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A spear was something Veximarl had some skill with, as it was Grulick’s weapon of choice. Chickadee assured him that his weapon would be ready sometime the following week, but that would be after the dueling tests on Triaday. For now, it was Solsday. Dancing was done, and it was back to the blessed chore that was classes. Again, anything that wasn’t stamina training was viewed as a miracle in his eyes.

In the afternoon, he went to the armory to inspect what they had available to borrow. In the short amount of time Grulick had left in this world, she had attempted to teach him as much as she could. Shame it had nothing to do with swords. He always did he prefer their appearance, despite having no luck with them. There was something spectacular about the way they flashed about in the air whenever they were swung.

Later, he was introduced to a Kingspaw Squad member who had volunteered to pair up with him for the partner dueling exam. Patterfall Aconite was a plain looking fellow with carefully combed hair and dull brown eyes. One of his front teeth was larger and stuck out farther than the other, and that bothered Veximarl only slightly. Swamp people didn’t have the best overall hygiene. To have more than a dozen teeth was considered to be a blessing, which was one of the reasons Veximarl took such care with his own.

The second year squires were infamous for their combat skills. Patterfall wielded a halberd and didn’t seem all that interested in practicing with Veximarl. Something about a paladin with little weapons training and forbidden from using magic being completely useless. He said he’ll show up when he was needed, and that was enough.

Without worrying about training, Veximarl spent his time working on the farm, where the wild berry bushes were thriving in the late summer. He would pick dozens of baskets, then cart them off to the kitchen to be preserved. Then he would attend class, have lunch, and some days he was expected to go back to the farm. Other days, he was allowed to sit in on Baron Squad’s afternoon lessons. They would delve into the stories of old battles and analyze the strategies behind them.

Dinner was the most peaceful time for him. He would sit silently and listen to what his squad did during the day. Afterward, they would excuse themselves to do their private studies. He would take the time to go on a walk around the rampart.

Grimstone Squad’s success was his responsibility, but it felt more like he was a manager… or secretary. Every Satyrday, he would get the schedule from Stonetoe and put it on the board. He knew who was where at any given time, but he had little idea on how to interact with any of them.

He was used to keeping secrets, and even more used to being by himself. Being alone didn’t seem to change that much since he came to Braytons, though he did have Foggy for company most days. Matters were easier when he was responsible for only himself, which is what this felt like. This whole captain business felt more like a prank than an actual responsibility.

As he walked around one evening, he followed through on his usual habit of silently checking in on his squad. Alton was blindfolded in a dueling field. Sybil was standing in different spots around him and he was trying to guess with precision on where she was. They appeared to have developed some tactic for it, as he was guessing with more accuracy than Veximarl would be able to.

Chickadee was working with Caitlin. She seemed like a nice person, and Veximarl had never seen Chickadee use so many words with any other person. They were quite vocal with each other, usually arguing more than anything else... Veximarl never had the opportunity to have siblings. It was curious to note that they didn’t get along at all, despite being so similar.

Perhaps Sybil was the closest he’ll have to a sister. She did seem to treat him just as well as she did her core friends. Either that or Zaniyah. From what he saw, she treated everyone in the squad exactly the same way she treated Zyris. Though as much as he tried, he couldn’t seem to find common ground with her.

As he thought about Zaniyah, he noticed her just past the forge. She was practicing with Vincent. They were dueling against Tish and Evan in one of the inner dueling fields. Ivy, Gwyn, and Anais were alongside the fence, offering tips every now and again, mostly for Vincent’s “benefit.”

Foggy jumped up on the wall and nipped at Veximarl’s arm. He leaned off to the side and let her jump up on his shoulder. Her skull didn’t feel all that comfortable as she rubbed her cheek against his, but he wasn’t going to scold her for following her nature. Both of them were doing their best to adjust. Luckily, despite her size, she didn’t weight all that much.

But as much as Veximarl attempted to adjust, it was the blandness of his schedule that he found difficult to manage. Farm, class, lunch, class, dinner, study. Either he was alone or when there was a group, he was a silent observer. Triaday came around, and at least something different happened in the form of attending the weekly captain meeting. He filtered into the library classroom behind the thirteen other captains. Normally he would sit next to Tish, but Patterfall called him over with a wave of the hand.

“Vex!” Patterfall gestured to the seat next to him. “You have yet to reap the benefits of being associated with me. Sit over here for once instead of your rivals.” A frown crossed his lips as Veximarl. “The test?” He let out an annoyed sigh. “The one I agreed to help you with? You should avoid your enemies until it’s over.”

“Ah, yes… Of course.” Veximarl took a seat and gave a quick, polite nod to the others. “Salutations.”

“Have you met everyone? I can’t remember when the last time we were all at the barracks together...” He gestured quickly to the other captains. “Horsetalon, Gildenboot, Bronzescale, and Flaytongue.”

