At the stable, the giant chose a palomino named Chestnut, while the dwarf asked Henry which was the fastest, and it turned out to be a black horse with a white diamond in the middle of his head, the bottom corner of which ended just between his eyes. His name was Thunderclap, and he was a recently retired racing horse with several minor wins under his belt, but not enough prestige to be worth putting out to stud.
This was their first time on horses.
After awkwardly getting mounted up with some help, the twins walked their horses out of the stable. Henry gave them instruction on verbal commands and the use of the reins. They did a few laps around a large fountain, first at a walk, then a trot, then a canter.
“Don’t let your horses gallop. They’ll tire out, and you’re liable to fall off and seriously hurt yourself,” said Henry.
A man in all leather walked briskly into the stable, mounted, and rode out to them. “These two?” he asked.
“Yes,” Henry said. “Kane, Lang, this is your guide, Huntsman Kamali. He’ll get you there and back one piece.”
“What’s the point if there isn’t a little danger?” asked the dwarf.
Kamali smiled and rode off. The giant and dwarf followed him.
Hugh’s lip quivered. It had been a long time since he cried. Henry glanced over at Hugh, then looked away quickly. Henry walked towards the house and after a bit turned his head back. “When you’re ready, there is something inside that you could help me with. Please, take your time.”
Hugh walked over to the fountain and looked in. He cupped his hands and splashed water on his face. He took a deep breath. He knew… he was pretty sure… he hoped they would be fine. Hugh walked slowly towards the house, consciously taking long, deep breaths and trying to calm his mind.
Inside, Henry was talking to a large group of young men. He turned to face Hugh as he entered. “And, here is our secret weapon.” The group gave out some half-hearted cheers.
“Hugh, we’re moving the Chancellor’s necessities to the Chancellery,” said Henry. “This is your moving crew to do as you see fit. You’ll need this in order to be admitted once you arrive.” Henry handed Hugh a necklace. The pendant was a golden five-point star, covered in intricate carvings. “Don’t lose that insignia. It’s a big deal to have to replace those.”
Hugh put it around his neck and looked down at it. Henry walked off down a hallway.
“So…” Hugh began.
“Don’t worry,” said one of men standing before him. “We know what we have to do, what we have to move, and all that. I think your job is just to help us with the heavy stuff.”
Hugh smiled. “I can do that.”
They went upstairs. Everyone busied themselves immediately, and Hugh stood around looking awkwardly at all the bustling activity.
“Over here,” someone shouted to Hugh. Hugh walked over to him and stood in front of a large, long, wooden chest.
“Okay, you pick it up on that end,” said the man, pointing to a handle on one of the sides. Hugh lifted it with one hand, then slid his other hand under the chest and lifted the whole thing, resting it on his shoulder.
“Alright,” said Hugh, “I’ll meet you guys there.” As he left the room, he couldn’t help but notice that everyone was staring at him.
Hugh left the estate, walked eight blocks to the Chancellery, and when he got there, he motioned to the pendant around his neck with his free hand. The guards opened the door for him.
Once inside, Hugh glanced around the room.
Pretty much everything was highly varnished wood, shiny metal, or smooth leather. Hugh realized he didn’t know where he should set down the chest. There was no one else there. Hugh turned back toward the door. The guards were on the other side. Hugh knocked. He knocked again, and one of the guards stuck his head.
“Where am I supposed to put this?” asked Hugh.
“I’m guessing upstairs in the residence,” the guard said.
Hugh walked up the stairs, which were a little cramped for him and the chest. He tried not to, but he bumped the wall a few times. He was pretty sure it didn’t leave any marks.
Upstairs, at the end of a short hallway, a door was ajar. Hugh pushed his way in and saw Walker sitting in a window alcove, writing.
“Hugh, my goodness!” Walker set his work aside and walked over to him. “Those are all my books, they must weigh as much as an ox.”
“Where would you like them?” asked Hugh.
“You can set them down over there,” Walker said, pointing to a nearby corner. “They’ll need to be emptied when the bookshelves arrive.”
“Oh, sorry,” said Hugh. “I’ll run back and get the shelves.”
“No, no, stay and chat, I insist,” said Walker. “You must be tired.”
“Not really,” said Hugh. “More upset than tired. I can’t stop thinking about the twins.”
“They’ll be fine,” said Walker. “It’s like stabbing fish in a barrel. There are professional hunters there, with decades of experiences, the finest tools and weapons, not to mention the best dogs the world has ever seen. They’re safer hunting ligers than they are sitting in the stands at the arena, to be honest.”
“Really?” asked Hugh.
“Yeah, some of those rafters in the arena are so old and rickety, they might go at any minute.”
“Oh,” said Hugh.
