Brisbain, the trapper, was a wiry badger of a man with beady black eyes and an elongated sniffer. His fur cloak was patchworked from the hides of squirrels, rabbits and prairie dogs, many with the heads still attached. It writhed and cavorted as he sauntered toward Kadav, appendages flailing about as if trying to pull free from their stitches. In addition, he wore a necklace of assorted fangs, claws and beaks that produced a sound like a rattlesnake.
The trapper drew a bone-hilted knife, flipped it over to hold it by the blade, and cast it in the mayor’s direction. The blade whizzed past his leg to strike a hard object behind him. Metal jaws snapped shut with a loud retort that sent echoes ringing through the forest.
“Wouldn’t want you to step on one of them bear traps,” the trapper said. “It’d crush your ankle like a walnut.”
“There are bears out here?” Kadav said, a bit shaken.
“Don’t know,” the trapper shrugged, causing a commotion amongst the tiny corpses. “Never tried catching bear in these woods before. But if the size of the trees is any sign, I’d expect they’d be big.”
“Shouldn’t you be working on the trigger mechanism?”
“Shouldn’t you be at the work camp overseeing things?” rejoined the trapper.
“I came out here looking for you,” Kadav lied. “Thought I’d check up on how the trigger mechanism was coming along.”
The trapper’s rodent-like eyes contracted. “Ain’t got no levers, springs, braces, brackets or screws. How do you think it’s coming?”
Kadav rubbed one corner of his mouth, trying to conceal his irritation. Brisbain was the only man in town with the mechanical know-how to build the giant trigger. He was also intractable, quick to take offense, and a bit wild in the head. “Have you given the blacksmith a list of the items you require?”
“Of course I ain’t. If I had, he’d have lost it already.”
Kadav had to admit he had a point. “Give me the list. I’ll see that you get everything you need.”
“You want a list. I want four crowns. We all want something, don’t we, mayor?” The trapper turned his back to squat beside the sprung trap, leaving the mayor to negotiate terms with his taxidermic coat.
“Four crowns?” Kadav was outraged. “But that’s twice our agreement.”
Brisbain pried open the metal jaws and held up a gray-green slab. “Would you just look at this moldy old steak. Only a few days old and already gone rancid. Kind of like our agreement, wouldn’t you say?”
“Three crowns,” Kadav countered. “But only after the dragon’s been slain.”
The trapper flipped over the steak and reset the trap. “Rumor has it that once we kill this here dragon, there’ll be fountains a’spouting perfume. Can you picture such a thing?”
“Pah, women! You know what sort of crazy talk they get up to.”
“Crazy indeed. I sure as hells ain’t got no use for a perfume fountain. Can’t fish in it, see. But four pieces of gold, now that would be a right boon to my situation.”
“I told you, I don’t know anything about any rutting perfume!”
Brisbain flashed a badger-like grin. “Know what else you don’t know anything about? Trigger mechanisms.”
“All right, all right.” Kadav inwardly cursed the trapper. “You’ll get your four crowns. Two now and two when the work is done. And that’s my final final offer.”
“Why, that’s mighty generous of you, mayor,” Brisbain said. “But I better ask Tweeky here what he thinks.”
“Tweeky? Who’s Tweeky?”
The trapper turned to address a fresh-looking possum-head perched atop his left shoulder. “What do you say, Tweeky? Is four gold enough for all our toil and labors? We could catch us a lot of beavers in the time it takes to build this here boondoggle.”
“I don’t see no gold,” Tweeky answered in a high falsetto, his head bobbing up and down to the motion of the trapper’s thumb.
“Tweeky says he don’t see no gold,” said the trapper. “And Tweeky don’t believe in what he cain’t see.”
“You’ll get your gold,” Kadav snapped. “Just bring me that list.” A movement in the forest caught his eye. “What’s that?”
“Looks like a bear but ain’t near so smart as one,” Tweeky squeaked.
The figure moved out into the open, clearly identifiable from its size and the blank, puzzled expression it wore.
