The door swung open, and the winter wind was almost enough to extinguish the torch in the sconce. That biting cold brought with it the heavy snow that had been falling all night. The wind carried some of it, but most was tracked in beneath the stranger’s boots.
Several of the patrons at the bar turned about, their hands navigating toward the weapons on their hips. Their looks weren’t lost on the man by the door, who peered back at them beneath an old, worn helmet. A shabby feather, bent along the top, was fixed to its one side, plucked from the tail of one of Cracius’ many winged raptors.
The group of men at the bar and the mysterious stranger stared at one another for some time before he shut the door, and the sound of the shrieking wind dulled to a low moan against the windows. Seeing the man was intent on staying, the bartender gave a glass a quick wipe and set it down on the counter. Leather boots tapped against the floor as the stranger made his way across the hunting lodge and removed his helmet, revealing a disarming grin.
“What’ll it be?” the bartender asked.
“Whatever will warm these old bones,” the stranger remarked. While the barkeep bent down to fetch a bottle, the stranger slammed his helmet down upon the counter, the noise echoing throughout the lodge. The bartender nearly sprang up but offered only a quick glance as he reined in his nerves. The stranger faced the barbute, noticing every dent and scratch upon it. “Actually, I could use some information.”
“You lost?” one of the other men at the bar asked.
“I’m just where I want to be,” the stranger said.
“This place isn’t exactly on a map. And we don’t know you either.”
“You can call me Devlin,” he offered. “Now that we’ve been properly acquainted, perhaps you can help me find who I’m looking for.”
“It’s the middle of the night, and the village is at least ten miles away. We wouldn’t turn you out in fair weather, let alone this awful blizzard.”
That grin on Devlin’s face only grew wider. “The snow doesn’t bother me in the least. But I suspect I won’t be leaving just yet. I’m looking for a hunter.”
“Well, we’re all hunters here.”
Devlin looked at the ragged bunch and arched an eyebrow. “Quite. But you see, I’m looking for someone in particular. According to those in the village, he hasn’t missed a shot in some twenty years. And while he hunts alone, they know this to be the case because he only leaves the town with one arrow.”
“I’m sure a great lot of us would like to boast that kind of talent,” the bartender said, pushing a filled glass of dark whisky in front of the recent arrival.
“This one has a name. Ancel Greyholm.”
Devlin was met with a slight pause before the bartender shook his head. “Sorry, don’t know any Ancels or Greyholms.”
“Then it would appear my journey here has been for naught.” He lifted the glass into the air and looked through its murky contents. “This’ll put a few hairs on your chest, won’t it?”
“Aye, that it will.”
“I’ve got plenty,” Devlin said, setting the glass back down. “But you’re right; this weather isn’t great for traveling in. I’ll nurse this until I’m warm enough to leave, and then I’ll search for the great hunter in some other town. Perhaps he had moved on from this place some time ago.”
“It’s a shame you came all this way in that mess,” another patron said.
“No matter,” the stranger insisted. “My horse gets restless if I stay in any place for too long.”
“It’s a good horse that makes his way through the snow for his rider. You’re a lucky man.”
Almost as soon as the patron spoke those words, the door echoed as it shut. Devlin raised his glass and peered off to the other side of the lodge. Another hunter came into sight, cleaning his hands with a dirty washrag. The blood of a fresh kill was upon his fingers and clothes, but he seemed not to care, a wide smile clear upon his face.
“A lucky man, indeed,” the stranger muttered. “Ancel Greyholm?”
When the fellow looked up, all the patrons at the counter groaned, and the bartender took a step back.
“That was a foolish thing you all did,” the man said. “I’d appreciate it if that was your only mistake this evening.” Devlin stood up quickly, sending his stool tumbling to the floor. He took his time situating his helmet back upon his head before looking at the man he had come for. “I need you to come with me, Ancel. How easy your journey is depends on you.”