CHAPTER TWO - Leaving the Sou' Lands
Five days trek, punctuated with nights sleeping on the side of the road or in the barns of obliging farmers, found the pair on the out-skirts of the city of Showlans. It was another forty miles to the port of Talmi and the weather was turning to nasty; Dannid had decided to seek a bed here for the night.
The lights of countless lanterns danced on the stiff breeze as they crested the hill and started towards the first buildings of this principal trading centre. Jano marvelled at the expanse. This was the first city he had ever seen and even though he had been given a full recount of such things over the past days nothing could have prepared him for what he now saw.
Showlans was a prosperous place. It was the main trading post of the Sou’ Reaches, the place where the produce of the farmers was bartered for the items that the hawkers would take back to continue the cycle next month. It was a place of merchants, not lands-people. This was obvious in that the lanterns were still alight. What farmer could afford to keep a lantern burning after evening meal?
Jano shook his head in stunned disbelief. His stomach growled at the thought of an evening meal, the maize porridge eaten at first light that morning was all they had had all day and the worms were biting. He felt a shiver run through his body.
“You are right to shiver, Jano. Remember that this is not the village any more. Here people are not likely to open their hearts and arms to a couple of foot-sore travelers. Here friendship is measured in the coin of the realm, not the good will of a deed done or re-done in kind.”
Dannid started another of his lessons. He had been doing this since they left the village. Jano never realized there was so much to know. His head was swimming from all he had seen and been told and this was just five days out. Dannid continued.
“You have got to watch any merchant my young friend, tell them nothing and give them nothing more’n they deserve. Be on guard, there are many people and some are spies.”
“Spies for whom?”
Dannid stopped in his tracks. Jano, walking slightly behind as was the way of master and apprentice, almost walked into the back of the big man. Dannid turned and put both hands on the boy’s shoulders.
“If we knew that then we would not need to be masquerading around the countryside. So, in the interest of giving a good account of ourselves you have got to start acting like an apprentice, this means that you will not speak unless spoken to and you will never interrupt your master.”
Dannid drew a breath.
“You must be aware that any one we met from now on must be held in suspicion. The old lady is no fool, heed her words and beware my young buck.”
With that he smiled and touched the boy’s forehead with his thumb, a Sou’ Reach sign of love and respect of one man to another. Dannid had never done this before; this was an adult’s thing, not a man to a boy. Jano smiled. The giant turned and strode off without another word leaving the boy to run after him in the manner of an obedient apprentice.
Most of the houses on the outskirts belonged to local market gardeners supplying the green-stuffs for the town. The style of the buildings was more ornate than the typical farmer’s cottage and Jano could see that some of them may have had more than one room.
It was dark now and they met very few people on the road. Those they did only mumbled greetings as they pasted, not the ways of village folk at all. Dannid strode on causing Jano to trot to keep up. Jano realized that this was to add integrity to their appearance and thanked the Maker that his pace had been more subdued to now.
Jano knew that the man was capable of walking at this speed for a day. Dannid knew Jano was not. It was not spoken it was just accepted. Turning a bend in the road they saw the light of a tavern ahead.
“We will see if they have lodgings for the night.” Dannid said over his shoulder.
They entered the main room, Dannid ducking his head to miss hitting the plinth. The room was almost square, big enough to house seven tables and pews most of which were populated by men and women dressed in what would be Rest day’s best for a lands-man. The room was heavy with the smells of food and meed.
The inn-keeper, a small balding man with a leather apron and rolled up sleeves, wiped his hands on a towel and moved across the room to greet Dannid.
He observed them as they entered and already had them pegged as a couple of no-good lands-men wanting to swap a few turnips for a room, not knowing anything about trade and the need for coin.
He smiled an obligatory, albeit half-hearted, smile. Dannid returned it. He towered over this little man and deliberately stretched to full size as he bellowed a greeting to the room.
“Good evening brothers and sisters.”
Jano was disappointed with the mumbled reply Dannid received. The rafters of the central house would ring with the salutations back in the village; still Dannid had warned him that they were leaving the village behind.
The innkeeper bowed a half-hearted bow as if he had just remembered some distant cradle-taught rule of manners. Jano cringed again. Dannid did not seem to notice this rudeness but bowed to his waist, his head almost touching the innkeeper’s, his beard tickling the balding pate. He then straightened and pulled his rough surge cloak off his shoulders. In the light of the lanterns and the open-hearth the polished handles of the two swords sparkled like Mage wood.
