Book in a Blog: Mandestroy 5

We’ve reached the halfway point

So where are we?  Well, we are still in our young protagonist’s past – looking at his life growing up; where he has come from.  He’s no longer bullied, and he has a hell of a punch on him, but it still isn’t a life as such.  It almost was – after fifteen years he may have actually bonded with his father – but all that was ripped ruthlessly from his grasp by his jealous scheming brothers.  He was out on the streets once more, but now he is sleeping there too.

This whole life thing is not going great for our young protagonist.

But he does still have his gifted – or stolen – and impossibly valuable volume to keep him company, though he has already worn those pages dangerously thin.  But Queen Delfin was still there for him, wasn’t she?  At least, she had never spoken out against him.

Then again she was dead a thousand words, and Kantal only has her scrawled words.  It’s very possible that he’s going a bit crazy.  But maybe that is just what he needs – after all, you can’t beat a Mandahoi.  At least you can’t with your sanity intact.


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Kantal_Interview

4. The Then | 13yrs Ago

It turned out that living on the streets was rough.  Even compared to a life of misery, this was worse.  Perhaps not worse than the abuse of his past, but not much better.  And anyway, at least back then he’d had the friendship of Bulge to keep him buoyed – now he was just lonely.  Damned lonely.

And frustrated.  Two years ago he had been on the cusp of a life.  A life with purpose; intent; substance; and perhaps even love.  Now he had nothing.  It was like being starved, then being given the very tiniest morsel, before finally having it pulled mercilessly away.  It drove one insane.  But alas, such was the curse of his existence.  In some ways he was more comfortable in misery.  At least it was familiar.

He’d left the smithy in such a hurry that he’d been entirely unprepared for a life of rough, but a child of his background was nothing if not resourceful.  Within a cycle of Fortune, he had his routine down to a pinch.  In time, he may even learn to flourish in the squalor.  And if he knew Triosec well before, then he held her secrets in his pockets now.  In many ways, he had become the king of the damned city; though in most ways, he was mere gutter scum.

And yet he retained a sense of personal pride, refusing to be sucked into the vortex of self-deprecation that seemed to plague a majority of the city’s “lost”; though “lost” seemed entirely inappropriate when the unfortunate population were actually one of the more common sights in the city.  They were visible, but they were not noticed.

Which was why Kantal fitted in.

His hair was long, scraped into a tight tail which hung from the base of his neck, secured with a hempen chord.  He had patchy and wispy facial hair sprouting, young man of seventeen as he was, and he would dearly love to shave it off.  But a clean-shaved waif was noticeable, and invisibility was useful.  The sad wafting beard gave him a perverse freedom, and so he stuck with it.  Even if it did annoy him intensely.

And if the freedom was good for anything, then it was good for fuelling his incessant hunger for learning.  A life of purpose may have been fleeting, but it was profound, and it had taught him one thing; that there must always be something worth pursuing.   And he was setting his sights on the high arts.

The art of war; because you couldn’t beat a Mandahoi.

And the more he looked at that leaded scrawl at the base of the first page, the more he saw it as an insult to Delfin herself.  Who could possibly have right to that slight?  No, it wouldn’t do.  In Kantal’s head, he was fighting for her.  At least she had never shunned him.

And besides – he now held the secret of the unrivalled Mandari steel.  That had to give him some leverage in his impossible quest, didn’t it?

But it was always worth having smaller goals – after all, overcoming the Mandahoi was somewhat celestial as an objective.  And so he set about learning all the subtle tricks that his father had only fleetingly taught him – all those subtle Mandari methods.  Because if one thing crawled over his mind like that pencilled statement, it was the sight of that blade.  Damn she was lovely, and he would have his own.  He would have his own one day.

The only trouble with Mandari art – it was not well known outside Mandaria.

But he had to start somewhere, and the library was as good a place as any.  Fortunately, Delfinia’s ignorant wallowing meant that it was an unguarded proposition – at least it was for someone as resourceful as he was.

