It was dark when we finally reached the small town that signified the three fourths mark of our journey. It meant that after a short break, we would have about two or three days of hard riding left. The trip so far had been truly uneventful. The elf scared away all the orcs with his wrinkled face I bet.
We entered the town and made for the stable. I handed my reigns to a stable boy with a muttered,
"Have him ready in two hours."
Sigurd gave me a look and interposed.
"Actually friend, have him ready to go by tomorrow afternoon."
I swiveled towards the elf.
"Tomorrow? Do we have business here elf?"
"Yes actually we do my small friend. We must find you some new armor."
I looked down at myself, slightly taken aback.
"What is wrong with my armor?"
Sigurd gave me a wry glance as we turned to leave, "You are officially my aide Racieus. And the aide to an elf noble must not look like he was tossed down a mountain and into a sty of pigs."
I bristled, "I cannot get new armor Sigurd. That will throw off everything about my fighting style. You may not rely on balance quite as much as I, but you are a fighter and I expect you know what I mean."
He nodded. "I know halfling. Trust me. I have thought this all through and I believe I have it all sorted out."
After walking in silence for a few moments, I began to pick up the clanging of metal on metal. I still was behind my objections that I had made to the elf, but I could not deny how much I wanted Elvish made armor. They were second only to the dwarves in the quality of their craftsmanship, but their intricate detail nearly made up for what little skill they lacked.
We made it to the smith’s shop, and Sigurd respectfully waited outside until the smith had finished his task and turned to greet us in the common tongue.
“Welcome! My name is Frithlyn. How may I offer my service?”
Sigurd bowed before the man and I followed suite. When he straightened back up, he launched into a detailed description of what I needed.
At least… that’s what I think he did. He had switched the conversation over to Elvish so I was quite lost.
When Sigurd had finished, the smith rubbed his chin thoughtfully and gave my friend a a response. It seemed to be satisfactory, because Sigurd smiled and turned to me.
“I will have to ask you to turn you armor over to Frithlyn here.” He saw my objections and continued hastily to avoid them, “Hear me small one. Instead of making you an entirely new set, Frithlyn is going to simply adjust what you have. Not only will this save us a week’s worth of time, but he said that he will be able to keep the weight and balance just about to what you’re used to. Is that agreeable to you?”
I didn’t like being un-equipped, but I saw that I had little choice in the matter. I nodded and unbuckled my armor. As I grudgingly handed them over, the smith smiled and said,
“Worry not master Halfling. I will work quickly in order to have you prepared as soon as is possible.”
I mumbled my thanks and followed Sigurd to our lodging. We did little more that night.
I was up at dawn the next morning and woke Sigurd with my pacing. When he started to throw things at me, I took the hint and went outside. I could once again here the clang of metal on metal, but this was not the ring of craftsman.
It was the ring of a fighter.
By Frithlyn’s estimation, the alterations would be ready by just after noon. That gave me a few hours to kill, and what better way to let time fly than by watching a fight?
I made my way down a path that eventually led to a small arena. Two elves were sparring in it, their movements fluid and graceful. I watched for quite a while, before one of them noticed me and stepped away from his opponent. He spoke in elvish to his friend and the two of them laughed. I didn’t need to know elvish to tell that he had mocked me.
I may not have had my armor, but I still had my weapons, and as I rolled under the fence and into the ring, the laughing stopped. The two stared at me in utter disbelief that I would attempt such a thing. I expected as much. Not many hobbits were skilled fighters. It was obvious the two applied that stereotype to me.
I drew a dagger and pointed it at the one who had made the joke. He raised his eyebrows, but nodded to his companion who stepped out of the ring.
“Are you sure you wish to do this small one?” called out the elf.
I smiled grimly and nodded.
“Then let us begin.”
The elf leapt at me, curved sword swing in a slow arc that grossly underestimated my skill. I ducked under it and spun, rapping the elf’s wrist with the hilt of one of my blades, and knocked his feet out from under him.
I stepped away with a twirl of my blades as the elf stood and brushed himself on. There was surprise in his eyes. He leapt at me again, but this time with a feint and swing that I managed to turn aside with my knives. He kicked out at me with a long leg, and I leaned back to let it pass through the space where my head had been. The kick had been followed up with a jab that I had not seen and I took a small cut on my shoulder.
If the elf expected me to stop at that, he was mistaken. I grinned and launched myself back at him.
I had lost track of how long we fought, but we were interrupted by a familiar voice.
“Racieus! I should have known you would be showing off. Come. We must pick up your armor and leave. We do not want to get behind schedule.”
While I had been distracted, my opponent had attempted to knock me over with a charge. I allowed myself to fall under the elf’s tackle, and then turned my descent into a backwards somersault. I was on my feet in a second, and flipped the elf’s sword into my hand with my foot, pinning his shirt to the ground with it.
I followed Sigurd away and turned to look back only once at the elf who had just gotten up and was looking after me with awe and respect.
“Just as it should be.” I muttered to myself.
“What was that?” asked Sigurd.
As soon as my armor was back on my body, we were off again. I kept looking down at myself as we rode, to admire my perfected protection. It had been colored even blacker than before, and was etched with gold and silver in places. The smith apologized about the difference in weight, but after putting it on, I assured it was no problem. It weighed hardly anything. I could move just as well as if I had nothing on but a shirt and breeches.
Sigurd noticed my admiration and started to make yet another smug comment when his horse kicked up on its hind legs and whinnied.
“What’s wrong elf?”
“We are being-“
An arrow thudded into the ground next to him.
It was an ambush.
I leapt off my horse as the first few orcs appeared on the path in front and behind us. Their faces were set in snarls and gleeful smiles. They were probably hoping to rob a helpless rich man.
They were actually about to die.
“Front or back halfing?” muttered Sigurd.
“Front.” I whispered back.
I dove sideways off the path and into the darkness. My armor wouldn’t give me away even to someone who was standing right next to me. I creapt through the brush until I had passed the orcs on the road in front of us, then I pulled myself up a tree and creapt out over top the group dark spawn.
Even when I dropped into the middle of them, they hardly had a clue where I was. It was only once bodies started dropping that they recognized me.
But by that point it was too late.