Barrant Burr listened to the hearty tap-tap of hammers on steel, and smiled to himself. This was a sound he'd worried he'd never listen to again--the sound of a proper smithy, worked by free men, not slaves. And not merely a smithy, but a grand smithy, and not merely a grand smithy, but a grand smithy he'd never imagined he would see again, the grand smithy of White Pine.
To think the Darksome Lady's will has brought me here, he thought, a tear in his eye, as the young smiths under his direction worked to turn chains and shackles into swords. 'They have given us steel, and we shall give it back to them,' Marduk had said, and Barrant was working hard at that. Dark Lord Marduk now--the Thing of White Pine had chosen him to serve as the city's Protector and Shield. And I doubt they could find a better.
"Preparing for the next battle?" came a familiar voice. Barrant turned to see Eleazar standing there, clad now in the garb of a monk.
"His Magnificence has made his wishes known," replied Barrant, repeating the style that the Lordship of White Pine brought with it. He chuckled deeply. "And I fully stand behind them."
"A remarkable man," said Eleazar, nodding. "To think--that I should see such a sight. The lowliest of men--in birth, in form, in circumstance--raised to such heights by the Lady's hand..."
"She has been our deliverance, through him," replied Barrant, nodding quietly. He regarded his friend. "And you? Returning to the vow?"
"I hope to," answered Eleazar. "The Brothers have called me--our abbey lies vacant in the retreat of Sutekh's forces, save for some bandits. I am... hiring some assistance to help us with them, and then... I shall once again by a Barefooted Brother."
Barrant laughed. "Well, say a prayer for me then, when you return to your hall." He looked at the young monk hopefully. "And should the contemplative life no longer serve--well, there's always a need for one to work the bellows."
"And should swords and shields ever pall," answered Eleazar, "well, we need men to shoe horses, and make ploughshares at the abbey."
Barrant laughed, and clasped the Erl's hand in friendship.