Open Chronicles Eye In The Sky

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Torin Gemheart

The Blackheart
Character Biography

The dwarf crouched low to the ground, more squatting than stooping, scooping up a handful of dirt, letting the earth shift in his grip, upon his palm. Tiny rocks, pebbles, amid mud. It was rough but it wasn’t sand. It wasn’t dust. And it didn’t slip between fingers. Rather, it settled, situated, as if it was made to be picked up, if not meant for him.

His kind had mined, had swung the pickaxe, digging and expanding, deeper and further into the dirt and beneath the earth. The dwarves of the world had forged their works, their cities, through the fire of the furnace, descending as lower as towers of the surface were built higher.

Words. The dwarf grimaced. Words are wind. Thoughts, he thought, were no different. He reversed his grip, tilted his hand upside down, let the soil vanish into the wind, fleeing into the breeze. Rock and dirt, his people had toiled through. Yet, unlike most, stone was in their bones.

“What is it?” A human asked him. He was one of others on the Spine, one member in a number of travelers and passengers, where only a fraction were protectors, warriors, like the dwarf, like him.

He didn’t answer straight away. He gave the horizon his gaze. It was daybreak. The mountain pass stretched away, leading to forests and lakes, as the caravan of traders and adventurers moved forward.

“I am not certain,” the dwarf answered. He was calm, watching the distance without a clock, his eyes as timeless as the sky. Clouds loomed overhead, both white and grey, treacherous as the terrain. A Kazarekan or two might just vomit from dizziness.

“However, it is always best to venture in vigilance.” He sighed.
“What is your name again?” The merchant asked the warrior.
The dwarf gave away his station as a guard garbed in armor.
“Torin.” He rose. “Torin Gemheart.” Looking square in the eye.
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"That's a nice crossbow."

"Hmm?" Anfisa wasn't expecting anyone to just come up and talk to her, so she was a bit surprised by the tall (and quite round) human man doing just that. And complimenting her weapon, no less. Reserved by nature, and certainly not the most socially adept dwarf of the Ironhammer clan, she just looked up at him quizzically. Geoff, was it? She thought that was his name, having heard it spoken around the caravan.

Geoff earnestly continued, brandishing his own crossbow. "Yeah. Look at this thing. It's puny."

She didn't have the heart to tell him that he had massive hands. "It...does seem rather small."

Geoff tapped the front of the weapon. "Got this stirrup added to it. And you know what? I can't fit my foot in it. My boot makes it just a little too big."

"Oh." Anfisa blinked her one eye, trying to think of something actually charismatic to say, but she was a far cry from her Uncle Ordin in this respect. "How sad."

"I need a new ranged weapon. This little ol' thing just isn't cutting it for me." Then he at last got around to it. "Do you want to trade?"

"What? No," Anfisa said, now, in addition to being baffled, a bit protective of her weapon as well. "My father gave me this crossbow when I—" And right there she shut her mouth. She had been poised to say 'when I received my Holy Accolade and became a Praetor', but she had no idea how Geoff, or anyone among the caravan for that matter, might feel about that. Maybe she was just being overly cautious, paranoid even; Geoff might not have even heard of Gild, her homeland. But she didn't want to take the chance.

Fortunately, Geoff didn't much notice or care. "Aw, that was real nice of him. Can he make you a new one?"

"Well...technically yes, but—"

"Great! Maybe we can trade, and I throw in some extra coins then? That should do it."

Anfisa couldn't believe her ears. Aside from the sentimental value, hers was a mastercrafted dwarven repeating crossbow, and Geoff's crossbow looked like a mangled branch with scrap metal strapped to the front—even if she was willing to trade, "some extra coins" just wouldn't be enough to balance the scales. But she didn't want to be too harsh with Geoff because, well...he wasn't maliciously trying to coerce her into a raw deal, no. The man was simply dimwitted. He had a simplicity and earnestness about him, this in a magnificent juxtaposition ascribing an almost child-like innocence to the huge man. He did honestly think something like a handful of gold coins would be enough to make a fair trade.

"Geoff, I am sorry, but there is no amount of—"

"I got an idea," said Geoff. And then he waved conspicuously and bellowed toward Torin, trying to call his attention, "Hey! Dwarf! Can you come here? We need your opinion!"

Anfisa winced with heavy embarrassment.

Torin Gemheart
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Rain. Maybe. Perhaps that was all that fazed him in that very moment as he glimpsed the skies.
Daybreak on the mountain pass, sunshine for the caravan, but white clouds continued to darken.
“And where is your fortress, dwarf?” The human asked him, if cordially, inviting forth conversation.
“The Halls of Kazarek.” Torin stared off into the distance. “A city in the mountains. East. A long ride.”

“Well, don’t worry, my dwarven friend,” the human attempted to reassure with a confident grin.
“Take it from a merchant: The wind tends to shift but it isn’t always treacherous. No amount—”
“Hey! Dwarf!”
He was interrupted by one other human man calling toward Torin in the distance.
Opinion? The dwarf cocked a brow. It was then that he spotted another dwarf. This was allowed.

There were of course different races amid the caravan from traders to laborers, drivers to warriors.
Torin said nothing as he walked onward, curious as to what this business was between him and her.
The latter's a dwarf all right, a couple of inches shorter, with a dwarfy mass and with two good hands.
She had one eye blue as topaz, one a black eyepatch, a scar from her past, and that tattoo of her clan.

