The Hunt (short story)

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This is a creative work set in the world of Elanthia, attributed to its original author(s). It does not necessarily represent the official lore of GemStone IV.

Title: The Hunt

Author: Rohese Bayvel-Timbertree

Written in collaboration with Mirkk Timbertree-Bayvel and first published on the 1st day of Jastatos in the year 5122


Extract from Rohese's diary, entry dated the 20th day in the month of Imaerasta in the year 5122.

The autumnal equinox marks the annual hunt on the Bayvel estate, a tradition extending back millennia. This year, it also marks the first anniversary of my marriage to Mirkk, a man to whom I owe so much and love beyond words. Despite grandfather's early reticence over our union, he seems to have developed quite a fondness for my husband's company; so much so that Mirkk has been invited to join this year's hunt. Grandfather is not so keen on the idea of me joining them though but since Mirkk and I refuse to be parted for any length of time, he really has no choice in the matter.

I know how important the hunt is to grandfather and those who work and live on the estate. Every year, the numbers of wild boar and deer are kept in check to reduce the amount of damage done to the ancient forest and agricultural land around it. As much as I find the whole thing distasteful, I am conscious of the need for some control. Perhaps experiencing it for myself first hand, I can learn to understand and be more accepting of it.

Departure (Arda)

Fog and mist lay heavy across the fields of Nendelomea, settling like a blanket across the arable land. Mirkk knew that somewhere beyond the thick veil, field workers were getting a start on the day, harvesting the last offerings of their labors, hard earned since the time of the last frost of spring.

As the party wound their way along the trails separating the fields, Mirkk glanced over at Rohese. As elegant as ever, even in the dull grey morning, she shone as she read her book. He smiled to himself, amazed at how she made use of every opportunity to read, even riding side-saddle in the early morning light. Whatever book she was reading had her engrossed, so he closed his eyes to listen.

He heard the rustling farewells of the dried husks in the fields caught in the first breezes of autumn. The occasional songbird would let out a trill in the distance before taking flight with its small flock, guided instinctually to a milder climate. As he gently rocked in the saddle, his mare following the others, he heard the conversation of two elves behind him, and focused on it.

He could distinguish an Elven word or two, but could not understand their topic until he heard a single word - Chaston, a proper name that had no Elven translation. This piqued his interest and he canted his head slightly, listening intently. He heard another familiar word – arda. Empire.

Grinning proudly, the young boy turned back toward his peers with an expectant look. He frowned, noticing their blank faces, interpreting their looks as disinterested.

"I hit the target," the boy emphasized, gesturing toward the trunk of a fallen oak.

One of the elves, the older of the two, nodded in agreement, calmly replying, "Elbow up higher next time." The boy gave him a puzzled look. The elves confused him regularly. He would play with them in the creeks, climb the trees, and in general have fun with them, but they always seemed so thoughtful, so logical. If it were not for the laughter they sometimes shared, he would have thought them to be a dispassionate race.

With a frustrated sigh, he turned back toward the target, nocking another arrow and drawing back the bowstring. Making it obvious, he raised his elbow higher, took aim, and released. The arrow flew straight and true, hitting dead center in the target ring painted on the stump. He couldn't contain his joy. He turned, mouth wide open in gleeful astonishment at his achievement, and looked at them. A faint curl of a smile crossed the older elf's mouth as he nodded approvingly.

Instantly, both elves turned their heads toward the edge of the forest, looking in unison at something unseen. The younger whispered a word to the older elf, "Arda?" The older elf nodded before abruptly turning to the boy.

"Apologies, Mirkk. We must head home," he said with a polite smile. Mirkk glanced toward the edge of the forest.

"Arda?" he asked, casting the elves a look.

"Arda," affirmed the younger. "Imperial."

"It is your people," the older elf remarked as he approached with outstretched hands. Mirkk understood and nodded glumly, handing the bow and quiver over.

"But you'll be back tomorrow, yes?" Mirkk asked.

The older elf smiled and replied, "We shall, yes. In the meantime, think of everything you learned today." They both gave Mirkk a quick nod, turned, and disappeared into the Wyrdeep.

Only a moment later, as Mirkk made his way out of the edge of the woods, he heard the thundering of hooves heading toward him. Over the sloping grass he saw the five horsemen, green cloaks billowing in behind them as they approached. The horses neighed, breathing hard as the party stopped abruptly. Their leader, the chief scout, studied him for a moment as the other four surveyed the edges of the wood. After a long pause, the leader spoke.

"What are you doing out here, boy?" He peered down at Mirkk. Mirkk glanced back at the forest.

"I was just learn..." He thought better of his explanation. "Nothing. Just playing. Playing in the woods," he murmured. The head scout cast his gaze along the trees, watching for a moment before shifting his eyes back to Mirkk.

"Learning, hmm?" He snorted derisively and Mirkk hung his head. "Nothing worth learning out here, boy. And certainly not from the likes of anyone in there," he said, giving a slight nod in the direction of the Wyrdeep.

Mirkk nudged a rock with the toe of his boot, uncertain of his response.

"It's the night of the Great Revel, lad. All manner of wyrdlings and spirits out to play this eve. I know you heard the stories from your gran before she passed," he said sternly before raising his eyes up toward the heavens, adding, "Gosaena be kind."

"Yes, uncle," Mirkk responded, glancing up at Donnavan.

Taking a slightly softer tone, Donnavan offered, "Come on, lad. Your parents are probably worried. I'll take you home."

"Mirkk," Rohese said softly.

Donnavan grasped Mirkk's arm and swung him with ease onto the back of his charger. Glancing over his shoulder he instructed, "Hold on, lad."

"Mirkk," Rohese prompted.

Mirkk opened his eyes, the faint memory of a horseback ride and dinner with his parents and uncle fading as his thoughts drifted back to the present. He glanced down to see his mare, Lelyanna, stopped and munching leisurely on the leaves of a small bush, Rohese and her filly a few paces away on the trail.

"You seemed quite faraway. I did not wish to disturb you, but..." She glanced down the trail as the last of the wagons and the two tail riders were barely visible in the mist. He smiled at her, offering an apology.

"Sorry, I think I was lost in thought there," he remarked. He clicked his tongue and tugged on Lelyanna's reins, bringing her back onto the trail.

"Is everything alright?"

He leaned to his left and kissed her softly on the cheek.

"Everything's fine, dear. Just enjoying the calm and quiet."

Into the Woods (Taurë)

The mist slowly dissipated to reveal a dense woodland. Age lay heavily on the surrounding oaks and modwir in the form of bark loss and extensive patches of grey-green lichen. The verdant undergrowth was thick with bracken, woody herbs and long-limbed saplings, all draped in dew-beaded cobwebs that glistened in the early morning light.

They had arrived well after sunset and set up camp in a small glade under the pale light of two quarter moons. Rohese's first night under canvas had been an adventure. She had giggled into the early hours with Mirkk as they both tried to mimic the owl hoots and other nocturnal animal noises that filled the air. She was regretting their frivolity now though, having had very little sleep.

The elven rangers and scouts around her all seemed to know what was expected of them as they quietly went about their duties. Tents were taken down and packed away, the last embers of the fires extinguished, and any remaining evidence of their presence removed. One of the younger members of the party wandered around the perimeter of the camp to clear the traps of small animals ensnared overnight. A brace of rabbits was quickly skinned – no doubt to form part of tonight’s meal – and, much to Rohese's distaste, an unfortunate weasel was nonchalantly thrown to the gamekeeper's hounds for breakfast.

Impatient to be on their way, the breath of the horses was visible in the air as they snorted and stomped the ground; a sign that autumn was already touching the forest this far north. Rohese pulled the collar of her coat up around her face to stifle a yawn just as Mirkk came alongside her.

"Hello you," he said fondly, blowing into his cupped hands. "A little chilly this morning."

Rohese smiled and nodded in agreement as the first tentative rays of sunshine permeated the leafy canopy, shifting the ambient light from silver to gold. The promise of a clear and sunny autumn day ahead heralded their departure and they were soon underway, heading northeast into the ancestral elven forest.

