Harry had finished breakfast and was sitting in a booth in the corner of the Leaky Cauldron farthest away from the kitchen and most other activities. He was perusing the latest issue of Which Broom to find out more about the new Firebolt. The grandfather clock in the corner of the room had just finished striking 9:00 in the morning, and Mr. Ollivander was expecting him at 9:30. He had plenty of time to enjoy one more cup of tea.
"I see, Mr. Potter, that you're now the protégé, so to speak, of Mr. Ollivander. The Boy Who Lived continues in his good fortune." It was the innkeeper, Tom, who spoke while he poured from a teapot. Tom always appeared with what Harry wanted within seconds after Harry decided that he wanted it. There was no sarcasm or chiding in Tom's voice as he mentioned Harry's beneficial position, only satisfaction for a customer.
"I'm not his protégé, Tom. I'm only helping him with his annual inventory. His son's away in Japan."
"So that's wot he's doin'. That must be wot he doz this time every year. I'll have to compare notes wiv' the others," Tom muttered to himself.
"Sorry, what others?"
The Leaky Caldron's landlord looked back at the youth as if he had only just noticed him. Tom looked as though he were making a quick decision. He looked around as if to ensure no other ears were listening, and then answered the question. "The other shopkeepers. May I, for a mo'?" Tom used the teapot to point to the other bench in the booth, asking to be seated. Harry nodded.
"We've noticed over the years that Mr. Ollivander never eats lunch here at Diagon Alley except for three or four days in a row, about this time each year. We figure he must go home to eat the rest of the time, wherever his home is. It's Florean's turn for his patronage; he alternates each year between the ice cream parlor and the Cauldron." Though completely without teeth, the bald innkeeper had overcome the usual chewy wording common to the toothless speaker. However, he did speak with his head pointed in any direction other than directly at Harry.
"We've wondered wot’s so special about these days. Could it be so simple? Could he be eatin' here in the Alley just 'coz he's takin' inventory?" Tom was talking to himself again.
He turned back to Harry and said, "I'll be the envy of the others, talkin' to him 'bout business prospects for the returnin' students’ season. And now I knows about his inventory. Great man, Mr. Ollivander, great man indeed."
Harry noticed that Tom's interest in the shopkeeper at the other end of Diagon Alley was not quite at the same deference level showed Mr. Ollivander by Mr. Eeylop, Madam Malkin, or Harry Greenbee, but then the wandmaster was not in the room to cause such a reaction. In their conversation the night before, Tom had showed a very similar excitement quite like the other business owners had.
"Tom. Everyone who works here in Diagon Alley seems so excited to see and speak to Mr. Ollivander. Why's that?"
Tom eyed Harry for a moment and then glanced at the bar boy polishing glasses. He looked back. "I'll have to make it fast and I don't want you to think he's a mere cur-i-O-sity, as it were, but your Mr. Ollivander's a bit of a legend 'round the Alley, a bit like Professor Dumbledore is at Hogwarts. Of course they're not really at all the same. The Headmaster's always so involved in the school and the students, least ways he woz when I woz a student; 's he still that way?"
"Whereas Mr. Ollivander's such a private person. That conversation I had wiv' him last night when he brought you back here, that woz only me fourth chat wiv him since comin' to work at the Cauldron, and I've been here nigh on forty years. That's part of the mystique; I guess you'd call it, about Mr. Ollivander.
"What else can I say to explain it? Do you know 'bout his family history?"
"He's telling me the story of his family and the start of Ollivanders while we count wands."
"Cor blimey! He is, is he? And you say you're not special to him. Wot I wouldn't give to be an Animagus fly on the wall to hear that tale." Tom looked wistfully at the boy for a moment then said, "Well I'd wager he won't be tellin' you about his own exploits, so let me fill you in on a few pret-ty important details about our Mr. Ollivander.
"It's not that he's secretive, he's just so... reserved. You saw how warm and friendly like he woz to me last night. Well, everyone says that he treats 'em the same way. It's just we hardly ever sees him outside of his shop, and we don't wants to bother him there. Wand makin' is such a pre-cise craft, and we don't wants to interrupt his con-cen-tration, so to speak.
"No one workin' here at Diagon Alley that I've ever talked to remembers anyone else but this Mr. Ollivander workin' there. Some think he's an Alchemist like Nicholas Flamel; some of those more fanciful think he's immortal. Codswallop, say I. He's aged noticeably since I bought me first wand at eleven.
"The story's out there that the last young lad he spent time wiv' such as yourself, other than his sons, woz Albus Dumbledore, hisself, as a young wizard enrolled at Hogwarts."
"Mr. Ollivander is older than Professor Dumbledore?"
"Lor' luv' you, yes. So you see, every one of us remembers goin' to Ollivanders and havin' this Mr. Ollivander fit him or her wiv' their wands. That's part of the deeper than usual respect we hold for him compared to our other fellow shop-owners. You remember that fine day two years ago when he picked out your wand, don't you?"
Harry nodded once again. Because of the wand maker's reference to Voldemort on that day, his experience had not been as delightful as Tom's experience had evidently been, but now that he was spending time with the elder wizard, Harry could see that his first encounter had not been as he thought. But that day still held puzzlement for Harry.
Tom continued, "So you're learning 'bout his family, and you now know he's been here at the Alley for as long as any of us can remember. Well, there're two events you need to know about. Before the war wiv' Grindelwald broke out, when it woz mostly a war of words and the occasional riot in the streets on the continent, here in England there woz a group of stiff-necks that wanted to spread Grindelwald's pure-blood beliefs. They formed a parade one day, without the permission of the Ministry of Magic I might add, and started shoutin' their slogans and pushin' people 'round, right here in the Alley.
"Well, stickin' to the methods they used to take over in Berlin, the Grindelwald-ers wanted to turn it into a real brawl, usin' stunnin' and breakin' spells, and crackin' heads too. Just as it seemed it would turn really nasty, Mr. Ollivander appeared in the middle of them and had 'em knockin' heads and pointin' their wands at each other, and generally ruined their plans.
"In a few moments Aurors and Magical Law Enforcement Officers woz on the scene and had the ruffians in hand. I woz just a little nipper at the time, but I woz standin' on the steps of Gringotts, hidin' behind a column. I saw the whole thing. Simp-ly eye-mahz-ing," he drew out the last two words.
"There never were that many followers of Grindelwald here as there woz on the continent. Active war broke out shortly after that and Professor Dumbledore made sure those few dunderheads here still spouting the Grindelwald nonsense woz properly restrained, like.
"The other event you should know about happened much more recently in the war wiv' You-Know-Who. This woz a much more serious and tragic al-ter-ca-tion, so to speak. It woz the third year of fightin', five years before you received that." Tom pointed to Harry's forehead. "The war woz escalatin', but there'd been no attacks here at Diagon Alley - yet. On this par-ti-cu-lar day that all changed.
"It woz one of the busier days at the start of Christmas time. All of a sudden there woz more than a dozen Death Eaters all over the Alley stunnin' people, sendin' Reductor Curses into the shop fronts and rippin' up the cobblestones, sendin' 'em off in all di-rec-tions. Many people woz hurt by the flying day-bree. Then a few started in with Cruciatus Curses and the general fright turned into a major panic.
"I turned to run before I woz hurt when I saw a Death Eater go flyin' by. He hit the wall and went limp. I turned to see what happened and there woz Mr. Ollivander, just as calm as you please, standin' right in the middle of the fracas. In a moment there woz five or six wands floatin' 'round the heads of each Death Eater. They froze on the spot. Ollivander placed a Sonorous Spell on his voice and demanded that they 'cease and dee-sist' or he would help 'em stop." Tom tried to say, "cease and desist" in the same formal tones Mr. Ollivander would have used. It didn't really work but Harry smiled anyway, which produced a satisfied look on the innkeeper's face.
"Could Mr. Ollivander have used all of those wands at once?" Harry asked.
"Who knows? I believe it woz a bluff, but it woz a successful bluff. Half of 'em Disapparated immediately. The others remained where they woz. The stand off lasted but a minute or two wiv' Mr. Ollivander speaking his threats in his usual calm tone. Then You-Know-Who appeared right before our wandmaker.
"They spoke quietly for just a mo', stepped back from each other likein' a duel would occur. Then more buildings exploded as Lord Thingy started in on the shops and Mr. Ollivander sent all sorts of large bits of building flyin' at him and the Death Eaters. You-Know-Who sent a Killin' Curse towards him but he Apparated a few feet out of the way and kept a fightin'. Aurors popped in all over and the Dark Lord disappeared. Mr. Ollivander Disapparated, too. I wondered if he somehow woz followin' some of 'em, maybe the Dark Lord hisself. Moments later all them fallen wands jumped up and flew back to Ollivanders. Mr. Ollivander spent the rest of the afternoon cleanin' 'em and puttin 'em back in their boxes. Simp-ly eye-mahz-ing."
Tom came to the conclusion of his story. "There is one footnote to that day that adds to our ad-mir-ration of Mr. Ollivander. We do not know it woz him, but you'll never convince me otherwise. Wiv' the war on and gettin' fiercer, Gringotts refused to give credit for shop repairs. Two weeks after that day still nothin' had been done to repair many of the shops. I saw Mr. Ollivander walkin' amongst the broken up storefronts one morning before openin' hours. Of course the Cauldron's always open. Mr. Ollivander walked straight down the street to Gringotts. Later that day goblins from the bank approached every hurting shopkeeper and informed them that credit for rebuildin' had been ay-pproved.
