The Hunt
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blood between my fingers
the eyes of the prey, closing in death
the sisters moons taking the colors

CHAPTER 1: I WON’T HARM YOU

Gie was looking with disgust as the skeksis tears the flesh of almost raw animal with his teeth. She was catching small details that were making her sick: the pieces of meat hanging from his beak, trail of blood pooling in the small corner between fangs.


Why her lords sent her with this awful creature?

To add to it, he was looking at her in a way that was making her skin crawl. He can kill her or even worse. She pondered about returning the castle on her own, but the Emperor would punish her or this one, would catch her and destroy.
She was meant to follow his steps.

She looked at her guard robes, stained with mud and some sticky fluid, which she preferred to not guess. The Hunter ordered her to keep the mud on herself, pointing out that this is greidon hunting territory and they like devouring gelfling – better for her to have her scent masked. If that was not enough humiliating, he stuffed some stinking herbs under her clothes, which was as unpleasant and scary.

“What… what is that for, my lord?”

“You still stink of a Stonewood. If you want to stay alive, you do as I say.”

Now, sitting on the cold stone, she reminded herself about all legends about Silent Death. Kidnapper of young ones, eater of the gelfling. Like a nightmare that comes at night and applies pain to you. She felt exposed when her robes tore under her arms.

“Don’t worry. You are here by the order of the mighty So. I won’t touch you.”

The words rang in silence like a lash of a bat. She looked at him, then at herself, how she was sitting curled protectively. Her face blushed from shame and offense.

“My lord. I don’t know what you think about me but…”

“You are soaking with fear. Better clean that up, or something much worse than me hunts you down. You know only the safety of the castle. And I see that glint in your eyes. I won’t harm you. Not that way, at least.” his throat gurgled with low laughter, he shifted, to look better into her face, Gie redrew herself in a second.

“Your body language tells you, you better work on that.”

“I don’t—“

“Besides, I am not that restrained. If I wanted to do it, you would lay flat under me already.”

Gie gasped in rage. This creature was joking from her in this low way. And her shoes were all wet and soaked with mud, just like her hair. With herbs. LIke she was ready to be served on this hunter’s plate.

She wanted to say something but nothing witty was coming onto her mind. Though Hunter’s words strangely assured her, There was some kind of odd honesty in him. She couldn’t imagine him creeping at her in darkness to take advantage.
Something flat hit her in the face, falling on her knees.

“Took it especially for you, Stonewood princess. Smoked meat so your mouth weren’t stained by blood” the hunter skeksis laughed from his own joke and again took a bite of his own meal.

Gie sighed. It maybe wasn’t as bad as she thought, maybe he won’t harm her. But it still was far from what she was used to. Taking smoked meat into her hands, she tried to take a bite and winced, when the strong wild flavor hit her tongue.

“Stonewood princess” she heard Hunter’s mock.

“Maybe, at least I am not a hermit living in the woods and attacking everyone that passes his path!” Gie got angry, forgetting all the precautions she had at first.

“You amuse me gelfling. Keep going.” he waved with hand with which he was holding a knife to severing meat.

“What is even your name?”

“Oh, now not a lord, heh. You are strangely bold for someone who is so scared.” he suddenly stood up strode at her, with the knife still in his hand, blood flowing from his fingers, Gie squeaked in fear. But the Hunter didn’t attack her, just lowered himself, looking deeply in her eyes, his head bent in a very bird-like gesture.

“You guess. You have three takes. If you won’t guess by the third time, if you won’t dig into your memory, I am entitled to claim you as my possession. And you have no choice, Stonewood princess. This or I leave you here, in the middle of the forest and tell the others that you were killed during the hunt.”

Gie cursed herself for being so reckless. He was even more dangerous than she thought at first – he was clever, and that was the most dangerous trait she found in him.

“So, princess?”

“Give me time. I need to… dig into my memory.” she managed to utter.

“Yes. Dig deep. And eat” he threw her one more portion of the meat. “I bet they feed you well in the castle. You must be starving.”

CHAPTER 2: THE BOUNDARIES

Gie folded her arms around her legs, looking at how the skeksis sits near the fire, his eyes hidden deep inside the mask, only small white sparks indicated that they hold a living face. His legs stretched to the flames, his tail lashing lazily around them. He was so still that it looked like her fell asleep just as he was, in robes and armor and with his hands supported on the knees.