His unsolicited access to the building was through a window that seemed to remain permanently unlocked about the upper gantry.  It was still early morning, but as he edged his way closer to the top of the wall, perspiration softened his grip.  He looked back with a nervous edge and noticed that the streets were filling up nicely; more eyes to spy his approach.  Bugger.

He shook the idea from his head, revelling in the challenge of the climb.  As a slap of wind unsettled him, his moist palm threatened to give, but a forceful extension of his knees projected his other limb the final distance.  He found himself gulping as he hauled himself onto the roof.

Of course, he would much rather have made the climb much earlier in the day, before the threat of city life was abound, but he’d run into trouble.  It turned out that the baker he’d stolen from the night previous was not one to let a financial loss lie, and he’d hunted Kantal all night with the Wings in tow.  As Kantal was emerging into the barely-light to make his way to his beloved temple, the bastard City Guard had descended upon him with the baker screaming for his head.  It took all of Kantal’s wit, and no small amount of his pocket aggression, to get out of that one.  But by the time he’d shaken his tail, the early chance was gone.

Better if he were to lay low a few days.  Better to be in the library. No-one would think to look there.

He eased the creaking window open, its filthy glazing barely reflecting the bright daylight.  The silence of the place always offered danger with any movement, but he had to take the chance.  And besides, once inside, he could conceal himself from anyone.  Bulge had taught him all the places – and he meant all the places – but as he hauled his meagre sack of possessions through the window, it was evident that he was alone.  The library should be open by now, but such was the lack of demand, the new chief-librarian often forgot to air the doors at all.  It saddened Kantal despite the freedom it offered him.  Delfinia was rotting.

As he closed the window with barely a care, he thought he heard the inflamed cry of the baker.  That man truly did hold a grudge, and Kantal allowed himself a chuckle as he popped a morsel of the stolen bread into his mouth.  And with that satisfaction, and the waning of the ecstasy of flight, he felt tired.  He appreciated the deathly isolation and found himself looking to the Royal Gallery.  If anywhere was likely to house comfy surroundings, then…

He was almost licking his lips at the prospect of cushioning.  After all, he was almost a king in this place anyway, but unfortunately climbing to that place was a bit of a challenge, especially with aching limbs; it was toil he could have done without.  But despite his fatigue, he managed it by clawing his way across the far wall of the library, gripping barely proud bricks with an unnatural purchase; an outcome of his fanatical training.  But halfway across the void, he almost succumbed to the tiredness of the chase that now infected his body; endangering his grip.  Once he’d taken the final precarious step and placed his hand on the rail of the gallery, he exhaled and smiled.  Ha – king after all!

“What do you think you’re doing?”

“Shit!”  If he hadn’t been holding the rail, he would now be dead.  In fact, he wasn’t entirely sure that wasn’t still the case anyway.  A hand extended, offering support over the banister, but Kantal did not know what to expect on the other side.  When he found it, it did not bode well.

The young man was pristine – utterly pristine.  He wore simple black trousers, pressed to a dangerous edge, and a shirt of such whiteness that it actually pained Kantal’s eyes; it had been a long time since he’d seen anything that clean.  His hair was glossy and well ordered, his face trimmed deadly tight, and he had deep eyes which betrayed a remarkable confidence – remarkable because it seemed so out of place on a man so young.  And yet Kantal knew this man, and knew it was not misplaced.  He looked to the belt, and saw the sabre that he’d helped forge with his very own hands.  It was an effort to draw his eyes away.

“I said, what are you doing?”

He remembered himself, and dropped to a knee.  “Apologies, Highness.”  Urgency rose in him, and with it came that consuming and possessive anger.  He dearly hoped he would not need it.

“Oh, get up.  And I’m not ‘Highness’.  I am the heir; not the king.”

