Story for the Day: Paudrig's Hunt -- Part 1
Children are great dreamers, and often have no problem telling you about what it is they wish for. Most of them dream of bathing in vats of candy, reigning as magical fairy princesses, and becoming indomitable knights in shining armour, disemboweling formidable foes and saving the world. And some of them just want to be the greatest hunter in the kingdom:
|Caves of Kesh|
Notions of bears and hunts, woods and wilds, seethed rampant through Paudrig’s unconscious mind as he resigned himself to sleep, and all his aspirations were for seeing the bear again and deciphering the location of his legendary den. Aghus was gracious and granted him his wish: his dreams were all for tracking and tracing the bear’s path from the garden into the raging wilds and through the mountains. Tearlaidh might have been somewhere by—he could not tell-- but finding Mharac, discovering his den and waiting for him to return thither that he might trap and subdue him was all his private delight.
All the plans had been laid, all the schemes agreed to, everything canvassed and arranged for the hunting of Borras’ bear. It was to be a friendly hunt, of course, only an impalement or two and Paudrig would then have done and friendships could resume and rides could be given. They might even walk to the stream together and take a morning’s pleasant piscation, watch the leaping salmon, glory in the rustling brine and bracken, marvel at the alluvial barm glittering and caroming off the water’s edge and weltering downstream.
His searching brought him to a small stream in the forest of his unconscious mind, and he watched the small spiders skimming along the surface, enticing trout and pike, their mouths peeking up and out from the depths, the undulation and bobbing causing ripples to scatter and blur his reflection. He followed the water, marking the trunks and tributaries along the way, running through rills and riparian rime, finding nothing to suggest the bear’s having been near the stream within the last few hours. He humphed and looked up: there he was met with skyward sea of mare’s tails racing toward the horizon. He tried to calculate the time of day, but it was impossible when trapped in a vision of perpetual early morning or late afternoon. The day seemed as though it were ending and beginning all at once, the luminaries rising and setting with the same varying hues, the body of the sun hidden by the divesting line and the chief of the light screened by the canopy of spruce and cypress. It was either nearly night or mid-morning, and he hastened away from the trees and into a small clearing, hoping to gain a better prospect of the sky when his attention was caught by the sight of a whitethorn, reigning over the ensuing sward, numinous under the apricity of light poring through the adjacent boughs. Instantly did he think of the brouniedh and of Tearlaidh’s warning not to approach the barrow whereupon the tree quietly stood. There were many tales told of those who disturbed the ancient markers of the spirit world, but he could never wish to fell the tree or capture the brouneidh; he only wanted to see them, to search under the woodsorrel and between the boughs for any creature still dawdling about. He did approach with a chary step, but the moment his foot touched the bottom of the barrow, a bellowing roar echoed from the trees behind him. He turned, the fremescent din lingering in the thickening brume, and there, under the shade of the cypress, was a familiar shape.
“The bear!” he cried.
The bear fled in the opposing direction, and Paudrig leapt after it.
“Wait, Mharac!” he panted, vaulting over rocks and stumbling over exhumed roots. “Ah onlae want tae spear ye, an’ then we can be friends an’ o’!”
The bear did not wait, however. It hastened toward a mountain pass and drew further and further away from its pursuer.
“Bear, if ye doant wait, Ahm gonnae hunt ye!”
This, regardless of how generous the invitation, was ignored, and as the bear thundered through the ascending rocks and vanished in the shade of the pass, Paudrig hurried after it, low boughs whipping past him, his spear in hand, his mind bent on engaging his ursine rival with all the dauntlessness that his simmering ambition could warrant.
He leapt into the pass, his path shrouded by a dense fog. He huffed and hawed, spying the ground as he ran into the gorge, waving his spear about, attempting to cut through the hovering mist. The ground soon banked and turned, and when he rounded the corner, there before him was the mouth of a cave, the carved rock and dripstones forming a face more familiar than he would allow himself to recognize at present. His subconscious saw the bear’s aspect indented in the hoodmould and broken versant, but his awareness was all for the snarling beast lurking in the shadows of the den.
“Ah found it!” Paudrig breathed, craning his neck and remarking the cave, his mouth open, his complexion flushed with colour. “Ah found his den.”
There was nothing he could see in the cave beyond a few subtle movements of the beast within, for the mountainside, steep and reclining, screened the sun from the mouth of the cavern and the little light in the pass could not penetrate the threshold. The rumbling thrum of what lurked beyond, the violent reboation, the gruttral grunts as the bear paced back and forth along the length of its den made Paudrig feel a hesitation that could not be easily done away. He approached with a cautious step, his senses beleaguered by a trepidation that any hunter tracking such a precious quarry ought to feel. He hardened himself a little, reminded himself of his object in coming: to hunt the greatest bear in Frewyn with the hope of befriending it, and here was all his courage. He gripped his spear, inhaled, and marched into the cave, where he was stopped by the sudden swipe of motion close to his face.
His impulse acted while his imagination supplied what his eyes could not see, and he leaned back and raised his spear before the immense paw emerging from the darkness could connect with him. He deflected and instantly tried for a retaliation, but the bear leapt back, and his counterattack swung wide and missed. He stood his ground, adopted a wider stance, and awaited a reprisal, but there was only the faint outline of the form that trundled back and forth across the opening of the den. It growled with every heavy step, its eyes glowed a vibrant red, its teeth glistened with slaver, its claws brandishing an ivory sheen as the slender light strode across them. Paudrig’s heart seized at so terrible a sight, but his fancy was fired, the charm of consternation as broken: he would spear the bear, and he would have him make him understand him. He stepped across the threshold and raised his spear, and the shadow of the bear grew and rose, and Paudrig’s intrepidation soared.