The clanking of mugs and the muffled sound of conversation drifted throughout the pub as the sun cast its last rays. Most of the local men had come to seek out friendly conversation over a few pints before returning to their homes for the evening. But off in a corner, one man sat alone with his ale.
He sat in a relaxed slouch with his back to the wall, facing the room before him. One hand grasped his mug while the other rested on the smooth wood of the table. A suggestion of a smile rested on his handsome features.
The conversations drifted into silence after the main door opened. A single man filled the doorway. Unlike the country folk gathered under the flickering lanterns of the pub, he wore a sword on his left hip, while on his right a dagger hung ominously. He waited while his eyes adjusted to the darkened room. After a few moments, he walked over to the bar and leaned over. Everyone took note as the pub owner nodded toward the corner of the room. After a quick glance, the stranger walked directly toward the corner and its lone occupant.
"I'm looking for a man named Owain Armstrong," the intruder stated in a deep voice.
The man seated at the table picked up his mug and took a drink. His other hand dropped off the edge of the table to rest on the handle of his own dagger strapped to his belt.
"You have found him."
They eyed each other carefully.
"You seem a bit young to be a dragonslayer."
A half smile crossed Owain's face as his hand relaxed on the handle of his dagger. He thought a moment, and then he slowly stood up. He stood even with the stranger, though he was only of medium build to the other's larger bulk. Owain began rolling up the sleeve that covered his left arm. The light from a lantern hanging on the wall gleamed on the bared forearm and the terrible scars that ran down the entire length.
"Ugly scars, mate," the stranger said, his voice tinged with awe.
"Dragon clawed me, right before I killed it. And it was a small one at that."
The stranger nodded silently, his eyes still fixed on the deep scars that disfigured Owain's entire forearm.
Owain sat back down, rolling down his sleeve.
"Well, I guess you'll have to do. You dragon hunters are hard to find these days. My master has placed notices from the coast all the way up to the highlands, and no one has answered them." The stranger raised an eyebrow. "Then some of the locals here sent us word a dragon hunter was passing through."
"Good thing dragons aren't that common any more."
"Common or not, we've got one. And we have to get rid of it, quick like." The stranger shook his head and sat down opposite Owain.
"My master, the earl of this land, is willing to pay handsomely." He reached into his shirt and pulled a small bag out. It jingled with coin as he sat it down in front of Owain.
"There's more where that came from -- if you can do the job."
A knowing smile crossed Owain's face as he picked up his mug and drained it. He signaled the pub's owner for another. Then he reached over, opened the bag, and inspected its contents. It held gold coin.
Owain looked evenly at the stranger while he set the bag back down between them.
"Perhaps you would like to accompany me when I hunt it. To see if I can do the job."
The eyebrows of the stranger rose questioningly.
Owain sat back as a woman placed a full mug before him. The stranger remained silent as the woman stepped away.
"I thought not," Owain said with a smug grin.
The man stared at him.
"What's your name?" Owain asked
"My name is Will Tate." The man paused. "So then, are you going to take the job?"
Owain took a short sip of the ale and then set it down. He gave Will a shrewd look. "How do you know it's a dragon? Could be wolves, eh?"
"I've seen what wolves will do. This is much worse."
"How so?" Owain's voice betrayed his growing excitement.
The stranger took a deep breath.
"Bloody mess, really -- not much of the poor sheep or cow left. In fact, there's nothing left when it kills a sheep except the head and a great pool of blood on the ground." The stranger shook his head. "It doesn't just break their necks making the kill either."
The big man paused and looked straight at Owain.
"It pulls the head clean off! Even when it kills a young cow," he said with a whispered dread.
"What about any tracks?" Owain asked quickly.
"Can you follow them?"
"No. The tracks are only around the kill. There are none coming, nor any going. They seem to appear out of nowhere."
It was now Owain's turn to nod silently. He rubbed his left forearm, thinking deeply.
"One last question. On the tracks around the kill, how many toes on each foot?"
Will held up three fingers.
"How big are the hind feet?"
Will held up his hands and spread them almost two feet apart.
Owain leaned back against the wall and took a thoughtful drink from his mug.
"I will have to go and get my weapons first, but I can be ready to travel with the morning light." He sat upright. "And I will want to talk to your master myself. My price will depend on how big the beast turns out to be. The bigger and nastier they are, well ..." He shrugged.
"So it shall be, young dragon-killer."
Will began to chuckle.
Owain gave him a slightly puzzled look.
"Share your humor, Will."
The man rose from the table, still smiling.
"It just crossed my mind, about dragon hunters and all -- why there's not many of you. And especially why the only one I find is so young."
"And ..." Owain prompted.
"I guess not many of you blokes live long enough to grow old!"