Could he get up?  Could he stand gaze to gaze with the future head of his nation?  He was Kantal, and he’d always battled the odds.  The deeper shades of his character unwound further, but they were well in check.  The sense translated into a confidence of his own, and he extended himself, standing almost toe to toe with the heir.

Only then did embarrassment strike.  He was a state, and he was sure he could make out his own dishevelled reflection in the man’s teeth.

“So?”  The Prince tapped a foot, as if impatient, and then reinforced the question a seemingly final time.  “What are you doing here?”

What better way to shock than with the truth?

“I hear that my King has an excellent collection on military mechanics.  I have come to indulge.”  And perhaps have a nap?  No; that was too much truth.

Those deep eyes had firmed in the two years since they’d last met, and the expression was certainly hard.  But Kantal had grown too, rougher certainly, and he held his own firm defiance.  The heir stated the obvious.

“What makes you think you have a right of access to these archives?”

Bulge escaped his lips, “the library, and all its contents, is for the people.  And besides; what possible harm is there in perusing these volumes when no other bugger is looking at them?”

He regretted the use of the word almost instantly, but his coiled anger prevented him from apologising.

“This bugger minds.”  Stern authority and a hand on the hilt of the magnificent weapon diluted Kantal’s resolve ever so; but then that stony face melted into something else.  The heir laughed.  “Oh, don’t worry about it.  There’s nothing but dull statistics in these tomes anyway.  This is no way to win a fight.  This is.”  He tapped the pommel of his precious sabre.

Kantal gazed longingly once more.  He spoke absently.

“I beg to differ, my Prince.  The maths behind the mayhem is of utmost importance.”

The Prince turned about and strutted into the room.  Kantal followed.

“Nonsense; it is an easy equation.  If I have a thousand fine men with fine weapons, and you have a thousand modest men with modest weapons, then I am victorious.  The equation is therefore simple: take more men with finer weapons.  Victory is assured.”

The ignorance was exquisite.  Kantal could not proclaim authority on the matter, but he had read enough to know the basics.

“And from where will all these fine men come?”

The Prince swept about the room, and Kantal’s eyes followed him loosely, simultaneously taking in the sight of the room.  There truly were some treasures here – and a comfy looking lounger in the corner.  His tiredness heaved at that.

“Well, I shall train and arm them of course.”

“And do you think your opponent sits idly while you train your army?”

The face had turned stony once more.  Kantal suddenly understood why the Prince was here – he was supposed to be learning.  But he evidently already considered himself an expert, which was folly.  He was anything but.

“The borders will be defended by the other forces.”

Kantal jumped hungrily into debate.  If he had lacked intelligent discourse at the smithy, then the streets were barren.  His pulse raced.  “And if these other, presumably ‘inferior’, forces are pounced upon by the enemy, will they not be defeated by your very logic?”

He was evidently not used to being attacked; especially not by rabid looking vagabonds such as Kantal.  Come to think of it, he hadn’t even offered recognition.  He must be unaware of their previous encounter.

“They will be in defensible positions.”

“And when you assault with your ‘finery’, is there not a chance that your enemy digs themselves into defence?  Are you still assured victory?”

“Well yes, I must admit that this does―”

“And even in open combat, what about the lay of the land?  And the most unforgiving of all masters – Father Fortune himself?  What if the Father is against you?  And while these ‘fine men’ are about their business, what happens to the heartland?  And even despite all of this, even if you have all in hand, what if the enemy have a Mand—”

“Yes, please, stop.”  Kantal had been raising his voice, almost to the point of anger, and he now flushed.  It would not do to have a go at one’s future king.  He hung his head and mumbled an apology.

But he had a point.  You couldn’t beat a Mandahoi.

“No – not at all.  How is it that one so bedraggled comes to have such an intimate understanding of military mechanics?”

He shook his head.  “I don’t, my lord.  That’s why I’m here.”  That and swordsmithery.  He found himself looking to the weapon once more.

