“It’s hard for me to say. They might have been stolen weeks ago, or immediately after they were put into storage. Considering how much is missing, it was probably over several weeks and several raids in the night. While we keep a careful stock on the meat, we don’t often check the other goods in that shed. Rather we did not notice until we were taking an inventory in preparation for the harvest, sir.”
“It is possible, but as yet I no idea how they managed to do it, sir.”
“And what are your guards men armed with?”
“Farming equipment, clubs, and a few axes, sir.”
“No armour, sir.”
Randall took a moment to consider all this.
“If I needed a band of fighting men, how many could you muster?”
“Sixteen fit young men, and maybe another twenty older men still able in body enough to fight, sir.”
Randall frowned; he was not satisfied with this answer at all. Humhyde was typical for a village this size, a mere two hundred people at best. Being so small, there was a limited pool of men fighting age to draw on.
Klara spoke up, “If it would please you sir, some women in the village would be interested in helping with the defence too.”
Otto laughed heartily at her, while Okken and Heinrich smiled. Randall, however, looked thoughtful.
“The women folk are too weak to handle swears and axes in battle,” stated Randall.
“Yes, sir, that is certainly true, but I wasn’t thinking of that, I was thinking that we could make slings and practice stone throwing. That way we could pelt any attackers on the village.”
Otto laughed again, this time Randall slapped his stomach with the back of his gloved hand to make him stop, which he did so while blushing.
“This village is not adequately well defended at all,” announced Randall, “We don’t have enough men folk to see to the defence. If you could get a group of the women folk and equip them with slings and stones, that would improve the defence situation here markedly. Make sure to set aside some time each day for the women to practice shooting them. A well-aimed stone can do a lot of harm, but practice is essential.”
“I will do so at once, sir,” and Klara left the group.
Randal turned to Heinrich, “are you on guard duty tonight?”
“Tell your men to be particularly alert and in the morrow I will discuss with you plans to bolster the village’s defences against thieves and raiders.”
The village men saluted the thane respectfully and all departed; all except Otto who leered at the thane longer than was proper.
Although it was June, when the night came to the black forest, the darkness was complete. Heinrich had arranged for several small trenches, each with the small roof on top of it, for the village night watch to squat in during the night. Each trench house, as they called them, was located on the edge of the field closest to the village centre, and faced outwards across the fields and groves. Here the night watch men could huddle in relative comfort throughout the night watching out for any signs of intruders.
Heinrich was sitting in one of these trench houses, clutching onto a pitchfork. He was watching the fields for not just thieves, but also rabbits. The cabbage and turnip crops were particularly vulnerable to rabbits. Keeping these crops safe was a matter of life and death. A village like Humhyde was always on the edge of starvation. The village watchmen were few in number but their work as indispensable for a village without watch men quickly starves.
During the night, Heinrich crept from one trench house to another, and until midnight there had been so sign of anything out of the ordinary. Sometime after midnight, Heinrich spotted something deep inside the forest. There was a light. Silently he left his post and crept into the black forest clutching his pitchfork close to his body. The light source was some distance, but Heinrich took care not to rush nor make any sound as he ventured deeper. He suspected it must be a torch used by robbers to help guide them back after stealing the crops. Was this the danger that Sir Randall had been telling him about?
It was only after he was some distance into the forest when it occurred to him that maybe he should not be going in alone. He thought about turning back, because if what Sir Randall had been implying this would not be just a small band of four or six thieves, but a dozen or so harden highwaymen. His hands grasped the shaft of the pitchfork more tightly until his knuckles started to whiten. I will just go and scout them out for now, I won’t confront them, he thought to himself.
When at last he was close enough to see the light clearly, it was indeed a torch on a metal stand burning on its own. Fearing exposing himself, he squeezed himself into the hollow of a dead tree and watched the area around the torch patiently. After a while he heard the sounds of something stumbling through the forest. He looked over and saw a figure no bigger than a child of ten, stagger into view near the torch. He prepared to spring out of his hiding place expecting to catch a child in the act of stealing. Just when he was ready to pounce; he caught his first good glimpse of the figure.
Although it was only as tall as a child, it was shaped perfectly to the proportions of an adult woman. It wore no clothes, but had no skin either. It was translucent and slimy like the flesh of a slug. It stood upright but walked without bending its knees. There were no bones or internal organs of any kind. Just a solid body of grey translucent slime shaped like a woman. Heinrich’s blood turned cold when he noticed that the creature had two round sockets in its head for eyes, but instead of containing translucent eyes like the rest of the creature’s flesh, two pig eyes were wedged into the sockets in its face. Neither eye moved within the sockets as they were so tightly squeezed in they couldn’t move at all. The figure being so small that even pig eyes were oversized for the shape of the face. The longer Heinrich looked at the figure, the more afraid he grew.