Chapter 39 The Starmetal Sword
"Is that what you're wearing?" Jiang Fei looked at Arran with a raised eyebrow.
"What's wrong with it?" Arran asked.
He was wearing a simple brown linen robe, and although it was nothing like the crimson silk dress Jiang Fei was wearing, he didn't think there was anything wrong with it. It was comfortable and clean, and it was something that would attract no unwanted attention.
"Nothing," Jiang Fei said with a frown, "if you're planning to spend the day on a farm."
Arran sighed, then went back inside. Some moments later he emerged from the cottage once more, this time wearing a black silk robe with red embroidery. It was one of the finer robes Master Zhao had left him in the void bag, and wearing it made Arran feel like a monkey in a wedding dress.
"Much better," Jiang Fei said, smiling brightly. "Dressed like this, you could almost trick me into thinking you're handsome."
Arran scowled, but he kept his mouth shut. Some moments later, they set off together.
Lord Jiang's estate was large enough that even the walk to the gate took several miles. As usual, there was barely a sign of any other people in the estate.
When they finally reached the gate, they found it protected by a dozen guards. They had passed by the gate before, and although he did not recognize any of the guards there today, the guards clearly knew who they were.
"Young master, young mistress," one of the men said, bowing respectfully, "will you be taking a trip outside the estate today?"
Jiang Fei nodded. "We'll spend the day in Silvermere. We should return by nightfall."
The guards opened the gate, and moments later, Arran and Jiang Fei set foot outside the estate for the first time in months.
A few hundred paces from the gate they found a crowd of people gathered around a shrine. When they approached, the people stared at them with looks of reverence, bowing deeply.
Arran nodded back, although the sight confused him. "What are they doing?" he asked Jiang Fei in a hushed voice.
"They're here to pay their respects to Uncle Bear," she whispered back. "Since we came from the estate, they must think we're important."
Arran smiled politely as they passed the crowd, but inside, he could not help but feel uncomfortable. Ever since he had left Fulai City he had tried to keep a low profile, yet now, hundreds of people were staring at him and Jiang Fei.
The road leading away from the estate was lined with trees, and beyond the trees, Arran saw several large gated mansions. While the mansions looked massive and well-built, they lacked any eye-catching ornaments, almost as if their builders had deliberately tried not to draw too much attention.
"These mansions belong to some of the larger branches of the Jiang Clan," Jiang Fei explained. "It's where their envoys to Uncle Bear stay." With a slight smile, she added, "They wouldn't dare build anything too ostentatious for fear of offending Uncle Bear."
They continued along the road as it meandered through the hills, slowly moving downward. After a while they reached a bend in the road, and once they passed it, Arran could see a large valley ahead of them.
Arran immediately knew that this was Silvermere, and he was astonished at the size of the city. At the center of the valley lay a vast lake, its surface shining silver in the bright light of the sun. From the edge of the lake fanned out thousands upon thousands of buildings, completely filling the valley.
Compared to this, he thought, Fulai City could barely be considered a village.
"It's big, isn't it?" Jiang Fei said. Her voice was subdued, and Arran could tell that she was as awestruck by the sight as he was.
They spent the next few hours exploring the city together, walking through the cobbled streets and occasionally stopping to drink tea at some of the city's many tea shops, or to buy dumplings and sweets at the food stalls that stood on the sides of most of the city's streets.
Occasionally they drew stares from the people passing them, and several times strangers bowed to them. Arran eventually realized that word of them being Lord Jiang's guests had already spread to the city, but although the attention made him uncomfortable, he did his best to ignore it.
After several hours of walking through the city center, Arran began to notice that Jiang Fei's eyes were repeatedly drawn to the many clothing stores in the city's center.
"If you want, you can go shopping for a bit," he said.
"What about you?" Jiang Fei asked. She gave Arran a wary look, then sighed deeply. "You just want to go get more toys, don't you?"
"I do have some things to buy," Arran replied. He had already spotted a number of weaponsmiths and armorers along the way, and although he enjoyed spending time with Jiang Fei, he was eager to spend some of his gold.
