Oren

In the pleasant village of Oren, in the mountainous kingdom of Terr, all was as it has always been. The locals were prosperous, having fertile land and strong cattle for farmers, and the surrounding mountains gave the miners and blacksmith plenty of rich materials to harvest and refine. The forest was filled with strong trees, which the villagers used to make equally sturdy homes and wagons. A stream ran down one of the mountains, which, in addition to being the village's main source of clear water, proved to be a invaluable source of power for the miller.

Oren rested at the foot of the mountains, just below the king's city of Altus, the impenetrable home of the Terr Knights. Every year, the village sent gifts of crops, fine beasts, and refined gold from the mines, and the king in turn established an outpost in Oren where a small faction of knights abode to protect the town from bandits and wild beasts.

This morning began like all the others, with the town awaking to the ringing of the blacksmith's hammer, signaling to the other villagers that it was once again time to open their doors for business. In Oren, the people lived in peace, lending a hand to those in need. The blacksmith worked hard to provide the farmers with strong tools, the farmers tirelessly grew corn and wheat for the miller's use, the miller ground the corn and wheat into flour for the baker, and the baker and his wife produced most of the village's bread. The blacksmith's older sons worked with many of the men in the mines, searching for precious materials in the mountains. On this particular morning, the blacksmith's sons were preparing to leave for the mines as they usually did.

"We probably won't be back until just before sundown." the oldest of the blacksmith's sons announced as he gathered his tools. He stood tall, nearly seven feet in height, and his slick, blond hair shone in the sun. He dressed in a large, plain tunic, one that's color had long since faded to a dull black from the coal of the mines. "Of course, we'd be done sooner if it weren't for these faulty tools."

"Peter, you know that we save the best tools for the other villagers." the second son corrected. He was visibly shorter, barely six feet tall, and his bright red hair curved over his forehead, stopping just above his eyebrows. His clothes were similarly worn, but the knees of his clothes were permanently stained black, showing how hard he worked in the mines. "That's been our family code. We never waste tools, and we never sell anything that isn't in good condition."

"I know!" Peter huffed. "It's just that we won't be able to bring in any good ores with inferior picks like these."

"You don't like my work, Peter?" The young man's father added. "Well, if you don't think the tools I gave you are adequate, then perhaps you should just stay here today and learn how to make your own." The smith himself was a man of great stature. He was as tall as Peter, but his muscles were much more developed than those of his sons. His skin was also much darker than either of his sons, tanned by the fires that burned almost constantly. His hair was a darker shade of blond than Peter's, but that was a result of his constant sweating over his forge. His dark green apron was drenched in the sweat of many days of dedicated labor, and a stern glare accompanied his already intimidating figure.

"He didn't mean it like that, Father!" The younger son responded in Peter's defense. "You work hard to make these tools."

"I know, Eli." the man sighed. "but my decision still stands. After all, Peter will be inheriting my place in the shop as my eldest, and if he wants to make sure he has a sturdy tool, the best way to get it is to make it himself."

"You're joking." Peter chuckled, before recognizing the scowl on his father's face. "Oh, no. You're serious."

"Don't worry, Peter. I can take care of things in the mines by myself today." Eli reassured the two. "I'll just take some extra oil and come back with the late-night miners."

"They haven't left yet, have they?" a woman's voice called from the inside of the house. Eli's mother stopped at the doorway with two boxed lunches, wrapped up in a sturdy cloth. She was noticeably leaner than her husband, but she was by no means weak. Her red hair was mostly concealed by her bonnet, so she could prepare the food without worrying about her hair ruining the dishes. "You two aren't going anywhere without taking something to eat!"

"Only Eli's going to the mines today." Eli's father informed his wife. "But he's probably going to miss supper, so go ahead and give him both, Laura."

"Both?" Peter groaned.

"You aren't getting anything to eat until you can make a good tool or the sun sets, whichever happens to come first." the blacksmith said with a slight chuckle. "Besides, if you get it right on the first try, you'll get your lunch before long." He let out a hearty laugh again until a man in a dark green tunic approached the house. "Well, it looks like Sir Fredericks is here, Eli. Are you all set to go?"

"Wait!" one more voice came from the house, this time from the second floor window. Hanging outside the window was the youngest of the smith's family, a small boy no older than eleven years of age. His blond hair was bright like his brother's, but unlike Peter's, was incredibly messy and windblown. Without warning, the boy leaped from the window, rand down the sloped roof, and jumped into his father's waiting arms. "Are you going in the mines today, Eli? If you see any more of those shiny rocks, will you bring them home?"

"Shiny rocks?" Fredericks blurted. "These wouldn't be emeralds or rubies, would they?"

"Um…Diamonds, actually." Eli answered honestly. "I suppose that they need to go to Altus too?"

"Hmm…" Fredericks studies the expressions on Eli and his family's faces. It wasn't until he saw the almost heartbroken look on the youngest child's face that he decided to answer. "Well, the most valuable gems are supposed to go to the king, but I suppose I can let this go. After all, with all the mountains in the area, what are a few diamonds anyway?"

"Yay!" the child was happily flailing in his father's arms. "Find a big one, Eli!"

