"It's too cumbersome," John noted as he moved around the smithy. Over a blue gambeson, he had a rippled steel cuirass, while a closed helmet narrowed his field of view and made it harder to breathe. Pauldrons, rerebraces, vambraces, and finally gauntlets weighed down his arms. Messing with his steps, he had even more bluish plates covering his legs, with only the boots being made of darkened leather.
"It's protective," Marleya corrected. She stood beside the armorer, a wizened man wearing a leather apron and holding a hammer.
"I will need protection with how many hits I'll be receiving," he grumbled. The cuirass was along with his center of mass, so it wasn't as bad, but the plate over his arms and legs threw off his rhythm.
"You'll get used to it. Besides, you're supposed to let the armor handle some of the attacks instead of pivoting and twisting to avoid them. You're a warrior, not a dancer."
On the one hand, he had to agree with her. There was a reason why better-equipped armies often won battles. On the other hand, he grew up learning how to fight from his mother, and her teachings prioritized agility. She would disdain anything that weighed her down.
John's reasons weren't just sentimental, but also practical. In combat, he reacted through muscle memory more than anything else. It could take years until he got used to the added weight of the armor.
"How about just the gambeson?" he suggested. "It weighs as much as my leather armor and I feel like it will be easier for me to get used to it."
"It weighs as much as your leather and it protects just as much. That gambeson is too thin to protect anything, and is mostly there as padding for the armor."
John finally couldn't take it anymore and removed the helmet, his face glistening with sweat. The smithy was already hot by itself, and it felt even worse inside the armor. "Let's get a thicker one then. I can't fight anyone if I'm already struggling against my own armor."
"John," she said with a sigh. "You need to remember why you're squiring in the first place. Lady Athalia wishes for you to take part in the Squire's Tourney and, in there, you won't be going against badly equipped bandits nor against farmhands still learning how to swing a sword. You'll be going against well-trained warriors donning armor that will stop all of your blows."
"Every armor has gaps," he said, removing the gauntlets and hooking two fingers under the gorget to prove his point.
"And while you try to hit those, your opponents will be free to try and hit any part of your body. Rippled steel slices through leather very easily, trust me."
"Oh, I trust you, that's why I won't stand in place waiting for the attack." John removed all plates on one arm and began working on the other one. "Let's meet halfway, then. I'll wear the gambeson, the cuirass, and even the helmet. Not this one though."
He looked around the smithy. The forge occupied most of one of the walls, it's fire painting the surroundings in shades of orange. The anvil sat at the center of the room beside the slack tub filled with water. The windows were placed up high, almost touching the ceiling to help ventilate the room. Various unfinished pieces of armor were placed around the shop, and John set his sights on a helmet with a T shaped opening for the eyes and mouth.
"How about that one?" he asked, pointing at the helmet.
Marleya brought a hand to her forehead in frustration. Like a parent would do to a child, it was as if she wanted him to do it because she said so. It probably wasn't far from the truth with her being a knight accustomed to discipline and subordinates following her orders. Having served as a soldier, John could understand the feeling.
Unfortunately for her, John had Athalia's support, so she couldn't order him as she saw fit. If he really pressed on it, he could even get out of doing all the tasks that were required from him as a squire. He didn't do it out of respect for her, especially given how the knight was training him essentially for free.
"You're gonna be an even bigger headache than Jacke," she grumbled. "Fine, let's get this over with. We'll only take the cuirass and a barbute," she told the armorer.
"Yes, Dame," the man responded. He grabbed the helmet that John pointed at. "You can take the cuirass right now, but this is the only barbute I have on hand, and it's made of regular steel. I can have one made of rippled steel delivered to the castle by the end of the week."
"That's fine." She grabbed her coin pouch to pay the man while John worked on unfastening the plates over his legs.
When they walked out from the smithy and into the busy streets, John only had the gambeson and cuirass in terms of armor. "So, where are we going now?" he asked.
"Back to the tailor," she answered without looking at him. "If you won't dress like a proper warrior, then I'll make some adjustments to your gambeson at least. The arms will need to be thicker, and the gambeson will need to be made longer to cover your thighs."
He nodded. "I'm sorry for not doing as you told, but I don't want to throw away everything that I already know." She didn't speak. "Say, did you really mean it when you said that I'm a bigger headache than Jacke?"
"... yes, I did. Don't get me wrong, you're a much better person than he'll ever be, though that's not saying much. Maybe it was cowardice, maybe something else, but when I told him to do something, he never argued back. The thing is that I couldn't watch over him all day long, and it was during these times that he either caused trouble or lazed off."
John followed her as she turned right towards the main street, passerby giving the Paladin a wide berth. "So I'm more headstrong than that worm. I'd say that's a worthy tradeoff for me being so much better than him."
"That remains to be seen. Talent is useless without dedication. Jacke wasn't particularly bad when he was around your age, and I accepted him as a squire. Then he grew up, and his second head grew with him. Now he's more interested in chasing skirts than anything else." She shook her head, and her braided ponytail waggled left and right. "Also, do yourself a favor and don't talk about being better than people around Lady Athalia. Alella preaches that no one is better than anyone else, and the Lady is a firm believer."
"Understood, it's bad manners to talk about religion."
Marleya snickered. "Not bad manners, just a waste of time. If there really was anyone up there, then they would simply come down and tell us what to do."
"I take it that's another subject to avoid around her."
Marleya's smile grew wider. "Exactly."
The number of people walking around increased as they approached the main street. When they finally reached it, the two came across some sort of commotion to their left. At first, John thought it to be a pickpocket, but the crowd watching was smiling while the few children looked amazed. The reason appeared immediately after, as a miniature green dragon soared to the sky, did a loop in mid-air, and dived back towards the crowd.
A little girl atop her father's shoulder shrieked as the creature flew straight at her only to change course an instant before crashing.
"It's not real," Marleya commented, taking John out from his daze.
"W-what?" he stuttered, only then noticing his slack jaw.
"It's an illusion created from light magic. A street performer, most likely."
"But it looks so real," he tried to argue.
She chuckled. "To you, maybe, and only because it's darting around so you can't quite focus on it. If it weren't moving, then you would be able to see that it's slightly translucent. I'm a Paladin, so it's easier for me to notice it, while an Archmage would notice specks of mana moving. Sorry to disappoint you, but a real dragon would have everyone fleeing in panic as it set buildings on fire and ate people."
John looked back to the dragon as it flew through the crowd. He'd have to take Marleya's word as he couldn't find any flaw in the illusion.
"You'll be learning how to do it soon. Lady Athalia told me that you met your spell casting teachers."
"Zandren and Ruban," he said. "I'll start my studies tonight. Loondays, Vanisdays, and Mensdays will be reserved for shadow spells with Zandren, while Ruban will teach me light spells at Telsdays, Kirsdays, and Diusdays. Soldays I'll rest."