Sebastian stared at the dwarf for a long moment. “What prince? Is Jake a prince? He never told me that.” He tried to scratch his chin in thought, and scowled when he just waggled his stump instead. “Huh, I suspected he was someone important based on how much better his gear was than the others in that outpost or whatever it was, but I would have never guessed he was a prince. It does sort of make sense though doesn’t it? Better gear, all those dock people jumping to follow what sounded like suggestions. Wonder why he didn’t mention it?” He shrugged. “Oh well, he told me to come and look at your progress while he finished up his first version of my new arm. I don’t really feel like going and interrupting him to set you straight, and seeing as you will have to march right past the worktable to get the guards anyways you might as well just go ask him yourself. While you do that I can talk to, Gerand, was it? About adding wings to this little project.”
Jasper sputtered at him for a moment. “Or I can throw your crippled arse out myself! Bloody arrogant topsider! Just because you all came in with the prince doesn’t mean you have the run of the whole city! I don’t know what you did to trick the prince into letting you into the city, but you aren’t about to muck about in the bloody Heart Forge if I have anything to say about it!”
Sebastian cocked his head to the side, dark whispers tickling the edges of his consciousness as his growing irritation destabilized his magic. Calm, Father! Calm! This one is unimportant, ignore what he says! You must stay calm until you are repaired, your anger stirs the chaos too much for me to control it completely! Calm.
He took a deep breath and held it for a moment. “You need to stop calling me cripple. It makes me angry. Anger makes my magic unstable, and if I lose control I might go insane or explode. Trust me when I say you do not want me to lose control in the heart of a volcano.” He stared at them for a moment, not really noticing their apprehensive expressions. “I don’t like you. I don’t want you working on this project anymore. Gerand? Could you come with me? I like your idea and would like to talk about it some more while I get your boss in trouble.” He turned on his heel and marched out the door and over to Jake’s worktable.
Jake looked up at him in surprise when he approached, then he saw Gerand scurrying up behind him and his brow furrowed in confusion. “I want Gerand to be in charge of the, look, calling it a statue is just wrong, the closest definition is a golem, so for now that’s what we are gonna call it alright? I also don’t want Jasper anywhere near it or me. He insulted me repeatedly and threatened to throw me out. He was refusing to even consider having Gerand’s ideas brought to me, even though he made a good point about the stability of the thing. He’s a little wrong about it, but only because he is thinking about it as though it were a normal statue. I like it when people offer ideas that improve things though. I’m also pretty annoyed that you didn’t tell me how important you and this area are.” He noticed he was tapping his foot like a housewife and forced himself to stop.
Jake grimaced. “I didn’t know if you could be trusted at first, and it just didn’t come up until now. Everyone else already learned about it after we got here, and I didn’t think to tell you after you woke up. I can have Jasper removed if you want, but his family is rather powerful in Undermount and it will probably cause trouble. It would slow down the work too. Perhaps I can just talk to him? He will do what I tell him to do, his position here is too important to him to want to risk losing it by upsetting me. It won’t do anything to make him like you any better, but it should keep him from insulting you to your face, or trying to have you thrown out.”
Sebastian groaned. “Politics? Why do people have to make things so complicated? Can’t you just assign someone else to the golem project and stick him elsewhere? I was in there for barely a couple minutes and already can’t stand the guy. I doubt we can work together on something as big as this. Whatever, I guess we can try it. Fair warning, him setting me off could overwhelm this thing’s ability to keep me stable, and like I said to him, losing it in the heart of a volcano seems like it would be a really bad thing.” Jake looked startled by the volcano comment. “Please. Like I can’t figure something so simple out? You talked about using the volcano to power your city, but are surprised by the fact that I was able to figure out that the Forge, where you are able to keep metal in a liquid form and heat ingots with empty furnaces, is also being heated by the volcano?
“I just can’t figure out how you keep the room itself relatively cool. I mean, it’s hot in here, but we aren’t cooking, and you can touch things without burning yourself.” He shook his head. “Not important, I’ll figure it out eventually. How much longer on the arm do you think?”
Jake had resumed working on the arm while Sebastian spoke to him. “Maybe an hour or two at the most.” He waved over a dwarf that Sebastian hadn’t noticed until that moment. “Please go with my friend here and make sure Jasper knows that he is allowed to access the workshop freely. Actually, make sure everyone knows he can come and go as he pleases. He and his people saved my life, the least I can do is let him provide input on something we are building for him.”
Sebastian snorted. “Pretty sure you returned the favor in that spider nest. Well, most of the favor I guess.” He waggled the stump at Jake. “Don’t worry about it though, that arm was jinxed or something, hopefully the new one has better luck. Come on let’s go, I want to see what Gerand here has in mind for ruining my golem.” He turned around and waved for the others to follow him as he headed back to the enclosed workshop that held his brainchild.
He didn’t get a chance to say anything to Jasper when they got back inside, the silent and downright unremarkable dwarf that had accompanied him started speaking as soon as he laid eyes on Jasper. “I am disappointed with you Jasper.” His voice was deep, authoritative, and thoroughly unexpected. “The prince sends word that his friend here is allowed unfettered access to his workshop as a reward for saving his life, and recommends that you cease insulting him publically. More importantly however, you seem to have forgotten where you are standing. Nobody can enter this area uncontested. We watch, we listen, and we are always nearby. The Kingsguard isn’t so careless as to let just anyone wander into the personal workspace of any of the royal family members.
“Our guest has requested that Gerand take the lead on this project. He is somewhat unfamiliar with Gerand’s capabilities though, as well as the politics involved. I recommend that you work as partners in this, at least until you manage to insult him again and find yourself removed from the workshop permanently.”