She shivered. Yet, from cold. Definitely.

Now, collecting what the lords told her and did, before she departed, looked dubious.

Ritual Master didn’t stop himself from leaning over her and saying a few words about Hunter’s brutal habits. The General, snorting, stated that it’s glorious mission only for the brave hearts… and he didn’t laugh at all, didn’t repress a chuckle. And the cold yet amused eyes of the Emperor, when she was departing.

It looked like they did it for purpose. They “gave” her to the Hunter, whatever the meaning of their decision was, they offered her to him.

That was as offending, as in some way fascinating, the way they thought he will be HAPPY from the gift. So far he proved that he would better exchange her for a rotting gourd, to get rid of the problem. She was his companion for three days now and all he was speaking were dry orders and unpleasant remarks.

Her eyelids became heavy from the exhaust. The travel was tiring and she knew these forests aren’t welcoming, so the further journey to whatever type of… home the Hunter had, will be even more bothering and wearing out.

She decided that she won’t speak at all to the skeksis, because he proved to be a dangerous verbal opponent. Yet curiosity was stronger than common sense. Other guards were calling her nosy and troublesome. That was true, if she was more clever, she would not touch the beast with a stick. But it was too tempting, especially, if her suspicions about being a gift to him, were true.

“Why you agreed?” she managed to say, through the clenched throat.

Hunter’s tail’s tip lashed a bit more eagerly, yet he didn’t change his position.

“I mean, I am not useful for the hunt, I know nothing, will be a hindrance… and you stated you are not interested in—” she could form this statement without deep shame. “Why the Hunter took an untrained gelfling on a dangerous hunt?”

Yes, that was really a good question. He didn’t have reason to want her, in any way. The beast roaming – as the General stated – the western woods, was dangerous enough to even Hunter fear it. She will slow him down. Her curiosity raised after forming her doubt.

She suddenly caught that he looks straight at her, the white spots getting wider as he taxed her with gis gaze.

“What if I took you with me for fun?” she heard a low, deep growl coming from under his mask. The white spots disappearing and appearing steadily, as he closed and opened his eyes.

“For… fun? My lord—“

The Hunter laughed, it was not a nice smile. Yet she caught something in it, some kind of bitterness, which she couldn’t place.

“You are funny, gelfling. You will be dancing and singing until I decide it’s time for something more interesting.”

She really didn’t know what to say. She would take his words for a bad joke, if not that bitter touch. He was hiding something, something that made him agree with the decision of the other skeksis. Something that even he didn’t know well.

“I can dance and sing.”

“Good. Prepare your legs for good effort, as well as your pretty mouth.”

She narrowed her eyes. THAT, on the other hand, was a bad joke, a very bad one.

“I will find out.”

He looked at her with some dose of amused curiosity, yet there was something much darker in his expression. She shouldn’t push further but her trait of nosing around was stronger than precautions.

“Why you didn’t kill me or hurt me. You know, there are tales about you.”

His secondary arms reached closer to the fire.

“I am not surprised. You, gelfling, make tales from even most trivial things.”

“You are told to hold no mercy, Silent Death, falling from the darkness, to crush the innocent.”

“Nice tales.” the warm breath left his nostrils and mingled with the cold air.

“You are ironic skeksis, you keep secrets.”

“You probably would prefer it I fell on you with outstretched talons and bared fangs, tearing you apart, like a wild animal? Heh, can be arranged.”

“Nice change of pace, Hunter” she involuntarily smiled. “I like the—“

Suddenly, he stood up violently, like a storm, and was immediately next to her, his moves animalistic and blindingly fast. His one hand took a hold on her throat and the second one pulled a knife from the sheathe, aiming at her vein.

“Small talk, yes? Friendly chit chat? You think I don’t know what you are doing?”

She writhed aimlessly in his grasp. Hid hold was strong, oh yes, but didn’t press as much, to not let her breathe. He knew how to silence her yet not forever.

“Hunt–thhh—“

“Tomorrow” he barked in her face. “Tomorrow is your first guess. And if you won’t guess right, I can choose a way you pay for it. How it will be left to my decision”

His hold tightened on her neck, her writhing and choking intensified.