The innkeeper saw the swords and fell to one knee nervously, suddenly remembering all the rules of etiquette that had seemed forgotten up till now. A hush descended over the room as the gathering focused on Dannid.
Beneath his cloak he wore his leather breastplate and his cummerbund; his swords rode high on his right hip. He smiled as the full impact of his presence filled the room.
“Inn-keep, a room for myself, a stall in the barn for my apprentice and food and drink if you please.” He spoke in direct instructive tense and waved his arm in a throwaway gesture that was designed to intimidate. The people started to talk among themselves as the innkeeper showed the pair to a table at the end of the room. As they sat a young girl put a plate of leavened bread in front of them and two plates of a thick steaming stew. The innkeeper returned with two tankards of meed and bowed to Dannid.
“Inn-keep, the old laws guide you to give me and my apprentice passage. As a Roamer I am entitled to this.”
The innkeeper nodded. It was so. Roamers were to be given all the courtesy and board that they desired. This was much to the anger of such people as this coin-grabbing innkeeper and to the honour and respect of a lands-man. Dannid had made it a rule that such charity would never be taken for granted and, even though he didn’t care a smidgen for this insignificant little merchant, his honour dictated that his ideals be up-held.
“My name is Dannid the Roamer; I am a master sword smith. I have a personal creed that I do not take advantage of good folk such as yourself.”
The innkeeper breathed a sigh of relief, last year he had to house and feed a Roamer from the Mid Lands for two months; there is no profit in it what so ever.
“Please make sure all your knives are cleaned and ready for me after breakfast tomorrow and I will sharpen them for you.”
The innkeeper smiled to himself, this would more than compensate for the food and lodging, there were few sword smiths around these days, and after all, as the old ways taught “a kitchen’s knifes is its wealth”. He also thanked the Maker that Roamers were a dying breed as well.
“Thank you sir, is there anything else you need?”
Dannid looked at the plate in front of Jano, wiped clean with the bread. He smiled.
“My good for nothing apprentice appears to be ready for seconds and I feel thirds is on the cards. Just fill our plates as we need it and make sure that there is clean straw in the loft.” With that he waved the innkeeper away and began to eat the stew.
The crowd had returned to an almost normal gathering. Jano and Dannid ate their fill and sat at the fire until closing. The crowd started to drift away and the fire was burning low. Jano felt full and warm and looked forward to his bed in the loft. He didn’t worry about sleeping in the barn, and knew the truth of it was that Dannid would probably have a bad night trying to come to grips with a bed and end up sleeping on the floor.
A mist had descended, turned into a fog and now it clawed at the room each time the door was opened. They retired to their respective beds. Jano stripped to his loincloth and washed in the cattle trough at the door of the barn. The water was icy cold and it invigorated him. He dried himself with straw and dressed in his night cloak, a heavy linen material and climbed into the loft, covered himself with straw and was asleep in minutes.
* * * * *
The next morning saw an early sun push the fog away and awaken the barnyard’s chorus ahead of a time that Jano would have planned. He felt stiff, not from his bed but from days of walking. He did feel better than yesterday and knew that he would feel better tomorrow; in fact he felt his body tightening with a fitness he had missed since leaving the farm and becoming a villager. He quickly dressed and made his way out of the barn.
Dannid was seated at the table near the hearth and bellowed a hearty good morning to his “soft and bed-bound apprentice” slapping him on the back as he slid in beside him on the pew.
The pot on the fire bubbled lazily with the thick porridge that formed the staple diet of most Sou’ Reach people. The young girl from the night before curtsied as she entered the room with an arm full of Tokawood for the fire and dropped it with practiced precision on the hearth. She spooned large helpings from the pot into two wooden bowls and passed them to Dannid and Jano in turn.
On the table was a bowl filled with sweet spices from the Mid Lands. Dannid spooned a heap onto his meal, Jano was dumb-struck, sweet spices were so precious they were kept for the most special of occasions and only used in smallest amounts, Rosewood containers were made to store the treasure and here was Dannid spooning it onto porridge. The big man smiled, “Remember that we are not in the village anymore.” He said with a laugh. Jano could not bring himself to follow, a victim of too many years of mothers’ teachings, and they ate the rest of their meal in silence.
As promised Dannid set up his sharpening stone and after heating the blades a little went to work honing them to a sharpness they had long forgotten. The innkeeper had been in to breakfast and bid them a good morning as he left for the market leaving Young Tulla to look after them.
