I – THE RIG OF DRUMBUIE
It was the morning of March 25 in the year of our lord, 1171 – New Year’s Day. The covenant of Ken Muir was bustling with activity, for a dead body had been found on the banks of the river Ken and the mage, Thomas fitz Roy, was preparing to lead an expedition to investigate its provenance. At the same time, William of Furness, captain of the grogs of Ken Muir, was organizing a second expedition. A report had been made by the shepherd boy, Peadar, of sheep disappearing while on the high pastures of the Rhinns of Kelles, and wolves were suspected as the culprits. At first it was thought that Éovan Auditore da Firenze, a companion to the mage Medigas of Florence would lead this second expedition himself, but William stepped in at the last moment to take over. He had a couple of young new recruits that he wanted to test in the field and felt this would be a prime opportunity. He also wanted to stretch his legs; between his duties as covenant serjeant and demands of Thomas Magus, to whom he was sworn, he had little time for recreation, and a wolf hunt seemed just the thing.
While William was busy seeing Thomas and company off on their expedition, Éovan gathered the two newest recruits, Angus mac Angus and Beitris nic Tormod and showed them the covenant equipment stores. He helped them suit up and gather the necessary gear of rope, lamp oil (lest they get caught out after dark), and so on. He also instructed to Peadar to gather up the flock, because they planned to take the sheep up to the pasture with them, hoping they might attract the wolves.
When all were ready, they set off through the woods to the north of Ken Muir and across the Knocknairling burn. Then they marched northwest, following the course of the Water of Ken, for the next hour or so. They stayed under the eastern eaves of the forest of Glenlee and stepped lively over the stony Glenlee burn when they came to it. Then their path then turned west and they went low between Dunveoch Hill and the Garroch burn. It was about two hours later that they arrived at the Rig of Drumbuie, a high flat spur of land where the grassy terrain sloped upward toward the peak of Bennan to the south and Benbrack to the west. Here that the forest opened up to the high pastures of the Rhinns of Kelles. The clints (cliffs) of the hill known as Meickle Millyea could be seen far to the west. Between the edge of the wood and the dilapidated old dry stone wall known as the De’il’s Dyke was the gently sloped and grassy field where Peadar often put the sheep to pasture.
PEADAR, THE SHEPHERD BOY: ‘Well, this is the place.’
WILLIAM: ‘I see. And you think it was from here that the wolves snatched them, do you?’
PEADAR: ‘Aye. Do you know about wolves, master?’
WILLIAM: (giving the boy the eye) ‘Of course I do, boy. Wolves are greedy beasts – especially when it comes to eating sheep. It is said that at night their eyes shine like lamps. And should a wolf be nearby, lad, is it best you you see him afore he sees you, for if you spot him first he’ll flee cravenly, but if he should spot you first, he’ll freeze you by his gaze and strike you dumb, and that’s how ye’ll stay until the break of dawn!’
William made a chopping motion with his arm as he spat out the word ‘dumb’, and Peadar shrank from the gesture.
Éovan stood up on a rock and peered around. The ground looked like it was smooth and flowing, but in reality there were many low and high spots which would make it possible for man, sheep, or wolf to hide from view if they chose to crouch down. The De’il’s Dyke crossed the field several hundred yards to the west. It looked for all intents and purposes like a collapsed old dry-stone wall, with grass and gorse growing in places between the mounded stones. A wall it may once had been, but now it did not make much of a barrier at all and was easily crossed by foot. To the south and east, down the hill, lay the edge of the forest. A pair of moor birds flitted to the west, but otherwise there was no activity. The wind rustled through tree branches, which were still bare of leaves at this early time of year.
WILLIAM: ‘Tell me about the day that the sheep disappeared.’
PEADAR: ‘It was three days ago, and much like today, only more cloudy and the rain came and went…’
WILLIAM: ‘I see. And what were you doing at the time they disappeared?’
PEADAR: (pointing to one of the higher and dryer places on the De’il’s Dyke) ‘When I come here I like to sit up there, where it’s dry and I can have a good view. Sometimes I play my whistle.’
WILLIAM: ‘And you were watching the sheep on that day? How is it you didn’t notice if wolves came?’
