“Reid!” shouted Macmitchell from the fence.
Qadira Neilson turned around. She could see the old man standing there. He had come up alone, only his stag hitched to the fence beside him.
“Macmitchell, greetings,” shouted Neilson in return, “What can we do you for?”
At Neilson’s greeting, Ulkrit Reid stepped out of their lodge. He was an intimidating yeti. Standing a solid 7 feet tall and with strong square soldiers, he even had to duck through their lodging door. He was wiping his hands clean with a bloodied rag.
“Horace, you old dog,” he shouted.
“Reid, I must have a word with you and the girl,” said Macmitchell, “I’m afraid I have need of your services.”
“My services?” answered Reid, who walked down to the fence to meet the man.
Neilson turned and ensured the door to the Mews were firmly hitched shut before she walked down to join them. Reid was already questioning Macmitchell.
“It’s this coyote,” he started, “He’s taken three sheep already. I can’t keep losing them at this rate.”
“Easy, Coyote? A Wolf?”
“No, that’s just the thing,” said Macmitchell, “It’s a big coyote. Must me up from the mountains. Appeared around the time of that heat wave a week or so back. His way home must be blocked. He comes down from the mountains I ‘spect and has at my sheep.”
“Can you not handle a coyote on your own, Horace?”
“Not with just myself and my Nordenhund,” said Macmitchell, “However, a couple of fine Aegor could go up against one with experienced hunters.”
“I’m sure a single Coyote is no problem,” said Neilson.
“A single one, yes, even a big one,” said Reid, “But with Coyotes there’s never just one. How are you sure he’s alone?”
“I know what I saw,” said Macmitchell, “Please. I am practically begging before you.”
“Rest easy,” said Reid, “The girl has needed a hunt for some time. We will see what we can do about your Coyote problem.”
“I will be much obliged, Reid,” said Macmitchell, “Skolig.”
“We will pack up and head over to your pasture,” said Reid.
“I will be waiting,” said Macmitchell turning on his heels and walking to his stag.
With effort he didn’t seem capable of, Macmitchell mounted his stag and clicked to him to pull him away. With a final wave he was trotting down the road the way he had come.
Reid turned to Neilson, nodding to her, “Finish your chores then help me load the Aviary Wagon. I hope your rifle’s clean.”
“I’m ready,” said Neilson, hurrying off to prepare for the hunt.
The blood was only slightly warm. They should have been faster. The lamb, if it was still young enough to be called that, had only been dead for a moment or two.
They had heard the gunshots as they approached Macmitchell’s farm. They hurried onwards to get their faster, finding an upset Macmitchell grasping a double barreled shotgun. He had told them the coyote had struck again, this time taking one of the heard into the woods.
Reid stood up from the corpse of the lamb. The coyote couldn’t have gone too far, but he did have a lot of ground on them. Reid turned and approached the Aviary Wagon.
The wagon was hitched to a full grown ram. Although it was small for a wagon, it still have four wheels and a single bench for a driver. In the back was a domed cage covered in tarps. Inside, four sections housed several eagles. A large box held some of their hunting equipment, and it was to this Reid walked to.
Throwing open the box, he plunged his hand into a large leather gauntlet. This armored glove strapped all the way up his forearm to his elbow. It was layered in thick leather, and bore scars of talon marks. After strapping in, he flexed his fingers. Reid turned to eye Neilson, who wasn’t paying attention.
She was eyeing the forest, pacing her Great Horned Doe back and forth. She cradled a lever action rifle with a beautiful wooden stock that had a red tint to the wood.
“You should be watching,” said Reid, strapping a leather pouch to his belt and taking out a lure on a long twine rope from the box, “This could be a big deal for you.”
“I’m watching,” said Neilson.
“I meant the Aegor,” said Reid, “We’re here to hunt a predator. It’s your first hunt of this kind.”
“I know, I’m ready,” said Neilson.
“You are an accomplished hunter, but you are a fledgling of an Austringer,” said Reid, “You did not train under me so I could praise your rifle skills.”
Reid threw open one of the cage doors and reached into it with his gloved hand. All at once, a large winged creature leapt onto the gauntlet, and he was carefully pulling out the beast.