"It may be a coincidence that Mr. Ollivander woz there that day, but I'll never believe it." Tom stood. "See here, Mr. Potter. Please don't mention this today when you go back to help him. None of us in the Alley wants to invade on Mr. Ollivander's privacy, so I'm askin' you, please don't say a thing. Er...didn't I hear him say to show up at 9:30 today?"
Harry nodded once again.
"Well, you have three minutes to make your way there. You have time, but you best be leavin' now. Wouldn't do to keep him waitin', now would it?"
As Harry walked quickly to the other end of Diagon Alley, he promised himself to never mention to Mr. Ollivander anything that Tom had told him. But there was one question the young wizard had to ask.
The chime rang as Harry walked through the door. Mr. Ollivander had his arms spread against a wall of wand boxes that were teetering precariously, about to fall. Without need of a word Harry ran to his assistance. He arrived with no time to spare, for briefest moment the wall hung precariously before Harry's slight touch provided just the motion needed to stop the crash.
"Just in the nick of time, Mr. Potter, just in the nick of time. I have this now. Please take a portion of those boxes on the end and place them on that counter." Mr. Ollivander used his head to point in the general direction of the counter right behind him. "That's it, and if you will do the same with a portion from the other end. Right, now, take even amounts alternating from each side, and we will avoid the calamity I almost initiated." There was a little embarrassment in the elder wizard's silvery eyes.
Harry moved ten to fifteen boxes at a time from each side. Two or three more trips would stabilize the wall of wands.
"Last night, Mr. Potter, I interrupted our story when I began my conversation with Tom. I liked the new coat of paint he placed on the walls since last summer. Such a nice pale shade of green."
Tom had indeed been most flattered that Mr. Ollivander had noticed the change. Harry had been unaware of any change in the colors. "Willen had found a potential source for a replacement unicorn hair, actually a number of unicorn hairs. And it had only cost him a blackened eye. Willen's Luck had come to his aid again, wouldn't you say?" Mr. Ollivander smiled as he warmed to his subject.
And so our story continues.
The young white haired girl believed she understood his resistance to her charms.
"Oo!" the girl exclaimed. "Now ah kno' 'ow you ra-sist mee! The gurl car-ved on your nec-lace, she eez a veela too, no?"
Willen sat up even straighter. "No, that is I do not think so. I do not know what a veela is. You say that you are a veela?"
"Zee car-veen, shee eez a be-a-uuu-tiful gurl, ah cannot tell eef shee has white 'air like ah do."
"No, Constantia's hair is very black, though just as shiny as yours, but with more body - less fine and flyaway than yours."
The girl frowned at the "flyaway" comment as her fine hair flew all around her head in the breeze. She evidently decided not to be offended by the young man's statement. "Theen ah must say that your wif' ees v-ry be-a-uu-tiful. On-ly a man en lov' with an' mar-reed to a v-ry be-a-uu-tiful girl could ra-ssist a veela. 'ow long hov you been mar-reed?"
"Mar-reed?" Willen was perplexed. "Oh, you mean married. No, we are not married or mar-reed. But I hope to marry her someday. I dream of her every day and most nights."
"It was now the young veela's turn to look confused, but it wasn't that she did not understand his words. She was confused because she did understand him.
Willen would come to understand over twenty years later that men who came into close proximity with veela could only resist their wiles if they were happily married.
"O'...she eez no' your wif'...O'! She must be v-ry powerful een theess mah-gheek you speak ov'. You would no' be ra-ssistin' mee o-thar-wize."
Willen realized he did not want to continue this conversation, or spend any more time than was necessary with this strange girl. But he needed at least one unicorn hair from her so he could cast magik spells and discover more magik - at least until he found olive wood. He did not know how to ask her for what he needed.
"Wat's that een your han'? Eez eet a veela 'air?"
"No. It is a hair of a unicorn. Those men broke it and my holly stick when I caught them,"
"Theen why deed you cotch theem?"
"To defend you."
They were both lost in thought for a few moments. Their strained conversation was tiring.
Finally her eyes brightened and she became excited. "Zee man who con ra-ssist a veela ees granted one seem-pul weesh. Would you like a veela 'air?"
Willen did not want to hurt her feelings, but he needed unicorn hair. "The hair must come from a magikal creature, the unicorn. I need one at least, but if Snoogins could spare a few more..."
She looked disappointed but agreed to his request. "Ah do no' wont to hurt mi pur Snoogins. She haz soofered much enn birth. Ah soo-pose ah could pool one 'air..."
"No. No. Do not hurt her. Wait." He pulled his back sack to his side and opened it. He removed his carving blade and handed it to her. "Please cut the hair with this. I do not want the hair badly enough to hurt her."
She smiled a truly warm smile. "You ahr a good man. Most want to take zee oo-ni-corns from us or keel theem. You do not wont to hurt her een the leest bet." She took the blade and cut a thick tress of hair from the unicorn, a little thinner than his thumb and as long as his hand and forearm. "'ow weel you corry eet?"
His excitement at the amount of hair she had cut for him lessened with the problem of transporting his windfall.
Then it was his turn to smile. He opened his back sack and took out the scroll of parchment he had been writing in. There was about one and a half times the length of the unicorn hair left on this scroll. He unrolled it and, taking the tress of hair from the girl, placed it on the parchment and started to roll it back carefully.
"Wait!" she said. She held the blade up to her head and cut a few strands of her own hair. "Ah ahm a mah-ghee-kahl cra-ture alzo. Wheen you see your Con-stanz-zee-ah again geeve her thees 'airs for her use."
Willen placed her hairs over on the side of the scroll away from the larger group of unicorn hairs. He took a single unicorn hair and set it aside and rolled the scroll up tightly, tied it with a strip of rawhide, and returned it to his sack. He picked up the two pieces of broken holly and examined them.
"Do you know this wood? It's holly. Do you know it?"
She shook her head and looked saddened that she could not help him.
"When it is cold. It has red berries on it. Do you know it?"
"Ah ahm zorry. Ees there any o-thar wood that weel help?"
He looked around and saw a piece of birch wood nearby. He did not bother to stand but crawled a body length to retrieve it and crawled back. Birch worked well for Eirran and had not for Willen, but he knew he had more faith in his abilities now, and Eirran had suspected that ownership might produce a bias in a stick for its owner.
He knotted the hair carefully and looped it around the branch after he had cleared it of all twigs and leaves. After the Body Bind Spell (which he was not about to demonstrate on her) the Fire Starting Spell was his most powerful. If any spell would work with this birch stick it would be that one.
He gathered a few leaves into a bare area of dirt. He did not want a fire, just a show of magik. "Incendio!" The flame was nowhere near as powerful as it had been when he had used his holly branch, but the leaves caught fire.
The young veela clapped her hands and giggled with glee. "V-ry, v-ry good! You ahr...you ahr?...You ahr, as you say, mah-ghee-kahl!" She clapped her hands again.
Willen smiled also, though he was not as happy as he would have liked. He would have to look very carefully for a replacement holly stick, maybe several, to use until he found olive wood. He had not seen a holly tree in a number of days.
He did not know to be amazed that he had performed magik with two different types of wood.
Vanch the Cooper finally had a bow design he could produce in numbers, a design that any adult could use. Granted, he made it in two sizes and the distance of arrow flight obviously depended on the strength of the archer, but the design worked. He could personally produce one, sometimes two a week, now that Barlint the Cooper had joined Loudon's Towne, and other changes he had made.
When the second Cooper had arrived the towne on the River Tameas had not been quite big enough for one Cooper. Vanch had spent his spare time helping with any other project around the community and with any work Torban had in mind.
Now there were two Coopers in their community and apprentice Coopers. This was very good news indeed.
Of course if either of them had been of the same inclination as Caedric the Fisher, they would have been bemoaning the end of the economy as they knew it. But one Caedric was enough for any village, some thought that one was one too many.
The first secret to keeping two Coopers and more busy turned out to be to produce as many barrels as possible, not only those barrels needed in Loundon's Towne.
The second secret to keeping them all busy turned out to be Stellan the Fisher.
Stellan had been sitting by the fire in Torban's hut one winter's night shortly after the twin brother designers of the row maker had landed at Loundon's Towne and had settled their families in their new huts.
"Torban, my dear husband, how are we going to support a second Cooper? Vanch has spare time now. After the brothers and you solve the breaking blade problem on their row maker, what will occupy his time?" Meala was not prone to worrying, but she was a planner and planning uncovers problems faster than most activities. Planning also solves more problems before they occur than any other activity. "Two Coopers will produce too many barrels for our needs."
Stellan had the germ of an idea but Torban spoke first. "Barlint will be occupied for several weeks at least helping Janks and me perfect the metal blade. Then, he needs to help us build several row makers for our Tillers to use this coming season. Did you see how the new blade we tried today cut the soil? The ground was a little frozen in this early cold snap and the ox did not like being out in this weather, but we were able to make rows through that rocky patch of ground we have been using to test new blades. This blade design worked better than the previous design." Torban was dreaming about new blade configurations yet to be forged and tested.
