The old man stopped at the tent door and looked back at the sea for several seconds. He turned and entered the tent. “We’re not going aboard ship after all. It seems whatever plan
was afoot went wrong.” He smiled. “The wizard and the cavalry company that escorted us have been ordered to board ship and sail for Mercia. The wizard told the captain general of
this force that you were a noble hostage and needed close guarding but good treatment. We’re now sailing with the fleet when it gets here.”
The old man sat on the chair next to the bed. “I told him you were very ill and don’t represent an escape threat yet. He’s going to assign a squad to guard you with orders not to talk
The prisoner struggled to a sitting position. He stared at the old man. He was definitely not like the guards who had mistreated him since his capture. “Old man, what’s you’re
The old man’s head tilted to one side. “Ingal. My name’s Ingal.” His head tilted to the other side. “I’ll call you Karl, which means good fellow in my language.”
“You don’t want to know my name?”
Ingal smiled again. “Karl’s a good name. Besides, we’re among dark wizards and names have power. The more you think of yourself as Karl the harder it will be for a wizard to find
“As you wish. I’ll think of myself as Karl. Are you planning our escape?”
Ingal stared at him for several seconds. “Don’t worry about escape until the fleet returns and you’re in good health. The Dark One’s plans are not working out as he expected. I
think there’ll be more surprises for him before this is over.” He stood. “It’s time for you to go for a walk outside. Take it easy and walk slow. This is supposed to be your
Faolan reached into the furnace with tongs and gripped the white-hot sword blade. He placed the blade on the anvil and hammered it repeatedly. Then he turned and plunged the blade into
the oil trough to quench.
“You have a true talent for smithing.” The old dwarf stood by the bellows, smiling. “None of my young apprentices know when the metal is the right color to hammer, let alone when to fix
the iron in the oil.”
“Thank you, Master Smith. But all I did was watch and copy what I saw.”
“You did.” The heavyset dwarf stepped over and patted Faolan on the back. “But you repeated it perfectly.” He wiped the sweat from his face as he examined the blade in the oil
trough. It was shorter than a broadsword, sharp on one side only, and tapered to a fine point. “There’s more to you than iron and sword. I think that others besides the children
of the Accetani will sing your song around their fires.”
Faolan pulled the blade from the trough and placed it on the anvil for inspection.
The old blacksmith examined it closely. After a few seconds he nodded. “Now we need to name the blade. That’s a job for the master engraver.”
“A name for an untested sword?”
The old man scratched his chin. “All dwarf swords are named. We believe a sword is only an extension of the warrior who wields it.” He looked at the blade for a moment.
“Grainne. That’s the name for this sword.”
Faolan took the blade off the anvil and examined it. “Grainne? Isn’t that a woman’s name?”
“It is. My mother-in-law’s. And it fits. This blade is as hard as her heart and as sharp as her tongue. In your language Grainne means, ‘she who inspires terror’.”
Faolan laughed. “Grainne it is then.” He held up the blade. “Where will the engraver put the markings?”
“On the blade. It should be the last thing your enemy sees in this world.”
“Your pardon, Master Smith,” Gutter said behind them. “But my grandfather says the other Denie warrior adopted by the Accetani has arrived and King Clovis wants Faolan to meet him.”
“With your leave.” Faolan gave the master smith a slight bow.
“Of course.” The smith returned the bow. “I’ll take the blade to the engraver for you.”
As he and Gutter hurried through the tunnel leading to the cavern, Faolan asked, “Who is this Denie?”
“He’s a noble from the Wildermarch we call Dyn Haearn.”
“Doesn’t that mean Man of Iron?” He hoped he had translated the term correctly; his knowledge of Dwarf was still very limited.
“That’s right,” Gutter replied. “Like they now call you Rhyfelwr Gof. Warrior Smith.”
Faolan exited the tunnel and started across the cavern toward the hall. “What does he call himself in our language?”
“Logar or Loegaire, or something like that. I’m not sure.”
Faolan stopped. “Baron Loegaire of the Wildermarch?”
Gutter stopped as well with a look of concentration on his face. “That’s right, I think.” He started forward again. “It’s hard to remember a name you hear peeking over a
Faolan started up the steps into the hall with his stomach in a knot. Would Loegaire remember that he didn’t want anyone to know where he was? On the other hand, he didn’t want
falsehood to interfere in his relationship with the dwarves. That meant he did not want them to think the Baron was unknown to him.
The moment the door opened he stopped. Long, coal-black hair hanging down a woman’s back instantly brought Evaughnlynn to mind and his heart pounded in his chest. Standing next to her
was a heavily armored knight with his helmet under his arm.