He pulled out a massive brown eagle. The Aegor, lovingly called the ‘Titanian Swallow’. The creature was easily 3 feet tall and its massive talons gripped into his gauntlet. It had massive wings still folded up, covering a leather harness around the bird’s foot. It’s head had a leather helm over it, but instead of blinder’s over the eyes, the large, golden eyes stared out into the forest around it. The bird stood to its full height, allowing the cool breeze to ruffle its feathers.
Reid barely showed signs of pain as he pulled out the massive raptor. He locked the cage door with the other hand and expertly walked to the seat of the wagon, climbing upon it without upsetting the eagle. He stared out into the wood before sniffing through his nose loudly.
“Let’s go,” Reid commanded, and on cue the Ram pulled forward.
They made their way into the forest and the only sound was the squeaking of the cart’s wheels. Instantly the eagle tensed and its head began to twitch around as it took in the forest around it.
As they rode, Reid began strapping small metal spikes to each of the eagles massive talons. The eagle took notice, watching him with keen eyes. When he had finished with the difficult task he reached up and began to untie the eagle’s cap, and took the cap off. The eagle tensed ever more, its wings spread slightly and flapping.
This small gesture told the trained eagle one thing, they were out for big prey. Massive prey. It would not be searching for rabbits or rodents. Reid also tensed with the gesture, almost wincing as the raptor’s powerful talons dug further into the glove, threatening to puncture right through.
Neilson carefully went out ahead. Her rifle still sat against her arms, but she was careful to watch her deer. Her deer would be able to sense danger before she could. Neilson felt her steady breathing and careful footsteps between her thighs and her eyes scanned the woods ahead.
It didn’t take very long for them to find the trail of the creature. Whatever it was, it had taken off rather quickly, and it left a worn trail through the forest. Reid had allowed them to get some distance away from the farm.
After a few hours, the brush began to give way, and the space between the trees opened up. The forest began to look beautiful, like a banquet hall full of columns. The way the sun’s rays filtered through the canopy. Birds chittered and squawked, spooked by the arrival of the massive eagle.
They reached a small hill, going down into a valley. Through the trees, they could see out, into the forest below. In the distance, they could see the Hoganmar Mountain range. Reid slowed them, giving the ram and the deer a small rest. With a click and a whistle, the eagle spread its massive wings. With a snap of his fingers, Reid unclipped the eagle from a leash.
The eagle didn’t need a further cue. With a flap of its wings and a jump, it was in the air gliding away. The wings spread out wide, noiselessly grabbing the air. With a single flap, the eagle was pushed higher into the air and it rocketed away, into the trees.
Reid pushed them onward, and the small team began their descent into the small valley. Overhead, the shadow of the eagle began to circle. The hunt had truly begun. Now the eagle, with its eyes, could start scanning the forest.
Reid grunted and tossed a finger off to the left. His curt point Neilson understood, and she moved her deer into the direction he had indicated. They were splitting up.
They moved like this for several hours. Neilson could just barely see the wagon off to her right. As she moved, she got excited. She had picked up a trail again, and this one had small bits of wool. Possibly from sheep. She kept her eyes peeled.
The eagle above would disappear now and then, but never going far. It caught sight of some prey every so often, but never appeared to hunt it. It still soared above the canopy.
Reid dismounted the wagon and walked alongside the ram. His eyes jumped between scanning the sky and scanning the surrounding forest.
All at once, the eagle dove. The sudden motion caught Reid’s eye. He watched the blur disappear into the trees, and he lost it. He grabbed the reins of the ram and started in that direction, giving the eagle a little time before he whistled for Neilson.
Neilson heard the sharp whistle and turned to follow. About a half out later, they found the eagle. He was on a young fawn. The deer struggled to stand, but the eagle’s large talons were sunk deep into its neck. Even as it kicked on the ground, the eagle was tearing at its eyes with its massive beak.
Reid sighed, but did nothing. He waited as the bird ate. Neilson rolled her eyes, and turned her steed away before it got spooked. After a few moments more, Reid approach and dug a large dagger into the fawn, ensuring it suffered no more. He allowed the eagle to eat quite a bit before he coaxed it onto his glove and cut off a small bit of the deer meat.
Reid brought the eagle back to the mobile aviary, and opened the cage door once more. He allowed the eagle to go inside, and, with skill, he slipped the eagle’s leather hood back over it. He left the extra meat inside the cage for the eagle to tear at, and he very carefully removed the metal bits from around its claws. When he had finished, he back away and locked the cage door.