“Then you should stay.  And you should teach me.”  A door slapped shut below, but when Kantal turned to look over the banister, to the body of the library, he recognised that the doors remained closed.  The prince bridged the confusion.  “Though perhaps some other time – my father is here, and he is rather less tolerant than I am.”

Shit!  The King, here!  What was going to happen?  The Prince stepped forward, towards Kantal, arms reaching for him; threatening to grab.  He was going to be handed over to the Wings.  No!  He wouldn’t succumb.  He slapped the Prince’s hand away, his anger spitting into life.

And he stayed silent.  It was mighty bold to strike one’s future king.  Bold or stupid.

The Prince looked affronted, and as Kantal edged to the banister, he felt a sudden urge to pause.  The heir spoke.

“I only wanted to show you this.”

With a kick of a lever, a trapdoor sprung, and a ladder ran smoothly down to the library floor.  Oh blessed relief!  He didn’t know whether he could struggle across that precarious wall once more.  His tiredness was dragging.

As he started down the steps, his head just above the floor of the gallery, he paused once more.  He could hear voices – he didn’t have much time.

“Sorry, Lord Prince.  I meant no offence.”  It was not in his nature to apologise, but on this occasion…

“No need.  Go.  Flee.”  He took the first steps down to safety.  “Oh, and Kantal.  I will see you at the Fields at noon tomorrow.”

That he was not expecting.  Turns out that he was more recognisable than he gave himself credit for.

“What are you doing here, you little shit?”

He hadn’t been expecting Friendly in the Fields, but this?  This was just plain aggression.

“I was told to come.”  And bloody regretting it.  He threw his gaze to the heir, a man standing on the other side of the open courtyard – colonel already, despite his clearly inadequate learning.  Military science was a mystery to the man, and yet there he was; lording away.  Kantal meanwhile, a learned tramp, was being drenched in the spittle of a disciplinarian.  It appeared the man had a real problem with his own poor looks, and revelled in the aggression he could exercise.  He turned to the cluster of officers, and then switched back to Kantal, eyes narrowed menacingly.

“Told or ordered?  Either way, you have some sense at least.”

What was he supposed to say to that?  “Thank you.”

The ugly bastard flared up.  “Or maybe not!  Did I ask you to speak?”

This was going to be tough.  Kantal had been obedient to no-one at any point in his life: damn, he’d floored his mountain of a father, for Ero’s sake!  This frankly scrawny sergeant could not quell the fire in his gut.  His edge was alert, but Kantal wouldn’t need it yet.  He would handle this the proper way.  He gulped down the anger.

“Good.  When to shut up and when to whimper are important lessons.  We’ll beat that into you.”

He nodded, unsure whether this was a moment for silence or squeaky submission.  He almost sniggered, which would definitely have been the wrong option.

“You don’t have anything to say?”

He’d got it wrong.  Of course.  His eyes flicked back to his Prince, but the young colonel didn’t seem to care.

“No.”

“NO WHAT?”

His face was near drenched, and he now knew that this authority figure had an oral hygiene problem. That made them closer than Kantal and his family.  How sad was that?

“No sir.”

He was riled, but that was clearly the correct etiquette.  The whole of the Fields – so named because it was the only open stretch in Triosec, save for the gardens about the Senate – had come to a halt.  The fact that his sponsor was here was reassuring, in part, but no-one else seemed to be expecting him.  He didn’t even know what to ask.

Actually, of course he did.  There was no other reason to come.

He’d never considered it before, which was strange.  He’d come here and watched drills as an eleven year old, absorbing the movements of the trained soldiers until he was sure he could overcome.  And since then, nothing.  And yet, if he knew he was better than the military, why not flaunt it?  Had he ever flaunted anything?  No – he wouldn’t know where to start.  The eyes of the Fields made him nervous.

“What are you doing here, you shit?”

Not a little shit anymore.  Progress?

“I’ve come to join the Royal Guard.”  I’ve come to beat the Mandahoi.