“If you once again think and try to talk to me like to an old friend of yours, I will slice your nice throat without remorse” he growled, his eyes so close to her that she was seeing a rage in them, something not unlike a boiling bowl of melting iron, wanting to pour from it, his knife touching the skin on her face. Gie wanted to inhale at that but his hand was stopping her from that. Seeing that, he released her, making her breath in chokingly. He grunted in rage pushing her on the grass, she fell like a bag of berries. “Don’t try me, ever again.”

Gie again embraced her knees with her arms, looking with fear and hatred at him. She could hear the Hunter makes a satisfied growl at that, at it made her furious. But she didn’t move. So she had right, at the very beginning. He was nothing but a more civilized beast, a monster hiding after slick words.

Her eyes were following him, when he sat again next to the flames, his fingers sliding over the knife edge.

I won’t do this mistake again.

And by any means, I will know your secrets. The secrets that make you angry and furious, the secrets that you hold deep in your heart, so deep and you are too proud to speak them up. You would call it a hunt. I will hunt on you.

CHAPTER 3: LONGING

The forest was thick, like drapes in the castle, where his kind dwells in an endless parade of vanity. His prey was still before him, running and squealing, his hearing was showing him a wide array of her emotions. From despair and fear to will of survival. His legs carried him faster than he ever remembered. Faster than he could imagine, yet she still was far ahead, still out of reach. His feet pushed him off the ground and fastly crawling over the trunk, he reached the crown of the tree, the view spreading before him, his land under him and the stars above him, the sister moons caressing his skin with soft light.

“My prey…” he hissed, seeing her and falling from the top of the tree to catch lower branch, kicking the trunks with his legs, and supporting with secondary arms, fast, angry, like a force of nature. She saw him, as he was running after her, his blood heated by the sight of her fearing eyes, his movements faster and more urgent… until he caught her in his grasp, knocking her off her feet.

She screamed.

He pressed her body with his limbs.

“My prey…”

Her scent was engulfing him and rage in his veins, a rage for everything she was, for seeing more than she should, was replaced by…

…hunger.

His tongue and beak salivating as he looked in her eyes.

“Nowhere to run, little one…”

She tossed, her hands pushing him away, her instincts to survive making her stronger and Thra, how he loved it.

His hand landed on her mouth and silenced her, to reach for his most awaited prize, under her chin…

His tail kicked, hitting the hot coals in the fire, making him open his eyes and hiss.

His body was sweating, not only by the closeness of the flames, which were slowly dwindling in the darkness. He stood up, effortfully, his arms and legs were like made of wood, stiff and pained.

“Curse it” he growled when he tossed another amount of wood to light up the flames. The night predators were close, so it was always a good move.

His gaze involuntarily wandered to Gie.

“Curse it” he repeated. He spent too many trines alone, without no one to talk, no one to touch. He hated her for causing that, after barely four days of her company. She was nosy, annoying, stubborn and untrained.

She was all he hated in others. Oblivious to rules on nature, survival and even his own rules. Especially his own rules.

She almost made him say too much the last day. He tried to stay collected, detached, yet some of the things were buried way too deep. Especially with a gelfling, who didn’t know anything about him, his life, his code and his sacrifices.

“CURSE IT” he growled louder than he wanted, but the girl didn’t wake up. “The gelfling, Thra. THE GELFLING. THE WHOLE KIND.”

He approached closer to her. How easy it would be to tear her neck, allow the hot stream of blood to stain his hands. How easy would it be to sink his teeth into her throat, taste the essence from her veins. End this stupid ordeal, remove the problem she was and feed on her life.

He felt as his blood again pumps faster in his veins and he welcomed it with one more hiss.

He loomed over her and his hand stretched, touching her skin, where the vein pulsed, he felt as it moves under his fingers, inviting and tempting.

He would never admit before himself how he felt back then. When she smiled at him, how she dared to consider him an equal. Talked to him, like she knew better, as her goal to understand him was not an insult for his pride.

The series of growls escaped his beak, the girl moved in her bedding. Her hand waved in the darkness, sensing, even through sleep, that she is not alone.

Foolish. Reckless.

