"Ha! And wha'd ye be knowin' 'bout me mutter?" Huthgar retorted.
"What? You think I've never been to a brothel?" Samuel ask.
"Please!" Erlik interjected. "Really? Really? You two have been at it for the last two days!"
"Let it go, Erlik," Lily suggest. "You know it's how they pass the time while we travel."
"Yes, but two days?" the Wizard demanded, shaking his head. "The childish banality is beginning to drive me crazy."
"Ta bad we nae be mor' 'fisticated' fer ya, 'lik ma lad," the Dwarf replied.
"Erlik . . . Erlik; how many times . . ."
"Don't!" the Rogue cried. "Don't! He's just trying to bait you. You need to stop letting him. As long as he knows it's working, he won't stop."
"You two spoil all the fun," the Fighter complained. "Huthgar and I . . ."
The big man stopped speaking as a simple home came into view; smoke rising from the stone chimney. Partly timber construction, partly rough cut stone, it was a ramshackle place, with only a small garden off to the side. It looked to be about a story and a half tall.
"Nae much o' a farm, I be thinkin'," said Huthgar.
"That garden's not big enough for much more than a family," Erlik offered. "I'm guessing that 'farming' isn't how this man makes his living."
"Well, there's smoke," said Lily. "Maybe he'll trade us a meal for a few coppers?"
"Certainly won't hurt to ask," Erlik agreed.
Samuel flashed a smile. "I'm tired of my own cooking . . . but let's approach slowly, we don't want to frighten them."
"Aye, caution 'tis tha word, laddie," agreed Huthgar. "I nae wan' tae spoil a chance fer good food . . . even if'n it be little mor'n stew."
The group approached the home slowly. As they neared, a shutter opened on a window and the face of a man peered out at them. A moment later, the face disappeared, the shutter closed and the door opened.
A man stood just outside the door, wearing homespun and worn leather boots. He looked nervously towards a wooden platform not too distant from his door, then back at the group.
"Greetings my good man," said Erlik. "My friends and I have been traveling for some time and would appreciate a place to rest and some hot food. We can pay."
The man opened his mouth, then hesitated as he looked at the man in red robes. "Greetings . . . friend," he finally replied, in a tenor voice that sounded nervous. "I would gladly offer ya and ya companions food, but it may not be safe." He again looked nervously towards the wooden platform.
"Trouble?" asked Samuel, following the man's gaze.
"Yes," the man replied. "Bad trouble."
"Mayhap we can hep ya, lad," offered Huthgar. "In 'schange fer yer hos'tality."
"If that's possible, I would be most grateful," the man quickly responded. "My name is Paco and I am a salt miner." He pointed to the platform. "A creature has taken over my mine and killed my helper!" His voice grew louder as his excitement built. "It's even attacked the house a couple of times!" He pointed at the door and walls of the home.
"Let's see," Samuel said, as he dismounted. He walked over to the door and examined it closely, then the wall on either side. "These are claw marks . . . deep ones." He looked at his friends. "Something's been trying to get in alright."
The group dismounted.
"Please, if you can help; the tax collector is due any day," Paco continues. "I don't have any real money and I haven't been able to get into my mine for almost two weeks now! The tax collector will take most of the salt I presently have -- if we can even get to it -- but I'll still have a few sacks left over. I have a wife and two small children. Free us of this monster and I'll give you three of the remaining sacks!"
"We can pro'bly get mor'n a few silver fer a couple sacks o' salt," said Huthgar.
Lily sneered at the Dwarf. "There's some kind of monster trying desperately to eat a woman and two children and you're thinking about money?"
"How'd ya know 'tis tryin' tae ate 'em?" the Dwarf retorted.
"It ate my friend!" cried Paco, his posture suddenly slumping "At least, all I ever found of him was his . . . uh, foot." The miner swallowed hard. "All I found was his foot and a part of his lower leg."
Lily slapped the Dwarf on his shoulder. "See?"
"While Huthgar is correct in thinking that we must be practical," Erlik chimed in. "Lily is also correct in thinking that there is no need for us not to be charitable; two sacks of salt would be sufficient, I think." The Wizard looked at Paco. "As long as they come with a home cooked meal and a place for us, and our horses, to spend the night?"
Paco's face lit up with signs of hope. "You're welcome to put your animals in the lean-to," he pointed to the other side of his home. "And the four of you are welcome to bed down in the main room for the night. My wife is a good cook; but there won't be much. The creature -- whatever it is -- has left our garden alone and we've been able to tend it, a little, during the day; along with some harvesting. But the meat's about gone and most of the flour. " He shrugged. "I haven't been able to hunt , or go to town, and that, that . . . thing, killed and devoured the last of my pigs four days ago. There's enough venison left for a nice stew, but not enough for steaks."
" A hearty stew sounds just fine," Lily replied, looking at her companions.
"Well, there's still plenty of daylight," says Samuel. "No sense giving this thing -- whatever it is -- a chance to kill our horses during the night. How big is this mine?" he asked, turning to Paco.
"I have a map inside my home," Paco replied excitedly. "I can give you all the information you need. There are even some supplies in my storage tunnel; the first one you'll come to. The salt deposits in it played out last year. There's two small cask of lantern oil, two lanterns and three hundred feet of rope stored there" He swallowed hard again. "You'll find Ralph's . . . foot, in there as well. My boys can tend your animals while we go inside and look over the map; if you'd like?"
"By all means," agreed the Wizard. "Let's go inside and make our plans."