Clouds of mist rolled about me like the gentle waves of the ocean. They turned the world into a bland swirl of grey – it seemed as if some of the color had been bled from the forest. But the mist did not stay between the leaves of the tree, it seeped into my mind, it muddled my thoughts and hung weight upon my eyelids. At least I blamed it on the mist.
After my little escapade last night, I had gone to one of my spots in the forest – an old oak whose roots emanated from the ground. There was just enough room for me to wiggle underneath the tree and lie down. I had to curl myself in a ball like a hedgehog and in the morning my neck was a piece of wood, but it was a relatively safe place and it saved me from having dew covered clothing.
With a hand darkened by dirt smudges, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. By the time I had hidden the money and settled under the oak tree, it had been well into the wee hours of the morning. Ah well, my fatigue hardly mattered, I couldn’t return to Langcaster anyways – the sheriff’s men were probably searching high and low for the Robin Thief.
The sound of running water pulled me from the deer trail I had been walking on. Listening intently, I pushed through a thicket of brambles only to stagger down an incline, and trip into a giggling stream. Water splashed over my boots and I leaped out, only to stumble and land in a heap. Briefly, I allowed myself to lay there, it was the mist making me clumsy, I was not overtired. Forcing my sluggish limbs into a sitting position, I dipped my fingers into the stream and splashed the frigid water upon my face.
WIth the mist cleared from my mind and also beginning to recede from the landscape, I drank deeply from the stream. The water partially filled my empty stomach, but I was not full till I ate a piece of bread I had purchased in the market yesterday.
Feeling refreshed, I hoisted my bow and quiver of arrows over my shoulder and headed towards the road. Birds flitted about in the trees, singing their joyful songs or warbling angrily at squirrels threatening their eggs. Dew sparkled like tiny diamonds that clung to leaves and twigs and dripped through the morning air to the green grass. It was like a fairy world, all bright and lush. It reminded me of the stories my nursemaid used to tell me. She had tucked me in bed with a hot cup of cider and snuffed out all the candles so only the fire broke the darkness. She had then settled into the chair beside my bed with her needles and ball of yarn. While the fire crackled and her needles clicked together, she wove together stories of fairies and ogres and magical forests. But always, always, as my eyes drooped, she had recited the Lord’s prayer. Yes, there were fantasy stories, but they had walked beside the Bible stories.
A man’s voice dragged me back to reality – I had reached the main road. Color flashed at me through the trees and as I drew nearer, I saw a farmer and his wife. They both carried sacks – probably full of grain – and they chatted comfortably together as they walked.
Careful not to be seen, I hoisted myself into a tree and settling onto a thick branch with my back against the trunk, I scrutinized the two travelers. By their neatly mended clothing, it was clear they were well off, yet not so well off that they could afford servants to carry their grain for them.
A breath of disappointment slipped from my lips and I watched the couple disappear around a bend in the road. They had nothing to donate to the poor. Perhaps a wealthy merchant of selfish monk would pass by.
A few days ago, I had gleaned five silver pieces from a rich nobleman who had been sitting upon his steed like a proud peacock. It had bridged on comical the way he had clutched his side, thinking I did not know about the pouch of coins he kept there. But after some prodding with the help of a few arrows I had sent whizzing passed his ears, he had lifted the pouch with shaking fingers and reluctantly dropped it to the dusty road. I had considered taking the whole purse – I knew more than a handful of families who could use it more than he could. But I wasn’t a common thief, I didn’t steal mindlessly and I wanted people to know that. So I had only taken five silver coins, handed the purse back to the nobleman, bowed deeply, and disappeared into the forest. The following day, it had been the talk of Langcaster – a hooded bandit had robbed the sheriff’s cousin. At this news, I had had a good laugh and even a few days later it still brought a smile to my lips.
Sighing, I bent my neck to the side in an attempt to stifle the screaming muscles and longingly I looked down the road. No travelers, but I needed to be active, I couldn’t sit here any longer fighting sleep and allowing my body to cramp.
With one more glance towards the empty road, I sidled down the rough trunk of the tree. Hunting it was. A few hares or a deer were as good as a handful of coins.
I slid between the trees to a deep part of the forest. In this area, there was not a single broken twig or blade of grass fractured by careless poachers or adventurous young boys. And I was careful to leave it this way, I watched where I lay my feet, where I moved my body, just as my father had taught me. I was not to be an invader in this land, I was to become part of it.
Satisfied with the distance I had placed between myself and the main road, I directed my eyes to the ground, searching for fresh prints. There was the day old trail from a squirrel, older rabbit tracks, and even older scratches from a hungry robin. But I needed fresh and I knew the best place to find them.