PEADAR: ‘Please, master. I watch as much as I can, but if it rains then I can’t see far, and if a wolf were to come from the edge of the forest I might not see it at all.’
WILLIAM: (disapprovingly) ‘I see. You should do a better job of watching, Peadar.” Then, turning to the rest, he said, “We’ll sit tight for now. Everybody find somewhere comfortable. Peadar, you go about your business as you did on the day the sheep disappeared.’
BEITRIS: ‘Ah, good, I could use a sit. My legs are killing me!’
Peadar climbed up and sat upon the wall, where he huddled in his cloak,and watched the flock, sullenly. Beitris and Angus, the two grogs, found a place near a rock to the north and sat for a bit. Éovan, meanwhile, had spotted a piece of wood sticking up out of the De’il’s Dyke, and he marched over to investigate it. It was, perhaps, an old stile that was used to cross the wall at one time, and fluttering on the end of it was a patch of wool, obviously snagged there from a sheep. It seemed a little too high off the ground for a random sheep to have brushed against it, though. He looked around on the ground and found some tracks that looked like those of a large dog, though he surmised they probably belonged to a wolf, instead.
William, for his part, went down to the woods and walked along the edge, looking at the ground. He, too, saw wolf tracks, though they were none too fresh. He paced for quite a while, hoping to find some human footprints, but found nothing else of note. He looked back up the hill toward the Dyke and where Peadar was sitting – the boy was now lying back and watching the clouds roll across the sky. ‘Ach!’ He thought, ‘a daydreamer! It’s no wonder thosesheep disappeared!’ Miffed, he marched over to where Beitris and Angus were lounging. He didn’t like loungers!
WILLIAM: ‘Get up, you two. I’ll not have grogs under my command fall lax.’
Beitris and Angus stood up. Angus rubbed his bottom where it itched from having sat on wet grass. William looked at him in disdain.
WILLIAM: ‘There are wolf tracks in the woods over there, so you keep your eyes open. In fact, you two should split up so your eyes can cover more ground. Angus, you go over there on the far side of the sheep. Beitris, you stay here. I’ll be down yonder.’
BEITRIS: ‘Master, do you think maybe it was wolves that killed that poor girl that was found in the river?’
WILLIAM: ‘Maybe, but others will investigate that. Until then, keep your thoughts to yourself.’
BEITRIS: ‘Maybe I should set a few snares along the edge of the wood?’
WILLIAM: ‘Yes, that’s a good idea. Go to it.’
Beitris left to set up a few snare traps along the edge of the wood in the place that William indicated. Éovan, meanwhile, wandered over to William and the two shared their findings. Éovan the decided he would also head into the woods to take a look around. William said nothing, and watched him go in silence. Éovan was something of a unknown quantity of the covenant. He was clearly the mage Medigas’ man, rather than one of the grog troupe, and as such William did not feel entirely comfortable ordering him around. Éovan, for his part, seemed content to go with the flow and had never challenged William on anything, and so the two got along well enough despite William’s uncertainty about the brooding Italian.
Éovan trolled the edge of the woods for a while. He found the tracks that William had seen earlier, and decided that this was as good a place as any to wait. He decided to climb a tree so the he could see farther and would be less noticeable to anyone observing. William, Angus, and Beitris hunkered down in the grass on three different sides of the field where the sheep grazed and waited for something to happen. Peadar still sat on top of the old stone dyke. Since William had instructed him to go about his business as he normally would, he played his whistle and day-dreamed. A squall of thin drizzle blew past, coating everything with fine droplets and obscuring everyone’s vision for a time. When the squall cleared there was silence. Peadar had stopped playing the whistle; the only sound was the munching of the sheep.
II – ‘WELL PLAYED, WOLF. WELL PLAYED.’
It was then that Éovan chanced to look down from his perch in the tree and saw a wolf skulking along the forest floor. The wolf seemed to sense his gaze and looked up at him for a second before turning and slinking off into the denser trees to the east. Éovan watched it go, then dropped to the ground and ran out into the field to where William crouched.
ÉOVAN: ‘I saw a wolf!’
WILLIAM: ‘A wolf? Where?’