“There you are.” King Clovis’ raspy voice carried from his high seat. The knight and lady turned. The knight was as he suspected, Baron Loegaire. But the lady was not
Evaughnlynn. She was beautiful, but in a different way. Where Evaughnlynn was pale, slender and small-featured, this girl was darker and more full-figured. Her eyes were further
apart, which fit her wider, fuller mouth and there was something sensual in her eyes as she gazed at him.
“Milord Baron,” he said immediately. “It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
“So it is you,” the Baron replied instantly. “I thought as much when I heard your name. There couldn’t be two warriors in Ellisland named Faolan as handy with their weapons as you are.”
King Clovis looked back and forth between them. “You’ve met before?”
“Yes, Your Majesty,” Faolan replied. “I had the honor to stand with Baron Loegaire up north before I settled in the Freeholds.”
“And stand he did, Your Majesty,” Baron Loegaire said, “to the rue of those attacking us. Then the rascal up and leaves.” The baron turned to face Faolan who had put his hands on his
hips. “So the Freeholds was your destination.”
“It was suggested to me as a good place to settle.”
“And she knew these troubles were coming.” The baron nodded his head. Then he glanced at the girl. “But I’m forgetting myself. Faolan Blacksmith, may I present my ward, Lady
Morrigan. Lady Morrigan, Faolan Blacksmith. He could be a knight in any king’s army, but chooses instead to be a member of the Accetani tribe.”
“And a businessman of Bar Krouth.” Faolan bowed to the girl.
“Then you must be the man Princess Evaughnlynn was so worried about last year.” Lady Morrigan curtsied in turn.
King Clovis asked, “By ‘she knew of our troubles,’ do you mean Princess Evaughnlynn of Hawkland, Dyn Haearn? Even here in Hollow Mountain her name is known.”
Baron Loegaire nodded, “I do, Milord King. She is a great sorceress despite her youth.”
Faolan added, “She knew only that our enemies would move against the Freemen. She asked me to come to the Freeholds and to do what I could until she arrived.”
“And much he’s done,” King Clovis added. “He destroyed the dark wizard’s men who attacked us and has driven the goblins who worked with them back to Mercia.”
Faolan said, “Goblins are cowardly creatures and they fled when we approached. But why are you here now, Milord Baron?”
“When my caravan didn’t return from delivering its cargo to King Clovis, I came to investigate. I found my wagons burned on the road and the men slaughtered. King Clovis was just
telling me that you killed the men responsible. It seems I’m in your debt.” The baron bowed.
“They were in the employ of a dark wizard.” Faolan returned the bow. “Fortunately, he left before the battle to learn what’d happened when his dark brother attacked Princess Evaughnlynn
on her way to Bar Krouth. Apparently, she’s accounted for another dark one.”
“Then she must be on her way to treat the plague I’ve heard about from merchants who were turned away at the city gates. Bar Krouth is too busy a port to stay closed for long. Already
ships are moving to the small fishing villages upriver to unload their cargos. That means a discount on trade items. Now that I know what befell my cargo,” he bowed to Faolan again.
“And since the men I hired to bring it here have been buried and avenged, we’ll proceed to the river to look for bargains. If, perchance, you’re returning to Bar Krouth, we would
welcome you in our caravan, Master Faolan.”
“I am, indeed, and I thank you for the offer of your company.” Faolan bowed to the baron, then Lady Morrigan. He turned to King Clovis. “With your permission, Your Majesty.”
He returned to his room and took a bath before retiring.
As he lay waiting for sleep to overtake him, Evaughnlynn filed his mind with how she had changed his life, from as simple a thing as taking a bath because a lady would be in the company tomorrow,
to being a businessman in the Freeholds. The control he normally maintained over his emotions had been easier since he had come to the Freeholds. But thinking of her always stirred them
In the morning Faolan found his new sword waiting for him outside his room in a black leather sheath. The engraver had not only placed the runes on the blade, but had also put on a black
leather-wrapped grip and pyramid-shaped steel pommel. This is a warrior’s sword. He strapped it on and walked back to his wagon behind the baron’s wagons. He placed his
old broadsword and pack under the seat and then checked his horses’ harnesses.
When he turned around Lady Morrigan was standing to one side watching him. He bowed. “Good morning, Milady.”
“Good morning, Sir Faolan.” She smiled as she curtsied.
“Just Master Faolan, Milady. Freeholders don’t have knights and nobles. The Freeman believe all men are born equal in the eyes of their god. They believe their god judges them by
what they do with the time and opportunities they’re given, not who their father was.”
