On the outskirts of the colony of Wyrm’s Edge, just inside the fencing separating settlement from forest, a crowd had gathered by a small trail leading from the well to a dwelling a ways into the woods. At the center of the group were two men, the elderly Jaeworl himself as well as a human.
The young man was yelling about something, but was speaking too quickly for Jaeworl to pick up more than the occasional word. He seemed to want to know where something or someone was.
“Calm down, Gerald!” came a sudden roar from the side. A portly man, looking quite old for a human, was plodding toward them with a scowl on his features. Walking over to Jaeworl he sized up the stranger. “You’re forestfolk, ain’t ya?”
Jaeworl looked at him incredulously for a bit before nodding. “I suppose I am.”
“Well, what’re you doing here? Shouldn’t you be running in the wilds?”
Jaeworl shrugged. “The season is changing and we must adapt to a new life before it is too late.”
It was the man’s turn to stare incredulously at Jaeworl.
“Our community is splintering. That means the trolls will soon be breaking free of their peace bonds and when they are done eating us, they will be coming for you,” he explained after taking some time to figure out what his words might mean to the people gathering around him.
“You’re telling me that the trolls are coming and you’re here to warn us out of the goodness of your heart, that it?” The large man seemed agitated, like he was resisting the urge to assault Jaeworl and every word was trying his patience.
Jaeworl was glad he had spent so much time talking to Loriana. These people did not speak at all like the humans he had dealt with in his previous visits to human territories, and he would have had trouble understanding them without that experience.
“No. I am here because neither of us has a chance alone, but standing together we should be able to deal with the trolls.” He raised his voice slightly, wanting to make sure everyone could hear him. “I have come to bring together our streams into a river. To… How should I say… Make friends?”
“Then give me back my Anna!” The first man yelled, tears streaking down his cheeks.
Jaeworl looked at him for a moment, then turned to the portly elder with a questioning look. “What is an… anna?”
The question rocked the man back on his heels as effectively as a sudden gust of wind. He stared back in silence for a few moments before collecting himself. It seemed to have knocked the rage out of him, at least. “Anna is his youngest daughter… She disappeared a few weeks ago.”
Jaeworl furrowed his brow, looking around him at the faces of the gathered villagers. There was fear there, and anger. “And it is your belief that we have her?”
The man shook his head, as did several people in the crowd. The first man seemed not to have heard the question. “No, it ain’t. We found one of her braids by a pit. Cut just like with our missing cattle and crops. Magistrate said ain’t no fey magic cut like that, and you bastards killed Bessie but not like that.”
“Who is Bessie? I do not know of anyone we have killed for many seasons…” The forestfolk kept away from the humans, preferring the depths of the woodland. The trolls would occasionally wander near the village when hungry and if they happened upon a lone human in the wilds they would no doubt attack, but Jaeworl had heard of no stories of such a feast within the pack.
“Bessie was my horse. Beautiful creature… And you shot her five years ago!”
Jaeworl was beginning to put things together. A year, from what he could recall, measured cycles of the sun and moons. Accounting for about one turn of each season, as they were tied to the movements of the sun in the heavens. “Twentyturn past… Yes, I know the raid you speak of. There was illness in the land and you were keeping alive animals who carried it. We did what we did to keep the disease from spreading. Surely you must have known Bessie was ill?”
The man sniffled a bit, muttering something that vaguely resembled agreement to the question while looking at the ground. “We could’ve cured her…”
“No, you could not. I am sorry, but we did what had to be done for the sake of all animals. Both yours and the forest’s. Now, which one of you is… Magistrate, was it? I would very much like to meet the one who has enough knowledge of Fair Folk magic to realize that these strange events are indeed not the work of fey.”
“You’re really sorry?” The man looked Jaeworl square in the eyes. Seeing the sympathy there seemed to take the last vestiges of bluster out of him. Significantly calmer, he nodded to himself before motioning for people to make way. “Magistrate isn’t here. He an’ Ky went to the prince to ask for help with this dark magic. With a bit o’ luck, they’ll be back soon with a proper mage to sort out this mess.”
He led Jaeworl over to a dip in the ground similar to the one in the forest, where the crazed bear had attacked. This one was not as well preserved, but it seemed the humans avoided it out of superstition much like the animals would out of instinct. Crouching down, the old druid looked closely at the smooth surface of the pit.
“As unnatural as the rest of them…” he murmured, then looked up at the villagers around him. “This magic is most unsettling. It not only eats the land, but seems to also drive animals mad… and trolls. Please, we need each other.”