Dark Hunter

By Martin Owton

It came upon them from the deep shadow under the pines. Their first sign of its approach came from the hounds, crouching low in the short grass, hackles raised, growling into the shadows. The men halted, puzzled, seeing nothing but recognising the warning in the dogs' behaviour, and in an instant it was upon them. The dogs fled howling and the first man had time only to throw up an arm in desperate defence before a broad headed spear buried itself deep in his chest. The second man was taken, swept from his feet unable to draw his steel, tangled in a cast net. The third man, surprised, bending over his dog, was assailed by a vision of living hell. Nine feet tall and covered in dark coarse hair, what rose before him had the body of a man, a giant amongst men, and the head of a bear with eyes that glowed like coals. His scream echoed amongst the empty hills as the monster rushed upon him. He drew his steel and then one great paw struck him across the side of the head. Savage claws tore four livid tracks across his face, earth and sky whirled, then darkness took him.

He awoke in full night, his head singing and his stomach raw, blood matting his beard. When he stood his knees gave way beneath him and thunder roared in his ears. Yet a great haste of fear was upon him and he clutched at the trees to stop himself falling as he ran. He stumbled blindly down the valley, heedless of the trips and falls, away from the place of his terror.

He came at last to the hall of the Lord of the Sea Raiders within the camp of his people. There were lights and fire and the Sea-King sat at feast. Through the great doors, past the door wards and into the hall he came. His clothes in rags, trailing his blood upon the earthen floor he fell on his face before the king and cried like a child.

His tale was heard by many and recounted to many more. There were those who were inclined to scoff and disbelieve, counting it some fantasy born of the hills and mist. Still more considered that it had its genesis in the potent water of life made by the subject people and popular amongst the Sea Raiders. Yet none who saw the survivor's face that night had any doubt. Nor was ever any trace found of his two companions. So the tale passed as true through the hall and the camp and down into the town beside the wharves where the river met the sea. Thence it passed to the villages, to the hamlets and cotts nestling up under the eaves of the dark forest and the mountains. And many folk marked the tale and remembered other tales, of shadows seen at twilight and livestock that vanished without trace.

Some weeks later a coastal trader sailed up the estuary on the afternoon tide. The ship carried the wares that these ships normally do - and one passenger. He was a tall young man with thick dark hair, broad shoulders and a measuring eye. He stepped down the gangplank with a travel worn pack slung high on his shoulders and a small harp in its travelling cloth cradled in his arms. He stood a while gazing at the town as if mapping it with his eyes, comparing it with an original in his head. Then he started to walk purposefully up the slope away from the wharves.

Rain came with the sunset and night found the young traveller in the taproom of an inn beside the marketplace. With a flagon of dark ale beside him, a crowd gathered around him in the low-roofed room as he played and sang. He sang the songs of many lands. Some the people knew so that they joined in with him on the choruses. Others they did not know so they sat in silence as the minstrel wove pictures before them out of music and firelight. He sang many songs and one in particular caught the ears of two that stood at the edge of the gathering apart from the rest. In his clear voice he sang the Lay of the Dark Hunter, who stands guard over the men of the mountains and guides them through the dark woods. The two who stood apart and strained on the minstrel's every word were young, fair-haired in contrast to the dark locks of the rest, and richly dressed. And they listened as the minstrel sang of the Dark Hunter who walked as a giant amongst men with the head of a bear.

At length the minstrel grew tired and would sing no more. One by one the crowd drifted away and the two fair-haired men came forward to the fireside. "Your cup is empty, may I refill it for you." The larger of the two men asked the minstrel cautiously.

"Thank you." The minstrel's voice was almost accentless. The fair-haired man called out to a potboy to bring more ale.

"May we share the fire with you ?"

"If you wish." The minstrel did not look at them but stared into the fire.

"I was struck by the last song you sang. I have never heard it before, what was it called ?"

"The Lay of the Dark Hunter." Still the minstrel stared into the fire.

"Whence comes this Lay ?"

"Oh, the Dark Hunter is from these lands; that's why I sang it, I thought it might earn me a few more coins." The minstrel looked up from the fire at the two men.

"The Lay speaks of the Hunter as a giant man with the head of a bear " The smaller of the blond men spoke.



"Indeed so; nearly twice man height and with the head and claws of a mountain bear. He is normally described as hunting with spear and net. I have seen old paintings and carvings showing this. Why do you ask?"

