Saturday, 16 January 2010

inns and taverns: the winter wolf

In the cold steppes, the Winter Wolf is a legend. A covered wagon pulled by a bull yak that leads three yak carrying the logs and felt for a yurt appears with the first frost and vanishes with the last snows of spring. The Winter Wolf is named for the white wolf pelts that cover the wagon and worn by the driver and owner of the yurt and yaks. He is welcomed in the remote settlements he visits yet is equally likely to stay at a crossroad, stream or hillside.

Their driver is a man known only as Ulfin, a gruff man with pale eyes and black hair and beard rimed with white hair. Clad in a coat made of a massive white wolf pelt, his sardonic manner and weary pragmatism hide a strong sense of justice. Those nomads and traders who drink in his yurt exchange goods for strong drink, dried foods and wisdom earned from a life on the steppes and communion with occult forces.

He is partial to riddles and Go, his ability to drink is formidable, rivaling that of a cave bear and his temper is equally formidable if roused. His insight into the human condition is more than enough to keep thieves and deceivers stringing along until they are caught out; then he deals with them accordingly. Some find themselves falling asleep in their seat to wake up a very long walk from their original position.

His wagon carries clay jugs of mint and blackberry kvass (a sourdough spirit), cherry, blueberry and thorn hip wines, spiced mead and barrels of dark winter ale as well as reindeer jerky, dried fruit and roasted roots. The yurt is comfortable, dry and warm, though civilised folk may find it basic and the firepit... fragrant. Would-be raiders find Ulfin a tricky customer and capable of calling on potent help from other worlds as well as more local allies.

The stories say Ulfin disappears when winter ends, travelling to another land where he can brew in peace for the coming winter. Yet the Winter Wolf travels between territories without allegiance to any lord or tribal chieftain. The wagon and yurt move on after seven days, the ground trampled flat and the remnants of a fire visible but no discernable trail, independent of her The Winter Wolf moves on, preferring freedom to the service of any lord or chief.

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