“Rise and shine sleeping beauty!” Aaren called out, banging on one of the cooking pots with a metal spatula. He’d found out, over the past week, that Eamonn was in no way a morning person, and so he had sought to find a way to wake him up as quickly and efficiently as possible, hence the clanging of the cooking pot.
Eamonn wanted him to go away, he hated the early morning wake up calls he’d been receiving, especially because they began with a disappointing breakfast of toast with basic compote made from assorted berries smeared over the top. He’d remarked to Aaren on there being an unusual tangy fruit in the jam that was a little too much for the palate. Aaren had simply grinned at him and took another bite of his toast, “It’s part of the experience.” he’d told the boy.
Eamonn though was hoping against hope that today wouldn’t be the same. He didn’t mind the never-ending list of chores that was becoming routine. Growing up in Darcey’s household, he’d grown accustomed to the expectation that everyone did their fair share of the work, and he was glad to see that Aaren too was taking a hand, helping the boy out where he needed an extra set of hands or if he wanted something done is his own way.
But it had meant that the most outlandish thing Eamonn had done, since arriving, was hunting. Two days after arriving at the house, Eamonn had accompanied Aaren through the forest where Aaren had taken the time to show him how to place their traps and the best locations for each of them. These were things Eamonn had learnt by practice over the years hunting with Sam, the added tips that Aaren was able to provide helped him that little more.
Those ‘few things’ though that Aaren had mentioned he’d wanted to show Eamonn were in fact the location of the wood axe he’d need for collecting firewood, the nearby stream he would collect the water they’d need for the day, and the grains he’d need to spread across the traps when they went out resetting them in the forest.
Eamonn contemplated getting out of bed, heard the higher pitched clanging of the smaller pot from the main room and finally decided to get it over with. He quickly straightened his bed covers, stretched his muscles to get rid of the lethargic effect that sleep had on them and collected his set of clothes for the day. He used the water jug on his tall set of drawers to clear his eyes and wash he face. He poured some of the water into the small basin, grabbed a rag and wiped his face down, clearing out his eyes and wiping his mouth before pulling on his long brown breeches and a clean shirt.
He was tousling his hair as he made his way out to the table with Aaren keeping his eye on the boy as he skimmed through some paperwork. The man had noticed that the initial spark in the boy and his enthusiasm was slowly waning. Both of them had put some long days recently, and the work they were putting in was beginning to take a toll on each of them. It was slow and tedious work, with the make-up of the household it was an unfortunate requirement placed on them. Under normal circumstances, Aaren would have been keeping to a more sedate level, however in the company of an apprentice, Aaren had decided to bring things up to shape around the place.
In the short period of time Eamonn had been with him, Aaren had been steadily crossing things off his mental check list as they were completed. The previous week there had only been a handful, however he had been called away for a day to meet with Maddox, he had offered for Eamonn to join him, the boy declined, stating that one of the game traps had broken and needed repairing.
The last few on the list weren’t high priorities. Now, he figured that, with all of the essentials of their lodge taken care of, he had just the sort of thing to get the boy back on track.
Eamonn groaned as he sat down. Seeing Aaren already prepared his own breakfast, he sat down at the end of the table, facing Aaren. There was a stack of toast on a plate towards his end, and the inevitable jar of compote next to it. Also on the table, was Aaren’s daily paperwork, dropped by each morning detailing any rumours or mishaps that had had come up related to the area. Each morning Aaren would spend an hour or so looking through them, selecting one or two of the more important ones and heading out for most of the day, leaving Eamonn to his own devices apologizing vehemently for doing so. After the first few times, the effect of the apology began to wear off.
There was a small vase of two beautiful red roses as the centerpiece and a further half dozen by the open window near the front door. There was also a long rolled-up package laying across three of the chairs at the table. Seeing them, Eamonn was careful not to make any mention of it figuring a comment would likely create another job for him. Sighing quietly, he grabbed himself a plate, two pieces of the toast and the jar of compote. It was a deep purple colour, not the orange and red colour he’d been used to seeing. He shrugged, thinking it would be just like the other Aaren had been keeping. Using his knife, he spread a thin layer of the compote onto his toast before taking a bite.
The saliva in his mouth was running wild, there was no unpleasant tangy or sickly sweet aftertaste. The jam was rich in taste, leaving a slight coating in the mouth, licking his lips, he poured himself a mug of coffee, adding a spoonful of sugar and a dash of milk. He now noticed that Aaren was looking up at him smirking at the boy’s reaction.
