The Gathering Storm

The Horseman

“Russ Hamel is a horse breeder,” Zahara states, “how did he become the Sheriff?”

“It happened about a month ago after you helped him birth his two colts,” the boy makes eye contact with Zahara momentarily, his skin clearly reddening even in the poor visibility of the rainstorm. “I wouldn’t bring it up though, he wasn’t too happy about having this office forced upon him.”

Trudging through the muddy streets, the boy leads them to a small house on the outskirts of town. The house, a single floored building with no more than 3 rooms is dwarfed by the large stables that share the property. The inside of the house is almost Spartan and the boy motions for group to sit down a oak table by the fire.

“I’ll fetch Mr. Hammel, Sheriff Hammel that is, right away,” the boy promises, slipping back into the rain.

The room is bare except for a large bookshelf filled with leather bound books and small desk with quill and paper. The later looks as though it was recently acquired, as unlike the rest of the trappings in the room it is neither worn nor deeply weathered. Hermatt explores the bookshelf, pulling out several leather books to leaf through. They are ledgers filled with rows of dates and names documenting the lineage of horses and their sales going back for over 100 years. The first entry in the oldest book is for the sale of a large number of work horses sold to a dwarf named Kieran.
The door opens slowly and a broad shouldered man enters wearing full raingear and smelling of damp straw. Hanging his poncho on the wall, his face is somber.

“I’m glad the three of you could make it. I’m Russ Hammel, the new sheriff elect.”

The man takes a moment to look over his three quests before muttering something to the boy that sends him scurrying to the kitchen.

He looks to Hermatt and Hadyn before continuing, “I had received word that the King would send officials to investigate. I was beginning to worry that Matthias and his witch hunters had been sent in your stead.”

Russ nods politely to Zahara before addressing her in a welcoming tone, “I know I still owe you from when you helped me birth the coals, but things have gotten so bad I didn’t know what else to do. It all started when the miners found something in the tunnels beneath the ruins. This has been a mining town since before Castlegrave was built, and it is where the gravestone was quarried to make the castle in the first place. But they found something down there; everything was hush-hush, except for a few of the lads who talking down at the Inn. They’ve disappeared now.”

Russ Hammel absent mindedly takes one of the warm mugs the boy has returned with. “Next thing you know,” he continues, “miners started disappearing, travelers started being assaulted, and live stock began to disappear. No miners would go near the mine, and after the sheriff never returned from his investigation the town elected me as next in charge. I’m no hero though, I only know horses.”

Nervously he runs his hands together. “There is talk of demons howling in the mines and with us so close to the border…,” he trails off before adding, “I’m just a horse breeder!” He takes a large drink of cider from his mug and stares off at the bookshelf.

Scowling Hermatt breaks Russ Hammel from his trance. “Well, what did we expect when we left an unguarded village down here? Evil will not stay out forever,” he folds his arms across his chest revealing the tattoos of the Sundered Chain Monastery on his arm, “It finds ways to break through our gates and trickle through the cracks in our walls. No gate is strong enough and no wall is perfectly composed. We will assess the situation and see what we can do; if anything can be done.”

There is no optimism in Hermatt’s response and yet the Sheriff looks as though a great burden has been lifted from his shoulders. He leans back comfortably in his chair.

“I don’t presume to understand the affairs of the King sir, I’m just as simple man, but I’m inclined to agree. No offense, to you all, but I’ll just be happy when this is over and everything goes back to normal. No witch hunters, no strangers, no surprises.”

Hermatt shakes his head slowly, “I doubt things will ever be normal again. It is best to adapt.” Russ Hammel straightens in his chair and scowls.

“Matthias Creel said something along those lines as well. I may be a simple man, and this may be a simple town, but you demon hunters seem to have a lot of suggestions considering you haven’t even been here more than a day. I was under the impression that you two,” he gestures at Hadyn and Hermatt, “were specialists in removing these threats. I won’t have you turning this village into some sort of paranoid community, turning back travelers or suspecting our neighbors of sinister deeds. That is too steep a price to pay.”

He slowly stands up and walks across the room to gaze out the window.

“My family has lived here for as far back Valenar was a country. We lived in the shadow of Castlegrave, and when it crumbled we continued to live here. Things changed, but we always had our trust. Sure there may be scuffles between the miners now and then, but we are good people.”
He turns to Zahara, and makes an empathetic gesture with his hands.

“You know us Zahara, and while we may have faults we mean well. That’s why I brought you in on this. What with Matthias’s talk of adapting to be more preemptive, they’ll turn us against ourselves. You are an honest person, and I trust you. I want you to help them get to the bottom of this. Help us get back to the way things were before. They’ll need your knowledge of the local area if they are to scratch any deeper than the witch hunters did.”

Zahara smiles, “Russ you know I do not normally become involved in human politics. However, if there is reason to believe these occurrences are unnatural then I am concerned. If these two,” she nods towards Hadyn and Hermatt, “require my assistance than I will help them as best I can.”

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