"A strange thing happened here two moons ago. It has been the talk of the countryside, I'm surprised you have not heard of it. A hunting party up in the mountains was attacked. One man survived to tell of it and he says that they were attacked by a huge man with the head of a bear. He bore terrible wounds across his face as if clawed by some great beast."

"Did the survivor see what happened to his fellows. How did they die ?"

"As he tells it, one was netted and the other died of a spear thrust. This sounds very much like the Dark Hunter."

The minstrel turned back to the fire and was silent for a long while. Finally he spoke. "This is a matter of much weight. I fear greatly that old, dark powers are at work here. It would be best that you said nothing of this." Then he drained the last of his ale and stood up.

"I will bid you gentlemen goodnight, thank you for the drink." With that he strode towards the door and out into the night.

The two young men returned to the fortress of the sea-raiders a little removed from the town. There they sought out their uncle who was a counsellor of the Sea King and they told him of the minstrel and of the Lay of the Dark Hunter. Their uncle, Harald son of Ragnar was a wise and sensible man, he thought for no more than a minute and then took them before the King. Although the hour was late the King was still awake, sleep had been a stranger to him since the hunter's dreadful fate. The King heard their tale and sat in deep silence, then he sent the two young men to their beds but asked their uncle to stay a while. He reached for a jug of wine and filled two glasses before he spoke.

"A strange tale Harald, I would value your thoughts."

"Strange indeed, Erik. The description in the Lay fits what we know of the attack, but what concerns me more is the reaction of our people. We lost but two yet one might imagine we had lost an army. Everyone seems to be walking around in fear of their lives as if the enemy were at our very walls. Is there more here than I

see ?"

"You too easily overlook our character. How many of our stories tell of the gods walking amongst us ? Every child learns them. Should it surprise you now that this tale has the people believing that gods move against us. There is more though, and few know it so this must remain hidden. Three times I have sent couriers through the passes to our cousins beyond and none return. The peasants may talk of shadows seen under the moon but they whisper the names of old heroes."




"You fear rebellion, you fear they dream of a king of their own ? The conquered people rising up against us. We would surely crush them as we did before."

"Would we ? Would we, Harald ? Look around you. Eight ships we came in but every man was a veteran, hardened in a dozen battles. Where are such men now ? We have grown soft here Harald, life is too easy. We live too well off the labours of the conquered and what is more they have grown too. How many did our forefathers face ?"

"I'm not sure I ever knew, my grandfather made it sound like a great army."

"I knew your grandfather and he was too young to have fought so I would hesitate before relying on his tales. The truth as recorded by Erik the Bloody's personal priest is that the enemy were few that day, more than us but not the five times our strength that the songs tell of and they were survivors of a plague winter.

Does that put a different perspective on it ?"

"I never knew that."

"It doesn't sound so well in song. The point is that while we have lived on the fat of the land here for sixty years so have they. We taught them well how to win more from the soil, and the peace we brought has meant that many a young men who once would have perished in feuding now lives to rear a family. Look about you, your own estates as example, are there not many more serfs to feed and house than in your grandfather's day ?"

"That much is certainly true."

"We have grown fat and they have grown strong. They have no cause to love us and they lack only for leaders; now this thing is arisen. I feel great forces moving against us." Erik, king of the sea-raiders, drank deeply from his glass and stared into the fire. Harald felt that there was nothing he could say that would reach him.

"This minstrel seems to know something of this enemy that haunts you Erik, should you put him to the question ?"

"Aye he knows something, but the enemy he knows is symbolic only of our greater enemy."

"Defeat the one and you, at least, hold back the other. You should find out what this minstrel knows."

"That is wisdom. It is something I can do, rather than fence in the dark with an opponent I cannot see."

So it came to pass that before he had been a day in the port the minstrel was summoned before the throne of the Sea King. A herald and a detachment of the King's Guard were sent to the inn beside the marketplace to take the minstrel to the hall of the Sea King. A small crowd of curious onlookers watched as the minstrel, his harp under his arm, was marched away.

The guard marched the young man up the hill to the camp of sea raiders and into the hall of the King. Still clutching his harp, the minstrel was brought into the presence of the King. The old man commanded all to leave them and showed the minstrel into a small side chamber. Two chairs of equal size and comfort warmed by a brazier filled the room. A jug of wine and two glasses sat on a small table. The King waved the minstrel to a chair and himself poured the wine.

The King spoke at length to the minstrel. It was many months since anyone had brought any news of any kind and the King asked questions of what passed in many lands. The King spoke kindly, as if talking with a close friend, for he was a good-hearted man in his ease though terrible in his anger. He was also a man oppressed and had not slept the night for worry. The minstrel was the key to the mystery and the King needed him, so he spoke softly.