“I thought you might like this one, when I went into town the other day I bought it and half a dozen other jars of it. The trader said it was made from black and wild berries. It’s much better than the other stuff we had, don’t you think?” Eamonn nodded mightily at the question, eating the toast with relish. “What’s the plan for today, Aaren?” Eamonn asked between mouthfuls of toast.
For Eamonn, it was also fast becoming routine for him to sit at the table and be told what chores he’d be carrying out throughout the day, may as well beat him to the punch, he thought to himself.
Glancing at his apprentice, Aaren considered the boy’s question, he had little doubt that Eamonn wasn’t looking forward to the new day. “You’ll find out soon enough” he replied as his usual cheery self.
He felt no need to let the boy in on anything until he had to. Aaren sat down next to Eamonn, placing a mug and a pot of coffee that he had brewed while he waited for his breakfast to cook. “I just need to gather up a few things, eat, and we can get going.”
Eamonn simply nodded to his master, added another spoonful of sugar to his mug of coffee, and sat quietly. There was no idle chatter and little noise apart from the shuffling of mugs as each took a drink, or the sudden crunch as Eamonn took another bite of his toast. He’d decided to savour it today, sitting back in his chair enjoying the comfort while it lasted.
“I need you to make sure that you’ll be warm enough” Aaren said without looking at the boy, “It looks to be a little chilly today” he concluded. They sat in contented silence for a few minutes before a nod from Aaren had them both standing to go about their own things before leaving, Aaren, taking the pack from the chair with him as he went through the door.
The boy followed Aaren as they made their way through, what Aaren described as, the Light Forest. Aaren told the boy of the story of how, even during the darkest night of winter, there would always be a light to guide you to your destination. Travelers knew it was simply the glow of the moon reflecting off some of the different flowers that dotted the forest floor, Aaren decided to ignore mentioning that particular detail. When he had moved here, he had been mesmerized on multiple occasions as he looked up at the night sky, always seeming to shine brightly. It had been one of the many reasons he’d built his house in a clearing of the woods. He also commented on how this was one of the exceptions from the usual lack of imagination that the ancestors had. “Places always seem to a mixture of the two neighboring countries’ name, but in this case, they really captured the feeling of the place” he told the boy. The two continued on for another hour or so, Eamonn had completely lost his bearings, but confident that his master would lead him to their destination.
He was surprised to find that after an hour or so of trekking through the forest, they found themselves in a clearing, looking on at Aaren’s little house again, nestled away as it was towards the fringes of the clearing. Eamonn walked ahead of his mentor, uncomprehending as to what was going on. “Oops, looks like we took a couple of wrong turns, oh well” Aaren called out sarcastically.
Turning and facing his master, Eamonn looked at Aaren blankly, “Are you leading me on again?” he asked. Aaren couldn’t contain himself any further, a huge grin breaking out onto his face, chuckling aloud, “did you think we were just going for a nice stroll through the woods?” he joked, “I saw that you were beginning to become bored around here, which I’m sorry about by the way. I appreciate you completing those boring tasks for me while I was busy gallivanting around the countryside each day.” He told the boy.
“So what I was planning on doing today was show you what we, as members of the Ayleserowan Royal Commission, do and of course what we use to do it”. Aaren gestured for the boy to give him some room. As Eamonn hastily moved back, Aaren slung the pack off his shoulder onto the ground, quickly rolling it out to reveal its contents. Eamonn was well and truly intrigued by this new development, he was expecting another day of hard work, but was now looking at what he could only describe as ‘bliss’.
The pack that Aaren had been carrying, had within it every tool and weapon that Eamonn had seen at different times throughout his life in wildwood, Faraday and the breeding stables. There were also any little additions that any of them needed here as well, or so he thought. Eamonn looked at each item, there was a sword in its scabbard, different quivers full of arrows, a standard one for the bow and a smaller one for a strange looking crossbow settled in beside it, some odd looking rounded canister or cartridge shaped objects, three knives and another empty scabbard.
“I can judge by your look that you’re intrigued” Aaren teased. He could have sworn he saw the boy’s jaw hit the floor for a split second as he stared at the weapons before him.
Not wanting to keep the boy in suspense he explained the weapons for the boy. “Now, I should think that you’d be fairly familiar with a few of the weapons you see in front of you.” Aaren stated. Eamonn nodded in confirmation.
“Right then.” Aaren moved to the pack, positive that he held the boy’s attention, he picked up the belt containing four blades and an empty scabbard and the sword.
