Title: I Am Hunter
Disclaimer: Yeah, it's not mine...not really. Except the narrator, sort of.
Summary: I am Draug. I am Hunter. And tonight I repay my debt. First-place winner of October Teitho challenge (Original Character).
I am Draug. I am Hunter. And this forest is my home.
My people have lived beneath these trees for generations, hunting where we wished and growing strong. But recent moons have been more tragic. Our hunting grounds have been taken over by strangers, and many of my people killed. And while my people have lived beneath these trees alongside the elves for generations, men have now invaded and stolen our hunting grounds.
Wary of their traps, we have had to hunt in less plentiful places. Driven out of the homes we knew as cubs, we now battle for life beneath these blessed trees. Now I, I alone, have the courage to return to these grounds where game is plentiful.
For I am Draug. I am Hunter. And I must feed my pack tonight.
I raise my nose to the wind, a low growl filling my throat as a familiar scent dances in the breeze. Blood. There is a wounded creature nearby, perhaps something caught in one of the hunters' traps.
I have no qualms with stealing the prey from the men's traps. For their traps are cowardly...they do not hunt with the same honor as the elves. Many times the prey is left in the traps for days, dying and putrefying until it is only fit for spiders.
But this blood is fresh. I follow its trail on the wind, hesitating as the scent mingles with other smells. Horses, men...and elves. Crouching low, I make my way between the trees in pursuit of my quarry. I can smell the scent of men around me, the sense of their greed and malice, and I know this is where they have laid their traps.
In a moment, I have found the source of the blood.
It is an elf, lying curled against a tall, proud oak. The scent of the blood is strong, and now I can see the trail he has left through the fallen leaves. But more than the smell, I can sense the weakness in him. He must have been hurt by the hunters' traps, poisoned by the venom with which the traps are laced.
In my heart, I have pity for this elf. I have lost two pack-brothers to these poisons, and one pack-brother was killed merely for daring to hunt where men lay their traps. Their carcasses were left for the spiders, and few of my people now dare to venture here.
I step forward, savoring the smell of blood. My people do not usually dare to attack the elves, but this one has been wounded and weakened to the point where I could kill him easily.
He raises his head, his eyes catching mine. I watch as he struggles to rise, and falls back to the earth with a whimper.
I sit back, watching the elf carefully. I strikes me as odd that I remember this one. I have seen many elves in my lifetime, many more than I have ever cared to see, yet I remember this one. The need to hunt is pressing on me, but I force it down with the rationalization that this elf is too weakened to escape. He will still be here once I understand how I remember him.
The elf looks at me again, pain etched in his pale face. His arms are wrapped around his belly, his wounded leg drawn in as much as he can bear. I can still see a hint of a shaft of wood protruding from his leg...remnant, perhaps, of the hunter's trap.
His eyes haunt me in a strange way, and the edge of a memory dances into my mind.
I had seen those same eyes many seasons ago, before we were driven from our hunting grounds.
It had been in the days before I led the pack, in the days when favor was granted to the most daring who brought in the largest bounty. I had chased a stag for many miles, tracking it over hill and through water. Its every attempt at evading me was useless, and I could sense it weakening and tiring. The stag was magnificent...prey worthy to take to my pack-father.
The stag was momentarily out of sight when I heard it trumpet in pain. I bounded after my prey, stopping short in disgust.
An elf was approaching it, bow in hand, his arrow buried in the stag's shoulder.
The elf saw me, and regarded me with those glittering blue eyes that are now watching me warily. For a moment we watched each other, then, to my surprise, the elf bowed and backed away.
"I did not know you were hunting here, friend," he said to me in a soft voice. "I will not take your prize from you."
I was startled. Never had any of my people been treated with such honor, yet it seemed the elf was truly going to abandon the stag and hunt elsewhere. I had hesitated, concerned this was some new trick but the elf did not turn back to claim my prey. Once assured that the elf truly was leaving the stag to me, I killed it and dragged its body back to my pack.
It truly had been a magnificent beast. It had fed many in my pack that night, and won me the esteem of my pack-father...as well as the affection of my mate.
But now this elf is at my mercy, yet I cannot move against him. Because of that hunt I became esteemed enough in my pack-father's eyes to succeed him...I owe this elf my place as leader of my pack. So I will not move. I lower myself down to rest, regarding the elf with a sigh.
I will watch over him until one of his people arrives to care for him.
For I am Draug. I am Hunter. And I remember my debts.
He seems to understand that I will not harm him, for he slowly lowers his head. A low moan escapes his lips, and he seeks to curl even further into himself.