It took Dannid five hours to perform the sharpening with much swearing and muttering about the state of such beautiful instruments. Dannid attacked his art with the passion expected where creation of any kind was seen to be an extension of the maker’s and the Maker’s soul. Considering the work that went into this particular craft it was understandable.
* * * * *
In his tenth year Jano had lived for a year with Dannid, during that time Jano was introduced to the skill of sword making. They created a short knife for him. Jano could never wear the knife as he wasn’t a Roamer but Dannid said that he would leave the blade virgin so that he could mount it and hang it over his hearth.
Dannid’s forebears were masters of the Kusso School whose techniques transcended time, unlike the newer and quicker Tummer methods. Tummer worked on castings and could turn out a blade in a tenth the time a Kusso artist spent creating just the soulless blank. Jano watched Dannid work and cast himself back to those happy days.
Each morning he would light the forge using Tokawood as the main agent. Once the blaze had heated the hearth and the Lock Stone chips were white with their heat, a feat accomplished by the continual pumping of the large leather bellows, the spirit wood would be added. Three main woods were used, Huzewood for the folding, Yeoak for the souling and Cowspaw for the breaking. Jano now knew the magic of these combinations as these, and thirteen more roots and timbers, formed the basis of all Changing.
Huzewood was added for the folding of a blank of rude metal forged by Dannid in the large furnace from rocks supplied by a stone hawker the year before. A blank had to be kept in concert with the sword maker for at least one year, learning the vibrations of the artist. Green blanks were of no use to any one and the very act of forging started the spiritual side of the Kusso style. Dannid had racks of blanks in his main room, all labelled and named.
For Jano he had chosen Jusmar. He told Jano of the day he fed the stones into the furnace, how he shaped the crude blank in the sand trap. Jusmar and three of his brothers were special blanks. Dannid had performed a little magic with them, Kusso sword smiths had some simple magic at their beckoning and he had included powered Blue Lock Stone in the sand of the casting box.
Jano remembered as he held Jusmar for the first time he felt warmth in the cold blue slug. Jusmar was three years old, being struck in Jano’s seventh year and Dannid smiled as he told him he had planned this for a long time.
The morning of the first blow came. Jano worked at the fire and by mid-day the Huzewood had changed the smoke from grey to a light blue and the Lock Stone was yellowing slightly, losing a little of its ferocity.
Dannid was stripped to the waste with a white headband holding his jet-black hair in place. He knelt on a grass mat and beckoned Jano to join him. Jusmar was lying between them as Dannid droned a sweet prayer in old-talk; Jano didn’t understand the words but delighted in the sweet soft song of this normally loud bass voice.
Dannid took the blank and handed it to Jano. With a smile he introduced Jano to it in the formal indicative tense. He instructed Jano to hold the blank to his forehead and then took it back. The blank was then placed into the Lock Stone chips, immediately sparks filled the air and the fire cracked and popped. Dannid nodded, this was to be a good and true blade; he had had no way of knowing until this moment. The signs were good.
What followed was three days of heating, hammering on the anvil until the blank was flat and wafer thin, more heating and a single fold performed on the plasma like blank. It was tempered and left to cool. The cycle repeated.
Dannid allowed Jano to be instrumental in the heating and hammering, although there was little a ten year old could do in hammering but it was important as the hammering entwined the spirit and, providing the heart was true, the blade would be.
Dannid was a craftsman, as such he only produced ten or twelve blades a year but his work was known and the sword-buyer, a registered governmental official, always paid Dannid what the blade was worth; something that couldn’t be said for the mass-produced Tummer blades.
Still a Tummer blade would only be used by a low official or a soldier, Kusso blades by high officials of the Mid Lands. Under Sinterland law only the nobility or the soldiery were allowed blades, although a sword smith was allowed to produce blades less than two-hand length for domestic use. Dannid didn’t, he didn’t need to as his income was guaranteed and his life-style simple.
The folding was critical. If the fold was not dead-centre then the blade would not vibrate correctly, it would lose its spirit, be almost impossible to keep sharp and, ultimately, break. The folding went on and on until the blank was now itself on itself over a hundred times.
On the morning of the fifth day, Dannid instructed that Yeoak be added. Jano was excited as this meant the souling was to be performed. The Yeoak turned the lodestone greenish and the smoke was pure white, its aroma pungent but not unpleasant. The soul was a strip of metal forged from a combination of Lock Stone and Cornice Rock. Jusmar was heated to the now familiar yellow-white.