“First of all,” he started, “this is your standardly issued sword, I figured you’d be able to wield this given your size, it’s nicely balanced with a good deal of weight behind it. Too heavy and you’ll become overtired and if it’s too light you might as well be using a toothpick.” Aaren laughed quietly at his joke, he slipped the weapon from the largest of the scabbards, filling the boy in on some of the finer details of looking after the blade of the sword, “The key is to keep it nice and sharp, you never want rust to build up on it, it’ll lose its strength otherwise and instead of blocking an attack, it could shear part of the blade away” he looked meaningfully at the boy and passed the blade to him.
Eamonn held the weapon, it was a little bottom heavy for his liking as he swung it a few times, doing so it surprised him that it seemed to drop a little in weight, making it a little lighter than expected, “This will probably be only temporary.” Aaren told him, “Once you’ve built up some of the muscles in your arms, you should be able to wield a larger and slightly heavier sword.” Aaren advised, “Over time you’ll find your own feel and balance and we’ll get you one best suited to your fighting style. It’s something we’ll just need to give some time to”. Next he gestured to take the sword back, then he passed him two of the smaller knives from their scabbards. Eager mitts took them from Aaren.
Eamonn was somewhat disappointed by these weapons. “They’re just simple throwing knives” he told the boy. Aaren’s words didn’t make the boy feel any better about the insignificant tools in his hands, they looked sharp enough. On the other hand, the styling, size, and the hilt gave him little to be excited about.
“These are purely designed for throwing,” Aaren reasoned, “and since we may go through a lot of these, the only thing we look for in one is that it is well balanced and sharp enough to make a killing blow, for example –” In one swift movement, Aaren pivoted to his right, unsheathing one of his own knives and sent it flying towards one of the targets he had set up, hitting it dead on in the center about twenty meters away, hitting what would have been the enemy’s chest.
Leaving the boy stunned by his incredible speed and accuracy, Aaren told him that in most battles there is little chance of finding a thrown knife or a fired arrow again which was why these were made. They were easy to make and could be done so quickly and the materials and process involved were relatively inexpensive.
After further inspection and Aaren returning to him with his own knife having been retrieved, Eamonn handed back the two knives to his master who sheathed them both then set down the belt. Aaren decided it was time to show the boy the crossbow, picking up the impressive weapon, he fumbled around in the pack for something, seemed to come across them and pulled out a rounded cartridge looking object and a rectangular one.
“Right, I’ll show what we can do with a crossbow now” he said, passing the three objects to his student.
To Eamonn’s untrained eyes he thought the crossbow was slightly smaller in size than those he’d seen being used by guards, but since he hadn’t seen one up close, he didn’t know much about the weapon. What he did know was that it had a slow rate of fire, as its user would be required to place a foot on the stirrup of the weapon and pull the draw string back into place as they went to load each bolt before firing.
The strange mounting device in the middle of the crossbow set to the left hand side was new to him as well. There was also an opening at the end where the stock was, that appeared to be a plain design flaw.
“Ok,” Aaren started, drawing the boy’s concentration back from the weapon, “put that” he instructed, pointing to the rounded cartridge “through here.”
This was the purpose of the strange mounting device set underneath the body of the crossbow, it was an open rounded area made of reinforced steel with a small rod jutting out from the end of it. Aaren was indicating that the round cartridge was to go in underneath the crossbow. “You’ll hear a slight clicking sound as it slides home. You’ll need to make sure it doesn’t catch on anything,” he added that last part as an afterthought, seeing Eamonn’s puzzled look, he continued on, “this is a newly crafted weapon and it’ll have some rough edges inside here still, overtime you’ll wear down any of the snags, you’ll need to be careful with it for the time being.”
Slowly, Eamonn pushed the cartridge onto the steel axis, steadily applying more pressure until it finally seemed to come to a stop. “You’ll find that there is a small rail on the mount, these” holding up another of the cartridges, he indicated a small slot running down the length of the canister. “Sit these on the lip of the mount, you’ll know if they slide in correctly, there shouldn’t be any overhang there over the lips of the steel. Once you hear that clicking sound, you’re ready to go with that.” He told the boy.
He was motioning for the rectangular cartridge, taking it quickly from Eamonn. “This one works in a similar fashion. It is inserted into the stock of the crossbow. The same idea applies here, when you hear a slight clicking sound it’ll be in place.”
Doing as he was told, Eamonn was able to load the cartridge, checking with his teacher to make sure it was correct.
