xander rowe, chapter 3

The stars still glistened against the darkness of the sky when I awoke. And the smoldering embers put off a soft glow that provided me enough light to make a pot of cantaberry tea. It’s kinda pleasant, you know, having a warm blanket and a warm cup of tea when the air is so cold. 

The pot warmed my hands. The first sip warmed my belly. 

Unlike bracca beans, cantaberry tea actually tastes good. Well, to me anyways. It’s got this minty flavor. Plus, the juices from cantaberries and their leaves makes you alert. You know, it really wakes your mind early in the morning.

Between the fresh, crisp air and the cantaberry tea I was ready to begin my hunt. 

I quietly gathered my belongings. It’s not just gathering my belongings, but gathering them properly. I could hear Thoren’s voice in my head as I packed, “heavy items in the bottom of the bag, be sure the load is evenly distributed side-to-side, be sure your metals are secure so they don’t rattle when you walk, keep your blades easy to reach, etc.” 

I gathered my bow and slung my quiver and heaved my bag across my back. The norwulves will be on the move once the sun rises. I emptied the last bit of cantaberry tea into my mouth, hooked my pot to the side of my bag, and swallowed my mouthful of tea in one big gulp. 

It was time to hunt. 

The hard part about hunting a norwulf is getting close enough to reach them with your arrows. Because I was alone, this meant I had to slowly crawl along the frozen ground and hide behind trees and be silent until I reached the edge of the field of bluegrass where the flock slept. And I had to do all of this without being seen or heard or smelled. 

I hadn’t stalked a norwulf like this before, you know, sneaking up to the sleeping flock and all. Usually we hunters hunt in groups. We have some hunters, almost always the young apprentices, walk in a line, spread out of course so we cover a wider swath, and drive the norwulves in one direction. You know, the norwulves see the line of hunters walking towards them and the flock moves away from the walking hunters. And then we have other hunters setting and waiting to harvest the norwulves. This works, having the drivers and setters that is, because norwulves will run when they are approached. They have wings, but their wings are more for gliding. They have fat little pig bodies and big featherless wings, the norwulves that is, and they tire quickly when flying. So the drivers drive, the setters set, and the norwulves run, at least at first. And once the arrows start flying, so do the norwulves. 

It’s a very brute force way of hunting, you know, the driving and the setting. 

But today there would be no driving and no setting. At least for me anyways, because I was alone. Today, rather than push the norwulves towards the hunters, I, the lone hunter, would have to get nearer to the norwulves with patience and stealth. And, when the time is just right, I will skillfully fire an arrow to kill a norwulf and capture my prize. 

The sun was rising over the peaks of the eastern mountains and the norwulf flock was stirring awake when I approached the edge of the field. 

I wished my father could see this beautiful scene. The early morning sun peeking over the mountaintops glistened off the frosty bluegrass, the gigantic flock of waking norwulves was now stirring and hungry, the sound of calves bleating for their mothers broke the early morning silence, and the fog and norwulf breath hung in the air to make a hazy scene. My father was one of those men who’d never left the grove in his entire life. I am sure he’d never seen anything like this before. 

“Not now, Xander. Do not get distracted by the beauty of the scene and thoughts of your family.” I kept having to remind myself of my purpose: Harvest a norwulf and bring it back to the bay for the elders to see. My mind needs to be focused on hunting. That is all. Hunting. Nothing else. I promised myself that I would let my mind wander after the hunt when I am dragging my giant norwulf beast back to the hamlet by the bay. 

My head raised just over the top of the grass and my eyes quickly scanned the flock. The longer I took, the more likely it would be that I would eventually be seen, so I scanned quickly. 

A sow and calf were the closest norwulves to me, but neither of those were any good for proving your bravery as a hunter. The calf was really bleating too, like it desperately wanted its mother and the mother didn’t seem to notice. There was a fine boar close enough to shoot, but there was nothing special about him. I mean, he would be a fine kill and all, the boar that was close enough to shoot that is, but it would not be especially brave and skillful to kill him. Today I needed a norwulf that would truly impress the elders. I needed a large beast of a norwulf. 