I worry that he will die, now. The poison in the traps was enough to kill my pack-brothers, it is amazing it has not killed the elf already. Perhaps they do have some strength to them, even if they often appear as fragile as a new-born flower.
Rising to my feet, I slowly step forward. I watch him stiffen, sense his apprehension as I approach.
He has other wounds, I notice. Wounds that were left by no trap, made by no hunter's weapon.
I have seen wounds like this before. They are the sort of wounds men leave on each other when they fight. For unlike my people, men cannot tear with their teeth and claws, and instead strike with their limbs. The elf bears many such wounds, and I wonder at that. I have not witnessed many elves attacking each other in this manner...where might this elf have been wounded so terribly?
Sensing his discomfort at my presence, I move back to watch him from a distance. He is alarmingly weak, and I wonder what hidden strength keeps him alive.
I stiffen as unwelcome sounds catch my ears. Men are approaching, the thunder of their feet an abomination to the blessed quiet of this forest. I watch the elf, watch him struggle to pull himself up to his feet only to fall back with a strangled cry.
They are nearing now. I could escape them with ease, and they would never know I had been here...
But I will remember my debt. I stand as they tramp into the clearing, jeering at the elf.
I see five of them, each of them as filthy and foul as the scavenger spiders that dare encroach on my people's hunting grounds.
One of them strikes the elf with his foot. Another hauls him up by one arm. The elf's face pales, and he cannot hold back his cry of pain.
I do not know what reason men would have for making an elf their prey, but I cannot stand idly by and let my debt go unpaid. I growl and lunge for one of the men, snapping at his leg.
He shrieks, and the other man drops the elf and backs away. I do not fear their attack; these men hunt in a cowardly manner, one that shows they fear the forest. And they will fear me...I am stronger than any pack-father before me, strong enough to stand alone against five cowardly men.
The men scatter. One dares to draw a bow on me, his hand shaking in his cowardice. I bare my teeth, my growl low and powerful as thunder. His arrow drops useless to the forest floor as he joins his companions in flight, the scent of their fear heavy on the air.
I snort in derision. They will not find hunting so easy this night, nor will they have this elf for their prey. Satisfied that they will not attack him again, I turn to leave.
I am Draug. I am Hunter. And my debt is repaid.
A soft moan catches my attention, and for a moment I glance back at the elf. He leans against the tree, beads of sweat trailing down his pale face. The scent of blood is stronger, and I can see the bright red patch growing on his side where he had been struck.
My debt is repaid...yet I cannot bring myself to leave him. My people have long honored the elves for their place in the forest. Unlike the other packs, we have not dared to attack them unless necessity required it or to protect our own, nor have we ever allied ourselves with the filthy goblins of the mountains. To abandon this elf while he lies near death and unable to defend himself would be the same as if I tore his throat out myself.
So I return to lie in my former position, facing the elf with my head on my forelegs.
In a way, he reminds me of one of my own people. One of my pack-brothers had once been terribly wounded in a fight with a rogue from another pack. We did not think he would survive his wounds, and many among us left him for dead but still he survived. He had grown stronger, and become one of our fiercest warriors and greatest hunters. Even so, he was the first to die when the men began to invade our grounds.
I can see some similar spirit in this elf. Many other creatures would not survive his wounds, yet some stubbornness within him will not let him die.
His ragged breathing is the only sound that fills the air between us. I find myself watching the movement of his chest with every breath as though mesmerized at the elf's desperation to survive.
The elf's breath hitches for a moment, and I raise my head in concern.
He doubles over, collapsing onto the ground as though unable to sit up anymore. A soft whimper meets my ears as the elf writhes on the ground. He shudders, and then goes still.
For a moment, the forest falls deathly silent. I rise quickly, and trot to the elf's side. His breathing is now so shallow I do not know that I could have heard it had I not been standing over him. He trembles even in his senseless state, his face pale as the moon. Hesitantly, I lower my head and nudge his cheek with my nose.
I recoil almost instantly. His skin is cold and clammy, as though he has just been soaked in the river, and the sense of weakness that clung to him has grown stronger than ever.
In the darkness of night I consider his still form. It is possible he will still die from his own wounds before one of his own can save him. It is possible I have done nothing but prolong his suffering where a quick death might have been more merciful.
I nudge his cheek again. He moans...a small, piteous sound against the night. Huffing in exasperation, I place my head against his shoulder and push, managing to roll him partway onto his back. The elf awakes with a sharp cry, pushing me away and wrapping his arms around his middle again. I take a few steps back, lowering my head in the hope that he will understand I do not mean to attack him.
He blinks in confusion at the night around him, staring for a few moments at me, his once-brilliant blue eyes now dull and hazy. The elf manages to push himself up to sit against the ancient oak, drawing his uninjured leg up to his chest. He chafes his arms for warmth, casting his gaze about the forest floor around him.