Meala, said, "And Vanch is still trying to perfect his bow. When we have enough bows and row makers, then what shall they do? Does Barlint ever help Janks with tilling?"
Stellan sat up abruptly. His idea had arrived. "We need to produce more barrels not less. We may need another Cooper if we can find one."
Torban and Meala had wide-open hearts and would never turn away anyone, not even another Cooper if he walked into Loundon's Towne tomorrow. But Stellan spoke as though he had joined Caedric at the mead barrel this evening.
"Torban, how many times on our trips after the harvest faire did we see people storing water in skins instead of barrels?"
After a moment's reflection Torban said, "We saw few barrels on our travels. Except in the brothers' old village, and they probably feel the shortage of barrels there now that Barlint lives with us. Why do you ask?"
"Vanch sells or trades all of his surplus barrels at the faire each year, doesn't he?"
The two hosts nodded.
"When I leave to go fishing or bring a new family to our community, I usually leave with an empty hold. I could take a dozen or two barrels with me each time and trade them as I go. Should I not sell them all and my hold is filled with a catch or a family's possessions, I could tie them together and float them behind me coming home. But, I doubt I will have to do that often, if at all.
"When preparing for the faire, Vanch produces ten to fifteen barrels a week, depending on size. I may be able to find regular outlets for those excess barrels. We may be able to keep two Coopers busy."
"But, Stellan," said Meala. "What will you trade for?"
Stellan looked from Meala to Torban and back to Meala. He smiled and said, "What do you need?" Then he displayed a much bigger smile and said, "No. What do you want?"
Not only had there been a market for selling barrels all along the river and up and down the coast, there was a market for row makers as well. Barlint was still a Cooper but he spent all of his time crafting row makers for sale to communities and larger Keepers of land. Vanch had to stop with the research into bow designs for over three moons to meet the demand for existing types of barrels and to design a new small barrel used for milking cows. He noticed one day that milk leaked from the skins the milkers used. He thought he could design a barrel just the right size to fit under a cow's udder. The demand for that never-before-thought-of device was quite gratifying. Stellan looked for another Cooper to join their community, but to no avail.
Vanch found the solution to the new problem of not having enough Coopers. He took on four apprentices, not the usual one. He started them each with a different specific part of a barrel, and instead of helping each one to produce the entire barrel, each one specialized in his own particular barrel part. One cut and rough shaped the slats. One fine shaped the slats for a particular barrel. One worked on the bottoms. And one created the top cap rings. On the first day, when they reached the point where they had the parts for several barrels ready for assembly, they stopped their separate efforts and gathered around Vanch.
That first day none of the parts from the different apprentices fit together. Vanch started to rant and the apprentices quickly moved away from him. When he ran out of swear words and invectives he sent them home and told them all would be right the next day.
They showed up the next morning with fear in their eyes, and found Vanch sleeping on the dirt floor of his Cooper's hut. There were plenty of wood shavings on the normally clean floor. By Vanch's side were a number of jigs none of them had ever seen. Coopers used a series of jigs to form barrels together and hold them in shape during assembly, but none of those jigs looked like these.
In a whirl of all night long cutting and grumbling, Vanch had created a set of jigs for the manufacture of each part in a precise and repeatable way. More to the point, each part created by the use of these jigs almost always fit together with the other parts to make a barrel.
At the end of that second day they were able to assemble half of the parts they made into barrels. In seven days they were able to fit all of the parts produced into barrels. Then Vanch had his apprentices trade places and learn to produce a different part. Quality went down, but improved much quicker this time. The next time the apprentices traded positions in four days. The final learning cycle in manufacturing a specific part took only two days to master.
Then they stopped making barrels as their main activity. They spent seven days out of each of the next two moon cycles making barrels. The rest of the days they studied how to make jigs for different types of barrel sizes and shapes. This skill took much longer to acquire. Vanch had only invented the idea when the need occurred.
By spring there were two master Coopers and four journeyman Coopers in London's Towne. It had taken Vanch almost two full cycles to go from apprentice to Journeyman status. The lads were not as gifted as he had been, he admitted to Torban with no false pride. "But they had a better system of learning. Each can produce a barrel as fast as they can using the old method. And their quality is good enough, and improving. And there is one lad I am particularly proud of."
Stellan had discovered the markets and therefore he needed to find another Fisher. His time was now spent transporting goods and he only dropped his nets on direct return voyages without going hunting for schools of fish.
Torban tried to interest Caedric in fishing more. He offered to help build Caedric a new, larger seagoing fishing boat. Caedric wanted the new boat, but not to go out to sea. They argued back and forth and the whole community heard their, er, "discussions." Caedric refused to go out to sea for the bigger, tastier fish it would more easily provide. Torban refused to help Caedric with a new boat to accomplish nothing more than he was already doing.
The first person Caedric told that Torban had reneged on his promise of a new boat, told Torban what was said. That never occurred again in Loundon's Towne.
However, Caedric was still quick to tell anyone who would listen - few would and none for long - that this expansion would be the ruination of Loundon's Towne and surely would bring more ruffians like Bonderman and Porto to plague them.
More would come, but progress was not the reason.
Willen had been walking for half a moon past the funny berry trees that Eirran had told him of. The reason he was convinced they were the same berries the Seer had mentioned was another small demonstration of the adverse effects of Willen's Curiosity. Not as detrimental or eventually advantageous as Willen's Luck, Willen's Curiosity usually was more embarrassing, and had made Willen wonder if he had been dropped on his head as a babe.
In a fit of self-deleterious curiosity, Willen popped not one, but two of the big green berries in his mouth to confirm that they were the same berries that Eirran had mentioned - surely they could not be as terrible tasting as Eirran had remembered. Willen had listened to these berry trees and they said little he understood other than the fact their berry oil was highly prized by the local inhabitants.
If anything, Eirran had been generous in describing the berry's palatableness. Twice curdled and soured milk on a warm day would have been desirable indeed compared to the taste that lingered in Willen's mouth long after he spat out the berries. Willen imaged that dead and half rotten insects might compare to their flavor.
During the past half-moon of his travels, Willen had not seen many people and none of those he had encountered had spoken either his native language or Latin. With several of the people, Willen had tried pointing to a branch from the berry tree he carried and saying "Olive?"
Every time he'd tried this, the only answer he'd received was a look of complete incomprehension. His inability to communicate led Willen to stop asking the question. The first two times he'd kept on repeating "Olive? Olive?" more and more loudly. But then he'd realized that the people weren't deaf, so increased volume would not improve their understanding.
A fortnight after discovering that utterly disgusting taste, Willen noticed an odd looking bird of some sort flying in circles and dipping down below the tree line occasionally. Its actions were not too dissimilar to those of a buzzard attempting to finish off a wounded animal. Willen quickened his pace for no apparent reason, but he felt like he wanted to determine what was the victim of this supposed carrion eater.
His quickened pace became a trot, and his trot turned soon into a run. He just knew something was wrong and closer proximity was not reducing his apprehensions. It wasn't a bird. Willen had never seen a creature similar to this flying behemoth he was foolishly approaching, but he knew what it was from stories and lore.
It was a dragon.
Not only was it a dragon, but it was a dragon with a man riding on its back. The man controlled the fear inspiring monster with reins attached to a harness around the dragon's head, not with a bit like a rider would have used with a horse. A bit in this dragon's mouth would eventually be destroyed even if it was made of the finest of Torban's metals, because the beast was flinging bolts of fire from its mouth twenty feet in length or more. The man was directing this fire and hurling curses at the target of the flames. The attackers were after a little man, who appeared at a distance to Willen, to be not quite as old as Eirran. He was running in and out of hiding places in an outcropping of rocks and boulders.
It was a credit to Willen's bravery that he paid no heed to the fears screaming in his head as he ran on to help the poor man escape. It was to his credit that he succeeded beyond all he'd thought possible. And it can be easily guessed that the credit for poor Willen's condition at the end of the confrontation belonged to that perversity known as Willen's Luck.
Willen woke up in another cell. He recognized the bars on the opening in the wall. What was not familiar among the all too familiar surroundings was the voice that greeted him when he moved his head and spoke his first unrecognizable words.
"Wer-ram-ike?" It was Willen's first attempt to ask where he was.
"Oh, you are awake. I will call my grandfather." The girl's voice penetrated his fogged mind and before his thoughts congealed into coherence, she had left the cell, locking the barred door behind her.
With personal disgust Willen sarcastically congratulated himself for surviving for just over three moons before being jailed again. It then occurred to him that the girl had been speaking in Latin. At least he would be able to communicate with his new captors. These few words had been the first he had understood from anyone he had met in over a moon. He wondered how long he had been in this cell. The last thing he remembered was falling from the dragon...
He sat bolt upright in the bed and barely choked off the scream that rose to his throat. He fell back on the bed. Willen could hardly decide which area of pain in his body to explore first. His head felt like a melon that had been thumped several more times than once-too-often. All of the skin on his left shoulder and arm down halfway to his wrist felt like a badly burned finger, only many times worse. His right arm just hurt - A LOT - between his elbow and that wrist. The rest of his body merely hurt more than ever before so he gave it little notice compared to the three major pains he had cataloged.
A dragon. He had fought a dragon and was still alive, if you called this alive. Most of it came back to him like the sun breaking through his fog-filled mind.
