Harold looked at the shingle that hung from two chains just above the door.
ORIAN SMITH & FORGERY
His trip down memory lane behind him, Harold was now in the present and thinking about that sign and what it meant to him. When his grandfather Eoghan bought this plot of land almost 70 years ago, he set up a small trading business to help the local community find what they were looking for. Out of necessity, they needed nails and knives, horseshoes and buckles, so Eoghan learned how to manipulate ore. When Fergus was of age, he took the business over, and this was the to be the first day of Harold’s ascent to becoming the town smith.
He walked through the door, his chest puffed with pride and was immediately hit in the side of the head with what felt like a rock. He went to a knee as the rock hit the ground and shattered.
‘Rock’s don’t shatter.’ Harold thought, putting a hand to his sore temple and seeing that it wasn’t a rock that he was hit by, but a small pouch with a dozen coins that were now twinkling on the dirt floor.
He gathered them up and looked up at his father who was now staring down at him. His father was a broad man, strong shouldered, barrel chested, and with the slight paunch of a man who liked his drink. His face was smudged with soot and his hands were encrusted with black.
“All right m’boy. Second thing I’m gonna teach you today is how to catch.” He snorted with a grin. “First things first, you have to do a pretty important job for me this morning. I know you are aching to get back here and learn how to hammer, but we got a rush job that’s gotta be handled.”
Harold got to his feet. “Of course you can, Pop. You need me to go run whatever it is you made for Alphus to him before he goes?”
His father raised an eyebrow, “Heard us yellin, didja? It’s related, but not exactly. Yer gonna run, not ride, but run outta town the back way. Avoid the town constables and get to the river. There’ll be a dwarf with a cart waitin’ for you to give him that little sack of gold. You give him the gold, he’ll give you a box. You bring that box straight to Alphus and his smartalek son and tell them nothin’ about it. Are we clear?”
Harold blinked. He understood the details of what was asked of him, but he had a thousand questions pertaining to them. He opened his mouth to ask the first one when his father cut him off at the first sound, “No talkin’ to Dalton about where you went. No mentionin’ Sweetfoot. You deliver it, you come back, and I promise I’ll explain when you get here. Got it?”
On his feet now, still standing with his brow knitted in question, his one hand clenched around the bag of coins, the other limp at his side, Harold again tried to speak and again was stopped. “I’m sorry bout beanin’ you with the coins. It’s been a frustrating morning, but trust me.. I’ve been waitin’ years to tell you all the stuff I gotta tell you today. This is just super important. Ok?”
Finally, there was a pause where Harold would have been able to get words out, but none of his questions were at the ready. His father had already told him that he would explain when he got back, so what was left to ask? He was just stuck, like the gears of the great machine in his head were hit with a bag of coins and completely derailed. He felt like at this point he had to say something, if only to acknowledge that he had absorbed everything his father had told him. “Do… I need to get change?”
Fergus blinked, almost audibly, at his son, “No.” There was a pause, where it was very clear his father was reconsidering this option. “You can do this, can’t you son?”
Flint hit rock and Harold’s brain began to spark again. He nodded, “Of course. I got this. No problem. You can count on me.”
Fergus rolled his eyes, “Fine. Whatever. Now quit bein’ a fool and go. Last thing. Do not, under any conditions, screw with what’s in that box. It’s for Alphus and Alphus only. You would likely blow your fool head off. Now run, and again. Let no one see you, especially not the town guard.”
Harold nodded once more and headed out of the house, running away from the town towards the river his father had directed him to. It wasn’t a far run, but the concern of guards was something that Harold has having a seriously hard time understanding. He was going and picking up something from a vendor, what’s the big deal?
Unless it was the vendor that was the problem.
That thought completely intrigued Harold, so much that he almost didn’t notice that he was getting closer to the edge of town, and should be on the look out for guards and other road travellers. This particular path, referred to boringly as ‘The Green Road’, headed due west out of town and was the only road that didn’t have any sort of major fortifications due to the fact that it lead into densely wooded forest. The stories of Harold’s childhood spoke of druids that lived out in these woods that kept the forest lush and more full than anywhere else in the country, possibly the world.
As a child, Harold and his friends would go traipsing through these woods, so he knew the general path that the town guard took during their rounds. Coming to the rough path, worn away by guards, travellers, and carts, he knew this would be the time he was most exposed and potentially visible. Nervous butterflies flitted around his stomach while he stayed crouched down off the path, out of sight of anyone who wasn’t looking directly at him, he got as still as possible and listened.
It was at that precise moment, hidden in the brush on the side of this rarely travelled road, that Harold felt supremely exposed. He hadn’t grabbed his sword, a dagger, or even his sling. In the excitement of being requested to go on this odd quest for his father, he had absentmindedly just run off. The woods beyond the intersection weren’t the most dangerous, but they definitely had their perils. Running back would get him a tongue lashing from his father, and on his first day of adulthood, the last thing he wanted was to seem like a child.
He listened closely.
Only the sound of the sweet summer breeze high up through the trees and the occasional rustling of an animal. He realized he was now simply stalling. For some reason the idea of crossing that threshold of the town border without a weapon for strange purposes felt like it was the biggest thing he had ever done. Even though he had played in these woods as a child. He had gotten drunk on a bottle of apple mead that was more vinegar than it was alcohol with Dalton not far from where he was currently crouched. He kissed Missy Carlton on the river, probably within visible distance of where he would be meeting this strange caravan. What was stopping him?
“Nothing.” He said to himself resolutely. He picked himself up, brushed a few nettles that had gathered on his pants, and ran across the road and into the woods. He was being silly, and he knew it. Even the figure that had been watching him from far up in the tree branches knew he was being silly, and they would know. They were a trained killer.