusations were ridiculous. “I’m not hiding… I just… Well, you don’t need to know. Just keep your mouth shut about me. And don’t mention the hunting party. I already talked to Forden. Everyone else is too distracted to do anything but worry. Look, I need to get out of here. Want to head to your farm?”
Honestly, Baelin wanted to stay and watch the soldiers, see and hear what happened for himself, but he nodded and stepped off the porch instead. He did have things at home that needed caring for.
“Only if you explain why you’re hiding when we get there.”
Dilirian looked torn so Baelin threatened to call everyone’s attention to him, which got a reluctant agreement from him.
Dilirian rushed away from the village center, hiding in the shadows of buildings and making a quick sprint to the next building and so on. Baelin shuffled along in the open, as fast as his legs would allow.
It took almost an hour to reach Baelin’s farm with his injuries. Dilirian, for once, seemed content to keep silent the entire time. In fact, he seemed downright reluctant to talk at all. They were on the outer reaches of Baelin’s fields still, where the remaining wheat stalks stood tall and brown as the weather killed them off.
“So what’s the secret? What did you do? Kill someone? Rob someone? Are you a merchant’s son or a deserter?”
Dilirian still seemed wary, but even so, he could scoff with practiced arrogance. “Don’t be a naïve fool, Baelin. You don’t know anything about Ilnidor, do you?”
Baelin’s knowledge of history was slightly worse than his knowledge of how to talk to women. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“The Maiden,” Dilirian said, motioning to his sword. “Taking the Maiden?” He paused. “Nothing?”
Baelin studied the sword and thought hard about what Dilirian said, but was coming up blank, no surprise. He shook his head.
Dilirian threw his hands in the air. “Really? You’ve never heard of Taking the Maiden?”
“Just in the lewd sense…” Baelin said warily.
“Taking,” Dilirian said, “the Maiden.” He held the sword up again. “God you mountain back folk are an ignorant lot. It’s the sword of Duke Daraden!”
“You did steal it!”
“No,” Dilirian said. “I Took it.”
“In noble families, when a man comes of age and begins training to succeed his father as head of the household, he is given a sword. In my case, the sword is named The Maiden. In Ilnidor, which happens to be the province you live in, the biggest province in all of Iln, the Duke’s sword that is passed from generation to generation is ‘The Maiden’ When the Duke’s son comes of age, he is given the sword and they say he’s Taking the Maiden.”
Baelin turned over Dilirian’s words several times, untwisting them to find their meaning. “You’re the Duke’s son?”
“Took you long enough!” Dilirian said.
“Why didn’t you just say it right out?”
“Everyone knows about Taking the Maiden!” Dilirian exclaimed. “I shouldn’t have to.”
Baelin rolled his eyes. “Sorry your royalness, I’ve been too busy trying to survive to learn stupid customs of a family with their heads stuck up their asses.”
“My head is not stuck up my ass!” Dilirian shouted as he raised his chin. “I’m the first son of Duke Daraden! The closest my head has been to an ass has been when I saved your life by carrying you on my shoulders!”
“You’re making me wish I’d died.”
“Here I’ve been, trying to mind myself like Forden asked, just to blend in, and you just out and let your tongue wag.”
“Forden said your head was stuck up your ass, too. All self-importance and oozing arrogance, it’s a wonder anyone can tolerate you. Do you know what we talked about the day we met?”
“Of course I do,” Dilirian said. “We spoke at length about the quality of the females in Ilnidor.”
“You said Silverbrook,” Baelin pointed out. “But never mind. We didn’t talk about the women of Ilnidor at all. You prattled on for over an hour without a word from me. You didn’t ask my opinion, you didn’t ask what the girls were like on my side of the mountains, you just kept talking. And that’s my point. You’re so full of yourself, you only need to hear your own voice. You don’t even want other people to say something. After all, they might spoil the perfectly good conversation you were having about how incredible you are with women, or whatever other nonsense you think up.”
Baelin stopped and caught his breath. He was huffing, fuming mad, and in the back of his mind Magic was telling him to use it to turn Dilirian’s sword to pudding, which was just silly, since Baelin didn’t know how to make pudding. Trying to use Magic to turn the sword to pudding wouldn’t even work!
Dilirian stood in silence, eyeing Baelin up and down with a pout. “You’re just a plain farmer,” he mumbled.
“Plain farmer?” Baelin said. “Is that what you think?” He let out a scornful laugh. “What’s this then?” He pulled the diamond he’d made out of his pocket and held it out for Dilirian to examine.
“You stole that from my necklace!” Dilirian said upon examining the stone.
“Hardly,” Baelin said, returning the diamond to his pocket and pulling out his gold and silver laden purse and handing it over.
Dilirian looked through the contents, his frown growing larger as he counted out the sum. Quietly he asked, “Where’d you get all of this, Baelin? I know you’re no noble’s son. You can’t feign the kind of naivety you have.”
“What makes you think I’d tell you anything when I’ve just said I think your head’s up your ass?”
“I’d say because I’m the Duke’s son, but I really don’t think you’d care.”
Baelin nodded as he stepped over a small boulder in the field. “Good call.” His house was just up ahead now, a small cottage beneath a shady oak. Dilirian would probably call it a shack. “Well, we’re here, royalness.” Dilirian winced. “What do you want to do now?”
“That’s your home?” Dilirian said, motioning with his head.
“I just said as much,” Baelin said. “Didn’t figure that out when you found me bleeding?”
Dilirian looked it over. “I didn’t think… Nobody comes out this way, you said.”
“So I’m safe hiding here for the moment?”
“Why are you hiding?”
“Why do you have enough money to buy up all of Shadyridge hanging around your neck?”
