Lazandor tossed the last of the shoes on the pile in the corner. They would have to do. Damn the envy and competition between the royals. It paid well, but Lazandor was a lowly blacksmith, a centaur cobbler with a steam-powered arm and electric forge, and he wanted nothing to do with the jealousy of kings and queens.

Make them all the same weight. Make mine shiny. Make mine magnetic. Magnetic? Seriously? How could that be fair?

He didn’t care. Lazandor had done, once again, what those snobbish royals had requested of him, using his mighty centaur arms to hammer out the perfect selection of horseshoes for each family. Diamond encrusted for the Odapus clan, dull iron for the Filoris, beaten steel overlaid with silver for the Telemnon and brass for the Apilles. Yes, he’d crafted them with skill only he possessed, skill envied by dwarf and elf alike, for the other races knew not how a centaur worked the forge.

Lazandor smiled to himself and leaned back on his hind legs. The dwarves were still using fire in their forges and elves feared electricity. Fools. No matter. To each his own.

All that mattered was the four clans had what they wanted for the Annual Games. Tomorrow, he would pack up the four types of shoes and take them to the Game Grounds. Oh, he’d stay and watch the games. He always did. It would be fun for a moment and he’d drum up some business; but by the end, they would all come complaining (even the victors), because it’s not possible to please kings and queens, especially when you give them precisely what they’ve asked for.

When Lazandor arrived at the Game Grounds, the four clans were waiting for him.

His arrival marked the beginning, for without his “gifts” they could not play the games; and without the games, they could not determine who would lead the herd for the next year.

It mattered not to Lazandor which of these pompous kings called himself chieftain: his life would go on as it always had, and next year he’d make a new (disappointing) selection of shoes all over again.

“Their shoes are shinier than ours,” complained Queen Nesolius of the Filoris, referring to the diamond shoes of the Odapus and the smooth brass of the Apilles. She eyed the silver shoes of the Telemnon with marked envy and disdain.

“Your king requested strong iron,” Lazandor said wearily. He recalled this very conversation from last year, though then it had the daughter, Sopheira, who had complained that the shoes didn’t match her brass arms. Arms Lazandor had built for the princess, free of charge, mind you, and that the princess had the audacity to complain about.

“Can iron not shine?” the petulant queen sneered?

“Not like silver, milady,” said Lazandor. “Certainly not like diamond.” The Filoris won every year, yet they complained more than any others. They wanted beauty and strength in their possessions. Lazandor suspected it was because they lacked both in their persons. These uneducated ingrates had no idea what it took to forge iron at the precise temperature to impute it with magnetism.

“I shall expect better next year,” said she, turning away.

“I know,” Lazandor said under his breath.

After presenting his gifts and fielding similar (and sometimes fiercer) complaints from the other families, Lazandor finally took his place among the commoner spectator and watched as the first contestants stepped to the lines, facing one another.

Queen Nesolius, of course, was the first thrower for the Filoris, arrayed against Princess Eidora of Clan Odapus. This was a nightmare for Lazandor, for he’d taken the same precautions to make the brass shoes magnetic as well.

As the queen of the Filoris stepped forward and tossed her first iron shoe toward the stake pounded near Eidora’s feet, Lazandor turned away, unwilling to see the outcome.