Red Tape

They had appeared from the gathered mists which caressed the moor’s peaks. Individually at first, timid and unsure, but soon in greater numbers. They came on horses: monstrous black beasts. Fire sparked and flared around the creatures’ hooves. The sodden grass was scorched beneath their feet.

The hounds started to arrive, padding around the horses to greet each other with low growls. A show of dominance and submission. The establishment of pack hierarchy. Besides the occasional bark, whine or nicker, the moors were silent. The riders were silent.

The riders eyed each other. Many went back to the beginning, to the first hunts, but they never spoke. They sat, upright in their saddles and waited.

There were thousands littering the gentle peaks when the mists parted.

He loomed like a shadow over them. The twisted horns, a mark of his office, high upon his head. Horses reared at his appearance, whinnied and snorted hot air in condensed plumes around them. Wispy patterns like smoke-rings. The hounds pressed themselves flat against the rough grass, ears low, mouths turned up in snarls of sharp teeth.

Every face turned to look at him and he raised a golden horn to his lips, cheeks filled with air.

‘Excuse me, sir,’ came a gravelly voice. The huntsman lowered the horn and lowered his gaze.

A uniformed police officer stood at the horse’s flank, one gloved hand on its reigns. The radio fixed to his shoulder chirped. He cupped it against his face and acknowledged the message.

‘Yes?’ The huntsman growled. Flames licked behind his black eyes.

The police officer shot him a look of his own and that look said: ‘I’m bored and frozen and now you bloody toffs have given me more paperwork.’

‘May I ask what you’re doing here this evening?’ he asked, with a gesture that indicated the assembly.

‘We’re hunting.’

‘Hunting, sir? With the dogs, sir?’

‘Aye.’

‘I see,’ the officer reached into his pocket and produced a worn, black notebook. ‘May I take your name, sir?’

‘Erm…’ the huntsman paused, glancing left to right. Those nearest him wouldn’t meet his eyes. ‘I am known by many names.’

‘Refused to provide name,’ he enunciated each word as it was recorded in the notebook. ‘What are you hunting tonight, sir?’

The huntsman was on firmer ground now. He learned down, his face level with the officer’s. Dark eyes bore into him.

‘Humans,’ he snarled. His face splitting into a vicious smile.

The assembly roared delightedly. The dogs howled.

‘I see, sir,’ the officer nodded. ‘You do know that it’s an offence to hunt wild mammals with dogs, don’t you sir?’

The smile vanished.

‘Really? Since when?’

‘2005, sir. Now, please step down from the horse. We need to have a little chat down at the station,’ the officer gave a smile of his own and said something into the radio. Blue lights were visible through the mist. ‘And take those bloody horns off before I book you under the Offensive Weapons Act.’

 

W is for the Wild Hunt

The Wild Hunt features heavily in the ancient folklore of Europe and is seen as a portent of catastrophe, war or plague. Dependent on the country of origin, the Hunt is made up from the rank and file of Hell, wild fae and spirits, or from knights of the court of King Arthur. The huntsmen chase their quarry, typically a human female, with unrelenting vigour and return with them to the realm of the dead. The only way to survive the Wild Hunt is to join its ranks.

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