The wind gently blows through the oak trees, rustling of branches startles the stag, he lifts his head and scans the surrounding. There is a small brook that it is leading its family to, some saplings across the water and a line of evergreen close to the right. (water deer)
The shrubs seem suspicious, a light twist of his head signals them to stay, the doe keeping the fawn quiet, as the stag approaches the bush. It is just a few metres away when it stopped. A few ear and nose twitches later and it signalled the all clear. The 3 deer slowly moved to the stream, the doe leans to the water, receiving and arrow to the top of its skull.
There is a burst of motion from the saplings, a large shadow dashes out and towards the fawn as it stands frozen. The stag barks sharply to the young, it’s mate already dismissed, prompting a rapid retreat, only to receive another arrow to its neck. The lone child flees with all its might, zigzagging to try and through off its pursuer, ultimately futile. Brutus jumps on the smaller prey and snaps its neck with one powerful bite, blood dripping from its fangs.
About this time, I separate from the sapling tree I was hiding next to and with a quick jump I'm on the other side of the brook. The doe dragged from the water, arrow still in its brain, and a make my way to the stag to check that it was killed and not just stunned. Around this time Brutus walks over to me, catch still in his mouth, placing it before me and sits on his haunch waiting with a smile on his face.
I wait a few seconds before stroking his head. “Good Brutus” I tell him, keeping sentences short to prevent confusion, only calling him Brutus and not ‘boy’, as well as sending a swell of qi to convey positive feelings. Brutus understands and begins to rub his face into mine and licks it all over, blood covering me in no time. I don’t mind, I still need to skin the deer and that will be very bloody. Part of the reason I choose the brook to hunt is that it makes clean up easier. I used to hunt in the clearing but when I came home one day after a particularly large catch, I scared mum half to death and sent Elsa into tears. Ed only asked what I got.
As I pick up the 2 grown deer, both about 15kg each, Brutus dragging his catch another 8-9kg, I think back on how Brutus has progressed. In the 3 years I have had him there was much good news and quite a few setbacks.
The first year Brutus successively became a magic beast. Thanks to my qi infused blood and constant help he was able to sense the qi in the air. He has not reached the 1st tier yet, but with my training it is only a matter of time, and he has already shown the signs. He is only 3 years old, about an early adolescent in his growth yet is already the size of a grown boarhound about 40 kg. He has strong teeth and as demonstrated he possesses the speed and power to bring down mid-sized prey. Although he has the size of a grown dog his mind still had to catch up.
We have tried this sort of hunt several times in the past but it has either failed completely or Brutus will fail to pull his weight. The way this hunt starts is in the preparation. First, I found this brook and then I will look for animal trails that lead to the brook. Finding the ideal trail and hiding spot, the hiding spot needs to be 30-50 metres ideally for the first shot, allowing myself another 30 metres which I can kill the second target from. My short bow is something I made myself, and has a maximum range of about 150 metres when arched, but if I want to kill with a straight shot it needs to be under 80. Me and Brutus would wait perfectly still for hours until the prey arrives. In the past Brutus would either bark immediately, thus scaring the prey, or he would fail his command.
By sending qi in a certain way I have trained Brutus to charge and attack the prey. This allows me to silently coordinate with Brutus. If he doesn’t start running the second I shoot the arrow, then either he runs too early causing the stag in this case to escape the range of my second arrow, or too late and the fawn outruns him. Either way he loses me several kilos of meat and leather. When he barks, ruining the hunt I would hold his head to the ground for 5 minutes, when he is allowed up, I head home while ignoring his barks and whines. If he messes up his attack then when cooking the meat, I would make him wait his turn until I am finished before he eats his. If he dares to not hand over the catch, or if dares to bite at me, that will earn him if I'm feeling generous a minute of painful pressure on his neck, or if the bite case... I will tie him by the legs and hang him upside down the tree while I skin the deer.
The saying ‘Don’t bite the hand that feeds you’ is a good one but I like to add a second line, ‘don’t bite the hand that feeds you, or you will feed the hand’. This sounds like a threat but make no mistake that this is serious, if he continued to bite me, I would have sold him to the butchers before he became big enough to threaten me or my family. It happens all the time in the North, if a farmer’s dog has puppies the best 1 or 2 will sometimes be kept and they try to sell the rest. If no one buys them then they are either traded to the butcher for some sausages or killed and eaten themselves.
