Off the cuff…

And now for something entirely different…

Comments/recommendations appreciated. It’s going to be a short story.

A few minutes later, he arrived back at his blacksmith’s shop, saw two fine horses tied to the rail in front of it and pursed his lips. These aren’t just regular travelers. Those are excellent horses, cavalry horses, and the saddles and bags are high quality fighting saddles. Why here? He reached out and touched the nearest horse, sending calm and picked up the near hoof, The shoes are worn, but not that badly. More gold than sense? Or going on a long trip? Ach, not my business. He stepped into the smithy’s hot, dim interior, taking a deep breath of the smells of iron, fire, and leather to settle himself.

Two men stood near the forge as Orum enthusiastically explained that it had been designed by Master Lubec and how easy it was to use. Lubec watched their movements, noting that both stood in such a way that one could not sneak up on them. The larger of the two turned, “Master Lubec?”

He stumped over, “Aye, that be me. Orum tells me you need shoes for your horses.”

“That we do. And a bit repaired too.”

“We can do that, but if you need it all done today, Orum must help. I cannot do all three.”

“That would be acceptable. Is there a place in this…village that has edible food?”

“The Broken Spoon, sire. I just ate lunch there. The meat pie is good and has real meat. How are you called, sire?”

“Maks. We will go there. Send for us when you are done.”

“Yes, Sir Maks.”

The two of them left, and Orum said, “That was strange, the little one never said anything.”

Lubec shrugged. “Maybe a mute. Or a man servant. Bring the horses around to the corral and let’s get to work.” As Orum walked out to fetch the horses, Lubec called out, “Poppet? Where are you hiding, Poppet?” He heard a ‘wheet’, and a flap of wings, as a small wyvern swooped down from the overhead beams. She landed next to Lubec and scraped her head on his leg in the middle of his thigh. “Good Poppet. Hiding is good, Poppet.” He scratched the wyvern under the chin, prompting her to shake and whistle softly.

Walking over to the forge, Lubec took the tongs from the hook next to the forge, plucked a clinker out, and flipped it to Poppet. She caught it on the fly and curled up munching happily as Lubec pulled tools off the wall and stumped toward the corral. Orum had removed the saddle bags, saddles, and blankets, and tied the horses to the corral bars. Lubec picked up the first hoof and quickly removed the shoe and handed it to Orum. “What kind of iron?”

Orum rubbed his fingers over the shoe, cocked his head, and rubbed it again. “Medium? Not as hard as…what we do for the oxen traces, but not as soft as the candlesticks.”

“Go find the yellow streaked raw, there should be enough bars in that bin to make the shoes. If you will start on that, I will get the rest of the shoes off.”

Orum nodded as he straightened the horseshoe out with his hands. “This length, Master?”

Lubec pulled the hind shoe and stepped over to the other horse, lifting a hoof and placing the shoe over it. “Yes, all the same length.”

Orum walked into the smithy, mumbling to himself, “Yellow ore, eight lengths. All same.”

Lubec smiled to himself as he removed the other shoes on both horses, He has the touch. And I wonder if he realizes how strong he really is. Probably not. He cleaned the hooves, trimming where necessary, and groaned when he finally straightened up. Too old. Time for Orum to take over the shoeing and doing finer work.

He searched and found all the nails he’d extracted and walked stiffly back into the smithy as he heard Orum striking the bar and cutting it in pieces between heatings, measuring off the straightened shoe. He took the nails over to his cold anvil, pulled a finishing hammer off its pegs, and straightened them one by one. Poppet rubbed against his leg and he murmured, “Not yet, Poppet. Not yet.”

He leaned against the work bench as Orum heated and flattened each piece of the bar into the approximate width of the other shoes, then used a spike punch to punch holes in the glowing iron. When he had quenched each piece, he looked over at Lubec, “Now what, Master?”

