slaver

The knight stood on the shore staring into the starless stream.  The hue of the fog the light to his aloneness.  After a timeless hour passed, the horse put its head to the shoulder of the knight.  To stir motion, to resurrect his master.  Life began, but it was still a time before the man could break his eyes from the eternal stream.  And after the sunder his eyes would not see ought but the dark waters.

It was walking, horse beside, when his eyes returned.  The shore was gone and the knight was in a new forest upon an anguished path.  The fog had come to rest upon the branches, leafing them to cover their barrenness.  The gray light turned a whispered yellow as if the trees themselves spoiled the moon.  The track was rutted by water and root; stains told the knight his steps had faltered.  But he did not ache.   His unmounted mount was finding it a harder course.  Blood was a mix of cake and flow upon the horse’s knee, proving stumbles.  Seeing this, the man called their trod to a halt.

The knight came to face his steed.  A hand went to cheek and a hand to bridle.  He gave a tentative pat and dragged his hand to the horse’s neck.  He met a wetness; more blood where branches had clawed.  A shield unto dead.  His hand reacted as if burned by the wetness.  Blood ran down his fingers and off into the dust.  He clenched his hand and released all else, nearly falling in the act.  

In this fit a silent sound came to his ear.  He grew still.  The horse began to look for the thing first.  The thing was eyes and teeth, this the whisper told him: it was the Hunter.  A thing of no beginning.  It was stalking the wretch and there was no hiding from it.  What he heard most appeared as a wolf.  He saw yellow eyes and a lathered muzzle, sharp with hair and teeth.  The no-wind brought him echoes of pad of paw.  The no-light cast a hunched hound-shoulder higher than the terrified mount.  It did not cry out, but the bowing man could hear its blood-bought howl.

Could the knight find terror for this thing?  Or was this hope in phantom form?  He remained as stone perhaps in fear that his striving eye would prove the beast a lie.  He looked to his horse’s hoof, the path, the blood, and the shadows in his mind.  A grimace upon his lips cast into a name.  He called a name.  A name uttered with revolted love, beguiled hate.  The Hunter’s breath was upon the knight’s surrendered neck.  The horse bucking and screaming.  Jaws and slaver.

And a wolf’s clear call broke the night.

It was not of the thing, and with the lupine cry the thing vanished.  It was a far but approaching animal.  The knight rose slowly with sad longing and a tired relief.  He found one hand was clutching his dagger, held against the coming wolf, perhaps.  Or new barks proved a pack.  They were chasing and it was not the wretch, but the pursuit was being brought to collision.

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