Sanctuary (Yána)

Rohese sat at the edge of the pool, slowly working her fingers through her waist-long braid and combing out the soft curls. The water tumbled over the flat stone ledges and rocks alongside her in a steady rush, filling the small gorge with white noise and silver spray.

All manner of songbirds swooped and dived around her, splashing and drinking from the natural leaf bowls and puddles, their chirps and warbles adding to the calming atmosphere of the woodland sanctuary.

Despite the initial chill of the early morning, the afternoon had turned out to be pleasantly warm and, after hours in the saddle, the crystal-clear water looked inviting. Rohese had left the huntsmen to their chores and wandered into the forest in search of a few moments of peace and solitude. She enjoyed the company of the rangers very much, with their gentle humour and lively conversation, but she missed the peace of the manse and the comforting sounds of the Glydemar beyond its walls. Having promised her grandfather that she wouldn't go far, she followed the gentle slope of the terrain downwards, knowing it would likely come to a river or stream where she could simply sit alone with her thoughts for a while and she hadn't been disappointed.

She was beginning to feel swept up in the anticipatory excitement of the hunt. Not a willingness to participate in the cull itself – that concept was still anathema to her – but more of a desire to understand it at its core; the subtle difference between hunter and hunted, predator and prey. How they were so intrinsically entwined and easily interchangeable. How the constantly shifting balance of nature - the constant striving for equilibrium - was in pursuance of the divine.

A subtle cough behind her caused her to jump with a start. Quickly glancing over her shoulder, she spotted Mirkk standing a few feet away, leaning casually against a tree.

"What have I told you about wandering off alone?" He gently chided.

Rohese lowered her gaze and twirled a lock of her hair sheepishly around her finger. With a light chuckle, he approached and sat down next to her, taking the silvery strand between his own fingers and tucking it behind her ear.

"I'm sorry, I just needed to..."

With his hand now cradling the back of her head, Mirkk's lips brushed softly across hers and he whispered against them, "You don't need to apologise, I do understand." He kissed her and cast his eye around the area.

"This is a beautiful spot to sit and think."

Rohese nodded and blushed slightly. "I thought I might take the opportunity to bathe too." She glanced at the pool below and pondered its glacial water.

Mirkk grinned slowly. "Now that is a wonderful idea!" Needing no further encouragement, he rose to his feet and shrugged off his coat, flinging it casually over a nearby rock. The linen shirt quickly followed, along with his boots and leather pants. Rohese laughed softly at his enthusiasm and squealed with delight as he jumped into the water below, splashing her in the process. Surfacing again with a splutter, he shook the water from his thick, dark hair and beckoned her to join him.

"It's lovely, come on in!"

Rohese cast an apprehensive glance around and bit her lip. "What if someone comes though?"

"So, what if they do, you're not in the city now!" Mirkk exclaimed with amusement.

Rohese giggled nervously and began to remove her clothing. Finally unlacing her thin shift and allowing it to fall from her shoulders, she took one more cautious look around before stepping out of it and throwing it on top of Mirkk’s pile of hastily discarded garments. Opting not to follow his exuberant lead, she carefully stepped down the series of moss-covered rocks to the edge of the pool and tentatively entered the water, gasping at its icy cold temperature. Holding her breath, she then plunged in and swam towards Mirkk.

"Hello you," she whispered as she draped her arms around his neck and nuzzled her wet nose against his ear. He, in turn, pulled her against him in a passionate embrace and they held each other for a while knowing that the chance of having time alone in the next two weeks was remote.

Raptor (Raust)

The kestrel hovered overhead, geometrically rising and falling with her dotted wings curved gently as she scanned the area. Spying activity in the foliage, she took a short, steep dive and deftly trapped a shrew in her talons. Having captured and hastily consumed her unsuspecting prey, the raptor took flight again, swooping low across the glade to land on Rohese's outstretched glove. She stroked the bird's grey head with the back of her finger and covered it with a small leather hood. The kestrel instinctively quietened with a slight rustle of her down-swept wings, allowing them to settle tightly against her body as she relaxed into a less aggressive posture.

Mirkk had watched the strike with a hunter's fascination; it had been swift and ruthless. As Rohese carefully lifted the bird onto its makeshift perch, he determined it was now safe to join her. She looked weary but he knew how stubborn she could be; she would never admit – not even to him - that the last few days had been hard for her. Mirkk had noticed Eairion frequently glancing at his grand-daughter and he was amused to see that, each time, Rohese had visibly straightened in her saddle. He knew that Eairion would love an excuse to send her back home but she was not about to oblige him. Mirkk admired his wife's fortitude and how she accepted the long rides through the forest with only a short respite in a tent that lacked the comforts she was used to. He had yet to hear a word of complaint.

Tomorrow would see them arrive at the heart of the ancient woodlands where the hunt proper would commence. Their scouting party a few weeks ago had established the likely location of a decent sounder of boars and a sizable, mature deer herd. Mirkk was looking forward to spending the evening around the fire with the other rangers discussing tactics but Eairion had indicated that he wished to speak to them both first.

Once Rohese had removed the jesses from her bird and secured her for the night, Mirkk took his wife by the hand and removed her glove. Bringing her fingers tenderly to his lips and kissing them, he noticed the smell of soft leather and almond oil lingering on her skin.

"You will be wanting some hot water to bathe?" He kindly offered.

Rohese sighed with relief. "If that's not too much trouble?"

"Just let me make sure the other tents are pitched and I will see to it personally."

Rohese smiled at him and again he noticed how tired she looked. He opened his mouth to suggest she rest but thought better of it. Instead, he watched her wander over to Isilme and start to unbuckle the filly's saddle. He knew she would want to settle her horse before seeing to her own needs.

An hour later, having drawn water from the nearby stream and putting it on the campfire to heat, he saw Rohese approach their tent and place the cleaned and polished tack neatly outside. She swept a wayward strand of hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear, leaving a smudge of dirt across her cheek and he chuckled to himself. She was definitely going to need the hot water soon – preferably before she caught sight of herself in a mirror.

~☆ ^☽ ☆~

Steam rose from the tub. Mirkk gave a generous pour of lavender oil, the sweet floral scent rising into the air. Turning slightly, he hoisted the last bucket of hot water into the tub, increasing the steam that was now beading, ready to make its run down the slope of the canvas.

Hearing a shuffle behind, he turned to see Rohese standing just inside the flap. She had been to see her grandfather, at his request, and Mirkk had his suspicions about the topic of conversation. The dim light of the candles and a single hanging lantern cast enough light for him to study her appearance.

"You look..." he caught himself. He wanted to say exhausted, but knew she would never admit it so soon into the hunt. He stood and continued, " you would appreciate a bath." She smiled at him, her poise wishing to be determined, but showing exhaustion nonetheless.

"Thank you, darling," she said as she closed the distance between, placing a hand upon his cheek.

"Of course," he said, turning his lips into her hand and placing a tender kiss upon her palm. Glancing back at her, he said, "Let me go check on some things and give you some time to relax."

He watched as her shoulders dropped, her façade slipping as she offered an appreciative "Thank you" once more. Mirkk grinned, nodded once, and exited the tent.

Outside, he glanced up into the evening sky, the crisp autumn air filling his lungs. To his right, a short distance away, yet still the next tent over, he saw Eairion's pavilion, two hanging lanterns flanking the squared canvas entrance to the spacious inside and a lone huntsman standing watch.

Right. He sighed. As much as he wished to join Rohese, he knew it was his turn to have words with Eairion sooner rather than later, otherwise he'd be summoned at the least opportune time he could imagine. Turning, he walked over to the spacious tent, the mazarine and lavender banner flitting only slightly in the breeze.

Speaking to the huntsman on watch, he said, "You stand watch here all night?"

"Yes, my lord. There are three that will have shifts." Mirkk nodded.

"Excuse me a moment." Mirkk disappeared back in the direction of camp. A few moments later, he returned with two elves, one carrying a long black metal brazier, the other some logs and tinder. "Here," Mirkk said, gesturing next to the tent. The elf on watch gave him a grateful look.

"Yes, my lord," said one of the elves, the one holding the brazier. Mirkk frowned. "You don't need to call me that."

