The Greater Lion

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Chapter 11 ~•~ Prototypes

Ever since he was told about the airship, Shaka had worried about the technological gap between his kingdom and the 'visitors', and the likely gap in their warfare. His thoughts led him to see Bamba. Maybe Bamba would have created something that would ease his worries.

Bamba's workshop was located in one of the busy districts in the heart of the city. The district was mostly occupied by artisans; sculptors, tailors, iron benders, and an engineer.

The alleys were made noisy by the sounds of anvils, and engines. Some parts were dark, while others were lit by fires on strategic points, each of the fires had one between red, green, and blue hue.

There was hardly any person around, there was hardly any person around besides the workers and potential customers. There were no children running around as one would see in any colourful alley.

Shaka did not like the artisanal district; he did not like the smell of burning fan belts, as well as that of melting iron. Once in a while, he would ask himself how the workers remained in such conditions without complaining. But then he would counter the thought by telling himself that they have to feed their families. If that was what he had to do to sustain a family, he would have probably done it.

He walked to the workshop at night in order to avoid being followed. He followed the long road through the dark corners of the city to avoid being seen by other people. For someone who barely came out of his palace, he knew the roads in the city far too well.

The back of the workshop was dimly lit with a red flame, but shaka easily identified the back door. He thought of knocking first but wasn't sure if anyone would hear him through all the noise, so he decided to let himself in. At first there seemed to be no one inside until, from his side, a long black sword swung downwards from above his foot. He reacted quickly by taking a step backwards, allowing the blade to cut into the ground. For a swing so careless, the blade cut deep.

"What are you doing with that, Bamba?" He asked

"Your highness! I was going to test it." Bamba replied.

Shaka observed Bamba holding the shaft with both hands, and then the length and style of the sword. It was new to him, and it seemed rather heavy.

"Bamba." He called.

"Yes, your highness."

"Isn't that too heavy for you?"

"Well I suppose it is."

"Give it to me." He got behind the shaft and lifted it with one hand. It posed some resistance as the blade was deeper in the floor than he imagined.

He observed the sword much closer and took more detail of its structure. It was completely black, with a red line running along one edge. Both edges were sharp which was in contrast to the customary single edged sword.

"How did you come up with this?" He asked.

"This came from studies I did on that bear," Bamba replied.

"Where were you going to test it?"

"Over there, your highness." He pointed at a dummy a few meters away, beneath a yellow light source.

Shaka went over to the dummy and steadied his grip on the sword, preparing to make a slash. He lifted with both hands and swung down with all his might, making a neat cut through the clay man, severing it in two parts.

His strength was sadly unable to draw the full potential of the blade, but it was surely going to be a monstrosity in the hands of someone like Mbah.

"This blade, Bamba. This black blade...I want more of it."

"As you wish, my king."

"And see if you can make something like a shield…"

"A shield? I already have one made with the same materials."

"Is that so? Let me see it." Bamba scurried away and returned with what seemed to be a black coral mask made of the same black metal. A red line separated its surface from top to bottom. There were two round engravings on each side of the surface (if it was a mask, those would have been the eyes), and a red highlight on all its edges.

"Bamba you beautiful brain!" Shaka could not contain his excitement when he saw the shield. "I hope the soldiers can adapt to the change in weaponry."

"I wouldn't underestimate the soldiers, my king. They always make themselves stronger."

"You are right, Bamba." When he took the time to think of it, there wasn't anything to worry about. The soldiers did nothing but train as days went by, improving their strength, their skill, and their adaptability. It was going to take some days or weeks at most to have them adapt to the size of the new weapons.

"Do me a favour, will you?" Shaka said. "Make me a pair of daggers, but make only a single pair."

"Why do you want just one?"

"Just make it for me. I'll let you know why later."

"As you wish."

Shaka was thinking about making a gift for the only person who made use of daggers. If he wanted it to stay as a gift, it had to be the only one in the army.

At last, the visit brought a sense of calm to Shaka. His insecurity about their warfare still haunted, but progress was progress. He decided they would keep word of the weapons a secret until he deemed them deployable.

