Chapter 24 – Brotherly Malice (1)

The following morning, Hamelin got out of bed as late as possible. He had stayed out for a long time, showing the old apothecary the range of products which he would use to cripple the Duns’ minor drug-operation.

The most important, however, was the water purifier. He knew from his old life that threatening the water supply of human towns was the most effective way of crippling the enemy. Armies, as well, needed a massive amount of fresh water in order to operate properly, and often succumbed to dysentery during long encampments or sieges, where hygiene was not properly observed.

In Hamelin’s experience, anything that could improve warfare was a goldmine, and thus it made sense to aim the product at the army. However, he first needed to establish its use, to which Temon would be an excellent staging area.

Although fresh water was readily available in town, through wells and the river that bend around it, water was also a bland drink, without much taste. Hence, the importance a brewery played, even in such a small town as Tremon.

Drinking ale rather than water at the midday meal was common, especially among the townsfolk, since it added taste and cleansed the palate more effectively than water. However, it also meant that most townsfolk would go around their daily routines in a less-than-optimal, tipsy state. The clerks would make small mistakes in their arithmetic, the porter would slip and break the items they were carrying, and the peasants would mishandle their tools, resulting in damages or injuries.

Enter his product; with added herbs for taste, and a minor dosage of caffeine for a pick-me-up, his product was easily accessible, ease to use, and could ale as spice to the meal. Once he had made its use common in Tremon, he could expand the business and eventually target mercenary bands and lords.

Until then, it would also serve as a powerful, legitimate front for his more dubious back-door dealings, once everyone started using it.

Grinning as he foresaw a bright future ahead of himself, Hamelin snuck downstairs for his breakfast, managing to avoid every servant on the way. Having only to deal with the cook, Hamelin began his first feast of the day.

He was trying to plan out how, and where, he would steal some shut-eye and avoid everyone on the manor, when the door to the kitchen burst open, and Heston marched in with a grin on his face. “I thought you’d be here, weakling,” he said, approaching Hamelin and grabbing him by the arm, “We have swordsmanship lessons now, and you’re going to attend.”

“I’m not—” Hamelin tried to protest, a spoonful of food in his mouth, but Heston ignored him. Grabbing his arm, Heston forcefully dragged him out, which was only possible because Hamelin did not want to reveal his true strength.

Out in the manor courtyard, Wayne and Mosel stood waiting on them, beside lord Whitter himself, standing erect as a pillar and observing the two late-comers. The Whitter house had no real guards, only a few servants who collected extra pay for training their martial skill, provided they had proved their loyalty and dedication in the past.

Thus, it fell on the lord of the house to teach his sons the art of combat. Lord Whitter pointed to the wooden swords that hung on a nearby rack. “Pick your weapon, and stand opposite your opponent. Heston with Wayne; Mosel, you will show your brother.”

The three older sons nodded, while Hamelin just looked sleepily up at the giant that was his father. He thought he had managed to disappoint the man to such a degree that he had given up, but apparently the recent discussion about Hamelin’s future had made the man reconsider.

“You will participate as well, Hamelin,” His father said, voice stern.

Sighing inwardly, Hamelin did was he was asked, and accepted the weapon that Mosel offered him. He then took a feeble position opposite his slightly older brother, making sure that his stance was off and weakening his balance.

“No, no, no. You hold the sword with both hands in front of you, tip pointed towards the heart of your enemy,” lord Whitter said, correcting Hamelin’s stance, “Feet apart, just like this, one in front of the other; you have to be able to move as easily backward as you can forward.”

At the side, Heston snickered while he squared off against Wayne. Although three years younger, Heston had been able to best Wayne since young, and prided himself on how easily these lessons came to him.

“Now, Mosel, show him the first series.”

Mosel nodded and initiated a slow, sideways cut. Clumsily, Hamelin parried, then responded late when Mosel changed up the blade and cut to the opposite side. Finally, Mosel raised his sword, having disrupted Hamelin’s make-shift defense, and let the sword drop. Stopping only just above Hamelin’s face, Mosel finished by looking up at his father, expecting praise.

“Fool! Don’t lose sight of your opponent, even if you’ve managed a strike.” Instead, he received a reprimand and a strike across the back with lord Whitter’s cane.

Inwardly, Hamelin nodded. Finally, at least a hint of a proper education. The education among vexen was much more focused on the stick, and Hamelin could appreciate its use when training vital fighting skills.

The tears of pain, which Mosel tried desperately to repress, however, made Hamelin frown. How did this little man expect his opponents to deal with him if he lost focus in battle? Better he learned his lesson now, than lose limb or life on the field.

“Now you, Hamelin. Do it like Mosel showed you.”

Gritting his teeth, Hamelin took up the sword and tried to imitate the movements with as many flaws as possible. He had never taken to the sword, even in his former life, and yet he still had to make an effort to appear as clumsy as possible.

cut, change-up, cut, raise and strike. Every movement was slow and full of openings, leaving lord Whitter to sigh and shake his head. “No, you’re swings are too large. Again.”

Hiding his rolling eyes, Hamelin tried again, this time adjusting the swing ever so slightly. Just as he was finishing the second cut, however, he was interrupted by a stray swing from the other sparring fight.

Heston’s sword came flying out of nowhere. Hamelin saw the move coming from miles away, but knew that blocking it would be a mistake. Instead, he feigned a stumble toward it, before it reached full force, and then hunched his shoulders.

The blow, which was aimed at his side, instead deflected off his shoulder, rushing just past his ear. With a dramatic fling, Hamelin  threw his head to the side, as if the blow had landed square on his temple, then fell to the ground.

Blinking, he waited the obligatory moment it would take for his young mind to realize the pain, then bawled his eyes out.

“Heston! What evil is this? Why did you strike down Hamelin?!”

“Huh? No… No, I didn’t mean to!” Heston said, his voice strangely desperate. Hamelin knew his brother had only meant to tease him by striking him in the ribs, but with this marvelous display of acting, the second oldest Whitter would be forced to explain himself.

Rolling around on the ground, holding his head while screaming his lungs out, Hamelin sneaked a peak at his older brother, who had thrown away his weapon and was now reaching out to try and soothe his supposed victim.

Before he could reach Hamelin, though, lord Whitter grabbed his arm and pushed Heston away. “I have ignored your comments lately, for although cruel, you have not overstepped. This time, I will not let it slide. Go to your room, Heston, and think on your actions. I will call on you to explain yourself and receive punishment this afternoon.”

“But—”

“Go! Now!”

Head hanging, Heston walked back to the manor, pausing only briefly to take a look at Hamelin with concern in his eyes. Putting on his act a little thicker made the young man look away in a hurry, ears as red as glowing coals.

Serves you right, Hamelin thought, snickering on the inside, Teach you not to mess with me.