At last the King turned to the shadow that sat so heavily upon his mind. He first asked the minstrel to sing the Lay of the Dark Hunter. When the minstrel had finished his song the King told him all that he knew of what had passed lately in his kingdom. He then opened his heart to the young man, saying:

"So you see the shadow upon us. Tell me, what do you know of this song and of the Dark Hunter which sounds so like the demon that took two of my warriors?"

The minstrel thought awhile.

"My lord, they are one and the same. The Lay of the Dark Hunter is a song of this land. The Hunter was called by the forefathers of the folk whom your grandfather conquered and that you now rule in peace. The hills that the Dark Hunter walked are the hills of your kingdom. And now it would seem that he has returned. Perhaps there are those within your realm who have found a way to raise him up against you."

The Sea King turned pale as he listened to these words."What then can I do ? I have prayed to the gods of the storm and the sky. To Thor and to Odin. It avails me nothing. What am I to do if the Hunter is not to rise up and cast us into the sea whence we came?"

The minstrel sat again in thought, warming his hands before the brazier and at last he spoke in a quiet tired voice."My lord, I have travelled in many lands and I have seen the altars of many gods. I know a little of magic and of the power of the spirits and I have heard of much more. If you would be rid of the shadow of the Dark Hunter you must throw down his altar."

The King sat long in silent thought before he spoke again."Throw down the altar of the Dark Hunter." These words he spoke as from a great distance; the minstrel did not answer him. "And where is the altar to be found that we might throw it down?"

"My lord, the legends speak of a valley high in the mountains but I have never before walked in this land."

"The huntsmen of this house know every fold and corner of this land, I will send for them. They will surely know of such a valley."

The King reached out and tugged a slender cord that the minstrel had not until now noticed. A liveried servant opened the door and stepped into the chamber on silent feet within three breaths of being summoned. "My lord?"

"Find my huntsmen and bring them to me immediately."

Ten minutes passed before three lean and tanned men entered the chamber. The eldest inclined his head slightly towards the King. "My lord?"

"Know ye of a valley high in the mountains with an altar to this bear demon?"

"My lord?"

"The altar would be in a cave with a long stair leading up to it." The minstrel spoke softly.

The huntsmen did not speak for several breaths and then one said, "I was once in such a place. It is far back in the mountains and there is no game to be had there so I had no cause to go back."

"Could you find it again?" asked the King.

"I could my lord."

The king reached again for the slender cord to summon a servant.

"Find the captain of my guard and bring him to me," he commanded the silent footman. "We shall deal with this forest demon."


The captain of the King's Guard picked six seasoned guardsmen and the head huntsmen chose four woodsmen and the twelve men set out for the mountains in the middle of the day. They carried tents and supplies for many days, the woodsmen carried longbows, the guardsmen bore their swords; all wore dark-hued clothing and trod softly as they faded into the woods. At first they went by well trodden paths and passed the first night in some comfort in a hunting lodge with solid walls and a good fire. As they climbed further into the hills away from the settled lands the paths became less certain, every now and then they had to retrace

their steps when the undergrowth choked off the track and the dark trees closed around them. Biting insects buzzed around them and the men sweated uncomfortably under their heavy packs. No-one spoke or sang to speed the march; the only sound of their passage was the occasional half smothered curse as a snag caught at a foot or another insect bit.

Their second camp was in a hollow beside a leaping mountain stream in the middle of dark woods. The huntsmen built a big fire and the guardsmen drew lots to decide the watches. No-one was in a hurry to retire to their blankets though the days march had been hard and many was the glance over the shoulder, away from the fire towards the dark trees. At length the fire died down and the tired men retired to their slumber save the one who had drawn the first watch. A gentle wind played through the branches and between the ragged clouds a half moon gazed serenely down on the peaceful world. After the moon had passed through a quarter of the sky the watchman went to wake the next man and take his place within the circle of sleepers.

Nothing disturbed the peace of the camp until dawn. The man who had drawn the third watch sat up blinking in the pale light, a chill foreboding slowly growing within him that all was not right. He recalled his annoyance at drawing the watch then realised with a start that no-one had awoken him. He leapt from his blankets and went in haste in search of the man who had held the second watch. And did not find him.

No trace could be found of the missing guardsman, though the woodsmen were the best in the kingdom, there was no sign of disturbance, no tracks leading from the campsite save those they had made themselves.