Her eyes opened, the fear entering her when she felt that someone bends over her, touches her, smelling of things that she couldn’t decipher.

But the night was stark and naked and no one was there, to be seen.

So that’s how it will look from now on.


I could leave you in the woods, alone, no one to find you, and get rid of this.


The company. It makes it different. Trines of lonely hunt caused that I became unused but craving for this. And Thra forbids, if I don’t like, even if it’s…
CURSED.

CHAPTER 4: HUNTERS AND JESTERS

Gie was slowly going after the Hunter. They walked for eight hours already and she had enough. He, on the other hand, seemed to not be tired at all, which didn’t promise too well for her.

She opened her mouth to say something but couldn’t find the right word to express her hatred for him she felt now.

He didn’t turn to her but she heard his low voice.

“You guessed wrong. So you will not rest until your feet stop carrying you.”

“First they will bleed!” she moaned in despair.

“That’s always an option. THEN, we will stop.”

Gie cried silently, one sharp cry of frustration. It was the worst torture he could apply to her. When she was still living in Stone-In-the-Woods, she led a simple yet pleasant life, full of joys and easy tasks. Her mother never expected her to marry anyone and she didn’t want, as well. Then, she decided to join the guardians of the Crystal and that seemed an amazing chance to shine and show her peers, siblings, and parents that she can do more than that and protect the lords at any cost.

How could she even think, that she can protect them from the Hunter? Besides, that he didn’t intend to harm them, not at all. But she was seen, her attack on the Hunter made skekVar suggest her as the one who accompanies him. She sealed her own fate with her own crafty hands.

“You didn’t even scold me, what’s the point of this?” she managed to ask. “I really thought you will tear me apart when I guessed wrong. You looked like a demon of rage. And then…”

“I think it’s almost hundredth time you ask me to act like a wild animal.” the skeksis hunter didn’t turn this time as well, his pace restless and agile as ever, his tail flinging in steady way behind him.

“Errr… you know, I suspected…”

He stood in one place, then slowly turned to her – at last, she thought – approaching her and pointing at her with a bony talon.

“You ask for troubles, gelfling.”

“The truth to be told I—“

His hand caught the fistful of her hair and bent her head back, she gave an off choked gasp.

“You ask for more than you can endure and if you really want me to do everything you heard I am capable of, you are on the right path to take me to it.”

She tried to shake off his hand from her tangles, no avail.

His head crooked as he looked at her, like pondering what to do with her.

“Cutting your tongue could prove to be interesting, the same as tearing the skin from your back. But both would take too much time and you are not worthy of such effort, besides,” he looked at her intensely, “We are on a hunt. The scent could frighten up the animals.”

He let her go, she caught the balance, wanting to curse the whole Thra, yet only a squeak left her mouth. “A hunt? We are on a hunt? How long will we walk?”

“One more day. Then, you will be assigned to make a camp, prepare the meal and eat it, nicely, and then and only then I allow you to sit down and rest.”

Saying that the Hunter poked her once again with his claw, to mark a point on his words.

“And since now, you will call me Master. I am not taking you with me on the hunt of rahiak for you to wander under my feet as I am killing it. You will be USEFUL. very useful. You will train and you will learn. If you will want to return to the castle, then, I will carry you there by myself. But until then, you are mine and you listen to me, like to Thra itself.”

“Hunt—“

He growled in disapproval.

“Master” she sighed, resigned. “I will do whatever you order me to. If that means, I will return where my lords are.”

He burst in gurgly laughter, his whole heavy frame shaking from it, as he patted her on the head, like an insolent childling.

“Your ignorance is amusing. I heard your kind puts jester hats on the heads of the wrong ones. You could use one, gelfling.”

Gie boiled in regret but she couldn’t find the answer. Besides, it was the Vapran idea, and she never liked the Vapra.

*

They walked five more hours and Gie’s feet indeed started to swell and she barely could take another step. She was cursing her luck and the way the Hunter – however his name sounded – walks before her, perfectly fresh and like the long journey didn’t mark him at all. She even envied him. If she had such strength, she could even run from him and fight him, if his wild instinct turned against her, in the end.

