Catch up with everything on the Wingborn page.
You can also visit the frequently updated Character List to help keep track of everyone.
~ Previous Chapter ~
Is that a dagger I see before me? No, it’s an axe!
STIRLA WAS IN in Heirayk’s own heaven. The hefty climb through Sohr had clearly killed him and this was his great reward, to be surrounded by the most beautifully crafted creations.
“It’s so light.” The reverence in Neryth’s voice implied that she’d died and gone to heaven too, as she ran her fingers over the metal in her hands. “How can this be?”
Rocking smugly on her heels, the little blacksmith was evidently pleased by their reactions. “Generations of work. My uncle before me, his mother before him, her aunt before her, and so on and on, almost as far back as the Rift Riders themselves,” she told them in her gruff, cheerful Western. “You have a need, we have the skills. We have worked and worked.”
“And such work,” Derrain praised, sliding a glittering gauntlet onto his hand and flexing his fingers. It reached the length of his forearm, the underside secured with leather straps. The section from his wrist to his knuckles consisted of cunningly overlapping metal sheets, secured by rotating pins, leaving it strong but flexible. His thumb and fingers were bare, but maintained a full range of movement. “Light, strong and beautiful.”
The blacksmith rocked some more. “Riders could use it, no?”
“Definitely,” Stirla agreed, shrugging into an ingenious waistcoat of padded leather over metal plates. “I can hardly feel it.” It was so light that he doubted how well it would work.
A smile quirked the smith’s mouth. “Needs testing, no?” She stepped into her forge for a moment and returned with a selection of weaponry.
“Heirayk’s fiery balls!” Stirla’s eyes widened covetously at the enormous axe the smith held in one sturdy fist.
Chortling, the Ihran handed a bow and a spear to Derrain and offered a sword to Neryth before bringing the axe over to Stirla. “Is fierce, no?”
Stirla preferred ferocious. “I feel like a mountain barbarian of old,” he said, easing both hands around the reinforced wooden hilt and studying the curved blade. The sharp edge glinted in the lamplight. Gods, how he wanted it. Axes weren’t practical in flight, but he was not in a practical mood.
Shifting the shaft into one hand, he ran respectful fingers over the spike that counterbalanced the broad axe head. It was perfectly weighted and positively deadly. He had a vision of himself atop the towers of Aquila, swinging madly and bringing down all who dared approach.
He needed this axe. “How much?”
All thoughts of armour, protection and gathering estimates to take back to the Flying Corps were forgotten. Stirla’s entire world had shrunk to a barbarian weapon.
The smiling blacksmith’s expression turned shrewd as she eyed the three strangers before her. Though they had bathed and cleaned up that morning they were still a ragged, wild looking bunch. Derrain was a young giant, half draped in glittering armour, Neryth was tall but slight, a gleaming helm upon her head, a glistening mail shirt across her shoulders. Then there was Stirla, even broader than Derrain, no doubt with a maniacal glint in his eye.
Most merchants across the Overworld would have been frightened to deny three strangers clasping deadly weapons and showing no signs of relinquishing their treasures. Destevan Weaponsmith Sohr diGeranon, however, was Ihran and no Ihran had ever been intimidated out of a deal.
“Too much,” she said firmly. “You could never afford it.”
In a blink, the three of them turned from fierce warriors to disappointed children, weapons lowering, heads drooping. Stirla had known he hadn’t enough money to buy so much as a rivet of armour, but for a moment he’d been able to dream. Blunt Ihrans had no place for dreams; they were an ever-practical race.
Easing the axe from Stirla’s loosened grip, Destevan nodded at Derrain, waving at the spear in his hand and at the coat Stirla was wearing. “Test.”
Derrain eyed the sharp spear point dubiously and pressed it against the padded jacket close to Stirla’s left shoulder. He gave a gentle jab. Stirla rocked a little, but that was all he felt.
“Harder,” the smith ordered. “Kaz-naghkt never play.”
Which was true enough. Still, Stirla was in no mood to have his shoulder pierced, so he turned around. “Have at it,” he told Derrain, presenting the broad expanse of his back by stretching out his arms. “I’ll let you know if I feel anything.”
“Remember you said that,” Derrain said doubtfully, taking two big steps backwards. “Brace yourself.”
Stirla did and grunted as he staggered forwards under the weight of a blow. “Gods!”
Neryth stared at him in horror, while Derrain ran across the room, stammering apologies.
Stirla could only stand there, stunned. He turned his head and stared at the spear still quivering in his back.
“Incredible!” he laughed.
“You’re not hurt?” Derrain asked, wrenching the spear from his lieutenant’s back.