And then, in the middle of the flock, I saw him. The biggest boar I’d ever seen. At first I thought it was two norwulves sleeping near one another, you know, for warmth or something. But when he stood up I could see he was just one enormous beast. He was a full head above the others. The horn that came from his nose was as long as my arm. His shoulders were broad like an ox. This was truly a magnificent beast. If I was to kill this beast, the elders would truly think that I was a brave and skillful hunter. 

I lowered myself to the ground and quietly laid my bag down beside me. A few deep breaths calmed my mind as my body hugged the ground. I removed my right mitten so I could grip my bow string. The frozen mountain air bit my now-bare hand. God it was cold. I nocked my arrow, the same arrow that I’d spun the day before when I was watching from my perch, and placed it upon the arrow rest. It’s exciting to think that this arrow would soon be warm with the blood of a beastly norwulf. 

I brought myself to my knees to take one more look at the beast. My head briefly popped over the top of the grass and glanced at the beast before lowering myself back to the ground. God, this beast was enormous. 

My heart pounded. 

I would have to make my move soon. I could not wait longer. If the flock moved on I might not get this close again. 

I peeked my head above the grass one last time. The sow and calf moved directly between me and the giant norwulf. “Move. Move, damnit.” I kept yelling with the thoughts in my mind as if the sow could hear my thoughts. If she would just move, even slightly, then I would have a clear path to my prized beast and I could take my shot. Even then, at this distance you needed to fire directly under the wing or directly through the front of the norwulf’s chest to have a clean kill. I was too far away to drive my arrow through the wing. 

I don’t know how long I laid on my stomach and hid from the flock. A long time I suppose, because the sun was now completely above the mountaintops. I’d lost the cover of darkness. One side of my mind was screaming “now, you must act now.” The other side was screaming “patience, you mustn’t act foolishly and ruin your hunt.” These clashing thoughts ended up just freezing me in indecision. So I just laid there, in the bluegrass at the edge of the field, watching my breath and trying to calm my mind and trying to keep my bare hand from freezing so I could still feel my bow string. 

I peered above the grass once again. The sow moved. The calf followed. I had a clear look at the beast of a norwulf now. God he was big. He turned towards me. Each inhale puffed out his muscular chest and each exhale created a cloud of breath that hung in the frigid air. His horn ran from the tip of his nose all the way back to the top of his head, right between his blood red eyes and his pointy ears. What a beast. This will surely be a glorious kill. 

Now was my chance. 

I rose to my knees and drew my bow. I brought my hand back to the corner of my mouth, just like I’d done a thousand times before. “Steady,” I talked to myself as I tried to keep my hands calm. I steadied my aim. I focused on the beast’s rising and falling chest and pictured my arrow penetrating deep into his meat and into his heart.

The sound of a squealing norwulf filled the valley. The calf bleated in fear of losing his mother. I’d been spotted and the flock was now spooked. My fingers released. The bow let out a twang as the string pulled taut. The arrow flew across the air above the field with bluegrass. It was a poor shot. Not my best by any means. But I watched the arrow flying through the frozen air towards the beast. It’s funny how time slows sometimes. It was like I could see the arrow getting closer and closer to the beast. And I could see the beast noticing the startle that had spread throughout the flock and turned his body ever so slightly. And even before the arrow finished its flight I knew that it was not a kill shot. All of these things happened so quickly, but I could see them so clearly. 

The arrow struck the beast in the wing. The upper wing I think, you know, where there’s a lot of meat, but nothing fatal. I’m not sure because there was quite a bit of commotion happening now and my mind started seeing events in real-speed again. The beast squealed and flailed at the pain that coursed through his body. 

I stood. There was no point in hiding now. The norwulf flock was in a panic. A noisy, chaotic panic. If the beast hadn’t turned it would have been a perfect shot. “Maybe it wasn’t that bad of shot after all,” I thought to myself. 

