"The night is darkening round me,
The wild winds coldly blow ;
But a tyrant spell has bound me,
And I cannot, cannot go." The Night is Darkening Around Me, Emily Bronte
Darkness gathered in the small wooden room, only the feeble light of a couple of lanterns held by wooden beams and the gentle log fire kept night at bay.
Two men sat at the bar opposite the sturdy, bolted door, one was gruff and unshaven, his long greasy hair running down his thick, small neck, his eyes were hard and set, quite different to his shabby appearance. Meanwhile the other man was tall and gangly, stick thin and smooth of face, his hair, white as bare bone, was slicked back with wax and his pale blue darted across the room. They were talking.
Here and there, drunken oafs sat on their sturdy wooden chairs, sloshing beer over the wood wormed tabletops, most of which were balanced on three legs. Local tradesman sat discussing tips. A large brutish man spoke of his latest work on a Church wall in the city with a small bundle of farmers listening, wondering how much he'd charge. Over on the opposite side, shrouded in darkness, a tall figure sat on a low chair feeding bones to his large, silver hound who happily crunched them in its massive teeth. It paid no mind to the passers by.
The door squealed open. Arctic winds blasted like a gun into the room, the sudden maelstrom made everyone cower over their precious beverages. The door closed, the chill wind abated and all returned to normal, as if nothing had ever happened. Just how he liked it.
Clad in his brown, brass buttoned overcoat and hood, the tall, stocky figure crunched his way through the fragments of glass, making his way over to the familiar alcove overlooking the cliffside, at hills and lakes and dark forests.
In a moment, the decent, honest-faced barman came through a rotten door behind the bar and bustled over the sick smelling sawdust and blood-stained floor over to the dark corner.
"Usual lad?" he asked in a deep, friendly tone.
A gruff reply said "yes" and the barman with the brown hair and warm eyes shuffled over to his little counter.
Again, the door opened.
A small, muscly man, bald and weatherworn, with eyes such a dark brown the were almost black, swaggered to the bar, sitting on a stool at the far end. He ordered a tankard of ale, slouching over the counter looking pained.
"Anything wrong Wood?" questioned the barman. Wood shrugged his shoulders and grunted. The barman knew what to do, he wracked his brain for a story and soon came up with one.
"Tell me, you ever heard of the Fell Hunter?" Wood scoffed at that.
"Hah! No but I bet it's an old wives tale," he laughed but the barman wagged his finger.
"No, no, why this Hunter is alive, right now. No one knows what it is other than it hunts people down. Mauls 'em sometimes, other times very sly and cunning. Poison, burns, you know it-" again Wood laughed.
"Thought so, old wives tale if ever I heard one, spare me the drama, it's a load of-"
"It's certainly not rubbish," piped up the voice from the alcove, it was youthful, but forceful.
"Look lad, keep out, s'got nuthin to do with you," Wood rounded on him, his face a blotchy red.
Standing up, the lad drew a walking stick from inside his overcoat. He sighed, "I would appreciate it if you did not raise your voice to me in such a manner," his voice was lazy, as if he had been in this situation before.
"What's your name-?"
"Brakken, they know 'im as!" Interrupted the barman, "they say he's dangerous."
"Thankyou Mr lord, but I am completely capable of introducing myself," Brakken growled.
"Show your face coward!" boomed Wood.
Brakken raised his hands to his hood and slowly, deliberately, moved it down.
"Ha ha ha! A boy eh? Huh, tell me, where's your mummy and daddy, aren't they here? After all, the 'Hell-Hunter" might be after you," Wood snorted, patronisingly.
Everyone stared, shocked. Even the barman made to intervene but Brakken motioned to stop him.
Brakken whipped his overcoat outwards, sending a gust across the room, fluttering the candles which battered out.