The chief huntsman, reflecting the view of his men, argued for returning to the town but the captain of the King's Guard would not hear of it. The King had commanded him to find the altar and destroy it; and the loss of a single soldier, whilst regrettable, was not about to force him to disobey a royal command. The captain did, however, double the watch for the next night's camp.

After a cold breakfast that few felt like eating they continued deeper into the mountains. The woodsmen tried to lead them by paths that kept them out of the dark woods, climbing the shoulders of the peaks where the trees were thinner and the atmosphere less brooding and gloomy. As the day aged the weather began to close in and the low clouds forced them off the heights. No-one spoke as they walked in

single file beneath the dark trees. A fine drizzle soaked into their dark cloaks, shreds of mist clung to the upper branches and their world was reduced to an endless damp, twilight prison cell of forest. The path rose and fell but the trees did not vary. Slowly the blanket of grey darkened and they were forced to make camp in the midst of the

trees. There was scarcely time to scavenge for enough dry wood for a fire before night closed in.

There was not enough space between the trees to pitch tents and the men ate their cold rations huddled around the meagre fire, their cloaks wrapped close around them against the chill of the mountain air. The two men on watch at either end of their small camp, the others dozed fitfully as the weariness of the day's march struggled to overcome their fear of the night. The watchmen could see almost nothing under the thick shroud of mist that covered them after the last of the dry wood was consumed, but even in the midst of the night the forest was never still; the branches creaking and whispering around the camp as if the trees themselves plotted against the intruders. In this world of sensory deprivation the barrier between the waking world and dreams was weakened and to many of the men strange creatures seemed to stalk around their camp. A cry of alarm from one such dreamer brought blades to hands as eyes strained into the darkness.

"What is it? What did you see?" the Captain demanded, blade in hand.

"I thought I saw something ..." the woodsman replied sheepishly

"A dream nothing more. Go back to sleep, fool. I will take the watch."

An hour later a second cry roused the sleepers. In the darkness confusion reigned; no-one could see a hand in front of their face until at length a torch was lit. Then it was possible to see a guardsman, one of the watch, lying in his own blood at the edge of the camp, of the Captain there was no sign. The men gathered around the fallen watchman, his wounds were staunched and the deep scratches across his face could be seen by all. After a few minutes the fallen man recovered his senses and was able to answer their questions.

"I saw nothing. The Captain cried out and there was the noise of something large moving quickly. I drew my sword and moved towards the sound and something hit me."

There was little they could do until dawn paled the blanket that shrouded them, then the traces could be seen of the struggle. The Captain's sword lay where it had fallen, beside it one of his boots, bloodied. Quite large branches had been snapped off the trees to a height of, at least, seven feet and a trail made by feet greater than any man's led away between the trees uphill into the mist.

There was no discussion. The silent band of defeated men turned about and retraced their steps through the forest. Each man's thoughts were filled with the image of the bloody boot and the huge footprints leading off into the trees.

Upon their return they were brought immediately before the King. He listened as his head huntsman told of their fate in the hinterland and how it was that the Captain of his Guard, his childhood companion, was lost. He took each man aside and questioned him closely; speaking softly to them as he saw the horror in their faces as they relived the two fear filled nights. After he had dismissed them he stood long in silence in the hall before the statue of his grandsire, the conqueror, as if asking for help from that terrible old man. Then he summoned his chamberlain and commanded that the minstrel be found and brought to the hall.

A search of the town and questioning of the tavern keepers failed to find the young singer until a drover overhearing the questioning said he knew of such a man. For the price of a few mugs of ale he revealed that he had seen a young man answering their description performing in a village inn he had stopped at two nights previously. He thought the minstrel would still be there as yesterday and today there was a fair that would bring many to the village. A mounted squad of guardsmen was despatched to fetch the minstrel.

The swift riding guardsmen covered the distance to the village in less than a quarter of the time it had taken the drover with his herd. The fair was in full swing in the meadows outside the village with several large tents, scores of stalls and innumerable hawkers and peddlers. The guardsmen dispersed to search the throng for the minstrel attracting many hostile glances as they passed for they were now well away from the town and areas that were used to seeing the great blond sea-raiders. The minstrel was not hard to find for he had drawn a large crowd to one of the tents with his song. The guardsmen were obliged to stand at the edge of the throng as he sang and a young girl passed through the crowd collecting coins from the enthralled audience. When at last the minstrel ceased his song and the crowd drifted away the guardsmen moved; their leader strode towards his quarry as the rest closed off the exits. The minstrel observed them and continued packing away his harp in its travelling bag. When the leader stood before him he spoke.