Her red hair covered the left side of her face, as if to hide the absent eye, and was otherwise like a fire.
No—lava in shadow. It was the description that fit a person who was reserved. Vigilance burned higher.
“What’s all this about, then?” Torin looked between man and woman. His eyes finally caught the crossbow.
“Lass and I are trying to negotiate a trade,” the man didn’t wait. “I have coin and my bow for her own bow!”

Torin looked between the weapons. “Mm-hm.” He pinched his chin.
The man’s was a mangled branch with scrap metal strapped to it.
The woman’s was dwarven, elegant, splendid, and mastercrafted.
“Uh-huh.” The male dwarf couldn’t tell if the human was an idiot.

“Got gold and silver in this purse, I do!”
Yes. A dimwit. Yet Torin won’t judge him.
“Name’s Geoff, sir dwarf! A well-to-do!”
“You speak with honesty, Geoff. I admit.”

Torin shook his head—though not maliciously.
“Yet, her weapon is of dwarven craftsmanship.”
Geoff blinked as if he can't tell the difference.
“Moreover, losing it would make her…unhappy.”

The dwarf crossed his arms and he shrugged.
“Do you have a gift from your family, maybe?”
Maybe the woman questions the observation.
Though it was obvious hers is a clan weapon.

Anfisa Ironhammer
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Oh god, no, Geoff successfully summoned the attention of the other dwarf, bringing him over into this negotiation. NO, wait, not negotiation, wrong word, this wasn't a negotiation; this wasn't anything more or anything less than a misunderstanding. Yes, that's right: a misunderstanding. Perhaps the best of an unideal situation could be made? Maybe her fellow dwarf could help dissuade Geoff from the prospect of the trade? Gently, of course, would be Anfisa's preferred way, but she was ready to put her foot down as roughly as need be to keep her crossbow.

As the dwarf approached, Anfisa got a closer appraisal of him. The scar lurking beneath his right eye stood out, making Anfisa a touch self-conscious about her own facial scarring (Regel bless her mother, but her saying "Oh it's not that bad" was a gross understatement, even if her intent came from a good place). More prominent upon his countenance was the black heart tattoo—a symbol of his own clan? With something like a queer combination of shame and longing, Anfisa realized she didn't know and wasn't sure, for all she knew were Gildan dwarves—she'd never even seen a dwarven hold, now that she thought of it. All she had ever breathed was fresh air.

Regardless, the dwarf and Geoff conversed.

Moreover, losing it would make her...unhappy.

"Aye, it would," Anfisa said, helping drive that point home. It seemed to her, at least, a good way to close the negotiation—misunderstanding!—right then and there.

But Geoff was either oblivious to it or just highly committed to his faulty idea that this was in any way a fair trade. The dwarf asked Geoff if he had a gift from his family. And Geoff said, "Oh! Yeah, I do. Give me a minute," before unstrapping his traveling pack, kneeling down, and beginning to rifle through it.

Anfisa looked with uncertainty between Geoff and her fellow dwarf. "N-No, it is not as though this would make—"

"There it is!"

And what Geoff pulled from his pack was astounding. Anfisa, upon seeing it, actually let out a tiny, gasping series of laughs in her incredulity, her one eye thrown wide open. Geoff quite literally produced from his pack a jeweled amulet fit for a king. A king. How on Arethil did he get such a thing? Who was his family?? Why did he not seem to have any true notion of just how much such a fine piece of jewelcrafting would be worth??? Anfisa's questions, if stacked one atop the other, might well reach the blue skies above.

Immediately after her incredulity she felt fearful for Geoff, thinking some of the other caravan hands, mercenaries and merchants of dubious scruples perhaps, might try to swindle, or even rob him, of it. "Geoff!" she hissed in a hurried whisper. "Put that away!"

She glanced over with alarm to the dwarf beside her. Hoping, for one thing, that he wasn't of a man of said dubious scruples, and for another thing, that he might also impress upon Geoff—who looked a bit baffled—the urgency of putting that extremely expensive amulet away from sight.

Torin Gemheart
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It’s ironic. Torin had presented his question to Geoff in the sense of whether the guy might yet recognize the sentiment in hanging onto a present, especially when it came to one’s own family. Was it right to give away any such heirloom? True, the other dwarf’s weapon was of course no simple gift, but Torin hoped it would be the best comparison.

He had not actually intended his meaning as if Geoff yet had something from his family, some trinket maybe, worth trading with his contemporary. Even if he did, Torin doubted his dwarven counterpart had the heart to part with her crossbow whether it was an heirloom of her own.

Yet Geoff went ahead. Torin awaited in expectation against the rejections of the female dwarf. Arms crossed, brows arched while he himself was not cross, Torin cocked both at the gleam and glow of that amulet. Those were precious gems and it didn’t take a dwarf to know it.

By the shards… Those stones were certainly worth her crossbow, and it didn’t take a smith to appreciate the difference. The woman spoke up before Torin had a chance. She had a knack for caution amid other merchants and mercenaries of their caravan.

“Just for the moment,” Torin smiled at Geoff. “We don’t want others coming up to trade for it while we’re in the middle of our own negotiation. We don’t want to complicate business, do we?”