Baelin grunted and Dilirian did the same and they wandered inside. The cottage was really only two rooms. The front room had a makeshift kitchen Baelin had cobbled together. A seamless stone oven rested in the corner, doubling as a fire place. A black metal stew pot sat cold beside the hearth. A table with two chairs sat along the wall, though he’d only ever needed one. Other than that, the room was plain. One of his shirts was lying on the floor at the moment and a spare pair of boots sat next to the front door.
“Quaint,” Dilirian said to himself, if he meant it ironically, it didn’t show in his voice or face.
“Don’t touch anything,” Baelin said, then went to leave.
“You’re not staying?”
“Do you actually want me around?”
Dilirian didn’t even hesitate. “It’s better than being alone.”
“I have things to take care of.”
“I could help,” Dilirian said.
“Not if you want to stay hidden. Take a nap. Twiddle your thumbs. I don’t care. But people can still see my cottage, and you standing about in full armor will definitely draw their eyes.” In fact, you couldn’t see the cottage from the road. Baelin had gone out of his way to plant bushes beneath the line of trees specifically for privacy. But Dilirian didn’t need to know that. Plus, he still needed to make the armor and he couldn’t have Dilirian around to see that.
He left the house and went to a small tool shed he’d built a couple years back, with the help of Magic, of course. From inside, he grabbed a few good sized sheets of leather, a hammer, his sturdy thread, and a set of needles. All of these he packed into a bag and headed off for a hidden hollow he’d created between a set of boulders a stone throw from his house.
The key was that one of the boulders was actually hollow. So while it looked too big to move with a team of horses, it was actually light enough for Baelin to shove to the side and let himself into the hidden alcove. The boulders were high enough that he could stand without being seen, but he did still need to worry about being overly loud.
First, he needed to test the diamond he’d made to see if it were truly as strong as Dilirian suggested. He pulled up a loose stone and tried to scratch the gem, but it remained untarnished. Next, he placed the diamond in a dip in one of the boulders, pulled out his hammer, and gave it a good whack. To his dismay, the stone split. He picked up the pieces and examined them. The line was perfectly straight. He picked up another pebble, and created another diamond. He struck it with the hammer. Again the gem split on a perfect edge.
Baelin sat down in frustration and examined the gems. He’d wanted to make the cutting edge of his sword diamond, and hoped to put a thin layer of the stone around the metal scales he wanted to use. But if the stone couldn’t take impact… Magic whispered to try turning the stone in the back of his mind. Baelin did, and smashed one of the pieces again. Again, it fragmented. He created a dozen diamonds and broke all of them before he got one that held up to multiple blows. As far as he could tell, this diamond was no different than the others, but for some reason, it worked. He thought about the hint Magic had given him, looked at the straight breaks on the fragmented bits of diamond around, and decided diamonds must naturally be weaker from certain angles. With this in mind, he urged Magic to make a thin metal plate, in the form of the plates of Dilirian’s armor. And just so he could see the look on Dilirian’s face, he made the core of these plates steel, coated in a ridiculously thin layer of gleaming brass, and topped with a coating of diamond, which he instructed Magic to create lined up in the formation the current surviving diamond was sitting in.
A quick warmth rushed in and then out of Baelin’s body, making him feel alive and causing the dull ache of his wounds to momentarily dissipate. A moment later, lying in his hand where the stone he’d chosen as the starting material had been, rested a single, perfect scale. It gleamed nearly as bright as gold, but it glimmered and glittered from a thousand facets of the diamond surface. Baelin set the scale down on the boulder, grabbed his hammer and tried to break it repeatedly, to no avail. He lifted the scale up and examined it. It was without a single blemish. He then set the scale on its side, wedging it up with two small stones so that the thin edge was at the top. Another swing of the hammer, and this time the scale broke. The diamond chipped and the metals beneath bent.
Well, not perfect, but it would have to do. Over the next few minutes he made a mound of the diamond coated scales, and used Magic to shape the leather pieces and thread together into a perfectly fitted shirt and pants, and then went about manually attaching a row of scales. By the end of the first row on the bottom of the shirt, he thought he’d figured it out sufficiently to use Magic to attach the rest. He did so, reveling in every painless moment Magic gave him as it channeled through his body for use.
The seams and edges took the longest to figure out, but all said and done, the whole suit, from neck, to wrists, to ankles, had only taken him about five hours, judging by the sun. Deciding it would probably be best to have some form of gloves and armored boots as well, he went about manually cutting the leather and stitching it together to make those. He wasted the rest of his day light in vain attempts to make a tolerable glove. He’d have to try again later.
With the last of the light trickling away behind the Despers, he stashed his new scale suit in the hollow of the boulders and went back to make sure Dilirian hadn’t destroyed anything in his boredom.
“You really need more food in here,” he said as Baelin walked in.
Baelin frowned, then noticed that Dilirian was eating raw wheat kernels. He kept his food stores hidden in a cellar out back. Despite himself, he laughed.
“Nothing,” Baelin said, collapsing into one of his chairs. “I’m just tired. Not thinking straight. Have you hidden long enough, or am I going to have to let you sleep on the floor.”
“Custom dictates that the guest get the bed,” Dilirian said, all matter of fact.
“Your customs, not mine,” Baelin said, stripping off his shirt and heading for bed. He’d wanted a bath, but he certainly wasn’t going to go about that process with Dilirian around. “Besides, I’m injured, remember? Enjoy the floor,” he said as he passed into the house’s second room. “Dream of all the adventures tomorrow will bring. That’s why you’re here.”
He chuckled to himself, knowing Dilirian must have been going insane with boredom. Magic laughed along with him, and promised there were a great many other things it could be used for tomorrow. And it begged to be used more.