"Lord Mirkk," announced the huntsman as Mirkk entered through the tent flap. Mirkk rolled his eyes, but otherwise shrugged the title away.

"Ah, Mirkk. Thank you for coming early into the evening, allowing an old elf to retire sooner if he desires," Eairion said in a gruff yet appreciative tone.

"We've been riding all day. It's the simplest gesture I could offer," Mirkk responded with a smile.

The two spent the next half of an hour comparing what they had seen two score days before with reports coming from the scouts earlier that day, discussing tracks found, and if any changes needed to be made to the original plan. Keeping things short, and noticing no other business was required, Mirkk said his goodnight to Eairion, exiting the tent.

Outside, the huntsman was warming his hands by the brazier. He looked up and gave Mirkk a grateful nod with a smile, to which Mirkk smiled in return before continuing to his own tent.

The First Kill (Anqualë)

Dawn saw them back in their saddles again. Despite her bath, Rohese had slept fitfully, rising before Mirkk to prepare tea for them both. Knowing how much he enjoyed the Commodore's imported blend, she had packed some to surprise him even though it wasn't quite to her taste. She discreetly poured the last of the purple-red liquid from her teacup and secured it into the loop of her leather belt. Lifting the reins with a contemplative breath, she watched the huntsmen head off steadily through a gap in the trees and nudged Isilme gently to follow. Mirkk glanced back over his shoulder at her and winked. She returned his smile and resigned herself to another day on horseback.

It wasn't long before Rohese's thoughts returned to last night's revelation by Eairion that he had recently met with her estranged sister, Poladra. Her grandfather's account had been sparse in detail and Rohese barely spoke throughout. She had tried not to show how anxious she felt at the news but she knew he could sense her apprehension. Poladra's return was something she would have to deal with soon.

Lost in her reverie, Rohese didn't see the deer until it broke through the undergrowth in front of her, startling Isilme who reared slightly with a whinny. Rohese cried out in surprise but managed to stay in her saddle as the doe then bounded away into the trees. The party came to an immediate halt, her grandfather pulling his horse up sharply alongside her with Mirkk to check she was alright. Before Rohese had time to speak though, Eairion snapped out orders for two of the party to follow the animal and bring it down.

Horrified at this, Rohese twisted the reins impulsively around her hand and immediately spurred her filly forward to give chase. Ignoring the cries of protest, she pursued the elves through the maze of ancient oaks and tangle of bracken and soon caught up with them. Seeing the doe dart down a steep bramble-covered bank, Rohese watched in dismay as one of the elves let loose an arrow that hit the defenceless animal in the flank, causing it to stumble and fall into the stream at the bottom.

Rohese dismounted in one graceful movement and headed quickly down the bank after it, the skirt of her cotehardie catching and tearing on the thorns in the process. She stepped cautiously towards the doe where it lay in the fast-flowing water, its glassy eyes wide and clearly in distress as its life slowly ebbed away. With no thought to her tattered and wet clothing, Rohese knelt alongside and lifted the doe's head into her lap. Tears flowed down her cheeks as she whispered, "I’m so sorry."

Eairion's voice bellowed from the top of the ravine, "Stop!" just as the same archer released his bowstring a second time. The arrow soared through the air in a pre-determined arc down towards Rohese just as she bent over the injured animal. With an ominous *thunk* it struck her squarely in the chest and she stiffened, falling backwards into the stream.

"Roh!" Mirkk cried out as he slid from his mare and frantically scrambled down the bank. Splashing through the water, he reached his fallen wife and scooped her up in his arms. The sounds of the forest faded around him and all he could hear was Rohese's fluttering heartbeat.

~☆ ^☽ ☆~

"No! No-no-no-no!" he softly cried, clutching her to him, taking care not to disturb the arrow protruding from her chest. She gazed up at him with wide, searching grey eyes, opening her mouth as if to speak. "No...Roh, no!" Her grey eyes faded. A look of horror passed over Mirkk's face. He pressed his hand around the arrow and against the wound. He felt dizzy.

In that instant, the woods around him seemed to shift, the oak and modwir of autumn shifting to a line of summer green oak and birch. In that instant, the stream seemed to fade, replaced by a row of practice targets, the bank now a gentle slope of grass. In that instant, he felt as if the light inside him faded, that his very essence started unravelling. He felt cold, dark, and alone.

Mirkk closed his eyes, a wave of ethereal energy forming and emanating from him, coalescing around Rohese’s body, leaving a glow around her figure. He leaned forward, his lips next to her ear and whispered, "I can't lose you. Come back to me. Please! Or I must go with you..."

For a moment, it felt as if time stood still. Silence. A pale ethereal light began to coalesce around them which quickly transformed into a translucent woman. Kneeling, she withdrew two crimson oak leaves and an acorn from her basket. The murmur of a soft prayer was all Mirkk could hear as she placed the leaves upon Rohese's eyes and pressed the acorn to her lips. Turning her eyes to the skies, she gently lay her hands over Rohese's chest for a moment before returning to the pale light and fading away.

Rohese's eyes fluttered open and looked up at him.

"Oh, thank the gods. I thought..." Mirkk caressed her cheek softly. She glanced down at the wound and started to speak but he interrupted, "No...shhh." She nodded understandingly. Over his shoulder, he called, "Pothinir. Pothinir!" This was the first time he noticed the group of elves standing around them, Eairion by his side.

"Pothinir,” Eairion called. The elves stood there, mouths agape and glanced amongst themselves, unmoving.

“Pothinir!" Mirkk shouted once more, impatiently.

Mirkk felt Eairion's hand on his shoulder as he whispered, "Please, let us tend to the wound."

Mirkk nodded reluctantly in assent. He kept pressure against the wound until one of Eairion's elves came with a bandage and placed it over Mirkk's hand. Slowly, he removed his hand, replaced by the bandage and pressure from the elf.

Mirkk rose to his feet and took a step back, the elf now tending to her wounds. Aware she was receiving appropriate care, his thoughts shifted as other emotions took hold. Slowly, he turned his head and glared at the elf holding the bow, still in shock at what had just occurred. Leaves rustled across the boughs angrily, carrying Mirkk's whisper to the elf's ear a single word. "Run."

Puzzled, the elf turned in the direction from which the whisper came, but Mirkk was already upon him.

"Fool!" Mirkk shouted, knocking him to the ground, causing him to drop his bow and spill his arrows onto the ground. Grasping him by his leather jerkin, Mirkk raised him before slamming him back onto the ground. "What were you thinking," he hissed, raising and slamming him to the ground once more. "How could you be so careless," he growled. He raised his fist, the elf raising his hands to shield his face in response.

"Stop!" Mirkk heard Eairion call, and before Mirkk could strike, a hand grasped his arm. Mirkk glared about wildly as more hands seized him, pulling him away. The terrified elf rose to his feet, backing away hurriedly.

"You negligent fool," Mirkk hissed again, trying to shake loose the hands that now held him back. Eairion stepped forward between the two, giving Mirkk a studied look.

"Basic archery," Mirkk snarled. "Know your target, what is beyond, and in between." As more elves stood between the two, the hands restraining him loosened and he shook them off angrily. He marched over to the bow and picked it up along with a single arrow.

"Mirkk," Eairion warned sternly.

Mirkk turned away from everyone, notching the arrow and drawing the bowstring back and, without taking aim, loosed the arrow. It streaked through the trees, striking dead-center the burr of an old modwir. He turned and glared at the elf one last time, tossed the bow to the ground before walking back toward Rohese.

Defiance (Avaquet)

Storming into the glade where the night's camp had hastily been erected, Eairion threw his gloves in the general direction of his pavilion and turned to face Mirkk who was seated with his head in his hands outside another tent nearby. Rohese was resting within and he refused to leave until he knew she had fully recovered.

"This is why I didn’t want her here!" Eairion bellowed.

