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A Fools Errant PDF Print
Monday, 10 December 2012

 Winner of the 1st place in the 2012 Literature Competition

The twin hounds raced towards the limestone cliffs that rose at the far end of the valley. Mightily muscled beasts they were, broad of chest and thick of bone, bred for generations to fulfil the role they were currently tasked with. Red on white the colour of their coat, black of eye, triangular the shape of both orbit and skull. Together they hunted, breaths coming in powerful pants as the fire in their eyes and hearts spurred them ever onwards in their search for the scent that had been keyed to them. As the hounds paused and scented a gorse bush that had been crushed near the chalk path they followed, a high pitched whistle sounded three times behind them. At once the hounds pricked up their ears, ceased in their investigations and trembled in anticipation as they waited for the one who followed.

He was naught but a mere man-shaped shadow in the distance, growing larger and more distinct as the pace of his run drew him nearer. Occasionaly the figure would pause and make cursory examinations of things only his experienced eyes could see. A rock on the trail with some moss scuffed off of it's surface by the heel of a boot, a few leaves torn from a branch of a red maple, and as he neared the gorse stand the hounds had examined, the indent of a knee compacting the earth. Someone had stumbled and faltered in their stride here, there could be no doubt. The man nodded sagely to himself as he rose from his squatting position and made his way over to Kunos and Kelios the Bullhounds.

Eagerly the hounds waited for the Huntsman to offer a command, their muscles bunched and quivered as he drew close enough to scent despite the man walking into the light wind that was blowing full against his face. The Huntsman however, chose to investigate the flattened gorse bush and the area around it first. His warm hazel coloured eyes darted over the pressed area, noting where the pliable branches had broken and duly surmising that a man had fallen and lain there for some time. Reaching up to lower the cowl of his brown coloured cloak to reveal closely cropped charcoal grey hair, a slightly darker hue of beard over a weathered and deeply lined face. The investgator suddenly knelt and moved onto his hands and knees, causing the hounds to whine quietly as they watched him sniff at the crushed gorse. A few minutes passed as he closed his eyes and tried to discern what his own nose could detect, daring to hope that it was scent he was seeking and that his desperation was not clouding his judgement. It was not.

Eoin the Huntsman at last stood, patting the chalky dust from the knees of the coarse grey trews he wore as he did so before reaching to draw the bone handled knife from it's sheath in his right calf-length boot. With his left hand he deftly undid the front ties of his cloak, throwing it open to reveal his studded leather jerkin and reaching into the front waist pocket. The Huntsman soon produced an irregularly shaped, paper-skinned root from his person, quickly slicing a few slivers off of it and allowing them to fall upon the ground. He then carefully replaced root and knife both to their places and retied his now billowing cloak. Sure that the spice root would allow the others who may still be following him with their own hounds to pick up his trail. Eoin then lifted the polished brass whistle that was attatched to a chain around his neck and gave two sharp blows to signal the hounds to scent and persue. Tucking the whistle swiftly away and doning the cowl once more, he gave chase to his Bullhounds.

Rearing up, Kunos and Kelios let out a few deep grunts and set off to follow the scent they had been keyed to now for over a Month, whilst Eoin followed closely in their wake. The Huntsman was growing evermore concerned for his charges. Never before had they been on an active hunt for so long, and it was beginning to tell on the beasts. Built for power and stamina above all other attributes, the hounds had been the perfect choice for just such a duty. Even now, so long into their hunt, Kunos and Kelios were stronger and fitter than they may have ever been, something was bothering Eoin though. His commands were still being heeded, but he could sense the change that was coming over the hounds as they sank ever more into their primitive state. Instincts were becoming harder for them to control, he could see it in their eyes whenever he called on the hounds to wait or leave off the quarry for rest. The hunt was consuming them, and it was causing the Huntsman to worry.

Royal decree notwithstanding, Eoin had been determined to carry out this duty, he still was. Only now he realised what such success might cost him, and that cost was deeper than he had ever imagined it might be. Silencing such thoughts from his mind he turned his attention back to the task at hand. His own liege Lord Beaumond de Garville had petitioned the King himself to initiate an Errantry War into the Chalk Lands of Artois, scour the limestone caves and rid them of the beasts that had ever bade there. King Leoncour, sensing the restlessness of the Knights Errant at court who urged him daily to announce just such a chance for them to fulfil their Errands of Knighthood, finally relented and agreed with but a single condition. The crusading force would be made up only of the sons of Artois, and Artois alone.

As he ran after his hounds who were now rapidly approaching the limesone cliffs and the cave labyrinth they would search, Eoin wondered once again what had happened to the army his lord was leading. Communications between the host's outriders and messengers had soon ceased upon their arrival at the Chalk Lands proper. In the days that followed many a scouting party and mercenary band had heeded the summons to re-establish contact with the Errantry Army, yet all such attempts had failed. As the days passed the amount of men arriving to offer what aid they could increased. So too the frustration and ire within the fraternities that had soon established themselves there. These had escalated into incidents of open fighting and ending in a minor pitched battle. Some had died, many more were injured. It was for this reason that the groups searching the area for the battleforce had been dismissed, and specialists like Eoin the Huntsman, had been called to take up the search.

