Ramayella Svenni - The Hunter's ApprenticeMature

The deer gently steps forwards, long neck bent to the ground, teeth clipping the grass. Blissfully unaware of the two hunters a few paces away.

The deer's young, the stubs of antlers just beginning to appear. White spots run along its flank and down to its short tail. The legs look so spindly - but that's what allows them to run so fast. If I want to catch him, it must be now.

I've tracked his herd from two miles back; following the cloven hoof-marks, the tell-tale stripped bark from trees, and the strong scent they leave behind. It carries to me on the wind. I waited while he strayed from the herd, took just a few steps in the wrong direction, unaware that it was this that singled him out from the others, this that would be the death of him.

Now is the perfect moment. I've had an arrow notched to my longbow in readiness this past half-hour, its goose feathers tickling my neck, my arm aching with the weight of the bow. It's nearly taller than me, made of yew, ash and elm.

I raise it deftly, drawing my right arm back as I do so that its at a right-angle to my body. The feathers brush my cheek. Squinting through one eye, I aim in a single instant, and loose the string with a barely perceptible twang. The string springs back, catching my left forearm and drawing blood even through my clothes.

The arrow flies straight and true, the air and wind channeling it towards its target. The deer falls with barely a cry, its legs helplessly churning the earth. I leap forwards and quickly slit its throat with my dirk, offering a quick prayer as I do in exchange for this life. Hunter's apprentice I may be, savage I most certainly am not. I take no pleasure in killing; only in the feeling of exhilaration you get from it. Oh, and the money, of course.

I turn, proud, to Master Wyldfyr, but am met with merely a grunt.

'Finally,' he says in that broad accent of his - having never travelled beyond my own small village and the next, I've no idea what it is or where it comes from, and Wyldfyr is much too formidable for me to even contemplate asking him.

'I thought this was going to take all season,' he fumes. 'You are a disgrace to the name of hunter! Your tracking was an abomination, thrice you alerted the herd to our presence and ruined your chance, and you even forgot the most elementary rule of hunting! Perhaps if you remind me what that is exactly?'

I flush and stare down at the ground. The deer's black, black eyes have already turned glassy. 'The first rule of hunting is: Never Forget,' I intone.

'And what did you forget?'

'My brace.' I always forget my brace. A leather arm-guard that sits on your forearm to protect you from exactly what just happened to me - the string pings back and hits you. It sounds really stupid but actually its extremely painful.

'Thank you.' He's almost sneering now. 'Well, all in all, it took you an hour to kill what any hunter's bairn could have killed in ten minutes with its bare hands. Today you have proved to me that no girl should ever enter the forest with a thought to do anything other than sigh romantically. Why your father thought I should take you on, I shall never know.'

I pull the arrow from the deer's chest and clean  it on the grass before putting it back into my quiver at my hip. Then I heave up the deer onto my back to carry it back to Wyldfyr's hut. He'll have me skinning it tomorrow, and then we'll sell it at the next market.

I often wonder at Wyldfyr. I'm the female apprentice he never wanted. Bern says I should've been born a boy, but I doubt whether Wyldfyr would have liked me any more as a boy than a girl.

I hitch the deer up slightly higher on my back. Ah, well. Such is life. At least we've got some decent meat for tonight's meal.

The End

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