Silence for a moment, but not for long.  What was he expecting?  A slap on the back?

The laughter rolled through the open space, and the petty sergeant’s guffaw was taken up by all and misc.  And looking about, Kantal judged there was more than a sprinkling of miscellany.  This was supposed to be the finest that Delfinia had to offer, and yet Kantal felt embarrassed.  No wonder the Mandahoi held such sway.

You couldn’t beat a Mandahoi – not with this lot.

“Think you can fight, I s’pose?”  The bastard was barely coherent.

“I’ve had my moments.”

He’d forgotten to say ‘sir’, but he didn’t care.

“Corporal Sluuger – come and show this shit what’s required of the Royal Guard.”

His interrogator walked off – only that – and a hulking bastard came over to take his place.  Kantal looked to the heir, who was still gazing intently; he offered the slightest nod.  What was Kantal doing?  Did he want to join the army?  He wanted revenge, though he didn’t know what for.  He wanted to fight the Mandari – yes, that was it.  He wanted to fight for his beloved Delfin.  After all, she was the only one who had stuck with him.  It didn’t matter that she’d been dead a thousand years; they still had an understanding.  That was why he was joining the army, wasn’t it?

Suddenly it didn’t matter.  This was a question of pride.  And survival.

“You little shit.”

The hulking git recognised him, and it was reciprocal.  Beef stood before him, now a full grown adult, but none the wiser for it.  He hauled a brutish lump of metal from his side, and grimaced.  His teeth were rotting – perhaps that was a requirement of the Royal Guard? – and he hissed from between the browned enamels.

“Chick never moved again.  You left him a vegetable, you little fuck.”

How dare he?  “Well my arse has never been the same, so call it evens?”

He lurched, and Kantal knew he would have the better of this encounter.  But as he sidled past and jabbed at the exposed neck, Beef spun and came again.  Kantal dropped to the self-same arse, and exhaled.

“Ha.  Arse of a girl; technique of a woman.  You’re no Guardsman.  You’re dead meat.”

He was actually quite quick, which was surprising given the considerable bulk, and as Kantal danced out of the line of pain, he hatched a plan.  With the Prince looking on, and Delfin in his thoughts, his possessive edge was now screaming within; but it was Kantal’s particular skill – a derivative of his survival instinct – that allowed him to channel without conceding.  If he had something to fight for, then the anger fuelled him – and here he was searching for purpose.  You couldn’t beat a Mandahoi.

As he squatted down and forced his shoulder into the man’s stomach, he screamed in brief concession – but it was controlled.  When Beef was on the dusty ground looking into his eyes, he showed genuine shock.  And then the lumbering idiot came again.

And Kantal was frustrated.  He had greater deeds in mind, and this flailing heap of lard was just a sad obstacle in his path.  With an abrupt acceleration, he snapped the corporal’s arm to a painful angle, and levered the dull steel from his grip.  When those shocked eyes – ghosts from Kantal’s past – looked upon him once more, he slapped the side of his head with heavy metal.  Blood trickled over the sand as Kantal gazed down without a pinch of remorse.  It had been a while since he’d done that.

And this time there were witnesses.  A lot of witnesses.

“You sneaky shit.  You give that here.”

The tendons in his wrists flexed as the disciplinarian came for him, but as he was about to start a chain of carnage, he recognised the tiniest shake of a head in the corner of his vision.  Such a small gesture; such a huge effect.

He dropped the poor lump of metal.

When the petty officer had him by his shirt, knuckles white with fury, Kantal offered a fake whimper; and the bastard knew it was fake.  That was fine.

“You bastard.  I will―”

“Sergeant: you will find a place for him.  I suspect he will prove useful.”

The eyes of the man told Kantal everything he needed to know – true hatred, right there.  But a colonel’s word, and the Prince of Delfinia no less, outweighed any personal intentions the man might have.  Authority smothered the temper, and Kantal was given back his ability to breathe.