Mirkk knew better than to verbally respond so he merely stood and faced Eairion while the elven patriarch fumed about the events that had just unfolded. The other elves busied themselves but cast occasional glances in their direction as Eairion's voice rose and fell with his stream of invective. Whilst not directed at Mirkk personally, it was clear he had remembered the promise made a few weeks earlier about keeping Rohese safe and how he would hold Mirkk responsible if anything happened to her. Mirkk glanced over Eairion's shoulder and noticed the elf actually responsible for her demise also being berated by several of his elders.

"Rohese should have known better than to get involved!" Eairion continued furiously.

At the mention of her name, his grand-daughter appeared and came to stand next to Mirkk, slipping her hand into his. On seeing her, Eairion stopped and exhaled heavily. The look of relief on his face was evident and Mirkk understood then that his anger had only been as a result of his concern for her well-being. The timing was unfortunate, however, as, at that moment, a huntsman came into view carrying the fallen doe over his shoulder and Rohese's expression tightened.

"You shouldn’t have given the order to have the doe taken down." Rohese countered, her voice surprisingly firm but quiet. "It was a senseless kill."

"We're here to hunt, child." Eairion snapped back in a rather condescending tone but his voice lacked conviction. While the pair were arguing, Mirkk couldn't help looking over at the elf again, his fist clenching at his side.

"Killing a young doe is not part of the hunt." Rohese continued to challenge him. "Isn't it supposed to be the selective removal of inferior bucks to improve the quality of the deer population; or have the parameters of the last millennia changed?"

Pinching the bridge of his nose, Eairion mumbled something under his breath. He paused to take in Rohese's belligerent expression and suddenly laughed out loud.

"Sweet summer child, you remind me of your grandmother so much. Just stop putting yourself in harm's way to prove a point!"

Mirkk watched Eairion shake his head in exasperation as he walked away, still muttering under his breath, and turned to Rohese, adding glibly, "He's right about that last part."

Rohese defiantly brushed her hair away from her eyes and, with a deft twist of her wrist, tucked it behind one ear as she headed back inside the tent.

"Don't you start!"

Apology (Nyérë)

The late afternoon sunshine filtered through the trees and bathed the glade in a golden glow. Some of the leaves were beginning to turn and their colours added to the restorative warmth that Rohese was now benefiting from. Seated on the soft grass outside her tent, she was enjoying this brief interlude from the usual clamour. Oblique shadows were beginning to encroach on the camp, extending their reach ever closer to the clearing where most of the hunting party were now gathered, bringing a sense of serenity as evening approached.

The kestrel swooped low across Rohese's line of sight as she turned another page in her book. Rohese lifted her head and watched the bird bank sharply upwards to circle and make a perfect landing back on the nearby perch. The tiny bells on her jesses jingled as she fluttered her wings before allowing them to settle snugly against her chestnut brown body.

Marking her page, Rohese closed the slim volume and lay it on the ground next to her with a giggle. "Alright, I'll stop ignoring you." She rose and approached the kestrel who averted its gaze, almost as if feigning indifference. Rohese smiled to herself and rubbed its soft feathered head with the back of her finger before tying her securely in place.

"I was reading about the Wild Hunt," she explained quietly, although the raptor didn't seem overly interested. "It's fascinating!" Continuing her commentary to no one in particular, Rohese slipped the leather hood over its head and secured it. "I thought you would understand, you know all about instinct and survival."

A crack of twigs behind her caused her to turn swiftly and come face-to-face with the young elf who had loosed the contentious arrow earlier that day. He hesitated, having second thoughts about approaching her, and made to step away again until Rohese reached out and rested her hand on his arm.

"It's alright," she reassured him and smiled. "You made me jump, that's all."

"Milady. I..." Nervously casting his gaze around, he was reassured by Mirkk's absence and continued. "I just wanted to apologise." Having seen Mirkk enter Eairion's pavilion some time ago, he had finally plucked up the courage to speak with her alone.

Rohese beckoned for the elf to sit. The kestrel shifted its position on the perch, causing the bells on the jesses to tinkle again. The elf glanced warily at the hooded bird but followed Rohese's lead and seated himself on the grass next to her.

"It’s Rohese." She inclined her head in his direction and waited for him to respond accordingly with his own name.

"Haendil, milady."

Rohese smiled softly at his continued use of formalities but let it pass. Not sure what to say next, Haendil picked up the book that she had been reading, noting the title on its spine: "Aspects of the Wild Hunt" by Mourne Luthenes Faendryl

Raising an eyebrow in her direction, he opened it to the page she had marked and skimmed over a paragraph.

"You are interested in the hunt, mila...sorry, Rohese?" Haendil remembered her prompt this time and Rohese nodded but let him continue to talk. "Is that why you wished to come with us?"

Rohese pondered the elf for a moment and realised he was considerably younger than she had first thought; not much older than herself, in fact.

"I came because my grandfather insisted my husband join him and Mirkk and I do not wish to be parted."

The elf nodded slowly, glancing towards Eairion's tent again, half expecting Mirkk to reappear at any moment.

"This is my first hunt." He quietly confided, facing Rohese and adding with a heavy sigh, "I expect it will be my last."

"I will speak with grandfather, if you think it will help." She graciously offered but the elf shook his head.

"No, your husband was right, I was careless. I shouldn't have fired that arrow and I am sorry for what happened."

Haendil buried his head in his hands. Rohese rose to her knees and leaned forward to rest her hand on his arm again.

"Haendil, an apology really isn't necessary but, for what it's worth, I forgive you. Grandfather will calm down eventually and Mirkk, well..." Biting her bottom lip, she let out a contemplative breath and wrinkled her nose. "I suggest you just avoid him for now."

The elf lifted his head to look at Rohese and she could see that his eyes were glassy. He was trying hard not to show any emotion but his remorse seemed to be sincere. Seeing movement at the pavilion, Haendil scrambled to his feet and mumbled another apology before hastily retreating into the shadow of trees just as Mirkk appeared with Eairion. Retrieving her book, Rohese rose and went to greet them with a smile, which quickly faded as she noticed the expression on their faces.

"Rohese, we've been talking." Mirkk began tentatively before deferring to Eairion who added, "You are to stay in camp tomorrow when we begin the hunt proper. I shall leave a couple of elves with you but I've decided that you can't come with us, it's too dangerous."

"No!" Rohese objected immediately, turning to face Mirkk. "If you are going then I am too." The wry grin on Mirkk's face made it clear that he had expected her to react this way and merely nodded along in agreement.

"Mirkk said you would be stubborn about it." Eairion glanced between the couple and threw his hands up in despair. "I give up with you two!" Eairion protested, storming off towards his pavilion but not before shouting back over his shoulder, "Sort it out between you but, if something untoward happens again, I will not be quite so forgiving!"

"Then it's settled." Rohese nodded once, averting her gaze to hide the smile now playing across her lips. She glanced down at the book in her hand and then looked thoughtfully at Mirkk for a moment but kept her thoughts to herself.

With the sun now low behind the trees, darkness had descended across the camp. Rohese watched with interest as lanterns and small fires were being lit around them. Taking her wordlessly by the hand, Mirkk led her over to the nearest fire and joined the seated circle forming around it. The elven rangers greeted them both warmly and continued with their enthusiastic conversation about tomorrow's hunt. Rohese leaned into Mirkk, resting her head on his shoulder and whispered, "I love you." Mirkk kissed her on the forehead and whispered, "I know."

Faces of the Hunt (Roimë)

Voices were low as the rangers prepared for the day. The first hints of sunrise were visible through the trees as the early morning mists retreated and it wasn't long before Mirkk and Rohese joined the group. Lifting her hand to his lips, Mirkk kissed it and reluctantly let go as Eairion beckoned him over to finalise plans. Rohese watched them quietly converse with occasional glances in her direction and she fixed her gaze resolutely on her grandfather. She wanted him to know that she would not be swayed in her decision to join them on the hunt.

Today, they would be heading out on foot so she busied herself with sorting out what she would need to carry. Whilst she had insisted on being a member of the hunting party, she refused to participate in the cull. This day meant more to her than that; it was the autumnal equinox and a year to the day that she had pledged herself to Mirkk so she rightly wanted to spend it with him. It was also a day to appreciate the raw beauty of nature and she was reminded of a passage in the book she was currently reading.