Jiang Fei sighed again, then glanced at the clothing store next to them. "I suppose we could…"
They agreed to meet in the city square two hours later, and just like that, Arran was free to finally buy the weapons and armor he wanted.
Eagerly, he set off to buy some of the many things he wanted.
His first purchase was a large ironwood bow with a heavy draw. It was easily the finest bow Arran had ever held, and he paid a small fortune for it despite the shopkeeper giving him a large discount — apparently, word of Arran being a guest of Lord Jiang had spread among the shopkeepers, too.
Next, he visited several armorers, eventually finding an excellent leather coat with mail armor and steel plates sewn into it. It was heavy enough that most people would have struggled just to walk while wearing it, but after Arran's training with Lord Jiang, it barely even hindered him.
Finally, he went looking for a good sword, to replace the one his father had left him. After entering several weaponsmiths' stores, he was disappointed to find that although their weapons were good enough, all the swords they sold were just too light for him.
He kept searching, and after some time, he noticed a small weaponsmith's shop. The shop itself didn't seem particularly noteworthy, but the few pieces he could see in the shop window immediately drew his attention.
When he stepped inside, he felt some excitement upon seeing the weapons that were on display. With just a glance, he could tell that the weapons here were far better than anything he had found so far.
The shopkeeper welcomed him calmly, without the fawning and flattering the previous ones had shown him when they recognized him as Lord Jiang's guest.
Arran spent some time perusing the weapons on display, but although the craftsmanship was exceptional, he did not find anything that suited him. Again, he found that everything was just too light for his Essence-strengthened arms.
"How much for this one?" he asked, holding up a particularly well-made sword that was long and flexible. He didn't want it for himself, but it seemed like it would be perfect for Jiang Fei.
"Aye, that's a good one," the shopkeeper said. "For a friend of Lord Jiang, I'll let it go for two hundred gold crowns."
Arran swallowed at the outrageous price, but after a thought, he nodded. The sword was far better than any he had seen in Silvermere so far, and he had plenty of gold to spare.
"I'll take it," he said, not bothering to haggle.
As he stepped up to the counter to pay the shopkeeper, he noticed a sword on the wall behind the counter. It was large and broad, and although it didn't have any of the ornate decorations that most of the weapons in the shop had, there was something about it that caught his eye.
"What about that one?" he asked, pointing at the sword on the wall.
"Ah, you've noticed?" the shopkeeper said with a grin. "That's a starmetal sword. I didn't forge that one myself — I bought it some years ago."
"Starmetal?" Arran wasn't familiar with the term.
"Supposedly, it was forged from the remains of a fallen star," the shopkeeper explained. "Rumor has it that it has some magical properties." With a sigh, he added, "It's useless as a weapon, though."
"Why's that?" Arran asked.
"It's far too heavy to wield," the shopkeeper replied. "Most people can barely even lift it, much less wield it."
In an instant, Arran's eyes lit up. "Mind if I give it a swing or two?"
The shopkeeper gave him a puzzled look, then shrugged. "Go ahead," he said. He walked over to the wall and took the sword. From the looks of it, just lifting it took him a great deal of effort.
He handed the sword to Arran. Immediately, Arran felt that it was far heavier than any of the other swords in the shop, but the months of training with Lord Jiang had strengthened his arms enough that swinging it felt completely comfortable.
After just a few practice swings, he knew he had to have it.
"Heh," the shopkeeper said, surprise clear on his face. "You're stronger than you look."
"How much is it?" Arran asked.
"You want to buy it?" The shopkeeper looked as if the question had taken him by surprise. "To be honest, I've only ever had it as a piece of decoration with a nice background story. Never thought someone would actually try to buy it."
Lowering his voice, he added, "Truth told, I'm not sure it's actually starmetal — I bought it off a traveling merchant for a few silvers."
"I want to buy it," Arran said. "Name your price."
