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Dominions of Glory: 8
Baelin spent the next morning and early afternoon tinkering with Magic to make armored gloves, boots, and a helmet. The result, he thought, was remarkable. With the thin diamond coating on the scales of his armor, he shown and shimmered in the amber sunlight. His helmet –which had taken the better portion of four hours to figure out– was an incredible feat of beauty and functionality.
He donned the outfit and strapped on his sword and went to erase some of Dilirian’s smugness. About halfway there he realized he hadn’t upgraded his sword, and took a moment to thin the blade slightly and coat it in diamond with an impossibly sharp edge.
Dilirian’s jaw dropped in quite a satisfying manner when Baelin entered his small cottage.
“Who are you?” he mumbled in fascination, already coming over for a closer examination. He fingered the scales, then caressed them, testing their weight and feel. “What are they coated in? Some form of lacquer?”
“Couldn’t say,” Baelin said. The suit was heavy. He felt its weight on his shoulders, dragging at his arms, but he’d adjust quickly enough. He had years of hauling and plowing alone, his body was already tight as a whip, he just needed to gain strength in the appropriate areas. Still, he gained some appreciation for the amount of time Dilirian spent in his armor. The arrogant noble was in some manner or physical shape, which meant he’d spent a good deal of time wearing the armor, and training in it.
“You had this just lying around?” Dilirian asked. “And a bag of gold and silver about your neck. Do you have a hidden stash of stolen treasure buried in the yard too?”
Baelin gave a nervous laugh and then coughed to cover it up. He did have a hidden stash of treasure, though he hadn’t stolen it. When he’d first realized he could use Magic to duplicate money, he’d created a small horde, which was hidden away on the far stretches of his fields. “I told you,” Baelin said. “I’m not poor.”
“I’d say,” Dilirian said in wonder. “This suit must’ve cost twice mine to make. At least! Is it bronze?”
“Steel with a thin, polished layer of bronze and the clear coat.”
“Must be incredibly heavy.”
Baelin shook his head. If he’d measured thickness right, his suit was probably three-quarters the weight of Dilirian’s suit. He managed that by adding the diamond coating and thinning the metal. Theoretically, the suit should offer as much, if not more protection too. “It’s not as bad as it looks.”
“So you spent the last two days polishing the thing up,” Dilirian mused. “And here I thought you were doing actual work! Baelin, people need you and me! They don’t have armor and weapons. We could be protecting them!”
Baelin couldn’t help but feel grudging respect for Dilirian at that moment. “But you wanted to hide,” he pointed out, trying to justify his negative feelings about the boy.
“Well,” Dilirian ran a hand through his hair. “Circumstances… I’m just saying, it seems like a waste for you to spend all that time polishing the suit when you could have used it to go up into the mountains with me.”
“Fine,” Dilirian said, looking a bit sheepish. “You could have loaned the suit to someone.”
“Maybe,” Baelin said. “But I don’t know if it would fit. There aren’t many men in Shadyridge my size. But it doesn’t matter. My legs are both feeling much better. I think being out of bed has sped up the healing.” He did feel much better, to his surprise. He wanted to attribute it to random chance and just good healing, but in the back of his mind Magic kept telling him that it was the reason he’d healed so quickly. “Anyway, have you hidden long enough? Do we go back into town and see about that hunting trip into the mountains?”
Dilirian looked hesitant, but nodded. “The soldiers should be on their way by now…”
“And if they aren’t?” Baelin asked, wondering what would happen if the captain saw Dilirian for the Duke’s son.
“Well,” Dilirian flustered. “I don’t know. I’ll figure it out.”
“You’re not supposed to be here, are you?”
“Not exactly,” Dilirian admitted. “I left my father a note before leaving, but I doubt that he’s pleased with my disappearance. I don’t know how the soldiers will react, if they even know.”
“Well, you can figure that out if the need arises,” Baelin said. “Let’s get moving. We do need to get back to town. Forden’s probably turned the last of his hairs gray worrying about us. And much as I hate to say it, people could probably use some more training.”
