Something was stirring. In the low brushes something was stealing its way through the dark, low-lying shrubs and bushes of the woods. Every few meters came the slight scraping and rasping on leaves, further along a branch slowly swung back to its original position. Eamonn’s eyes flickered, focusing on the movement, he stared closer to the movement, then he realised his mistake; movement further to the right caught his attention, and he noticed he’d inadvertently begun to move closer, drawing him out of the safety of the trees he was resting under. He quietly slipped further back to sit back down, his breathing slowed as he cast his view wider, using his peripheral vision to try and catch the next glimpse. It was a few more moments before the animal revealed itself as it moved clear of the dark enclosure and into the light of the forest opening.
Eamonn looked around slowly, hoping to see Sam. Eamonn had sent his friend for their periodic checking of the snares. Sam had been gone for only a few minutes, but if something had been caught up in a snare, he’d have to remove the catch, reset the snare and return. Eamonn’s brow began to dampen with sweat, he flinched as a bead found its way into his eye. He wiped away the sweat with the collar of his shirt, he grunted under his breath, as he rubbed the wound there and remembered that he’d opened it up again late the previous night as he caught it some of the coarse branches by the forest’s edge as he collected fire wood for the house.
The minutes wore on and Eamonn decided that they must have managed to catch something. He hoped that Sam would be cautious as he returned and didn’t let the joy of the catch make him careless. Eamonn knew that this animal would immediately see Sam if his friend wasn’t on his game. The bear was tall, well-built, matted with short dark fur, it had the short almost stump like tail that they all had, the sharp claws on the paws of its front and hind legs, and small black nose with prominent ears set well above the eyes made it an intimidating and imposing form.
Eamonn had seen several in his life; this one had obviously woken early from its hibernation from deep within the forest and was now beginning to explore the world again. Judging by the thick ruff of white fur just below the collar of the neckline and how lush and healthy the animal’s fur looked, Eamonn figured it was an adolescent, likely its first or second year away from its mother and looking to establish its territory. Later on in life, the white collar would fade to a lighter brown colour similar to that of its body and its coat would become rough, losing that almost fluff like look it had as a cub.
Eamonn thought it wise that they give this particular one a wide berth, bears were dangerous and unpredictable in their nature, one as young as this one and not fully grown would be protective of itself, and in the stories that Eamonn has heard, bears in general tended to be aggressive and tried to ward off attackers with their size, an adolescent he knew, would go that one step further to defend itself.
Quietly, Eamonn retrieved his smaller caster, he was glad he had thought to turn back for it. Just as he was leaving the house with Sam earlier he had turned back and grabbed it from his shelf, it was always useful for stunning or tripping up larger animals. If things went badly, he could always try to distract or throw the bear off with a quick throw at it, he doubted that the caster would make much of an impact, but as he looked at his kit, there was little else he could do. He retreated slowly, steeping clear of the dead fall, hoping to make as little noise as he could as he shuffled backwards. He made his way back around to the blind side of the bear, placing himself so that he was behind the bole of the largest tree of those he’d sat under, he glanced over his shoulder and saw Sam moving along the path, treading carefully with his head down.
There was no way that Eamonn could gain Sam’s attention without the bear hearing him, he made sure he was well covered behind the tree and started waving his arms, hoping he might capture the other boy’s focus.
Sam stepped clumsily over a fallen log, nearly overbalancing by the added weight of the grouse and plover they’d caught in the snares. He readjusted the birds in his satchel and finally saw Eamonn’s flailing arms. Eamonn gestured past the trees and Sam felt the blood drain from his face as he saw the bear moving silently amongst the trees barely fifty meters away him.
He looked towards the line of trees, looking up into the branches above and saw the light breeze flying through the trees and gently rocking the branches. He ripped a leaf from the branch he was on and let it slip through his fingers to ride on the wind. He sighed raggedly to himself as he saw the leaf float further down wind, back along the path he’d just travelled. So long as they didn’t make a noise the bear wouldn’t pick them up, their scent would never reach the bear so long as they remained downwind of it. He saw Eamonn nod at him knowingly, they’d have to cut short their hunt, but they already had enough to show for today, better they leave now than get greedy and suffer the consequences.
Slowly, Sam retreated back towards the path. There was no time for them to retrieve the snares. They would have to come back for them at a later date. He reached into the pouch at his rear, in cases such as this they had one extra trick up their sleeves, wrapped in a small piece of cloth, cased in the neutralizing odor of a herb they’d found on the edges of the forest, was a small piece of venison.
Wolves, foxes and bears patrolled different regions of the forest and many hunters carried with them something to distract them if attacked. The local hunters caught game purely for the meat. Seldom did hunters travel through these woods to clear out the scavengers and vermin. There were rules set during the warmer months for the specific locations one could hunt, if anyone was caught hunting in a different location, they immediately forfeited their catches or pelts they kept from them and were given a hefty fine to be paid to the town’s head man.
Sam and Eamonn had no wish to kill any of the animals they can across, it wasn’t a sport for them, it was a need to survive. Darcey had suggested the usage of meat, explaining that most animals attacked when hungry, a satisfied animal was unlikely to do so unless provoked. Sam slowly took out the venison and then threw the meat as far as he was able, landing softly some meters behind the bear. Instantly the animal’s ears turned towards it, waited a few seconds sniffing and hinting at the air, Sam heard the bear grunt once as it turned to follow the strange and unexpected noise, buffeting aside low lying branches as it went in pursuit of the tasty meat.
Eamonn sighed audibly and moved across to Sam, patting his friend on the back, “I thought that would come in handy at some stage” he said with a smile, he was careful to keep his voice down, as they didn’t know how far the bear had gone. Eamonn saw the game bag over Sam’s shoulder, “Did we catch anything?” he asked hinting towards the satchel, Sam grinned happily back at him, nodding vehemently, “A fully grown grouse and a good looking plover” he confirmed, “I reset the snares, they should be fine to leave for the next few days, one of us can come back to check on them” he added.
Eamonn nodded at that as he looked around the forest, “might be best, we don’t know how long that venison will keep the bear occupied, I think its best we head home now. As you say, the snares can wait”. They retraced their steps back through the forest, they each took a cursory glance at four of the five snares they’d set. Sam had to stop to readjust one that had been set-off, following him, Eamonn briefly inspected the area, but decided a larger animal had walked by, they knew that sometimes the snares could be set off by vibrations around the trap, shrugging to himself, Sam reset the snare and covered it with nearby foliage before he sprinkled some more of the grain mix around the area.
They arrived home soon after, announcing their catches to Darcey as they placed them onto the bench, telling her they’d skin and prepare them for cooking later. In their usual seating places around the table were two letters, one marked for each of them. Hastily, they each ripped open their letter, pulling out the note within and both read the first line aloud, “You have been summoned to Castle Faraday."