She could sense the scent of leather and blood from him. It was something new, no one who she knew, smelled like that. She couldn’t say she didn’t like it. It was new but strangely pleasant. Like the scent of the dark forest during the night, filled with odd and many times dangerous animals.

She caught herself on looking at his back, his armor moving as he walked, his tail still lashing and his back covered with furs of the captured prey. She understood, that he, in some way, starts to fascinate her. Even, if she still hated him.

I hate you, Hunter, she thought, and it was the last thought she had until her feet started to bleed and knees broke under her and she fell on the grass, swooning from the effort.

skekMal immediately stopped and looking at her with badly repressed amusement, he lifted her, grabbed tightly by her tiny body and hanged on his shoulder.

“She really thought, she will make it” he snorted and patting her rump with pure pleasure, he headed onto the clearer area, to make temporary camp.

This whole ordeal became even funnier than he expected. His previous turmoils changed in anticipation and his whole body was awaiting her next – possibly fatal – move.

And when she won’t guess for the last time, he already had plans for her. After all, he was a hunter and had ways of a one. He awaited that moment with a shiver on his back.

Tossing her like a bag of rampples near the trunk of the tree, he started to prepare the place for a camp, fastly gathering everything that was needed.

“And she really thought she will make it AND still will be able to set a base for the night”

Laughing and sitting near the freshly lit fire, he started to eat pieces of the smoked meat. Sleep well, Stonewood Princess, I have a few surprises for you.

Chapter 5: I Know His Name

Gie’s eyes opened slowly. At first, she felt nothing, like she was a chunk of wood. Then, the suffering came.

She inhaled the air, fast, raggedy. Her feet burned with sharp stinging pain, she was sure that they are peeling of the skin. She gazed at them, suspecting to see the open wound, but the only thing she saw, with pure confusion, were cleaned cuts and some strange pulp spread on her skin around the crackings. They weren’t that wide, even, as she suspected.

She moved with her toes. but that still hurt too much, so she let the feet stay and heal.

She curiously looked around.

The place was secured, as much as a small clearing in the woods can be. The camp looked almost natural. It was blending in the environment like it’s a place was exactly there. She was curious about how long she slept. She didn’t admit that she fainted.

The Hunter was sitting against a stone, legs curled up under him, talons joined, his tail steadily thumping against the ground. His head was raised and eyes closed, giving him an air of odd serenity, even with his mask on.

And he hummed.

It was strange. His voice was low, like a murmur of a distant storm, rising, and falling. It was giving an unlikely sense of peace to her. She pondered how long he was sitting there and sang this peculiar song. She never heard it before. Maybe it was some sort of rite after the hunt?

Or before?

He opened his eyes, in the upcoming darkness, they seemed even greener than during the day. His humming stopped and Gie felt like an intruder. She looked at her feet again and cuddled into the furs – which was given to her by him, even if he could just leave her there in cold.

He put a stick into the fire, moving wood chunks and hot stones. He saw her watching him but said nothing.

She wouldn’t be herself, is she didn’t ask. Of course.

“What was the song?”

He didn’t reply. Was he angry at her asking so many questions? Just because he took her on his hunting didn’t mean he wasn’t angry at her all the time. She had to admit, that she would, with herself.

After some tense and hard minutes of silence – at least for her – the Hunter spoke.

“You didn’t expect that, huh?”

“Well,” he wanted to say one of her best excuses but she thought that truth will be the best. She told him many truths of hers during the time they spent, all seemed wrong. Maybe he was mad at her, but she decided to be honest with herself, at least. “Yes. The singing. I could see it done by Lord skekLi but not by you.”

He snorted, just like the General was doing. His hand pushed the little chunk of wood just into the flames, making the bonfire burst higher.

“Yes. We, hunters, do the hunting, yes? And only that.”

She was thinking up the answer for a good minute but eventually said.

“No, I don’t think so. Like, maybe at first. But not now. That song—“

He moved with his head, amused.

“— was nice.”

The Hunter looked at her, still smiling in that ironic, awful way. But his words were the opposite.

“The song of fresh damp ground. The roots under your feet. The song of the wind that moves the tree branches. Heh. It’s all there. Not only gelfling feel Thra. I have spent more trines than you think so, listening to it. And I have been learning from the best.”

