Breadwell is a small country village, it lays in the lands to the south, where the ground is fertile and the harvests plentiful, more so than anywhere in the realm. Breadwell’s largest and most popular product is the bread, grown, milled and baked in the village, it is sold far and wide, distributed across the land on trade boats by the river a few miles from the village. I have myself had bread from Breadwell whilst on my travels, and I can say it is the sweetest, softest, fluffiest bread I have ever tasted, but I am no culinary genius, just a simple country gnome, wild mushrooms and fried pigeon breast is considered a delicacy next to my usual hedgerow diet. Needless to say it was a rich village, each house was made of fine sand coloured stone, strong oaken timbers, thatched roofs, and no house was in disrepair, each with its own garden, front and back, making the summer months an explosion of flowers decorating the village in a spectacle of colour. The tracks and small roads of the village were of hard grassland with a stone path down the middle, just wide enough for a cart. It caused problems in winter months as hoofed animals and carts were banned from the grass verges, all but one street that ran down the back of Market Street where all the shops were located. I say street but it is more like a track at the back of the shops for merchants to unload their goods, on the other side of the track there are no houses or other buildings only a woodland, honey suckle wood as it is called, funnily enough due to the honey suckle that abounds in the wood giving off a strong sweet scent that hides all unpleasant odours that abound near human habitation. The mixture of honey suckle pollen and the sweet smell of freshly baked bread is overwhelming to the senses. Needless to say, the villagers of Breadwell were very proud and almost stuck up about their village’s perfection.
The village is surrounded by fields, rich in barley, wheat, livestock and vegetables, the fields run right up to the village boundary’s, every piece of land has been utilised for growing and rearing the best meat and any other consumables possible. Orchards dominate the roaming hills around the village, rich in apples and pears, perfect for cider, cider which is sold in the local tavern, the unknown tavern as it is called, it has no name, no sign, just a very strong reputation for very strong cider, a few scoops is enough to put the most seasoned drinker in a more welcoming mood, in fact, many years ago when I was a young gnome, me and a few of my closest friends at the time stopped in the unknown tavern for salted beef and a few drinks for refreshment whilst travelling. Three days later we emerged, very hung-over, very sore and quite the opposite of which we had planned to walk out of the tavern. Anyway, rambling, an old gnomes long suit. Mr Dorton is the owner and runs the tavern by himself, he is a fair enough man to those whom he wants to be, he is of a medium build, unlike many other tavern owners, he has short very slightly ginger hair, a round button nose and slit like eyes that scan everywhere and see all, he is a sly foxy looking chap, but we must never judge by how we look. The tavern was a hive of activity, in the winter months the lead framed windows and wooden shutters were closed and a mulled cider chased away the colds and flux that haunted the snow-covered land, in the warmer months the doors and windows were opened, welcoming in the suns golden kiss, and a strong cider or ale to compliment the day. It was a meeting place for all, it was the place to be in Breadwell. But a humble simple place, a large stone paved floor and very old wooden tables and chairs, some of which had scratching’s engraved that dated further back to any living memory. The wall was of a soft golden colour, many paintings hung off it, mainly paintings of the village and its surrounding countryside, the bar was set out straight across the back of the tavern, it was very old, and looked almost crooked and wonky, it also had an odd feature to it, all along the front were carvings of a face, a face with a crown of leaves and a sharp almost evil pointy face. There was also a strange custom, a custom that had happened for as long as anyone could remember, no one knew why or when the custom came to be, but it was always honoured. On the evening of the first day of every week, a pot of cider is left on a large flat-topped stone at the edge of honey suckle wood, just to the back of the tavern across the track. And always the following morning the pot is still there, but no cider. Some claimed it was an offering to the gods of the wood, some that it was an offering to ward off the evil spirits that are rumoured to haunt the dells of the wood, and some that it is an old custom that came about many years ago when a homeless dwarf set up to live in the wood, he was pitied by the landlord and on the said evening was given a pot of cider, now they say that the current landlord Mr Dorton probably just puts the cider back into his store, but at least the old tradition is honoured.