Jasper had frozen in place during the speech. When it ended he simply clapped his fist to his chest in a salute and bowed his head in obeisance. Sebastian was gaping at the dwarf though. “But, if you guys are alway supposed to be protecting the royal family, then why was Jake out in the middle of nowhere fighting reaper beetles and widowers? He would have died if we hadn’t stumbled across him.”
The strange dwarf inspected him for a moment before answering. “Military service is different. We defend the family from the knife in the dark, from poison and abduction. But any who wish to sit upon the Obsidian Throne must serve the nation in battle, and they must earn a command rank. No dwarf will bend the knee before a king that has no understanding of the horrors of war. Those are the kings that won’t think twice before throwing away lives. Your prince is the third of seven, and his father is still able to sire more should his sons all fall in battle.”
Sebastian was at a loss for words, and the dwarf simply nodded and stepped back outside before he recovered his wits. Jasper was clearly trying to fight back an angry scowl and keep his face neutral. “So,” he cleared his throat, “I’m to consider Gerand a partner? You do realize that the scatterbrained fool will likely double or triple the amount of time we need to finish, yes?”
Sebastian turned towards him trying to think of a way to ease the tension. He didn’t do particularly well in confrontations that involved him personally. Someone else’s problem? He could usually see a solution and, like he did with Sarah’s friends, he sometimes found it necessary to intervene. He was still scrabbling for a response when Gerand jumped in. “It ain’t like that Jasper! I don’t want to be in charge of anything! I know I have trouble keeping my thoughts straight, Lord…” His eyes went wide as he realized he didn’t know Sebastian’s name, then he barreled onwards as he remembered something he had seen on the blueprints. “Lord Seabass Tan just didn’t want anyone keeping ideas that could make his work better from him! I promise you will still be in charge! The only thing I was wanting to add was the wings anyways! Everything else is already so detailed I wouldn’t dream of fiddling with it!”
Sebastian startled when Gerand actually got close to his name, but after a moment he couldn’t help but burst into laughter, he was pretty sure a bass was a kind of fish, and the fact that his name could be distorted to the point where he was referred to as a… tan fish? A fish that tans? It just tickled his sense of humor for some reason. It took him a moment to collect himself. “Look, I was just angry. I don’t care who is in charge, or whatever, I’m probably a bit more on edge than normal since I just lost this thing… three days ago, I think they said? I was unconscious at the time and just woke up a few hours ago, so I’m still processing it. Can we start over? Without the insults and threats? And you don’t have to call me lord or anything like that, it’s just Sebastian.”
Gerand’s expression shifted, he was suddenly intensely focussed, and Sebastian would have sworn that the dwarf was busily memorizing his name as though his life depended on it. Jasper waved a hand at him. “That’s rather what I was talking about. You never know what might set him off into his own little world. He has a brilliant mind, but he switches from uncontrollable excitement to this in the blink of an eye. Sometimes he will completely change course, and end up abandoning whatever it was he was working on before.”
There was a pause, and his gaze was intense. Sebastian could practically see the interest pouring off of the dwarf. “Three days you say? That seems unlikely. They don’t typically attach the padded brace until the limb is at least close to done healing. May I see it?”
Sebastian felt an almost irresistible urge to laugh again, the strained nonchalance and courtesy Jasper was displaying towards him seemed to cause him almost physical pain. He forced it back though. “That’s fine, just be gentle, it’s still pretty tender. Trust me though, I’m just as surprised as you are at how quickly it healed. They said they burned it to stop the bleeding, but it doesn’t feel burnt, and I couldn’t seen any scabbing or scarring.”
Jasper surprised Sebastian once again when he took exaggerated care in removing the padded cup from his stump. He didn’t even feel it when the clasp was released, and he let out an involuntary sigh when the bit of pressure the thing had been putting on his arm eased. Jasper was looking over everything with the kind of meticulous care Sebastian had only ever seen from craftsmen doing fine detail work. When he got to the socket itself Sebastian started to feel awkward with the whole thing. Jasper was silent the whole time, and got Sebastian to adjust his arm to get a better angle by applying gentle pressure in the direction he wanted it moved. Sebastian was more than comfortable with silence, but silence with another man in his personal space touching him was a touch outside his comfort zone.
Jasper suddenly sighed and gently replaced the padded cup. “I would like to apologize. I knew, quite well, that we had visitors in Undermount. Everyone knew that the prince had brought back people that look like the statues of our Ancestors, along with the knowledge that we are not as trapped beneath the earth as we believed. Even if I hadn’t known all of that, I should have recognized the prince’s work the moment I laid eyes on your arm and known that you weren’t just some crippled stranger from the surface. I can’t say I particularly like or trust you, but it is clear that we are to be working together for at least a short while, and since you aren’t a blathering idiot like Gerand is most of the time, it would be best if we can get along. I will do my best to avoid deliberate insults, I only ask that while in this room you do what I tell you when we are working. It’s for everyone’s safety. Do we have a deal?”
In a move that Sebastian immediately realized as pure instinct and habit, Jasper thrust his hand out to shake on his proposed deal, one he saw as rather redundant since that kingsguard fellow had basically ordered him to do exactly what he was proposing, and couldn’t help himself. Before Jasper had a chance to realize that Sebastian was missing the hand he was trying to shake, Sebastian leaned towards him and jabbed the end of the socket against the dwarf’s palm and waggled it a bit, careful not to apply much pressure to keep it from hurting. The look on Jasper’s face was priceless.