"Nature is possessed of many symmetries, reflected in the growth patterns of flora and fauna, as well as the structure of wasp nest, honeycomb, and web. So, too, the Hunt has symmetry, reflected not just in the dance of fight and flight between predator and prey, but in the primary faces of the Hunt and disparate spheres to which they are commonly assigned: Andelas the Hunter, of Lornon, the Huntress unnamed, generally considered a neutral entity, and Imaera the Shaper, of Liabo."

Rohese wanted to understand what it meant to be part of the hunt; to feel that symmetry without inflicting harm, to be in the liminal space in which friction and fluidity met and where neither tumult nor tranquillity held sway.

A final check of her attire and Rohese wandered over to join the rangers as they assembled on the outskirts of the camp. Eairion nodded perfunctorily in her direction and Mirkk did his best to hide a grin. He was amused by how alike they both were and how this seemed to be the root cause of most of their disagreements. "Today was going to be...interesting," he thought as they ventured forth into the shadow of the trees.

It wasn't long before one of the lead rangers raised his right fist as a sign to stop. They had been walking for about an hour and were deep into the ancient forest where the only trails were those left by the animals themselves. The group crouched low in the bracken and were soon rewarded by the sight of a five-tined stag.

Rohese knew that, with the approach of the rutting season, the weaker bucks were likely to be wounded in battle and left to die, so those were generally selected for culling. The buck before them, however, was a formidable specimen with a thick, reddish-brown coat and an impressive set of antlers, so it would be left alone. This pleased her as she marvelled in its powerful beauty. It twisted its noble head to face them but, sensing no threat, casually turned away and wandered off into the trees.

The group were about to rise and continue on their way when a boar crashed through the undergrowth on the other side, catching them unawares. Its powerful body was covered with grey-brown bristly fur and a pair of yellowed tusks protruded from its mouth. Fortunately, the animal had failed to notice the rangers and snuffled around in the ground for something to eat. With a few shared hand gestures, the hunters fanned out slowly, readying their bows and spears, and Mirkk duly followed.

Rohese, however, had become distracted by strange noises carried in the wind. Staying low, she scanned the woods around her for its source but could see nothing. The others had all disappeared from sight in pursuit of the boar so she quietly rose and headed in the direction of the whispers instead. Wending her way through a thicket, she found her path blocked by a brook. She hitched up the skirt of her gown into her belt and removed her boots to step into the cool water, pausing for a moment to savour the feeling of it rushing over her feet. The day was turning warm and, under the thick leaf canopy, the air was stifling. She felt refreshed and surprisingly alert.

There it was again. This time, it definitely sounded like a voice but she couldn't make out what it was saying. Following the flow of the stream, Rohese listened carefully and caught an occasional word above the noise of the babbling water. For a brief moment, she looked back and wondered if she should return to the hunt but her curiosity had gotten the better of her so she opted to go just a little further. It wasn't long before the watery, tree-lined thoroughfare opened up into a clearing, which seemed to be the source of whispers.

Tall and imposing, oak and modwir trees formed a thick ring around the clearing. To the side where she had entered, trailing its spindly leaves into the babbling brook, was a black willow tree glossy with strange signs of petrification. Carved into the now nearly crystalline bark were various scenes of the Wild Hunt, together forming a circle about an eight-pointed star. Long-forgotten offerings in the form of a desiccated wreath of flowers and the skeletal remains of a small creature lay at its base.

Rohese's skin tingled with a faint suppressed anger as she entered the hallowed space but the whispers on the wind were now clearly reaching her ears and drawing her in.

"When wronged, what honour have you if you do not avenge yourself upon those that wronged you?" She looked around but there didn't seem to be anyone there. "What honour have we if we do not aid those that cannot avenge themselves?" Reaching out, she curiously traced the carving in the tree with her finger. "It is a sacred trust, more sacred than any, and we shall be the ones that keep it."

Rohese recalled seeing the same star symbol in her book and rummaged for it in her pack. Opening the slim volume to the relevant page, she quickly scanned it.

"The Huntress, whose name is lost to history: she, once mortal, has come to embody the spirit of vengeance. Hers is a fierce motivation, a drive not only to perform but to excel, a relentless persistence that serves the Hunt. Her impulse can burn hot or cold, with reaction or with careful calculation. The Huntress's impetus embodies the "why" of the Hunt, and, depending on circumstance, may also inform the "when"."

This place was a shrine to the Huntress! Rohese glanced around her, wondering why she had felt so drawn to it. Why did the concept of vengeance suddenly resonate with her so strongly? According to her grandfather, Poladra still felt aggrieved and was effectively hunting her. Had she not been wronged too? She had been wrongly accused and suffered the consequences; should she be the one seeking out her sister for redress instead of the other way around?

These thoughts troubled Rohese and she inwardly berated herself for them but her uncomfortable musings were broken by the appearance of a large cat that leapt from the branch of a nearby tree. Rohese froze on the spot but then she understood. Andelas, the cunning predator - the "how" of the hunt - also had a place in this sanctuary.

Conscious that she was now the hunted and not the hunter, she watched the dark golden margay gracefully drop to the ground in front of her, the distinctive black rosettes rippling across its fur. As if reading her thoughts, the feline approached her with a widening of its large grey eyes and Rohese could hear a second voice in her head.

"You wish to know more of the hunt and what I represent? I am the Independent. How strong can you be when tied down by obligations to friends, family, and others? Learn the value of independence - for in the end, the most reliable thing to depend on is yourself."

The margay stretched languorously for a moment and continued its predatory circling.

"I am the embodiment of all that is fierce, for all cats are hunters. Embrace your own ferocity, for with it comes strength untouched by any fear."

"I am the embodiment of beauty. What feline is not a fine construction of grace and artful form?"

The margay seemed to be grinning as it looked up at her.

"I am the patient. I am the one who knows when and where to strike, for I have come to know my rival. Learn such things, and value them highly."

"I am the embodiment of tenacity, of courage, of no fear for your own life - learn to accept that you and you alone determine whether you live or die. Become cognizant of this fact and fear has no hold over you."

Tightening her circle, the margay came to stand before her and sat on its haunches. Despite the predatory nature of its movement, Rohese didn't feel threatened but she was transfixed by the feline's whispers.

"I am the embodiment of assurance and pride - of security and confidence in one's abilities. For what are you, if you cannot be sure of yourself?"

"I am the swift, the flash in the dark, the lightning in the grass. What good is a hunter if he cannot catch his prey? Hone your agility in body, mind, and spirit, so that nothing may be beyond your reach."

"I am stealth. Only the clever may master my skill, for the prey is wary." An idle flick of its paw revealed sharp claws for a brief moment, as the margay continued, "To surprise the hapless one is a measure of true skill. Learn this well, for the finest hunter is the one that is never seen by its victim."

"I am the embodiment of strength. Rise above the weak and be a hunter as we - for the weak shall inevitably perish."

And with that, the feline rose and leapt fluidly back up into the tree, blending into its thick foliage and leaving Rohese staring up at where it had disappeared. Caught in that moment of total stillness, Rohese hadn't noticed a brown doe entering the clearing. The deer surveyed the area, its soft amber eyes alert yet peaceful as it approached and nuzzled against the palm of her hand. Glancing back up into the tree, Rohese smiled to herself at the thought that perhaps the margay had left in fear of the doe but then laughed at the absurdity of that notion.

Lowering herself onto the grass, Rohese knelt reverently before the doe and gazed into its eyes. The doe, in turn, tilted its narrow head and twitched its large ears. Rohese felt the sense of anger awaken within her again but, this time, it was the deep, quiet anger of the wilds.

"Imaera," Rohese acknowledged with affection. "Mistress of Nature and Keeper of the Wilds."

The doe turned her head to look behind her and Rohese gasped at seeing a stag standing at the edge of the clearing - the same stag as earlier with the five-tined antlers and regal bearing. Petting the doe gently, she quietly added, "I understand now, it was your offspring that was killed yesterday. I am so sorry." At which the deer turned to join the stag and the pair walked away slowly through the trees, side-by-side.