Flaytongue’s captain was making Veximarl nervous. She was cleaning out her nails with a throwing knife and grinning at him in an unnerving manner. A tick of his own eye was to be had before he found distraction elsewhere.

“Bronzescale?”

He had heard that Mila and Irving’s captain was a second year, but had never had the chance to meet him. Beat Alder was an intimidating figure, with hair held together in thick plaits, and two sets of horns growing out of either side of his brow. Veximarl found himself staring at them, wondering what the cause for their growth could be.

“Do they bother you?” Beat’s lip curled up in a sneer, as though he had anticipated what Veximarl was looking at.

“On the contrary, I have a similar condition myself.” Veximarl lowered his glasses to show off his bluish-white eyes and their horizontal slits. “I was unaware that there were second year Bronzescale members.”

Patterfall put his arms behind his head as he leaned back in his chair. “They have spies in every year, looking for a chance to bring any of us down a notch,” he muttered. “Though I’ve heard they have had some dark dealings in the past, I’ve never had the chance to see it.”

“We aren’t doing our job right if you see it.” Beat eased his stance and focused his attention elsewhere.

The Flaytongue captain, Amalfrieda Rodanthe, moved so she could take the seat next to Veximarl. “What’s with the flaming skull cat that follows you around? Got some sort of necromancer thing going on?”

“N-no!” Veximarl’s voice squeaked. “Certainly not. I assure you that I am a paladin trainee and that Foggy is an experimental golem design by Sybil. The golem just… Happens to like me best.” Probably because he was a necromancer.

Amalfrieda snickered to herself. “She kills tainted beasts and makes little dead dolls. Not to mention you got that creepy silent kid who hangs out in the forge all day and the crazy blue haired angel.” She took her time to study his nervous face. “I like your group, Vex. Get rid of the singing boy and you’d have a fun squad.”

Everyone fell silent as Lady Till stepped into the room. “Mister Eremurus?”

Theodoric stood up. “All members accounted for. Squires stand! Squires bow!” They all went through the motions as a unit.

“We’ll be doing the briefing for the week of Tenth Summer today.” She began to write on the slate board while some of the captains began to take notes. “Caitlin Cully and her assistant plan on leaving by the end of next week. If your squad has any requests that might benefit from their skills, please have their work orders put in by this afternoon.

Be respectful if you choose to do so. These are talented apprentices who will be in the trade for many years to come. I also know that tainted beasts are rare within the Gilded Region, but do not trouble the forge for any pieces. Miss Twist has had a tiring ordeal and your grubby wants and needs aren’t helping her recover quickly from it.

On a different note, this is sooner than expected, but the Duchess of Violet, Lady Elbellziara, will be once again acting as the representative for the king’s inspection. She has stated that Thirteenth Summer will be the time of her visit, not during our annual war of the years.

Her stay will only be for a few short days, and she may choose to visit the Duke Sickleson afterward. Mister Eremurus, I would like you to assign a group to travel to Fogbloom and act as part of her entourage. If she does desire to go north, have an additional squad put on standby.”

“I suggest Horsetalon Squad, Lady Till.” Theodoric’s answer was immediate. He was a terrible fighter but had an excellent understanding of the abilities of each squire at the barracks. Maybe Veximarl could use him as a standard to aim for. When it came to being bad at dueling, Veximarl was already the best there was.

“An applaudable suggestion. I will make a request with Sir Pegasus, but I doubt he will have any objections.” She continued to write on the slate. “I will also need a squad to escort Mister Krogastein and Miss Cully back to Carapace.”

“Elderberry Squad has asked to expand their investigation of the tainted beast towards the Crimson Region. I suggest that they take guard duty in the event that more appear, ma’am.” Once again, Theodoric was quick to respond.

Till nodded and made a note of it. “Another excellent suggestion. Sir Trewarne has also brought up that request with me as well, and they were planning on heading to Carapace anyways… Yes, I doubt they will object to putting off their trip for a little longer... Now unless there are any matters that you wish to bring up, that will be the end of this week’s briefing.” She let out a sigh. “Miss Maplehammer, I swear if you ask for last-minute permission to organize a dance ag-”

“Nothing of the sort!” Tish smiled widely. “I merely wish to bring up that some of us are nervous about the war of the years. I’ve heard a rumor that the date selected for it is Eighth Autumn.”

“Yes, that is correct. A board will be posted outside of the mess hall tomorrow with all of the dates and details. We have a selection of knights who will be carefully selecting three squires from each year to act as champions. As this will not be a part of the royal visit, we expect less of a turnout from Lustro’s nobles. That does not mean that any of you should be slacking, there are still potential employers to impress.”

