Gerald’s aides accompanied him through the streets of Ard. He was going to visit Kale, the bowyer. The talented bowyer was a godsend for Gerald. If he could arm his men well with Kale’s help, then providing the gold the latter requested would be worth it. If Gerald’s men couldn’t fight well in close quarters due to the bad equipment, then they could fight from range with good bows and crossbows. There was always a way to make use of your advantages. But you had to have ‘some’ advantages in the first place, if you didn’t want to find your sleeves empty in the depth of battle.
Gerald’s chosen attire was quite average. He just looked like a well-off man in the streets of Ard. He didn’t want to standout too much. He preferred to see how his castle was doing without attracting too much attention. Unfortunately, Robard’s shining armor didn’t allow him such pleasure. The head knight had insisted on accompanying him. And there was no one in Ard who didn’t recognize the head knight, Robard, with his damned shining armor. That was how Gerald’s quick disguise plan failed.
The streets were as Gerald expected them, muddy with pits and puddles here and there. The smell around some corners was unbearable, and around others peculiar.
“Uncle Rudolf, you’ll accompany Gasper as we’ve discussed,” Gerald whispered as he glanced back at the unwitting Renard. “You will make sure he doesn’t provoke the bandit crews just yet. We’re not looking for a battle that can’t be won.”
“I will do as you’ve planned,” Uncle Rudolf nodded, striding down the dirty alley along with Gerald. “But are you sure about Gasper’s crew staying in the forest?”
“Yes. That’s the only place where such a number of people could stay without being noticed by the two bandit crews in the east,” Gerald said. “I’ll send two rangers from the castle with you to help you settle in the forest for the time being. When you do, I’ll want you to help Gasper train the riffraff he will have recruited.”
Uncle Rudolf nodded again.
The walk to Kale’s workshop was uneventful, specially with all the people getting out of Gerald’s way once they spotted his entourage. When Gerald finally arrived, he spotted a lively front. There were youths running left and right, which Gerald assumed were apprentices. Bits and pieces of wood were strewn about everywhere.
As they entered the workshop, none of the apprentices took special note of them until they spotted Robard’s armor. Most of the youths, however, were always looking ahead while carrying chunks of timber or small contraptions around. A youth almost ran into Arthur one time.
When no one came out to receive them, Robard cleared his throat and stepped forward. “KALE!” he yelled.
It took a few moments of patience until they heard what sounded like a mountain of tools crashing down on someone, then Kale came out. He was a young man, as Gerald was told, with disheveled brown hair and an average stature. He came out limping a little and holding his thigh. Apparently, he was the victim of the tool crash. “Yes?” he said. Then it took him a moment to account for all his guests, and a moment of realization finally dawned on him. “Oh! please… umm. Wait a … George! Come here, get some chairs for the excellencies.”
Robard shook his head then gestured towards Gerald. “This is Viscount Gerald Tellus. I suppose you’ve heard about the new lord of the house?”
“Of course,” Kale blurted out. “Certainly. Yes. I’ve heard about that.” Then he bowed a crooked bow. “Welcome to my workshop, your Viscountnes—my lord?” he paused then scratched his head a little and his face started looking awkward. “It’s my honor tha—”
Gerald interrupted him with a wave of his hand and a chuckle. “You don’t have to try so hard,” he said. “I’m just here to ask you about your work.”
Kale listened intently, then nodded his head with pride. “It has been majestic so far, my work. Umm, I think I’m close to something good. Has my request for funds reached your lordship?”
“We can talk about your request,” Gerald said. “But first, tell me what you’re ‘close to’.”
“Hmm,” Kale looked thoughtful for a moment and gazed at the very ordinary-looking wall. “Actually, I’m not sure.”
Gerald heard a choking sound from behind him, probably of someone stifling a laugh, and he saw Arthur shaking his head with a sigh. Even he himself didn’t know how to feel towards such an answer. “How am I supposed to approve your request if I don’t know what you’re making?” Gerald asked.
Kale shrugged with a helpless expression. “My apologies?”, he said. Then he stammered again and seemed to remember something. “My lord! . . . my apologies, my lord.”
Gerald shook his head with resignation. “Is it perhaps a ballista? I’ve heard that you succeeded in making good crossbows. Perhaps you could make a ballista?” Gerald said, regaining his optimism.
“A ballista?” Kale said, looking enthusiastic with two fingers supporting his chin. “No.” Then he shook his head. “I’d need at least a few ballistae and some luck to be able to figure out how it’s built. Most people seem to think that the intricate parts of crossbows and ballistae are alike. They are not.”
Gerald sighed. “Alright. Tell me what you can do, then. How many crossbows and bows can you make a day?”
