Thomas settled the breastplate over his shoulders, then smiled as Ileana began helping him with the straps. A memory came to him. “The last time you did this for me you tied them in knots.”
She laughed. “I was fourteen, and you managed to win despite them coming loose.” She straightened, then rose up to kiss him. “And I’m much better at knots now.”
“Vula teach.” The goblin was examining one of his gauntlets. She poked them before wrinkling her nose with disapproval. “Why have metal fingers if not add claws?”
Considering the time the goblin had bound him had nearly killed him, he couldn’t really deny her expertise. “Claws make it more difficult to precisely direct the blade.” He’d seen clawed gauntlets before, even tried them before rejecting them as impractical. They looked frightening, but their sole use appeared to be intimidation. Or at least, he’d always thought so until facing Keffer’s claws in a sparring match. Granted, when Keffer abandoned his human mask his claws were more like talons and on the hands of a creature that was not only inhumanly strong and fast but capable of wielding considerable magic. It had been a few years since a training match had left him almost too bruised and exhausted to move.
“If had good claws, not need blade.” She sniffed before handing him the gauntlet.
“The blade allows me a greater range and more maneuverability.” He put the gauntlet on. And without that range and maneuverability, Keffer would have little problem tearing him to little bitty shreds. For that matter, he wasn’t entirely sure Vula and her claws wouldn’t be able to manage the same. He imagined fighting her would be something akin to battling a rabid wolverine.
“Until Vula bite off arm.” She grinned, her inhumanly wide mouth full of sharp, jagged teeth. A rabid wolverine with the teeth of a shark. It was possible she could actually bite his arm off. Or at least tear enough of it away to render it useless and bleeding out.
“Yes, but wouldn’t you biting off my arm also make claws useless?” He raised an eyebrow at her.
“It…” Vula blinked, then frowned. “Vula need think on it more.” She scratched her head, then her face brightened. “Vula bite off leg!”
He exhaled. Except in tournaments he’d always preferred to wear no more than greaves rather than bog himself down with heavier armor. But when it came to facing something like Vula, maybe enclosing his entire body behind metal wouldn’t be a bad idea. “An excellent tactical choice.” He nodded to her, and she grinned again. His eyes went to Ileana. “Speaking of tactics…”
“We discussed this already.” Ileana shook her head. “The castle cannot be taken by outside forces. The only way we can capture it is if we sneak inside.”
“If we enter announced, there may be no need to take the castle.” He shook his head.
“As much as I hope Nicolas does prove reasonable, I cannot take the chance.” Her voice was firm as she handed him the sword belt. “We will use the hidden entrance.”
“And if Nicolas has already found it?” He attached the sword belt. Nicolas would undoubtedly have searched for such things his first day inside the castle. Assuming he hadn’t done so upon previous visits.
“He can’t have found it.” Ileana laughed. “It can be revealed only by magic. Once we are inside, we can activate the castle’s wards and hold it against anyone seeking to take it from us.” She put her hand on his chest. “No harm will come to Nicolas’s family, and I will do all I can to prevent harm from coming to Nicolas himself.”
“That is all I can ask.” He gave her a small bow.