There was an eerie absence to the forest that night, a sort of death that only comes with the anticipation of wait. No leaf stirred in the boundless wind, no bird chirped with the suddenness of flight, no animal snuffed with the curiosity of discovery. Nothing but the crunch of Owyns boots, landing heavily upon the dead leaves that lay on the silent earth.
He was stalking something. The dark, the silence, the tension in the air, all added to the drama of the moment. His dark gold eyes scanned the forest floor with startling agility, finding and dismissing things just as easily as his forearm swung with the power of his sling, hovering just above his head. He steadily moved forward, deeper into the forest, still searching, still hunting.
Above the pounding of his heart, he heard the almost imperceptible sound of a twig snapped off to his right. Swinging his footing as he let his sling fling the sharp rock towards the sound, he waited with an anxious anticipation. Another twig snapped seconds after the rock was flung and a rabbit with black tipped ears scrambled from the underbrush. Without even a glance at its attacker it fled from the clearing, swiftly darting away from his presence like two polar ends. Yet Owyn was close on its heels, diving under branches, leaping over roots, pushing off from trees to gain a little more speed. He could still see the poor terrified mammal just within his reach, if only he could reach a hand out and grab it, but he held back. That was a silly thing to do, no true woodsman would even consider it a proper hunt and that’s what he wanted right?
Unknowingly the rabbit swung to the right, and desperately Owyn followed, but to no end. The rabbit had somehow hid itself in the under brush, for when he turned, there was no fleeing white bunny to chase, just an empty forest floor. Regretting his loss in focus during the hunt he stumbled to a stop and stood panting, hands against knees. Looking with a disappointed air around the underbrush, hoping to catch sight of the unmistakable sight of glossy white fur, Owyn sighed in resignation, there was nothing.
Out of breath and making enough noise to scare off any other animal within a mile radius, Owyn trudged over to a dead log. He sat down heavily, feeling the wood sink down with the weight of his body. Still fruitlessly searching for anything that moved he rubbed the sweat from his forehead and reached behind his back, pulling his tightly lashed quiver and bow onto his lap.
He needed a successful hunt; he needed something, even a rare plant if need be, to bring home. Owyn had left his house with a purpose in mind a goal to meet and beat, but how was he to do such a difficult thing, if the forest was against him and seemed to just aid the prey in escape with silence. He absent-mindedly rubbed his palm over the taught string of the rosewood bow. Tanned brown skin made a harsh contrast with the pale ivory of the rope. Running his hand up and down, feeling the rough turn to smooth with the motion. He needed this hunt. Owyn didn’t have anything against his father; they were the only people in the others life since his mother died, but it was just this one issue that Owyn and his father seemed to disagree on. What was so wrong with hunting with a bow anyways? The boys from the village always went hunting with their fathers, and the stories they told were so thrilling! Chasing after the rabbits, using their bows on a moving target, the blood pumping through their veins! Snares were just… boring and lacked adventure.
With a slight dramatic flourish, he flung himself down and lay with his feet in the air and his back flat against the forests nature covered floor. Staring up at the canopy of partly golden leaves he thought back to the last time he had been out hunting with so much anticipation running through his veins. It had been about seven years ago, when he was ten.
Out with his father for his first real rabbit hunting, Owyn had practically bounced with energy as they set up the snares in a well known rabbit spot. His mouth never seemed to stop moving, questions falling from his lips as quickly as water from cupped hands. His father ignored him, something he was used to by that age and was left alone with his questions and anticipation. When the snares were set up, his father and him headed back home. “What about bows and arrows Papa?” he had asked with a childlike frown marring his forehead. His father had laughed and ruffled Owyn’s pale blonde hair, “woodsman cannot stink of blood in the forest Owyn, do you want to be eaten by a bear?” that itchy little dimple at the corner of his fathers mouth tugged at Owyn, making him want to pick it off. “But Papa,” he started, dragging on his lips to create his ten-year old pout, “I thought I was going to learn how to hunt….?” His father just laughed even harder, and walked him back home, so that they could finish off the days chores. Later that day they returned to the abandoned snares to see not a one held a meal, nary a one had caught a rabbit. His father just shrugged his big broad shoulders and picked up the useless contraptions, “no luck.”
