by von Garrett
protagonist background story (updated version)
|As soon as Jed heard the goats he knew another one was lost. One of the herd had disappeared every few nights for the last month, and their numbers were getting below that which could sustain his master Leom and himself. Their entire livelihood relied on the herd.
Jed felt like he owed Leom his life. Nearly a year had past since the old man had found the boy wandering alone through the mountains. Jed had been covered in congealed blood, his clothes were torn and he clung to a sword as if it was the most precious thing in the world to him. He was deranged and couldn’t even remember his name. Leom took Jed in and nursed him back to health. Jed’s strength and his wits returned to him but his memories remained elusive, like threads at at back of his subconscious that only revealed themselves in whispers of horror through his dreams. With no where else to go, Jed had remained with the old man and helped him with his herd of milking goats.
Jed felt as though he was letting the old man down by not protecting the herd. It was Jed’s job to take the goats up into the mountain meadows each morning, watch over them through the day, and then return them to their pen in the evenings for milking. Leom was getting too old for the long treks up narrow, and often perilous, mountain paths. So Jed had offered to take on the responsibility. No one kept watch over the goats through the night, but now that was going to have to change. Jed knew that if the losses continued he and the old man would have to start taking turns watching over the goats. One of them was going to have to keep a watch through the night.
Jed had no idea what was taking their goats. They had not heard wolves, and a bear would have likely broken the pen getting in to prey upon the herd. He could only think of one possibilty, that human poachers were taking their goats.
The herd was visibly agitated when they came into view, but upon seeing Jed and the hound Auld, they became excited and less on edge. Jed could see blood in the pen. Blood also lead out of the pen and into the nearby woods. Auld caught the scent and began sniffing at the blood, he sniffed the fence and begun following it towards the woods.
“Auld. Here,” Jed called. The hound obeyed and returned to his side.
Jed knelt down and touched the blood with his hand. It was cold. Whomever had taken the goat would be long gone by now.
“Go on then,” Jed said to the hound and he bounded off towards the woods with Jed close behind.
They had not gone far into the woods when they discovered the remains of the carcass. Small birds pecked at what little they could. They fluttered away as Auld came forward to investigate. He sniffed and licked at the bones. Jed was confused. He did not understand why men would butcher the animal here, and then leave so little. He wondered if scavengers could have cleaned the bones this quickly. He had seen dead animals in these very woods that had been left to the maggots. And if there were larger scavengers like scartharok, Jed would likely have heard them as they picked over the corpse. The goat was nearly clean of every scrap of flesh. Few hunters cleaned a carcass so thoroughly, especially if they butchered an animal out in the woods.
He followed the sound of a stream and there looked for signs of any prints in the sand. What he found made no sense to him. Deeply imprinted in soft sand of the stream bank was what looked like the foot print of an over sized chicken: a foot with three large avian toes. Jed placed his hand over the print and spread his fingers wide. The middle toe was a little longer than the length between his palm and the tip of his middle finger. He had never heard of such a creature. The largest birds were the scavenging scartharok and they were less than half the size of this creature. Instinctually he drew his bow and scanned his surroundings. But heard and saw nothing. Auld circled sniffing the ground but otherwise seemed calm. Jed determined that there was no immediate danger.
All that day as he watched the goats he wondered what manner of creature was so large and yet had a foot like a bird. At first the goats were not their usual selves, being more cautious and sedate than usual, but by midday they were back to their usual selves enjoying the sun and the bounty of grasses and shrubs that grew in the meadow at this time of year. The young in particular seemed to have completely forgotten their ordeal of the night before.
Jed decided to bring the goats back early that after noon and get some rest before nightfall so that he could stay up and keep watch over the goats. Leom took the first watch in the evening and then woke Jed around midnight and take the watch until the mourning. For four days they continued this routine with no sign of the hunters.
It was four hours before dawn on the fifth evening since the last goat was killed when the creatures returned. Jed sat perched in a tree when he saw two long serpent-like shadows emerge from the trees. Their large eyes glistened menacingly in the moonlight. They walked on two powerful legs and held their claw-like hands close to their bodies. Their tails were long and wipe-like and reptilian heads were held on long slender necks. They moved swiftly out from under the trees towards the goat pen. As they reached it they leapt over the fence and were greeted by the goat’s frightened baas. And before Jed could react they had one of the goats by the throat.
Horrified by the scene Jed drew his bow and quickly let a arrow fly. The first missed by two feet. The creatures seemed confused and didn’t know where the arrow had come from. The goat had given up its struggle by the time Jed let the second arrow fly, which drove deep into the back of one of the creatures. The creature fell letting out a high pitched screaming-hiss sound. The second had seen the trajectory of the arrow and looked in the direction it had come. Even in the near darkness it saw Jed in the tree and sprinted towards him. Jed struggled nervously to nock another arrow. It was almost at the tree when he fired. In his haste the arrow only glanced the creature’s leg and as it continued towards him. On reaching the tree the creature sprung at Jed with jaws wide open revealing a mouth full of razor shape teeth. Jed barely moved fast enough to avoid its bite. The creature fell back to the ground landing on its feet then immediately sprung at him again. This time he had an arrow ready and fired.
The force of the arrow meeting the creature’s chest stopped it in mid air and then caused it to fall back towards the ground. It tried to land on its feet but they gave out under it as it landed. It didn’t move for a moment then began to rise. The creature vainly reached for the arrow in its chest but could do nothing to remove it with its long clawed fingers. It turned to Jed, hissed and then let out a high pitched scream. As it screamed Jed could see blood in its mouth.
Even dying, the creature evoked a sense of horror in Jed. The dark feathers on its body protruded like spins. Its eyes seemed cold and alien to him as it stared at him with what he thought must be a blind hatred and violence towards him. Through his distaste at the nightmarish creature, Jed also felt pity as he sent another arrow into the creature’s throat. It fell writhing to the ground and then was shortly dead.
Jed remained in the tree for some time before he risked decent. He wanted to be sure that there were no more of those creatures lurking in the forest.
The old man and the boy continued to keep watch over their herd each night for many more weeks but no more of the dreaded creatures returned. Jed described the creatures to people in the village but most thought that he was mad. But the village shaman knew of such creatures and referred to them as the demon’s hounds. Most in the village preferred not to think about the fact that just past the mountains in the north lay the realm of the demons. The scartharok too were the demons’ minions, but had long populated the mountains due to their ability to fly, even dragons were known in the mountains, but it was the first that any had heard of the demon’s hounds outside of legend.
word count: 1,527 words