His hair was as dark as the moonless sky outside, his steel grey eyes were hard and cold. Although his face appeared young, with the start of stubble, there was a hardness and sharpness in its features. A face that had known desperation. Intelligence and despair already lined his skin which was sheet white, in fact ghost-like in the bar and the skin around his eyes were red, giving him a sinister edge. It appeared as if he had not slept in months.
"Do not patronise me," he warned quietly, authority in his voice.
"Ha ha, is that a threat?" yet the unmistakeable spasm of fear flitted briefly across Woods' face.
"Ok, then let's make this clearer," as if bored, Brakken held up his cobra handle walking stick and pressed a trigger. Slowly, he released a brass gun with the cobra handle, already cocked. Brakken pointed it at Wood.
"My mother died at child birth and I killed my father, and I would have no problems with disposing of you unless you have something to say?" Wood faltered, he tried to blindly stumble backwards but hit the counter.
"Er, um, as if... as if you'd shoot me, it probably hasn't got any bullets," he laughed nervously, little hope clinging to his face.
"Really?" Mocked Brakken, "shall we test that then?" Wood was paralysed with fear, "no?" still no movement, "fine," he pointed the gun at Woods forehead and put his finger on the trigger,
"NO!" yelled the barman, "Brakken, you do this and you'll be off to prison, you don't want that!" he advised in desperation.
"Unless I manage to shoot you all and run away," he mused heartlessly.
Whilst distracted, Wood grabbed the gun pointing it at Brakken.
"Well, well, well, looks like the barrell's been turned, doesn't it," smiled Wood, relieved.
"Ha ha ha," Brakken placed his hands in the air, his fading laugh bringing shivers to Wood's spine, "oh you've really got me now... go on...shoot!" he challenged, "well? what are you waiting for?"
Wood pressed the trigger.
The gun clicked.
"You know, you were right, the gun didn't have any bullets in it after all," he cackled.
Brakken pressed a second trigger at the top of his cane and a long silver blade appeared out of the end.
"So, the empty gun and the silver blade, which will win?" he pondered, his finger on his chin.
Wood's smile instantly wiped from his face, as he held the empty gun foolishly.
"But you're not going to die yet, you're going to help me," Brakken commanded.
"With what?" muttered Wood, mirthlessly.
"Can't tell you that now can I?" Brakken stated as if talking to a four year old, "not yet."
Wordlessly, Brakken handed the barman money for a room and dragged Wood with him.
"Who knows, maybe we'll find friends in each other yet," Brakken laughed, "Wood and Brakken," the smile vanished quick as it came, "but probably not."
Night stormed on, the wind hammering at the inn like the very hammer of Thor.
As the customers slept contentedly in their fluffy, feather beds, a fat middle aged man waddled along the weatherworn road. Thick pellets of rain crashed to the muddy mire and the wind lashed at his broad back like an overseer of slaves.
Not a mile behind, he left a smoking pile of timber, formerly an elegant black, gold trimmed carraige, two black stallions shire horses and a strong youthful man all within the flaming wreckage.
Forcing himself along the track, the fat man clung to his black jacket and top hat desperately, whilst trying to figure out the earlier events.
Along the bumpy road they'd gone. On the top of the hill they'd seen it, the Cliffside Inn, wrapped in a warm honey-coloured lighting.
Then the shadow in the woods bordering the dusty road, the portly old man had told the driver his concerns who merely discarded them as silly and fanciful, and all was well.
Then another shadow appeared, but this began to envelop the carraige. He could see it through the window, shoulders hanging broadly from the sides of the carraige, then the sides of the body, then legs, until they were confronted with some towering beast. Then a crash.
That's the last thing he remembered, being right on top of the carraige and a small flame and the flames licking the gilded wood hungrily. He felt a great egg-like lump on his forehead, his face and arms scratched.
And now here he was, unhappily wading through the boggy road, oblivious to all but his own concerns. Not even aware of the great hulking shadow making it's way through the woods. Not even noticing the gargantuan footfall, barely even noticing the muscly hand come crashing down on his head.