"One last thing before I go. Keep word of these weapons a secret. Rumors are bound to spread when we mass produce, but keep it as hidden as pos…" An arrow shattered the window and landed between them. Shaka looked through the window and caught a glimpse of what seemed to be a white cloak.

Before he could take another breath, he discovered two other white cloaks with nocked arrows ready to fire. He pushed Bamba behind him and lifted the shield to cover them. The arrows bounced on impact with the shield's.

The first white cloak drew another arrow, but before he could fire, Bamba had already alerted the artisans around the workshop while Shaka took cover behind a wall.

Soon, the workshop was filled with able and well-built men, wearing stained aprons and overalls, carrying hammers, and pitch-forks, and iron bars.

The white cloaks fled the scene, and one of the artisans urged some of the men to follow. They may not have been soldiers, but Shaka knew how capable the men were, so long as he had them around, there was going to be no need to worry about the attackers.

"My boy, are you wounded somewhere?" Asked a tall and fat looking artisan who seemed to be the leader.

"Don't worry. So far I am without a scratch." He turned to the men and they suddenly went down on their knees.

"My king. Forgive me, I did not know…"

"Shhh" he gestured with a finger across his lips. "Do not speak of this incident to anyone else."

"We understand, your highness."

"Thank you."

**

It was outrageous. She hadn't been informed about anything despite handling political affairs while he focused on the expedition. The audacity he had to keep so much information away from her made her insides boil.

The marquis went to the state house where the Duke's office was located, in a fancy carriage dragged along by a purple-black beast called an equis because of its horse-like features.

Her bodyguard opened the door for her and led her in the statehouse once they arrived. The building was as tall as ever with more floors than she could count. She looked up at the top of the building, but the blinding rays of sunlight reflecting on the white colour of the building caused a burning pain in her eyes.

The walls inside were similar to the outside. Block patterns could be seen clearly through the white paint. To her it was a bit less than her taste in architecture, but it didn't matter. She did not know much about the building, but if she were to guess, she would say it was one of those that had lived centuries.

It appeared a lot bigger on the inside than she anticipated. There were several offices, as well as many people, but thankfully, there was a man sitting by a desk in the waiting room.

This man who was sitting at the reception was quite old and calm. The Marquis had never seen him there before, so she thought Alister only recently had him employed. But who on earth hired a matured man in reception.

"Good morning, my lady." The man stood up, showing so much courtesy at the sight of her.

"Good morning, mister. How are you today?"

"I'm fine, thank you." His voice didn't match his appearance one bit. Might have explained why Alister hired him.

"Ahh...are you here to see the duke?" He asked.

"By all means, yes. Is he available?"

"I'm not sure about that." He leaned closer and looked to his sides and said in a whisper, "I am not supposed to say this, but he told me to tell anyone who came looking for that he wasn't in office."

To the Marquis, that sounded like something Alister would do - being casually lazy.

"I am sure he will be happy to see me," she said.

"My lady...anyone would be happy to see you." He gave off a very awkward smile that left her thinking of a proper response.

"Thank you, mister," she said. "What is your name?"

"Call me Leif."

"Thank you, Leif." She walked past him, without thinking of what path to take, and without asking.

"Take the second turn to the left, and use the lift to go to the fifth floor!" Leif said on top of his voice.

Finding the dukes office was always a chore as they always worked wherever they saw fit. She recollected the days she followed behind her father on some of his business. And the times before she became the Marquis.

The lift was in front of her a few moments after she left the waiting room. Having someone to give directions seemed like a nice idea to her after she seamlessly navigated the statehouse. A brilliant idea from Alister it was. There were several buttons on a panel next to the lift, all with numbers written on them, ranging from zero to six. She pushed the one with the number five written on it without a thought, and walked through the doors that opened up for her.

It wasn't all that convenient as the engines made a loud noise and it was a bit hot, but it was better than walking through so many flights of stairs as it would take to get to the fifth floor. The lift came to a stop with a huge disturbance that made her nearly lose her footing, then the door went open. She didn't want to think she had to go through that again to get back down.

