"I mean they were torn apart so bad, I wouldn't have been able to tell what they were if I didn't already know."
Jase nodded. "How many sheep were killed?"
Bornis shrugged uncomfortably. "All of them."
Jase's eyes widened in disbelief. "That's over a hundred animals!"
Bornis pursed his lips. "They were getting ready for the spring shearing, Jase, but now..." he trailed off sadly.
Jase's jaw tightened with anger. Those sheep were all the Himels had - wool was how they made their living. Without it they wouldn't have the means to make it through the next year. He knew the people of Kindel's Grove would do what they could to help, but it would be years before the Himels were back on their feet again. Unless...
He cast a quick glance at the big stone lying next to the smokehouse and nodded to himself. "Don't worry about the Himels, Bornis. I have a feeling everything will turn out all right for them."
"I sure hope so," the big man replied quietly. "The Himels are good people." He was quiet for a moment while he gazed at the surrounding forest. "What do you think killed the sheep?" he asked.
"I don't know," Jase said, his frown deepening. "But I intend to find out."
"I knew you would say that," Bornis said with a nod. "That's why I came to tell you." He looked at his horse. "Forge, come," he commanded, patting the side of his leg. Obediently, the big roan left the shade of the barn.
When Bornis had settled himself into the saddle, he looked back to Jase. "When I get back to town, I'll talk to Trel and see if we can round up a group to go help dispose of the -" he swallowed hard before continuing, "bodies."
"I'll be along shortly," Jase said. "I just need a few minutes to saddle "'shan. I'll catch up with you on the road."
Bornis urged Forge forward, then stopped and turned back to face Jase. "I'm scared, Jase. What if the rumors we've been hearing are true? What if there are monsters running loose in Kelsa?"
Jase laughed, hoping to put his friend at ease with his nonchalance. "Then we'll hunt them down and kill them, I guess." Bornis smiled, but Jase could tell it was forced. The sight of the dead sheep had really shaken him. AYou know, Bornis," he added, "you really don't have to go back to the Himels'. Trel and I and the others can handle it. Why don't you go back to the smithy and finish up those knives I asked you to make for me."
"Okay, Jase," he said, sounding relieved. "Give my regards to your mother."
Jase watched until Bornis disappeared down the lane, then turned and found the bladehawk still watching from the treetop. He moved to the garden and picked up a rock. Whirling, he let it fly at the bird. It leaped into the air with a squawk and was gone.
Nodding in satisfaction, he went to change into grubbier clothes. It looked like a long work day was going to get even longer.
When Jase finally returned home, exhausted and covered with blood, it was well after dark. He didn't feel like putting A'shan away in the barn, so he just turned him into the pasture and hung the saddle on the fence. With an oil lamp to light the way, he went out to the pool to bathe for the second time that day.
He stuck a finger in the icy water and momentarily considered heating water for a bath inside the house. One look at the crust of dried blood covering his arms changed his mind. With a shudder, he stripped off his clothes and slipped into the water, eager to scrub himself clean.
Animal blood was nothing new to him - he hunted all the time. Supplying the poorer folk of Kindel's Grove with meat was something he enjoyed and was the reason he'd built his smokehouse. The way in which the Himels' sheep had been mutilated, however, was disturbing. It left him feeling like their blood had somehow become unclean.
Ignoring the icy cold of the water, he scrubbed furiously at the blood, trying unsuccessfully to suppress the vision of the shredded, blood-stained bodies. So many killed all at once, he thought. So many.