The Great Hunt(2)By: Wendy Higgins
Wyneth had never heard of wild boars on royal lands. Only deer and small creatures.
“Stay here,” Breckon ordered. “I’m going to scare it off.”
“No!” She grabbed for his hand and he kissed her forehead, gently prying himself away.
Before he could take two steps from her, the dark shadow in the trees resolved itself into a gigantic creature on the sandy walkway. They both stared, not daring to move.
It was taller than any man, standing on its hind legs. Wyneth questioned her own sanity as she stared in disbelief. Its body was massive, the size of a bear, with wiry hair like nothing she’d ever seen. Its face was as ugly as a boar’s. Tusks curled up around a dripping snout, sharp teeth shining. Its beady eyes eerily caught the moon’s reflection. Everything about its stance and posture screamed feral. Deadly. Impossible.
The long length of the dock separated them from the thing, but it was not far enough for her. Not nearly far enough.
Wyneth couldn’t breathe. Her jaw hung open, poised for a scream, but not a sound escaped. She’d never known such crippling fear. Even Breckon made no move except the heaving of his chest from jagged breaths.
The great beast was not a carefully devised tale. It was real.
“Stay behind me,” Breckon whispered without moving. “If anything happens, swim for your life across the creek. Do you understand?”
For a moment Wyneth could not respond. Then her voice broke as she frantically whispered, “I can’t leave you! Come with me. We’ll swim together.” She wanted to reach for his hand, but she was stiff with terror and feared giving the beast reason to attack. Perhaps if they stayed very still and quiet it would go away.
When Breckon turned his head to her, insistence in his eyes, that small movement was all it took. The great beast let out a roar, forcing a startled scream from Wyneth. Breckon bit out a curse. The thing charged down the dock, its steps shockingly quiet, for Wyneth had expected the thunder of hooves, not large paws. But then she felt its heaviness shake the wood beneath her feet with each landing.
“Go!” Breckon yelled.
At the same time, she grabbed for his arm and screamed, “Jump!”
But Breckon had no plans to run from the beast. He grasped Wyneth’s waist and pushed her backward with all his might. She felt herself flying through the air off the dock, all breath leaving her lungs as her body submerged with a crash into the cool water. All sound muted. Disbelief struck her once again.
This could not be happening. It couldn’t. It wasn’t real.
But when her wet face hit the air and she gasped for breath, it took only a moment for her to turn toward the growling sounds and see the monster reach Breckon, towering over him.
Skies above! “Breck!”
“Swim!” He angled himself to avoid the beast’s mouth. “Get help!” Breckon launched his strong shoulder into the beast’s abdomen and they began to grapple, sounds of grunting and snorting carrying over the water.
Finally Wyneth snapped from her fear-induced stupor and the instinct of flight kicked in. She couldn’t fight this thing with Breckon, but she could do what he’d commanded: get help. She turned and swam with all her might. She kicked and her arms sliced through the water as if the beast were right behind her. Indeed, she expected to hear the splash of the thing following at any moment, but it never came. Wyneth hardly heard her fiancé’s strangled screams as he fought for his life on the dock behind her.
Breckon was an excellent sailor and soldier. A fearless fighter. He had his knife. The beast was only an animal—no match for her betrothed.
He’ll be okay, Wyneth reassured herself with each quick stroke through the water.
After swimming nearly a hundred yards, her body was numb when she reached the dock on the other side of the creek. She pulled herself up, panting for air and cursing her wet, heavy garments. Her eyes scanned the water, but it moved at the same calm, slow speed as always. Then she allowed her eyes to seek out the dock beyond.
The great beast was nowhere in sight, and hope rose in her chest.
The dock was covered in patches of dark moisture that glinted in the moonlight against the dry wood—a sickening trail of it. All hope vanished as she comprehended what lay at the edge of the wooden planks. In the very place she’d been kissed only moments before, were the remains of her life’s great love.
Paxton Seabolt sat on a wooden stool with his elbows on the beaten plank bar, sipping his ale and listening to the chatter of two excitable lasses at a table behind him. He felt their eyes on his back, but he wasn’t in the mood for flirtations. His thoughts were heavily weighted by one of their own watermen, who’d been killed two nights before by the great beast.
The man had worked with his father for years, hauling in oysters and clams. Paxton recalled his husky laugh, which always seemed too deep for his gaunt face and thin body.
Other men and women from the village of Cape Creek spilled into the dim pub straight from work, bringing marshy smells of salt water, morose faces, whispering rumored details.
“It killed six others in water towns during the summer months, you know. . . .”