Veximarl had been fretting that he would be chosen, but his lack of being impressive put him as an unlikely candidate. Vincent was the most obvious choice, as he was the only actual paladin in their year. Either Chester or Chickadee would fill the mage role, and there were several scouts or two-handed squires that would be a solid fit. It would all come down to what skills the barracks would want to showcase, and as long as Grimhawk wasn’t one of the knights doing the selections, he should be safe.

 

---

 

Grimhawk sneezed. He rubbed his nose with his forearm and wrinkled his nose as he tried to prevent another one from coming. “Blasted autumn allergies kicking up early this year…”

“Someone is thinking something bad about you,” Blu cooed, “but be careful not to blow the sticks everywhere.”

Caitlin spotted them as she and Chickadee entered the forge. They were all huddled together in the corner. “Zyris? What are they doing?”

Zyris looked up from the vest he was stitching. “They said they needed someplace quiet to do some divinations.”

The last of the knight trio was Oceans, who had a quill in his hand and a notebook braced against his thigh. Grimhawk had a wooden cup filled with several flat sticks, and each had a first year squire name written on it. He would shake the cup back and forth until a stick fell out, which was then recorded by Oceans.

Blu picked up a stick from the ground. “And Vex makes three! These groups are much more rounded than they were the previous year. Hold still, Sir Grimhawk. I’m putting in the second years.” She quickly switched the bundle of sticks for another.

Caitlin glanced at the trio again as she set down some weapons on a table. “Is that really the best way to do it?”

Blu shrugged. “Lady Till believes we should go over every squire’s files and carefully select the teams which will complement each other the best. The war of the years is primarily to impress the nobles, not an actual competition… However, we’ve had much more entertaining matches since we’ve started selection by divination.

Last year, Sir Pegasus and Professor Rosethorn folded up the reports into little birds and tossed them over a large fire. The first ones that flew up into the air ended up being selected. It was spectacular to watch! There were so many colorful flames! Professor Rosethorn certainly has a knack for chemicals.”

“Don’t tell Nita we’re here,” Grimhawk replied coldly. He stopped when he felt a stick fall out. “Which one is that one?”

“Trenchall Kindrick.” Blu folded her arms in thought. “I know it’s traditional for our newest knights, but are we really letting Sir Moss design the uniforms this year? It can’t be worse than last year with Professor Rosethorn leaving everything up to that troublesome squire of his, but Fogbloom fashion or not, poor Theodoric couldn’t walk in those heels.”

“It all looks the same to me,” replied the blind man.

Chickadee opted to ignore them and carry on with his own work at the grinding stone. He was in the process of filing down the femur of the tainted beast so it could be used as part of a sword. It was a long process, as the bone was stronger than most metals. A long grind at the wheel was the only way to work with it.

The core where the marrow would be was already filled with metal. He had to file down the center of the blade until part of the metal was visible, and then sharpen the edges. The steel would be treated with a chemical to give it a golden color and tempered once the blood iron had been stamped on. Afterward, a leather grip would be added and it would be finished. And that was just the first of several swords and daggers that needed to be made in a similar fashion.

Occasionally he would look up from his work and see Zyris stitching the leather vests that would become Grimstone’s armor. The leatherworker had his work cut out for him. Armor, leather grips for several weapons, and a whip for one of the boys in Moontear. Chickadee thought it was for Peter. He couldn’t remember.

At least the horns of the creature could be carved. Three skinning knives for Moontear, along with a new hunting sword and dagger for Basil. A blade for a spear had been carved as well, and a head for Zaniyah’s throwing axe. They were very impressive horns. Before they had been cut apart, casts of them had been made. This way, when the skull was presented as a gift for the barracks, the teeth and horns would have been replaced with resin duplicates.

After this sword was done, Chickadee had to grind off the edges of Zaniyah’s axe and replace them with curved blades he had processed out from the shoulder blades. He had already taken the time to make Sybil new daggers, Nip and Gnarl, out of the beast’s fangs. Even if she had her sword, she preferred the use of her daggers.

“Two weeks to get all this blasted work done isn’t enough,” growled Caitlin. She would stay longer, but she didn’t like the idea of staying away from Carapace for too long. Millie would no doubt be causing trouble, and there was a building list of work needing to be done since their mother decided to exclusively work on projects that interested her.

The forgemaster had offered advice on how to work with the pieces of the tainted beast, but some of the weapons from it needed to be forged by the team from Carapace. He insisted it was good practice for beginners. That and he wasn’t a mage, which was useful for processing blood iron enhancements. He helped Zyris with the leatherwork while Caitlin and Chickadee handled the metal, bones, and fine-tuning.

Ira had his hands full of other projects as well. He was crafting items for Moontear and had found buyers for parts of the tainted beast. The claws went for especially high, and that money was immediately spent on materials for clothing and other supplies Grimstone needed.