Dannid removed the blank and placed it with reverence on the anvil. He had cleaned the anvil for an hour with Ula oil and it shone in the mid-morning sun. The white-hot metal burnt a little of the residual oil and the smell was as fragrant as the trees it came from. He placed the cold soul strip beside the now red blank. Taking a light hammer he started to tap the blank and the soul strip.
Jano could not perform the souling for two reasons. First, under Kusso law only a third year apprentice could be taught the skill and more practically, second, the soul strip had to be added to the blank with both sides beaten together before the red was lost. Failure to do this would render the blank useless. Dannid had about three minutes to perform this task.
With the light hammer he blended the first side, flipped the blank over and the same on the second. Quickly now, rub the blank with Ula oil on a chamois and then the big hammer. The bell of the hammer on the anvil filled the workshop with a music that no court composer could mimic.
The sparks that flew from the metal comprised the colours of the rainbow, Jano watched in wonder, feeling the spirit of the moment, watching the cascade of sparks, hearing the chorus of the metals counter-pointing the grunts of this wonderful artist. Finally Dannid plunged the blank into the water. The surface boiled and steam filled the air.
“Jusmar, you are now a blade!” he bellowed loudly as he turned to the boy. Jano ran up to him jumped up and threw his arms around the man’s neck filled with a love and devotion that cannot be described.
Dannid expected this, after all the Kusso art was very spiritual and the boy had just completed his first souling. Jusmar would be strong. In the old days a Kusso master would never consider souling a blade without the owner being present for just this reason. That was a thing of the past, but, for this blade, Dannid was delighted with the result.
Once the souling was performed the blade had been made. The soul strip was the sharpness and the blank the strength. The amazing thing about this technique was that alone neither of these metals could perform but once they were combined the blade became peerless.
The souling continued with about forty heating and temperings. Dannid allowed Jano to be involved as much as possible and even allowed him to perform the adjustments to the bonding with the light hammer. At the end the blade had a formed beauty. The shape was slightly convex with the colour ranging from the dark blue of the backbone to the gossamer sheen of the edge.
All that remained was the breaking. Simply, the Cowspaw would be added and the blade warmed to hot but no colour change. Once this was achieved the blade was plunged into a bucket of Ula oil and then polished on Sandstones from very rough to very smooth.
The Sandstones were purchased from the stone hawker and were the most important and expensive of the tools. Much time was taken with the selection and a good Kusso artist, as Dannid was, would be able to tell where the stone was sourced just from the feel and it came from all points of the compass.
The rough from the deserts of the Wastelands to the north a thousand miles, the mid-range from the gigantic Nor’ Land quarries and the smooth from the Landsend beaches blown flat with winds that grew from the icy womb of the Antarctic wastelands.
The purchase of the sandstone was attacked with much ceremony, much head shaking and chin rubbing, much debate and argument and finally, when agreement was reached, much celebration. Usually with meed and rice spirit and a long night of stories before a head sore hawker left the next morning vowing never to return to this Maker-forsaken place and argue with this good-for-nothing black-smith engaged in the enterprise of turning plough-shears into money from the unsuspecting Mid Land’s gentry.
All this said, Old Tanna the stone hawker had been performing his Sandstone run year in and year out for as long as Dannid remembered, letting people know that Dannid the sword smith, and his forebears before, were the last of the great Kusso masters. Never in Dannid’s ear shot of course; etiquette would never allow it.
Breaking required at least fifty cycles and the end result was beauty to behold. The blade was now blue silver, blinding with its own Inner Light. The edge was pure white breaking out to silver at the bonding. Jusmar was now a short knife.
Kusso masters are poets and always decorate their blades with the old verse characters of a duquane composed for the occasion. He asked Jano to compose the duquane; a three lined poetic statement and was stunned by the boy’s perception, and a perception he deemed beyond his years.
“Overhead hawks fly on wings as still as the ground,
the wild fowl, bound to the earth for eternity,
flaps wings faster than the eye can see”
Dannid embraced the simplistic beauty of the statement and pressed Jano for the meanings. All duquane have two meanings, first the story and second, the spirit. The story was easy enough, it is not necessarily the most active that achieves the desired result, Dannid nodded agreement with this, the boy thought for a long while then offered that to be happy in spirit didn’t necessarily need a lot of earthly trappings or enterprise.