I follow his eyes when they light on something. I catch the barest glimpse of a piece of cloth, hidden in the shadows of night. The elf seems captivated by it, and tries to struggle to his knees to retrieve it.
It is apparent that he has no the strength for so simple a task. The moment he tries to move his injured leg, his face turns an odd shade of gray and he leans back against the tree with a shudder.
The elf has forgotten the toll this night has taken on his body. He has also forgotten about me. Quietly, I slip over to the cloth and pick it up between my teeth. I can see it more fully now, it is a large, ragged piece of one of the cloaks the elves wear. I could only assume it had once been this elf's cloak, though I could not imagine how it could have gotten so torn.
I drag the cloak over to the elf, placing it within arm's reach, and back away. I have not forgotten that he is uncomfortable with my close presence, but as I look back at him I see wonder and awe in his eyes. He pulls the cloak around his shoulders, tucking it beneath his body as best as he can. I lie a few paces away, watching him carefully.
I hope that the cloak will be enough to keep him warm this night. If not, I will gladly offer what warmth my own coat can offer to keep him alive.
For I am Draug. I am Hunter. I will not admit defeat.
The elf's cloak seems to suffice to keep him warm, and I watch him carefully as he leans his head against the tree. His breathing is softer now, though not less ragged. I do not know if he will survive until morning, even with my help...and if he were to survive, he would not make it back to his own people.
I must hope, then, that his people find him...hope as no doubt the elf is hoping.
My ears prick as another sound reaches the clearing. Without thinking, I growl, startling the elf out of his half-sleep. He stares at me, eyes wide in apprehension, then his head twists to one side as he undoubtedly hears the same sound as I.
I stand slowly, teeth bared. The scavengers have found us. The smell of blood has enticed them here, inciting in them into a frenzy that is almost blasphemous beneath these blessed trees.
One drops to the forest floor, gibbering excitedly to itself. It is distracted by the elf and does not see me, but in a moment it hears me.
The spiders are cowardly by nature, but they are brazen as well. They travel in packs to overwhelm their adversaries and take pleasure in striking from behind, and in consuming still-living flesh.
I let out a growl and a short bark. The spider skitters nervously to one side, lingering in the shadows to watch me. I know it is trying to decide if the elf is my prey, and if I am alone here.
It soon determines that I have come here to hunt without companions, and advances again. I do not doubt that it has come here alone, an advance scout seeking easy prey for its kin.
With a lunge I pin the spider beneath my powerful paws, snapping at it as it feebly tries to poison me. But I am not so young as to trap a spider and still allow its bite, and I will not be tricked into death by a spineless scavenger.
In a moment I have killed the spider, its foul blood bitter on my tongue. I leave the carcass where it lies, knowing the spider's death will be a deterrent to its kin.
They may be foul enough to eat their own dead, and even to feast among the living of their kin, but they will not be courageous enough to venture into the starlight to see what has killed one of their own.
They do not understand that which does not cower in shadow. They will not dare to face me.
For I am Draug. I am Hunter. I will be feared by such as these.
The elf is dozing again. I watch him fall asleep only to jerk himself awake again, clearly fighting the fatigue that will make the descent to death all the easier. He has stopped trying to stand, focusing all of his energy on preserving what strength remains.
I am amazed as I watch him. The moment I saw him this night, I did not think he would survive this long...and now I wonder if he will rise come morning and walk back to his people.
What strength do these elves have? The forest has truly blessed them...would that it would so bless my people.
I sigh and stand again, pacing to the edge of the clearing. The spider carcass still lies undisturbed, and there is no sign of any bolder of its kin coming to claim it.
The slightest of sounds reaches my ears, and I stop in my tracks. Peering through the patches of shadow and moonlight, I can see part of one shadow seem to detach itself and slip through a pool of light before rejoining the shadow. Something is coming through the trees, something that does not wish to be seen.
The figure draws closer. It is a human, slipping stealthily through the trees. I watch him carefully, tensed to spring should he be with those who attacked the elf. As he draws closer I can see him occasionally stoop to examine the ground before him, resting his hand in certain places. As he reaches the clearing, I see him stop as his eyes fall upon the elf sitting against the tree.
"Legolas?" He moves toward the elf, calling the name softly. Does he know this elf, or is this a trick?
My eyes narrow as I advance carefully. The human sees me and stops still, his hand going to his sword. I bare my teeth, my growl low in the quiet of the night.
The human advances toward me, pulling his blade out of his sheath. He stops a few feet from the elf, squaring his shoulders as though to place himself between us.