I pushed through a tangle of reaching branches and emerged near a little forest pool. In the soft dirt around the pool, footprints were in abundance. I sorted through them – a doe with its faun, a yearling, and there, a buck. Not of great size, but big enough to feed a family. And the tracks were fresh, less than half an hour ago did it drink from the pool.
Stealthily, I once again glided through the underbrush, following the deer’s trail. It took me over rutted ways and grassy paths, at times I nearly lost it and was forced to backtrack. But the prints became more recent with every step I took and soon I left the trail to circle the approximate location of the animal. This was the most difficult part, the part where one misplaced foot could alert the animal of its predator and cause it to flee. The hairs on the back of my neck stood in anticipation as I pulled an arrow from my quiver and notched it on my bowstring. Ten more steps forward brought me to the edge of a glade. In places, the sun broke through the trees and cast its gold upon the long grass, and feasting upon that foliage was my prey. He was a good looking buck with fine muscles, although he bore a few scars, visible as a result of a lack of hair. But that hardly mattered and I smiled as I drew back my arrow, at least two families would go to bed tonight with their bellies full.
From the trees on my right, an arrow whizzed into the glade, striking the buck’s neck, passing through its lunges, and causing it to drop on the spot. I nearly released my own arrow in surprise and bit my tongue to keep from gasping. Not a little alarmed, I drew back into the foliage, barely daring to breathe for fear that the other hunter would hear me. Anxiously, I stared at the trees where the arrow had come from and listened to each sound around me. Who could be hunting here? And how did he remain hidden? I was aware the entire time I was stalking the buck, another person could hardly have gone unnoticed by me. Unless he was trained by a skilled woodsman. But why was he killing the king’s deer? A stab of anger twisted in my gut, no one else should be risking themselves by poaching the deer. And in a way, I saw them as my deer. They were my beast’s to kill and to give to the hungry.
From between a screen of green leaves, a man stepped into the glade. He carefully approached the deer, an arrow notched in his bow. He clearly knew what he was doing, only an inexperienced hunter would approach a recently shot deer without a weapon. The animal could still be alive and might thrash out and wound you with one of its sharp hooves.
The man eyed the deer, then nudged it with his boot, but it remained motionless. He knelt to the ground and pulled a knife from his belt. As he did this, he turned towards me and I received a clear view of his features. He was young, most likely nineteen or twenty, and had homely features – brown hair, a square face, and green eyes positioned near to each other. I was certain I had never seen him before – not in Langcaster and definitely not in the forest.
I narrowed my eyes at him and pulled my hood low over my head. It was only one man, I could easily take him on in a fight. Besides, I was not particular to another hunter in my forest and especially not another hunter killing my deer. Technically they were the king’s deer, but the king was off fighting a war in a foreign country so someone had to take over in his absence.
Again I pulled my arrow back and began to rise, intending to enter the clearing. But I froze at the sight of another man exiting the underbrush. Quickly, I ducked out of sight again. Two of them? How did I not know about this?
The second man was similar to other with brown hair and a square face, but he was taller and his features were more rugged. Could I take two men? Possibly, but it could get messy. I swallowed, I needed to know why they were here.
Another figure entered the glade from the opposite side of the clearing. Panicked, I scanned the trees. Was there a whole army hiding in the forest?
The newest addition to the group of hunters was a skinny lad, around the age of sixteen, resembling the two others, but with small differences in his appearance such as a shock of red hair and a hooked nose.
They appeared to be brothers, but where were they from and why hadn’t I seen them before? I observed them efficiently gut and quarter the deer then put the pieces of the carcass into sacks and swing them over their shoulders. With a sinking heart, I watched them melt back into the tree. Along with my deer, they had stolen my curiosity. But perhaps it was not pure curiosity, perhaps there was some worry threading through it.
The eldest of the brother, for that is what I assumed they were, turned just as he was stepping into the trees. I crouched lower in response and held my breath as if somehow he would be able to hear me. Yet his eyes slid over my hiding place and he disappeared into the foliage.
I let out a breath, one containing relief, but also frustration. Who did these men think they were? Did they assume that the king’s deer were for everyone and anyone to hunt down and kill? No, they could not go on like this, I would not allow it in my forest. Slinging my bow over my back, I crept after the three figures and their stolen prize.
Thank you so much for reading! I hope enjoyed my little story. If you’re interested in reading more of my writing, check out the prequel to this story Chased by Dragons or my book Ashes of Glass (it’s now for sale on Amzon.com in paperback and e-book !!)