Short Temper, Long Claws

The druid tossed the tavern keeper two silver pieces and sat himself at a table near the fire. It was a gloomy, rainy evening in late autumn and he felt the cold seeping into his bones. He generally stayed away from taverns and inns, being more comfortable in the wilds. But it was damp and miserable outside today, and the cave he’d first chosen for this night’s refuge had turned out to have a disagreeably flatulent bear in residence.

"Pffff!” snorted one of the men at the table next to his. “Smells like a drowned dog in here.” His roughset companions laughed, their filthy work clothes leaving little room for complaint.

Since they were only humans, and unarmed at that, the druid ignored them. Unfortunately they had had begun their evening drinking early, and were well on the way to drunkenness.

“Hey old man, you hiding a dead dog in those robes?” one, with a heavy black beard, asked.

The druid looked over flatly, his gaze impassive but intended as warning. Another of the workmen, this one with greasy mouse brown hair, nudged his friend and whispered something.

“Hmpf,” the bearded one said in disbelief. “That right old man? You a wolf in disguise like Tal says?”

The druid let his blue eyes with vertical cat pupils hold the other’s gaze for a moment, before turning to his just arrived bowl of stew. The other table was quiet for a moment, but then the bearded one started making jokes about dogs. The others quickly joined in; their coarse laughter lubricated by yet another round of cheap ale.

He ignored them for several more minutes, eating his stew with the rough spoon supplied. When he was finished, he pushed the bowl aside. Abruptly, a bone dropped onto his table, thrown from one of the drunks.

“Doggy wanna bone?” the bearded leader slurred.

Ignoring the insult, the druid sat back, combing his hair back from his face with his fingers, exposing one of his slightly pointed ears inadvertently.

“Oooo!” the greasy one cooed. “It’s an elfy dog!”

“How could that happen?” another asked.

“You think an elf stuck it in a dog or a dog stuck it in an elf?” the bearded one guffawed as he slapped the table.

“A dog wouldn’t put up with that,” the greasy one answered. “But I hear elf girls will open for anything if the season’s right.”

“Ha!” the bearded one said, eager to put himself back at the top of the conversation. “I had me a dog once that walked funny for days after this elf lass came through. I always wondered why…” His companions roared with the jest. “Hope that wasn’t your pa old man, I had to put him down last spring for nipping me when I kicked him.”

The druid’s shape blurred into a great black panther as he leapt toward the drunkards’ table. His rear claws ripped through the rough canvas smock of the man with his back toward the fire. The greasy man to the left and another to the right were each slapped to the ground with deep scratches across their shocked faces. The bearded man tried to stand up before the panther tore his throat open with his fangs. In the sudden silence, a mug of ale dropped when the druid began to move shattered as it hit the floor. Shifting back to human form, the druid picked up his walking stick from his own table. He glanced around at the terror-stricken faces as he walked out the door, knowing he’d get no room here tonight without far more trouble than it was worth.

A third of an hour later the old man arrived back at the cave he’d passed earlier. Dejectedly he dropped his staff and pack in the corner and lay back against the hard stone. The large bear along one side lifted its head and sniffed, making a querulous growl.

“Oh shut up,” the druid sighed.

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