"Yeah, I rode with 'em", the old man said, looking into his mug, remembering. "That was a long time ago, and I was a young buck then, all full of piss and vinegar". "Times had been real hard in Crathia, for going on five years running. The crops wouldn't grow, bugs came ever year and ate what did grow, leaving us with little of nothing". "We had unnatural sicknesses that left the healer women stumped. Stock died, newborn died, and wolves came out of the hills in huge packs, taking sheep and people alike". "The root women said it was The Old Woman Of The Mountain. She was a witch that lived way up in the peaks. Nobody had ever seen her. She was just a legend, really, but the healers swore she was real". "Then Baldur the One-eyed decided to use our misfortune to expand his fiefdom. His men began raiding, burning villages and we were forced to fight a war we were in no shape to fight". "That's about the time they showed up. But I'm getting ahead of myself here". "The way it started out was this fellow they call the Stranger. Nobody ever knew his name. I guess he was wanted in too many places to spread it around". "He had come through here some years back, stayed a bit and moved on. He had since taken up with a lady Elda who lived in a little cottage by the sea, and ran a bar called The Den of the Dragon. e-Berry, they called her, and lordy, what a fine-looking woman she was. And hell on high, red wheels with a sword, son". "Somehow he got wind of all this, and decided to come check things out. Well, lady Elda she decided she was going with him, and some crazy monk fellow, Cadfael, he decided to tag along". *********************************** They rode out before daylight, at the false dawn when the dew is still shining on the grass and the earth smells clean and reborn. e-Berry rode the little white Arab, who was dancing with energy and making her chain mail trailers jingle like wind chimes. The Stranger rode the right flank, riding the big bay warhorse, who looked to be in an especially foul mood that morning. Son, thet was the meanest horse I ever saw. Couldn't nobody go near him, 'cept Stranger and e-Berry. He stood a good eighteen hands, weighed a ton iffen he was an ounce, and thet hoss would kill you jest for walking by him. Ole Cad he rode the left flank, all frocked up like a wandering monk. Ha, a monk with a big greatsword strapped to his back. Now weren't neither one of them boys what you could call little men, so flanking lady e-Berry they made quite a sight leaving town.