“Now you learn how to form a shoe.” Lubec stepped to the forge, turning his hot anvil around so the beak faced him. He used the tongs to put one piece in the forge. “Red the entire length, then pull it,” he pulled the piece now glowing red and centered it on the rounded anvil. “Round it on each side.” He hammered one side down, then quickly flipped it around, finishing the other side, then quenching it. “Now you try it.”

The first one took Orum three tries, but by the last one, he was doing them in three or four strokes a side. Picking them up, Lubec led him back outside, followed by Poppet. “Now, I’m going to do one horse and you do another. Remember, first, you calm the horse. Touch him and radiate calm. You know how to do this, if you need, draw from Poppet.” He put his hand on Poppet’s head and touched the horse on the neck, projecting calm. The horse rolled its eyes and sighed, and he quickly picked up a back hoof, put a shoe on it, saw that it was too narrow, then gripped it and unbent it slightly to fit the width of the hoof correctly. He checked the fit, then picked up a nail in the tongs. “Poppet? Warm?” He held it out toward Poppet as the wyvern wheeted and hopped around, excited. “Poppet!”

Poppet settled down and burped, then opened her mouth and a short reddish flame issued forth, heating the nail. Lubec quickly drove it in the hoof, then repeated that three more times. He looked up, “Remember, these are much more spirited than the horses you are used to.”

Orum smiled. “Yes, Master. These horses are not like the draft animals I normally do. Not placid. I am allowed to use Poppet?”

“Yes.” He looked at the lengthening shadows and said, “We need to finish this up. I will continue on this horse and you do the other.”

A short time later, Lubec told Orum, “Go get Sir Maks. We are finished.”

Orum touched his forelock, “But Master, we haven’t done the bit they wanted.”

“I know. They did not leave it, and I will not go into their bags to search for it. That is not right. Now go!”

Orum scampered off and Lubec sat on a stump in the smithy, as Poppet rubbed against him. “Yes, Poppet. I hurt.” Poppet wheeted at him and stood as high as she could, spreading her wings and folding them around Lubec, who sagged into the wyvern. Moments later, he straightened and pushed Poppet away. Can’t do that all the time, but she gives me strength to continue. I’ve never understood how or why that works, but I know it drains her. Da said it was because we were granted a benison by the gods to be linked to the wyverns through our minds and draw strength from them. Getting up he went to the forge and pulled two pieces of clinker out, and fed them to the wyvern, who munched them happily, curled up on the floor of the smithy.


Lubec drowsed for a few minutes, until he heard Orum saying, “Sires, we didn’t get the bit from you, and the master said we weren’t to go looking, so it is not done.” He pushed himself up and stood near the forge as the men came through the door.

Maks asked, “Why did you not get the bit and do the work as promised?”

Lubec straightened up. “Sire, I did not ask before you left, and I will not violate a man’s property to go looking. I will still try to fix it, if you will give it to me.”

“Where are the horses?”

“In the corral out back. We took the saddles off, and I have given them some hay and water.”

The other man walked through the smithy and out to the horses, patting them and checking their hooves before reaching in a saddlebag and pulling a broken bit out. He walked back in and handed it to Maks, who passed it to Lubec, “The ring on the left side cracked. Can you fix it?”

Lubec turned it over in his hands, unconsciously rubbing the bit, then said, “Not to where it won’t fail again. The metal…is too soft. I can craft another, but I would need a day to- -”

The smaller man laughed. “Honest to a fault. Maks, do you understand what has happened today?”

Lubec’s mind whirled, That voice. I. . .know that voice. But where? It’s been years, the pitch. . . is different.

Maks replied, “We found an honest blacksmith? Granted that is odd, Sire, but.”

The smaller man threw back his hood, “No, we have found the man I’ve searched over a year for. Adlion, you have not changed a bit.”

Lubec dropped the bit in the dirt. “Adlion? My name is Lubec.” Who? How? It can’t be!

The smaller man chuckled, “You mean you don’t remember me, Adlion?”