“Yes, I’m sure we can.  You can clean the fucking mess.  Now!”

As Kantal walked past his sponsor, he felt a surge of gratitude mingle with something close to animosity – it was the Prince’s fault he was here at all.  But without that man, his temper would probably have got him killed.  And besides, it was almost like the Prince was looking out for him; perhaps they shared a goal.

A flash of light caught his eye, and he turned to see his sabre being shown off.  Bastard.  Even if they did have a shared goal, they wouldn’t share that sword.  That annoyed him deeply.

Boot polishing duty.  Not again.  Twenty Fortune cycles, and all he’d done was shine stuff: floors; boots; crockery; cutlery; other people’s steel; and almost a handful of cocks, though he’d managed to duck that responsibility.  Being a twelve-year old recipient of buggery was one thing.  Taking cock in mouth at eighteen was quite another.

He would have bitten the fucker off.

The Royal Guard was, of course, extremely proud – and rightly so.  They were utterly meticulous in their demonstration of marching capabilities, and could switch a right angle to near mathematical perfection.  Everything about the bastards was polished – their weapons; their uniforms; their facial hair; even the abuse they handed out to the minor staff had a honed edge to it.  The word shit could be made to sound almost divine.

But Kantal had never lived a life of embellishment, and he saw right through the veneer.  He hated this place.

How in buggering hell had he ended up here?

The first cycle was probably bearable, but that was only because he was still learning.  As an eternal resident of Triosec, he’d assumed that the Fields was where the finest of the military came to practise.  The Royal Guard, right?  The pinnacle.

It turned out that anyone worth their steel was a long distance away.  If you were good, then you were sent straight to the borders.  To die.  It seemed madness, but rather that than the borders bend to the force of the Mandahoi.

After all, you couldn’t beat a Mandahoi.

He looked back at himself in the outrageously reflective leather of the boots he was shining.  He had been working on the toe for an undefined period of time, and he suspected his thoughts had dragged somewhat.  This would probably mean a beating of some sort – there was usually a beating.  It was fair to say that he wasn’t popular.

“And your father’s okay with this?”

The accent was polished, and Kantal jumped to immediate attention.  His own ill-fitting uniform looked embarrassing compared to the fine officer’s garb arrayed about the room.  It was ironic that he spent so much of his time within reach of the finery, and yet he was the lowest scum on site.  When the second man spoke, a shot of acidic spittle burned his throat.

“It was his idea.  I need to earn my wings.”  The Prince.

“You’re not a Wing – you’re a colonel of the Royal Guard.”

The Prince strutted confidently before of his companion, and his eyes were focused directly ahead.  There was no way the bastard would see Kantal; even less recognise him.  They’d had no contact in twenty cycles, and the dull dislike for the man was turning ever sourer.  It was this man’s fault he was stuck here.

And the bastard had his sword.

“You know what I mean.  My father is an embattled war veteran.  I am a raw pup.  I need to see the blood, and I need to see the horror of the Mandari war machine.  How else am I to succeed as a ruler?”

They were in line with him, strutting past like superior peacocks.  The bastards.

“Morning Kantal.  I trust you are well?”

He was, quite literally, blown dumb.  The words stuttered from his throat, like alien entities, and the apathy melted back to mild distaste.

“Y-y-y-es, my lord.”

“Not lord, Kantal – colonel.”  He hadn’t looked at him once, but he didn’t need to.  His companion offered a spiteful glance, but it didn’t matter.  He had been recognised by the senior man.  He might have actually smiled.

“Back to work, Kantal.”

Appreciation over; it was fleeting, but thoroughly enjoyable.

The two senior officers then proceeded to have a protracted argument while they adorned their polished appearance with the final immaculate touches.  The Prince came over and took the boots off Kantal, complimenting him on his work – he was a clever bugger – before returning to his increasingly vocal companion.  It was only when the junior officer’s voice was thoroughly raised that he could make out the detail.