Kale scratched his chin, wrinkling the corner of his mouth in thought. “Well, hmm,” he paused again and appeared to be recounting something. “Five?” he said uncertainly. “Five crossbows a day. Also, twenty regular bows or ten longbows a day with the current number of apprentices, along with the five crossbows. The mellowed wood is ready in large quantities. So it shouldn’t be difficult.”
Gerald nodded. A regular bow was much easier to craft, but the longest range it could reach with an arrow would be a hundred yards or a little bit more. On the other hand, longbows could land arrows as far as 300 yards or even further. Gerald turned to Robard and said, “How is our long range corps?”
Robard took a deep breath. “We have 500 bowmen, mostly equipped with longbows. We also have 100 crossbowmen. They’ve all been equipped with Kale’s new crossbows.”
“Not enough,” Gerald said. “Currently, long range is our strength. I want at least 300 trained crossbowmen in the army. Crossbows are hard to make, but training the men to use them isn’t. Let’s make use of that. I also want all of our bowmen wielding longbows, not most of them. Regular bows are obsolete with the existence of crossbows. They nearly have the same range, except crossbows are deadlier.”
Robard nodded. “As you command, my lord. Will we recruit new men for this training?”
Gerald glanced at the silent Renard then looked back at Robard and shook his head. “No, choose your worst footmen and turn them into the 200 new crossbowmen.” Then he turned to Kale and said, “can you craft the needed arms for this reorganization?”
“I would need forty days to prepare 200 crossbows,” Kale said.
Gerald was taken aback. “If you don’t craft bows, can’t you increase the number of crossbows you make each day,” he asked.
“Ahh, you’ve misunderstood me, my lord,” Kale explained. “I only need to take part in the most complicated moments of crafting a longbow. The rest is for my apprentices to handle. But the crossbows need my full attention. Nobody else could help with them. Unfortunately, I haven’t taught my apprentices how to make crossbows yet. It’s too difficult for most of them.”
Gerald rubbed his forehead. “Alright, forty days it is. Tell me, how much do these crossbows cost us?”
“About two gold coins a crossbow,” Kale said. “That would be 400 gold for all of them.”
Gerald was genuinely surprised. He knew that crossbows usually cost much more than that to buy. Mostly, four or five coins for one. He assumed that it was because of the craftsmanship that its price soared that high. The rarer a weapon, the pricier it becomes. Just like ballistae. Gerald had heard that the cheapest ballista would cost 500 gold coins. He was sure, however, that the materials used for making a ballista didn’t cost that much. It was the rarity. Only a select few could craft a ballista, and it took a lot of effort to build one. “Good, make haste as much as you can,” Gerald said. “That will be all for now.” Then he prepared to leave. But Kale quickly spoke.
“About my request, my lord?”
“Ahh,” Gerald turned back. “I forgot. Yes, how much gold would you need for your ‘I don’t know’ undertaking?”
Kale took a deep breath and enthusiastically said, “One thousand gold coins would be enough.”
“Forget it,” Gerald said and turned to leave. What a madman. He wanted an eighth of the house’s treasury. Gerald almost laughed. Who could provide him that in such a rundown Viscounty.
“Wait, my lord” Kale jumped as if someone had torched his ass. “five hundred would be enough,” he hopped a few steps then landed in front of the leaving Gerald. “Please, my lord?” He was mostly squealing at the end of his pleading.
“Fine,” Gerald sighed. “But you better make something good out of that gold. Or else . . .”
“Or else what, my lord?” Kale asked, his face paling a little.
“I don’t know,” Gerald grinned, hardly holding his laugher. He heard his aides chuckling beside him, though. “I suppose we’ll both surprise each other, Kale.”
Gerald and his entourage were soon out of Kale’s workshop and walking back to the keep; however, Gerald decided to stop on the way. “Is that an inn?” he asked, pointing at a building that looked quite a bit better than the houses surrounding it.
“Yes, my lord,” Robard said. “It’s the Singing Mule, the most popular inn in the castle. Not that there are many others to compete with it.”
Gerald understood what Robard meant. The castle was too small. Even if many inns were opened, there weren’t enough patrons to frequent them. Even after the castle was crowded with newcomers, it didn’t change that most of them lacked coin to spend at an inn. “I want to go into that inn,” Gerald said. “But you all have to go back to the keep without me. Only Uncle Rudolf will accompany me there.”
Robard fidgeted slightly then started speaking. “My lord, I have to—”
“No need to speak,” Gerald commanded. “I’m going in there, and no one will accompany me except Uncle Rudolf.”
Robard hesitated for a moment then turned to Arthur who met the knight’s eye and shook his head. “Yes, my lord,” Robard said, finally yielding.
“Good,” Gerald nodded before striding to the doors of the inn, glancing back at his aides who departed hesitantly. Uncle Rudolf walked beside him, keeping up with his pace. Gerald was finally going to find out what his subjects said in their free time. Hopefully, it would only slightly irritate him.