To that much, Geoff seemed to agree, his face sinking at the idea of making things complicated. “The simpler the better, sir! Well, you did look at the amulet, for certain.” He put it back in his pack. “So what’s next? We in agreement? I have meat and mead and some cheese left in my tent—”

“Not just yet,” Torin beckoned. “Let’s learn a bit more about the amulet first. A bit of history so the lady knows what she might be purchasing.” Torin didn’t even look her way, gave nothing away from his tongue, though he had no intention of actually trying to trade either item for each other. His motive was different.

“Amulet is a gift, eh?”
Geoff simply nodded.
Lacks wit. But honest.
“Who is your family..?”

Anfisa Ironhammer
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Anfisa wilted a little bit on the inside when the dwarf, too, called it a negotiation. Gah! It was a misunderstanding!

Thankfully, Geoff was at least easily persuaded with regard to putting the amulet away. Anfisa didn't know if anybody else among the caravan had seen it. Hopefully not. She'd rather what cohesion the band of caravaneers presently had wasn't threatened by greed. Putting aside her own personal need to fund her Gezi, her journey across the foreign lands of Arethil, it would be awful to see some sordid affair bring out the worst in everyone. The dangers of the road would surely be enough. the lady knows what she might be purchasing.

Anfisa opened her mouth, even raised a finger, to object, but decided against it. Her fellow dwarf wasn't trying to encourage, much less force, a trade—specifically used the word might. That made her feel better about this whole negotiation—gah, misunderstanding, misunderstanding!

"Telefar, from the kingdom of Telefar," said Geoff. "I'm the youngest. Got three older brothers, I do. They do all the thinking. I'm not cut out for any of that. But I can swing a club mighty fine, and I'm kind of a good shot. I think. I was just figuring if I got a better crossbow I could practice better and, heh heh, yeah, find out I guess."

"You're a prince," Anfisa said flatly, her astounded disbelief plain. Every layer they peeled back from Geoff seemed to house a new surprise.

"Yeah. They call me that. But I don't much feel like one."

Anfisa looked to the dwarf. "I...I couldn't possibly accept that amulet, even if I was willing to trade. It simply would not be right of me to take it."

Torin Gemheart
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Telefar… Torin stroked his beard in thought, contemplating whether he had heard that name before. The dwarf had not explored enough of the world just yet, much of the lore left to be discovered, and he wasn’t so versed on each king and kingdom. He was a merchant, a smith, a warrior, but still had a bit to learn.

He listened as Geoff continued speaking. The youngest sibling of four, could swing a club, was a good shot with a crossbow, needed practice, is a prince— Prince!? Shit and shale, Torin. 'Telefar of Telefar' should have given it away. It was a claim that both dwarves would not have reckoned even for a moment. That definitely explains the amulet.

Torin and Anfisa exchanged a look. Strange times, strange places. He thought as he watched her reaction, spotted the astonishment on her countenance, listened to the uncertainty in her speech.

“Don’t worry about it.” He looked away from her just as surely. “Prince Geoffrey of the House of Telefar,” Torin formally assumed in a composed tone so as not to attract any unnecessary attention. “That amulet in your possession is from your family. They might not appreciate you trading it even for a crossbow like this.”

Geoff got that look on his face again like he wasn’t certain why not. Torin went on. “That said, we,” he said specifically. “Would be happy to find you a replacement. I am both a merchant and a smith as well as a guard for this caravan and . . . “

He took the moment to look around, spotting others just like him: some sentries at key points; traders haggling with one another; craftsmen sharpening and shaping; and a few faces who quickly looked away when he spotted them.

Hmph. So much for not attracting attention. Torin sucked air between his teeth to get his contemporary’s and spoke low. “Some potentially less than friendly men have spied their little eyes on that amulet.”

Torin had no business with princes at this moment, but protection was his business regardless. “Torin, by the way. Torin Gemheart of the Halls of Kazarek.”

Anfisa Ironhammer
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"Oh, yeah, that'd be great!" Geoff, as known as Prince Geoffrey (Dear Regel, Anfisa never would have guessed!), said with earnest. He at least listened to the advice given him and stowed that expensive away and out of sight.

Some potentially less than friendly men have spied their little eyes on that amulet.

Anfisa didn't turn her head, but her eye darted to one side and then the other anxiously. "Exactly what I feared."

The dwarf introduced himself, and she responded in courteous kind. "Anfisa Ironhammer."

Her mouth had moved slightly as if in preparation to, like Torin, state where she was from. Of Gild, she would have said. But, gods above, how would that even be received? It was the same apprehension she had felt when speaking to Geoff earlier, mentioning her father. Just how would it be felt by the denizens of Arethil at large, of a people who scorned the use of magic? Her friend Ruslan Gildal, just before they each embarked on their Gezis, had agreed with her that it would be best to avoid talking about where they were from, if such could be avoided.

Though it might be awkward talking about the schism of Clan Ironhammer; half in Belgrath, half in Gild. Gah! "Pleasure to meet ya," she said, trying to make something of the brief awkwardness of her half-open mouth.

She pressed on. "How many pairs of eyes—"

That hurt a little to say.

"—did you see looking our way?"

Torin Gemheart
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His counterpart’s hesitation wasn’t a lost observation after it had first dawned on Torin Gemheart. Anfisa Ironhammer. She named no place thereafter but no problem for him. He glanced away from the suspicious faces to gaze into her one eye once more. A tattoo. A scar. He cracked a grin from the corner of his lips. A dwarf after mine own heart.

