"The man appears to have an aura about him. You will know who it is, when he walks through your door. He will show you a shield, for which he requires a coat of arms. I shall not interfere with your work, save for telling you to include this on the coat of arms." The hooded figure standing before the herald pulled a small piece of parchment out of a baggy sleeve and handed it across. "You will of course be reimbursed well by both myself and the party involved."
"How do you know these things, Ma'am?"
"We have our ways, as do you with your craft, no doubt." The woman within the robes pulled out a coin purse and placed it on the herald's book, before turning and heading for the door. "You will know, when you see him." With that, she walked out of the door, leaving the dumbfounded herald to peek inside the purse, gasp at the contents and hurry to hide them away. In his confusion, he looked at the insignia that had been presented for his next commission.
"This looks strange. I wonder what she wants him to have that for."
After a tumultuous night of dreams, visions and disturbances, Coop emerged from his room at the inn. He breakfasted and made his way to the stables, where he tended to Dawn Chaser, brushing her down and feeding her well, before tipping the stable hands, to make sure she was kept happy. Looking over his belongings with his saddlebags, he spotted the shield, which looked like it had seen much better days. Chunks of metal had been cut away and holes had been punched in the body of the shield, by crossbow bolts, reducing the effectiveness of the guard dramatically.
"What do you think, my girl? Should we see if they can repair it, or is it finally time to give in and have a new one?" As much as a horse could, Dawn Chaser looked to shrug at the knight, who sagged back at her. "Fine, I'll make my own mind up then." He turned and walked out of the stables, muttering about talking to a horse.
Coop walked into the armourers smithy and the warmth of the forge hit him. A few people stood about chatting idly and they nodded in his direction as he approached the anvil. A heavy set man pulled a set of tongs, holding some glowing metal out of the forge. A young lad rushed over from the bellows and took the tongs, holding the metal on the anvil, as his master commenced beating the metal flat. Sparks flew and the conversation stopped momentarily, muted by the strikes of the hammer on the metal, clinker falling off the slow-cooling metal and the smith's tool, as he stuck the metal block between purposeful strikes on the metalwork he was fashioning.
Some minutes passed and the smith returned the metal to the forge, he finally looked up at the knight. "Good morning, sir. What can I do for you?" Coop lifted up his battered shield and presented it to the smith, who looked at it critically. "This looks practically beyond repair, sir. Might I ask what you've fought to do this kind of damage to the shield?"
"My story is long and not very interesting. At least, not when told by me. Sir Zendra is in the tavern - perhaps you would ask him, for he has the gift of a natural orator. I can see that you are a craftsman of fine pieces of armour and weaponry. Might I enquire if you have any shields as a suitable replacement?"
"I might have something that interests you, sir. Come with me." He nodded to the two older men that had gathered in the forge for warmth and a brew and made his way out of the room, followed by the knight.
The armourer shut the door to the back room and made his way over to a chest at the foot of his bed. "Forgive the surroundings, sir, but I prefer to keep this sort of thing reserved for the attentions of those befitting such pieces." He pulled a key from under his vest and opened the lock, before sliding a bar to one side. From the other side of the room, there was a click from the wall. Satisfied, the armourer shut and locked his footlocker, before pushing a part of the wall aside and walking into a concealed back room.
He lit a few candles within and beckoned Coop closer. "Here, is my masterpiece. Dragonhide alloy, I call it. A skin of dragon scales is overlaid with thin sheets of metal on either side, to make it better reinforced and lighter too. I have put more of it into the edges, to prevent shearing, but it is still lighter than a wooden heater shield." Hefting the large sheet of metal, the armourer passed it to Coop, who picked it up, uncertainly.
"It is so light. Surely something this light could never push aside a well aimed sword blow."
"My craft is far from precise, yet we do not make these claims willy-nilly. Here, I'll show you!" The man picked up a crossbow and pointed it at the shield.
"No! If you're so confident, can we try it on something that might not kill your customers?"
"If you insist. I am confident, I have seen it work." He took the shield and stood back, holding the shield, confidently. Coop levelled the crossbow and sighted for a spot that would not be fatal to the armourer.
"Just so you know, I'm not entirely comfortable with this." He squeezed the trigger and the bolt flew into the body of the shield. As it struck, the bolt collapsed on itself, splinters of wood scattered left and right. The crumpled flight and the bolt head fell to the floor and the force of the impact rocked the large man back towards the wall.
"There, you see sir! It works and hardly a mark on the shield!" He pulled a cloth from his belt and polished out a scratch.
"I see. This is highly impressive, but I must talk price with you. After all, fine craftsmanship such as this doesn't come cheap."
"Indeed not, sir. Ordinarily, there would be a charge of thousands, if not tens of thousands of Grounds Gold. However, you have caught a few eyes out there and as such, the price has come down quite a bit. Care to make me an offer?"
"I always hated this - either I overpay for the merchandise, or I insult the craftsman."
