The hunt formed itself. The right-hand, Logan, James, Duc, and Crow remained mounted and began a slow walk along the tree line. Warren was directed to stay near Logan and to do nothing under any circumstances. The left-hand, Martine, Matt, and Rich, set off across the field to encircle any prey that was found. The “dogs” as Akay called them, dismounted and tied their horses to the trees. Joe, One-Crow, Mike and John would hunt on foot. They would follow the tracks and the caribou scent. They would be the ones that selected their prey and called the right-hand and left-hand riders to it.
As Warren rode off with the right-hand, he saw the hunters begin their search. John, Mike and Joe all ran with a long loping stride, forward leaning, and noses forward, seeking a scent. It was only after they had ridden a while, that Warren realized that the hunters had not made any sound running. How did they do that in the crusted snow?
Riding in the dark beneath the full moon, the bareback riders were a fell, dire, danger-fraught group. They were fully “wolfed out”? What else would you call it? The big horses they were Morgans, but big for the breed. That is what Mike had told him at least. He said the pack had been breeding this particular herd for over one hundred fifty years. The horses had tremendous stamina, that at least was evident to Warren. They’d been ridden for hours through the forest that afternoon, with only a brief rest around sunset. Now they were energetic, eager, and oblivious to the appearance of their riders.
Warren was reminded of “the wild hunt” the hunt that is common to Germanic and many other cultures. Here were big men on powerful horses hunting under the moonlight, their eyes yellow and white fangs glimmering. In the far distance, Warren heard a sound, the yip a dog might make. Everyone turned toward it simultaneously. It was a signal that prey had been identified. Akay let out a similar yip to let the hunters know they had been heard. Warren listened carefully and he heard a third call that must have been from the left-hand, probably Martine.
The hunt was on. All the riders urged their horses to a trot. Another yip caused them to change course and was answered by both the left and right-hands. Then the hunt began in earnest. From nearby, directly ahead, came a howl that was indescribable. It was the howl not of a wolf or a man, but of a werewolf. It has to be heard to be comprehended. It frightened Warren, shook him to his depths. It had a quality of pure predation. He shook with genuine fear when it was echoed by each of the riders that surrounded him. The horses reared. The riders pressed them into a gallop, howling again as they did. Of a certainty, this was the Wild Hunt. He pressed his own horse into a gallop, trying hard to keep up.
Ahead the runners came into sight. They were chasing a magnificent caribou. It was truly enormous and it was fleeing at great speed. The runners were keeping pace. It was obvious they could catch him if they chose. They followed, herding him toward the encircling horsemen. Without warning, Akay and the others leapt off their horses’ backs. The horses immediately stopped and stood completely still – such had been their training. Warren’s own horse was at full gallop and crashed through them, narrowly missing collision. The right-hand was in front of the caribou, and it turned only to find itself facing the left hand. It turned again and the runners were behind it. I began to circle. The circle narrowed until it was forced to rear and strike out with fore-hooves and to kick with its hind hooves. It lowered its head and charged – Duc stepped out of its way and slashed at it with his claws. First blood. The pack howled simultaneously, freezing Warren’s very soul as he sat astride his now standing horse. The werewolves now took turns charging at the big stag. Each took an opportunity to claw at it and to draw blood. The stag was now making a sound between a trumpet and a shriek. The pack closed in. Akay leaped easily six feet through the air to land on the stag’s back. He sunk his teeth into its neck and grabbed its head, twisting. It fell to the ground and the pack was on it. Akay stood over it, holding the horns and gave a tremendous wrench. The neck was broken, and the life fled the caribou. Akay howled. This was a different howl. Even Warren felt the note, not of triumph, but of warning. He was claiming the kill – that was obvious. The other werewolves drew back, some more quickly than others did. Calm descended slowly. The Wolves stood around their kill in a circle, Akay at the beast’s head. He drew a long knife from somewhere about his person, a bowie from the look of it. He carefully leaned down and pressed the knife into the deer, piercing its heart. Then he slashed its throat. He spoke, gutturally, his prognathous jaw and protruding canines coloring his speech, “Hang it up. Cut it up. We take it home. Tomorrow maybe.”
The “wolfiness” level dropped suddenly. The werewolves looked the same, but now they became man-like hunters who were field dressing a kill, cutting it up to take home for supper. A moment before they had been animals. Now they were more like humans. Warren was amazed that it had come in an instant.
Duc and James lugged the beast to a nearby tree and managed to hang it from a branch. Crow did the cutting, evidently his area of expertise. John and Mike were detailed to retrieve the left-hand and right-hand’s horses. They had run miles in the moonlight. It was after two in the morning, but neither werewolves nor horses seemed as tired as the one human present. Warren sat atop his mount nodding.