“What are these cartridges, Aaren?” the boy asked, Aaren smiled at the boy “these are what hold the bolts, only they hold multiple ones, they’re comparable to a quiver of arrows.” He said calmly, “All crossbows feature a draw string for an individual shot. With the introduction of these cartridges, the fire rate is much faster and we spend less time reloading the weapon. We’ve found that it can be a huge advantage in a fight.”
He told him, and again Eamonn nodded, “It means you can also be in firing position for longer without the enemy seeing you, and you won’t make any of the additional noise you normally would as you load in a new bolt every shot.”
Eamonn looked at the weapon, seeing how it functioned in his mind. The reloading mechanism made sense, any extra time you can get hitting your enemy before they can react was always welcome” he thought.
“Say you are on lookout for an attack or to get past an enemy camp, with the reduced reloading time and this new method, if you’re in a prone position, you can take a shot and be ready to fire again almost instantaneously, perfect for when you find yourself in a life threatening situation.”
The boy shot at a nearby target, there was a metallic patt-ing sound and then the soft smack as the bolt hit its mark. He was caught off guard by the sudden bucking of the crossbow, feeling its force all the way up his arm. Once he learned to manage that there wasn’t much limit to what he could do with this weapon.
“What does this pulley do?”
Apart from the usual trigger mechanism, there was a long pulley along the right hand framing, it reached for half the length of the crossbow and fitted into a recess there.
“It’s all to do with some fairly complex systems,” Aaren waved his hand dismissively, they were beginning to enter territory he had trouble understanding, he’d asked similar questions when he was provided with his crossbow, the weaponsmiths then had neglected to tell him the details and he’d barely warranted looking into it further.
“Essentially the device is spring loaded,” he explained, remembering what it was he was told those years ago, “as you pull the trigger the compression of the springs gives the bolt momentum and propels it, the trigger motion releases that pressure and so there is no force on the next bolt. You need to yank that pulley back into place and it’ll sit securely, and you’ll be able to fire again.”
Seeing the worth in his next point, he pushed on. “Remember that this has two cartridges in it, mine only has the central underside system with the steel spindle as you can see there, whereas yours has a secondary cartridge. Did you notice the metallic ringing sound as you fired?” he put the question to Eamonn, waited for the boy to nod and continued, “They still make a fair amount of noise, so before you load a bolt into it, try rotating the lever near the sights on the top there and it’ll block the loading passage of the round cartridge and you can use the bolts from the second rectangular cartridge.” Eamonn followed the directions, twisting the lever towards him and grabbed the pulley back into position, loading the next bolt in and fired at the target again. There was a noticeable difference in the sound, or lack of sound, Eamonn thought.
“Bear in mind,” Aaren added, “The stock cartridge only has eight shots while the spindle cartridge has sixteen so you’ll run out faster. Although the round ones are more cumbersome and have more weight, they’re less prone to blockages, if you prefer the stock system, I can help you alter the crossbow to remove that spindle system and of course you’ll still be able to shoot single shots by pulling back the string yourself and loading the bolt on the top of it, you’ll lose a considerable amount of range on the weapon, on the plus side you’ll be able to load in your own sort of bolt for emergency use.”
Eamonn nodded, then sighted one final point to ask, “How to I reload?”
Aaren tapped the side of his nose in a knowing gesture, signifying he’d been expecting such a question.
“Depending on where the lever is placed, you can press this here on the side. This unlocks the cartridge and releases the load on the springs in the locking mechanisms. When you’ve done that, you can simply remove the cartridge.”
As he went through his instructions, Aaren stepped forward, pushing his thumb against a small insert into the side of the weapon, and withdrew the stock cartridge.
“If you simply want to inspect the cartridge for arrows, there’s a slight opening down the side allowing you to count how many you have left. If you want to reload it again or put in a new cartridge, insert it into the slot, then we need to use one of these.” Aaren held up a guard and gestured for Eamonn to slip it onto his left arm. A strange groove rested just below the wrist, around from the ball of his thumb.
“The guard is good for protecting your arm in the case that you’re using a bow, otherwise you need to insert that groove into the side panel and rotate it like you would a crank. This applies force to the crossbow and readies the springs again.”
Eamonn tried it once, there was a strange feel to it, decided it was something he could grow accustomed to, he reached for the pulley again, slid it back into position and fired again, pleased with the results. He liked the idea that if no one was to know about the groove, no one else could fire the weapon. Eamonn checked the weapon in his hands again, feeling the weight of it and relished in the distinct air of danger of it. He just might enjoy this a little more than looking after horses, he thought.