With no consideration or plan, he had run straight towards the old man in the rocks. Willen could see that he was winded from his vain efforts to escape, and now he appeared to be trying, without success, to pull his trapped foot from a rocky crevice. Willen had drawn out his stick and unicorn hair combination. Only two days before, he had found what was apparently a southern Gaulish holly tree. It looked almost the same as the holly trees Willen was so familiar with in Albion, but the red berries were not quite the right red, and the bark had a familiar but not quite correct color pattern in it. The stick and hair combination had worked properly to concentrate his Touch, or magik rather, but it was not quite as powerful as the previous stick/hair pairing.
Phannel had not heard of holly trees and neither had anyone else he'd met on his way. But one day he was exchanging pleasantries with a huge spruce tree. Just out of curiosity, Willen had asked it where he could find a holly tree. It had not known the name 'holly' but it had said that the agrifoglio tree matched Willen's description. Willen had walked the length of three huts into the woods and had walked out with several of these not quite familiar holly branches. Willen had felt a particular affinity with holly, even this odd holly, but he had discovered he could use the unicorn hair with a number of types of wood to concentrate his magik to various degrees. When he was as far away from the old man being attacked as the width of the square at London's Towne, he had started yelling at the beast, trying to draw it off from its intended victim. He'd picked up a rock and hurled it at the flying menace. The stone had connected with his target but had no effect.
Out of desperation Willen had cast the Body Bind Spell. "Petrificus Totalus!" Only after shouting the words with all of the noise his lungs could produce did he realize that if the dragon had frozen with his magik, it would have fallen on the man he was attempting to rescue. That man had released his foot from its rocky trap, but his limp was obvious to Willen even at this distance.
The spell had not petrified the great hulking monstrosity, but it had evidently felt the spell's effects in some way. The dragon had ceased its attack on the old man after the spell's impact. It now had a new target. Willen had made it to the rocks about the length of ten to twelve men from the little man. But he'd had no time to speak with him. The dragon was returning - for him.
The Body Bind Spell had done nothing but distract the beast at best. Willen doubted that starting a fire would frighten off a fire-breather, and the man on its back had not been within range for any spell to affect. He only had two other new spells to call on that might help him fight the airborne monster.
Ten nights before, Willen had left his pack and two blades at a site in the woods where he was going to build a fire. In the dwindling light he had headed toward the sound of a brook. His water skin had been dry since early afternoon. He'd taken his stick and hair because he'd thought he might need to use Lumos to light his way back.
At the edge of the bank, which was not quite twice as high as Willen was tall, he had slipped in mud and fallen into a mass of prickly vines. He'd been ensnared in them up to his chest and not only couldn't his feet gain traction in the mud to push himself up and out, he was being held an arm's length off of the level ground at the water's edge. He'd thrashed about, cutting his hands on the vine barbs, and tearing his clothing. Dozens of points had pierced his flesh. He'd finally drawn his stick and hair - an oak stick he was trying this day - and used the Incendio spell to burn away enough vines to fall to the edge of the water. At first this effort started a too large fire he had to put out with his hands. Then, trying to be more precise with the fire he cast, he'd burned his finger several more times.
When he'd finally staggered back to his camp with his filled water skin he was miserable. It was a cold night and the mud was drying on his skin and draining the warmth from his body. His hands shook as he started the fire. He was soon warm but fell asleep before eating. He'd awakened sometime in the middle of the night and had finally consumed his meager meal of dried beef strips, too many days old bread, and a small apple.
The next night had been as comfortable as the previous one had not. At midday Willen had met a farmer who had invited him to his hut. They had not spoken a common language, but the farmer's wife had not only fed him as well as he had eaten since his last meal with Eirran, but she had packed in skins and gourds a number of delicious salted meats, and raw and dried vegetables and fruits. He had two small loaves of the wonderful, crusty bread she had served him at that meal. This bounty would feed him well for several days. She had even darned his torn smock and cloak.
That night he'd sat by a warm fire, sated from the food, and went hunting through the sheets of parchment for possible words for a spell to release him from vines and such if he needed one in the future.
In a time when only one in three men owned a personal blade, Willen owned two. To discover a cutting spell had never crossed his mind before this event. He'd searched for two nights but finally discovered that diffindo, the Latin word "to cleave," would cut vines and small branches. He had also cut the cuff of his breeches, which had begun to unravel from previously unseen vine tears from a few days before.
Because the dragon flew at a fairly quick speed when attacking, it had only one chance on a pass to hit Willen with an eruption of fire. On its first pass, the dragon had tried to gore Willen with its horn. The little man had found a place in the rocks that was well hidden, either that or he had fainted. The next assault by the fearful creature ended with the beast flying by at eye level. Willen had shouted his cutting spell at the dragon with no effect - at least not on the monster. The man on its back was a different story.
Willen and the man were within the width of two huts from each other after the cutting spell had no impact on the green scales of dragon's wings. Willen had looked at the dragon rider and he'd seen the hate in the other man's eyes. He'd known that his own death would be the only thing that would satisfy the rider.
Our young hero heard the dragon's passenger shouting and screaming in a tongue he did not understand, but Willen felt they were not his best wishes for a safe journey.
On the next pass, Willen had tried twice to land cutting spells on the beast's body. He believed he had hit where he was aiming, but with no results. He did see a possible place to land a cut that might do damage.
Willen had scrambled to a new location to avoid the flames and still be near the dragon's underside when it passed over. He'd aimed new cuts at its head but he knew he had missed.
Where the airborne leviathan's limbs met its claws the scaly skin ended and there was a band of pink flesh as wide as the length of a man's hand. This was a tiny aiming point indeed, but Willen felt it was his only hope. He shouted diffindo four times in quick succession when it was near. One cut had evidently connected because the beast had seemed to nearly stop in flight and flap its wings very hard to escape straight up. This had slowed the dragon and Willen cast two more cutting spells.
The hideous creature bucked like a wild horse and the rider went flying off head first into the rocks. Horrified as he'd watched the man fall, Willen had missed the dragon's next action. But the dragon's next fireball had not completely missed Willen.
Willen's pain had been like nothing he had experienced before, or had heard reference to. He had not known he was beginning to go into shock. However, he had realized one thing.
The dragon had had him in its claws.
Of course the best way to make an effective bow was completely obvious after he had made several dozen failed examples, and then finally succeeded. Vanch had rejected a host of woods that might all make adequate bows once he discovered two important design factors, and after he had settled on ash as his wood of choice.
Ash seemed to be the most flexible and stiff of all the woods he tried. Holly was too flexible, even if he could find a straight enough limb without knots - a near impossibility. Oak had the strength but was too prone to breaking. On and on, wood after wood - too flexible, too stiff, too brittle, too soft, too hard - too not the wood he needed. One night after his apprentices had left for the day, he could not decide whether to scream or cry. He thought for sure that yew would be the wood of choice. But it wasn't.
Lindern jumped up when Vanch finally decided to shout. The smallest of his apprentices, Lindern was a bit clumsy on his feet but quite deft with his hands. If any of his boys would meet and possibly succeed him in coopering skills, it would be this shy little one. Vanch had almost turned him down. But Lindern's father had just died of consumption, and after it was clear that the boy and his mother would not be felled by the same illness, Vanch had made his announcement about taking on apprentices. Lindern had been the first lad to apply, and the last accepted. Vanch had chosen three, and had called Lindern in to break the news of his rejection as gently as possible. Lindern intuitively knew this was going to happen.
But before the master Cooper could say a word, the lad blurted, "But what about Willen?"
This had not been what Vanch had expected the boy to say. "What about Willen?"
Lindern's lower lip quivered, but he took a deep breath and blurted out, "Willen was made fun of by many. Caedric hated him and called him an orphan as if that was a disease or something. Now he is off trying to save us." The boy stopped and snatched a breath before rushing on. "Well, I want to do my part. I am half an orphan and my ma is not as well as she lets on. I am not strong enough to cut boards or build huts or guide an ox pulling a row maker, but I have watched you. I can do what you do if you show me. Please. I'll work ever so hard. I'll be your best boy, I promise."
Vanch agreed to a limited test of one moon's time. Lindern almost didn't make it. He had been the last to learn to make the four main parts of the barrel assembly, and he'd made each part slower than the others. He was almost two summers younger than the next youngest apprentice. Four days before the end of Lindern's test period, they had begun making jigs for barrel parts. Lindern had finished his jig long before the other three, and it was as fine a jig as the first jigs Vanch had made himself. Lindern started making a jig for another part.
It was as if the top holding ring had snapped in place and the loose slats became a tight barrel in the mind of this youngster. Lindern never looked back. He had finished making his jigs for a second sized barrel when the other three had finally completed their first barely usable set of jigs. It was Lindern who had thought and designed the jigs for what he called the rainwater barrel.
Vanch's youngest lad had decided that this new idea would produce a barrel that would be wanted by every woman in Albion, even though none of them had ever heard of such a thing. He promised to show Vanch his first idea for this new barrel design in five days. By this time Lindern was so far ahead of the other three that Vanch agreed to let this apprentice work on his own for the days he requested, just so Vanch could try to bring his other apprentices closer to Lindern's level of competence.
Lindern worked in secret in the small shed in back of his hut. At noon on the fifth day, he brought an odd shaped barrel to his master.