“You’ve a mean throw on you, Derry, but other than the impact I didn’t feel a thing.” Stirla laughed again, grabbing Destevan’s hand and shaking it firmly. “This is amazing. You’re a genius. I don’t know how you did it, but…” Words failed him as he hurriedly stripped the waistcoat off and turned it around.
There was a tear in the leather where the spear had struck, and a little of the padding had come loose, but the metal beneath wasn’t even scratched.
“Great Gods, we have to get some of these!”
No one argued, especially not when they turned their attention to testing out other pieces of armour. They fired arrows at each other, slashed with swords, stabbed with spears, and Stirla even managed to swing the axe a few times.
Nothing broke, no one got hurt beyond the occasional bruise. The leather became a little scratched and torn, while bits of padding feathered the air, but the metal remained untouched.
“It’s unbelievable,” Neryth announced once they’d exhausted themselves, the armour and the weapons. “You are to be congratulated, smith.”
Destevan rocked proudly, beaming and nodding. “It is good when hard work pays off.”
Which brought uncomfortable thoughts back into Stirla’s mind. Regretfully, he lowered the axe and shrugged off the gauntlets. “We can’t afford it.”
Destevan’s expression was shrewd once more. “Rift Riders never have any money.” There was no denying that. “Yet this armour was designed for Rift Riders.” The Ihran rocked on her heels again. “I would be stupid to make something my customers could not afford.”
“But you said it yourself,” Derrain pointed out, “Rift Riders never have any money.”
This time Destevan grinned. “Patrons!”
Stirla grimaced, but Neryth looked thoughtful. “If I spoke to my father…”
“No.” Stirla shook his head firmly. “Riders are impartial. If we had powerful patrons, like yourself or your father, we might be expected to favour one nation over another. Even if we didn’t, others might suspect us of doing so. Mistrust would form and our reputation would suffer accordingly. Riders are supposed to be apolitical – that’s why we have no patrons.”
Destevan wrinkled her nose. “Bah, it was a thought. No matter. We will work out something else. For now, perhaps you can help me?”
Derrain and Stirla eyed each other. They were certainly built for work in a forge, but they didn’t have time. Not even to earn perfect pieces of armour. Such masterpieces as these surely took many moons to craft.
“What kind of help?” Neryth asked.
The Ihran’s expression turned pensive. “You were at Aquila, yes, when it fell?”
Surprised, Stirla and Derrain exchanged another glance and nodded. “We were.”
“Perhaps you can tell me of two Ihrans that worked there? Derneon Weaponsmith Sohr diDeranon and Gedanon Swordmaster Sohr diGeranon?”
It had been a while since Stirla had heard either of their names in full, but something familiar caught his attention. “Sohr diGeranon,” he said. “Are you related to Gedanon?”
Destevan nodded. “My brother. Derneon is my cousin also. You know them?”
Derrain and Stirla both patted the swords they carried at their hip, so expertly crafted by Derneon. Both had been taught how to wield them by Gedanon. “We know them.”
The Ihran sighed heavily. “And their fate?”
This time Stirla could only shake his head. “I’m sorry. The last I heard they were working with the healers. In the chaos of the evacuation I’m not sure what happened to them. I believe the healers had their own way of getting out. Whether they did or not, I’m afraid I cannot say.”
The little Ihran frowned at the ground. “I wish to know.”
Stirla looked at Derrain for help, and the big student sighed. “We are doing everything possible to win Aquila back. Only then will we be able to answer such questions for you and many others.”
Destevan clenched her fist and bounced it in the air, thinking. Then she nodded. “All right.”
Stirla exchanged glances with his companions, their confusion deepening when the little Ihran vanished into the back room and returned with an armful of yet more armour. “Complete your sets,” she ordered. “I will work from them. When do you leave?”
More perplexed than ever, Stirla scratched his head. “The day after tomorrow.”
“We haven’t decided yet.”
“Bah, not good enough. You go to the Lowlands, no?”
“No. I mean yes. Well, over them. Nimbys is our goal.”
Destevan grinned. “Then come here first. We leave from Sohr. I know just the ship. Yes, come back to me, day after tomorrow, early morning. Be ready to leave. Bring your birds. It will be good.”
“But…” Stirla couldn’t find the words.
“You’re coming with us?” Derrain asked, every bit as incredulous as Stirla.
“Of course.” The smith nodded as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. “How else will I discover what happened to my kinsmen? How else will I avenge or rescue them? It is also time to test my armour.” She glanced at the pile by her feet and clucked her tongue. “We will need a bigger ship. I have work to do. Come tomorrow. I need you for lifting.”
And with that she shooed the bemused Riders out onto the street. “Tomorrow!” she commanded, slamming the door in their faces.
Stirla looked at Neryth and Derrain. “Tomorrow it is then.”
~ Next Chapter ~
Thanks for reading!