She embraced her chest with her tiny arms, her legs stretched more, feeling a jolt in one of her feet, slightly muffled by some kind of dizziness, both in her head and legs.

“You have been learning.”

“From the best.”

“That’s means…”

“From Aughra. If there is anything and anyone that can teach you to hear the chant of the forest and air, it’s only her.”

Aughra. Of course, Gie heard about her. She was as old as Thra and slept stargazing in her oratory, so long, that the dust-covered her robes and mind trailed deep into the glaring space. Of course, skeksis knew her. But the Hunter knew her too, it was new. He didn’t seem – at least at first – as someone who could get along with such wise sage, yet he – strangely – seemed to be contrary to all her opinions about the mysterious hunter. She suspected he will just eat her or cruelly harm her, the tales were rather too honest and too graphic.

He also, as she observed, held some secrets. They were hurting him. Maybe his life was not dismembering her kind only. Maybe he had a life of his own, hunting under sister moons at the wildest beasts, bathing in rays reflected in the water, humming odd olden songs…

Ugh.

“Your mind trails off, gelfling” this was an observation, not try to start a conversation.

“Yes…” the bedding felt warm. They were made from very thick fur. He was rather well prepared. But he didn’t have anything carrying with him when they were walking. He had to give her one of his own back furs, as he had more than one, that’s why he always seemed so big and ruffled.

“Better sleep” he laughed. “Tomorrow you guess again. This is not a threat, only a fact. If you don’t guess right…”

“You will order me to walk for three days, this time.”

“No. Oh no. That would be too obvious, you would prepare. Let’s say, that I am putting you to some kind of test. You will be able to boast about it when you return to a comfortable life in the castle.”

Her eyes seemed dizzy. Everything seemed dizzy.

“Sleep. I gave you a remedy that should knock you down a long time ago. Eh, girl, you HAVE stamina, who would guess.”

That was an odd compliment. But she took it, her eyes slowly closing, her feet again starting to feel numb.

The last thing she saw before dozing off was the sight of a Hunter, sitting sprawled against the stone and supporting his elbow on his knee. Looking in the face of the moons. And at her. At once. He looked at her, as she was merging with the sisters in the sky.

She knew his name. She will guess right. She heard it when others were saying that name.

skek—

Chapter 6: Impossible and Silly

Gie took the blade in her hand. She knew how to hold a weapon, all castle guards knew how to attack and defend themselves. But the Hunter pierced her explanations fast and brutally, evidently sure she knows nothing.


“You know how to cut and this is cute. Almost cute. I hate cute things. Now learn how to fight.”


She didn’t even know what he meant by it. She heard of course about his unusual methods of hunting but she really doubted he can be that skilled. He was faster, stronger, but definitely couldn’t be even half as good, as her kind spoke of. He was bad eater, smelled of mud and leather and that wasn’t…  a p p e a l i n g  in any way. At first. Now she started to like it, as strange as it was.


Yet, it was something drawing in his attitude. In the way, he cocks his head when he talks, the way he moves when he hears something. His tail lashing when angry.


She wanted to learn from his, as impossible as it sounded and felt. Yes, he fascinated her.


Feeling how the Hunter bends behind her and adjusts her position, was a strange experience. He has focused on her every move and his attention, unwanted at first, when they met, now became more needed.


She wanted to impress him.


“Back bent. Legs stretched. Do not look like prey. Look like a predator.”


Easier to say than do. Gie had no clue how predator in gelfling form should look. She was sure she will look even sillier when she puts the scarce things she knew into motion.


The Hunter took her wrists into a hold and she gasped, but he seemed to not be aware of how uncomfortable she felt being immobilized like that.


“Master, I–“


“Listen, gelfling” he whispered into her ear, his body pressed against her and his maw almost leaning over her shoulder; she fought with the instinct to get off this grasp. “You are clumsy, untrained and  y o u n g  of all. You know  n o t h i n g.”


“How… how observant” she swallowed hard, not knowing if to feel offended or to just wriggle from his arms. It was something deeply wrong with the way he held her. She was sure he didn’t mean that bit this… seemed way too intimate.


“… and I don’t embrace you for anything that isn’t a training” he added, in an almost amused tone. She deflated. Why must he always know what she thinks?