It was summer, the trees were thick with green leaves, honey suckle wood wafted out its pleasant perfume, bees buzzed hurriedly around the various gardens of the village, the crops were coming along well and the cows ripped greedily at the lush pasture grass. On this hot day was the annual village fair, held on the pasture at the front of the village, trade stalls and travelling traders abounded. From the local bread sellers with their various different takes on breadwell bread, from a plain to a sweet dried strawberry loaf, butchers stalls and travelling merchants selling all kinds of trinkets. A fat dwarf and his wife sat next to their stall selling wicker baskets and hand crafted walking sticks. A group of Leprechaun’s played their instruments in the center of the fair, a man had a huge bear with a collar about its neck connected to a mighty ringed chain, if he tugged the collar hard the bear would stand on its hind legs and sway from side to side with a vacant look in its eyes, many folks around the bear but keeping a safe distance from it.
Meanwhile, at the unknown tavern, even greater things were happening. Mr Dorton had a mighty visitor, one of the young princes of the realm had stopped with his hunting party while one of the royal centaur’s had his shoe refitted. The prince had stopped in the tavern to wait and refresh, they had been hunting a white hart for many days, and the hart never seemed to tire but the prince and his companions pursued none the less. I later found out that the prince and his party hunted the white hart for many weeks, they were last known to be far in the west, in the mountain passes that lead to the great sea, and there, they disappeared forever, leaving not a trace. I suspect goblins or others of an unsavory character are to blame, but who knows what dangers lurk in the western mountains, old ancient evil dwells there. But at this part in the tale the prince was alive and well, and, after having his first sip of the cider, dubbed Mr Dorton with his royal blessing and seal, and naming him a royal standout, an honor only in name but one which would spread Mr Dortons fame and reputation far and wide, and one that would also expand his ego and his new-found arrogance. It started almost immediately, Mr Dorton upped the price of his cider, banned all non-human folk from drinking it, even though dwarfs were the biggest drinkers of the cider, and even renamed it royal cider. Soon enough it was the first night of the new week, the tavern was almost empty, save for Mr Dorton and three of the regulars, “almost time to put out the cider pot ay” said one of the three old men to Mr Dorton, who replied in a very self-sure voice “ bah, why waste my time on such rubbish traditions, why should I give away my royal cider to some freeloader who takes advantage of that ridiculous tradition, my royal cider is the best in the realm, mine!” he put a lot of emphasis on the words when referring to himself, the old men shook their heads, gulped down their cider and left, walking home in a very slow non direct route, the three of them looked as though they were on a ship’s deck in a rough sea. Mr Dorton was alone. The hour was past midnight, the night was still, warm and moon lit bright, a full yellow moon dominated the night sky and the smell of bonfire smoke still crept along with the soft breeze, there was an eerie silence to the evening. Off in the distance a terrible howling scream could be heard, not human yet not animal, almost like a giant wolf, a creature of the night. Mr Dorton sat out at the front of the tavern, a jug of cider and the remains of his dinner laying on the floor, he was drifting between sleep and consciousness, his head slowly lowing, then quickly coming back up with a jolt. Suddenly from behind the tavern came a terrible high-pitched squall, it pierced the calm of the night. Mr Dorton leapt to his feet, wide awake, he ran to the back of the tavern with an inquisitive fear about him. He saw nothing at all but save a short thin shape that he thought he saw dart into the thick wood block, but his mind slowed by sleep and alcohol didn’t read into this, believing that it must have just been the leaves of the forest playing tricks on his vulnerable mind.
Now, I would normally give you a full detailed description of what Mr Dorton actually saw that night, but to add to the mystery of this tale, I will not, yet. You must wait, as did the villagers of Breadwell. Although, the manner in which you wait to find out may be a little less unsettling as it was for the villagers.