I pause. The hunters who had been tormenting the elf did not carry such weapons. He could not be one of them...the hand that holds his sword is as steady as my heart; he is no coward.
Crouching, I lower my head and step back. I do not wish to challenge this one until I can discern his purpose, but he does not halt his advance.
The faint whisper shatters the silence of our confrontation. The human hesitates, but turns his head to regard the elf out of one eye, still watching me closely. "Legolas?"
A quivering sigh of relief, mingled with pain, fills the air. "Thank the Valar."
Thank the Forest. This human is known to the elf.
"Are you badly injured?"
"I-I cannot stand. The trap..."
The human grunts, his face contorting in disgust. He risks a glance back at the elf before turning his attention to me, the grip on his sword shifting as he prepares to attack.
The elf struggles to sit forward, falling back with a sharp moan of pain.
"It is only a wolf, Legolas."
"You do not understand."
"You are lucky it did not attack you already," the human counters.
"No...Aragorn, he s-saved me tonight."
The human pauses, brow furrowing in confusion. "It saved you?"
"F-from the hunters. They returned and he drove them off."
"Why?" The human's voice is skeptical, and I cannot blame him. My own people would not believe such a tale, even were I to tell it.
"I do not know," the elf's voice has faded a bit, and his eyes are closed in pain. "But I w-would be dead if it were not for him."
The human sighs, and I am surprised to see a bit of indulgent humor in his eyes. "How do I let you convince me of these things, Legolas?" he mutters, loosening his grip on his sword and stepping back.
I lower myself to the ground, resting my head on my forepaws and watching the human carefully. I notice the human does not replace his sword in his sheath, choosing to set it on the ground where it will be easier to reach should he need it.
He pulls the elf's cloak away, and very gently begins to examine his wounds.
Even from my position, I can tell that the human is distressed. The thick scent of blood has grown stronger, and I can sense that the elf has become frighteningly weak. I fear the human has come too late.
But the human does not seem to share the same fear. He is concerned, but he does not despair of the elf's life yet. He reaches into a small pouch at his side and pulls forth a small dried leaf. Crushing it between his fingers, he holds the bruised fragments close to the elf's face.
I watch the elf take in a shuddering breath, his body trembling. He coughs once, reaching out to wrap his own hand around the one that is holding the broken leaf. "...in the king's hand lying..."
The human chuckles, a bit wryly, at the elf's whispered statement. "You are lucky only the wolf is here to hear you, Legolas. It is not my time yet."
I can see the elf smile, and am relieved to notice some small strength restored to him.
"We must return to the palace. I fear I have not the supplies to treat your wounds out here."
The elf nods, his hand tightening around the human's as he tries to pull himself to his feet. The human stops him easily, rising to a crouch as he pulls the cloak from around his shoulders.
"I fear you still do not have the strength to walk," he says quietly. "Do not worry...I will not drop you."
I blink in surprise at the suddenly teasing tone of the human's voice. These beings are strange...the forest has indeed blessed the elves, and it seems as though this human is counted among them.
He wraps the elf in his own cloak, carefully lifting him into his arms. As I watch the human cradle the elf's head against his shoulder, I am reminded of my own mate carrying our cubs, and of fainter memories of my mother carrying my brothers and I to safety.
The human spares me a short glance, but the elf gives me a lingering look and stretches out one hand toward me. I rise, bowing my head in the fashion of my people.
"Thank you, friend."
The elf's whispered words seem to carry through the forest, leaves rustling in the knowledge of this elf's thanks. The human grunts again, the look in his eyes that of an indulgent pack-brother.
For that is what they are, I have realized. They are pack-brothers...born not of the same mother and father but to the same spirit. And that is a gift...true pack-brothers are a gift to all who wander the paths beneath these blessed trees, be they man, elf, or wolf.
Still cradling the elf close, the human gently picks his way through the forest path. I watch them go, my duty to protect the elf happily ended.
It is time to continue my hunt.
I pause as I turn to leave the clearing, seeing the leaf the human had broken still lying on the forest floor. In curiosity, I slip over to smell it, wondering what sort of plant could restore the strength of the elf.
Its fragrance is indescribable. It is sweet, yet somehow sorrowful...and like nothing I have ever smelled before. At its scent I can feel the vigor restored to my body, the energy depleted over the last few hours returned to me. The forest seems sharper as well, scents and sounds stronger than they had ever been before.
Strength renewed, I turn and follow a new trail beneath the trees. Though the scent of the elf's blood is still strong, above it I catch the scent of something much more welcome.
The deer have ventured out of their hiding places. In this, my heart rejoices.
For I am Draug. I am Hunter. And I still must feed my pack tonight.
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Note: Draug is Elvish for Wolf