In this set up we meet a old man who gets more than he bargained for whilst out hunting
As Theomund drew his bow tight, the words of his father still rang in his head as if it were just yesterday. ‘Watch your breathing, steady your aim’ he would say. ‘Relax and clear your mind; there is only you and the target’. His old but keen eyes moved from the tip of his arrow to a small doe, stood not more twenty paces in front of him. It was grazing in the soft light that filtered down through the forest canopy.
Theomund focused on the doe and prepared to take the shot. ‘Don't rush yourself, you have to wait for the perfect moment’ his father would coach him. So Theomund waited, waited for the moment that would surely come...his arms though strong, began to strain from the effort of holding the string tight.
Suddenly a bird took flight from a nearby tree with a loud squawk and disturbed the loose branches; the doe’s head shot up in alarm.
“Now” Theomund thought as he took a sharp breath in and let loose his fingers. The arrow sped through the air and slammed into a tree just behind the small animal, missing by inches. Startled, the doe raced off into the fading light and away from danger.
“Gods help me!” Theomund cursed. “and dammed getting old!” His grey, receding hair betrayed the fact that it had been many seasons since his father had first taught him to hunt. He was sure he would have had a few stern words to say after that effort.
Theomund shook his head annoyed and took a glimpse up through the tree tops. He saw the sun was beginning to fall. He couldn’t return home to his family empty handed; they were depending on him to be fed. Making up his mind quickly, he decided to make chase after the doe and give in one more chance.
Off once again, he picked through the forest with haste, but being careful not to make too much noise. If he was lucky the animal wouldn't have gone too far. All his life Theomund had being hunting in these woods; they had provided everything he needed. The clothes on his back, the string for his bow and the food in his belly. He never felt more at peace than when he was alone in the trees.
But he had noticed a change in the woods these last few seasons. He couldn't quite put his finger on it but they were less alive, less green and bountiful. They didn't feel like the home they once were.
The forest floor began to slope upwards and his weary legs cried out in protest as he climbed the hill. In his younger years he used to hunt for the local lord; But no longer. After the war and death of King Aldwyn, the previous local baron had been replaced with another. Normally Theomund cared little for the troubles of kings and nobles.
But this new lord brought with him harsh laws and taxes; now it was illegal for him to hunt, even to feed his family. The new laws claimed all the wood and forests of Arandor belonged to the king. Anyone found hunting on the kings lands would face severe punishment.
“Poachers” he scoffed, that's what the lords called them. These woods belonged Theomund more that any stuffy nosed noble living a life of luxury. It didn't matter anyway, he was sure the lord would soon be replaced by another privileged brat from a different lineage. He had seen many come and go through his years. And none of them would keep him his out of his woods.
He finally crested the hill, wiping the sweat from his brow and took a second to look around. The beauty never failed to be lost on him. The forest stretched out for miles in all directions. To the north the trees seemed to go on forever; a sea of green all the way up to the imposing Windcrest Mountains in the distance. He had once dreamed of walking the mountains, but life and its responsibilities had other plans.
To the east could see the edge of the forest, where it gave way to farmland and grazing pastures. The town of Easterdale could be found if one wandered for long enough. And on further still you would eventually greet the coast and upon its shores find the majestic white city of Crowheart, Capital of Arandor. Only once he had been there, as a boy. He had just faded memories now of crowded streets and horrible smells. He knew even back then the city wasn't for him.
And in the west the forest continued onward, unyielding. He had heard stories from travelling merchants that eventually the green trees faltered and died, leaving only a vast open desert, but he had never seen it with his own eyes. He wasn't sure if he believed the stories at all.
Finally he turned to the south and could just make out his little hamlet, nestled by the river. His wife would be getting ready for his return, and ready for the meat that he would bring. At this thought his resolve strengthened, he must find that doe.
The sun was low in the sky now as Theomund made his way down the far slope of the hill. Though old, he was still swift and he made good progress through the dense bushes and trees. The hill began to level out and he slowed to a gentle walk. Further on he crept, his experienced eyes darting this way and that, his ears pricked waiting for any sounds. As he picked through a particularly dense set of shrubs, they suddenly they gave way to a small clearing. His heart leapt. There it was, Theomund couldn't believe it!
“Mylandras guide me” he whispered in thanks to the forest deity.
As if waiting for him, the doe has stopped directly in the middle of the clearing as was scratching at the ground with her hoof. Surely the gods had placed it in his path. Theomund silently moved into the clearing, remaining partially hidden amongst the tall bushes. He took the bow from around his lean body and drew an arrow from his quiver. Kneeling down he went though his routine.
Once again he steadied his breathing and notched the arrow onto his bow. He raised it and measured the distance; it was even closer this time. Theomund closed his eyes and quickly muttered a prayer to the gods to guide his arrow.
“May it be straight and true” he asked of them.
Satisfied that he was ready, he gently pulled back on the bow string and held his breath. His eyes moved from the end of his arrow, out towards the doe. He paused, adjusted his aim slightly, and then just as he released a little pressure from his fingers he felt the forest air around him change. Something was wrong.
At first Theomund wasn't sure what had happened, but suddenly noticed he was sweating profusely, although goosebumps were crawled across his arms. He relaxed his bow and only then realised how deathly quiet it had become. There was no more bird song, no creaks from the ancient oaks, no gentle rustle of leaves in the evening breeze.
And the he saw something that sent a shiver down his back and his blood run cold. From the behind the doe, a dark figure was moving in towards the clearing. But the figure was not walking; it seemed to be gliding along the forest floor. As it moved further into the clearing, Theomund could get a better look
It was twice the height of any man and covered head to foot in a long black cloak. He tried to make out a face or any features at all, but there was nothing, just a black empty chasm. The deer jolted off one more but Theomund couldn't have cared less. In all his years he had never seen anything in the woods like this, he knew it didn't belong here.
Had the figure seen Theomund yet; he couldn't be sure. It wasn't doing anything in particular apart from silently drifting. Maybe if he just backed away slowly into the bushes he could make his escape and get back to his wife and young boy.
Suddenly, as if it sensed his thoughts, the creature's head snapped to look straight at Theomund. He froze in terror, even though the being was faceless, he knew it staring right at him. Then it made forward violently, coming menacingly for him. The lack of sound was more terrifying to Theomund than a thousand howls. For a moment Theomund did nothing but only watch in horror as it came ever closer, but then his senses flooded back to him.
He could still defend himself. He rose from his hiding spot in the bushes and fired an arrow at creature. His aim was faultless this time but to his disbelief the arrow had no effect. It went straight through as if it was just an apparition, and sailed harmlessly off into the distance. Theomund fumbled nervously with his quiver, trying to draw another. But before he could, the creature was upon him.
A ghastly skeletal hand withdrew from a cloaked sleeve, and seized Theomund tightly round the neck. The enormous creature lifted him off the floor as if he were made of nothing, and squeezed hard on the old mans throat. Now face to face, Theomund could just make out two piercing red eyes beneath the hood. It drew itself close to him and just three words came out in a terrifying rattling whisper, ‘Northman...Viken...Elundnir...’