Chapter 9 – Charles

Michael tied the two bags of vegetables to one another, hung them around his neck, and moved on to the next shop on his list.  He found the shop a few stalls further down along the side of the plaza.  It sold backs, backpacks and other related items.  From it he bought a big backpack, two pairs of wooden sandals, and other essentials such as a piece of fabric with which to make a small one-man tent, and a thick woollen blanket.  The first pair consisted of three parts of wood, one flat piece on which the foot rested, and two pieces that protruded from it towards the ground.

The foot was held in place by three straps.  The first two were secured at one end to the forward vertical piece of wood through the flat piece.  They curled around and secured to the sides of the horizontal piece of wood about two thirds of the way back.  The third strap emerged from the back of the flat piece of wood, where both ends were secured, and went around the ankle.  Together the three straps kept the sandal firmly attached to the foot and prevented any tripping.

The second pair was like the first, but the bottom edges of the two vertical pieces of wood were covered in soft animal skin.  It reduced noise, and allowed one to move around silently.

Right next to the shop was a tailor which also specialised in clothing for hunters, adventurers and others of the outdoor professions.  From there he bought some rugged clothes as well as a cloak to help keep the rain and cold off him.

All of these were neatly folded and packed into his backpack.  The merchants stared at him as he did so.

“I didn’t know you could fit so much into a backpack, and look, there’s even some space left!” the shop assistants whispered at the back of the shop.

Michael soon set off once more.  He asked the guards at the entrances to the plaza for directions, and left the plaza behind.  He headed towards the outskirts of the city.  The plaza was about a third of the way towards the city centre from the city wall.  It took him two thirds of an hour to reach the eastern edge of the city.

About a five-minute walk from the eastern gate to the city, in a side street, was a small shop.  The sound of metal hammering metal constantly reverberated from the rear of the building, and a slight trace of smoke rose into the sky unceasingly.

Michael stopped at the shop, looking at the entrance for a moment before stepping through the doorway into the shop.  THe inside was lined with metal weapons and tools of every imaginable size, shape and function.  There were sickels, rakes, knives, axes, warhammers, swords, great axes, and a selection of iron-tipped arrows.

They weren’t of the greatest make, however.  The iron had a dull-grey appearance, and the colour wasn’t consistent.  The metal was hammered roughly, and the edges were uneven.  This was, however, still okay for Michael’s use.  Despite all their shortcomings, there was one thing about these tools and weapons that was crucial: they were dirt cheap.

After buying everything he needed, Michael was dirt poor.  He barely had enough money to buy a short sword, a knife, a single quiver’s worth of arrows, and a simple hunting bow.  After that he would only barely have enough to pay the city entrance fee upon his return from his hunting trip.

A young buy, just barely into his tweens emerged from the dark depths of the shop.  He had dark brown hair, eyes the colour of dirt, and a red complexion.  Michael couldn’t decide whether his colour was due to constant exposure to the heat of the furnaces, or if it had something to do with his genes.

“Afternoon, sir.  How can I help you?” the boy asked.

Michael, having just recently emerged from the encounter with the two ladies, was struck by the boy’s proper pronunciation.  The kid also had quite good manners, at least that was Michael’s impression given his surroundings.  He gave the kid a slight bow of his head before he answered.

“Afternoon.  I would like to buy a few weapons.”

“What do you want to buy?”

“I’m going to go hunting, and I’m looking to kit myself.  I think a butcher’s knife, a short sword, and a quiver of arrows would do nicely.”

“At once, sir.”

The boy turned to the shelves.  He rummaged through them a little longer than Michael thought would be necessary to get the items before returning with a knife and a short sword.

“What bow are you using, sir?” the boy asked.

“I haven’t bought a bow yet,” Michael answered honestly.

The boy remained silent for a moment before putting the items down on the counter.

“Follow me,” he said before leaving the shop.

Michael followed and the boy led him around two corners in rapid succession.  A few buildings down the road he stopped at a shop with several bows hung from the ceiling and adorning the walls.

“Uncle Farn!” the boy shouted as he walked into the shop.

“What is it, Charles?  This is the second time today you’ve come to bother me!” a strong, cracking voice emerged from the rear of the shop.