“So, have you given any thought to doing a little blacksmithing?”
“I guess,” said Hugh.
“So you mean, ‘No, I haven’t thought about it,’” Walker said, bringing his chin to his chest and looking squarely at Hugh.
“I don’t really like blacksmithing,” said Hugh.
“Don’t like it? So, you have prior experience?”
“Of course. Blacksmithing is something every young cyclops learns. Didn’t you know that?”
“I know there are legends that the cyclopes forged the weapons of the Divas that allowed them to conquer Heaven,” said Walker. “But I also hear stories of cyclopes that eat the livers of trespassers.”
“Only one cyclops did that…” said Hugh.
“Too true,” said Walker. “There are plenty of stories of men committing a host crime I find detestable… and most of them are even true. I am just saying… I did not mean to presume to know anything about you, so I had no idea you were schooled in the art of smithing.”
“Well, I am,” said Hugh.
“What sort of experience do you have?”
“I was working bellows since I was 6, hammering since I was 13,” said Hugh.
“How old are you now?” asked Walker.
“Fifty,” said Hugh.
Walker blinked a few times. “You’re telling me you are essentially a master blacksmith with decades of experience?”
“Well, I can’t make everything, but I’m proficient in swordsmithing, armorsmithing, I can make all manner metal mace, axe, spearhead, arrowhead, buckle, gate… I’m pretty familiar with most metals, though I’ve never worked with Vulcan steel.”
“Where do you get raw materials?” asked Walker.
“We trade for them, mostly,” said Hugh.
“What do you trade for raw metal?”
“Fur and leather, finished weapons,” said Hugh.
“You’re a tanner, as well?” asked Walker.
“Sure, I guess,” said Hugh. “You learn how to do a lot of things when you live on your own and have to depend on yourself.”
“I imagine.” Walker squinted at Hugh. “How would you feel about doing a little forging work for me, just so I can see how good your work is?”
Hugh looked down at his hands. He clenched them shut and closed his eyes. “Alright,” he said. “I need something to take my mind off of things.”
“The twins?” asked Walker.
“Like I said, they’re in good hands.” Walker stepped closer to Hugh and put his hand on his elbow (which was roughly shoulder height for Walker). “It’s so safe, I would have gone myself if I didn’t have so much work to do. So many positions to appoint… so many promises to break…” Walker winked at Hugh.
Hugh stared back at him.
“Well, I want to make use of your services at once, but I have a few things I need to take care of, and if I’m not mistaken, Herbert is probably waiting for me downstairs. The truth is, I’m not ready for him, yet. I’d rather make him sweat it out, anyway. So, you’d be doing me a huge favor if you could go downstairs and distract him. What do you say?”
Hugh shrugged. “Okay, anything to occupy my mind.”
Hugh went down to find Herbet standing with his hands behind his back. He nodded at Hugh as he came down the stairs.
“I’m supposed to –”
“Keep me occupied?” asked Herbert.
“Yeah,” Hugh said, taking a seat on a large leather couch.
“He can be a real cunt,” Herbert said.
“The Chancellor,” Herbert said, sneering through the title.
“He’s always been kind to me,” said Hugh.
“Wait until the day you’re of no use to him, or you owe him something,” said Herbert.
“I suppose he has you sold with his ‘humble farmer’ routine,” said Herbert. “That man hasn’t worked a day in his life.”
“I’ve known farmers,” said Hugh. “A true humble farmer doesn’t own the land he works or truly profit from what he reaps. Humble farmers never get rich, only those they work for do.”
“How very true,” said Herbert. “I wish someone had told me that when I worked on his farm.”
“You worked on his farm?” asked Hugh.
“For five years, I toiled over the land, eking out a modest existence while he travelled the world, burning through his inheritance like a drunken gambler.”
“So how did he get to be where he is today?”
“He’s had everything handed to him,” said Herbert. “His land, the people who worked it, his social connections, his education, even what little he actually learned while he was fucking of every whore on the continent… all of it was by virtue of his birth, not sweat or intellect.”
“Didn’t he have some idea for using roses during a festival?” asked Hugh.
Herbert laughed. “Our people have spread flower petals in the streets for centuries. It was his idea to bribe the city treasurer to only purchase roses and to get them exclusively from him at an inflated rate.”
Hugh thought for a bit. “That doesn’t seem ethical.”
“You’re most certainly right,” said Herbert. “It’s not ethical at all, especially when the city can’t afford to pay its soldiers or repair public works like the docks and roads.”
“Why don’t you expose him?” asked Hugh.
Herbert pursed his lips and swallowed. He looked down “He’s my brother.”
Hugh shook his head. “How is it that everyone I meet is related?”
To be continued…