"Sure thing, Luke." Eli chuckled before picking up his tools and extra supplies. "I'm ready, sir."

"Peter's not coming today?" Fredericks questioned. "He doesn't look sick."

"He's spending the day learning the trade." the boys' father replied. "I'm not going to be the village smithy forever, and Peter here can't stand to work with tools unless he knows how dependable they are."

"I can agree with that, Asa." Fredericks guffawed, drawing his sword. "I feel the same way about my sword. If it weren't made by a dependable blacksmith like yourself, I'm not sure I could rely on it to protect the miners without a shield and armor to go with it. A blade of this make is enough to scare away most sensible bandits." He sheathed his sword, then glanced at an assortment of tools on the shelf. "It's a shame that you don't craft swords. Judging by the rest of your equipment, a sword like this would be nothing at all to you."

"Yes, well…" Asa coughed, shifting Luke to one arm. "I don't believe weapons is what this peaceful village needs. My tools are perfectly able to drive off wild predators, and the most dangerous tool I'd consider making is perhaps the hunter's knives. I know it's an inconvenience to you and the other knights, but that's just how it is here. If you need to borrow my grindstone for sharpening, however…"

"Perhaps later." Fredericks mused. "We've spent far too much time as it is. I can see the other miners at the gate from here."

"Ah, of course." Asa nodded. "Take care, Eli!"

"Bye! Bring back some of those die-mands!" Luke shouted.

"If you can make it home, Eli, I'll have your favorite meal waiting for you." Laura added.

"Eli! Take care in there. Even with the lanterns, it's still very dark!" Peter warned.

"Thank you, everyone. I'll be back as soon as I fill our quotas!" Eli responded. "And if I find a diamond, Luke, it's yours!" Eli and the knight waved goodbye and joined the rest of the men at the front gate of the village.

vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv

The men all kept quiet as they traversed the forest between the village and the dig site. In the middle of the train, Eli quietly watched the trees. As his eyes focused on a sudden movement, Sir Fredericks lightly patted him on the shoulder, spooking him. "You have a great family, Eli. While I don't agree with your father, I have to respect his stance."

"Yeah. Peter asked him why he doesn't make swords or other weapons on his twentieth birthday. Dad said that our uncle was a knight who got killed by his own sword. Dad made him that sword." Eli grew quieter as he spoke. "Either way, Dad just makes tools now, so that probably won't happen again."

"Oh." Fredericks gasped, slightly ashamed that he brought up such a painful topic. "All right, men. We have arrived, so you can start working whenever you are ready. Just let me know if anyone finds anything of great value or something that needs some extra muscle to bring out." At the command, most of the men, Eli included, quickly trudged into the mines to begin their work for the day.

vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv

Eli worked hard, gathering coal and ores for his quotas. He was forced to take frequent trips to the entrance to empty his findings into one of the supply wagons. After hours of the hard labor, Eli decided that it was time to take a break and eat something. In his first box were some biscuits and a cowskin flask filled with water. The water was warm by the time Eli put the flask to his lips, but it was still very soothing and refreshing to the tired young man. He watched as the other men began to follow his example and break for lunch as well. "Maybe I should have warned them that I have two lunches." Eli said to himself as he took another gulp of rehydrating water. "They won't like it when I have something else to eat later in the day." As he finished his meal, Eli stood up and stretched, preparing for more work in the mines. Just then, a loud explosion shook the mountain, causing rocks to fall from above. The men eating were fortunate enough to survive the falling rocks, but those still in the mines were trapped by the rubble.

"Oy! It looks like these Oren folk got themselves a bounty!" a rough voice growled from a ledge above the miners.

"What have you done?" Fredericks shouted at the ledge. It was then that Eli saw who started the rockslide, a lone bandit. His clothes were tattered, and he looked as if he hadn't bathed in days.

"Well, it looks like I just closed the mines." the bandit laughed back. "And if you want me to open it up again, it'll cost ya."

"He's bluffing. He has no weapons." Fredericks said quietly. "Clear the rubble, men. If this bandit is smart, he'll flee."

"I wouldn't do that if I was you, Oren-folk." the bandit warned. When the men ignored him, his temper began to flare. "I warned ya. Take a look at yer boss man." The bandit thrust his arm forward, sending a ball of fire hurdling towards the knight. Fredericks, not seeing the attack, was instantly consumed by the flames. As the men trembled in fear, the bandit slid down the side of the mountain. "Now as I said, if you want the mine open, ya gotta pay up."

"All we have is ore and coal. We have no gems or anything of value." a man lamented.

"I'll take 'em." The bandit thrust his arm forward at the rubble, sending a blast that cleared the way once more. "You 'ave until the end of the day to bring me somfing good. Or else." He held up his arm, which began to light with fire again. "Got it?"

The men scrambled to the mines to search, but Eli was frozen to the spot. The man he was just speaking to earlier that day, a man who had been a friend to his father for months, was gone, with only ashen remains left behind, covering a melted blade. "No."

"Oy! Kid!" the bandit grabbed Eli by his tunic and tossed him into the ground. "Get back to work." he snarled. Eli scrambled away and into the mine, the sour sound of the murderer's laughter echoing in his ears.