Their resemblance wasn’t limited to stone and bone, to memories and histories woven within their skin, of wounds and tattoos of kin and home, but also in their manner of being thrown into this princely matter over an amulet that wasn’t their own, but that very prince’s. So be it.

Ironhammer and Gemheart would play their part. It was too late to back out now. Those strangers in the distance would see these dwarves as a threat to attempt to cut through or demand retreat. Yet Gemheart wasn’t much of a bodyguard were he to leave his quarry.

“Five pairs of eyes.” Torin answered her question. “Four and one, to be specific.” He shrugged. “Four pairs of eyes makes eight eyes, but one of them has an…” He cleared his throat. “...Eyepatch over his right eye.” It wouldn’t be for the first time, either.

“That’s nine eyes and five mysterious figures.” He blinked into the distance, suddenly wondering if his math checked out. Even a dwarven merchant could be uncertain. “Those strangers are watching us again.”

“Think I might have hen for dinner.” Geoff said, rubbing his chin. “Maybe read A Poem of Earth and Water in bed.”

Gemheart turned to Ironhammer. “So, Anfisa of the repeating crossbow...” He hoped to tow in her apprehension with his grin. “How do you determine dealing with them?”

He had his own plan and method, granted, but he wanted her opinion. Whatever they did, they had to act soon. Whether confront or leave, one party had to make the first move.

Anfisa Ironhammer
Anfisa winced a little when one of the onlookers was reported to have an eyepatch. It was something of a complicated feeling, a strange mix of: I still remember the magic of that mad mage searing my eye, it's awful that you lost an eye too, please don't make me shoot you in the face. It also so happened that her repeating crossbow held five bolts before it needed to be reloaded. As a small aside, she couldn't help but feel a touch of disconnected satisfaction that the numbers worked out.

Geoff, for his part, seemed not so concerned at all—or just flatly oblivious. Surely he must live a charmed life, to have come so far and still be in such good health and all. Mayhap it would be that Anfisa and Torin would be made tangible parts of said charms, in their good spirits watching over him at least until he went off onto the next leg of his journey through life.

Anfisa didn't make a big show of looking, just idly craned her neck this way and that as if working out a crack. She thought she had seen the eyepatch man off in the distance, about a wagon or two back.

"We still have our job here with the caravan," Anfisa said. Aye, caution and prudence were her watchwords. "And I do not think it would reflect well upon us if we went after them. They have not actually done anything yet, other than cast a curious look."

She thought it over a bit further.

"If those men band together and do try something, I reckon...yes, I reckon it will either be after we've reached our destination, or...gods, worse, if something happens along the road, in the confusion of it all." She pursed her lips for a second. "They've got all the initiative, they do."

Torin Gemheart
Anfisa’s response was nothing less than Torin had expected given her disposition so far presented. A bit timid, maybe, but not weak. She has heart. There was a reason she had that crossbow, after all, with a story of its own alongside Prince Geoffrey’s amulet.

She was right: all the dwarves had to go off about those strangers in the distance were their eyes. Torin knew thieves when he saw them, yes, but there was no evidence of anything just yet, and no need for a direct confrontation or for things to get heated in public.

“Agreed. I think it best to keep our distance and see what happens.” Sometimes nothing did. Five cutpurses against two dwarves weren’t much of a number when it came to the latter; even idiots could see that dwarves like these weren’t to be easily messed with.

“They may suspect we suspect them but we have the element of ignorance for now.” He rubbed his chin, suddenly catching that Geoff was doing the same thing. “Let’s see how this plays out. We should leave.”

They had a reason to beyond gauging what their audience might do. Torin had all but promised Geoff a new crossbow of his own and the merchant-smith turned prince’s bodyguard would see to it.

“Let’s find you a new weapon, Geoff,” Torin said as he beckoned him. Across the path, a blacksmith had planted his wagon with the back open to show chests and racks, collections of weapons; swords, axes, bows and crossbows both.

The smith was an elderly human man, whose yellowed teeth betrayed a kind face as he greeted his company. “Why hullo! What’ll it be, gentlemen and lady?”

“Go ahead,” Torin gestured to Geoff. “See anything?”

Geoff went ahead as Torin glanced at Anfisa, keeping an eye out all the while. “This is my business. Smithing. Buying. Selling. When I’m not protecting princes, that is. What about you?” What was this dwarven woman’s occupation?

Anfisa Ironhammer
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The caravan was at a halt, and there was some good in that by Anfisa's reckoning. They might not even go far today, if at all, what with those thick clouds above their heads suggesting rain, maybe even a storm. The mountain passes could be treacherous enough without the inclement weather. Though if a storm did come, who knew, those amulet-lookers might just be bold enough, or crazy enough, to make their move with the cover of the pouring rain.

Ah, but as her Uncle Ordin liked to say: "Worry about crossing the bridge when it's in sight." And the bridge in question wasn't quite in sight just yet. They'd the element of ignorance, Torin said, and he was right, Anfisa nodding in agreement with his statement; it meant that both they and the amulet-lookers could all pretend to play nice for now.

Let's find you a new weapon, Geoff.

"Right-o!" said Geoff, the big prince eagerly following after the dwarves. Anfisa almost envied that carefree bliss Geoff had.

