Death and the Hawk – II. Obsession

The priest use to tell me about his father.

‘His arms were thick as the tree trunks he chopped. The lice in his beard as big as grubs.’

‘Use to take me out to the woods. Near the wooden altars of our gods. He use to beat me. Never quite sure why, there wasn’t always a reason. Never when he was cross with me. He’d wait. Get this look in his eyes. Then the next time he took me out there…’

‘Once he laid into me well after I was finished. My legs were numb. I could feel the snow and blood and dirt, tears smothered over my face. Paralyzed and broken. I lied there looking up at the face of the carved wooden statue at the altar. Ugly looking, grim. Like my father. I thought I would die there. Two great ravens came and sat on the statue’s head, defecated upon it, the white shit running down the middle of the face. They watched me with their black eyes as I choked.’

‘I couldn’t scream, my throat was so hoarse. They sat on my chest and, eagerly, plucked out one of my eyes.’

He use to tell this story when I was in the cage, he held his mask, stroking the inked words written over the forehead. Wōtan. As though they meant something more than cruel vanity. His foggy glass eye sat in a cup by the side of his bed, looking someplace else. Looking for ravens, maybe.

‘Pain and sacrifice, Little Hawk, bring great knowledge. Violence is sacrosanct.’

That’s what the damned ravens taught him.

The air and smoke in the air were the only things she could feel. They surrounded the woodland hovel. Arrows wedged through the planks let light in after they approached and pulled them out.

She killed one of them this way, waiting till he came close then stuck the longsword through the crack. Caught him in the inner-thigh. After a few minutes he bled out. She heard them dragging him away across the broken twigs and leaves..

Her leg was injured and she couldn’t outrun them. The threat of being torn apart by musket fire made a direct confrontation unfavorable.

“We warned ye, blood daughter, we dun want you here. Should a got ye gone,” one of them shouted.

Another voice followed, “Prithee, Uriah, we ought not be here when the night comes.”

“Damned ye cowardice, Jethroe. She must pay for killing Samuel. She must!”

Her breathing was rapid and loud to her ears. She nestled in the corner of the small, four wall hut. Once used by the locals for hunting, a place to rest and wait for a doe or buck. Gold eyes glint as the sun set through the cracks and blades of burning light caught her gaze. This place would not hold for long. It was not made to withstand the siege of such irrational men.

“What does it see?” The Hackman and the falcon on his wrist were stout, similar in scars, and their eyes were hooded. Shrouded by leather veils with small rusted bolts on either side. Waiting for a response from the initiates he took deep breaths through his nose. It was the humidity that bothered him. Made him slow.

I thought; I could kill him. Not that I would, I only wanted to think about it. He heard these thoughts, somehow. He looked right at me and the falcon did too.

“What does it see, Eyass?”

“It sees what we cannot see.”

“What does it want?”

“It wants to hunt.”

“That’s all?”

“It wants to hunt…” My voice trails off.

“The sun abandons us. Leave her for it. Leave her and spare us,” the voice which she identified as Jethroe pleaded with the ringleader, brother to Samuel, named Uriah. They were an insular religious community near the edge of the woodlands. They called it Mottenbos. She didn’t know what their beliefs held, only that they loathed outsiders to the point of violence. But she had come there to work–to hunt. She sought a dangerous man-eater that fled through y’lle a month prior.

After her last hunt, word reached the Lodge of farmers and their families found half devoured all along the border of the forest. They thought it wolves. They could not tell the bites of a man from the bites of a beast. Marjolaine knew, that was her purpose. She tracked the killings to the Mottenbos community but they had little to offer. Only shelter for the night and stories of unusual animal sounds coming from the forests. No animal they recognized, of course. She resolved to move on.

That was until she met Samuel, the town drunk and belligerent. She broke his arm when he raised a hand to her and as he fell, he split open his head against the corner of a table. Died after a moment of twitches. Wasn’t aware enough to even know that he was dead. Until he couldn’t move anymore. Uriah gathered a handful of men but Marjolaine out paced them, tipped off by one of the local women.

By their footsteps she counted five different men. There were two in the back with rifles, resting on their knees with the barrels aimed and charges primed. Three others surrounded the hovel, armed with billhooks, hatchets, a woodcutter’s maul. The sixth man they brought was dead, his corpse propped up by a tree. She watched them through the cracks, occasionally gathering new information. None of it provided a clear opening. She had to wait. That was the only option left.

Will you die here. Before you find him?

