Thursday 18 October 2018

Trollbane - Part 9

As Reven suspected, Fang did not react well to the news that they were heading off to the market. The warhound had already known about the trip thanks to the link he shared with his master. Reven’s anxiety oozed out of him as he rounded the wall to the stable. Fang sat in a corner on a mound of heaped hay, his back set firmly against the walls. He would not meet Reven’s eye and made his contempt for the trip plain by turning his head completely away from his master. "Fang, we don't know what danger the roads ahead may hold" Reven started as he began his attempt to placate his huge companion. "The equipment we get today could be the difference between your life or death. I couldn't imagine life without you in it my friend?". In response, Fang raised one of his great paws to fend off Reven’s advance. The paw was taken like the proffered hand of a lover. One hand was placed underneath and one on top that gently caressed the beast’s foot. Fang tried to snatch the paw back but Reven would not release it. It made the hound whip his head around to better see what was happening and Reven took his opportunity with relish. He leapt at Fang and wrapped his arms around the warhound's neck. A mocking growl escaped Reven’s smiling lips as Fang lurched forward to balance himself. A swift shake of the head and Reven was sprawling on the ground and he couldn't help but laugh. Fang nuzzled at him, pushing him around the hay-filled floor and a play fight ensued. The hound was the clear victor but his battle for the trip to the market had been lost. 

Ten minutes later fang was saddled and muzzled. In truth, the muzzle would do nothing to stop Fangs powerful jaws from opening but it gave an air of security that could calm any nervous onlookers. Instead of saddling his friend, Reven led Fang by the snout using a short rope to project an air of control. The only real control that Reven would have was the side of beef that had been promised to the hound for good behaviour whilst in public. They set off, waving Peter goodbye as they made their way further into the city.

The market was a bustling hive of activity. It sprawled across a square that was lined with small shops, pastry wagons and alehouses that were already open and doing a roaring trade even though it wasn't yet noon. Jugglers and musicians entertained small crowds for pennies whilst a puppet show kept a mass of excited children busy. There were people everywhere and even Fangs bulk didn't do much to part the crowds that hindered their progress. Reven eyed each stall, in turn, looking for the tell-tale glint of morning sunshine as it kissed armour or weapons. At one point he seriously considered mounting Fang so that he might have a superior view but thought better of it. Despite the throng of people ahead of them not paying much attention to the warhound those they had passed gasped and stood back, slack-jawed at the sight of the awesome beast. 

Warhounds were once often seen being ridden by nobles or wealthy merchants but the art of their care and breeding had been mostly lost to the common man. The armies that guarded Orland now seemed the only ones capable of rearing the beasts with very few being seen without a soldier sitting astride it. It is for this reason that Fang was a spectacle to be gawked at. Reven himself got a fair few appraising looks. Whilst he was armed for battle, he was plainly no soldier.

They pushed on through the crowds but even Reven was starting to feel claustrophobic so he led Fang away from the market stalls to the edge of the square. There Fang drank from a water butt whilst Reven bought some pastries and a cold ale. The pastries were to placate the agitated Fang, the ale was to placate the close-to-agitated Reven! As he tipped his head back to quench his thirst the tell-tale glint he was looking for caught his eye. At the other end of the side of the square he was on he saw tables set out in front of a shop. Reven’s keen eyes picked out gleaming vambraces and pauldrons laid out for purchase and knew that merchant would be his best shot at finding something for Fang. Reven downed his ale and motioned to Fang to finish his last pastry.

Halfway to the armour-laden tables, they came across an animal vendor. Reven looked at these people with disdain and the animals they touted with sympathy. Being bonded with a beast gave him a special kinship with animals and seeing the conditions these ones were forced to endure he could feel his ire rising. He saw a pair of Rock-Tailed Beavers from the mountain streams of Ironhill, their fur matted and teeth overly long. He saw a young Thornspire Bear whose name was taken from the woods they inhabited. The bear was dosed with something and wore a look of befuddlement as if his addled mind couldn't comprehend his surroundings. A tuft of bright white hair grew on the crest of his head upon a wound that slowly healed. There were countless birds that squawked and chirped as Reven approached. Animals from all over Orland and beyond crowded the stalls. Reven couldn't help but notice some of the beasts appeared to be dead. He stopped looking to calm his anger before he did something rash. Fang sensing his unease let loose a low growl that actually quieted the majority of the birds and drew alarmed stares from passers-by. 

