The auroch appeared quite suddenly from the trees on the other side of the
One moment Torak was gazing at sun-dappled willows - the next, there she was. She
stood taller than the tallest man, and her great curving horns could have
skewered a bear. If she charged, he was in trouble.
By bad luck, he was upwind of her. He held his breath as he watched her twitch
her blunt black muzzle to taste his scent. She snorted. Pawed the earth with one
Then he saw the calf peering from the bracken, and his belly turned over.
Aurochs are gentle creatures - except when they have calves.
Without a sound, Torak drew back into the shade. If he didn't startle her, maybe
she wouldn't charge.
Again the auroch snorted, and raked the ferns with her horns. At last she seemed
to decide that he wasn't hunting her after all, and slumped down in the mud to
have a wallow.
Torak blew out a long breath.
The calf wobbled toward its mother, slipped, bleated, and fell over. The cow
auroch raised her head and nosed it to its feet, then lay back to enjoy herself.
Crouching behind a juniper bush, Torak wondered what to do. Fin-Kedinn, the Clan
Leader, had sent him to retrieve a bundle of willow bark that had been soaking
in the stream; he didn't want to return to camp without it. Neither did he want
to get trampled by an auroch.
He decided to wait for her to leave.
It was a hot day at the beginning of the Moon of No Dark, and the Forest was
drowsy with sun. The trees echoed with birdsong; a warm southeasterly breeze
carried the sweetness of lime blossom. After a while, Torak's heartbeats slowed.
He heard a clutch of young greenfinches squealing for food in a hazel thicket.
He watched a viper basking on a rock. He tried to fix his thoughts on that, but
as so often happened, they drifted to Wolf.
Wolf would be nearly full-grown by now, but he'd been a cub when Torak had known
him: falling over his paws, and pestering Torak for lingonberries. . . .
Don't think about Wolf, Torak told himself fiercely. He's gone. He's never
coming back, never. Think about the auroch, or the viper, or-
That was when he saw the hunter.
He was on this side of the water, twenty paces down-stream, but downwind of the
auroch. The shade was too deep to make out his face, but Torak saw that like
him, he wore a sleeveless buckskin jerkin and knee-length leggings, with light
rawhide boots. Unlike Torak, he wore a boar tusk on a thong around his neck.
Ordinarily, Torak would have been reassured. The Boars were fairly friendly with
the Raven Clan, with whom he'd been living for the past six moons. But there was
something very wrong about this hunter. He moved with an awkward, lurching gait,
his head lolling from side to side. And he was stalking the auroch. Two slate
throwing axes were stuck in his belt - and as Torak watched in disbelief, he
pulled one out and hefted it in his hand.
Was he insane? No man hunts an auroch on his own. An auroch is the biggest,
strongest prey in the Forest. To attack one on your own is asking to be killed.
The auroch, happily unaware, grunted and rubbed deeper into the mud, relishing
the relief from the troublesome midges. Her calf nosed a clump of
willowherb, waiting for her to finish.
Torak rose to his feet and warned the hunter with urgent slicing motions of his
palm: Danger! Go back!
The hunter didn't see him. Flexing his brawny arm, he took aim - and hurled the
It whistled through the air and thudded into the ground a hand's breadth from
The calf fled. Its mother gave an outraged bellow and lumbered to her feet,
casting about for the attacker. But the hunter was still downwind; she didn't
catch his scent.
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...