“I— I just…”


“Your unnecessary caution is reflected in your body movement. Arms tightly shut, legs too, that expression on your face, ears flat.”


“Well, I just… don’t like you to be that close” she blurted.


The loud laugh mixed with gurgling sounds deep from the throat resounded. Gie felt humiliated and all will to train escaped from her head. He was so full of himself, even for a skeksis lord. She would gladly tag on and train with him, but he was making everything so difficult. She felt ridiculed in almost every second of word exchange.


“Good, gelfling” he cut his laughter and pressed his hand over her smaller palm. “Take the sword in the right way. Your guard weapon is big and will be difficult to use against the faster and more agile animals from this forest. I will give you a weapon from my stock, later. Legs spread. Balance. Don’t be so stiff, or you will be an easier target.”


That was an unnaturally long sentence for him. She tried to apply his advice and bent, her legs widely spread and her arms adjusting to his guidance, holding her sword in a ridiculously unnatural way. Yet…


“That’s better.”


“You do not mock me, yes? It seems terribly uncomfortable.”


“Heh. The castle guards know how to patrol the corridors pretty well. But not fight. If a farkak entered the castle, you would be all dead.”


“General skekVar—“


“skekVar would be dead first.”


She sighed. She must get used to his joking way of treating the lords. After all, he had the right to do so, as he was one of them. But it wasn’t easier for her to swallow. She was taught to respect them. But she also had to admit that she didn’t treat h i m as respectable lord. He was… different.


And she still didn’t know if she likes that or not.

His rough hand slowly started to guide hers and she had to admit that his moves are fluent and even graceful. There was a feeling to it. She couldn’t name it, though.

“Listen to the forest around you” he suddenly growled. His voice devoided of any mockery or amusement he held for her just seconds ago. It was an odd task, as he had to know that her hear is not as acute as the senses of the skeksis. But she decided to allow him to guide her further, even if it was seemingly rushed and out of context.


She closed her eyes. She heard the birds singing, one even more eager than the others. Some murmur in the leaves, but delicate, a very small animal, possibly. And his ragged breath.


“What should I listen to?” she was sure that it was something specific he wanted from her.

His presence was even more evident, when she closed her eyes. She could hear how he moves, a slight rustle of the material. He probably would not let such a noise out on a hunt, she thought fast, a fleeting thought. She tried to hear more, focus more, but the realization, he was waiting just behind her, was irritable and deconcentrating.

“I can’t hear anything worth saying. I can’t focus more. I do all what I can.”

At first, he didn’t reply to that, but after some minutes of stillness, he broke their contact. The sword fell from her hand, hitting the ground.


“You will train to listen. If you heard it, I would know. Pick that sword, or you step on it.”


She sighed. Oh yes. There they go.


The most impossible of teachers. The silliest of pupils.


But they h a v e to make this work. Do they have any other options?


Taking the sword again in her hand, she looked into the black sockets in his mask, where his eyes were burning. She straightened and waved a bit with the steel.


“Shall we continue?”


He scoffed, but his eyes squinted in joy. She almost felt that he is proud of her for not backing off, and tagging along with his messy teaching. She was sure – at least partially  – that she is the first gelfling he tries to train that way.


“Gelfling not tired?”

“I guess I can’t be tired.”


“Good response. Do I have your p e r mi s s i on to touch you?”


“Yes, Master. Of course.”


His tail waved around her ankles, to slap a bit over them and make her shift her position. She didn’t complain this time.


And so they trained until the suns were covered by thick rainclouds and the water started to pour on their heads.


But she was sure that in the future, that won’t stop him and they will train even in the thunderstorm. That thought – strangely – warmed her heart.

She will be guessing this night again, though, and she didn’t know what to do with it, how to really feel about the punishments he prepared for her if she went wrong; if to fear them or take them as training, whatever they will look like. And will he really capture her as his property when she fails last time? Would it be different than what’s going between them already? Strangely, the thought of being with the Hunter for longer than just one hunt made her reconsider all her priorities.

Her wings batted weakly, when the Hunter ordered a stop in their journey – he was preparing something, leaned over the large root, not even gazing at her, his fingers smoothly working over a thing she couldn’t see well.

Would it be really that  b a d ?

//   Article written by skekMal  //