“No! Focus, Xander.” I snapped my mind back to attention. “No time for thinking about that shot now.”  I’d failed to kill the beast. And that’s all that matters.

The flock was on the move now. Once one norwulf gets startled, so do the rest. I reached for my quiver to grab another arrow. The field of bluegrass was filled with running bodies and squeals of panic and the sound of norwulf feet pounding the ground. It took a lot of focus to keep an eye on the great beast, but I could see him running, the arrow still stuck in his wing. 

Perhaps I could fire another shot at the wounded beast. No, there was too much commotion in the field. I don’t know what got into me, but I got up and I ran. I ran right into the norwulf flock believe it or not. I nocked a new arrow onto my bow string as I ran, fixed my gaze onto the beast of a norwulf, and ran across the field of bluegrass. This was a foolish and stupid thing to do. Not only has nobody told me to do this, run into a norwulf flock that is, but Thoren has explicitly told me not to do this because it is reckless. But perhaps later this would be seen as brave, me running into the norwulf flock to harvest my great beast that is. You know, part of the tale of Xander and how he killed his great beast or something. Children could recite this tale as they looked at the stars and drifted to sleep to the thoughts of me running across the field of bluegrass. 

My ramskin boots pattered the ground as quickly as my legs would churn. I closed in on the beast, my bare hand pulled the bow string to the corner of my mouth again, my bow was fully drawn, and right as I released my grip. A running norwulf rammed my body. My body smashed into the ground. My arrow flung far over the flock and harmlessly hit into the side of the mountain. My bow was knocked from my grip. Even though the thick bluegrass cushioned my fall, the breath was taken from my body and a pain shot through my leg. My heart was racing so fast that I hardly noticed these pains at the time. It’s funny how that happens, you know, that your heart pumps so quickly that your body doesn’t feel getting knocked down. 

The flock of norwulves was stampeding all around me and making these deafening squealing noises. 

“Stupid, Xander. Foolish, Xander.” I tried to yell at myself because I was sure that my impatience had now led to my death, but my lungs had no breath. One careless step, from me or  from one of these running creatures, could end me. I didn’t know whether I should run or stand still. 

I stood. God, my leg hurt. I didn’t know what caused the pain, but I now had a bigger concern than a wounded leg. The norwulf sow that upended me had turned her attention towards me. The decision was made for me, I had to run. Luckily, female norwulves do not have a horn. Just the males do. But norwulves are the size of a man and they have three toes with talons that could easily rip through a man’s flesh. 

I scampered towards the trees and bushes that lined the edges of the field. My one leg was hurt so I sort of galloped the best I could. Luckily, all the stampeding norwulves were somehow just running past me. Except for the sow that is. The spirits of the Gods seemed to be with me right now. 

 The ground shook from the panic in the flock. 

I reached the edge of the field and dove. My body slid underneath the thatchleberry bushes. The sow grabbed my ramskin boot and powerfully pulled. My entire body was dragged back. She pulled again. I grabbed handfuls of thorn-covered thatchleberry branches to resist her tugs. She pulled my boot harder and just as she tried to bite me I released the handful of branches and stabbed her in the face with one of my short blades that hung from my belt.

She let out a squeal of pain and released my boot. I’d never heard a norwulf squeal so closely before. It frightened my soul. I never want to hear that yell again. I yelled back, you know, I yelled to try to make myself sound as imposing as the stab of my knife. 

My heart was racing so fast that it felt like it was trying to escape from my chest. 

Thankfully, the sow scampered away in pain and the stampeding flock took to flight and glided away into the valleys of the mountains. They must have really panicked because, like I said earlier, norwulves prefer to run, not fly, when they are startled. 

The flock had left the field of bluegrass. I could hear the wind howling again. I hid under the thatchleberry bushes for a long time out of fear the flock might return and, you know, out of exhaustion. 

My heart eventually calmed. But my mind raced. What happened to the beast? Was my leg OK? What should I do next?