"This is the rainwater barrel," he said
His fellow Coopers in training laughed. Oldeff said, "What good will that barrel do? It has no handle. You will spill water because the mouth is so wide. It looks funny."
The barrel did not look like any barrel the master Cooper had ever seen. It had a base a little wider than the length of a man's hand. The mouth at the top was almost twice that wide. This barrel was not quite as high as the mouth was wide. There was no handle.
Lindern could tell that his master was unable to fathom a use for his creation. "Sir, it catches rainwater easily and fills the base quickly because of the width of the mouth. My mother walks out in the rain in the summer to wash her face. She says rainwater is very gentle and makes her skin feel younger. This barrel will catch the rain easily and allow any woman to use it to wash her own face with rainwater even when it is not raining. In winter my mother won't step out into the rain because it is so cold. Now she can use rainwater even then."
The other boys laughed, but Vanch stopped them. "My wife, Taleena, does the same thing in summer. I will take this home with me and ask her opinion."
Taleena had refused to let Vanch take the rainwater barrel back to his cooperage. She had been that excited. Stellan never returned with women's rainwater barrels and he always asked for more for any community or village where he had showed them.
Just before sleep took him, Vanch speculated whether Lindern had the Touch for Cooperage, if there was such a thing.
When Vanch had shouted out his frustration, Lindern had jumped from behind a stack of wood and knocked most of that wood stack over. Vanch shouted again, this time at the boy, "What are you doing here?"
The growing-in-confidence young Cooper-to-be was once again the timid young lad of fourteen cycles.
"I… I know... you are working on something important. Whatever it is, I want to help. Please, if it is important enough for you to work on when you should be with your family, it is important enough for me to ask to help. Oh! I do not mean that you cannot do whatever it is you are doing without me. I just mean I want to help you. I can clean for you or sharpen your adze or drawknife. Or I could just sit her quietly and learn."
The lad's earnestness was too credible for the older man to crush.
"I do not know what you can do to help, but..."
Before the night was out Vanch had recounted every type of wood and method and attempt he had tried to discover the secret to an effective bow. The lad had no ideas to add, but they both agreed to talk about the subject at lunch the next day.
That chat would lead to the first breakthrough in the bow design that Vanch had achieved.
Willen could not remember for the moment how he had escaped the dragon's claws. He assumed the throbbing in his head and his terribly painful right arm would account for part of what it had cost him. Now that he thought about the various aches wracking his body, he guessed the pain in his ribs probably came from the grip of the powerful beast's talons.
He looked around the cell. Baldet's Keep was the only building he had ever been in other than huts. There he had only seen the guard's room and the dungeon, and the ways in and out. This was a funny looking cell. Other than the bars on the windows and door, it wasn't really like a dungeon cell at all. There was something coating the walls so that he could not tell whether the walls were wood or stone. Though moving caused another sharp pain throughout his torso, he was able to determine that the floor was wooden. As a matter of interest, Willen noticed that there was a cloth of some type positioned to cover the bars at the window and a similar cloth on the door that looked like it could be repositioned to cover the window in the door.
Willen thought that this was a strange cell to be imprisoned in, but they must do things differently here in the south of Gaul.
It occurred to him that his new captors had been nice enough to tend his wounds. If he made a speedy recovery, and then if they were not too close in guarding him, perhaps he could escape before they placed him in a more secure place in the dungeon. The thought just crossed his mind about the dragon rider falling to what was most certainly his death, when the door opened.
"My granddaughter told me you were awake. How does the great Dragonslayer feel this morning? I would wager your head hurts something fierce - and most of the rest of your body."
When the word "Dragonslayer" registered in his mind, Willen rapidly dismissed the delight he had felt to hear Latin spoken. It all came back like a thunderclap.
The dragon had wrapped his claws around his body, squeezing most of the breath out of him, but not all. Most of his left arm had been still on fire. His right hand had still held his odd holly stick and unicorn hair. The dragon was hovering the height of two men over the rocks, drifting out over the ground nearby. The dragon had a look of combined determination and anger on its face. It was as if it was furious that its rider had fallen off. Willen had known the fiery beast was moments from roasting the head off of his body.
In an instant Willen had known his newest and completely untried spell would be his only hope.
For the last few nights, as Willen had sat around his fire, chronicling his travel reflections, and looking through his recorded knowledge scrolls, he had been considering the three men who had beat him when he had gone to the aid of Phannel the veela.
After the girl had run far enough away for the three to not feel the magikal powers, Willen knew of no other words to describe her effect on men other than "mag-ghee-kahl,” the men had been in a confused state, not moving and not knowing what to do. Had Willen not been knocked nearly senseless, he could have run away or hit any one of them during those several long moments. As he thought about it, a spell that could cause such confusion might be a convenient spell to add to his capabilities.
The night before the dragon attack, Willen had decided he knew what the word for the confusing spell must be. But he had never tried it. He had seen no one in his travels thus far that day.
As the dragon hovered at the edge of the rocks and ground, it brought its head around and drew back a breath to incinerate its prey. At that moment Willen pointed his stick/hair concentrator at the dragon's face. He further aimed for its eyes, which had to be the most vulnerable part of the dragon. All of these actions Willen took in an instant of time, time that seemed to have slowed. With the last breath that he could squeeze out past the claws that were crushing his ribs, Willen had shouted, "Confundus!"
As the dragon flapped off and Willen crashed to the ground, he'd had just enough time to think that a confused dragon really did look confused.
"Sir, I am not a Dragonslayer... oh, my shoulder." Willen had tried again to sit up as he corrected the little man he had tried to rescue - evidently succeeded in rescuing, much to his own detriment.
"No, lad, you did not slay that one, but only a Dragonslayer attacks dragons. You were too busy saving me to slay this one. You are very young, you have not been a Slayer long, have you? But I am being a rude host.
"I am Aldertan, father of the Keeper of this land and former Keeper myself. To whom do I owe my life, may I ask?"
Willen sighed with frustration. How would he explain Willen's Luck? "My name is Willen. I am not a Dragonslayer. I had never seen a dragon before that one. I just... I couldn't stand there and let it kill you. I was stupid enough and strangely lucky enough, if you call this luck," he nodded down at his arms, "to cause the dragon to leave us alone. I am glad you are safe, but I must stop trying to foolishly kill myself. I have a quest that must be accomplished."
The little, older man looked at him with a smile that ignored his words. "Then your acts of bravery are even more commendable. You know nothing of dragon slaying? My distant cousin, Kwildas, was a Slayer for many years, now he has become infirm and a bit feeble. His great-grandson, Skall, cares for him and hopes to learn the slaying ways. When you are able to walk we will take you to them. Now tell me of your quest and how you fought off your first..."
It was the girl. She was very pretty but she was not Constantia, Willen thought. He closed his eyes for a moment from the pain of nearly failing his ladylove. How many days would he lose recuperating? How many days had he been unconscious since he had been wounded?
"Grand-Poppy, he is not well at all!" She mistook the pain in his voice for physical pain, not the grief of his situation. She rushed to kneel at his side. "My brave Dragonslayer. You nearly died saving my grandfather and now you have my undying love."
Willen groaned and spat through clenched teeth, "I am NOT a Dragonslayer." His head was ringing with pain. "You cannot love me, you don't know me. You are too young to be in love. Besides, I love another, Constantia."
"Oh, Grand-Poppy, he talks foolishness. Surely he will love me as I love him. It must be the pain and the wounds talking. Has not father told me I am the prettiest girl in the land and all men will want to love me?"
Willen and Aldertan exchanged similar worried looks for different reasons.
"No, my sweet Haana, I did not say that every man will want to love you. I said that every man will want you. There is a difference."
"Oh, Poppy, you are home!" The man that the girl Haana ran to looked very much like a younger Aldertan, but taller and a bit broader. His beard had been trimmed close to his face and removed from all but his chin. Willen wondered if a sinister demeanor went with his sinister look.
Turning from perfunctorily hugging his daughter he said, "So this is the Dragonslayer everyone has been talking about. He looks too young to me." He spoke about Willen while looking at him, but he spoke to his father.
"I am not..." Willen was interrupted.
Aldertan placed his hand firmly on Willen's unburned arm. The pain was enough to stop Willen in mid-speech, but not enough to cause him to express his pain. There was a very concerned look in the older man's eyes.
Aldertan said, "You are being too modest." The look he gave Willen turned to one imploring his cooperation. "Willen, let me introduce my son, Aldini, the Keeper of this land and the finest swordsman within five days ride on a swift horse. My son, this is Willen - a Dragonslayer and the man who saved my life and killed the Druid. Be gentle when you greet him, my son, he is still in much pain."
Willen was in pain, but the physical pain he felt was not what caused the look of distress on his face at this moment. He had killed a Druid using magik - the primary warning that Eirran had given him he had not followed.
Aldini spoke. "Slayer of dragons he may be, but I see no dragon carcass. He may have inadvertently caused that Druid's death. But I doubt he fights Druids. For he is a Druid himself!"
"Sir, if I was making a bow I would make it out of this piece of wood." Lindern sounded excited, but Vanch thought he looked a little nervous - not as nervous as when he'd asked to join the apprentice program, but a little nervous nonetheless.
"Why is that piece of wood the piece of wood, in your opinion?" Vanch could see the merit of this particular choice, but he saw one drawback as well.
