In the centre of Humhyde, Heinrich and Otto were discussing the village’s troubles.
“I don’t know how or even when this happened, but nearly all our supplies of pig fat and offal have been taken,” exclaimed Heinrich.
“What? Did they steal our meat too?” asked Otto.
Heinrich shook his head, “No. That’s the thing. The bacon and the hams were stored in the same shed, yet they didn’t touch any of that. They only took the fat and the offal. They took it from the vats, and then resealed them so no one would notice.”
Otto laughed, “Someone must be playing a joke on us. What kind of thief breaks in and goes to that much trouble to steal pig fat?”
“It’s not funny. The offal doesn’t matter, it was going to be used as fertiliser, but we needed that pig fat to preserve our food supplies for the winter. We might not have enough to store enough food properly this year. We might have to ration this winter out.”
Otto frowned and placed a hand over his belly. He was a woodsman and like most woodsmen he was a tower of a man. Easily the tallest and strongest in the village as his job required him to cut down trees and haul the logs by hand through the forest. The forest was not a safe place for most people; only big men like Otto could work in the forest with some degree of security. Only a fool starts a fight with a giant. However, the problem with being so big and strong like Otto was that he needed to eat more than most men and no one suffered more from rations than men like Otto.
“I see,” said Otto in a more serious tone, “then we have to do something about it.”
“Well Claus the pig farmer is going to have to cull some pigs to meet the shortage of pig fat, but he can’t afford to kill off too many. We might need to do some more deer hunting too-”
The pair were interrupted by Okken rushing up to join them, he had removed many of the twigs he’d been wearing earlier, “Don’t talk about hunting deer, there’s a thane in town. He just arrived with me not long ago.”
“A thane?” asked Heinrich.
“Yes, fighting man, sent by Lord Jurgen. His name is Sir Randall, he is talking with the village elders.”
Klara was passing by and jumped in amongst the three men.
“Did you say there’s a thane in the village? What’s he doing here?” she asked.
“He’s on a mission for Lord Jurgen. He says there are some bad folk hiding in the forest around this area.”
“Bad folk? What kind of bad folk?” asked Heinrich.
“He said he would tell us in good time, but his investigations would be helped if we knew as little as possible for now.”
“Well that doesn’t sound good,” said Klara, “It suggests he might suspect someone in the village.”
Okken shook his head, “Nope, I don’t think it’s that. He said he was looking for foreigners to this region.”
“Interesting,” said Heinrich, “I wonder if the theft of the pig fat and offal is related to this?”
Otto laughed at him, “These folks must be terribly bad folks they’re stealing our precious offal!”
Heinrich frowned, “or they’re living in the forest and they need pig fat to preserve their food supplies for the winter too. From the amount that was taken they could store enough food to feed an entire village out there.”
He gestured towards the woods. Otto stopped laughing. Okken and Klara nodded with understanding. Everyone in the village understood that all the food in the kingdom was produced in thousands of little villages like Humhyde. Since the villagers were not allowed weapons or armour they were the most vulnerable to bandits and looters. In theory the Lord’s thanes were supposed to protect the villages, but there had been war raging on the frontiers for some time now. It was rare for thanes to be seen in the villages and only the towns had organised militias. So each village was forced to look their own defence in the meantime.
Heinrich continued, “Things must be particularly bad if a thane has been sent here. Bogart hasn’t been seen for weeks, we had better warn him about this thane. If Lord Jurgen finds out he has been hunting his deer without his permission there will be Hell for us to pay. Otto, do you know if Bogart has a cottage in the forest?”
“I certainly do, I have not seen it myself, but I see him in the forest more often than here in the village. He tells me he has built for himself a nice little cottage deep in the forest, but that he has a number of hidden hunting posts throughout the forest he can hide in should the Lord’s thanes ever find it.”
Klara interrupted, “Heinrich, Bogart has been coming into the village quite often recently: usually late at night.”
Heinrich looked confused, “I am in charge of the village night watch, how come no one has told me this?”
“I only know because Helga has told me that she sees him quite often.”
Heinrich was about to ask Klara another question when Sir Randall appeared walking towards them. His heavy armour and brightly coloured tunic made him stand out against the villagers in their plain and ragged garments. Klara motioned with a finger to her lips for the men to stop their conversations. Okken was confused by her gestures and startled when Sir Randall appeared beside him.
“Excuse me men, I am looking for a man called Heinrich, I am told he is responsible for the willage night watch,” said Sir Randall with authority.
Heinrich announced himself.
“What is the situation with the village’s security?”
“Sir, we have raids on our crops and supplies about a dozen times each year. Usually the culprits are bandits who move from village to village stealing from them in the area. There are probably no more than half a dozen men in the group. But they’re armed with knives, clubs, and stones. We post four men on watch duty every night with four more men asleep in the watch tower ready to be woken in case of a raid. We are missing a large quantity of pig fat and offal that appears to have been stolen.”
“When were these goods stolen?”
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