I raised my hands. “Hi. I was just looking around.”
“I know what you are,” he said in a shaky voice. “You people come here, take what you want, kill for fun.” His voice gradually got higher-pitched until it squeaked. “Just leave.” The knife trembled in his hand.
“Er… I don’t kill for fun. I’ve never killed anything, not even the stuff I eat.”
He looked confused.
“Where I come from, violence is considered a crime. People get locked up for hitting each other.”
His confusion turned into disbelief. “You lie. Your kind loves blood and death. You-you-you love it!”
He looked about my age, maybe a little older. He could easily take me in a fight, for sure. His arms were all puffed up with muscles. And no, I’m not gay, so stop thinking it.
He was probably the blacksmith’s son or his apprentice (maybe both), which gave me an idea.
“Listen, I don’t want to be here. I don’t know how to fight and I don’t want to kill anything, but I don’t want to be eaten by monsters either. Nobody’s explained anything to us and I can’t even read or write your language. That sign over there.” I pointed at the board in front of the leather place. “Those pictures of animals with numbers next to them, does that mean if I bring dead animals, the guy over there will give me money for them?”
He nodded. “The tanner will pay you for skins.”
“One bit for a rabbit?”
A smile broke out on his face. The kind of smile reserved for when you hear something really stupid. “One bit? No, one chob.”
“What’s a chob? Is it less than a bit?”
“Ten chobs, one bit.”
Damn. A five bit dagger would take fifty rabbit skins. Were there even that many rabbits in this place? Still, that meant only ten pig or five dogs. That didn’t seem so bad, assuming they were the kinds of pigs and dogs we had back home.
“What about the triangle for fifty chobs. What animal is that?”
“Rabbit, pigs and dogs aren’t beasts?”
He shook his head. “They’re vermin. They ruin crops and worry cattle.”
“So beasts are…”
“Wolves, bears, elk…”
Right. Stuff that could actually kill you.
He still had his knife out, but not in such a threatening manner as before.
“The only weapon I have is this.” I took out my stick. “So I don’t think you need to be scared of me.”
“I’m not scared!” he squeaked.
“I don’t have any money, so I can’t afford to buy anything yet. But when I do get some money, do you think I could buy stuff directly from you?”
The question seemed to confuse him. “What do you mean?”
“The stuff the blacksmith makes is good, but it’s expensive. You’re his assistant, right? I thought if I buy the weapons you make, it might be cheaper.”
He lowered the knife and shook his head. “I do not have hammer. You can’t forge iron without a hammer.”
“Can’t you use the blacksmith’s?”
He looked at me like I’d suggested he use a dead baby to make a hat. “A blacksmith’s hammer cannot be touched without his permission. Master trains me once a day in the use of the hammer, if he’s in a good mood. I only make what he allows.”
Sounded like a bullshit system to me, but I was getting good information out of this guy and didn’t want it to stop.
“So how do you get your own hammer. You have to pass a test or something?”
“There are only two ways.” He sounded quite bitter, maybe even sorry for himself. “Either you inherit your master’s when he passes on, or a weapon you created is used to kill a superior beast.”
“A superior beast?”
“One that is able to speak.”
“You mean like people?”
His eyed me suspiciously. “People are not beasts.”
“No, of course not, I just meant…” I don’t know what I meant so I changed the subject. “Wait, if you need a hammer to make a weapon, but you need a weapon to kill a superior beast in order to get a hammer… how does that work?”
The bitter look returned to his face. “It’s not meant to be easy. Otherwise there would be too many smithies and not enough work to go around.”
I started to understand. It was clearly in a blacksmith’s interest not to let his apprentice get too good too quick. If the guy you trained sets up shop nearby, you’re going to end up losing business to him.
“Look, I don’t know if I’m ever going to be any good at monster hunting. Probably, I’ll be one of the first to get myself killed. But if you make me a simple weapon, something that doesn’t require a hammer to make, I’ll use it. And if I manage to kill a superior beast, I’ll come back and you’ll be able to claim your hammer.”
My suggestion took him aback. “Why would you do that for me?”
“Because you’ll owe me, and sell me weapons for half-price for the rest of your life.”
He grinned. Finally, I was speaking a language he understood.