Rhojë’s beard! Kadav swore to himself. First Brisbain and now this. With a parting scowl at the trapper, he rushed to intercept the smith. “What in Orduvan’s name are you doing out here? The smithy’s going to be over by the river where we unloaded your paraphernalia.” He pointed out the direction.
The smith wrung his large hands together. “You haven’t seen my poker around, have you? I seem to have mislaid it.”
“No, I haven’t bloody seen it. What in Ord’s name do you need a poker for anyway?”
“To stir up the coals when they need a-freshening.”
“Oh, right. Because we can’t bloody well have our coals going stale on us, can we?”
Kadav took a deep breath. Arguing with the smith was an exercise in futility. Half the time he couldn’t even remember his own name. “Guess we better find you a new poker then. Come on.” Placing a hand on the smith’s boulder-like shoulder, he guided him back to the work site. “Here, I have just the thing for you. Do you know what this is?” He seized a shovel that was lying on the ground.
“A shovel?” the smith answered uncertainly.
“Not just any shovel. This here is a newfangled poker shovel. You stick it into the fire like this,” he demonstrated. “And turn it over like this. And you can freshen up those coals all day long.”
The smith’s eyes widened as he accepted the instrument. “A poker shovel,” he repeated, committing the words to memory. “I don’t remember ever seeing no poker shovel before.”
“I don’t suppose you would. Say, why don’t we go have a look at how the new smithy is coming along.”
The makeshift smithy was only a ten-minute walk from the main construction, but even at that distance it was proving difficult to oversee properly. When they arrived at the site, Kadav’s worst fears were confirmed. Materials were scattered about on the ground where they had been dumped that morning: a large anvil, pails of coal, vices, tongs, an improvised slag tub and irregular lumps of smelted iron.
“Why, you haven’t done a cursed thing,” Kadav fumed.
“I polished the anvil,” Argon said proudly, rubbing a finger over its smooth face. “See, no soot.”
“Well, that’s just bleeding brilliant! Because we would hate to get our hands dirty, wouldn’t we? I thought we were building a smithy not a gods-damned bathhouse! Youch!” He tripped over a loose brick, painfully wrenching his ankle.
“Watch your step there, mayor. Them bricks ain’t been set yet.”
“Where is Lueker, that lazy bastard?” A quick search turned up the stonemason’s apprentice napping cozily with his head on a sack. “What in the seven hells is the meaning of this?” He kicked him awake.
Lueker back-crabbed on his palms and heels. An outraged mayor was not a pleasant sight to wake up to. “Lum, lum,” he mumbled unintelligibly. “S’posed ta come on tha nex’ car’. Canna make mortah without lum.”
Lime, Kadav translated to himself. Not that it mattered. If it wasn’t lime it would be something else. “And I can’t make a dragon-trap with bleeding idiots.”
Angry as he was, Kadav knew it wasn’t fair to blame Lueker and Argon for the current state of affairs. Lueker was deft and lazy while Argon was bull-strong and forgetful. Asking them to be any different was like asking a skunk to change its stripes. Back in town, they never worked alone. Lueker’s master, Beliose, was a militaristic taskmaster that couldn’t place two bricks in a row owing to a shaking condition he had contracted after a lengthy bout of flu. Argon’s apprentice, Tumbock, was scrawny of muscle but nimble of mind. In their proper pairs, the teams were quick and effective; apart, they were like handleless hammer heads, utterly useless. Unfortunately, both Tumbock and Beliose were firmly in the priest’s camp, leaving Kadav to manage Argon and Lueker on his own.
“On your feet!” he barked at the derelict mason. “If the lime isn’t coming to you, then by Rho, we’ll take you to it!”
“Mayor,” the smith said. “What should I do?”
Kadav considered. “Now what would Tumbock do?” He hadn’t meant to ask the question aloud but to his surprise the smith answered readily.
“S’pose he would do an inventory,” Argon said. “See what were had and what were missing and what were needed and all. And if it weren’t had, then he’d find or borrow one. Then he’d get things all organized so as nothing gets lost. Always put tools where they belong, and you’ll never have to look for long. That’s what Tumbock always says.”
“Yes, do that.” Kadav said. And to his great amazement, that was just what the smith set about doing.