Chickadee glanced over at his sister, who was working on Veximarl’s spear. “Everything is cut to size. Only need to shape, attach, and sharpen.” It had taken him two continuous days to grind down the sword he was working on, but at least it would be ready to temper by evening. There truly wasn’t enough time to get everything done... Maybe he should consider cutting morning classes.

“I wanted to get the mist tech done early so Zyris and I could have some time off in Tilrey. This was supposed to be my vacation... My first trip out of Carapace.” Caitlin fell back into a nearby chair and slumped forward. The corner of her eye watched the knights as they packed up their divination supplies and snuck out of the forge. “At this rate, I’ll be working until the morning we leave…” She began to mutter under her breath. “Damn Sybil always messing up my plans…”

“I find working with this leather to be quite meditative.” Zyris hummed as he worked. He was happy with his new work needles. Specially made to work with tainted beasts, they slipped through the skin smoothly with each stitch. “Chickadee, try this on?”

Chickadee paused his work and took a moment to stretch his arms. He walked over to the mannequin that Zyris was working with. It was a sleeveless leather tunic that had buckles to close it in the front. Cutting five of these took up the majority of the leather, making this their only armor upgrade for a while. Luckily Zyris had left some room in them all to grow a little.

They were all a dull dark gray color. The collars were high and stiff in the back to protect the neck but fanned out low and wide in the front. The inner fabric was a soft and durable spider silk that they had brought with them from Carapace, and it had been dyed a tan color. Where the collar fanned open on the left side, a hole was placed so a Grimstone crest brooch could be put in later. The buckles were false gold, and etching in the leather along the sides and back allowed for flexibility and decoration.

Chi pulled it on and held up his arms, bending from side to side to test its flexibility. It moved well, and he felt it would be better when he had the appropriate undershirt on. The seamstress was still working on that. He pointed over to another tunic that looked different than his. Dyed red fur was popping out around the neck area.

“Yeah, Zani complained they didn’t show enough-” Zyris grasped at his chest. “So we compromised by adding some fur to make it more feminine.” He turned the mannequin around. “She also made me emboss a spider in the back. Anything you want done to yours?”

Simple was always best. He shook his head and took off the vest, then handed it over to Zyris. Wandering over to Caitlin, he wanted to see her progress. She had the crystal orb from Veximarl’s staff and was rolling it around in her hands. He held out his palm and she balanced the orb in it. Chickadee waved his other hand over it and a layer peeled off, splitting into diamond-shaped wedges that flattened out and placed on the table.

“Thanks.” Caitlin picked up a bottle. “I thought it looked nicer as a staff. Magic enchanted spears always seem cluttered in design.”

“I was mistaken to what weapon suited him best.” Chickadee had failed to remember that Grulick was the one that trained Veximarl before he came here. Veximarl was so bad with swords that Chickadee didn’t even bother to consider that there was a weapon he had trained with. “What else needs to be done before it’s complete?”

Caitlin started to apply an adhesive to the crystals and placed them in grooves below the spear’s blade. She shrugged. “I get what you’re trying to do, but I don’t think you’ll have enough time to do it. You’re going to need more blood iron drawn from him, and it’s going to be weeks before you have enough to finish this. Are you okay with doing that on your own?”

“I’ve watched mother and yourself do it plenty.” He looked over the spear and nodded approvingly. “Zani let me practice on her before as well.”

The blade was carved from tainted beast horn, and the two halves of the shaft were made from its humeri. Crystals placed in a seemingly random pattern below the blade would allow Veximarl to illuminate dark places. A metal bit in the center allowed for the shaft to be screwed apart for easy transport, and the edge of the bottom half had been smoothed so it could be used to shove opponents away harmlessly.

Arcane carvings that Sybil had copied over from Vincent’s bracer were engraved on the bone section. There were several spots left open for new blood iron inserts as a need for them arose. It should be a weapon that allowed Veximarl to use his magic without his true nature to be revealed. Chickadee was thrilled to have his concept design come to life, but it didn’t speak well to his own skills. He wouldn’t have been able to do it at all without help from the others.

“Here’s the list of the foods and medicines he’ll need while drawing out blood iron.” Caitlin had set her work down and pointed over to a stack of papers on top of a box. “A timetable for safe times to draw, and the device. Don’t draw a week before big events. You got all that?”

“Yes, sister.” Chickadee took note of where the supplies were so he could take them to the room later. He sat down by the grinding stone again and began to work diligently. As much as he was looking forward to coming to the barracks, there was something satisfying about being in the forge with his family again. A small smile crossed his lips as he continued to work.

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About the author

Adelaide West

Bio: Author of the Grimstone Series and Duck and Wolf.

I have a Twitter. I check it often, so I guess tag me anytime you want. I just don't post very often. @AdelaideGWest

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