“It’s just for show,” Dilirian said. “They’re so awful it’s embarrassing. Honestly, and I don’t say this to brag or to be a pompous prat, I could beat the lot of them without trying. They swing wide and wild, all strength and no finesse. Not that I’d expect anything else from farmers.”
Baelin gave Dilirian a flat stare and the noble cleared his throat and kept talking. “Still, I suppose it’s good for their confidence. And if they learn anything, it can’t hurt, right? Truthfully though,” and a blush rose in his cheeks, “I was hoping that if it came to a fight with the devils, they’d name me for what I’d done. That way I could return home with a name I earned and not one I had just because of my father.”
Again, Baelin found him finding a bit of respect for the man beside him. Wanting to do something for himself instead of being handed everything was admirable. Of course, helping people strictly to build your own name and not because it was the right thing to do wasn’t exactly the noblest approach. Still, he couldn’t fault Dilirian for trying in the ways he knew how.
“Maybe we’ll be able to help,” Baelin said, covering an uncomfortable silence.
Dilirian nodded and spent a goodly amount of time changing into his scale armor, which Baelin realized was made in a much more complicated fashion and required a bit more fastening and clasps than the version he’d made. They talked of random things. This time, Baelin participated, and found he truly enjoyed Dilirian’s conversation, when it wasn’t too haughty.
They went outside into the late afternoon light, the amber sun burning hot above the horizon, all signs of fall far away as summer-like heat washed over the land.
“Two pretty boys in pretty armor, locked up in a house together,” a sweet female voice said. “What’s a girl to make of such things? Untoward thoughts come to mind and I’m afraid I can’t escape them.”
Baelin looked around and found a slender girl, maybe four inches taller than him, with jet black hair and porcelain skin, leaning against a nearby tree with a smirk that was a perfect display of sweetness and innocence. That was of course, a lie.
“It isn’t like that!” Dilirian protested.
Baelin looked at Dilirian and rolled his eyes. Really? Baelin took a different tactic. “A girl all by herself on someone else’s land, keeping an eye on two armored young men. People might say she was up to no good.”
The girl’s smile broadened to reveal a row of perfect teeth. “And what else would she be up to? Out on her own, far from home, spying on a young farmer boy and his soldier friend?”
Dilirian frowned and looked like he would respond, but opened his mouth and closed it without saying a thing.
Baelin spotted something hanging from the girl’s waist, like a sword, but it hung wrong to be a blade. He also noticed her outfit was cleverly disguised armor of some form. “She might be looking for help,” Baelin suggested. “But a careful eye and a keen mind would say she had something else in mind. A trade, perhaps, but more likely, she wanted something of the two armored men.”
“Men or boys?” She said with a wink. “The pair I’ve been told about are too young by far to be men. Too young and too small. Boys like these, what could they offer a girl like me?”
Dilirian floundered and flustered, but Baelin kept his cool, intrigued by the girl. She moved from the tree, swaying as she made her way toward them. She was probably a few years older than he was, and in her eyes, he could see she knew she had an advantage in knowledge and experience. But she didn’t know about Baelin, about Magic, and about the hard life he’d lived.
“Some might call them boys,” Baelin conceded. “But what difference is the name, when the end is the same, for they are still both armored and armed, and more skilled than most. A girl might see boys, but it seems she would not. Else why would she waste her time, spying and waiting and bandying words?”
The girls smile fell for half a second, then came back, if possible, even better than before. She had the perfect slope to her nose, and she moved… seductively, there was no other way to put it. Her hips rocked back and forth, his slender frame seemed taut and supple. Baelin found himself aroused by her. She was without flaw.
“Two little boys,” she said, stepping up close and putting a hand on Dilirian’s chest. She then turned and ran a hand along the front of Baelin’s armor. “Two little boys with so little to offer. Why should I bother?”
“And yet you leaned against the tree and talked to us,” Baelin said, noticing up close that her face was lined with a mass of thin scars, cleverly disguised with make-up, but still visible.
