Harald by Deaglan Godwin

The haunting, unwavering howls of wolves penetrated the cold crisp air, burying into the souls of both animal and man
alike. Even the trees seemed to shiver in fear as they stood defiant against the icy wind. This same icy wind bore
relentlessly on Harald’s bare cheeks, his face numb. He held his axe with a grip as tight as the one that winter held upon
this world. His knuckles went as white as the snow, which covered everything like a thick, white blanket, except this
blanket kept the cold in and the heat out. He had a determined, gritty look on his pale face, he looked like a man
desperate for a solution. He had not eaten in nearly a day and his stomach grumbled like a beast, waiting to be fed.
He lowered down into a crouching position and surveyed the faint tracks imprinted into the soft snow. Elk. A male one
as well. Enough meat for two weeks and the antlers would fetch a nice price…. He snapped out of his thought and rediverted
his attention back to the tracks. They were fresh, maybe only two hours old. He was close, really close. Buoyed
by his findings, he jumped back up and continued, slowly following the footprints, which would, at last, bring him to
food.
Soon the clues to the whereabouts of his prey became more abundant. Broken twigs and branches, groans and faint
drops of blood, the red a sharp contrast to the white snow. His prey was clearly wounded. Gradually, the groans became
louder and the amount of blood, greater. As he inched closer to his prey, the howls of the wolves became more frequent.
Harald was now all too aware that it was race between him and nature.
By the time Harald had caught up with the elk, its condition was worse than he had originally thought. It staggered
around as if it was intoxicated, occasionally bumping into a tree or rock. Yet, Harald kept his distance, aware that it was
when it was at its most vulnerable, that it posed the biggest threat. He slowly reached into his quiver, cautious not to
make the slightest noise and notched his arrow with the upmost care. Just as he was about to let go, his foot came into
contact with a small twig, the snap loud enough for it to garb the attention of the wounded elk. Alert, the elk suddenly
switched its gaze towards Harald. After a few tense moments, the elk twitched its nose, gave a small sniff of air and
continued on. Harald, his body firmly pressed against the snow-laden ground, gave a heavy sigh of relief. Before Harald
could fire the fatal shot, the elk collapsed into a pool of blood, its previous injuries taking the ultimate toll. Harald
rushed over to the dying elk, its low, faint groans saddening. For a moment, Harald could feel the elk’s pain. As Harald
prepared to deliver the final blow, the elk gave out one last groan, almost one of acceptance. Harald made the blow
swift.
Soon, though, Harald faced a much different dilemma. He had no idea how to lug his catch home. His bag would only
carry so much and so he was faced with a difficult choice; take some now and hope to come back for more, or leave it
and come back prepared. But before he could make a choice, his train of thought was interrupted by yet another wolf
howl. Yet, this was louder than the previous ones and then it dawned on Harald. He was not the only predator the elk
had attracted. Suddenly, the choice of how to lug the food homes seemed a lot less important.
He could only catch glimpses of them, flashes of grey between the trees. They were absolutely silent, the ultimate
predator. They worked like a well-drilled team, each knowing what the others were thinking. Though Harald was not
fully aware of their exact locations, he had the feeling they were encircling him and it would not be long before they
began to attack. His right hand clutched at his battle axe, ready to draw it when necessary. His feet sunk into the soft
snow and poor Harald was consigned to stand his ground. Above him, the sky darkened, as if the sun was hiding behind
the clouds, not wishing to watch the slaughter, which was about to take place.
As if from nowhere, the first wolf appeared, snarling ferociously at Harald. Its eyes gleamed with bloodlust, as it licked
its lips feverishly. Smelling the fear bubbling inside of Harald, the wolf pounced on him, only to met with a decisive
block from Harald’s axe. It only took a clean slice to send the wolf to its icy grave but before he had time to rest,
another one pounced at him from behind. Harald, almost instinctively, met it with one large swing of his axe, sending
the wolf’s head and body flying in different directions. Gradually, the wolves began to attack in pairs and Harald’s
battle axe was a merely a blur. He blocked up, down, left, right, all while trying to launch his own attacks. Harald knew
that he could not keep it up, soon he would collapse in sheer exhaustion. The hunter becoming the prey. Realising this,
Harald concentrated all his energy on the fight and soon, he was not the one deflecting attack after attack but rather
launching barrage of attacks. Gradually, he forced the wolves into a retreat, though at a cost. He was littered with
wounds and deep gashes. Yet more snow fell from the heaven, Harald felt a sense of peace befall him as the adrenaline
retreated from his veins. He felt a sense of victory, a feeling he would have right up until he collapsed into the soft snow
and let the the cold take him far away. Far, far away.

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