Owyn snorted ‘no luck indeed.’ sure his fathers snares brought the rabbits home but what skill did that show? He might as well have been using a gentleman’s’ top hat for all the good it did. His arms stretched out above his head, Owyn craned his neck up to see where the sun hung in the sky. Mid-evening, he sighed and pushed himself up from his prone position and brushed the dead matter from his clothing and hair. He was seventeen now, could go out hunting all on his own with out his father having any say in the matter. Owyn had been training with his bow and arrow for three years and now was his chance to prove his point to his father, sometimes, patience wasn’t the answer.
Owyns bow and quiver now back in position on his back, secure and easily accessible, he set off down into the forest thicket yet again. Sling forgotten, he stepped with sure footing towards the next clearing that was sure to house a family of rabbits. He only had another half hour till he had to be heading back towards the farm, so he picked up the pace and by the time he reached the clearing he had broken into a full out sprint.
The instant he broke through the branches and stepped into the small field, movement caught his eye, three fleeing rabbits, one with black tipped ears. With a speed he didn’t know he possessed, Owyn grabbed, loaded and aimed his bow at one of the moving targets. Without even a moment of hesitation his arrow flew from the humming bow, and buried itself in the black tipped rabbit’s hip.
For a moment Owyn thought there would be a scream of pain, or a cry of outrage from the rabbits, but there was nothing. The two other rabbits had disappeared as their comrade had been hit and yet again the forest took on that dreadful silence, it felt like a million eyes had directed their gaze at his back and were judging him.
Tension builds, almost to a buzzing in his ears, till it broke with a gust of wind that filled the clearing and blew the leaves over head to a rustling mass. Dazed from the moment that had just passed and not quite sure what its significance was, he stepped forward cautiously. Owyn told himself it was to watch for rabbit holes that could break a mans ankle, but in the back of his mind he said that it was from fear of what lay ahead of his next step.
The body was still warm, blood stained and nearly painful to look at. The death that seemed to surround the poor carcass almost drove him back home, with empty hands. Shaking his head, trying to remove the nausea from his throat, he picked up the dead rabbit by its ears and swung his bow back over his shoulder. Not quite sure about what to do with the arrow that jutted from the rabbits hip, the thought of pulling it out with his hand put a sour taste in his mouth, he just left it there. Walking towards the farm house where his father waited, the rabbit held at arms length away from his body so that the arrow didn’t poke him in his leg every time he took a step forward. A trickle of excitement tumbled into his mind, then more and more, till it was flooded with elation at the thought of a successful hunt, of an accomplished goal, of finally beating his father.
A jaunty stride became his new walk and a smile adorned the corner of his mouth, creating an un-noticed dimple. When he strode into the warmth filled kitchen of his fathers house his smile seemed to brighten even the light dimmed room of a farmhouse. Bearing his winnings like a medal that adorned his chest he proudly thrust his prize out to show his father his accomplishment. His father, startled from the sudden entrance, glanced up from a pot that hung over the fire pit, a wooden spoon gripped in his hand. Owyn’s smile slipped and his eyes wandered over to the butcher table.
His smile wavered and then fell.
Five rabbits lay prone on the table, three skinned and two waiting the same fate, all caught by his father. “What….?” He said with a disbelieving breath. “But I…” un-knowing the hand that held the rabbit thrust out again, desperately trying to show that he had done something, that he had won. His fathers face twitched and the persistent dimple appeared at the corner of his lips. “What did you catch?” he said. Owyn groaned and held out the carcass with both hands.
Blood still leak from the body and dripped onto his hands and down his sleeves. His skin crawled and his father saw his slight look of disgust. Patiently placing the spoon back into the bubbling pot of rabbit stew, his father held up two, clean hands, “looks like I got some luck tonight.” that all knowing smile tugging at his fathers lips again. Owyn looked at the table and thought back to all the nights they ate rabbit stew and how he had thought of his father without pride. That same smile tugged at his lips. “Luck indeed.” He murmured and sat down heavily on one of the kitchen chairs.
His father handed him a cloth to wipe his hands on and that night both men sat down for a hot steamy bowl of rabbit stew.
After a few spoonfuls, Owyn paused and set the spoon down, “so Papa… how about I go and check the snares tomorrow night?”
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