To the caravan's resident traveling blacksmith they went. He seemed a touch surprised that hired caravan hands might be browsing over his wares, but, like any worthy merchant, welcomed the occasion nonetheless. Geoff immediately went to marveling over the arbalests, eyes pouring over the cranequins and windlasses of those heavy crossbows.

And as Geoff marveled, Torin spoke casually with Anfisa. Her face, for reasons just begging to be misinterpreted, flushed red. In truth it was a kind of embarrassment. Torin was just with her, even though sheer chance occasioned their company. He had nothing to hide, so it seemed. Meanwhile, here she was, nurses a species of mistrust for fear of what might happen if she told the truth.

Her bottom lip retreated into her mouth some, and she nibbled anxiously on it. Then said, "If...I tell you..."

(Gods, this was already starting to sound bad!)

"...will you promise to be fair and level?"

Torin Gemheart
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To think that this had all started from a minor observation on the horizon yonder, where the mountain pass stretched away to lakes and forests.

Then, as the welkin spread further from white to grey, it was evident that one little dwarf warrior had no say in the caravan’s expedition when it came to rest and relaxation. Besides, he was a mite distracted anyway.

The path on this pass was perhaps not suitable to camp in for the lonely adventurer, but things were different when it came to a caravan of adventurers, warriors, merchants, smiths, guides, thieves and the like.

A smaller number of mercenaries and freeriders had tagged along, hopping on for the promise of payment and future contracts amid the traders with business in the lands ahead. So the wagon train came to a stop, occupants setting up shop, but the dwarf Torin was still on watch.

One eye on the crowd to look out for those strangers who had glimpsed the amulet. One eye in the sky for the dangers that hide behind clouds. ‘Venture in vigilance’, his lord father had taught him. ‘Always follow your nose!’

He had jested. Right now all Torin Gemheart smelled had since been smelted; the arms and armor of this human blacksmith. He turned away from him, however, settling his gaze on his dwarven counterpart. She seemed as hesitant as ever.

“Fair and level?” Her words echoed, made Torin stroke that bearded chin of his. He really couldn’t help but grin. “Like a hammer to an anvil, my friend.” He straightened his face, leveled his gaze, and waited. “Tell.”

“How much for this one?” Sounded like Geoff had finally found a gun.
“Oh, a real beauty, she is!” The blacksmith went on to offer how much.
Even a simpleton could reason that the price was actually fair enough.
Or maybe the smith is taking advantage of a prince without knowing it?

Anfisa Ironhammer
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"Aye, like a hammer to an anvil," Anfisa said, taking quite the liking to his turn of phrase. "Very well."

And, as Geoff attended to his business, tell she did.

"I am a Praetor—a warrior and stateswoman—from the Kingdom of Gild, to the south in the region of Campania."

Campania: that small coastal strip of land nestled between the Spine's southern most ranges and the Asherah Ocean. Anfisa herself, like many other Gildans and probably many other Campanians, thought it to be fairly secluded by its geography from the rest of Epressa's political dealings. Perhaps the best response from Torin might be something like puzzlement, not knowing at all of her homeland or mayhap just seeing it on a map as one of many markers and glossing over it. Still, however, she was a bit nervous for the worst possible response.

Torin Gemheart
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Praetor… The word was not unheard of but, like most words, especially after being translated and transliterated from one in a number of languages, it was a term that certainly carried its own unique meaning. That it did: warrior and stateswoman from the Kingdom of Gild.

Torin had indeed heard of the kingdom before as well as its region of Campania. Located in Epressa, the city of Gild was just southeast of the tail end of the Spine, northeast of the Allir Reach. The settlement’s dwarven population amid its predominantly human elements were in part what had since dawned on Torin Gemheart—as a merchant and a dwarf, of course.

Yet, admittedly, he had not actually visited the city, and he was not brushed up on its lore. It was a relatively secluded settlement in comparison to its neighboring towns and cities, but the merchant-smith, failing at his homework, had at least done business with more than one dwarven inhabitant who claimed to be a Gildan citizen.

Torin kept silent in thought alongside the conversation between Geoff and the blacksmith.
“Does it come in black?” Geoff asked the blacksmith who blinked. “That…that one is black.”
Praetor… Pray tell, he had heard the term before. What had that one other trader told him?
Anti-... “Okay! Okay!” Geoff shifted hips. “Does it come in pink?” Ah… Torin recalled. Magic...

“I admit that I am not very familiar with the Praetors or your kingdom, miss.”
“No!” The blacksmith scoffed. “Do you take me for a conjurer of cheap tricks?”
Geoff turned to another crossbow. “That one is purple! Like my own necklace!”
“Yet I have heard yours to be paladins—” Interrupted as Geoff pulled an amulet.

Anfisa Ironhammer
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Anfisa hung on the silence filling the interim between her answer and Torin's eventual response, and all the while her natural caution festered more and more into anxiety. Oh no. Regel preserve her, alienating one of the two people whose character she by sheer chance had managed to know any smidge about. Gods, how bad was it? Did he hate it or did he very much hate it? Geoff and the blacksmith seemed to be talking at normal speed, but every second of Torin's silence proved agonizingly slow, and somehow to Anfisa these two things co-existed at once.

At last he spoke, and Anfisa, unaware until then that she was holding her breath, let it out. Relieved by the neutral, if not cool, reply; he had just been searching his mind is all, phew, all is well, all is well. "Oh," she said, figuring his unfamiliarity might be for the best.