The shopkeeper gave it a moment's thought, then shook his head. "I won't sell it to you." He grinned on seeing Arran's dejected face, then continued, "You can have it for free, though."
"For free? I couldn't accept that," Arran said.
"Don't worry about it," the shopkeeper replied. "You're the first person I've seen who could actually use it. And besides, once people hear I've sold weapons to one of Lord Jiang's guests, I'll get a decent bit of new business." He grinned slyly at the last bit.
"Alright," Arran said. While he didn't want to take advantage of the shopkeeper, he had to have the sword. "Can I at least pay you to have a scabbard made for it?"
"That you can," the man said, smiling. "I can have a good bear leather scabbard made in a day or two."
Arran paid the shopkeeper for his purchases and arranged to have the scabbard delivered to Lord Jiang's estate when it was finished. For now, he would simply carry the starmetal sword in his void bag.
After thanking the shopkeeper, he hurriedly made his way back to the city square. He had lost track of time while he was looking at weapons, and now, he realized that Jiang Fei was probably already waiting for him.
Imagining her reaction at having been kept waiting, he increased his pace to a jog.
When he arrived at the city square, it only took him a moment to spot Jiang Fei. He was surprised to see that there was a group of young men with her, but when he approached, he could see that she looked uncomfortable. Moreover, one of the men was holding her arm, and it looked like she was struggling to get free.
In an instant, anger flooded Arran, and he rushed over, roughly pushing the men around Jiang Fei aside. His eyes focused on the one who had grabbed her arm, and he charged at him.
"Don't!" Jiang Fei cried out, but she was too late. Arran's fist had already connected with the young man's face, and he fell to the ground in a heap, blood gushing from his nose and mouth.
Arran glanced at him, and with some satisfaction he saw that the bloodied young man had a broken nose and several missing teeth.
He looked furiously at the others in the group, ready to give the rest of them a beating as well. "Fuck off right now!" he growled. "Or I will give you a beating much worse than this!"
Several of the men stepped back several paces, startled by Arran's sudden arrival, but one of them stepped forward. He was slightly taller than Arran, wearing a bright red robe, with broad shoulders and an arrogant smile on his face.
"A stranger dares to assault a member of the Jiang Clan, here in Silvermere?" The red-robed young man drew his sword in a casual motion. "You will not get the chance to make such a mistake again."
Sword in hand, he approached Arran, and Arran reached for his void bag, about to pull out the starmetal sword. From the looks of it, there was going to be bloodshed.
Suddenly, a voice sounded, "Stop! Please!"
When Arran looked over, he saw a group of city guards rushing their way. At the head of the group was a tall man in a mail coat with a terrified expression on his face.
"Young master Redstone!" the man said. "Please, these are Lord Jiang's guests!"
"I know who they are, Captain Wu," the red-robed young man said calmly. "But even with Uncle Bear's protection, this stranger cannot be allowed to assault my brother." He pointed his sword toward Arran. "He will pay for this."
"They were harassing Jiang Fei," Arran said, still furious. "Your brother is lucky I didn't snap his neck."
"You think you can just interfere in the affairs of the Jiang Clan?" The young man's voice dripped with contempt. "And escape with your life?"
"Young master Redstone!" Captain Wu said again, a desperate look on his face. "Please! I cannot let you fight him!"
The young man scowled. "Very well," he said after a moment's hesitation. "Arrest him. We can dispense justice tomorrow. If the old man wishes to speak for him, he can show up himself."
Jiang Fei gasped, and Arran understood she was shocked by the contemptuous manner in which the man spoke of Lord Jiang.
Captain Wu turned toward Arran. "Please come with me, young master," he said, a pleading look on his face. In a low voice, he added, "I will send word to Lord Jiang immediately."
Arran nodded. Although he had half a mind to teach the arrogant young man a lesson, he didn't want to trouble Captain Wu. Already, the man seemed to be on the verge of having a breakdown.
Captain Wu sighed in relief upon seeing Arran nod, and quickly led Arran and Jiang Fei away.