Lubec fell to his knees. “Ctibor?” This can’t be little Ctibor can it? Oh deity, rumor had it there was a new baron…it must be. “M’lord Jurec?”

The smaller man nodded as Orum fell to his knees, trembling. “Oh, get up, both of you. This is beneath you. Do you still have Poppet?”

Hearing her name, the wyvern jumped up and wheeted loudly, then flapped down, landing at Ctibor’s feet and rubbing his leg. Ctibor pushed her away, “No, Poppet. I don’t have leathers on. You know better.” He scratched behind the wyvern’s ears and she burbled happily, lightly flapping her wings. He looked up and said seriously, “Adlion, I need you to do something for me.”


“Maks, fetch my bags please.” Maks walked quickly out to the horses as Ctibor continued, “Da is dead. The Blacguards got him and his escort. He was on his way back from the western border with Imrich’s body.” He pinched his nose then said softly, “A mile, maybe more, and he would have been home, Adlion, err, Lubec.”

Lubec shook his head and glanced at Orum. Well, the wyvern is out of the bag. Orum will want an explanation, probably sooner rather than later. I wonder what he’s going to do when he finds out I’m his father, not just his master. And I guess we will have to move on, again. “Yes, M’lord, we heard. A sad thing.”

Maks returned with the bags handing them to Ctibor with a small bow. He reached in and pulled out a bag that clinked, and Lubec shivered, knowing what it contained. Lubec finally asked, “You are now the Baron?”

Ctibor nodded without speaking, and opened the bag, spilling the broken pieces of a sword onto the table. “The first people there found the sword shattered in pieces. This…should not be!”

Lubec shook his head sadly, “No, this is what happens when a blooded sword is not passed from generation to generation. When I made this sword for your grandda, I gave him specific directions as to how to pass it to your da. It requires a blood sacrifice.” He looked up in horror. “Once your da died, the sword…he blooded Imrich didn’t he? And not you. The blood bond that held it together no longer existed as a life force.”

“I was at King’s Court as a captain of horse. Second son and all that entailed. Da sent a messenger for me to return but I didn’t get there in… time. Can you repair it,” the baron pleaded.

“No, once it dies, it cannot be…put back together.” He moved the broken pieces around, pulling the hilt out and holding it up as he said softly, “Your father died with honor. The fact that the hilt stayed in one piece is evidence of that. He fed it with his own blood in the course of the fight.” Ctibor sagged against the table, prompting Poppet to wheet quietly and shove her head under his hand. Almost unconsciously, he petted the wyvern, stroking her ears as the tears rolled down his face.

Lubec, Maks, and Orum all looked away, and Lubec swept the remaining pieces of the sword into the bag, handing them to Orum. “Put these outside the corral. We will bury the pieces individually in a bit. Set the spade with them.”

Orum gulped, glanced at Baron Jurec, then at Lubec, and grabbed a spade as he headed for the door. The baron started to reach out, but Lubec said, “No! It is better this way.” He handed him the hilt. “This is what you need to keep to honor your da. Those that know will know he died honorably.”

Maks asked, “Is there a place to stay in the village?”

“In Skop? The Broken Spoon has rooms over the kitchen. Sablan or his wife Mata can tell you what is available.”

Glancing at the Ctibor, Maks continued, “I think the Baron would rather not be identified, if you understand?”

Lubec nodded, “I do. If I may ask a boon?” Maks nodded, and he continued, “I would prefer to be called Lubec. I have not been Adlion in. . . well over seventeen years. Not since I left the keep.”

The baron replied, “Done. Has it really been that long? Where did you go, Lubec?”

Lubec bowed his head, “After Rie died, and the Baron gave me benison to leave, I went over the mountains to the east. We survived the trip and I settled in a little village on the river called Lubec. I was there for almost six years, until people became suspicious of me.”


“M’lord, do you remember what I looked like when I worked for your grandda?”