But two things happened at once. Torin wasn't entirely unfamiliar, yet as he was speaking of what he'd heard Geoff was poised to make an unwise move. Anfisa, as if Geoff reaching into his pack might see him bitten by some creature within, lunged toward him and with her arms reached up stayed his hand by clasping his wrist. "No, no, no, you do not...uh..."

Improvisation was not one of her strengths. And it was clearly evident.

"...need to do that, Geoff. Let's not get carried away, eh? Torin and I were going to, erm, help you. As a...thank you."

She glanced to Torin. Grinned a manner she hoped was warm and genial and with that cozy Aren't we all friends here feeling but which felt awfully awkward even in the muscles of her face.

Torin Gemheart
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Anfisa had reacted before Torin could even. From paladins to amulets, the dwarven woman had done what she had thought was best, and it worked in everybody’s interests, all parties notwithstanding.

What that meant was, as Anfisa grabbed Geoff’s wrist, that had made the blacksmith all the more suspicious as to what was in the man’s bag before there could ever be the hint or glint of an amulet by any definition.

A necklace, Geoff had mentioned, which could be as golden as silver, as wooden as made of bone from some unknown orc tribe, by all rights. Before anyone could guess it, of course, Anfisa had stayed the prince’s hand, and that much of royalty recognition, well, the blacksmith certainly had no knowledge of.

Neither did the strangers from before, however, as Torin glanced to the side to spot the same onlookers encroaching on their position. They maintained some distance, tried to act nonchalant as if just chatting, but they knew they had been caught.

Anfisa was nervous for a dwarf. Yet Torin would not hold that against her. She acted in the best way as circumstances had permitted in order to keep that amulet hidden. “This blacksmith wants pieces of currency, not some silly necklace.” His speech was of someone who did not want to embarrass a potential purchase.

“Silly necklace!?” Geoff blinked. “My necklace is—”

“Forgive him,” Torin interrupted. “How much for that one?” The blacksmith still looked suspicious but that was to be expected.

“Well…you’re right, master dwarf, I be wantin’ coins, not trinkets from this boy, but this one’ll cost ya a pretty penny…”

The blacksmith recited the price as Torin cast an eye outside the caravan. The five mysteries from before were coming closer.

“Haggle,” he whispered to Anfisa, all too aware that she was potentially the worst person to ask for bartering under the circumstances. “Keep him busy. The Prince's life might depend on it as much as his amulet.” Torin didn’t wait to hear her plea as he stepped aside.

One hand on the haft of an axe at his hip, as if to merely relax his grip, he stared off into the distance, daring those thieves to approach his presence.

Anfisa Ironhammer
  • Dwarf
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Anfisa didn't need to see the casual, oh-just-minding-our-own-business approach of the amulet-lookers to know why Torin said what he said in the manner in which he said it. His whispers spoke the whole story without her having to look over her shoulder or turn around in the slightest.

She gave him a small nod, and whispered back, "Gods be with ya." Maybe he heard it, maybe he didn't; he was already in motion. Her crossbow was starting to feel awfully nice in her hands, the weight of her hatchet on her belt comforting. The audacity of those men! Ready to dispense with their caravan job, not even for the sake of appearances waiting for a more suitable moment. Aye, greed was sometimes a lash wound tight around your neck, dragging you along after it, that was right.

"We've got coin. Certainly we do," said Anfisa, and then in a friendly gesture tapped Geoff's thigh with the back of her hand. "Isn't that right, Geoff?"


Oh dear Regel, please tell me he at least has some loose coins. How could he possibly have an amulet worth a fortune and not one spare coin?

"I did pay a lot for my crossbow I got now," Geoff said, and he came to the realization then. "It wasn't worth it, huh?"

"How much did you pay for it?"

"A fistful."

"A fistful?" Goodness, no, poor Geoff had huge hands, and Anfisa had a feeling it wasn't a fistful of coppers he'd handed off.

"Yeah," Geoff said, despite his realization, as if it were no problem. "I just grabbed a bunch and placed em on the counter for the trader and I said, 'Is that good?' and he said, 'Yeah, that's good.'" Geoff's lips squirmed with uneasiness, even a little embarrassment, as he admitted, "I'm not that good with numbers."

"He could pay me the same way," the blacksmith offered "helpfully."

"Let us not be so hasty," Anfisa said. "You have said your price, and now we can figure our way to a fair deal."

"My price is fair," the blacksmith said, this with a small hint of indignance.

"He said it's fair," Geoff said, looking like he thought it helped his case.

Anfisa pinched her eye and her mouth shut, summoning more patience from her reserve of the same. This wasn't going well. "Geoff...maybe we ought to start by..." Aware of the blacksmith eagerly listening in, Anfisa motioned for Geoff to huddle down closer and said, "Come here, come here."

He did so huddle, having to drop down to his knee so that he and Anfisa could put their heads together.

"Do not be alarmed," Anfisa said to the big prince, stealing quick glances toward Torin, "whenever whatever comes, comes."

Torin Gemheart
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Gods. Torin thought at the comment behind his back. Yet when had they last been with him? In the forges, as the smith lords would insist to tell him; as he slept, as his lord father would remind him; wherever he walked, as the very Halls of Kazarek would spellbind him into remembering.

Then let’s hope the gods are with me today to prevent any unnecessary bloodshed. Truthfully, he did not know what to expect except anything. It depended on the kind of men and women he was dealing with. They could be too stupid to walk with caution and commence theft right in the open. Hike it down the mountain, maybe.