She walked over and looked up at him. “I heard King Ragnon’s soldiers talking about you last year when they came back to the caravan. They said you were a great warrior. Why do
you now live as a blacksmith?”
“A warrior doesn’t fight all the time, nor should he want to. He simply accepts that fighting will be necessary sometimes. When it’s necessary, I fight. When it’s not, I’m a
Her eyes moved over his face as if she were trying to understand something. “But you could live well in the castle of a noble as a knight?”
He smiled. “I’m a good blacksmith and I enjoy the work. A man is always happiest when he’s doing what he does well. I’ve seen the life of a courtier and it would be a poor fit for
The look on her face seemed troubled and he didn’t think she understood what he meant. He added, “Milady, my father once told me that I should do what I enjoyed most in life if I wanted to be
happy. He loved being a farmer and he was good at it. He could have been King Ragnon’s Captain of the Guard and lived as a noble in the castle, but it wouldn’t have made him
happy. So he chose happiness over position. I think he was a wise man.”
Lady Morrigan nodded, but it was clear to Faolan from her troubled expression that the idea of giving up position for happiness was new to her.
“Good morning, Faolan.”
He turned to see Baron Loegaire standing by the wagons. The baron pointed at the back of Faolan’s buckboard. “I saw them load your cart with ingots. Are you now my competition in
“No, Milord. I only make a few knives and swords for the pleasure of it. Mostly, I’m just a blacksmith.”
A dwarf climbed up on the seat of each of the baron’s two wagons and Lady Morrigan stepped closer to Faolan. “Might I ride with you to our camp down below, Faolan? You could tell me
about Bar Krouth, since I’ve never been there.”
Glancing at the dwarf, Faolan replied, “Certainly, Milady. Bar Krouth is a beautiful city and clean beyond any I’ve seen before.” He took her arm and helped her onto the seat.
“They actually wash the streets when it doesn’t rain, and a tradesman considers himself a poor businessman if his shop and the street in front of it aren’t well maintained.”
He climbed up on the seat. “It’s smaller than Anglia but just as modern and beautiful in terms of architecture.” With that, Faolan flicked his reins and his two horses stepped out,
pulling the wagon toward the path leading to the opening in the cavern wall high above.
“You have a gentleman’s eye and voice, Faolan Blacksmith. There is noble blood in you, I think.”
He shrugged as the cart started up the side of the cavern. “Perhaps long ago and far away. It’s of no consequence here and now. I am Faolan, the blacksmith, and that’s all I wish
“But the obligation of noble blood is to climb as high as we can, and not to be content to let our situation determine our fate.” She stared at him as if to see past his skin and into his
“All life is a journey,” he replied. “But following only those paths which lead upward will leave you alone on the mountaintop while all life’s treasures remain below in the valley.”
“And what treasures are those?”
“True friendship and camaraderie, among others. Sharing the journey makes it a much more worthwhile undertaking.” He motioned ahead toward the baron’s wagon being guided into the tunnel
leading to the gate by one of the dwarves. “Master Dwarf ahead has a wife and child he adores. On the way back from the battle he was one of the men who sang. He has a beautiful
voice. But you won’t hear it back here with me. Alone, he has no one to sing for.”
“But I would have missed your company if I had ridden with him.” She bowed slightly in her seat.
Faolan laughed. “You haven’t heard me sing. A crow driven away from food is more melodious.”
“Did you teach him to fight like you did Sir Beowyn?”
“No,” he replied. “I did teach some of the young men the use of the bow so they could defend the air and light vents of the cavern. Dwarves only fight if they have to defend their
“Do you ever wonder what the men you teach to kill do with that skill?” Her face was completely expressionless. “Sir Beowyn used his skill to kill a man in a duel. I heard King
Ragnon’s men-at-arms saying that but for your training he would have lost.”
“Sir Beowyn is a talented warrior from a line of warriors. I but helped him discover his abilities. Any competent instructor could have done the same.”
“Weren’t you proud that he won as a result of your training?”
“Proud? No. I was happy he won, he’s my friend. I’ve taught a number of men-at-arms to fight, to make them better warriors. But what a man does with what’s he’s learned is
his responsibility. To him goes the pride or shame of that use.”
They rode on in silence and were soon at the baron’s camp where his men had waited. The dwarf jumped down and joined his companion to walk back up the trail singing a ballad in a beautiful
tenor voice. Faolan recognized it. It was about a dwarf who fell in love with a forest nymph. It had helped him learn the dwarf language.
Lady Morrigan looked down as she climbed onto the baron’s wagon with Faolan’s help and smiled at him. “See, Sir Faolan, I heard him sing after all.”
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