It is the 30th of Slumbers Night, the day before Winter, and as has been for as long as any of you can remember, the folks in the farming district (and in the city proper for that matter) are finishing up on their annual chores; bringing anything of value (no matter how nominal) inside the house or barn, locking away the livestock with eighty hours of food and water, boarding up windows and doors (only leaving the main door usable – it will be barred from the inside), and tying down anything that cant be boarded.
No guards will walk on their routes. No wagons will travel to or from the city. No merchants will be making deals. No living souls will volunteer to wander the streets, well no smart ones at least. There will be the stupid ones, the young and naive. Those that don’t trust the elders and tempt fate by trying to cause trouble on the four nights of Winter.
At the moment the only pub open within miles, The Pitch Fork, is within your sight; and you could use a decent meal right about now. The Fork, as the locals refer to it, is a small building that boasts about 20 seats and a good sized fireplace. Decent food is cooked over the same fire and below average ale is served over a small bar in the back corner.
She sits quietly at a table, sipping occasionally from a glass of red wine resting on the table in front of her. Her gaze wanders to and fro between the other occupants of the pub, as if she were looking for someone meeting a specific criteria. Focused as she is, however, her gaze snaps up at the approach of a figure to her table.
The man standing over her wavers a little as he leers down at her, a stupid grin on his face, bolstered by the drinks he’s consumed tonight.
“A pretty lady like you shouldn’t be sitting all alone on a night like this. Lemme warm you up,” he says, his eyes drooping heavily.
She calmly sets down her glass, looking straight into the man’s eyes. “Please go away,” she says, deadpan.
The drunken man, not getting the hint, places his hand on her shoulder, leaning in close, trying to sounds coy as he speaks, saying “Now don’t be that way, darling. No one refuses Big Erl.”
Glancing down at the man’s hand, she rests her hand on the table as she looks back into his face, grimacing at the smell of his breath. “Big Erl,” she says, “is it? Remove your hand before I remove it for you.” She pulls the hand off her shoulder, pushing him him away.
He stumbles back a bit, his expression flashing to rage as he steps back up to her table. “Girl, I’ll show you what’s what around here!” he says, reaching his hand back and trying to slap her.
She stands in one smooth motion, catching his wrist in one hand while her other wraps around his neck in a grip like a steel vise, lifting him off his feet. She pivots, slamming him down on his back on the table as he face turns red first, then purple, and seems to be edging toward blue.
“Listen, Erl,” she says as he scratches feebly at the hand around his neck with his free hand, “I’m going to let you up in a minute and you’re going to run along home. In fact, feel free to scream like a girl. I insist.”
As Erl’s eyes start to flutter with unconciousness, she tosses him the side, smiling as he lands in a crumpled heap, gasping for breath.
Gazing about the room, she smiles at some of the startled patrons. “My apologies. Please, go back to your drinks,” she says, brushing herself off and resuming her seat at the table. She watches Erl stumble out of the bar, sipping her wine once more as she resumes waiting on this mysterious woman who requested her presence.
Black Paws followed the nearby commotion with his eyes, though he did not raise his head. Ignoring the young man seated across from him, Paws stared sullenly into his drink and kneaded the black leather wrappings around his forearms. He winced a little and narrowed his eyes. The old wounds always hurt. They just hurt more during Winter…