Yet, if they had at least some semblance of wits in their noggins, they were likely on their way to talk, to spy right beside their target, and find out any information they could about them. They shan’t. Torin would just as quickly answer their questions with his axe.

Granted, he could have acted stupid. Pretended he was just out shopping and the lot of them could be customers beside one another. But he didn’t. Torin wanted these idiots to know who and what they would be up against should they continue in their mood of being buffoons.

Five against two. The dwarf grunted to himself in amusement. I’d triple those odds in hell. And still stand his ground, loud and proud. From their view, he looked like a bodyguard for this blacksmith, and he pretended to be no less.

“That’s close enough, friends,” Torin said to ladies and gentlemen.
His friends looked right, left. “Free country, ain’t it? We’re shoppin.”
“What’s your name?” Torin asked that speaker who looked clueless.
“You know your name, don’t you?” This made the same man grimace.

“Ah…so I take it you haven’t seen the face of Tarl Kanner...have you?”
The dwarf shrugged. “I know me and dead owls don’t give a hoot.”
“Well, master dwarf…” He stepped forward. “Here I am, a sellsword.”
“And..?” Hand on haft at hip.And…I want to buy a fookin’ sword...”

Well things are developing rather interestingly already.
Perhaps Torin was a tad too fast to be on this defensive.
Yet, he’d just as quickly gotten the measure of the idiots.
Their leader in particular. No doubting it. They’re thieves.

Anfisa Ironhammer
  • Nervous
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Anfisa could see everything in her eye's periphery. She could hear the initial part of the exchange between Torin and the group of supposed free country shoppers.

But then Geoff spoke, and this without a care in the world for keeping quiet, "What do you mean—?"

"SSH!" Anfisa, all for the sake of appearances, glanced up toward the blacksmith and not toward the brewing confrontation between Torin and the five ne'er-do-wells. "We need to keep quiet, alright? We are discussing..." The last thing she thought prudent now, as opposed to a moment ago, was to tell him outright about the threat Torin and her perceived, so instead she said, " to haggle—"


"Geoff!" Anfisa hissed out his name. Dear Regel, did this man not have an indoor voice? "It's supposed to be a secret. So we can get you the best deal. Think of it as a game, like cards, wherein you ought keep your cards unrevealed."

And...I want to buy a fookin' sword...

Anfisa had Geoff's attention...and then lost it right there. Once the lead man said that, Geoff perked up, looked the man's way, and said in the friendliest of manners while waving him over, "Hey! I'm trying to buy a crossbow. Come here, come here, we can figure out haggling together."

Anfisa couldn't help but pinch her eye and lips tightly shut, such an expression the soundless picture of an exasperated groan.

Torin Gemheart
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Torin, ready to tell him and the lot of them to buy their fookin’ sword somewhere else, did not even get that chance. A hand resting on the axe at his hip, nonchalant in comparison, someone else spoke to get everyone else’s attention, including Tarl Kanner and Torin Gemheart.

It wasn’t Anfisa. It wasn’t the blacksmith. It was no less than Geoff. Oh, by hammer’s best strike, let this not be the end. Torin couldn’t help but pinch the bridge of his nose with free fingers as Kanner and Co. began to approach.

“No,” Torin said simply in an exasperated groan. “Sorry.” He cleared his throat, looking into the eyes of his contemporaries, lad to lass, with a final sigh. “We’re closed.”

Tarl looked left, looked right. “That can’t be right. That bloke just said he’s trying to buy a crossbow.”

“Oh it en’t me nature to turn down other customers!”
The blacksmith gestured to the newcomers.

Gods, Anfisa, keep Geoff back and that blacksmith no different. “What’s the name of these mountains we’re in?” Torin asked the ringleader of this little thieving outfit before him.

Tarl cocked a brow.The Spine.”

“Aye. Ride seven hundred miles that way, you’re still in the Spine. Four hundred miles that way. Three hundred miles that way.” It didn’t really matter if he meant it literally or was being figurative for these fools before him.

“Or take a few steps to your left or your right, and you’ll find another blacksmith amid this caravan.” The dwarf measured his gaze in Tarl's face. “Near or far, go anywhere you like, buy a sword or a crossbow, but it won’t be from this blacksmith, and it won’t be from that man.”

"That a threat?" Tarl looked smug.

Torin shrugged. "Nay. Tis a fookin’ fact.”

Anfisa Ironhammer
  • Nervous
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"Geoff," Anfisa said, urgently yanking on the nearest bit of sleeve she could get one of her dwarven hands on. "He's busy, he's busy, no need to worry yourself over that man."

Thank Saint Sofia, Geoff actually came down to kneel and huddle again. "He seems a little ornery."

"That's because he is ornery, best just to leave him be." Though there was no telling at this junction whether or not Tarl and his ilk had a mind to leave them alone. She just needed to make sure she had a clean shot past Geoff's bulk if things went from ornery to violent. "Let's get back to our business, aye?"

"Okay. I guess that man Tarl will just have to do like Torin says and buy a sword somewheres else."

"He will, and he'll be fine, don't worry about him. Now Geoff, we will get you that crossbow, but you have to follow my lead, alright?"

"I do want that nice crossbow."