The last thing the heavy, rich, aged man saw was the mistakes of his life time and the golden prize nestling so close at the top of the cliff.
Dawn broke across the landscape, the sun broke through the clouds like a radiant fruit, offering its richness to the trees and flowers. It cloaked the sky in a soft yellow light which danced across the gently flowing river that ran between the mountaineous valley and the lakes of glisteningwhite water like a giant scrying glass.
In the distance was the sea, tranquil in the soft blowing winds, on the right, a deep green forest ran into the horizon, gently dancing from side to side in the calm breeze. The forest ran around the cliff onwards were a muddy track slashed through the dense canopy.
To the left were long stretches of meadow, fields for cattle and fields of long wild grass and flowers. To the left was another forest that followed the track. The last wisps of smoke from a fire long burnt out.
Towards the wreckage ran a group of men and women.
In the lead was the barman and his wife who with her sharp eyes had spotted the smoking pile of charred wood and ash.
Behind ran the gruff man with the lanky guy and behind them the lady with a long frock, dazzling pendant and long blonde hair in a tight bun with her maid, a pretty, Asian girl with cocoa brown hair and deep black eyes.
Finally at the back, walking leisurely for sport was Brakken, with one eye on Wood at his side, the other taking in the surrounding trees and foliage.
"See, Mr. Wood, notice the crushed vegetation... something heavy must have ran through it... an animal, of some variety," is one of the infuriating things he would say.
Time seemed to slow in the overgrown woods, bordering the dirty old track, as if they had all stepped back in time and were slowly returning.
The low, steadily rising sun cast long, dark, creeping shadows as the gnarled old trees hung ragged and bent like a crooked old man. The dark browns of the woods and leaves dominated their eyes, as did the long dead trees and mouldy rocks jutting up like jagged fingers from the dark ground.
Yet overhead, the sky burned like a blue sapphire, with not a cloud, and on the floor, before them, lay the corpse of a fat, balding old man. They noticed his position, careless, splayed out and unmoving. On the back of his head, all that was visible was a large gash, dried up with old blood over his head and on the floor.
"See," began the barman, "this is what would be classed as the less subtle means of murder," he looked at the group, at Wood.
"Humour is not appropriate at this moment in time, 'tis a moment to show respect and dignity Mr. Lord," reprimanded the gruff man, who looked sternly at the barman. He broke his gaze and looked here and there.
"And yet you stand there drinking in the scene like you're favoured ale Mr..?"
"In- Mr. Ward thankyou, and I am simply, naturally curious, like all," explained Mr Ward to Brakken.
"And yet all would look rather to the bright pleasing sky, the dark foreboding trees, than the festering carcass," and with that Brakken stepped over to the body.
Rolling the lump of a man onto his back, they noticed several cuts, burns and bruises across his pale, once exuberant face, now a twisted mask of horror, and portly arms. His waistcoat was torn to a rag hanging limply from his shirt, slightly teared but otherwise fine.
A black waistcoat, trousers and white shirt showed that this man had once had the wealth of the world, and if he was wealthy, he wouldn't be walking. All looked upon him impassively, other than Mr. Ward staring excitedly, taking it in, and Brakken who looked bored and impatient.
Wood made no show of his emotions, he suddenly became withdrawn whilst the Lady had her hand over her mouth, troubled yet unperturbed, her maid silently shuffling her feet, scraping modd into a mound. Mr Lord and his wife looked annoyed, "that wretched Hunter, done it again!" and the thin man looked troubled, indifferent to the spectacle.
"We are entering a dark zone here, us who stand afore this man here in the grip of the beast, anyone may be next, and let it be known, if it shall be me, I shall at least leave knowing I had my way with it, and even I shall pity the beast on my final breath," Brakken threatened.
An ominous silence fell over the crowd as Brakken stood in unmatched power. Slowly, innocently, he brandished his cane.