Her mind conjured the strangest things. She thought of her quarry, hiding out in y’lle. She had only a vague and theoretical idea. But she had seen his evil deeds. They were connected. The huntress and her prey. She knew she couldn’t die until she found him. Until she killed him. This driving force had been what turned her toward y’lle instead of fleeing in the opposite direction.

Twenty stones. He’s tall. Aberrant. His teeth are crooked but hard. The locals call him the mantyger.

In Brague he came into a farmhouse when the mist was still thick in the early morning. He killed them, they thought the infant son was missing. I knew. He had eaten it. The whole thing. A splash of blood in the crib.  

The Hackman’s lessons drown out my thoughts, “Remember this, Eyass. They are always men. Flesh and bone. The monster lives here,” he would place a finger to his temple. “We all learn this truth; eyas and eyass alike. The Lodge is the home of the finest man-hunters in the world. For that, what is our creed?”

Venatio Supra Omnia.

Above All, the Hunt.

“We will not leave till she is bled. That is my oath,” Uriah cursed.

“Then prithee we be on with it. Thy sworn vengeance condemns us all.”

Marjolaine heard a sound. One of the musketeers, grown sore from his kneeling, slacked and when he did there was a cracking boom which punctured a wide hole in the door to the hovel. His finger brushed the hair-trigger of the gun. They cursed, deafened, and she came so quickly toward them that the second musket fired off-center and hit the roof. The air lay polluted in the harsh smoke.

Uriah’s blood red face spat loathsome gibberish, swinging a billhook in a wild arc. She held one of her swords and drew the other from her back.

One sword caught his tool on the guard, the other punctured his lungs through the side. He struggled until his rusty blade chipped. His eyes were enormous bulging sacks and his beard caught the blood that dripped from his frothing mouth.

With a thunderous shout, his friend with the maul came downward and nearly chopped off her arm. She stepped back, losing the sword through Uriah. She brought the other longsword back into both hands and raised her elbow, pointing the tip downward.

The blunt maul flailed around again, clumsy and dangerous in the uncertain hands of the farmer. His anger came wholly from fear and it smelled rank. Great pools of sweat gathered in the pits of his arms.

When he swung side-long, she tilted back and then forward, lightning fast, to stab the point right through the middle of his throat. His Adam’s apple caught the metal and he choked. She had to put her boot on his chest and pry the weapon free with a grunt.

However, Jethroe hollered and cracked her in the back of the leg with the musket, dropped by one of their musketeers as he ran screaming into the woods. The other remained for lack of good sense and shakily tried to reload his barrel. Gunpowder pouring over his hands.

The huntress cried, her sprain flaring up, down on the ground. He raised it up, confusion and hate in his eyes, about to strike her again with the stock–but she had one good leg still. With a kick, she hooked the back of his ankle and knocked him off balance. Then she sprang like a wild cat onto his chest. Her thumbs digging into his eyes as he screamed.

Screamed, screamed, and screamed.

Guts and white pus spewed out from the dark sockets that were once his eyes. Startled, she looked up, hearing the hiss of the newly reloaded musket. Her hands gripped Jethroe’s shoulders and hoisted him in her way, the blast ripping open his shoulder in a spray of blood.

She knocked him aside and stood up.

Marjolaine limped over to one of the corpses and, placing a foot on his head, drew the long and gruesome blade from the wound. She walked toward the last man. She pointed the sword at him. What he saw in those golden eyes, or the lack of what he saw, caused him to let out a shriek, to throw himself before her on his knees in prostration. He prayed, his hands tightly held together.

“Our Maker who forsakes us for hardship. Be with me now–”

She lifted the weapon and drove its point down the back of his head. He made a sound like he suffocated and all the blood from his face splashed onto the ground.

“It wants to hunt.” Thin, pink lips sternly spoke as she drew the sword out.

“No, Eyass. It wants to kill.” She repeated the Hackman’s words.

Out in y’lle her mantyger waited. His trail cold until he found more flesh to eat.

He would hunt then and she would hunt him.

That is what she was made to do, Marjolaine resolved.

Both swords were sheathed. She picked up one of the muskets and the powder horn and a pouch of the iron balls, slinging it over her shoulder as she limped into the deeper woods.

Away from Mottenbos and further into the uncharted areas of y’lle no gods were witness to the lone huntress among the great silver firs, hidden beneath the growling shade and the coming of the dark.

The words of the priest echoed in her mind as she went,

‘Pain and sacrifice, Little Hawk, bring great knowledge. Violence is sacrosanct.’

That’s what the damned ravens taught him.

And that’s what he taught me.

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