“So I did,” she said. “You have me at that. Shall I bypass the games and get to the heart of the point?” She jabbed her finger into Baelin’s chest, right above his heart.
“There are rumors in Shadyridge,” the girl said. “Rumors of devils in the mountains, and news of devils in Gaulder. And there’s rumors of an arrogant armored boy that trains the commoners.” She raised an eyebrow. “So I came looking for you,” she said.
“Not me,” Baelin said. He pointed at Dilirian.
The girl gave Dilirian an appraising look and then laughed. “The scared one? Surely not. No, I’ve heard the rumors. The one I’m looking for must be you,” she said, meeting Baelin’s eyes. “Fine armor and quick of tongue.” She bit her lip and stared at his.
“Afraid you’re wrong,” Baelin said. “I’m just a farmer. Dilirian’s the one who’s been training folks.”
“Just a farmer, he says. And yet, your armor is fit for a king, and you wear a sword at your side of an ancient royal line. You may play at a game, but you give yourself away.”
“No,” Dilirian said. “He’s telling the truth. He is just a farmer. You should see what he wears the rest of the time… And I didn’t even know he could talk like that. He spent the better part of a few hours butchering his time with a local girl as surely as he’d butcher a pig. My name is Dilirian.” He stuck out his hand. “Might I have the honor of your name?”
The girl frowned and took his hand daintily. Her eyes darted back and forth between Baelin and Dilirian, clearly unsure of her conclusion. “You may call me Whisper,” she said. “Or Darkness, or Sweet. But my true name, I save for those who know me, and I’m afraid you are not yet in that category. So, Dilirian, if you are truly the one people spoke of, perhaps you can show me why they are raving of your talents?”
She stepped back and pulled her weapon from her belt. The weapon wasn’t a sword. It looked to be some kind of mace, though it was thinner than an ordinary mace at the top, probably to account for the fact that she was too small to wield a true mace.
“I… It would be improper for me to raise my sword against a woman, even at her request.”
“But I insist. And you will leave with bruises to show if you choose not to fight back.” She lunged and swung her mace at Dilirian’s side. He stepped agilely back, but still caught a glancing blow.
Whisper, smiled and attacked again, this time going for his leg. Dilirian had his sword out and had stepped out of the way of her blow before he was in any real danger. He brought his sword around in a liquid quick motion to her side, but she used her forearm to knock the flat side of the blade down, while using her other arm to jab him in the gut with her mace. The jab landed true and Dilirian grunted.
Whisper stepped back with a smile. “Perhaps our other boy might fare better against a lowly girl.”
“Not likely,” Baelin said, sincerely hoping she didn’t make a complete fool of him.
But even as he spoke, Magic shouted at him to attack, make use of the Magic and show her what he could do.
Before he realized what he was doing, he’d called Magic to him, with no specific direction or purpose in mind other than to ensure he didn’t let himself get beaten by a girl. He pulled out his sword and swung it at her with almost inhuman speed. At the last second he slowed the blow and struck her, gently, with the blunt side of his blade.
She raised an eyebrow and carefully kept a frown from her face. “Again, you provide proof of your lie.”
Baelin felt the warmth of Magic rush out of him and wondered in awe at what he’d done, or how. He stood there, stupid, and couldn’t think of what to say for an unbearable amount of seconds. “I… Dilirian truly is the one who has been training the town folk,” Baelin insisted.
“And what is the name of the boy that trains Dilirian?” she asked, putting her mace away.
“He does not train me!” Dilirian said, his usual arrogance finally coming back in full. “He’s just a farmer!” Something in the way Dilirian spoke said he was no longer sure that Baelin was actually a farmer.
“A most unusual farmer,” Whisper said. “Might I know your name?”
“Ah, a famous name, to those who know.”
“Know what?” Dilirian asked, perturbed.
“Those who know,” she said cryptically. “And not a name lightly given, nor lightly received. It is an honor to meet your acquaintance, Baelin. If I had known the rumors were of you I would have not shown such disrespect.”
“What are you talking about?” Baelin asked. “I’m just a farmer… I've always been named Baelin. I’m nobody.”
