Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Several Adventures of Hugh, Part 19

Hugh forged a sword that looked like a question mark, with a sharpened edge on the outside of the curve, while the reverse side was to be left dull to be used in parrying. He also forged a very thin but long bladed axe, the head of which looked like the sun just peaking over the horizon, the point of which extended out several inches beyond the haft and could be used for stabbing.

Since Hugh gave Verne the day off, Hugh had the dwarf and giant working with him. He worked much faster with the two of them, as he had worked with them for years and the dwarf in particular had become skilled enough that he could hammer the same blade as Hugh, each striking while the other was lifting their hammer, while the giant would hold the piece in place with tongs.

After most of the work was finished, the giant sought out a haft for the axe and leather for wrapping. She began by fashioning the handle, pressing raised dimples to form grooves for the hand. By the time she was finished with this, the axe head was finished. The axe attached at two points, once at the top of the haft, where the wood had to be whittled down a bit to fit into eye.

It attached a second time at the bottom of the blade, where Hugh fashioned a flat peg at the bottom of the axe blade. This was wrapped tightly to the haft with leather to add stability during hard impacts, especially those made near the tip. They sent the sword off to have a hilt made after Hugh made a few more corrections.

“It’s nice not having to fashion a hilt,” said the dwarf.

“That was sort of one of my favorite parts,” said the giant.

“I can fashion you some carpentry tools,” said Hugh.

The giant smiled at Hugh. “Nah, it takes so long… it’d be nice to just have a break.”

The dwarf handled the new axe a bit. “I dunno… the one thing it’s really missing is a guard for the hand,” he said.

“Here,” said Hugh, pulling a short handled axe off the wall. “This is one of the axes carried by all the soldiers.” It had a small double sided blade that formed a wide U on top and an even wider U at the bottom. “It can be used for parrying or entrapping, and it’s weighted to throw.” Hugh wound up and hurled it at a large wooden support on the other side of the workshop, where it stuck with a dull thud.

“Nice,” said the dwarf. “Still, I’d rather have a shield than an axe.”

“Why?” asked a voice outside. The three of them turned to look at a man as he entered. He had a rough beard, lots of scars, a crooked nose, and close cropped brown hair.

“How can I help you?” asked Hugh.

“Well, I thought I’d come down and see the mythical monster who will be forging my weapons,” he said.

“My name’s Hugh.”

“It’s nice to see you have respect for our traditions,” said the man, walking up to the axe and pulling it out of the wall. “The polyaxe is a symbol of freedom. It’s kept us independent for centuries.”

“You shouldn’t stop using it,” said the dwarf. “You should just add a shield. If anything, you should have two of those polyaxes, since apparently you’re throwing them all over the place.”

“You think this city is just made of money?” the man asked.

“Um, yeah,” said the dwarf.

“Maybe it is, in the privileged corners you’ve been through,” said the man. “But most of the city goes hungry while a few grow fat.”

“If the rich want to keep what they have,” said Hugh, “They ought to be willing to protect the city to the best of their ability.”

“How much bronze or iron do you think we have?” asked the man.

“I’d prefer steel,” said Hugh.

The man stared at Hugh for a bit. “So would I,” he said.

“Who are you, by the way?” Hugh asked.

“Zador, master-at-arms of the Politian Navy. And whether you know it or not, the city’s naval forces are more than twice that of our land forces, so when the city changes its armed tactics, I’m responsible for explaining to over thirty thousand men why we are no longer using the weapons that have served them well for their whole lives, for their fathers’ whole lives, and for their grandfathers’ whole lives… you see where I’m going with this, I’m sure.”

Hugh nodded.

Zador walked over to Hugh and looked down at the axe he had just forged. “Now this I can use,” he said. “Did you harden the tip?”

“Yes,” said Hugh.

“This would made a perfect boarding axe,” said Zador, waving it about. “I bet you could even make these from bronze to save money.”

“Definitely,” said Hugh. “You might want to shorten the length of the toe, maybe to no more than a finger length.”

“What’s in it for you?” asked Zador.

“What do you mean?” asked Hugh.

“Why do you care what happens to the city? How do I know you weren’t sent here by the Otros to sabotage our defenses?”

“This city has treated me well since I arrived, I wouldn’t hurt anyone here,” Hugh said. “I just like helping people.”

“Is that what you did in the market?” asked Zador.

Hugh looked down.

“You think people will mistake you for some other cyclops?” Zador asked, craning his neck down to look into Hugh’s eye.

“What’s he talking about?” asked the giant.

“I had no idea what was happening until it was over,” said Hugh.

“Until what was over?” asked the dwarf.

Zador set the axe down. “He dumped coins in the market to distract people while an army of street urchins stole everything they could carry away.”

“What law does that break?” asked the giant.

“Disorderly conduct, for one,” said Zador. “Aiding and abetting theft, for another. Conspiracy to defraud market vendors… oh, and trespassing, since you walked through someone’s home.”

Hugh looked up, “I’m sorry.”

