The Hunter Carvesh
Madik the hunter stroked his long mustache, considering Carvesh with steely eyes that were perfectly matched to his silvering hair. No one in Kervale was certain about his age, but he was widely known to have weathered many harsh, northern winters. It was evident in the leathery quality of his face, and garments as grey and threadbare as his thinning hair. Altogether, it made for an intimidating appearance. Many people chose to avoid him if they could, or at least to approach him with caution. The cruel looking knife at his hip and the powerful hunting bow that he always wore slung over his back only added to the effect.
Unlike most of the other hunters and trappers, who spent the winters in the relative warmth and safety of the village, Madik could be always counted on to arrive in the late spring. He would stay through the summer and early autumn, venturing out again with the first snows. Some people said he was mad—and perhaps he was, in his own way—but he was also exceptionally skilled at his craft. Every spring there were at least a half-dozen merchants waiting for him, almost salivating over the furs, pelts, hides and other treasures that the hunter would bring back with him. A few years ago, he had even returned with a small pouch or rare gemstones. The resulting bidding war had nearly come to a violent end.
For everything he sold, however, it remained a mystery as to what the hunter did with his riches. Part of it went to paying for his lodging—since he did not actually own a home—but the hide of a single white moose would surely cover those expenses, and Madik always brought back far more than that. All kinds of bizarre rumours had sprouted up in answer to that particular question. Carvesh did not care about any of them.
At the moment, his only concern was the hunter’s powerful bow.
After sending Gregor, Quelana and Jadoc on different errands, he made his way down to the barn to find Madik and to speak with him privately. He shared his bold plan, hoping to secure the hunter’s input—and more importantly, his help.
“Well?” Carvesh asked. “What do you think?”
“It has merit, boy” Madik said at last. “You’ve got the bait and you’ve got the snare, but how are you going to put the beast down? That’s always the most important question. Sometimes the trap itself is designed to kill, or to hold the animal until it starves to death. Other times you may need to go in and get your hands bloodied. In the end, though, it’s always the same. You trap them and you kill them. But what about a contingency? This doesn’t sound like snaring a timid hare. What happens if it gets out and comes for you?”
“That’s where I was hoping you might be of some assistance.” Carvesh responded. “I seem to remember hearing you’re a fair shot with that bow of yours.” A fair shot. Those words were so understated they were almost laughable. Several years ago, Gregor had been forced to ask Madik not to enter himself into the archery contests held during the Harvest Festival. None of the other competitors ever came close to winning. Instead, he had agreed to put on a show of skill, dazzling festival-goers with his unparalleled marksmanship.
The hunter chuckled gruffly. “No need to stroke my ego. I’ve been firing these arrows since you were just a pup. If I miss my shot, the mark gets away. I’ve learned not to miss. Now, tell me what you’re thinking.”
“When that shadowbeasts attack the bulls we leave as bait, I’m hoping that the fires we light will trap them.”
“Hoping?” Madik asked, raising one bushy eyebrow.
“I’ll confess that we don’t know much about them, but what animal will willingly run through a fire?”
“Put enough fear in them, and you’d be surprised what an animal might do, boy. Or a man, for that matter.” Carvesh could not tell if the hunter was joking. Either it way, it hardly inspired much confidence his plan. “May not come to that though. Sounds to me like these shadowbeasts of yours are what we call apex predators. Probably not much out there that could hurt them, so fear might not be something they’re all that familiar with. And that could very well work to your advantage.”
“Let’s hope. But even if the fires do work, all we’ll have managed to do is trap them. We’ll still need to finish the job, and the more distance we keep between us and them, the better. There’s a big oak about a hundred yards from where we’ll be springing the trap. If we perch you up there, will that put you in range?”
“Depends what I’m needing to hit. To hear you speak, it sounds like these things are as heavily armoured as the King’s own Winged Guard.” Carvesh winced, but did not bother to remind Madik that there was no King anymore.
“It certainly seemed that way last night,” he said. “They’re vulnerable in the eye though. And they might have a few other soft spots too. I didn’t really time to get a good look at it.”
The hunter grunted. “Not making any guarantees, but it sounds manageable.”
“Then you’ll help us?”
“Boy, I’ve hunted white moose, fought off ice bears and run from Titans over the years. Nothing much bothers me anymore. This sounds like something new, and at my age that’s no small thing. Besides, the people here have been good to me over the years. Not exactly friendly, but they haven’t run me out of town.”
“Can you meet me at my farm in about an hour? There’s a big oak tree and…”
“I know the place,” Madik grunted. “I’ll be there.”
“Thank you,” said Carvesh, mounting his horse again.
“Save your thanks. Might be a bit premature if we don’t survive the night.”
“Then we’ll pray to the Nine that this works.”
“Never been much of the praying sort myself, but it can’t hurt. Now off with you boy, I have things to do.”
Carvesh simply nodded, turning his horse in the direction of his own farm. With a snap of the reins, his mount broke into a full gallop. As he rushed across the rolling green of the Stonewall’s foothills, he kept a close eye on the sun. It was dropping lower and lower in the western sky. Twilight would soon be upon them, followed closely by the darkness of night. Then everything would play out—or it would not. There was no absolute certainty that the shadowbeasts would come, or even that they were still in the area. Perhaps they had moved on, perhaps everything he was reading into their attack on the bulls was merely coincidental.
Or, perhaps everything he feared was true and the coming night would end in blood—one way or another.
Steeling his nerves, Carvesh fought to push away all such thoughts and focus on his preparations. They were the only things he could control at the moment. In the back of his mind, however, the shadows of fear and doubt still haunted him. As he approached his own farm, he muttered a quick prayer of thanks that Anya and the children would be spending the night in the relative safety of the village.
Then he set to work.