As dusk approached Sandru halted the lead wagon to take a drink from the waterskin hanging nearby. “Ten minute break!” he shouted, and the others pulled up to a halt.
Below them they could see a sizeable settlement a few miles off. The forest here had been cleared for a couple of miles off to the west, and the low fells were being grazed by sheep. A few smaller copses and woods still stood dotted around, remnants of the greaater forest which had now retreated westwards.
“Wolf’s Ear” said Sandru, pointing.
“We heard some rumours about the place from some hunters in Galduria” said Rasha. “They said that it had a reputation as a haunt of werewolves-but that when Magnimar absorbed the place into its remit some years back these were ‘purged’. They didn’t seem that convinced however.”
“That may be so, but I’ve never had any trouble there” said Sandru. “It’s a pretty orderly timber community- stockaded too. If there are hidden Weres they keep their secrets out of sight of the town, at any rate. I think we’ll trade here tomorrow and move on the day after-I want to pick up some lumber for Roderick’s Cove.”
An hour later they drove in though the stockade gate. There was a sort of internal compound with an inner gate, which Sandru explained was a park for small caravans such as theirs. They set up the wagons and started to cook, but Ungo, Rasha, Rgnar and the twins decided to check out the local Inn and possibly eat there instead. Exchanging a few coins with one of the Guards they determined that the Sly Serpent would likely be their destination of choice, and so they wandered through the inner gate.
The town semed orderly and fairly prosperous, with a population of a few hundred and a handful of shops, including the inevitable General Chandlers. They approached a large building which looked like a two story log cabin.Sounds of laughter and a drunken ruckus escaped the cracks around two large wooden doors at the entry. Above the doors hung an old wooden sign carved with a twisting sea serpent with its tail wrapping around a mug of ale.
Pushing the doors open revealed a wooden room warmly lit by a glowing fireplace and a raging wood stove. A long wooden bar faced the kitchen and was lined with rough and tough looking men covered in dirt and sweat, pounding their ales and talking about their day while enjoying the company of other local workers.
The inn keep was a spry looking young man with an odd manner. He rushed to and fro attempting
to appease his customers. A serving girl brought plates of steaming venison and potatoes out to the round tables where several groups of customers sat, and the group sat at one of these.
As they sipped their first ales and ordered food Rasha could hear the locals discussing the recent gossip around him. A local shepherd was bemoaning the fact that all the local hunters appeared to be missing-he had hired one a few days ago to look into the problem of his disappearing sheep and now he had gone missing too, the latest only last night.
Another group were discussing a burglary of the local Alchemist-somewhat unusual as there were no known strangers or caravans in town at the time. The fact that the thief must then be a local made for dour local news indeed.
Rasha was distracted by the arrival of what passed for ‘food’ and he picked out the few tender chunks of cooked venison with care, even as he glanced round and saw that the big shepherd had withdrawn from the conversation with his cronies somewhat, and was staring moodily into his tankard while they discussed the merits of the new firewood tax. Rasha glanced over at Ragnar, who’d been listening on and off, and caught his eye.
Catching Rasha’s meaning, “Here friend, I would buy you a drink, yes?” Ragnar called. Nodding, the man stood up and moved across.
“We could not help but overhear your troubles with your sheep. My friends and I are in town for a day or so, but maybe we could look into it for you? Rasha over there is an expert tracker. What do you say?”
“Well I’d be more than happy for your trouble” said the man, introducing himself as Brooks Ballinger. “This all started about two weeks ago, when one of my sheep dissappeared during the daytime. I could find no trace but determined to keep a more weather eye out- these things do happen”
“Unfortunately two days later the same thing happened, and my first thought was ‘Wolf’. I came into town to look for Leth or Dorin; they are two local hunters who I have used on occasion for such problems. Unfortunately no one had seen hide nor hair of them for some weeks, and it was believed they had probably left the district. "
“I was at my wits end but someone recommended a new fellow called Woln. He was apparently a recent arrival in Wolf’s Ear, and so I paid him half upfront but now he has dissapppeared too. And yesterday I lost another sheep, and even worse my dog Finn went missing. Thing’s are going from bad to worse.”
“And might there be a rewards fer killin’ yer Woolf?” asked Ungo with relative politeness (for him).
“I offered a small reward initially but all of the local shepherds are worried now” explained Brooks, “And so the Mayor has bolstered the reward up. If there’s a real sheep killer out there it could cause a lot of damage to the local flocks.”
“Fair enough” said Ragnar, “If we meet you tomorrow morning you can show us where the sheep went missing , yes?” And so it was agreed.
The evening drew to a close with Dinald getting his ribs stomped by a local tannery worker, and the whole group getting hauled off to the Guard Cells, which they managed to avoid by liberal application of a ‘Fine’.
As he nursed his cracked ribs with his swollen fingers Dinald ruminated that the following day was bound to be better.