"First, you have never tried ash, and it is a tight grained piece of wood that also is not brittle. Second, the bow would be half heartwood and half sapwood. The heartwood would provide strength and the sapwood would provide flexibility."
Now it was Vanch's turn to look uncomfortable. The combination of both parts of the piece of wood had been the reason he would have rejected this particular piece of wood. Now it made perfectly good sense to use the multilayered piece of ash.
He gulped before speaking and tried to look nonplussed. "And which layer would you place outside and which inside?"
Now Lindern looked uncomfortable again. "I do not know. That is why I have a piece this long, we should try both."
Vanch realized that he was training a future master worker of wood, far beyond merely being a Cooper. Perhaps this boy did have the Touch.
Finally Willen spoke, "I am not a Druid." The vehemence in his voice was obvious - it even surprised him to a degree. He had known for several seasons that his dear friend, Eirran could be called a Druid, but his anger for that title was all directed at Porto.
Aldertan spoke earnestly, "But, my son. Why would he risk his life if he were a Druid? He lies here in great pain for rescuing me from a Druid's attack, an attack where he nearly died, an attack where a known Druid did die. How do you explain these facts?"
"Perhaps they planned to befriend you with a much simpler confrontation, and the dragon did not understand the plan. It caused the death of its rider and this one's near death."
"Too much," said Aldertan. "Too complex and too extreme a scenario to befriend an old man. You need more proof than those reasons."
"Ah, but I have not showed you the evidence." He brought out from behind his back the broken holly branch, barely held together by the unicorn hair. As he held it up, the hair snapped and the piece of stick not in Aldini's hand fell to the floor.
Aldertan and Haana both gasped.
The bow worked with the sapwood away from the archer and the heartwood facing the archer. It quickly snapped the other way around.
Vanch and Lindern walked out from the cooperage and towards the nearby woods. They carried the working bow and a number of the arrows Vanch had made over a cycle before. Neither was accurate with the weapon at first, but both did improve. Neither would be able to hit a running man, but with practice they might become fair archers.
The next day Vanch traveled with Stellan to the village in a bay three days sailing north from Loundon's Towne, up the coast. The first day out there were stormy seas and Vanch lost all of his breakfast. By that late afternoon the seas were much calmer, and so was his stomach.
It had been eight days since Vanch and Lindern had used the bow. Later that day the two took the bow and a number of arrows back to the same clearing in the woods where they had been before. Vanch placed an arrow in the rawhide, pulled back, and the bow cracked when he had pulled with just over half the strain he had used before. The wood was brittle, yet it hadn't been brittle at all before. It had been much more supple and still more powerful than any other wood he had tried.
The two stared at each other with open mouths. Sadly they picked up the pieces of bow and the arrows and walked back to the cooperage. The day was ended and they left their burdens in the middle of the dirt floor. Vanch walked towards his home and his wife, Taleena. She would eat with a sullen and grumbling husband that night.
Lindern was at least a hand shorter than usual as he walked slumped over, feeling dejection from their failure. As he walked by Egorn the Potter's pottery hut and looked in the door. The boy had considered asking Egorn to be trained as a Potter, but he did not like the feel of slimy mud. Wood was more to his liking. Egorn was using a horsehair brush to apply the clay-river-silt and chicken liver oil glaze. It was exacting work to coat the unheated pot with an even amount of the substance.
When he finished one careful stroke with the brush, he inspected the coat for evenness compared to the previous coats. "Good evening, Lindern. How goes the Cooper's life?"
"Barrel making is a delightful occupation. Good evening to you, Egorn, sir." He watched the Potter apply the next stroke and then asked during the inspection, "Why are you so careful to apply even brush strokes? They do not look different to me."
"If the strokes are noticeably uneven there will be a difference in the coloring from stroke to stroke." Egorn had begun experimenting with different pigments in the glaze to produce different colored pots and patterns on his pots. "If the coats are very different in thickness, the kiln firing will cause the pot to expand unevenly and the pot will shatter."
"Besides decoration, does the clay glaze perform any function?"
"The glaze coating prevents the liquid in the pots from seeping into the pot and leaking out. If an uncoated pot is used in cooking, water, or whatever the liquid you are heating, can expand inside the pot and crack it. The glaze substantially lengthens the useful life of a pot."
"So the glaze keeps the moisture out of the pot?"
"That's it, son. How's your mother doing?"
The conversation went on for about the time it takes to boil water and then Lindern went home to supper. His mother was concerned as to why he was late.
The next morning Lindern stood by the door to the cooperage with two very different pots on the ground by him and a big grin on his face.
"Lindern, either your mother has started baking the bits of dough with honey in them that you like so well at the harvest faire, or you have a secret you are bursting to tell me."
The gifted apprentice lifted both pots before his eye. The unglazed pot had an earthen coloring and was dripping water. The glazed pot was white and dry on the outside.
"Do you know why Egorn the Potter puts clay-river-silt and chicken liver oil glaze on his pots?"
Vanch returned the lad's smile and gave the obvious answer, "To keep them from leaking?"
"His exact words last night were, '...to keep the moisture from seeping in.' That's why we need to coat our bows."
"To keep the moisture from seeping in?" Vanch was not following the boy's line of reasoning.
"No, sir. To keep the moisture from seeping out!"
A number of craftsmen and women were using various types of glazes and coatings in their work and in experiments to improve their work. It was amazing how a few innovations had galvanized the inventiveness of the good people of Loundon's Towne.
The oldest and youngest Coopers in the community left the three other apprentices in charge of barrel making. Vanch set them a production schedule for the two most requested barrels and left the three to manufacture as many as possible.
A bow the length of a man would not fit in Egorn's kiln for drying. The two Cooper/Bowmakers experimented with different thicknesses of ash to produce a piece the length of a man's hand and forearm that had nearly the same strength and flexibility of the bow they had been satisfied with that one day.
They first tried the same concoction Egorn used on pots and fired the wood sample at the same temperature and time that he used for pots. The two had never seen a more brittle or distorted piece of wood when it had cooled. They experimented with shorter times and eventually less heat as well, but it soon became apparent that Egorn's mixture would not suit their needs.
They tried chicken liver oil alone. They tried egg whites like Lindern's mother used on baked bread. They tried the beeswax used on water resistant skins. Beeswax kept the wood supple but dried out in several days. Also, the amount of wax needed made the bow too difficult to hold properly. When they fired it in the kiln, the beeswax melted off immediately.
They tried the white, powered wash Baijan the House Builder used on boards. It colored the bows, but flaked off almost immediately upon drying. It did nothing to keep moisture in the bow.
One of the other Cooper apprentices, Cinko, entered into the spirit of the hunt for a solution and made a suggestion. He had noticed that when he used a small barrel for flaxseed oil, that it did not have to be soaked in water for a while to swell the gaps to hold water. They tried the plant oil on the bow and it did seal in moisture, but the bow was even more slippery than with the beeswax. The oil ran off in the kiln in the same way as the wax.
Vanch and Lindern, and everyone who knew of their pursuit, had run out of ideas. They decided to go back to making barrels and let their minds rest a while.
"You are one of the stick wielders,” accused the Keeper. “Yours must be weaker, or you would not wrap it thus. But you are here with them to drive us off of our lands."
Aldini was in a frantic state. He had a small amount of spittle in the right corner of his mouth and was staring wild-eyed at Willen. But his was not the only seeming madness in the room.
"But, Father, we are in love. We are to marry once he is well. I know he will not betray us to his friends now that he loves me."
Willen looked to the girl's grandfather to see what daft drivel he would produce. He had heard that lunacy ran in families.
Confusion and panic began to creep into Aldertan's voice. "Willen, are you of the Druids? Look me in the eyes and tell me the truth. I'll know if you try to deceive me."
Willen grasped the tenuous hope. "Sir, I am not one of the Druids. I have known two Druids in my lifetime. Eirran the Seer is a Druid and he is the best friend I have ever had. Since I have been an orphan for as long as I remember, he is more like a father to me than any man I have ever known.
"The only other Druid I have met is my sworn enemy. I am from Albion and a Druid named Porto plans to conquer my home village. He used an olive stick to kill one of our community and plans to rule over them just because he’s powerful and a murderer. I have traveled here to find the olive wood Porto said came from here. To stop him, I will probably have to fight him and kill him. I dread this action, but he promises to give my beloved to one of his henchman..."
"NOOOOO! You love me. We aren't even wed as of yet and you are unfaithful to me."
"Quiet, girl. This is but your thirteenth summer and we have not celebrated the day of your birth yet." Aldini paused and a maniacal smile came to his face. "A duel! A duel with swords. I will fight you for toying with the affections of my young daughter, Druid."
"But I do not know how to use a sword..."
The Keeper said, "Father, you have brought a liar into my Keep." Aldini brought out from under his cloak the blade Torban had given Willen. "This is the finest sword blade I have ever seen." He drew his own sword from a sheath at his belt. "It is finer than my own and I am known to own the finest blade in the south of Gaul. What do you say to that, Willen-the-Dragonslayer-Druid-Liar?"
"Willen?" Aldertan looked into the young man's eyes searching even more strongly than he had before.
"Sir, I promise..."