Never before had contact from a marching army been lost in such an absolute way. And for such a thing to have happened to an entire army within the borders of fair Bretonnia herself should have been impossible. Hundreds upon hundreds of knights, horses, men-at-arms, conscriptions and peasants had simply seemed to vanish into the very air. Many there were who believed and whispered that magic and sorcery had been the cause, yet the Damsels who themselves sought Lord de Garville's army had used such fey methods themselves. Not only were the Handmaidens of The Lady unsuccsesful, they were unable to discern any such ensorcelment in the region. It was Eoin alone, who had found something though. Trampled and forgotten upon one of the worn trails that led deep into the caves, he spotted a small spot of darkness, stark against the whiteness of the chalky earth. It was something that pricked the hairs on the back of his neck as he saw that miniscule item just lying where it had no reason to be. A single dried clove.

The item itself, so innocently seeming, had turned out to be the break he had needed to relaunch the search for the lost Errantry Army. The clove had been soaked in rosewater, a unique ingredient in a perfumed mixture that could only be from the pomander of Lord de Garville himself. For Eoin, it was as certain as finding Lord de Garville's own signature scrawled upon the ground. His hounds had known straight away the importance of the find and it was to this scent that they had been keyed to for all of this time. He knew they were close, the person who had fallen and lain upon the gorse bush had left the same perfume upon the ground. The Huntsman himself had smelled it with his own nose, meaning not long had passed since his quarry had been there. The answer was less than an hour at most ahead of him and his hounds. The scent bearer was also stumbling, staggering, showing signs of obvious disorientation and fatigue. They were close, so close that the Huntsman could almost feel it. Looking at the animal gleam in the eyes of the hounds, he could see that Kunos and Kelios felt it also.

Running harder than he would normally push himself, Eoin tried to make up as much distance between himself and the quarry that was moving ever deeper into the Chalk Lands. Glancing up and past his cowl he noted that the sun was still fairly high and that his own shadow was only just beginning to lengthen. There was still a few hours at least before it's setting and he hoped to have ended this punishing chase long before then. A growling bark brought his mind back to the pursuit and the Huntsman drew forth his brass whistle once more, giving two quick and a third long note to draw the hounds attention. Kunos and Kelios were barely heeding his call at all and had dropped the speed of their chase by only the merest fraction. Sensing the exitement growing in the hounds, he decided to give a single long blast to signal a return to heel. This they ingored altogether and the Huntsman could feel his command of the hounds slipping away entirely. His heart hammered in his chest as the hounds picked up their paces and pounded towards the shadow in the cliff-face that could only be a cave mouth. Feeling desperation begin to rise within him, the Huntsman struggled to find a way to break the hounds focus on hunt. As they made the mouth of the cave Eoin made his decision.

Yelling was completely out of the question, it could alert his quarry to his presence and bring any hostiles in the area straight to him. It was all he could think to do however, and so he did. Screaming the names of his Bullhounds at the top of his hoarse voice Eoin, strived to gain there attention. Gasping for breath and with his lungs fit to bursting he continued his fast paced run, calling again and again to his beloved charges without success. Grunting in ever mounting frustration, the Huntsman began to blow upon his whistle once more, sounding every call and break command his lungs were able to. Finally reaching the cavemouth himself, he threw back his cowl, tore off the cloak and threw it aside without breaking stride. Eoin spat the whistle from his mouth as it had begun to echo in the cave network, called out yet again and stopped. There was something deeper in the caves fleeing from his hounds.

With sudden hope rising within him, Eoin pushed himself further in an effort to halt his hounds before they descended any further into the gloom of the cave. Reaching into a small leather pouch at his waist that held everything he travelled with, he quickly produced a black sleeve-like pouch from it's interior. Hastily he undid the strings and brought forth a short wooden stick with a series of bells firmly affixed to it's shaft. Without a pause, the Huntsman began to ring the instrument frenziedly in an up and down motion, praying that this last resort would work. The tinny notes reverbrated off of the cave walls. then deeper into the fault and soon reached the heightened hearing of his beloved Bullhounds. As the littermates heard the feeding bell sound, they both jerked their heads in the direction of their master. Only one of the hounds stopped.

Anguish rose in the heart of Eoin as Kunos continued his pursuit and failed to halt as his twin Kelios had done. The Huntsman knew then, that one of his hounds was forever lost to him. Kunos had surrendered to his primal nature and now no longer saw the scent he was keyed to as his quarry, but as his prey. Knowing what was sure to come, the Huntsman began to run once more as fast as he was able, quickly reaching the waiting hound Kelios and gasping the follow command. Their joint pursuit had lasted only a few heartbeats when the screams began. A few heartbeats later they stopped before the blood soaked Kunos and the savagely mauled body of the dying Lord Beaumond de Garville, commander of The Errantry War of Artois.

Realising the horror before him, Eoin sank to his knees next to his Lordship and absently stroked the heads of the hounds who joined him, wagging their tails expectantly. It was over. The answers forever unknown, the hunt was cold, and the lost Errantry Army would ever remain so. There was nothing for the Huntsman to do but stroke his hounds and wait for the faint roars from the cavebeasts within the cave, who had answered his cries, to arrive. He had failed his mission, but more importantly, he had failed his hounds. Eoin grasped the heads of his beloved dogs. Held them, and wept.

Last Updated ( Saturday, 02 February 2013 )
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