The Blacksmith pulled hard on the anvil, turning it on its base so he could shape the horseshoe as needed. He grabbed the three-foot tongs, and dug the end into the hot coals of the furnace. Groping around for a moment, he brought out the red-hot horseshoe. He blew on the glowing metal before grabbing the five-pound sledge. He slowly tapped on the horseshoe, raised the hammer into the air, and then slammed it down repeatedly on the flat side. He shaped it as it cooled, and soon, he had it right before he dipped it into the water, sending boiling steam into the air.
The smith stood little more than five feet tall and his weight settled around his middle. He was covered in grimy sweat, and his clothes smelled like a rotted corpse in the noon day sun. His straw colored hair and beard covered a wrinkled face that had done its share of living.
He pulled the horseshoe from the water, and examined it. "Looks all right! This one will do!" He threw the shoe onto the table behind him. He reached for another bar and tossed it into the coals.
Out of the corner of his vision he saw the figure silhouetted against the doorway. He gave the intruder an exhausted growl. "Anything you give me today, won't be ready till tomorrow . . . friend . . . " he grunted. " . . . only smith in the village."
The man stood motionless in the door, as the smith picked up the shoe from the table, and walked over to the horse in the stall. He bent over and raised the horse's right rear leg, and held the shoe to the bottom of the hoof. His eye had not faltered, the shoe was almost perfect. Close enough to work. The smith looked up at the silhouette standing in the doorway. A puff of smoke escaped from the stranger's mouth. The smith walked back over to the coals, and stoked the brazier once again. He turned to the doorway. The man standing there had not moved. "Can I help you Friend?" he asked irritably. The man in the doorway slowly stepped into the light before raising his head enough for the smith to make out his features.
"COULTER!" the smith shouted. He dropped his tools and practically ran to embrace the man. Coulter met his the bear hug with good-natured slapping and patting. The two started laughing when Coulter could no longer hold his breath against the little smith's stench.
"Never needed any help from the likes of you before now." Coulter sarcastically answered.
"Not till your butt was in a sling, and you needed me to pull it out for you!" The two laughed heartily. "God's Teeth man, where in hell have you been? This calls for a celebration!" the smith shouted. He turned to the cabinet on the shelf, and pulled out a huge jug. "I made this myself, just poured it this morning." He produced tankards, poured two generous portions, then thrust one into Coulter's gloved hand.
The two toasted, simultaneously shouting "Bugger Off!" then they both swallowed a huge mouth full of the cheap liquor. Coulter almost immediately gagged at the vile liquid. It seemed to burn before it touched his lips. Almost coughing, he saw his friend take the liquid in stride. Nobody could drink like Tyler.
"It's been a long time, Tyler. I see you finally open your own business." Coulter said as he sniffed at the home made brew. "You're looking very well."
Tyler lowered the tankard, slapping his belly. "Yeah? How can you tell?" He laughed and swallowed another mouth full of the swill. "Well here, sit, rest, talk! More Glaak?" Before Coulter could protest, Tyler filled his tankard again.
The two men spoke for a moment about old times, about captured treasures, and squandered evenings. They remembered their days in the forest when they stole the alchemist's cookbook, and gathered the raw materials for their first explosive device. They remembered how flawlessly it blew the front door off of the Captain of the Guard's stockade. They remembered how the horses stampeded through Blackpool's rose garden. And how Prince Dirk, at ten years old, was wearing a black outfit made of Chinese silk. The young prince had to explain how he fell in the manure pile while evading the thundering horde of stallions. The prince had no conception of who was responsible, and indeed did not even know that Coulter and Tyler existed.
They laughed as only two old friends could. Then came the moment of silence when they sat staring into the distance, grinning.
"Have you ever seen Astrid since the . . . "
"No!" Coulter almost barked, but restrained himself. " . . . no, not since that day."
"Do you think she..."
"She's dead." Coulter took another caustic mouthful. "I'm certain she's dead."
The two friends sat looking at each other. They were both thinking how time had changed them since their childhood. They remembered their parents, about growing up in Asgard City, and how they swore undying loyalty to one another in a child's blood ceremony. With Counter's adventures, and Tyler's travels, they were the only two surviving friends they had.
"So, my old friend . . . " Tyler smiled "To what do I owe the honor of your visit, and what brings you here to Dunfirm?"
Coulter put down his tankard, and produced two cigars. He lit one, then lit the other with the first. He then handed it to his friend who took it and drew deeply at it, smiling and savoring it's cheap aroma. "I need your help with something."
Tyler gasped before laughing. "Coulter, Look at me. I'm outrageously overweight! The days of my scaling walls and doing battle are ended. How in God's name could I help you?" Coulter drew in on the cigar, and reached over to his friend's shoulder. "Tyler, I'm a wanted man. Not here in Dunfirm, but my plans will change all that. I need a place to hide when the heat is on. I promise not to bring any soldiers here, and if I'm being chased, I won't come here. I just need to stay in your stable for a while. I'll be gone soon."
"Oh no you won't!" Tyler protested. "My best friend emerges from the world and he thinks that I won't insist he stays. Besides, I know you, you old Pyromaniac. If you have some sort of devious plan, it must mean three things." Tyler held up three fingers, and used the other hand to point at each to express his point. "One, it will involve some sort of Mayhem. Two, It will make people very angry with you, and Three . . . "
Coulter noticed a sparkle in his old friend's eye. "If you think I'm going to let you launch a vendetta against that spoiled brat, Prince Blackpool without MY help, then your time in the world has driven you certifiably insane!"
Coulter dropped his head as he silently laughed. "You know me well don't you, you old horse doctor."
Tyler snickered "Better than you do yourself."
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