The old man put his hand up to stop Willen from speaking and leaned over to whisper to him, "Demand the Right of Succor." When Willen only looked confused he whispered more adamantly, "Quickly, if you value your life demand the Right of Succor!"
"I demand the Right of Succor!" Willen's head hurt more than it had since he had awakened. He felt as if he might faint soon. But this farce of a rational discussion was not over.
Aldertan proclaimed, "Willen demands the Right of Succor. As Celts we are bound to offer a wounded enemy the requests he makes under this right. He is near swooning. I will ask what aid he seeks." He leaned down to Willen and again whispered, "Just nod at what I say. When I finish speaking and look back at you, say, 'This is what I demand.'
"First, Willen demands food, quarters, and medical attention in keeping with his status as the opponent of a Keeper of land, and if he wins, the privileges of victory.
"Second, he demands training with the finest swordsman in the Keep to recover his sword skills as he regains use of his arms.
"And third, as a Dragonslayer, he demands the right to confer with our Dragonslayer, his brother Slayer and our cousin, Kwildas. For Willen promises to slay the dragon that plagues our skies."
Aldertan looked at Willen, who said wanly, "This I demand!" and fainted.
Vanch and Lindern both woke on the same day with the two ideas that would solve the problem of the bow. Vanch decided that they must listen to every idea of a coating solution that anyone had, regardless of the idea's possible application to the bow. Lindern realized that if you could not fire a bow in a kiln or bake it in an oven with the coating applied, why not cook the coating and then apply the coating while it was still hot?
Their discussions with Egorn the Potter revealed that he believed that the pigments he was adding to his clay glaze actually added strength and decreased porosity, if you did not add too much pigmentation.
"I do have a complaint with you fellows, though," the Potter said. "The beeswax melted into the bottom of the kiln and disappeared into the air as water leaves when it boils. The flaxseed oil has hardened into a nearly clear mess in the bottom. I have tried to chip it out but it even resists the metal chisel Torban made for me."
The kiln was too hot at the moment to look at its bottom, but the two bow makers were seen chatting furiously as they walked back to the cooperage.
The finest ground pigment Egorn used was soot from fires. This was the black powdery substance that was swept from the rock backings of the fires used to reflect heat onto the food and into huts. It was so fine it would hardly wash from your hands and had to wear off or soak out. When you left your hands in a stream until they shriveled, the soot might be gone.
Taleena sneezed terribly and yelled at the two of them when they tried to stew a suitable flaxseed oil and soot combination. They had not planned on the stench, but the husband of fifteen cycles had been smart enough to ask Torban for a metal pan to use solely for brewing their coating concoctions.
The first batch cooked too long and hardened in the pan before they could attempt to use it to coat the bow. After three hours with a chisel, the hardened mess had been removed and the pan was loosely similar in shape to the pan Torban had given them. The second batch had not been cooked long enough and had not dried three days later.
The third batch brushed on easily and had been completely dry the next morning. The wood was perfectly sealed to maintain the moisture content. And the piece of wood was so inflexible that the light-weight Lindern could stand on it between two stones and it would hardly flex at all.
In the fourth mixture they added more soot and made sure they brushed on a very thin, even layer. They were able to clean the pan before the concoction had hardened in it. They even were able to clean the horsehair brush with horse urine for use one or two more times. There was one horse in Loundon's Towne, and its owner prospered more from sale of the "solvent" than he did from hiring out the horse for rides. It was a disgusting manufacturing process.
The arms length sample piece of ash flexed very well. They took it outside to show Torban. It was very bright that day. When their eyes adjusted to the light and they showed the coated wood to Torban, the three could see that there were tiny holes in the coating all along the wood. Vanch and Lindern were upset with what they considered a setback.
"Let me ask you," Torban queried. "The rock solid piece of wood showed none of the tiny holes?" When they nodded he continued, "When I need a piece of metal to flex a bit, I punch holes in it, if I cannot make the metal thinner. You cannot make a bow thinner and still deliver an arrow with a killing force at the distances needed, can you?"
"You make good observations, Torban," the elder Cooper said. "Perhaps we need to manufacture bows on an ongoing basis and use the ones as fire wood once they become too brittle. This coating should make them last a moon or so."
"Not necessarily." The apprentice stood over a head shorter than Vanch and over two heads shorter than Torban. Either was old enough to be his father. But he was their peer in this discussion. "The beeswax applies very easily, prevents the bows drying, but is too flexible and slippery. The cooked flaxseed oil is too stiff if coated thick enough to prevent leaking altogether and has these tiny holes if it is coated thin enough to maintain flexibility. Why not use both?
"We coat the bows with the cooked flaxseed oil and soot just like we have with this sample. Then we apply beeswax and rub it in with a cloth and wipe off the excess. We should be able to handle the bow easily with this limited amount of beeswax and yet this small amount of wax should easily fill in the tiny holes in the cooked flaxseed oil. We could reapply the beeswax on a regular basis, daily if needed, to keep the bow sealed.
"Besides, I believe we need to create a special grip of skin or something like it, to help make it easier to grip...." Lindern stopped speaking with a startled look. He had been lecturing to his master and to Torban Loundon himself.
However, the two were smiling. They both thought that they might be in the presence of the future Bowmaster of the community. Torban spoke, "Well, my young friend, in addition to this excellent idea to solve this problem, how do you propose to solve the problem of the stretching rawhides we use with the bow?"
Lindern looked to Vanch. They had not discussed this because they had been too focused on the drying wood problem, but Vanch nodded that the young lad should express his views if he had any.
"Hemp, carefully, tightly braided hemp of the finest quality. It should stretch little after the initial stretching and it should wear well. We will soak it in hoof-glue and wrap a small strand of hemp around the center to strengthen where the arrow notch will go."
Lindern looked to Vanch who nodded again. "In addition to your metal arrowheads, we need metal notch supports at the tips of the bows to support the string. By necessity the bow tapers there and we could experience cracking without the metal supports. We also need Graller the Tanner to make a set of fingertips to protect the archers' fingers and a pad to go along the bow arm to protect it from the snapping bowstring."
Of course the correct solutions are usually obvious after the expert explains them.
The ancient Dragonslayer, Kwildas, spat out, "You are no Dragonslayer. You do not know the rituals, do not follow the training schedules, have never attended the academy or gatherings, and do not even wear the dragon hides of a Slayer. You are neither a Druid nor a young romantic come to woo Haana. You are merely a young fool who came to the aid of my cousin because you did not know you would be killed, aren't you?"
Willen nodded. At that moment he felt younger than he had before leaving Loundon's Towne.
The grizzly old character roared with laughter. "Well, boy, I must congratulate you. You're bolder and dafter than I am, and I'm known for my bravery and stupidity. It's a pleasure to meet you." And with that, Kwildas grabbed Willen in a bear hug and nearly caused him to pass out because of the combined pain applied to his burnt left arm, his cracked right arm, and his bruised ribs. He laughed all through Willen's pain.
Once Aldini had left and Willen had awakened from his "rest," Aldertan had taken the time to hear in detail from Willen about his experiences with Druids and to explain everything to Willen that had occurred. Haana remained in a corner of the room but heard every word. Quite often she made barely audible exclamations of surprise, fear, delight, and amazement at his tale. Aldertan made no sounds other than to ask clarifying questions, but his eyes expressed the emotions Haana made aloud.
Willen concluded, "And that is what I know about Druids. Eirran told me that Porto is known as a Druid and that he himself could be called a Druid even though he does not go by that title. He said that everyone I would meet would understand and respect the position of a Druid and now you tell me Druids are feared and despised. You also say that it was a Druid that rode the dragon. Oh, my head hurts more than from my fall."
Aldertan said, "Eirran the Seer is known to us by name and reputation, but he did not travel in this region on his trip to learn Latin; I would have heard of his visit if he was anywhere near here. Druid is an old and probably incorrect name for those of the Old Way. Quite unsettling really, we have always called it the Old Way and never considered a New Way might arrive. But these Druids, as they call themselves, that attack us with dragons and want control of our Keep give that old title a bad taste in our mouths. That is why my son uses the title as an insult.
"So it seems, Willen, that this newest migration of Celts are, for the most part accompanied by a particular group of the ones of the Old Way that use the old title Druid. Porto, the ones Eirran met and mistrusts so, and these attacking our Keep all seem to be driven to use their powers for ill-gotten gain. It is a shame that Eirran and the ones we honor might have their good names besmirched by this deceitful band of ruffians and despots.
"However, this small band is not a part of a migration wave in this direction. They are a small but vicious group that are only interested in our aceituna groves. Yet they do not want the oil. They have arrived here every other summer for six summers. This year they have a few more in their cadre, though still less than ten in number, and they demand we abandon our Keep. "They wield what you call 'olive sticks,' and have killed with them. That is why my son reacted as he did to your stick. Aldini's childhood friend was his captain of the guard. He was killed by one of the two Druids wielding such a stick. Between that and the dragon, we, the most fearless Celts of this land, now dread the possibility of being conquered ourselves. My son does not want to be the one who loses his family lands after nine generations of our control."
"Aldertan, your son, and your granddaughter for that matter, are they crazed?" Willen whispered this when Haana seemed to be lost in thought and not listening. "Aldini went from accusing me of being a Druid to being a spoiler of his daughter in moments."