These were not the boy’s words but his intent; his explanation was more long-winded as he struggled to capture the spirit with the tongue of a child. Dannid had used this duquane himself when called upon to recite and never ceased to be amazed by its clarity. Needless to say he was not in the least bit surprised with the power Jano had; after all, the wandering master had foreseen it those years prior.
The breaking was complete, the duquane composed. All that remained was for the decoration. Dannid formed the old characters on the blade in the Kusso style, the verse one side and an animated depiction on the other. The engraving took two days and Jano watched the process never once loosing interest.
The hand-guard was added and the handle riveted into place. The handle was Lock Stone covered with woven flax. The blade was left virgin, not sharpened, as to blood it would make it illegal for Jano to own. Dannid had also made the scabbard from Yeoak that had been polished with bee-wax and topped with a crown of Silver metal. He clicked the blade home and laid it into the boy’s lap. A tear formed on the boy’s cheek as he turned the blade over in his hands.
Dannid laughed a hearty laugh. “Well boy, I hope I have now completely destroyed your childish notions of becoming my apprentice to this boring and dying no-talent past-time.” Jano just looked at him and smiled. Dannid nodded and sprang to his feet. He noted that the boy’s smile was full of an understanding he had strived for but never achieved.
* * * * *
“These blades are the work of a Northern Master.” Dannid pulled Jano back from his day-dreaming, “I wager our money-hungry inn keep doesn’t even know the true value of a set of matching Kusso kitchen knives. Look boy,” he held the carving knife up to Jano, “there is a cursed nick out of the edge, in the Maker’s name I cannot understand how such beauty can be treated so badly.”
Dannid shook his head and put the last of the knives back into the Yeoak box that housed them, obviously not waxed and hadn’t been in years. The innkeeper entered the room from the courtyard and bowed to them.
“Ah I see you are done, master sword smith.” Dannid nodded with a grunt and handed the box to the man.
“Are my blades of any value?”
Dannid paused and hinted just the slightest wink to Jano.
“No, not at all, they are the work of a Tummer apprentice with little or no skill. Do yourself a favour, take them to Old Gremus the knife hawker and tell him I sent you, he will barter with you for a new set of the latest Tummer master-pieces. Best thing you can do. I consider the time I have spent on them a waste and only did it to fulfil my commitment.
“By the way, we will stay till tomorrow morning; it is a shame I wasted so much time on that rubbish.”
Dannid slapped the table with resignation. The innkeeper thanked him for his comments and said he would seek out the knife hawker the very next day. He turned and walked back to the kitchen scheming how he would take advantage of the old man, he was nearly blind; he wouldn’t even notice the nick in the blade.
Dannid whispered to Jano.
“When a man covets money and possessions the way that man does, he cannot appreciate beauty for its subtly. He will see the shinning silver of a Tummer set as a treasure and look at the timelessness of those he now owns as old, besides,” he added with a laugh in his voice, “Old Gremus is a kind and gentle man, the sale of that set would guarantee him comfort for the rest of his years thus one man’s greed is turned to another man’s good-fortune and we have a harmony that greed rarely strikes, another example of Kusso poetry in practice.” Dannid reached into his pack-roll and pulled out a parcel wrapped in black cloth. He handed it to Jano who knew immediately what it was.
“Jusmar is blooded and as my apprentice you have the right to wear it. I have an uneasy feeling about all this and I want you armed in the conventional manner. You know how to use him, remember the first rule of Kusso swordsmanship; never show your blade the light in anger.”
Jano understood this. As well as the self-defence Dannid had taught him as a boy he had embraced the simplest of Kusso philosophies. A Kusso sword maker was also a master swordsman. Master swordsmen never fight with anger as it removes the edge from the blade. Technique was the tool they used and the blade a means to an end.
Kusso masters could stop an adversary with a series of thrusts and cuts that would remove the cloth from his back but not mark the skin. Jano had practiced for countless hours with the long and short Yeoak sticks and was a skilful pupil. His technique was faultless and had it not been for his predestined course would have become a truly great Kusso master, of that Dannid was sure.
“The blade is happy to be with you boy. I only hope you never have to use him.”
The thought of violence was foreign to Jano. All the skills he had learnt under Dannid’s watchful eye had just been a game to him. Sinterlander’s were, on the whole, simple peaceful people and law and order was automatic with the aforementioned qualities.
Still Jano felt a restlessness that he knew was in the roots of the spirit of the people and he knew that is was evil. For this reason he understood the need for protection but vowed silently that Jusmar would never harm another person. He prayed the vow would not be in vain.