The baron pulled Lubec over to the door of the smithy, looking him up and down. “I…you…you look the same. It’s almost—”

“As if I didn’t age, M’lord?” he nodded and Lubec sighed. “That’s the problem. The villagers became suspicious when I didn’t age like the other men, or the women for that matter. It wasn’t bad until someone saw Poppet. Then they started shunning me, so I left. This is the third place I’ve set up shop since then.”

Maks asked, “How old are you…Lubec?”

He looked up at the rafters, shook his head and said, “I have something over a hundred years. I came to the keep when your grandda was a boy. I was already a blacksmith, from my da, and knew the arts from him and my grandda, but I’d never practiced them. It wasn’t till your grandda became the Baron that I first started making swords and halberds, because my da died saving the king.”

He heard an intake of breath behind him and turned to see Orum standing with his hand over his mouth and eyes wide. It’s better that I tell him now. Before he has time to think about it and ask more questions.

The baron eyed Orum, then turned to Maks. “Let us get a room at the…Broken Spoon. It is late, and I have no desire to travel further today.” Maks nodded and glanced at Lubec. “Would you and Orum join us for food, after you talk?”

Lubec cocked his head, “Yes, M’lord, but it may be a while.”

“Join us when you can. We will wait.” The baron and Maks swiftly saddled their horses and cantered toward the village as Orum stood rooted in the same spot.

Lubec steered him gently to the stump at the forge and pushed him down as Poppet sidled up to him. “Orum, I fear I have done you a great disservice. I was going to tell you, but after you became a master.”

“Who…what are you,” Orum asked in a trembling voice.

“I am your father. You are not and have never been an orphan. When your mother died of the flux in the keep these seventeen years ago, I could not bear to remain. The baron gave me the benison to leave, as there was a journeyman I had trained for years that could step in. I told the baron I would never again touch or make a sword, so that nothing I did could be lifted against him or the king.”

“But…you’re old!”

Lubec chuckled. “Both a blessing and a curse.” He started pacing. “We, our line, are from Ferrucrag, an island in the northern seas. We are gifted with a feel for the metals, the strength to work them, and an ability to form things that are bonded to a person with our wyvern’s help. Did you ever wonder why you always know where your poignard is?”

Orum shrugged. “I…not really.”

“Remember how you cut your hand when you were heating it and bled on the iron?”

Orum nodded. “It hurt, but Poppet licked it and it went away.”

“That blood bonded that blade to you. That is part of the blessing. The curse is our long lives. Grandda lived over a hundred and twenty years and died saving a maiden from a flood. Da died at the battle of Norheim, defending the King.” Lubec stopped, bowing his head as he continued softly, “I saw him fall, but couldn’t get to him in time.”

Orum looked up in wonder. “But, that was eighty years ago! How could you?”

“I was behind the lines, sharpening weapons and repairing armor. The Crags broke through the lines, attacking the King. Da had just taken the king’s sword back after sharpening it, and killed a Crag with his poignard, then used it to fight off the Crags side by side with the king, until the knights could rally and push them away. He took a halberd in the back that was meant for the king in the last Crag push before they retreated. We were part of Baron Jurec’s grandda’s levy, and after the battle, we were discharged and returned to the keep.”

Orum asked, “Am I your only child? You didn’t have others?”

“No, I never married until Rie. She was the Baroness’ handmaiden. I. . . she was years younger than I. She was just twenty, and I was seventy, but looked forty. We were married for ten years before she conceived, and you were born. That’s a curse on our line, only single male children, and few of those.” He knelt in front of Orum. “My birth name was Adlion, your birth name was Adorjan. All of the males of our line’s names start with A. Due to our long lives; multiple names are used to confuse others.”

“Why do you call me Orum, then?”

Lubec hung his head, “I wanted to shield you, in case you didn’t have the feel for the metals. And blacksmiths and ironmongers with names starting with A are treated with suspicion, because of rumors of our abilities and the wyverns.”