The father and grandfather had a pained look on his face. "My granddaughter, I hope, is only in the delicate stage between easily infatuated youth and maturing young womanhood. I hope."
"Oh, Grand-Poppy! I did not understand that Willen is a brave warrior on a quest to save the fair Constantia from the ugly brute, Bonderman, and the evil Porto. His story is so romantic! We must help him slay our dragon, kill our Druids, find his olive wood sticks, and return to save his ladylove. Oh, Willen, do you have a younger brother who might love me as you love Constantia?"
Willen shook his head; he was speechless from her change of attitude.
With his negative response to her question, Haana made a pouting face, stood, and exclaimed as she walked from the room, "I will go tell the chef to fix a special meal for our new friend and hero."
"Well, you need not fear Haana making more trouble for you, I believe. With the fickleness of youth she now idealizes you as a great romantic hero. She is old enough to feel in her heart the urging and the call for love, but she does not have the sensibilities that come with a few more summers of experience. Perhaps, she just might help mollify her father's feelings of mistrust towards you.
"My son, I am relieved to say, is not moonstruck. He only used Haana's words to place you in a position where he could kill you if he feels he needs to. That sounds ominous, and he is too be feared if he does choose to fight you. However, Aldini is probably as pleased with your demand for succor as I am. It gives him time to learn more about you and discover if you tell the truth and are worth befriending. This approach will prove more advantageous that his previous attempts at judging the merits of people thrust into his midst.
"He has been playing a dangerous game of dancing between wanting to be prepared to fight anyone and needing allies. I was known from my youth as a discerning leader who could instantly distinguish between friend and foe. Because he is not as capable in this as I was, he immediately considers all he meets an enemy. That way, he is not surprised by a blade in his back. Unfortunately, he will poison his potential allies with his methods. He has fought many duels because of his insistence on not asking for help. I believe he has wounded or killed those he should have trusted. Fortunately, he is an excellent swordsman. And of course he will not listen to his father."
Willen asked, "If he is a killer with his sword, then why did you arrange for me to fight him? I did not even know my blade was a sword. I thought it was a big knife. I have used it only to chop wood."
"How was I to know the one who carried the finest sword I have ever seen did not know how to use it? It is inconceivable. But do not fear. I asked for you to be able to train with the finest swordsman in the land to recover your skills. It will simply take a little longer to recover your skills since you never had any.
"Aldertan, who is the greatest swordsman of the Keep, the one who, because of my demand for the Right of Succor, now has to train with me in this swordplay as you call it?"
"Why our finest swordsman is Aldini. He will be required to bring you to an adequate state of readiness to fight him. And I will take you to my cousin. He will teach you how to kill the dragon."
"Aldertan, why did you say that I would kill the dragon?"
"Because, Willen, it must be killed."
Willen realized he might be wrong about Aldertan. He might be moonstruck also.
Four days later Kwildas said, "That old fool told you that I would teach you to kill a dragon, did he? Well, does he want it dead in five summers? That is how long it takes to become a Dragonslayer. Besides, I am too old and I never was a Master Slayer. They are the only ones allowed to officially train in the art. I have been training my great-grandson, Skall, even though I am not a Master. He will never be a Slayer unless he goes to the academy, but he will know in two more summers all I can teach him and will be able to use our slaying techniques. I would not send him out now with the three cycles of knowledge I have imparted to him. You are dead, my young friend. You should have died in your first confrontation. You will die in the next."
Desperation breeds fear and imagination. Willen asked one creative question out of sheer panic. "If you had to kill a dragon without any of your training or skills, and if your only weapons were your knowledge of dragons and the tools, people, and materials around us, how would go about doing it?"
Kwildas stared at him for the longest time, just like Eirran used to stare. Then he started laughing even more hysterically than before.
"No. No. No! NO! I do not care. She is my little girl and she will be hidden during the confrontation at the end of the harvest faire. She will have the horse and will ride like the wind to escape if the worst happens. She will NOT be fighting in our ranks!" Torban was shaking with rage and horror.
"But, my husband, she is the finest archer of our numbers. And though you cannot see it through your father's eyes, she is not a little girl any more. She is taller than more than half the men in Loundon's Towne. She has grown even taller in the nearly two moons you have been gone. We celebrated the day of her birth last week. She is now of age."
Torban wanted to lose his breakfast. He had arrived home from his trip where he found another forger of metals, to be told that his daughter had been training as an archer. "I do NOT care, Meala...."
Torban stopped walking and talking in mid sentence. Before him stood a strikingly beautiful young woman dressed in dark tanned skins and carrying a longbow and quiver of arrows. Her blacker than night lustrous hair was restrained from her face by a dark leather band, but her tresses were free to fall as the wind blows behind her ears and head.
"Father. I am of age, now, and I will fight and die before Bonderman or Porto touches me. I will stand with Willen and we will defeat the enemies of our community."
For the first time he no longer saw the little girl in the finest frilly dresses her mother could make, the baby who had stolen his heart at her birth. For the first time Torban felt apprehension that he would not be obeyed by every citizen of Loundon Towne.
Lindern was Constantia's devoted servant. He was smitten by the girl, but knew she was to be Willen's, so he became her protector. He had seen fourteen summers, she sixteen. She was the tallest woman in Loundon's Towne; he was shorter than most boys of only twelve summers. She was determined to be a fighter worthy to marry Willen, the great Olivehand as she called him. Lindern was the only other person in the community who truly believed Willen would succeed in his task. Willen had many who truly hoped he would succeed, but only these two true believers.
Dorgelt the Hunter had refused to teach Constantia the use of the bow, and the development of her expertise makes a fine story in itself. Dorgelt had never used a bow himself before Vanch and Lindern brought him their first sample. As each new bow design failed, he went back to his traps and spears to catch game for the tables of Loundon's Towne. Then one day their bow worked.
Dorgelt seemed the logical teacher of archers. He was a Hunter and everyone knew that the one who killed the most, even though only game, should teach this new skill.
There was only one problem: Caedric the Fisher.
The decision had been made early on to maintain Caedric's ignorance of their attempts at defense. The Diagon had been impossible to hide, so they had told him it was to stop flooding. Vanch and Lindern's development of the bows and arrows, and Torban's efforts to create blades for battle had been kept from him.
To do this they resorted to the two great parenting tools - threats and bribes.
Caedric was paid too well for the fishing he did. That he was paid at all, instead of receiving remuneration through barter or trading was an innovation no one liked - particularly Torban who paid him. Torban offered him one gold bit for each day he left by early breakfast and did not come back until supper. Caedric did not earn a gold bit for each day's work, but he always brought back fish of some quantity, more than he had before the bribe. The fish were an extra benefit. Torban paid him to go out and for what he brought back other than fish.
The threat came from Stellan.
"I do not like you being paid so much for so few fish. Torban is soft in the head to pay you thus. I offered to take you out and drown you, but he likes you, I think. I know he likes the tales of other townes and villages you bring back. As long as you bring back your fascinating discoveries of new places and people to amuse him and Meala I will tolerate you. Heed me, Caedric, if you do not serve Torban well you will meet with an accident. They happen on the water all the time. I will find your craft drifting one day and there will be a small amount of blood on the boom of your sail. It would be sad. So don't fail Torban."
Torban had told Stellan that Caedric was an excellent unintentional spy. The curious little busybody gossip had finally proven his worth to Loundon's Towne.
The golden horn of the dragon glinted in the sun light of dawn. There were sparkles of this early light reflecting off of the green scales on its body and wings.
The Druid riding on the dragon's back could be seen smiling as he flew towards the young man standing at the edge of the rock outcroppings. He wondered if this was the one who had attempted to slay his dragon and had killed his brother. No, this one was little older than a lad. He couldn't be a Dragonslayer. In seconds he was much closer. No, this lad could not be a Slayer. The Dragonslayers would never take a lad with a lazy eye into their training academy.
The Grindelwald-ers and Their Ilk - It is sad but true that before they showed their true colors, there were small but vocal groups of fascists and Grindelwald-ers in both Great Britain and the United States. 'Constant Vigilance' should be the watch word of more than Mad-Eye Moody.
Agrifoglio - Italian for "holly."
Bow Manufacture - The composition and hand manufacturing techniques described in this chapter have been researched and compiled from several sources that discuss the creation of the English Longbow of fact and legend.
The Dragon - The dragon attacking Willen described in the Ollivander Family Archives is in all likelihood a Romanian Longhorn. Recent archeological findings by the Societe Archeogheek Wizardre in Paris have determined the location of the Aldertani Keep in southern Gaul - now France. The Wizarding World Historical Atlas measures the distance between the Aldertani Keep archeological digs and the Dragon Reserves of Romania as 1101 miles. The Maghekhal Ministeria du Romainie in Bucharest has released photos of early parchments, circa 401 B.C., recording the theft of several dragons’ eggs by marauding bands. Thus archeological science continues to prove that our ancient writings are historically accurate.
The Dragon Reserves of Romania - When contacted as a part of the extensive research for this story, newly promoted Assistant Dragon Master, Charles Arthur Weasley, informed us that Romanian Longhorns were definitely more numerous in 385 to 382 B.C., and that they did at that time roam over a vaster territory than they do today. However, they have never been believed to have wandered as far away as the south of Gaul, now France.
Author's Notes - - My thanks go to my two wonderful beta readers, Ninkenate and Ozma.