“What’s their story?” called one of the bearded men from a table.
“Been chased by Trogos, they have,” the first man explained. “Darn near got eaten.”
The men grumbled at the naming of the wolves. They were clearly no greater fans of the monsters than Linvin’s party.
“May we shelter here from the storm?” Linvin asked most earnestly.
“Do ya tell good stories?” called an indiscriminate voice from the group.
“We have all kinds of stories,” Anvar interjected.
“Can ya hold your liquor?” called another voice. In unison, the men reaffirmed the question by yelling “Ya?”
Bander stepped forward in an unexpected move and cheerfully pronounced, “Put the drink in front of us and see!”
The men cheered at the acceptance of the challenge. One handed his mug to Bander, who drank the contents in one drink. It was harsh liquor that did not agree with his empty stomach. Still, Bander kept it down as promised. He slammed the mug down on the table. The men jumped up in celebration and patted him on the back.
“Get some blankets and drinks for our new friends,” called the man with the lantern.
The lumberjacks treated them like younger siblings coming in from the cold. They peeled the wet clothes off their shivering bodies and hung them on branches near the fire to dry. There was no room for modesty among the woodsmen, who knew all too well, the illnesses that could set in from exposure. They wrapped the elves tightly and placed them at a table of prominence near the fire. Each was handed a full mug of whiskey.
At first, the rye drink was bitter to the tongue and hard to take. Gradually, as the effects blended with the merry disposition of their hosts, the beverage became more palatable until it was consumed with ease and even enjoyed.
Obviously cut off from outside news, the men begged for stories. Linvin did not want their quest revealed and thought he should be the one to tell their story. He explained that they were headed for the Unclaimed Territory when the wolves began stalking them. As the story brought them into the moment, the men began to mutter curses about the beasts to one another.
“The King needs to do something about those mongrels!” cited one of the men.
“He don’t care about nothin’ that don’t make him no profit!” called another. The grumbling continued until Anvar chimed in with a question. “You seem to have a story of your own to tell. Please enlighten us?”
In the back of the lean-to, were dozens of barrels of whiskey. A lumberjack who was grander than any of the others was refilling his mug. He took a deep drink, allowing some of the liquor to run down his red beard. Then he strode, as best he could, to the table with the elves and sat by them. Sitting his mug on the table, he wiped his hand on his pants before offering it to the group.
“The name’s Iron Hand. At least, that’s what I’m called out here. We are the best loggers in all of Sartan. That’s why we got sent so far into nowhere to cut these trees. They’re worth good money if we can ever get the logs out of here.”
“What’s stopping you?” asked Rander.
“See,” Iron Hand continued. “We’ve been up here for a while. The plan was for us to chop the wood. Then a couple times a month, wagons would come up with supplies for us and haul away the logs. Problem is, those Trogos are messing with the plans. They killed two of my men already and chased off the wagons the last two times they came. So here we sit, with our wood rotting and no food except for a few pots of beans.”
“You seem well stocked with drink,” noted Anvar.
Iron Hand looked back at the kegs. “Oh those,” he said. “Yeah, we provide all the wood for that distillery to make their barrels. It’s hard wood to come by and fetches a good price. They wanted to pay us for it but we decided to take our money in trade. Right boys!” The men raised their mugs and cheered. “So we have lots of wood. Lots of drink and we are stuck out here waiting to be the Trogos' dinner. The men will hardly leave the camp anymore.”
“Can you hunt them and rid yourselves of the problem?” Linvin asked.
Iron Hand took another generous drink and answered, “With what? It’s pretty hard to hunt with axes.”
The thought inspired Linvin. He turned to his relatives and whispered. For several moments the woodmen watched as the elves talked amongst themselves. At last, Linvin regarded Iron Hand again. “Perhaps we can help one another.”
“How’s that?” asked Iron Hand as he sat back.
“Let us rest here and share what food you have,” Linvin offered. “Once the rain stops, we will hunt some game with our bows. We will give some of it to you and your men and we will take some with us for the road.”
“What about the Trogos?” asked their host?
“If we see any, we will only be too glad to kill them,” affirmed Linvin.
Iron Hand stroked his beard for a moment. “Well,” he concluded, “we can’t be any worse off than we are now. You have a deal Mr. Linvin.” The two parties shook hands. “But tonight,” continued Iron Hand, “we drink!” The men cheered the arrangement and gathered around the fire with their drinks. They indoctrinated the newcomers to their group with a slew of drunken songs.