ÉOVAN: ‘Over there, in the woods. When it saw me if fled into the deeper woods to the east.’
WILLIAM: ‘We should track it. We’ll leave these others here to guard the sheep.’
William informed the others of his plan, and the two companions headed into the woods together. They found the tracks easily enough on the moist ground and followed them eastward. The tracks led through the forest and then curled northward. They lost them from time to time on last autumn’s fallen leaves, but found them again as the wolf crossed one of the few lingering patches of snow. The tracks led them northward and emerged from the wood well beyond the sight of any of Ken Muir’s grogs, then crossed the open field and went over the De’il’s Dyke to the west.
ÉOVAN: ‘It crossed the wall, here, and seems to have continued west. If we are to keep following it, should we perhaps bring Beitris with us? She is a fair huntress, is she not?’
WILLIAM: ‘Yes, good idea. I’m loathe to bring the boy, Angus, though. He will remain here with Peadar.’
So Éovan ran back over the round ridge to a place where he could see Beitris and whistled a signal to her. She came lumbering over and together they rejoined William, who waited in the damp grass. The three of them continued westward on the trail of the wolf.
Back at the Rig of Drumbuie, the young grog Angus had joined Peadar by the wall and the two lounged together. Watching sheep was not especially exciting work, and Peadar had long since learned to pass the time in day-dreaming, whistle-playing, or whittling wood. Angus had no such interesting pastimes, but did manage to find an interesting piece of ground to stare at. As such, neither of the two spotted to two dark figures that darted from the woods and ran toward the sheep. Only when the flock itself reacted by running toward them and bleating madly did Peadar clue in that something was wrong. He stood up on the wall and placed his hand on his brow to shield his eyes from the whiteness of the sky, and peered out over the flock.
PEADAR: ‘Angus! The sheep are scared! I think there’s something out there!’
ANGUS: ‘What is it, do you think?’
PEADAR: ‘I don’t know, but if it’s a wolf we’d best scare it off. Follow me!’
Peadar dropped his whistle and grabbed his shepherd’s crook, then led the way across the field at a run. Angus, sling in hand, was right behind him. They cut their way through the flock of sheep, which parted before them, and then emerged on the far side of the flock just in time to see two dark grey shapes slinking toward the wood; one of those shapes dragged a sheep!
ANGUS: (shouting at the wolves) ‘Hey! You leave that sheep alone!’
He loosed a slingstone at the wolves as he ran, but lost sight of where it went [GM NOTE: He rolled a ‘0’ on the stress die, indicating a possible botch. Rolling two botch dice (the extra one on account of running on difficult terrain) no botch resulted, so it was merely a miss.]
The wolf with the sheep in his mouth continued to run into the woods, but the other wolf turned and faced the two pursuers. It lowered its head and snarled at them, baring its teeth in a most frightful manner.
ANGUS: ‘Peadar! Kill it!’
PEADAR: (incredulous) ‘Ach! Kill it with what? You’re the warrior!’
ANGUS: ‘Hit it with your stick!’
Peadar fumbled for another slingstone and launched it at wolf. The stone hit, causing the wolf to jerk back in surprise. It stared for a second, then tilted its head back and let out a loud and plaintive howl; ‘AWWOOOOOO-OOOOOOOH’
Away to the west, William, Éovan, and Beitris walked through the moist grass and bracken on the slopes of Drumbuie Hill when the sound of a wolf howl came from some way off behind them, to the east.
ÉOVAN: ‘A wolf cry! Behind us! We’ve been led a merry chase!’
WILLIAM: (narrowing his eyes and muttering to himself) ‘Aye. One to lead the warriors away while the others pounce! Well played, wolf! Well played!’
BEITRIS: ‘Should we go back?’
An answering howl then came from somewhere off to William’s right, and much closer than the first howl.
WILLIAM: ‘Beitris! Your bow!’
A third howl followed, coming from quite a distance off in a totally different direction. It sounded like there were wolves all around them.
WILLIAM: ’That’s it! We’ve a duty to protect those sheep, not to mention the hapless Angus and Peadar! Quick, now! Back we go!’
Éovan and William took off at a run. Beitris, lumbering behind with her awkward gait, did her best to keep up.
