Teaser – What Price Freedom

Prologue

Dubh Deamhan. 

The Black Demon.

The name whispered through the beast’s mind.  It knew very well that the villagers spoke of it in hushed tones, that they had named it.  It knew with all the intelligence of a human man that they considered it to be the incarnate of Lucifer on earth, a blight upon their village, a punishment for crimes as yet undiscovered.  It knew it was no such thing.  The only punishment to be delivered was upon the beast itself.

It roamed over the steep mountainsides and through the deep valleys, the full moon lighting its way as clearly as the brightest sunlight.  It padded through heather and over moss, unmolested by predators.  The only animals capable of troubling it were the wolf packs with which it shared the night time realm.  The beast looked like one of them, a lone wolf, a black wolf with ice-bright blue eyes that seemed to be lit with an unholy gleam.  The wolves were not fooled, though; they knew that the beast was not one of them.  They knew to leave it well enough alone.

The beast moved silently through the silver-edged darkness, heading towards the herd of Highland cattle.  It would renew the fury of the villagers if it were to kill one, and there was always a risk of serious injury when dealing with the stamping hooves and sharp horns; but the chase, the fight, would be worth it.  To immerse itself in the scent of the animal throughout the chase, to push itself to its limits to catch it, to feel the burst of hot blood and the tear of muscle and the crack of bone as it took it down; yes it would be worth it.

The beast prowled around the herd, staying downwind, choosing its target carefully.  A new aroma floated through the crisp air, distracting the beast.  The odour of a human, of a man.  If the beast had been inclined to make a sound, if it could have laughed, it would have.  Only a fool or a villain would be roaming these slopes and valleys at this time of night, especially under the glow of the full moon.  Curious, the beast changed its path, stalking the man rather than the animals.  Aided by its excellent sense of smell, its superior night vision and the bright moonlight, it had no difficulty in locating and observing the imprudent human.  Ah, a true prize this, a foolish villain.  The man must be of simple mind to think he could steal one of the head of cattle acting on his own.  He was stealthy, for a human, but it would not be enough to catch the herd unawares, and two legs would not be enough to chase them down.

The beast changed the target for its hunt.  Taking one of the cattle would bring the wrath of the village; taking a poacher would bring little notice at all, especially since the remains of the body would not be found for several more moons.  The beast positioned itself carefully.  Of course it could outrun the man, but that was no excuse for sloppiness.  It crept as close as possible, until the herd caught a waft of scent, or maybe just an innate notion of danger.  The raised heads of the cattle alerted the poacher to a new threat, but by then it was too late.  The beast made its charge, startling the cattle into a full stampede towards the opposite end of the valley.  The thief had not seen the beast yet, could not possibly discern it from the shadows, but he followed the cattle all the same, trying to outrun a nameless danger.

The chase was over far too quickly for the beast’s liking, but the fight was shorter and less perilous.  The rush of blood was as hot, the tear of flesh and muscle as juicy, the crack of bone as satisfying.  Sure that its prey was dead, the beast began to drag it through the heather, over crags and shale, to a higher point on the slopes of the treacherous hills where other humans would be sure not to visit for some time.  There was nothing for them in these bleak heights.  The beast wedged its meal behind a large boulder to prevent it rolling back down to the valley below, and began to eat.  The instinct of the beast overwhelmed the intelligence of the man.  It did not see this flesh as one of it fellow brethren, only as sustenance, as fulfilment.

Its feast completed, the remnants abandoned, the beast howled into the night, giving voice to its animal pride.  Around it, the gilded darkness was silent.

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