“Is that why we hide Poppet?”

He nodded. “Yes, we bond with wyverns, which is, again, a blessing. They give us strength and are a boon when we work metals. Especially doing bonded swords. When she licked you, she healed you. Have you ever wondered why you don’t get sick?” He pointed to Poppet. “It’s because of her.”

Orum burst out. “Then why didn’t she heal my ma?”

“We were away, at the western border forts when she took ill. We could not get back in time.”

He picked up a horseshoe and absentmindly straightened it, then flipped it to Orum. “Bend it back.” Orum bent it easily, and Lubec said, “You don’t realize how strong you are. Very few men can do that.”

Orum protested, “You do things like this all the time! You just straightened it!”

“It’s part of the blessing. But it’s also a curse. That is why I’ve done all your weapons training myself. I didn’t want others to be wondering about your strength or asking questions.” Orum started to protest again, but Lubec got up, stomach growling. “That is enough for now. I need food. Go wash and put on your better clothes. We will go eat with the baron and Maks.”

Orum got up slowly, “Yes, Mas. . .  Da? Can I call you Da?

Lubec folded Orum in his arms, tears rolling down his cheek as Poppet spread her wings and enfolded both of them, “Yes…son, yes you can.”


Off the cuff… — 39 Comments

  1. Dammit, sir, you have drawn me into your tales once again! I’ll have to read it again, with a more critical eye.

  2. Oh, this is interesting.

    King’s Court? a sequel to the King’s Champion book?

  3. Wow, I’ve been yearning for a good yarn for a long time. I need more. Much more……………..

  4. I like it. What distinguishes a fighting saddle from a regular saddle?

    Please sir, I want some more!

    • A fighting saddle would come up higher in the front and back, cradling the cavalryman and making it harder to be knocked from his horse. To fall off in a cavalry battle would mean almost certain death.

  5. It could use a couple more commas, but it’s a good read.
    Not my cup of tea though.
    At first I thought it was the old west story you had talked about doing weapons research for.

  6. Strangely compelling. Okay, not so strangely, given its author. 🙂 I like the feel, the setting, and the premise. More, when your muse grants the time.

  7. I read all the comments, and I’ll only add, “Me too.”

  8. Aye, and excellent piece of story. Brought tears to my eyes at the end.

  9. Good character introduction and scene setting. That’s a lot of world build and exposition wrapped into two conversations. Pulled along in the story. Very nice brush strokes to start.

  10. All- Playing with this, since I’ve never written in this genre. May do more with it, but right now it’s down on the list. Frankly, I’m surprised at the ‘like’ for this… But I WILL do something with it, since y’all seem to like it.

    Posted from my iPhone.

  11. Hey Old NFO;

    I really like this story, it is a totally different genre and worthy of exploration. after another Gray Man and another Rimworld 😀

  12. I like the characters and backstory. Would love to see more in the future.

  13. Man, is there any kind of fiction that you aren’t willing to tackle? Rimworld, Grey Man, Calexit, and now this?
    An excellent short story, concise, some teasers but self-contained. It’ll be interesting to see how you’d proceed from this. Seems like you’re stuck with back-stories of Adlion/Lubec, or something after he passes and Adorjan/Orem matures.
    Or something really challenging – the whole story from Poppet’s view, especially as Poppet’s life could be several times that of a human, even Adlion’s…

  14. Interesting tale, with backstory.

    Pet peeve – Please don’t use weird, unpronounceable “fantasy” names, especially for human characters. I can’t hear them in my head, and thus don’t remember them through the story. I just end up, if anything, calling them “person C” or “person Q”.

    I get they’re on a different world, speaking a different language. I get that the hero probably shouldn’t be named “Bob”. But he shouldn’t be named “B’tancrqnouijw”, either.


