11 Hunting

Smoke and noise swirled around the main room of the inn and the barmaids wove their way through it all with practised ease. Suddenly, the door burst open letting in the dark wind and every head turned towards the source of the disturbance. A figure almost filled the doorway but then moved inside the room.

“I have slain the wolf that was plaguing your village!” cried the Hunter, stalking through the room towards an empty table and flinging down the hairy carcass. “I come to claim my reward!”

This declaration was initially met with silence but then the Mayor got to his feet and began to applaud, quickly followed by the other villagers. The Hunter slowly turned, acknowledging the acclaim.

“A mug of your best beer, Landlord,” called the Mayor, when the noise had died down a little, “and food for our gallant rescuer. For he has done what it was thought no man could do!”

The Landlord turned at once to the cask of ale but paused as something unexpected happened; the Hunter laughed. Then, throwing off both hat and cloak, the Hunter declared, “I am no man!” And indeed, the person standing before them was a tall, well-muscled woman.

“Well then, Madam, we are even more eager to hear how you have captured the White Wolf. Landlord, ale all round! For I believe this tale will take some time to tell.”

The Hunter took a seat near the fire. She accepted a plate of food gratefully and followed it with a mug of ale that she finished in a single draught. Then she began her tale.

“I saw your petition two days ago in Midton market square. For five years, now, I have made my living through hunting; food for myself, the removal of creatures such as your wolf, even men. The petition described the beast as being particularly savage but that held no fear for me; all creatures have their weakness.

“Having purchased some supplies, I made my way to the woods where the wolf lived. I rested for the remainder of that day, knowing that I would be awake all night. But that first night, I saw neither hide nor hair of the wolf.

“I slept all the next day in the fork of a tree and was awakened at dusk by the sound of a great animal sniffing and wheezing on the ground. Looking down through the branches, I saw something white gleaming in the dark; it was the wolf!

“As quietly as I could, I drew out my bow but I must have made some noise for the beast looked right up at me, turned tail and hurried off deeper into the woods. I let off an arrow as quickly as I could and felt sure that it had found its mark when I heard a sharp whine, as of a dog in pain.

“I scrambled down the tree but could not follow the trail of blood in the dark. As soon as dawn came, I took up the hunt once more. I pressed on all day, not pausing even to take a morsel of food and at last, I found my quarry in a clearing lit by the setting sun.

“We circled around each other, both weary from our exertions, both seeking the final victory. The shaft of my arrow had snapped off but the point was in his flesh and hampered all his movements. I also saw that he was blind in one eye, an old wound that was quite healed.

“I attacked on his weaker side but I had underestimated him and got this wound on my hand for my trouble. The sun had almost completely gone before I finally brought him down, my knife buried in his throat.

“And now, good people, if you will pay me the fifty crowns named in your petition...”

For a moment, the Mayor looked as though he might prevaricate but a glance at the knife strapped to the Hunter's thigh soon cured him of any thoughts of duplicity and he hurried to his office to fetch it. The Hunter felt the weight of the bag, nodded with satisfaction, and then was gone.

11 Hunting

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