" It's a bad road to travel in the dark, we'll leave at first light. I presume you brought a horse for me ?"

So it was that the minstrel again sat with the King in the small side chamber warmed by a brazier. The King did not look any more rested than on the previous occasion and his hand shook as he poured out the wine.

"The Dark Hunter, its seems, still walks my kingdom and now the only man in my household who knows where the altar lies is too terrified to set foot outside the walls. You, however, seem a man of courage who would not fear to take a short walk in the hills."

The minstrel was about to answer when their peace was disturbed by the clatter of many booted feet outside the chamber. The King threw open the door and before them stood two of the King's chieftains and a third man whose mud stained clothes marked him as a messenger lately arrived.

"My lord." The older of the two chieftains stepped forward. A burly bear of a man with a grizzled grey beard flowing over his wolf skin tunic, his face was troubled. His eyes flicked from the King to the minstrel, to the floor, back to the King. A bringer of bad tidings. "My lord, we have grave news".

The King lifted his head, his eyes almost closed. His face was as cold as the statue of his grandfather, Erik the Bloody, the conqueror.

" My lord. Your brother, he is ...," the man faltered.

"Missing. Dead ?"

"So it would seem my lord. He was in the royal lodge at the head of the valley."

"And ?" The King spoke in a choked death rattle whisper.

"He is gone. He was with a common woman of the town, they were alone. She saw something huge and black but it's not clear was occurred. She's far gone into madness and none can understand more than a few words from her . But there is no trace of him."

The King, ashen faced, sat back in his chair. Eyes closed, breathing shallowly, he sat in silence as if summoning strength from far away by the power of his mind alone. At last he spoke.

"Summon the council, raise the muster. We will be rid of this shadow. We will march out with our full strength and throw down the altar of this demon spirit and Odin shall watch over us."

And so they marched away. The Sea King called to him all men fit to bear arms from amongst his people and a great host they were. In the middle of the morning of the fifth day after the coming of the messenger they set forth. The horns were blown, the priests made sacrifice and the host marched out of the fortress of the Sea Raiders. The King and his chieftains rode upon mighty steeds of war, the host marched behind them with their spears glittering and shimmering like the sun on the sea. And with them rode the young minstrel to be their guide.

They marched all day by the minstrel's guidance; up the valley, away from the coast, climbing slowly through pastures and light woods. Up the shoulders of the hills they marched towards the dark forest that shadowed the feet of the mountains. The sun shone redly on the mountains' eternal snows as the army made camp with the night rising up like mist from the valley. They lit their fires and sang songs of war and glory as the drinking horns were passed around, but they set many guards to watch over them as they slept.

Nothing that night disturbed their sleep and in the morning the sun came up to melt away the mist which hung about the trees and to drive back the twilight shadows under the forest. So they marched up into the mountains and the minstrel led them by a narrow road that dived into sharp little valleys, skirted the outcrops of rock and followed leaping streams through mountain meadows. Here the forest pressed about them, but they did not fear the dark shadows under the ancient trees while the sun

shone upon their backs. They sang with the joy of marching and the valleys rang with their song for they were mighty.

At the setting of the sun on the second day of their march they made their camp in a broad pasture that sheltered in a hollow of the mountains. There was a spring of good water and the sunlight lasted a while as night crept up the valley beneath them. As the mist rose they lit their fires and made their camp, yet this night they had no heart for merriment and song. Their voices fell flatly on the air around them, men looked uneasily from one to another before the silent menace of the forest and none dared enter in search of firewood.

Far into the night, as the fires burned low, there came a shadow darker than those under the trees. It passed noiselessly across the grasses of the meadow and through the ring of pickets. Dark and silent as a storm cloud it crept into the camp upon the sleeping sea-raiders. Shunning the fires, it came upon a dozing sentry man. No sound could the man make as the darkness rose before him. Strong arms swung, a net sang softly through the air as the shadow took the man. The spear that fell from his lifeless hand, though, raised the alarm. It fell upon a sleeping warrior who awoke to see the shadow towering over him, blotting out the stars. One cry he uttered before he was forever silent.