  15. I had the “what’s a fighting saddle?” thing going, until realizing this snippet wasn’t a Western.

    The repeat of forge in “Walking over to the forge, Lubec took the tongs from the hook next to the forge” made me stumble for some reason.

  16. “spike punch” = pritchel

    A pritchel has a tapered rectangular shape to form the proper hole for the horseshoe nail to seat correctly.

    The nails are pretty much impossible to reuse. The point is clipped or twisted off after it has been driven through the shoe and emerges out of the hoof wall. They are a consumable.
    I do not understand the heating of the nails before them being driven in.
    You would burn your fingers trying to hold them and there would be no advantage to heating the nails. Some farriers hold the nails in their mouth as they work.

    Less dragons and more Gray Man, please.

    • IIRC, a heated nail will cauterize any opening in the hoof wall if it goes the wrong direction. Holding a heated nail in one’s mouth would be self-correcting!
      And yes, modern practice is to bend then clip the nail. Helps fasten it into the hoof, harder to loosen. Don’t know if it was a practice back then, would be a waste of iron/steel.
      Just what I remember from my step-uncle’s part time farrier trade.

  17. All- Thanks Waepn- Thanks for that, I’ll correct it. I wrote this around a 1500s world. McC- Those are actually middle European names… sigh…

    Posted from my iPhone.

    • I don’t have a problem with the names you’re using. I quite like Poppet and Orum. But some authors of otherwise readable books have let fantasy names run away from them…

      By the way “Ctibor” (honorable warrior) would probably be better transliterated as “Schtibor” or “Stibor”. The “C” is soft.

  18. McC- Interesting. ‘My’ translation had it pronounced as ‘Tibor’, with the C silent. And agreed… sigh

    Lloyd- Thank you!

  19. Hell of a teaser! Looks very interesting, like all of your writing. I’d be pleased to see a book!

  20. I give it an 8/10. Allow me to explain.

    For nigh two score, me ma, an artist in metal sculpture, ceramics and papier mache, oils and water colors, and as published author, as well as near a dozen others who count among them sculptors, painters, photographers, woodworkers, and wordsmiths; they all look to me as their trusted but sharpest critic.

    I am neither unkind nor gilding the lily. I tell it as I see it, one who is booksmart and life experienced. Though human, I strive to an utter objectivity. My only intention is, as always, to aid the artist to enjoy their greatest success, to the extent that I am able. Pertaining to the writings here, I pretend little familiarity to the technology nor nomenclature of the medieval blacksmith therefore will not comment.

    That said, let me begin:
    It seems at first that Orum is rather dumb and unknowing. Yet, as suits the literary, he comes dumb or nearly brilliant. (Though it may be the reader’s misinterpretation, it is the author who lead him there.) While rich in character development, the author maliciously employs a literary prevacation to alter the character to the benefit of the author while sacrificing integrity of the story line.

    My use of the term ‘maliciously’ is to speak of the disregard of story continuity, a severing of plausibility, to which the reader should object most vociferously, it is certainly not to cast aspersions upon the author.

    I thought it a clever surprise that Poppit is not revealed as a fire-breathing min-dragon until later. At first, Poppit appeared to be perhaps a parrot or so. Yet with that in mind, it seemed quite odd to toss a clinker from the fire to the pet bird. That oddity was resolved later in the story.

    Lastly, if this is a snippet of a larger work, perhaps there should not be a congenial ending.

    (haha, ‘Lastly’ when writing of an ‘ending’. O, the irony.)

    P.S, Oh yes, quite yes, I very much enjoyed reading these imaginations from the mind of a true writer.

    I know this may read like I am full of myself and who do I think I am, blah blah. What look like, what is, not same.

  21. Apologies for this very late comment (cataracts are a bugger!)

    Swords and sorcery makes an interesting change. It’s a hard market to enter.

    I found only one glitch where you swapped ‘baron’ to ‘Ctibor’.

    ‘Glancing at the Ctibor,’
    Drop ‘the’.