“Don’t be so rude, Uncle Farn.  I’ve brought a customer this time.”

The man’s face instantly crawled into a smile at the latter of the two sentences.

“Well well, you finally bring something other than trouble with you.  Let’s have a look.”

The man wobbled up to Michael and stared at him for a few moments.

“Hmm…  You’ll want a compound bow.  Let me get one for you,” he turned around and disappeared into the darkness once again.

“What’s your budget?” his voice came out of the darkness shortly after.

“Six bronze,” Michael answered.

“Six bronze, heh?”

Michael heard the sound of wood bumping against wood for several seconds before the man wobbled into view once again.  In his hand, he held a one metre long bow.

“There you go.  You look like you’re going hunting.  With a well-placed shot and the right arrow-head this bow can take down anything short of a bear in one shot.  Be sure to bring it back for maintenance frequently, though, otherwise you’ll break it in less than a year.”

Michael thanked him, handed over the coins, and returned to the smithy with the boy, whom he now knew was named Charles.

‘It’s quite a peculiar name for someone of his social class,’ Michael thought, but he didn’t comment on it.

Once the two had returned to the shop, Charles handed him the weapons he had put on the counter before they left.  He headed for the shelves once more and returned shortly after with a quiver of crude arrows.  They were simple leaf-tip arrows.

“I would normally recommend the barbed arrows, they kill better, but I can see you’re short on money and these are easier to retrieve and reuse, so they’re more cost effective.”

“Thank you,” Michael said, sincerely.

“That’ll be four bronze for the sword, a bronze for the quiver of arrows, and another bronze for the butcher’s knife, six bronze all-together.”

The price was almost exactly as Michael had predicted.  He took out seven bronze and handed it to Charles.

“That’s too much, sir,” Charles said, holding out the extra bronze.

“It’s to thank you for all your help,” Michael answered, pushing the coin back into Charles’ hand.

His eyes lit up and he gave Michael a bow.

“Thank you so much!”

Michael stepped out into the street and began walking away.  Charles stood behind and waved him off.  Michael stopped after several steps and looked back at Charles over his shoulder.

“We’ll see each other again soon,” he said smiling.

He waved at Charles once before setting off.

 


 

A tall and sturdy man entered the shop from the rear.  He wore a leather apron covered in soot.  It was hard to tell where the apron ended and he began; the soot covered the rest of his body as well as it did the apron, turning everything into the same black.  He clapped his hands to rid himself of some of the soot before wiping the on his apron and clapping them once more.

He only stopped when his hands had turned from pitch black to dark grey.  Satisfied with the cleanliness of his hands, he sat behind the counter and counted the coins Michael had paid with.

“Six bronze.  Today has been a good day so far,” he said, looking at the coins as a mother would her children.

“Let’s go get lunch.  The maintenance work is finished ahead of schedule, so we have some free time,” he said, looking at Charles, who still had an irrepressible, beaming smile on his face.  He held the single bronze in his hands very tightly.

“Thanks, Uncle Bort,” Charles answered.

He ran to the back of the shop, put away his apron, cleaned his arms and face, and came back to the front a few minutes later.  He found Bort recounting the coins once again.

“You have any idea of the origins of that man?” Bort asked after he noticed Charles had returned.

“No idea, Uncle Bort.  He sounds like either a rich merchant, or a minor noble, but neither is possible.  They’re all way too arrogant and image crazy to go around town looking like that,” he answered with some disdain in his voice.

His expression softened slightly when he spoke next.

“That man is much kinder.  I don’t detect any hidden agendas from him.  He seems completely sincere, and friendly.”

“Well, well.  It looks like little Charles had found himself an idol!” Bort laughed.

“What nonsense are you spewing?  Is it wrong for me to acknowledge someone else’s good character when I see it every other year?”

“Yeah, yeah.  Just don’t start daydreaming while you’re working.  It would be bad for business if you lost a hand.  Besides, how would I explain his son becoming one-handed under my watch to your father?”  Bort said as he wobbled out of the shop.

He vanished through the doorway.  Charles looked at the bronze coin in his hands for a few moments, sighed, put it away, and followed Bort.

 

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