"No risk of that today, sir." The armourer smiled pleasantly at Coop, who looked at the shield in his hands, placing it on his forearm and feeling the weight and balance.
"It seems so light... So strange that it could do what I saw with my own eyes. How long did it take you to craft?"
"Two days to prepare the hide, a further day to craft the metal veneers and about a half day to assemble it all. I have made shields quicker, but those would be for the masses, as opposed to those such as yourself."
"For that time spent alone, you would be talking a thousand, plus the materials involved... two thousand Grounds Gold?"
"If you pay me three thousand, I believe we will have an accord, sir." The armourer smiled as the knight flexed his arm with the giant sheet of reinforced steel on his arm, as if it were made of papier mache.
"A deal we have then. Do you have them decorated, or should I seek someone else for that?" Coop fumbled for a piece of paper at his belt and scrawled out a note. Sealing it with wax and his own seal, he turned to the armourer and shook his hand.
"Across the street is a herald. He will sort you with a design and he can also find a craftsman capable of decorating the shield for you."
"I will return when the money has been paid to you, then." Coop left the armoury and paid a courier to take his note to the nearest depository, before crossing the street to the herald's study.
A small sign above a doorway was all that gave indication of the herald's location. Coop opened the door between the butcher's shop and the apothecary, making his way into a hall, leading to a flight of stairs. As the door shut, he noted how quiet it was within, as if all of the noise of the street had been sucked away by the wooden finish of the walls. Following the only path available to the top of the stairs, he arrived at a second doorway, marked "Tobias Entwhistle - Herald" in flamboyant gothic script. He tapped politely and waited a few seconds, before opening the door and stepping inside.
Seated behind a desk, pouring over various tomes and grimoires was a young looking man, who was bearded and wizened. As Coop entered the room, he looked up over the manuscript that he was working on and removed his glasses.
"Can I help you, sir? It is unusual to see visitors in my line of work, yet you seem confused."
"I was sent here by the armourer, across the way. He said that you would be the man to speak to, regarding a new design for my shield." As Coop described the size of the shield, the herald stood up and walked over to the knight standing before him.
"I can see that you are a man of many facets. I know the armourer, so give me a day or two, I will discuss it with him. When you turn up to collect the shield, it will be decorated to your liking. Payment upon delivery of say, one hundred gold?"
Taken aback by the generosity of the herald, Coop looked at him questioningly. "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely certain, sir. Rest a while and you will not be disappointed." Confused by the sudden waves of generosity, Coop walked back down the stairs and headed for the tavern. As he shut the door, the herald pulled a scroll from a stack on a shelf and unfurled it. "Yes, you have purpose now, my friend." He collected a few small boxes and made to leave his study.
For the next few days, Coop spent his time honing his archery at the butts, allowing him enough time for his more serious wounds to recover. He was not an idle man by nature and the inactivity frustrated him somewhat. A few friendly faces came and went and bidding farewell to Zendra, who rode off in the direction of the king's fort, his thoughts turned to the next day's trials and tribulations.
As the sun rose on the second day, Coop rose from bed and washed, checking his bandaged wounds and their dressings. He ate sparingly and made for the armourer's forge, where quite a crowd had gathered. Catching sight of the approaching knight, the crowd parted and allowed him passage into the forge, where he greeted the armourer, with a firm handshake.
"Come, Sir Coop. It is prepared for you." The craftsman led his customer into the back room, where the herald stood, next to an easel. There was a large object balanced atop the easel, covered in a sheet and Coop could only assume that it was the shield, balanced there for painting.
"Greetings! I have finished the work and I am sure you will not be disappointed." With a huge grin on his face, the herald pulled the sheet off the shield. Coop was confronted with a green shield, upon which was a lion, standing proud over the vanquished corpse of a unicorn. A script wrapped itself around the legs of the lion, bearing the inscription "Tutela quod Scientia"
"What does that mean?"
"Protection and Knowledge. You protect us all by removing those that would seek to harm us. I felt it was the right thing to symbolise you, plus the lion being a noble beast and the unicorn being primal and mythical, more chaotic than someone of your stature. Does it please you, sir?"
"It is dry?" The herald nodded towards Coop, who stepped forward and picked up the shield, striking a pose. Suddenly remembering himself, he pulled a pouch from his belt and passed it to the herald.
"This is not the right amount, sir."
"You do not trust me? I will sit here and let you count it, if you please."
"Sir, you misunderstand. It is far too heavy for one hundred gold."
"Indeed it is. You work is worth far much more than that, so I have paid you five times what you asked for. My reflection of your craftsmanship." As Coop turned to walk out, the armourer stood there with a massive grin on his face as the herald tried to come to terms with his windfall.
The crowd stood subdued as Coop exited the forge, each man eager to catch a glimpse of the man and the shield that news of had spread through the town like wildfire. Coop whistled and Dawn Chaser trotted over, so he could mount, giving one and all a glimpse of the shield's design. Raising the shield aloft, Dawn Chaser reared up and Coop let out a mighty bellow, as the crowd cheered.