Alone now, the clearing grew still and the only sound she could hear was the babbling water and quiet chirp of birds creating a soft, lazy song on the warm, forest loam scented air. She wasn't sure how long she had lingered here but she knew it was time to leave. Rising to her feet, Rohese took a contemplative breath and headed back the way she had come. The peaceful background noises of the forest were quickly replaced with the sound of an anxious voice calling her name.

Stepping from behind a tree, Rohese came face-to-face with Mirkk who let out an exasperated sigh of relief. He looked down and noticed that she had her boots in her hand and the skirt of her gown was wet around the hem. "Where have you been?"

"I've been here all the time!" Rohese replied, smiling gently at him. She would tell him the truth later when they were back at the camp but, right now, she wasn't even sure where to begin. Mirkk looked at her with a certain amount of scepticism but said nothing as he took his wife by the hand. She was safe, that's all that mattered. He would tackle her about it later.

~☆ ^☽ ☆~

Eairion had declared the day to be a success. The deer cull had been precise, ensuring only the weakest bucks had been selected from the herd, and a measured number of boars had been slain so that the forest could be better preserved. The destruction caused to the woodland habits around the estate by their voracious feeding habits was of concern every year so numbers needed to be significantly controlled.

The carcasses had been bundled and despatched back to Nendelomea with some of the huntsmen to dress, skin and prepare the meat for the winter. The company of rangers left behind were relaxing by the fire, playing dice and sharing stories, but Mirkk had chosen to sit alone to one side. Rohese's disappearance earlier in the day had troubled him but he didn't want to make a fuss; she would no doubt tell him in her own time. At least Eairion was unaware of it.

He looked up from his fletching to see her wandering through the trees around the edge of the camp. Much to her delight, she had discovered that some of the brambles bore ripe berries so she was picking them, along with a number of the herbs and edible mushrooms she had spotted in the undergrowth. Her basket now full of foraged plants, fungi and fruit, she returned to his side and kissed him tenderly on the cheek.

"Dinner!" She proudly announced and he laughed at her obvious pleasure in having gathered such a bounty for herself. Tucking her hair behind her ear, she added lightly, "I’ve been on my own Wild Hunt." Selecting a blackberry from her basket she popped it into her mouth.


"Roh?" He responded with affection, tilting his head to face her.

"Would you teach me how to use a bow?"

Somewhat taken off guard, he merely raised an eyebrow in her direction. He could see she was serious so he just nodded. Unlike Eairion, he knew better than to simply say no. They could discuss it later when he had had time to think about the best way to approach her request. It was then he noticed the book that she had left behind to go foraging. He picked it up and it fell open at the last page.

"However, we are more than thinking beasts, we hunters, and when we find ourselves immersed within the coursing glory that is a Wild Hunt, we transcend the base pattern of merely hunting and become the Hunt itself. In that moment, we sense the prey and their flight as though it is our own, because it is. We read the currents of our environment with all our senses as though they are our native language, because they are. We feel the exultation of true purpose as the realization of our being, because it is. When we touch that perfection, we are most at one with the underlying pulse of a vast existence, and simultaneously we are most firmly ourselves. This duality, far from being a contradiction, is a completion, a resonance of the self with the other that serves to reveal the common underpinnings of both."

Mirkk looked up at Rohese to ask her about it but she slipped a berry into his open mouth with a wink and quickly ducked inside their tent before he was able to form his question. His brow furrowed slightly. He couldn't put his finger on it but she had changed and he was more determined than ever to find out what had happened to her earlier.

Archery (Sorno)

Seated on a stool and facing a mirror hanging from the supports, Rohese quietly brushed her hair. Absentmindedly she glanced toward the bed, shadows dancing across the canvas from the lantern on the small table. On the left was gear for the hunt, her thick leather falconry glove, the kestrel preening a long tail feather upon its perch, and her book resting neatly beside. To the right, his equipment – a leather quiver sporting faewood arrows fletched with white hawk and a polished sephwir bow.

She stood and unhurriedly closed the distance between. She had never actually seen him use the bow, and truthfully, she had not seen the bow itself until it made its appearance recently for the hunt. She stretched her hand, running her fingers slowly along the limb and over the string nock, allowing them to rest momentarily on the bowstring. She found her fingers curling around the bowstring, feeling the tautness and wondering if it were similar to plucking the string of a harp.

"You really wish to learn," his voice came from the direction of the tent flap, surprising her. She glanced over her shoulder with a smile and saw him leaning against the tent pole, arms crossed and a slight smile playing across his lips.

She glanced back at the bow, her eyes following the curves of the limb once again. "I wouldn't know where to start," she said. "I..." she glanced around the tent, her eyes falling upon her own equipment. Should she be side-lined for years to come on the hunt, only to use her birds of prey to pick off small rabbits for someone's stew? Or should she show her grandfather once and for all that she could be a contender, an equal. Inclining her head, she resolutely stated, "I wish to learn."

A slow grin passed over his face. "Okay. We start now."

He led her by the hand through the trees, his quiver and bow slung loosely over his shoulder, his other hand holding a sack of flour upon his shoulder. She listened to the sounds of the first leaves of autumn rustling under her feet and wondered how his made none. After a while, he stopped, allowing the bow and quiver to slide casually off his arm to rest against a tree.

"Wait here," he said with a wink.

Rohese watched as he walked thirty paces and stopped at a felled tree, plopping the sack of flour upon it, ensuring the makeshift target was presented properly. Snapping a few dead branches away to allow for a clear line of sight, he turned and moved back to her. She smiled at him, and he smiled in return.

Unlacing his leather bracer and removing it from his forearm, he offered, "You'll want this, especially at first."

"For?" she inquired as he slid the bracer over her forearm, tightening the laces as best as he could. It still felt loose as it was fit for his forearm.

"Bowstrings can sometimes...sting," he said.

"Sting," she repeated concernedly.

"Don't worry. I'll show you how to avoid it, and if not, that's why you have the bracer," he grinned.

"Now, the bow." He leaned to the side, retrieving the sephwir bow from its resting place against the tree, and showed her the proper hand placement along the grip, and demonstrating two and three finger grips along the bowstring.

"And the arrow goes between the fingers," she said, more as a statement than a question.

"Correct. Like so," he said as he snatched one of the arrows from the quiver and nocked it in one swift motion. As if remembering he was demonstrating, he slowed his movement, tilting the bow and showing Rohese the nocked arrow.

"See? Between the first two fingers." She nodded.

"And the arrow is placed along the inside of the grip," she noted with a bit more confidence.

"Yes, we call this little spot along the grip the rest, actually. Having it along the inside allows for better aim." He held his grin as he watched her mouth the word "rest," her eyes studiously watching his every movement with the bow.

"And then," he raised the bow, pulling the bowstring and arrow back, the shaft straight, the bowstring against his cheek. The old familiarity of his forward hand around the grip, three fingers curled around the bowstring, arrow nocked and fletching nearly grazing his cheek took him by surprise. He realized he'd not held a bow since Gallardshold over a year prior, except to fire a shot in anger several days before. He closed his eyes for a moment as if in another place.

"And then," she gently prompted.

"Oh...right," he said abruptly, as if called back into the moment from far away. "And then...well, first, notice my arm placement. Forward arm should be at a right angle to my body, you see?" She nodded.

"Sorry," he added apologetically. He deliberately let the tension out of the bowstring, switching his right hand from a palm out grip to a palm inward grip. "That grip is for speed, quick firing. This is more for practice and learning." He showed her his grip before pulling the bowstring back.

"Elbow straight back, like so," he instructed. "And release." The arrow streaked through the air, striking the bag of flour dead center. Rohese giggled and applauded excitedly.

With a grin, he turned toward her, offering the bow. "You try. First is form, then we'll add the arrow."

"Alright," she said hesitantly, taking the bow from his hand. Gripping it tightly in her forward hand, she carefully curled her fingers around the bowstring. A frown crossed her face. "I can't pull it."

"Yes, you can."

"Mirkk, I can't. It's too hard," she protested.

"You can," he insisted.

She gave it another attempt. Frustrated, she said, "I can’t!"

