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by Keith Haney
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Backstory
The small village of Willowford is set deep within Demming Wood. As the name suggests, the village rests on the banks of the Staye river near a shallow crossing. A great willow tree marks the crossing. Visible for miles around, the great tree is said to date back to the time before Kings.

Nestled between the Earldoms of Dunhamshire and Hyllshire, the sleepy village owes no rent to either court. Founded by a parish priest over forty years ago, the town has eked out an even existence ever since.

Recently a new Prior (Bevan) was appointed to replace the previous head priest, who had passed away. The new Prior, an import from the city of Cobham, has made numerous improvements and attracted new business to the area. The most notable of his contributions is the grant from the Bishop of Cobham to build a Temple in Willowbrook. The King himself granting authority for the Priory to use the Hyllcastle quarry. This coups was a great victory for the Prior, but represented a loss of income to the Earl of Hyll. Something that may adversely effect relations between the Priory and the Earldom.

The neighboring Earls use the parish church for sunday services, weddings, christenings and the like. The run-down condition of the current church has caused a defection of some important services. Prompting the ambitious project.

The two houses, as a rule, tolerate one another. Some bad blood between them still remains dating back to the rebellion of Prince Hawthorne, where they were competing for land shares and control of the quarry. In the end, the Earl of Hyllshire retained control of the quarry. The Eight Years war has been settled for the last year and a half, with most of the noble houses backing King William of Devereaux. The ousted rebellious nobles, having settled their differences with the king directly, suffering imprisonment or loss of lands. All appeared to be on the mend. With warring nobles a memory, the fields were planted once more and livestock thrived again.

A wool merchant arrived in town two days ago with news of abandoned farmhouses on the northern territory of Demmingshire. Signs of opportunist bandits were found on the home sites and farms, but no signs of the families were found on the property. The merchant had been dealing with the farmers and their families for years. He was clearly affected by their disappearance. Making his appeal to the new Prior has prompted the holy man to offer a reward for information regarding the disposition of the families.

 

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