The sun shone through the trees, the shafts of dusted light radiating outward until they reached the ground. Kiergud did not notice them, he was too engrossed in skinning his kill – a young buck that had wandered into his sights almost an hour ago.
Then, the sun had barely been above the horizon. The air still chilled from the clear night and stems of grass wrapped in frost that crunched beneath the hooves of his prey. The sky had been a dark purple when Kiergud had positioned himself across from the pond, shielded by the bracken that thrived there. The buck had not been alone, he had been with a doe. The female was smaller than the buck and therefore of no interest to Kiergud, though she had been a good distraction: the buck had waited as she bent her head to drink, looking out for danger: he had not expected it to come from the opposite side of the pond and Kiergud had sent an arrow right over the doe into the buck’s shoulder.
It had taken forty minutes for him to tire of the chase, the doe disappearing to Kiergud’s right as he pursued the injured buck. He had been strong, determined and clever – taking Kiergud on a chase through the low thorns to slow him down, then heading for the forest where the trees were close together, dodging and weaving so that Kiergud could not fire another arrow that would bring him down.
But Kiergud rarely lost a target. He had been hunting for more than ten years, since he turned eight and his father had taught him how to snare rabbits in traps and shoot down squirrels from the trees. He was patient, focused and fit: he could outrun a wild cat on the open mountain plains and wait for hours in cramped confines until his prey came to him. Today had been a good day: the buck would feed an entire family for two weeks and the hide would sell for a decent price – he might even get some silver for the immature antlers that had started to form on the young animal.
There was a a rustle of leaves to his left. Immediately he looked up, grasping the knife in his hand, ready to throw if necessary. Scavengers were always aware of a kill and often didn’t wait long before investigating. He crouched beside his kill, adrenaline pumping through his legs. He remained still despite this, not even a twitch or a flicker disturbed him and he waited for the animal to reveal itself.
When he saw the doe’s deep brown eyes emerge from between the leaves he hesitated without knowing why. On any other day he would have taken the opportunity to kill a second deer without even wondering why the animal had come back to search for it’s mate. But, on this day, with the doe’s gentle gaze rested on him and her murdered mate, Kiergud did not react as he would have usually. Instead, he lowered his knife and leaned back on his feet allowing the doe to emerge from the bushes and mourn her kin. He simply watched as she lowered her head to the buck’s – his eyes open with no ability to respond – and wept. Kiergud had never before seen a deer cry, had not even known that they could. He did not realise, in his fascinated state, that he too also wept with the doe for the very loss that might have been his own.