"You can. Pull with your back, not your arm," he said calmly, adding, "Once you do, you'll always be able to. Once more."

She sighed, frustratingly blowing a stray hair away from her eye. She closed her eyes and pulled once more, and, as she did, she noticed how, although the bowstring became tauter, it became easier to pull back until it was fully drawn. Her eyes opened widely with surprise. Mirkk grinned.

"Now slowly let out the slack and do it again." She nodded and followed his instruction, this time drawing the bowstring with a bit more ease. "See – you only need to know that you can. Now you'll be able to every time." She inclined her head and glanced away, trying to conceal her smile.

"Now, elbow straight, darling. You're a sorno, not a chicken. Your arm should be straight back. Soar."

Her bearing broke and her smile revealed as she heard him use the Elven word for eagle. Regaining her composure, she raised her elbow.

He casually reached down and retrieved an arrow from the quiver. He circled around her, using the nock end of the arrow to make slight corrections to her position. Standing now behind her, he frowned. Something doesn’t seem right. He moved to stand behind her, his arms resting just below her hips along her thighs. Leaning close to her, he closed his eyes, the faint smell of jasmine and columbine with hints of pine and pixie moss momentarily overtaking him.

"Bring them together slightly," he whispered against her ear as he applied slight pressure to her thighs. She did as he instructed.

"Now, let out the slack and let us try nocking an arrow. Let out the bowstring." She again followed his directions, letting out the slack and thankful for the respite. "You remember how I showed you?"

"I do," she responded with a nod.

"Good." He flipped the arrow in his hand and presented it. She cautiously retrieved it from him. "The command will be nock." She nodded once more, a solemn acknowledgement.

"Nock." She carefully thread the arrow between the grip and the bowstring, placing the faewood shaft against the rest, the nock between two fingers.

"The next command will be to pull back on the bowstring." She nodded slightly. "Draw." She bit her lip and pulled back against the tension with her shoulders and back. A satisfied smile graced her lips.

"Now, look down the shaft of the arrow, aligning it with your target. Imagine an invisible line along the arrow pointing at the target," he whispered. She leaned her head slightly forward.

"Good. See? It's simple geometry. Magister Raelee would be proud," he teased. She pursed her lips, refusing to giggle, though she wanted to.


Surprised, yet understanding his meaning, Rohese relaxed the tension in her fingers and heard the familiar *thwump* of the bowstring as the arrow was loosed. Both startled and unsure if she wished to see where the arrow had landed, she closed her eyes tightly. She heard his hands present a slow clap of approval. Hesitantly, she opened one eye, glancing toward the sack of flour. The arrow was lodged firmly into the trunk of the felled tree.

"I've failed. I missed," she said, disappointed.

"No. You are triumphant. The victory is that you've shot it. The aim will come with time. Had that been a stag, you would have gravely wounded it. It would not have been a clean kill, but we would be able to track it.”

The next hour was spent in repeating the process over and over. Much to her delight, Rohese managed to hit the sack of flour three times and Mirkk declared their first archery lesson a success. She ached all over but pride prevented her from saying anything; she just hoped she had gathered enough herbs earlier to make up a poultice for her sore muscles.

Orcs (Orco)

The long ride home started the next day. The night had brought a touch of frost with it and the tenuous veil of rime on the vegetation added a pretty sparkle to everything. It soon melted away with the first glimpse of sunshine but was a reminder that it would be Jastastos in just a few days.

Rohese was riding at the back of the party with Mirkk for company. Her filly was quite happy to simply follow the others, so she loosened her grip on the reins and allowed her thoughts to drift. The last week had been eventful; despite her fall to a recklessly fired arrow, she had learned much about the purpose of the hunt and had come to understand its necessity. The brief interlude in the clearing with the doe and margay had given her a lot more to think about. A smile crossed her lips as she then recalled her first archery lesson.

Haendil glanced back over his shoulder at her and caught Mirkk glaring at him. The awkward moment was interrupted by the harried arrival of a scout who went directly over to Eairion.

"Grimswarm orcs, sire! A war party of about twenty of them, ten miles south." Eairion signalled for the party to halt and pondered his options. Orcs were known to venture into the woods from time-to-time and he usually made sure that it was discouraged; now seemed a good opportunity to remind them.

"Take six rangers with you and despatch them. Bring me their scalps." One of the first elves to volunteer, turned to Mirkk with an enquiring look. "I'd like to see you put your archery skills to good use."

Mirkk grinned and shifted his gaze to Rohese. She held it for a moment and nodded faintly. "Why not," he replied, leaning across to kiss his wife on the cheek before joining the small party of elves forming up ahead of them.

Haendil rode forward but Eairion shook his head. "Not you, you've caused enough trouble this week." Haendil looked sheepish and returned to his position. Rohese gave her grandfather a sharp look but he merely shrugged at her and continued to give orders.

"We'll continue on, meet us back at the first encampment when you're done. I don't want any orc scum left to pursue us, is that clear?"

"Aye, my Lord," the scout replied eagerly, turning his horse and leading the rangers through the trees and out of sight.

The next few hours were spent in quiet reflection. Rohese couldn't settle, knowing that Mirkk was out hunting orc. Brutish and aggressive, they were not known for their benevolence when it came to combat or captives, but she had seen what he was capable of with a bow.

Shortly after they reached the glade where they had stayed the first night, they were joined by the remainder of the party. Slightly out of breath - having ridden hard to get there in time - the lead ranger dismounted before his horse had even come to halt and ran towards Eairion who was organising the tents for the night.

"Orc raiding party heading this way, my Lord! They must have left the camp before the scout had spotted it."

Eairion swiftly put things into motion, ordering rangers to arm themselves and prepare for combat. Rohese frantically looked around for Mirkk but couldn't see him in all of the commotion.

The initial engagement was fierce. With fearsome cries, the orcs streamed into the glade from different directions, brandishing all manner of crude weaponry. Tree trunks for makeshift cudgels and scapular-headed poleaxes were swung indiscriminately at the elves who were fortunately too fleet of foot to be caught in the clumsy charge. The rangers met them head on with precisely aimed spears and arrows firing in quick succession.

Without Mirkk, Rohese felt helpless. It was all she could do to form the necessary words of the incantation for Divine Wrath. Fumbling at first, she eventually felt the tendrils of soft grey mist finally curl around her hands and intensify, stretching out towards the foe. The five nearest orcs faltered under her magical assault but quickly rallied and turned their attention to her, bellowing something in orcish.

In panic, she cast her eyes around and saw a bow with a quiver of arrows resting against the wall of a tent. Dashing over, she slung the quiver over her shoulder and turned to face the fray. It was then she saw the Chieftain. Taller and broader than his counterparts, his helm was sporting a pair of bloodied antlers still with the velvet upon them. She felt sickened by such a profane mockery of one of Imaera's beloved creatures.

Before she even knew what was happening, the Orc Chieftain faced her from across the glade and, with a loud warcry, started to charge towards her with a machete in each hand. Preparing herself for impact, she mumbled a few spiritual wards under her breath and nocked an arrow in her bow. She desperately tried to remember everything Mirkk had taught her but realised it was probably too late. Just as she pulled the bowstring taut, an elf leapt in front of her and took the full force of the orc's first downward slash, cleaving through his shoulder and leathers. Despite the force of the strike, the elf managed to thrust his sword forward into the orc’s chest. The orc roared fiercely into the elf's face and raised his arm for a second blow but his eyes suddenly went wide as an arrow struck him directly in the back of the head, piercing the macabre antlered-helm.

Rohese gasped at the bodkin-pointed arrow now protruding from the middle of the beast's forehead directly in front of her and she watched, in shock, as the orc slumped to his knees before toppling to the ground next to the elf who had also fallen. It was then she saw Mirkk standing a few feet away with his bowstring taut and nocked with another arrow, which he slowly lowered in relief. Rohese held his gaze for a moment, her eyes filling with tears as they shared an unspoken moment.

As the shouts and cries around them steadily died down with the orcs defeat, Rohese sank to her knees. It was then she realised who the fallen elf actually was and lifted him into her arms.

"Haendil," she said softly, a tear running down her cheek.