“Save it,” said Zador. “The Chancellor already took care of everything. He actually seemed all too happy to do it. He laughed when he heard what you did. I can’t say I reacted quite the same.”

Zador walked out of the workshop and turned back. “I don’t think you’re here to destroy us,” he said. “But it’s still my job to make sure you don’t do it accidentally.”

“I’ll make sure you have an easy job,” said Hugh.

Zador nodded and left.

“What was that about the market?” asked the dwarf.

Hugh told them about Theoson, from when he saw him begging at the statue until that morning when he had thrown coins into the market.

“It sounds like he’s mad,” said the dwarf.

“He’s too calculating to be crazy,” Hugh said.

“He’s just angsty,” said the giant.

“He’s too motivated to be miserable,” Hugh said.

The twins both shrugged and went back to work. Hugh stood there for a moment, thinking, then he smiled. “You can sit this one out,” Hugh said the dwarf. “I want to try something different.”

He chose a relatively small piece of steel, and hammered it into a very long blade, except Hugh fashioned the blade to be round in the middle.

“Is that a double ended sword?” asked the dwarf.

“No,” said Hugh.

Hugh tempered it for a long time, much longer than normal, giving it a more ductile, bendy quality.

“It must be some sort of mechanism or tool,” said the giant.

“Nope,” said Hugh.

After some more hammering, Hugh pinched notches at each end, and the twins both got it.

After it was cooled and strung, Hugh and the twins went to go find an arrow. There was a fletcher located kitty-corner to the workshop, and they bought five blunted arrows to test out the bow. When they got to the archery range within the barracks, the giant shot first. She thought it had a difficult draw and much less power than most bows. The dwarf and Hugh both agreed after they had taken a few shots.

“Still,” said Hugh, “If you keep it oiled, it’s far more durable than a wooden or horn bow, and it’s definitely not going to be damaged by the moist shore air like layered composite bows.”

“Why is it so long?” asked the dwarf.

“I am fairly sure a shortbow made of steel would be little more than a dangerous toy,” Hugh said. “It’s more of a curiosity than anything else, a bow that can be repaired and used again and again. It should resist most wear and tear, plus I made it completely reversible, so if it starts to lose its integrity in one direction, you can flip the string.”

“Maybe for an army that is marching into a desert,” said the giant. “But I could make a bow better than this with just a few tools. And you still need to make string, so it’s not completely replacement-free. ”

Hugh nodded. “Well, like I said, it’s a curiosity.”

When he got back, Walker was in the workshop with a small group of people, including Brad.

“Ah, Hugh, so glad I found you,” said Walker. “What’s that you got there? A new creation, I hope.”

“Steel bow,” said Hugh. “I was testing the tensile strength. I think I’d need it thicker for it to be viable”

Walker shook his head. “I need to teach you the golden rule. Find a way to do it cheaper. What I ultimately need is to figure out how to make everything you’re done in wrought iron or bronze, maybe even impurity ridden copper if you can manage it. I like this,” he walked up and lifted the thrusting axe. “Not much metal, wooden handle. We have unlimited wood, but we don’t have any mines of our own, let alone miners to work them.”

“So where do you get it?” asked Hugh.

“We trade for it,” Walker said. “With spices, salt, pottery, glass… maybe even some of your weapons. Your talents far exceed that of designing weapons for the everyday soldier, you know.”

Walker took something with both hands from someone with him. He set it down on the anvil with a clunk and motioned for Hugh to come over. Hugh pulled back two layers of sack cloth to find a thick, irregular hunk of metal, pitted but mostly smooth, with a sheen like that of silver, only less white and more blue.

“This is Vulcan steel,” said Walker. “If you can figure out a way to work with it, each weapon you make could be sold for the price of a large ship or a flock of livestock or… dozens of slags of steel.”

Walker left with his entourage. He turned back as he got to the street. “Don’t use it all in one weapon,” he shouted.

Hugh was about to set to work when he remembered something and ran after Walker.

“Walker, I mean… Chancellor Edward,” Hugh shouted down the street. He jogged to catch up.

“Yes?” he asked.

“I forgot to… well, I’m sorry about the market, but Theoson wanted me to tell you that ‘your old teacher wonders if you are living well.’”

Brad chuckled and shook his head.

“Tell my old teacher…” Walker began, trailing off and thinking for a bit. “Tell my old teacher that I am living as well as a rich man can.”

“Again, I’m sorry about the whole –”

“Don’t mention it,” said Walker. “When I heard what had happened, I knew you were an unwitting pawn. Just see to it that you don’t facilitate his antics anymore… and try not to involve me next time.” Walker winked. “I did get a kick out of hearing about it, but it wouldn’t look good if people knew that money came from my own coffers.”

The group walked away, except for Brad. “If you want to learn,” said Brad, “Come to the Scholia. Henry can give you directions, or you can ask around. It’s a well known building. It’s where we hold public discussions that are open to all. We don’t think knowledge comes from mischief or madness, but from thoughtful debate. Consider this my personal invitation.” He bowed a bit and walked off.

To be continued…

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