Nay. Tis a fookin' fact. In the air was a palpable rising of tension between Torin and Tarl—even if Geoff seemed not to notice it. Anfisa's arms felt strained and tense, her hands and her grip tight on her weapon. What an exhausting effort, pretending that all was well!

Yet nevertheless, she called, "'Ey, blacksmith! How much did you say you wanted for the crossbow?" Anfisa knew the price he'd said quite well; she just wanted to draw his attention, even if just for a moment, away from Torin and Tarl.

Torin Gemheart
  • Dwarf
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Nothing out of the ordinary when it came to ornery sorts like these. Yet, one question for Torin was: Is Anfisa an ordinary dwarf? At least when it comes to keeping one eye open on her quarry and one eye open for predators—figuratively, of course, for never mind the lass’ eyepatch.

If she was then she would keep Geoff’s attention on the blacksmith at least for the moment. If things got out of control, Torin trusted in his companion’s judgment to let her crossbow do the talking once the bell tolled.

“A fact,” Tarl snorted. “Then perhaps we should indeed take our business elsewhere, my good man.”

“That would be your best decision yet.” Torin nodded.

“Except…eh…I’m not just lookin’ for a sword, dwarf.” His tone dripped with scorn despite his smiling eyes. “...I’m lookin’ to buy…” Trailing off, it was Tarl’s lips that smiled that instant. Don’t say amulet, you little shit.

Meanwhile the blacksmith had returned to the other conversation with an urge to make a profit off a patron. He offered a figure of silver for his dwarven customer and the man beside her. He felt it was fair given the weapon’s condition; not too high or low for newly crafted equipment.

“Crossbow’s wood is good strong oak straight from Falwood. Bought at a high price to make it right by mine own design, I did!” Were their lies in his eyes? Was he not an honest businessman?

“I’ll even toss in a handful of bolts with your purchase, miss. While you’re at it, might I interest you in an axe? Fit for a dwarf’s hand!”

Anfisa Ironhammer
  • Stressed
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"...a crossbow, myself," Tarl said, his smile ostensibly cordial, yet underneath and available to the discerning eye lay its true caustic nature. Heh, bet those pompous dwarves didn't see that coming, did they? Tarl was on to their game, he knew what they were doing, and in the end it was no different than what he and his boys were trying to do. These damn dwarves were just being dishonest about it, trying to cozy up to the dimwit Geoff to make him part with that gorgeous amulet. Now Tarl? At least he'd give the dimwit the respect of being upfront. Heh, Tarl knew he had a scoundrel's heart, but he wasn't no damn swindler.

Problem was, these dwarves, ever loyal to their nature, were being obstinate as fuck about this. They were playing their game. And hey, you know what, Tarl could play that sort of game too, and he was better at it than a couple of shortstacks. What was wrong with having a little fun before they all got down to the real business?

* * * * *​

Anfisa had a perfunctory response all ready to go for the blacksmith, had a mind to confer further with Geoff and keep up the whole charade. But then Tarl said that he, too, was looking to buy a crossbow, and this unexpected event gave Anfisa some pause, her startled expression, however minor, betraying nonetheless just how much she had been surprised. What was he on about? Torin had almost gotten him to leave! Rotten luck!

Tarl noticed, and flashed that smirk of his briefly Anfisa's way, before he gestured to the very crossbow Geoff had selected. "Fine piece of work there." He sucked his tongue against his teeth in an anticipatory manner. Said, "Go on. Make an offer, dwarf. I'll top it."

Anfisa replied to Tarl, "This is not some kind of auction."

"Ain't it? You're over there planning on how to haggle. So haggle."

"That's the one I want," Geoff said, his commentary almost lost in the background of it all.

"Well," said Tarl to Geoff, "how bad do you want it?"

Torin Gemheart
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  • Dwarf
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So, it turned out that Tarl had yet made the worst decision, not the best. So be it. The blacksmith spoke of crossbows and that was exactly what the bandit used to put his foot forward into the conversation. At least he didn’t mention the amulet outright.

Torin kept quiet, for the moment, keeping his eyes on the guy, while Anfisa replied to his antics about this not being some auction. Tarl insisted, the smartass, as his group advanced, but not so as to attack with blade or axe so much as wag their tongue and say as much as a hagraven may at that.

Haggle, Tarl demanded of the other customer, but clearly the dipshit didn’t give a shit about bartering. He was challenging. Taunting. Arguing. Did Anfisa see it the way Torin did?

The scum questioned Geoff as to how badly he wanted that crossbow and, in that moment, Torin knew any answer that Geoff gave him might just beckon that amulet from his possession, so the dwarf interrupted.

“Enough for me to buy it for him if it comes to it,” Torin measured his gaze with Tarl, eyes in eyes.
The latter had just spat upon the ground as if he had changed his mind on its target being Torin.
“Enough to buy you a new head?” The two stared each other down just then, with no movement.
“Oi!” The blacksmith cried. “I don’t want any trouble!” Torin just stood staring, inclining his head.

"No offense," Tarl said. "But that crossbow looks like it would take a dwarf's head right off."
He was clearly trying to goad Torin into exploding, but the dwarf wasn't so easily drawn on.
"My father said a crossbow's the best weapon for a soldier in the hands of his army!" Geoff said.
That made Tarl tilt his head. "His army?" Shit and shale. "Whaddya mean?" Torin shook his head.

Anfisa Ironhammer
  • Scared
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