Johann and Bäske are two hunters trying to keep their bellies filled through harsh, dark winterdays in Oskónia . While on one of their deer huntings they get caught up in a tale of riddles and adventure.
Only a faint deer grunt in the distance.
The two men picking up the sound are carrying nothing but an axe. They’ve been following the beast for a while now. They’re tired and demoralized, if they don’t come back with food there will be hell to pay, after all they have to be feeding a community of twenty starving people. A deer won’t be enough for that, but at least it’s something. The winter has been especially cold this time of year, the crops failed and many people died of hunger.
It's been a long chase, the animals in Erskrig forest are quick, smart and seem to be un-affected by the harsh frost, but Johann and Bäske are skilled hunters. They track the deer’s prints as they hop and stride through the thick forest growth. Johann’s ears are highly trained, Bäske’s eyes are like those of the hawk, they always hunt together and have never failed. They've been running for a full two hours now, and it seems they're catching up on the beast.
Johann whistles a bird-like sound at Bäske who is twenty meters away from him, Bäske signals to Johann that he has sighted the deer, they duck and hit the ground swiftly. As they crouch over the frozen hard ground they see the deer drinking at an unusual unfrozen part of a creek. They move silently and approach the deer with stealth and care. Bäske takes his axe and prepares to throw (The hunters of Oskónia are skilled fighters, many of the men are forced into the army to defend their homeland of invading tribes of wild-men), he aims for the deer’s head and lets loose. As it strikes the deer it lets out a howling, agonizing cry. The two men jump up and cheer, quickly they run towards their fallen prey, its head has been split open and mangled, and its brains are splattered over the ground, blood mixes with the creek-water. Johann and Bäske kneel down and start cutting up the deer to make it ready for transport back to the village. As they slice and rip they can’t help but notice the strangely unfrozen water next to them. How can water flow in such harsh weather. The two nod at each other and leave the deer be, a decision a hunter of Oskónia would never make, as any huntsman knows it is unwise to keep your spoils unguarded. Yet it is as if Johann and Bäske read each other’s minds. Bäske rips the axe from the deer’s splattered skull and puts it back on his gold-trimmed belt. They feel the water and make their way up the stream.
As their journey progresses the stream appears to become strangely golden of color and warmer too, steam rises up from the water and melts any remaining ice surrounding. The two decide to pick up the pace as they can hardly contain their curiosity. Running alongside the water, they are baffled at the fact that there appear to be coins and jewels in the water, the two pick up even more pace as the amount of riches only seem to grow the further they go upstream. After a long run they stop at a giant, menacing looking cave connecting to the stream.
Strange noises come from the inside, noises that shake the earth and vibrate the water at Johann and Bäske’s feet. They wonder what could be inside. The forests of Erskrig hold many wonderous and dangerous creatures, but none of any that could make this sound, though legend passed on by the elders tells of a mythical creature that apparently roams the forests. A creature with giant wings and breath of fire. Johann and Bäske thought they had no fear of anything but at the passage of the cave they freeze at their spots. Unsure about whether to venture further in or not. They look at each other with open eyes, Johann grinding his teeth together and Bäske stroking his long beard quickly. The noise sounds again, louder this time and more frightening. The men shiver and are both unable to move from their spots. Two huge red eyes glow out from the darkness. A deep, almost warm sounding voice sounds: “What are two tiny huntsmen of Oskónia doing at the passage of my home.” Johann and Bäske are unable to talk; Johann has wet his pants by now and seems to be the most frightened of the two. As Bäske collects all the courage he could find at that point to reply the voice sounds again, only angrier and louder this time, “Do I have to ask again before I burn you to a crisp on the spot?!” it shouts. Bäske replies in a nervous and trembling manner, “We were hunting deer upstream, by chance we stumbled upon this cave, we meant no harm or disrespect, I swear on Ghorek’s fist.” A long silence followed Bäske’s words. From the dark an old bearded man appeared, in his right hand a wooden staff of oak, in the left half eaten potato. “I can see that you’re lying, tiny huntsman.” the old man said while approaching Bäske. Johann still at this point wet and paralyzed. As Bäske stood in wait for the old man slowly pacing at him, the fear he had of some horrible creature that might be hidden in the dark disappeared. Slowly a smile appeared on his face and he changed back to his confident stature. The man who was obviously a wise-man of sorts tapped his staff on the ground and made a blue light lit the entire room. “What’s an old coot such as yourself doing in a cold dampy cave. Shouldn’t you be under a warm blanket instead of frightening hunters looking for a decent meal” Bäske shouted confidently. The old man’s face went from jolly to sad in a swift moment, “This cold dampy cave as you call it is my home, and I have been living in it since I started the study of magic seventy-eight years ago.” he replied angrily.
In the background a faint moan could be heard, it seemed Johann was finally recovering from his petrified state, if only by the help of the cold drops of water falling from the ceiling onto his face. Whenever Johann got nervous he would get the strangest stutter, not even a stutter, more like unintentional play on words. “Bäsk” Johann called for his friend “Bäsk, we have to get out of here, you know, we have to bring back our spoils, the folk are starving and I don’t wanna be spending any time with no old sack of potatoes.” Johann nodded, grabbed for his belt and secured everything firmly. “Old man, we found riches outside in the river, we’ll be taking them, and I won’t be caring if it’s yours or not. We’ll go back to our village, you can come along if you want, if not I bid you farewell.” As the two prepared to leave the cave a violent flash struck the entrance. The ceiling shook and huge boulders fell down, blocking the way out. “What is this?” Bäske shouted, “what is this you madman!? You have locked us all up”. The old man smiled mischievously. “Sit down little huntsmen, sit down and I’ll tell you a story”. Johann and Bäske both swiftly sat down on the cold hard ground as if pushed down by some hidden force. “That gold out yonder is there for a reason. I brought it along with me many years ago. It was said this cave was once inhabited by a large black dragon; a giant beast with wings and blue flames coming from its mouth. I have been living here in solitude, awaiting its return. I swore an oath to my now deceased tutor that I would find this dragon and tear out its teeth.” The old man eyed Johann. “There is another way out of here but I will only show it to you when you promise me you’ll accompany me and help find the dragon I’ve been looking for.” The old man’s eyes appeared filled with excitement, perhaps in his heart he already knew there was no choice for the men to make. Of course Bäske agreed, dragging Johann along with him. They made their way further into the cave, only travelling a few moments before reaching another exit.
Bäske never set his mind to actually accompany the wise-man, after leaving the cave though he felt sorry for the old man who seemed out of breath travelling just the short walk they had taken. Bäske called Johann to him. “Take the route back, and keep following the stream. I want you to take the deer we killed and return to the village. Do as I say and do it now.”
As if the two men understood each other perfectly, Johann agreed without saying a word, knowing Bäske always kept his promises and there was no way he could change his mind on the matter. Johann gave Bäske his special crafted golden axe and wished him luck, he felt there wouldn’t be a chance he would see his friend in the future again.