The fifth floor was nothing compared to the ground floor. The walls were painted with yellow, and were decorated with portraits and several artistic designs. Most of the paintings were either fully coloured in blue, or had bluish hues here and there - it all reeked of Alister's influence.

The offices were more organised and arranged behind several doors. Large windows allowed the entrance of light which made everything all the more beautiful and clear. Down the lobby, was a thick, dark-brown door with a Alister's name inscribed on it with faux-gold. That would be her destination.

She graciously walked through the lobby and opened the door to find herself in an office with a row of chairs by the side and a middle-aged woman guarding the main office, while sitting behind her desk.

"Lady Von Hadelio." The woman said while getting to her feet. "I was told of your visit, but I'm sorry to say, lord Alister will not be seeing any guests."

Of course, she should have known, Leif informed them right after she passed the ground floor.

"Why does he not want to see anyone? What is he hiding?" The marquis asked.

"I'm sorry. That was his reque…" before she could finish, two very young and beautiful women - a bit younger than the Marquis was - wearing yellow dresses, walked out of the main office giggling to one another. Their dresses were both yellow and not too fancy, but they gave room for their very rich cleavage by their chests.

"M-M-My lady." One of them said, while they both tried to act courteous.

The marquis had a stern look of disgust on her face, but she was more surprised that the two young women could easily identify her than what they were actually doing in behind the closed door.

She looked at the two of from head to toe, completely taking in their appearances as well as their demeanor. She paced to the door and forced it open and met Alister pulling up the zip on his trouser.

"Oh bloody hell!"

She turned around and covered her eyes.

"Alister! You have a wife!"

"Hold on, before you get judgmental…"

"Shut...shut it. I am not interested in what you have to say."

"Well, I guess that's fine. You can turn around now." She turned to a fully clothed and decent Alister, leaning behind a red sofa at the center of the room.

The Marquis traversed the room, heading to his desk and sitting behind it, after having the idea that he did not want her near the sofa.

"So...to what do I owe this surprise?" Alister asked.

Being occupied by the indecency she may have witnessed, she had almost forgotten her reason for coming over.

"To what?... Oh, why didn't you inform me about the ship's arrival?"

"You were not informed? Well then, I apologise."

"Don't apologise for something you did intentionally."

Alister folded his arms and laughed for a moment. His eyes went closed and his cheek bones rose beneath beneath his short blond hair. Honestly, if she didn't know Alister as well as she did, she would have thought him to be the finest man in the empire.

"I did not want to add to your troubles. I know you have been busy running your family business and all other things…"

"You could have at least sent me a report or something."

"I'll take that into account next time," he said.

They were both quiet, staring at each other of a moment.

"So...tell me about it." The Marquis said.

"Right. What would you like to know?"

"Everything, from the beginning. What did the lands look like?"

"I didn't go there myself...I can't give you the details," he said. "But I do know that there tall, brightly coloured trees. Plants grew everywhere and there were high mountains. Charleroi says the air around there is fresh."

"Like a tall tale?"

"Indeed. Like a fairytale. That is why I plan on going there next time."

The words took her by surprise, leaving her without a reasonable response.

"You cannot leave your city," she said.

"I thought you would say that. It would only take a few days, and besides, their king wants to arrange a meeting."

"Wait wait wait." She tried to find the words. "People live there?"

"I don't know if they'll classify to you as people, but they do live there."

"What do you mean by if they classify as people?"

"They have their differences. They look darker than us, they have giants and other things."

"So they are organised forest dwellers," the Marquis said. "But why does the king want to see you, and why do accept the invitation?"

"They have one of our explorers as hostage. A girl not more than eighteen."

"Since when did you care about hostages," she chuckled.

"It is just an excuse. And I find this king to be interesting. They said he looks somewhere around twenty, he basically a child leading a strange group of people."

"That does sound interesting." She paused and began to wonder what it must have really looked like, what the people must have felt like, the shock of discovering a new culture. Indeed it was all interesting

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