III – A STRUGGLE ON THE RIG
Angus and Peadar stood riveted to the ground as the fearsome wolf in front of them howled, and this howl was answered by two more distant. One wolf was bad enough, but now two more wolves emerged from the trees ahead of them and Angus and Peadar found themselves faced with three snarling wolves, it was too much for the young Angus. He turned to run!
ANGUS: ‘Come on, Peadar! Let’s get out of here!’
PEADAR: ‘Angus! Where are you going? The sheep!’
ANGUS: ‘Sod the sheep! I’m getting out of here!’
PEADAR: ‘No Angus! Don’t run!’
[GM NOTE: Faced with three snarling wolves, bravery tests were called for. Angus failed miserably with a total of 2 against a target number of 6. Peadar rolled a 5, but we added in a +1 for his personality trait ‘Loyal to his Sheep’, giving him the 6 he needed to stand his ground.]
As Angus turned to run, two of the wolves leapt after him to chase him down. Angus did not get far before one of the wolves ran in front of his legs as if to trip him. Angus was nearly tripped up, but managed to keep to his feet. It was then that the second wolf leapt on his back, nearly bearing him down. He felt its claws rake down across the back of his hard leather cuirasse and thanked provenance for the armour that had been given to him.
Angus continued to try and run, but it seemed like one of the wolves was constantly under his feet and it was all he could do to keep from tripping over it! The other wolf tried to bite at his calf, but couldn’t get through Angus’ high boots. Angus yanked his dagger from his belt in desperation and, grabbing it by the sheath, used the pommel to club the head of the wolf behind him. He swung again and again, hurting the wolf, but making it more angry.
Behind Angus, the emboldened third wolf now tried to lunge at Peadar! The boy held his shepherd’s crook before him in both hands, tough, and kept the wold at bay. He thrust the crook toward the face of the wolf, causing it to back off, then jerked the end of his crook to crack the wolf on the skull. The blow was not hard enough to hurt it, but was strong enough to remind it that man was a fearsome predator, too.
‘Help! Help! Wolves!!’ he cried, hoping his cries would reach William and Beitris. The wolf snapped at him again, drawing blood from Peadar’s hand. Peadar waved the crook again, forcing it to back off. He stole a look over his shoulder to see how Angus was doing.
Angus was barely handing on. One of the wolves clamped his jaw down on his thigh and the weight of the beast finally forced Angus to the ground. He kicked and thrashed, trying to fend the wolves off, but he was unable to keep them off him for long, and was finally forced to huddle into a ball on the ground, tucking his head down to protect his neck and trusting to the leather cuirasse to protect his back. He cried out in a whimpering voice ‘Ach! They’re eating me! Lord save me!’
Suddenly, William was there! He had run with Éovan at top speed across the fields! He leapt on top of one of the wolves that was mauling Angus and used the momentum to drive his sword deep into its flank, nearly ending its life. ‘I should never have left you, lad! I’m here now!’ He shouted. The wolf squealed in pain. Éovan was there, too, and stabbed at the other wolf that had clenched its jaws on Angus, but somehow it managed to avoid the blow. He stabbed again with the other dagger and drew blood from the weak wound.
Seriously hurt, now, the wolf that Wiliam had stabbed tried to flee. As it turned, William lunged down again with his sword, this time onto its back, and buried the blade deep into its rib cage! The wolf slumped to the ground dead! Kneeling on top of it, William muttered between clenched teeth; “chew on that, wolfie!”
Out-numbered, the remaining two wolves turned to flee as well. Éovan managed to scrape one of his daggers down the back of one as it ran, drawing blood but not killing it.
Meanwhile, Peadar lashed out at the remaining wolf, which he had successfully kept at bay until now, and gave it a solid thwack on its right hindquarter. The blow was hard enough to elicit a yip of pain, but not strong enough to kill it. It, too, fled, favouring one of its hind legs slightly. The two wolves soon disappeared into the forest.
William immediately turned his attention to the healing of Angus, who was now badly wounded and close to death. ‘Éovan, we need your expertise over here!’ He called, referring to Éovan’s skill at chirurgy. Éovan came over and treated the worst of Angus’ wounds, stabilizing them so the lad wouldn’t die. Finally, Beitris arrived. She was not used to running so far or so fast.
