|“Very well,” says Perilous Jack.|
“In the interest of uniting our families and repairing some of the damage done by our fathers, I will accompany you in the spring – provided you are willing to give your brother a fair hearing. I will not be party to the useless and bloody infighting of siblings, any more than I was party to the useless and bloody infighting of our fathers.”
“Your insistence on fairness only heightens my certainty that you are the right man,” Falconfury says with a grave nod. “I will call on your father’s castle when the first snowbells have begun to fade.”
The two knights clasp hands. From his tunic, Falconfury draws a cobalt blue ribbon embroidered with the crest of his family. “A token. I have friends still who will give assistance to any brother knight displaying this sign. Perhaps it will be of use to you someday. Now then, on with the merchandise.”
The Baron’s son digs into his treasure chest and pulls forth an armload of strange objects; heaps of steel rods tipped with intricate connecting joints, oddly shaped canisters bristling with wires and hoses, a pair of oversized claw bracers, a pair of armored boots tipped with blunt digging claws. Lying in a heap on the blanket, it looks like nothing more than the shattered skeleton of a steel demon – and with a shock, Jack realizes that his impression is likely correct. This is a mechanism of some kind, a disassembled machine man.
“A Mech Warrior,” Falconfury proclaims. “Obviously it is incomplete. The skin is missing – stolen by thieves who got there before I did – not that that makes me any less a thief,” he adds with a slightly sheepish grin. “Very likely the skin was ornate, engraved with the sigil of the wizard who built it or the crest of the noble house that commissioned it, maybe gilded or studded with gems – fairly common, I’m told – and so it would be of more interest to your common thief. However, I can guarantee that the skeleton and all the motive organs are intact and functional. All one needs is an appropriate skin to protect the delicate working parts – a fine suit of armor would suffice, if it were built to exact measurements.”
Before Jack can reply, Falconfury turns and dives back into the treasure chest, this time coming out with an armload of small metal figurines. “This is how I’m certain the Mech Warrior works,” he says with a wink. He lays the figurines out in a row. They are tiny metal models of gnomes, each no taller than a foot. The workmanship is exquisite; delicately featured faces, each different from the next, each outfit different and detailed down to the engraving on the buttons. The gnomes each wear tool belts and bandoliers equipped with tiny but evidently durable and precise tools. Each gnome is painted in different color schemes, although the paint is worn away in many areas, particularly where slight dents mar the metal skin. A wind-up knob projects from the back of all but one or two gnomes.
“Clockwork Men!” Falconfury cries. “A little worse for wear – a couple missing wind-up knobs, but you can borrow them from the others and put them back. Also a few missing tools, but if the Men have access to raw ore and a forge, they can fabricate replacements. They’re the ones who reassembled the Mech Warrior for me. I’ll make you a good deal if you want both the Mech Warrior and the Clockwork Men. Probably best to have them both, in case the Mech Warrior is damaged.”
“Er, no thanks,” Jack begins, but Falconfury turns away again before he can answer. He turns back with a strange shield cradled in his arms.
“I know the machines are a bit outlandish,” he says. “So here’s something more practical.” He passes the shield to Jack, who accepts it uncertainly. The shield appears to be made of baked clay, sculpted in a rather crude abstract relief, and painted with garish colors. Jack cannot imagine how such an item could survive being dropped, let alone the ferocious storm of combat.
“It’s magical, of course,” says Falconfury. “Otherwise it would never survive battle. Harder than steel, and lighter, too. Plus it grants the wearer a certain amount of resistance to poison and disease. It’s not the Aegis of Zeus, but it beats a tavern chair. Besides,” he notes with what is nearly a puppyish smile, “I notice you don’t have a shield at all.”
Jack turns the thing over, examining it with new eyes. “No,” he muses. “I had a good shield until a month ago. I, er, dropped it into a volcano.” (See Perilous Jack and the Secret of Fumarole Bay)
Falconfury shrugs. “It happens to everyone. I had a sword once – loved that sword – but I lost it in the middle of a huge battle in Winter’s Palace. I was captain of the Ghostchaser – that’s an iceskidder, lad – and we were fighting berserkers on bear cavalry. I thrust the blade down the throat of an ice bear, thinking I had killed it. The thing swallowed my sword, nearly bit my arm off, and ran away, apparently none the worse for wear. Never found it again.”
Jack can’t afford the Clockwork Men or the Mech Warrior.
If you think he should buy the Clay Shield, remember to deduct the gold from his equipment sheet and add the Shield to the ‘Left Hand’ slot. Be sure to add Alton’s Ribbon to the Pouch of Ghrul.