"I'm sorry, milady," he whispered and the light faded from his eyes. In that same moment, his body became dust on the wind and he departed the realm forever.

Reflection (Sanwë)

The camp was subdued but business continued as usual. A fire was being prepared for the evening meal and horses fed while others finished the gruesome task of clearing away the aftermath of the orc attack. Other than Haendil, there had been no other serious casualties; just a few cuts and bruises that had been skilfully tended.

Seated among the furs scattered across the floor of her tent, Rohese contemplated the day. Her earlier talk with Eairion had done little to assuage her feelings of guilt over Haendil’s death. It had seemed to take an age to wash the blood from her hands and face. Had she been alone at the pool earlier, she would have bathed properly but the presence of the two rangers standing guard at her grandfather's insistence prevented that. She had even tossed her clothes on the fire but the cloying, coppery smell still haunted her.

Mirkk watched her closely as she brushed her damp hair. Each meditative pull of her hairbrush matched her breathing pattern. Her gaze was fixed on her reflection in the mirror.

"A silver for your thoughts," he ventured quietly and she looked at him with a soft smile. There was a sadness behind her eyes but she didn't appear to be melancholy.

"Oh, just recalling a few things my grandfather said." Rohese sighed and put her hairbrush down. "How Haendil's death wasn’t my fault."

"Your grandfather is right, he was impulsive. But he was also strong and fierce and brave." Mirkk came over to join her, seating himself next to her on the floor.

These last few words echoed in her mind and she thought of the margay. It was time to tell him.

Mirkk sat quietly as Rohese recounted her experiences in the clearing. He was momentarily alarmed at her mention of Andelas but let her continue to talk. He would share his thoughts on that later. So many questions came to mind but they could also wait, for now he was simply relieved that she had told him. It explained so much: why she had asked to learn archery, why she seemed "changed." No, changed wasn't the right word, she was still his Rohese but there was more; something intangible he had yet to put his finger on. Perhaps it would all become clear in time.

"Come on you, let's get something to eat, we have another early start in the morning and you could use a good night’s rest."

Rohese smiled and nodded in agreement, "I am a little hungry."

"Mirkk?" She said, quietly.

Mirkk rose to his feet pulling her up with him and tucking her damp hair tenderly behind her ear.

"Yes, Roh?" he replied with a smile.

"I love you."

Mirkk chuckled. "I know," he replied and slapped playfully her on the backside. "Now let's go and find you some supper. You will need to keep your strength up if you're going to be pulling a bowstring again soon."

Return (Entulessë)

The woods were still with just a faint breeze rustling the trees and gently caressing her face. The last silvery shafts of moonlight danced and weaved through the ever-changing gaps in the canopy as dawn approached. Rohese had risen early to practice with a bow.

She hadn't noticed the rain when it first started, a soft misting drizzle that was more like a spray, but which had soon soaked her tunic and leggings. Boots had been replaced by footwraps and the fresh scent of soap by petrichor and pixie moss. She had quickly learned that both announced her presence as effectively as a horn blast to the woodland animals that she was attempting to stalk. She had no intentions of killing them but it was a good exercise in stealth; her arrows were kept solely for knots in tree trunks.

I am patient. I am swift.Step by careful step. I am stealth. I am strength.

The ground was covered with a thick blanket of autumn leaves, blown free by the wind and rain overnight. She quietly muttered under her breath as she heard her own footfalls break the twigs beneath them. A covey of grey partridge broke cover at the sound and scattered before her with a whirring of wings. With a heavy sigh, she realised it was probably time to return to camp before her absence was noticed.

She was too late. Mirkk was waiting for her at the edge of the clearing and his expression said it all.

"Kill any unsuspecting sacks of flour?" His gaze was intense but there was a trace of a grin so she merely shook her head and lightly replied, "they got away...this time," before ducking inside the tent to avoid further chastisement and to finish packing up her belongings for the ride home.

An hour later, astride Isilme, Rohese glanced back at Mirkk who seemed to be staring intently at her but lost in thought. She subtly adjusted the bow and quiver slung across over her shoulder and spurred her filly on to close the gap with the party of rangers ahead. She sheepishly admitted to herself that she was still trying to avoid giving Mirkk an opportunity to berate her for going off alone. Hopefully he will have forgotten by the time they reached Nendelomea later that day. And then there was the Fall Feast and Ebon Gate. Plenty to keep him distracted.


It was the Day of the Huntress, the 30th day of Imaerasta and the occasion of the Fall Feast. Each year, Eairion opened the Great Hall of Nendelomea to the huntsmen, estate workers and their families to celebrate the hunt and harvest.

Garlands of leaves, acorns and berries hung from the rafters, releasing their earthy fragrance into the air and mingling with the smoke from the herb-strewn firepit over which a venison was roasting on a spit. Cloth-covered tables groaned under the weight of silver platters filled with all manner of sweet and savoury dishes and the wine barrels were ready to flow freely. The Housekeeper, Mimini, had excelled herself yet again with all of the arrangements.

The sun was just setting behind the linden grove, its last rays igniting the lake with the golden yellow glow of its leaves, when Rohese joined her grandfather to greet friends as they arrived. Dressed in a honey velvet gown with a simple gold circlet on her brow, she looked radiant and excited to celebrate with those she held dear. Mirkk had been waylaid by Mimini on arrival and Rohese glanced over in amusement to see him politely try to extricate himself from her fussing. He stared back at his wife with an exasperated and pleading look in his eyes as he was led over to a group of Winedotter gnomes admiring a stack of saffron-glazed rolls.

Rohese laughed softly and whispered something to Eairion who nodded with a chuckle. She made her apologies to the guests and headed over to rescue him. Wrapping her arms around his waist, she graciously asked Mimini to introduce them all and spent the next few minutes discussing the merits of oven and stone-baked breads.

Mirkk seized the opportunity to look around the rapidly filling hall. The elves all appeared to know one another and were engaged in light-hearted conversations, most of which were in Elven but he was able to catch a little. The faint strains of a harp and flute could be heard above the voices and a few of the ladies were attempting to persuade others to dance.

Mirkk gently disentangled himself from Rohese to fill a glass from a nearby wine barrel and went to return to her side, only to see her being dragged off by several of the young elves all very eager to have her join them.

He leaned back against the wood-panelled wall with a satisfied sigh and admired the colour of the wine in his glass, holding it up and watching the glow of candlelight through the garnet liquid. Savouring a mouthful, he watched Rohese whirling and clapping with the other young elves, her pale silver hair flying freely around her shoulders. Mirkk noted that the dance was almost predatory with its circling and swooping movements but she was so light on her bare feet, it lacked any hint of aggression. She seemed to be carefree and happy; so different to the Rohese he had first met behind a glamour. He loved to watch her dance but he enjoyed dancing with her too so it wasn't long before he caught her eye and they spent the next hour in each other’s arms talking and laughing over their shared memories of the past year.

Time passed quickly and the estate was soon shrouded in darkness; the waning and waxing crescents of the Liabo and Lornon moons barely visible behind the thickening veils of cloud in the night sky. The usual evening mist rose in tendrils from the lake, surrounding the trees of the linden grove and pushed across the lawn in a dense undulating blanket towards the house. Its progress was thwarted by a huge bonfire where both Rohese and Mirkk sat bathed in its ruddy warm glow. Others sat quietly with them, listening to the tale being told by one of the elders about the Wild Hunt. Of how the fey would leave their twilight realms that night. How the satyrs and dryads, nymphs, sprites and pixies would all heed the clarion call to ride and captivate their unsuspecting prey with the "touch."

Rohese noticed that Mirkk was enthralled and whispered to him, "Is everything alright?"

Mirkk had recalled hearing tales of the Great Revel or Wild Hunt when he was a young boy - his uncle had used it as a warning to stay away from the elves of the Wyrdeep - but, as he grew older, he quickly dismissed it as a children's story.

Rohese inclined her head and he gazed into her misty grey eyes as if realising something for the first time.

With a light chuckle, he kissed her softly on the cheek.

"Everything's fine dear. I've been captivated by a fey so why wouldn't I be?"