Obran had rented a pub for the competition showcase, which was where the local apprentices and smiths would meet. Three of Obran’s peers were selected who were all experienced and highly regarded smiths.
I walked over to the pub with my horseshoe tightly gripped in my hands. If I lost it now, all the work I had done would be for nothing. It wasn’t how I wanted to lose this competition.
A large door was propped open, welcoming visitors to see the competition and more importantly buy drinks. I pushed through the large crowd that had gathered to see the spectacle. Most of these people were foreign to me, but I recognized a few people, the majority being Obran’s apprentices.
I made my way to the stage often used by Bards. In its place were three old looking fellows that I assumed were the judges and Kade who had a shining ornate sword on his lap.
I climbed the stage and sat in the only empty chair left. I was still clutching my horseshoe as if my life depended on it.
Kade looked over at me and a predatory grin formed on his face. I hoped to wipe it off by the end of the night.
“Welcome!” bellowed Obran. “Tonight will be a treat. Two of my apprentices will be facing off to show who is more skilled in the art of smithing.” Obran said to hype up the crowd.
“Our first contestant, one who has worked at my smith for multiple years, Kade!
An uproar of cheers came from the crowd, followed by some clapping, some swigs of ale.
“Our second contestant has only been working for me briefly, but I can confirm he his a very hard worker. Let's hear it for the underdog, Erik!”
A slightly louder uproar from the crowd suggested I was the favorite by a narrow margin. I wondered whether this had to do with Kade’s personality or if people just liked rooting for the underdog. I’m sure the answer was somewhere in the middle.
“Kade please come forward and showcase your item to the crowd. Remember talking about your item is prohibited. Only the judges can critique during the competition.”
Kade posed with his sword, switching into different positions that would only work when showing off. I could tell he had never fought before but that didn’t stop the crowd cheering at the spectacle.
I had to admit that Kade’s sword was aesthetically pleasing. It had an elegant thin blade that narrowed into a sharp thin tip. Ornate gold vines started at the handle and grew onto the bottom of the blade. Decorative gold leaves grew out of the vine forming the blade guard.
“Very good Kade. Now take a seat.”
Kade slowly moved back to his chair and bowed at the crowd.
“Erik, you’re up.”
I stood in front of the crow not knowing what to do. I couldn’t really showcase my horseshoe so I froze in the moment with horseshoe outstretched towards the crowd. I could tell I had messed up, when I didn’t hear any clapping. I looked down to see numerous confused faces within the crowd.
“Alright, let's give it up for Erik.” Obran yelled.
I heard some chuckles followed by some polite clapping. I admit it wasn’t a spectacular showcase or even a mediocre one. I hoped the judges preferred detail over interest and style. Not to say my horseshoe looked bad, it didn’t, but it was still a horseshoe. People never found them interesting.
Obran took both smithed items and brought them to the judges for deliberation.
I nervously watched the judges handle my creation. They tried to hide it, but I could tell they were surprised by the quality of my item. Clearly the contest was close when two of the judges got into a heated argument. They kept their voices quiet so the crowd wouldn’t be able to hear them.
“We’ve come to a decision. Before we discuss who are winner is we would like to point out the strengths and flaws of each person’s design and introduce ourselves.”
“I’m Gareth,” introduced the first judge. “I’m a heraldic smith hired by wealthy merchants, nobles, and high ranking government officials.
My vote has gone to Kade. His piece is a beautiful design even though the quality of the item was lacking compared to his opponent. The piece is intriguing and eye catching.
I was nervous now. I would need both the other judges vote to win. I had no desire to work for Kade and smith horseshoes for the remainder of my stay with Obran.
“They call me Gunthar. I forge infrastructure for the city planners and city guards.”
I was astonished to find someone so young had forged a pinnacle quality item, even if it is only a horseshoe. While the item may not be flashy or something people find noteworthy, due to the items usefulness and high quality my vote goes to Erik.”
“I’m Darius. I’m the city planner for the Easter block. It’s a pleasure being here.
I agree with Gareth that Kade’s item is more visually appealing, but I also admire the dedication that Erik put into perfecting such a mundane item. I think it shows his passion truly belongs in smithing and for that I reason I vote for Erik.”
The crowd erupted into cheers, drunkenly chanting “Horseshoe Man! Horseshoe Man! Horseshoe Man!”
Kade’s face was red from embarrassment. Not only had he lost, he lost to a guy who smithed a horseshoe. He looked past me into the back of the room. So was Gareth and Gunthar and Darius. Even Obran wasn’t paying attention to the competition. I turned around to face whatever they were looking at.