But don’t let this morbid story disillusion you to our current relationship. Brutus has proven himself as a worthy hunting partner and is now my blood. Anyone tries to bring a blade near him will pay dearly, should he lose the ability to hunt I will care for him and when he dies, he will be buried with dignity.
We drag the bodies to a clearing where they are hung upside down and drained of blood. This is where I usually bring our kills, it has racks and a wheel barrow to take the bodies back. I skin the hides off to turn into leather, but the rest of the animals are sold to the butcher and we aren’t paid extra to strip the meat, if anything he would claim we forgot some of the meat on the bones and pay me less for the decrease in weight. After skinning the bodies and rolling the hides I tell Brutus to stay and guard the corpses. I run back to the brook for a quick wash and head back. Brutus is given a clean with a water skin.
I place the bodies in the barrow and place a tarp over it to keep the flies off. I push the barrow through the rest of the woods till we reach the clearing and can see the village. After walking for half an hour, saying hello to the loggers scattered about, we reach the butchers, receive payment and head home. I go inside with a smile on my face, greeted with a group of;
“Surprise!!” They shouted. I was expecting something like this, but Brutus wasn’t so his surprise was a lot more genuine than mine.
“Congrats on turning 14 Ben. You’re almost a man now.” Ethan greets me. He was in a bit of a slump after Ethel left and though he’s gotten better over the years. Ethel hasn’t returned home once in the 4 years since he left, though he does send letters every 6 months or so, telling us about how he’s been and that he’s well. He still misspells some words, to his father’s annoyance, and I think the reason he stays away is that he knows his father will beat the living crap out of him.
“Thank you, Ethan.” I say and receive his gift. It is a sword, sharp and new. About 50cm long it would be classified as a short sword, just right for my legth. I test the grip and balance, not the best I've seen, but it will do the job and if maintained well it would last a while.
The other gifts were somewhat less significant, but nice all the same. Ed got me a knife he bought at the market, good for carving meat. Elsa gave me a scarf she knit which would be great for the winter months. I have to say I liked Mum’s present the best. It was a lemon cake with sugared cherries on top. Cherries were my favourite things in the past and it hasn’t changed now. We all gathered around our small table and began a fantastic feast of chicken, roast potatoes, carrots and orange juice. We were just about to start eating the lemon cake when we heard a knock on the door. My mother went to open it, the guest spoke.
“Hi there Helen, it’s good to see you again, is Ben here, I'm here to wish him a happy Birthday... Oh shit what are you doing here!?” the speakers voice sounds more and more familiar, and just as I'm about to place it Ethan stands up and rushes to the door, startling the guest.
“Bloody fool, bloody stupid fool.” Ethan grabs his son and embraces him in a hug.
The following events could be described as touching, funny and annoying considering they were keeping me from my cake. After hugging Ethel and being hugged back, Ethan suddenly punched Ethel in the face, knocking him to the ground. He then declared that he was returning home to fetch the practice swords and if he hasn’t improved since then he better be prepared for the beating of a lifetime. Like that he stormed off leaving the rest of us, my family was just standing around confused while I was thinking how to bring our thoughts back to dessert, deciding a direct invitation would be best.
“Ethel, good to see you, want to come in to join us, we were just about to have some lemon cake.” I grab his hand and lift him to his feet. The guy had grown since we last met. Ethel was about 160 last we met and about 75kg, now he’s about 185cm and 100kg, well-built and callused hands from practice.
“Actually, Ben I was wondering if I could speak to you for a bit, it’s quite important.” Ethel tries to dissuade my plans, rubbing his jaw and looking a bit sheepish, he likely wasn’t expecting to ask in such a manner.
“Go on Ben, it’s been ages since you have seen each other, we’ll wait for you 2.” Mum needlessly mentions from the side. Resigning myself to a lack of cake, we walk off down the road and when we’re at the bridge he broaches the subject.