PEADAR: ‘Whew! Thank the lord you arrived when you did! Had you been two minutes later we both would have been dead, I fear!’
WILLIAM: ‘I never should have left you. That cunning wolf drew us off so the others could steal a morsel, I’ve no doubt! You’ve both acquitted yourselves very well, I must say. It looks like Angus will heal, but we must get him back to Ken Muir for proper treatment. We’ll drive the sheep back to the grange… and take this wolf with us!’ He nudged the corpse of the dead wolf with his foot.
ÉOVAN: (cryptically) ‘A one-for-one exchange. A fair trade, I suppose, though not one I usually allow myself to make’
BEITRIS: ‘Have the wolves fled, then? I wish I could have arrived sooner – I would have killed at least one.’
ÉOVAN: ‘That wounded wolf will leave a trail, so you may yet get your chance. Should we not follow it?’
WILLIAM: ‘It will be dark, soon, and we won’t be able to follow any trail. Worse, we will be at a disadvantage, as wolves can see in the dark. No, we will go back to Ken Muir to see that the lad here gets the rest and treatment he needs. We can come back in the morning. I plan to bring the head of the dead wolf to mount on a stake as a warning!’
They returned to Ken Muir and gave Angus over into the care of the household staff. All then retired for a good night’s sleep, except for Peadar whose dreams troubled him, and for the enigmatic Italian man, Éovan, who elected to sleep in the grange with the sheep so he could adopt their scent.
IV – THE CAVE IN THE GLEN
In the morning, William rose early and put together a new group for the day’s expedition. Angus would stay behind because of his wounds, but Beitris would come again. He also commanded that the two brothers, Gillespic mac Donchadh and Fergus mac Donchadh, the lad Lunk, and the three Italian grogs who were servants of Medigas (Bonifazio, Pietro, and Ugo) to join the group. Peadar, the shepherd, was to accompany the group again, too. Lastly, William cut the head from the wolf (giving the eyes to Raderic, at his request) and mounted it on a stake. He planned to stick it in the ground at Drumbuie as a warning against future wolf attacks. Then, together, they all headed back to the high pastures, and arrived at the rig of Drumbuie by late morning.
The first thing William did upon arriving was set the stake up with the wolf’s head on it. “That’ll teach them”, he thought. Éovan and the others, meanwhile, found the place where the struggle with the wolves had taken place and located the tracks of the injured wolves. With William, they followed these westward, climbing over the De’il’s Dyke and then under the northern lee of Drumbuie hill. They crossed the Garroch burn, then turned north and climbed into the ridge known as the Rig of Clenrie.
THE RIG OF CLENRIE WITH MEICKLE MILLYEA IN THE BACKGROUND
They were now close under the clints of Meickle Millyea hill. Next they followed the tracks north and descended into a valley. They came upon a burn and the tracks of the wolves seemed to follow the burn northward. Following this, they descended once again into the forest of Kelles.
The burn soon began to cut deeply into the forest floor.
WILLIAM: (muttering) ‘We could follow these tracks all over the place.’
ÉOVAN: ‘True, but since we have not yet seen the carcass of a sheep, I’m willing to bet they lead to a den.
They followed it to a point where there were a series of small pools, but then the trail was lost. They decided, in this case, to continue to follow the burn. It descended into an obvious glen and eventually led to point where it was joined by a smaller, dry stream joined the main channel. They paused here, for a moment, uncertain which way to head, when they heard the plaintive sound of a sheep bleating. The sound seemed to be coming from the southeast, from up the hill in the direction of the dry streambed. They followed this up and came upon a small clearing.
Here they found a single sheep caught in a dense bramble of thorns and trying desperately to free itself. When they approached, it redoubled its efforts to try to scamper away, but was unable to move.
WILLIAM: ‘You lot, keep your eyes open – these wolves are more clever than you’d think. Lunk, grab that sheep and free it.’
LUNK: ‘OK, Sarjeant. What about some clippers, though? I might need some clippers.’