One cry sufficient to raise the camp. Torches were kindled as men grasped for their weapons and the shadow passed amongst them slaying in the confusion. The minstrel from his bed place by the King's lodge saw a vast shape silhouetted against a camp fire. Nearly twice as tall as a man with the head of a great mountain bear, the creature turned away from the fires towards the forest. The camp was now roused and many men rushed upon the huge figure. As it reached the edge of the forest the minstrel clearly saw a thrown spear pass through the centre of its body and strike a tree, standing out a man's height from the ground. Then the monster was gone. The minstrel stood open mouthed as he gazed upon the scene, unable to comprehend what he had seen.

There was no sleep had in the camp the remainder of that night. Men huddled about the fires and spoke in whispers for the horror of what had befallen was strong in their minds. Dawn found them red eyed and grey faced as they buried their dead and broke their camp. Their spirits rose slightly with the sun and after they had broken their fast the minstrel led them from the meadow up the narrow way towards a cleft in the mountains. Climbing in almost single file up a rocky stairway the path took them to a high pass through the range into a narrow valley. Standing at the head of the pass with the noonday sun upon his back and his nobles about him the King gazed into the valley. Before him he saw many ruined walls and great stones that had long ago tumbled from the steep mountainsides. Beyond the ruins the valley ended in a sheer wall of rock and in the centre of the wall, with a carven stair leading up to it, was a cave.

"Behold, my lord, the altar of the Dark Hunter," spoke the minstrel in a clear voice.

"But it is all a ruin," said the King.

"The altar itself lies within the cavern according to the Lay. The ruins before you were surely the halls of the priests who tended the altar and are long since vanished from the earth."

"Come. Let us hasten and destroy this shadow."

"Then you must leave your host within the ruins in the valley, for there is room for only a few within the cave of the altar."

So the host marched up into the valley and the King with his chieftains and the minstrel climbed the carved stair to the cave. As they reached the mouth of the cave the King turned to look out over his host gathered in the valley. The sun shone on their shields and helmets dazzling the King with silver light. Upon the top step he stood and stretched forth his arms and he cried with a great voice.

"Odin be my witness in this act."

All the men of the host answered him with a great cry. "Odin triumph," and the valley rang to the sound.

All fell silent and then the roar of the sea-raiders was answered by a low rumble that grew and drowned their cries. From the heights above the valley came a tumult of stones. Exultaltation turned to dismay and to grief as great boulders crashed down the steep sides of the valley and crushed the army of the sea-raiders and so they were destroyed. Upon the crest of the slopes stood another army, of smaller stature than the sea raiders, dark-haired and dressed in poor rags but triumphant.

From the depths of the cave came forth a figure, great in height and wide in body, with the head of a bear. Behind the figure walked many men, dark-haired and brown-eyed like the minstrel. As the figure stepped forward into the sunlight it reached its great arms to its head and took off the helmet, fashioned in the likeness of a bear's head, to reveal the face of a man much in likeness to the minstrel. At this the minstrel stepped forward and embraced the figure saying:

"Now, my brother, is the hour of our triumph."

Then the men that walked behind stepped forward and they placed a crown upon the head of the minstrel, they kneeled before him and called him prince of the folk of the forest and mountains. Erik, the Sea King, stood in silence as he watched all unfold before him. His eyes seemed to be focused on some immeasurable horizon and those close by heard him say quietly, "Odin, you betray me." Then he took three steps forward and hurled himself from the high stair and the rocks below took his life.

After the coronation where the prince, who had been a minstrel, was acclaimed there was a great feast. There the new prince sat beside his brother, now shorn of his costume and reduced to man size, though he was both tall and powerfully built. The two spoke of their great adventure and the prince said to his brother. "There is something that still I do not understand. Last night, when you came upon us as we lay in camp I thought you slain. I swear that I saw as clear as this cup before me a spear pass right through you as you fled the camp. Tell me, how was I deceived?"

His brother sat in silence for a moment. "Deceived? I do not understand, though deceived you surely were. I came not to your camp last night nor ten miles near it."


© 1999 by Martin Owton

Bio:I am English, forty and live outside London near Ascot + Windsor. I've been writing for 4 years in a broad range of genres from Horror via hard SF to heroic fantasy. I've had stories published in Kimota, Scheherazade, Xenos, Sackcloth and Ashes and Roadworks in the UK, Stygian Articles and Symphonie's Gift in the US as well as The Tales Realm and Exodus on the Web. My story 'The Pond in the Woods' received an honourable mention in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 1996. I am currently writing an heroic fantasy novel that falls somewhere between David Gemmell and David Eddings in style.

The Dark Hunter was inspired by long walks in the forests of the Scottish highlands.

E-mail: OWTON_W_M@Lilly.com

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