“It’s madness!  You can’t beat a Mandahoi.”

The words left him before he could rein them in.  He didn’t even believe them; at least he didn’t think he believed them yet.  “Yes you can.”

He found himself stroking the priceless book in his inner pocket, and he thought he might understand.  It was his self-ascribed purpose after all, so why not start here?  After all, anything was better than shining stuff, wasn’t it?

The two officers looked sternly in his direction, but he did not meet their eyes.  He was struggling internally to make sense of the trajectory he just set himself upon.

“Kantal?  You’ve never argued that truth before.”

The other officer seemed to sense an injustice, and laid the obvious bullied path.  “My Prince, you do not speak to this filth.  He had no right to speak.  This boy will be―”

“Boy?  He is the same age as I am.  Am I a boy, captain?”

The captain spluttered just as Kantal turned to face his shadow – the Prince.  Why was it that their fates were seemingly entwined?  He was not complaining.  His Prince asked once more.

“You’ve never disagreed before, Kantal.  Why would you say that now?”

Because he was an idiot – that was why.  You couldn’t beat a Mandahoi; it was a universal truth.  True enough, Mandahoi died like any other, and in the complex front of a battle, Father Fortune was ruthless with his judgement; but beat a Mandahoi, one on one?  Never.

“Sorry sir.”

“It’s Prince to you―”

“Shut up captain.  What do you have to say, Kantal?”

But the truth was he had nothing to say – it may have been his self-appointed purpose, but he still didn’t know the path.  He looked about the room and took in the fine stonework; the oiled wood; the polished metal – so much polish.  And such a nice weapon staring back at him from the Prince’s side.  He had an idea.

“They die like the rest of us.  Give a practised man a Mandari edge, and with the Father in his court, he may just succeed.  They are fast, but they are human.”

The captain clearly disagreed.  He spat as he dismissed the idea.  “Pah; Mandari steel is second rate.  They are freakish ghouls; that’s what makes them so potent.  It’s like fighting a ghost.”

The Prince stood, and smoothly removed the steel from its home.  Kantal lusted as he looked upon the thing his hands had made.  The folding caused the blade to reflect glorious patterns – like she was burning.

“Offer your fine Delfinian steel, captain.”

The other ticked his gaze between the two men, astonished by his Prince’s show and disgusted by Kantal’s interference.  Eventually he stood and swept out a length of dull grey steel.

“It is Gorfinian.”

The Prince nodded, then swept his own weapon back, before pushing it forward.  The Gorfinian steel – some of the finest metal in the world – was cleaved clean in half.  The Prince smirked.

“This is Mandari steel, but more than that;it was Delfinian made.  And by him.”  His hand pointed out Kantal, and the ever so tearful captain chewed his lip.

“Sorry sir.”  He was clearly at a loss for what was going on, but the loss of his fine steel was worse.  In all honesty, the fact that it sheared as it did suggested it was a fake, but Kantal was not about to ruin the Prince’s exhibition.

“Mandari steel is the finest not because it has the purest raw materials – it doesn’t.  It is the finest because it is infused with love of perfection.  It is infused with the gift of time, and time, captain, is the ultimate scarce resource.”

A part of Kantal wanted to believe that he’d read that somewhere, but he knew he hadn’t.  It was beautiful.

And time was a scarce resource.  And he was wasting his time here.  That was surely why he’d made the impossible claim.

“Sir – let me come with you.”

He didn’t even know where ‘where’ was, but anything was better than this infuriating stagnation.  He had enjoyed showing Beef up again, but that had been one exhibition almost a year back.  It was not a reason to stay.

“Yes – I think you should.  You seem to be wasted here.”

YES!  His relationship with this prince was ever confounding, but it seemed to yield unexpected results.  Presumably the Prince got something out of it too?

Kantal gulped.  Perhaps that was still to come.

“Come, Kantal.  Let’s see if we can equip you for the future.”

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