WILLIAM: (disdainfully) ‘Use your dagger, man!’
LUNK: ‘I ain’t got no dagger. Can I use my sword?’
WILLIAM: ‘Sure, whatever, just do it.’
Lunk walked up to the sheep and grabbed it. He tried to pull it free from the bramble, but it was stuck fast by its curly hairs.
LUNK: ‘Aw. Look at it’s eyes! It’s scared!’
WILLIAM: ‘Never mind its eyes! I said ’just do it’!’
Lunk freed the sheep and turned it over to the care of Peadar.
The rest of the party, meanwhile, looked around for any sign of movement. Éovan, looking a little higher up than the others, saw a dark patch farther up the hill. It was a small cave, not much more than a crack between two rocks. Beside the entrance to this was a piece of stone – a monolith worked to square sides and sticking up about two and a half feet from the ground. It jut out on an odd angle, and looked very much like an old roman milestone. Éovan scraped the moss and some of the orange lichen off of it. He could see that there were some curvy scroll designs on the lower part, but no roman numbers to indicate a mile marker.
Ignoring the stone for the moment, Éovan turned his attention to the cave entrance. It was shaped like an inverted ‘V’ and was low to the ground. The only way in for a human would be to lie down and use one’s elbows to work their way in. It looked like a perfect cave for a wolf’s den. He drew his daggers and was about to enter the cave when Beitris cautioned him. She asked, if there were wolves inside it, would it not be better to smoke them out. But Éovan listened at the opening and didn’t here the sound of anything moving around inside. There were wolf tracks on the ground, but nothing fresh. So he didn’t think there was anything inside, and told Beitris as much. Then he crouched down and began to wriggle his way in. And just to be on the safe side, he held a dagger in each hand.
He elbowed his way into the cave, which slanted downward slightly. He paused after going in about waist deep and then paused until his eyes adjusted to the poor light. The cave wasn’t big – it only went back a few feet further. It was cramped, but large enough to hold several wolves if they huddled against one another. A sort of nest of wolf hair and dried leaves lay against the back of the cave, betraying its purpose as a den. A human skull lay in the corner, and several bones lay scattered about, some of which also appeared to be human. Éovan inched in a little more and felt about in the nest of hair. He discovered more bones, and heard an odd scraping noise, which turned out to be an old, rusty, broadsword. He exited from the cave and showed the sword to the others. The sword had no markings on it and was otherwise unremarkable. With work, William thought, it could be repaired.
WILLIAM: ‘All right, here’s the plan. There don’t seem to be any wolves about, and now that we’ve put our scent all over this place, they’ll probably be hesitant to come back. So we’ll go back to Ken Muir and return tomorrow with that old sheep that Peadar mentioned.’
PEADAR: ‘Aye. Old Hob, I call him.’
WILLIAM: ‘Right. Old Hob will act as bait. Beitris will set some snares around, and the rest of us will wait in the bushes or trees until the wolves come. Hopefully, several of them will get caught in the snares and we can kill some of the others, allowing us to thin the pack dramatically by raining a hell of arrows down upon them. I should think that will encourage any surviving wolves to move on.’
BEITRIS: ‘What, climb those hills again? Can we not just set the snares now while we’re here?’
WILLIAM: ‘No! And do not question me again! The exercise will do you good, anyway.’
Before leaving, they turned their attention back to piece of stone. The scroll-like markings seemed to disappear beneath the ground, so they decided to dig up the rest of the stone. This took some time, but with many hands it was not difficult work. They they finally got it out of the ground it was revealed to be an old cross with a circular motif, half buried upside down.
WILLIAM: ‘An upside down cross? I don’t like the look of this. Do you think this is some sort of tomb?’
ÉOVAN: ‘I don’t know, but we can bring the bones back with us and let the Magi investigate them. Same for this sword. I suppose we could bring the cross, too, but it would take Lunk, Pietro, and three or four others to carry it – it’s not light.
WILLIAM: ’We’ll leave the cross here. It won’t be going anywhere. We’ll prop it upright, however. Just in case. Right. Everyone ready to go?’
ÉOVAN: ‘I think so.’
WILLIAM: ‘Good. Back to Ken Muir, then.’