A swarm of guards were trying to shove themselves into the packed tavern. The hoard of people made it hard for the guards to navigate their way to the front of the stage. I wished they hadn’t come for me and some small part of me was convinced they hadn’t.
I was tempted to grab my horseshoe but I knew it wouldn't be useful. I noticed that Kade’s blade sat on the judges table away from anyone. With a burst of speed, I snatched Kade’s ornate blade from the table and jumped into the crowd.
“Erik’s the thief. He’s who they’re after.” Kade screamed while pointing at me.
A few drunken idiots tried grappling me after hearing Kade’s words. I activated my obsidian shell, slicing the unprotected hands that tried to latch onto me. I pushed myself away from the entrance. It was the only entrance and the guards had made sure to barricade it.
I pushed on the flimsy wooden wall on the back of the building. I pulled my arm up and punched through the wall. I tore at the broken wood, clearing a path for my escape.
I sprinted out onto the street. I wasn’t stealthy in my escape and I already had a group of guards close behind me. It was more difficult moving through this city than Sukencrest. The streets were more crowded and I had less knowledge on the labyrinth of alleyways.
If I kept up this pace, I was going to get caught so I pivoted and charged the guards who were chasing me. I watched them hesitate, not knowing how to handle the obsidian covered freak in front of them.
I lunged with Kade sword, aimed at piercing a guards armor. The thin metal blade bounced of the chainmail, snapping as if it was a twig. I grimaced before throwing a right hook at the guards face.
My hands impacted the guard’s metal helmet sending him sprawling onto the floor, his skull was clearly crushed. A large dent was left in the side of the helmet.
The other guards were startled and backed away from me. The next couple guards wouldn’t be as easy to kill, they knew what I could do to them. They were cautious, they only had to wait for reinforcements.
I charged another guard, who attempted to side step me but was too slow. I managed to grab one of his legs and pull him towards me. The guard lashed out with his small crude dagger which was not even sharp enough to penetrate my skin.
I threw punches into the man’s gut, until his knees buckled and his body slumped on the cobblestone floor.
Only seconds later four guards tackled me simultaneously. I tried to move but I wasn’t able to under the heavy armoured bodies pinning me to the ground. My hands and legs were bound in chains.
An army of guards paraded me through the streets. I watched the crowd, their fear. To them I was a criminal; I had betrayed their city and the Duke.
Guards guided me as I shuffled up the stone steps to the Duke’s Manor. Squeaking came from the large vaulted doors as they slowly opened revealing the inside of the Duke’s home. Ornate chandeliers sparkled from the ceiling, scattering light into the lavish gold decor.
I felt out of place and I knew I looked out of place. I was covered with dirt and grime during my fight with the city guards and the shackles I was put into weren’t exactly clean. I had no clue where the guards were taking me. Room after room we went until a large dining room table stood in front of me.
Glistening chicken with crispy golden skin, vibrant platters of exotic fruit, and large platters of dried meat sat on top the extravagant table. It was a stark contrast to the prison cell I had been stuck in before. I wondered whether there had been a mistake.
The doors at the other end of the room opened and a well-dressed man walked through. The elegant man was clearly nobility of some sort, probably the duke considering I was in his manor.
“Welcome! Turner told me you were quite elusive when he went to retrieve you.”
“What am I doing here?” I asked.
“I couldn’t have a mage running free in my city, not with how agitated the King has become lately. He isn’t exactly the most forgiving person.”
“But why am I here?”
The Duke face lost the fake cheeriness it had before, replaced with a stern and cold exterior.
“The King is a cruel man who wields the throne with an iron fist. He doesn’t have the support of the nobles, or the people, or even the army. He only holds rule through his wizards.”
“So why am I here?” I asked again.
“I’ll need wizards if i’m going to overthrow the King.”
“Wouldn’t that make you the same? Wouldn’t you be ruling with an iron fist?”
“How dare you slander my name! I’m nothing like that vermin on the throne!”
The guards around me grew tense, holding the pummels of their swords. I watched as the Duke calmed himself down before he continued speaking.
“The King isn’t benevolent. I would be even if I have to use mages to acquire the throne.”
“And what if I say no.”
“I’ll have no choice but to stick you in my dungeon. I won’t like doing it but it’ll be in the best interests of the people.”
“You mean your interests?”
“The people’s interests are my interests.”
The idea of working for the Duke made my stomach queasy but I would be an idiot if I said no. For now I would have to play along.
“Ok, you’ve convinced me. Tell me what I need to know.”