Reven quickened his pace to put distance between himself and the animals but a shout from behind him brought him to a halt. He turned to see a group of five men behind him, all in the garb of trackers or hunters. Mottled brown and green shirts and trousers sat under leather jerkins and other arrayed pieces of hide armour. Enough protection from animals but not much against the point of a sword. The lead man moved toward Reven, "Ho there, friend" he called as he approached. "We couldn't help but notice and admire your beast and wondered if you came to market today with the intention of selling him?". The man brought his hands together and steepled his finger as a wide, gap-toothed grin spread across his face, feigning friendliness. Reven knew the question he asked was moot. Nobody saddles a beast they are going to sell. "He's not for sale", Reven replied matter-of-factly and turned to leave the conversation there but the man pressed him. "We would pay handsomely for such a fine animal, we have gold and you can take your pick from our fine stock of beasts", his grin returned as he gestured back at the array of miserable animals that sat in cages over his shoulder. Reven didn't respond, Fang did. His growl rumbled and reverberated off the wall of the square and made the man nearly jump out of his skin. A menacing step forward was all it took for the no longer grinning, animal vendor to turn tail and run. 

Reven had hitched Fang around the corner from the armourer's just off the square whilst he looked through the stock. The armourer himself was busy bringing pieces from the back of the shop whilst explaining that most of the warhound armour he once stocked had been melted down long ago as there was little need for it. The pieces he was showing Reven were 'too fine' to be destroyed in his opinion and he had held on to them in the hope that he would one day see a hound adorned with them. Reven picked up a weighty spiked shoulder plate to inspect it. Inwardly he couldn't deny the quality of the armour. There were no casting marks, no rough edges and it was in excellent condition that told him it had never been used. Fine etching along the sides, which mirrored the curves of the edges, were inlaid with azure and some red metal that Reven couldn't identify. The metal itself looked to be a deep bronze but lacked the weight that bronze had. When questioning this he learned that the armourer had not made the armour himself but had inherited it from his father who ran the forge and shop before him, its true origin was a mystery. This was what he was here for though and despite the lack of information about the armour’s provenance, he bargained for the whole lot. Chestguard, barbed hind guards, a segmented back piece and spiked shoulder guards. They were loaded onto a small hand cart and Reven wheeled it around to load Fang up with his new purchases. The hound ran an appraising eye over the armour as Reven strapped it to place. The armourer had offered the use of his backyard so Reven could have some privacy and he had accepted happily. Some lengths of hide were needed to ensure the metal didn't chafe on Fang's skin or fur but an hour later when he was all strapped up the armour looked as if it was made for the hound. Reven was about mount up and move on when the armourer rushed out of the shop holding a huge piece of metal that sat across his chest. It was the top half of a snarling wolf cast in the same metal as the rest of Fang's new armour. he explained he knew he had one more piece and would give it away for free only to see the suit complete and in use. As Reven fit this final piece he felt he would burst with pride as he looked in wonder and the armour-clad behemoth before him. Fang was fearsome to look upon at the best of times but clad in metal he looked truly monstrous. 

It was at his very moment that five men burst into the yard armed with axe handles and whips. The same five men that had not long ago stopped Reven in the street to attempt to barter for Fang. Reven slid Bloodthirster from its sheath and sidestepped around the men until they were between him and Fang. The sword radiated its hunger for blood and almost hummed with longing for battle. As Reven turned to bolt the gate to the yard shut he couldn't help but wonder at the idiocy people displayed. Take these five fools for example. They obviously wanted Fang. They obviously had no knowledge of warhounds. They obviously didn't hold their lives dear to them. Despite all this, their stupidity still amazed him. 

Once the door was bolted and the armourer had fled, Reven raised his sword. In response, Fang opened his mouth wide enough to rip through the stitching of his muzzle and let the leather drop to the floor. For some of the men between them, the sound of that leather muzzle slapping against the stone cobbles of the armourer’s yard would be the last sound they heard. As one Reven and Fang came together, tearing asunder the men that stood before them. It was like some terrible god had brought his hands together to swat a fly. Justice and vengeance crashed together and blood began to flow. Gap Tooth was the first to die. A slash from Bloodthirster opened up his neck just a second before Fang bit the head clean off one of his cronies. The several seconds of violence that followed ended with entrails, an arm, four fingers and two heads without bodies strewn about the floor. Fangs new armour was splattered with gore and Reven shook his head as he wiped the blood from his eyes. "I hate to say it my friend", he said as he looked at his bloodied hound, "but maybe you were right. We should have stayed at the inn."

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