“Perhaps you are,” Whisper said carefully. “But I sincerely doubt that.”
“You’re not going to stop being quick and sharp, are you?” Baelin asked, distraught. He liked the snarky girl before him.
“Quick and sharp? You honor me, I think. I will try to be myself, but I promise you nothing, Baelin.”
“So… why are you here?” he asked.
“I came for you,” she said.
“I think you mean you came for him,” Baelin replied, again looking to Dilirian.
“You don’t have to keep up the act.”
“Do you want the villagers to verify our story?” Dilirian asked. “Because I don’t know how much longer I can stand to live with someone thinking Baelin is supposed to be me.”
“Have I wounded you?” Whisper said with a laugh. “Such a tender heart for a man who puffs his chest.”
“Shut up!” Dilirian said to Baelin. “And I don’t puff my chest!” he added, noticeably de-puffing his chest.
“As you say,” Whisper said, failing to hide a grin. “Shall I let you escort me back into the village proper so you can prove this case of mistaken identities?”
Baelin and Dilirian both agreed and they headed back into town. Baelin talked to Whisper while Dilirian fumed.
They reached town, more specifically, they reached Forden’s home a short while later, with both Baelin and Whisper laughing loud enough to bring the old man out to see what was happening.
“This is getting to be a regular occurrence,” Forden said as he opened his oak-plank door. He stopped and stared at the trio before him and grew a grave frown. “Baelin, by what dark power did you get that suit you’re wearing.” He quickly turned an accusing gaze to Dilirian. “Did you rob a noble’s guard, boy? I…”
“It’s mine,” Baelin said, making a placating gesture. “A family heirloom I had hidden away.”
Forden hrmphed. “Family heirloom,” he muttered. “Like that sword of yours. You may forget boy, but I knew your mother before she passed away. She couldn’t afford to buy peas, often as not. Are you going to tell me she had not only a sword, but a fine suit as well that she could have sold when her belly ached?”
Baelin shrugged. “I don’t think she thought of selling them.”
“She sold the furniture, clothes, tools, her lay about husband’s left-behinds, and everything else not nailed down, and not a thing of it worth a fraction of a fine scale suit,” Forden said, matter of fact.
“Who would she sell it to without a horse? Traveling merchants couldn’t afford it, nobody in Shadyridge or Willow Downs could pay her what it’s worth, nor would they; it’s of no use to the farming types. It’s an heirloom,” Baelin said again. “Nothing more.”
Forden ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. “Someday, you’ll have to tell me a little truth about yourself, Baelin. Now, who’s the girl? You’ve gotten into a habit of bringing interesting people my way.”
“She,” Dilirian said, strongly, “believes Baelin is the one who’s been training the villagers how to fight.”
“I bet that ruffled his feathers,” Forden said with a good laugh while he looked to Whisper. “Can’t say I blame you for the mistake. I’d believe the same if I hadn’t known Baelin his whole life and I’d seen him standing about in that.”
Whisper looked at Baelin. “You’re truly the farmer and he,” she pointed to Dilirian, “is the one people have been talking about?”
“Said as much,” Baelin said. “Hardly my fault you didn’t believe us.”
“You should have asked to see them at work with their swords,” Forden said. “That would have settled the matter quick enough.”
Whisper looked both confused and possibly disturbed.
“Sounds like you were looking for him,” Forden said. “Mind if I ask why?”
Whisper was starring off now, and when she answered her voice was far away. “A girl has to make her way…” She didn’t say anything else and everyone stared at her until she realized all eyes were on her, and then she began to blush. “I heard there were devils out this way. I can’t join the military, but I can do something to help.” She touched the mace at her side. “I’m not your typical milk maid.”
“No,” Forden said. “I reckon you’re not. Well, best have you all come in. I can get you fed and we can sort out what to do about this devil problem. With those soldiers turning up, folk are scared and are getting ancy.”
Forden motioned the group in, shaking his head the whole time. Baelin noticed the old man seemed less bent over and more sprightly as he moved.