“At least we have a fawn,” said Neilson, “His sheep can rest peacefully tonight.”
“It’s not your place to criticize an Aegor,” said Reid, “At least he had a successful hunt this day.”
“If we don’t hurry up, we won’t have anything this day,” said Neilson, pointing to the sun, “It’ll be dark soon.”
“We still got plenty of time,” said Reid, “We’re getting to the mountain soon enough.”
Reid took off his large gauntlet and motioned at Neilson.
Neilson sighed, before dismounting her deer and placing her rifle in a saddle holster.
“Suit up, get your partner,” said Reid as she did so, “It’s your turn, apprentice.”
“We could find this thing faster if we kept moving,” said Neilson, but she reached into a saddle bag and procured a similar leather gauntlet just the same.
“I was unaware you had the eyes of an Aegor, Qadira. I suppose you can easily have this beast by nightfall,” Reid changed his tone, getting annoyed, “The bird might like to stretch their wings, just the same. Don’t lose sight of why you are here.”
“We are here to hunt down a coyote,” said Neilson, “To prevent further loss of lambs.”
“I am here for this,” said Reid, “But yourself, young Pook, are here for a successful first hunt, together. It would be a shame for you to soil the Aegor’s chances.”
Neilson angrily finished strapping on her gauntlet, and she retrieved her own eagle.
Her eagle was much smaller. Being a younger bird, it made sense. He had a small orange patch on his chest showing through the dominantly brown feathers. Neilson had to catch him herself in order to train him. They had been working on their bond and training for nearly two years.
Mounting her steed again, she removed the eagle’s leather cap and began to fumble with the metal spikes for his talons. The whole time the eagle looked around the forest eagerly.
After nearly a half hour of struggling, Neilson let out a large sigh. This was Reid’s signal to come assist.
"Remember how we train them," said Reid, "If they catch a fox or a fawn-"
"I know how to do this," said Neilson, "Let them feed on big game. If they catch small game like squirrels or birds take them away. Don't let them feed. Reinforce the training."
"Alright," said Reid, "I want you succeed as much as you want you to succeed. Let's work together out here."
Neilson sighed before nodding. Her eagle didn't seem to notice as its eyes scanned the trees and brush hungrily. In a few moments more, Reid's two hands could do what Neilson's one hand couldn't and the eagle was armed and ready to go. In a quick movement, Neilson removed the eagle's lather cap and the hunt was on.
Neilson cursed under her breath. She came across her eagle once more beak deep in a rabbit. Neilson kneeled to grab the kill from its talons before it had eaten any more then it already had. The eagle screeched, pulling the kill closer and snapping its beak at Neilson.
"Stupid Aegor," spat Neilson, "We're looking for a wolf!"
"Qadira," said Reid, running up from behind her, "Leave it. Enough is enough."
"It's gone and nabbed another hare," spat Neilson.
"If you keep taking the catch from him he'll lose months of trust you've built up," said Reid, "Let him have it. I think we're losing out on this day."
Neilson cursed under her breath, and she sat on the ground. The hawk must've sensed the defeat in the action as it happily dug into the small rabbit once more, the metal talons easily slicing through sinew and bone. The sun was beginning to set, and all they had been able to get out of her eagle was three squirrels and two rabbits. The training didn't match the hunger the younger eagle had, so they had failed.
Reid frowned, but watched as the eagle grabbed what was left of the rabbit and swallow it in a last act. Looking at his depressed pupil, he eyed the wagon carefully.
"Perhaps it is time for Mother," he said, almost a mumble to himself, "One last go before heading back."
"One more chance," demanded Neilson, not raising her eyes to meet his, "Maybe with a snack he'll be more focused."
Reid almost contradicted her, but he stopped himself short. Instead, he said nothing as the eagle began to look around the forest once more.
"Get to it," said Reid.
Neilson stood back up, catching the eyes of her Aegor. She clicked at it before pointing into the forest. Although not an actual command trained into the Eagle, he got the point. At the command his head was turned back into the forest, and his wings spread and he took to the sky again.
This time he did not go far, even being so bold as landing on tree branches and resting as Neilson caught up. Neilson was now walking beside her deer. Her rifle was at her side, but she held it limply as her own eyes scanned the surrounding forest for movement.
It was only 20 minutes later when the Aegor rose above the canopy and flapped quickly forward, almost causing Neilson to lose sight of it. She watched it soar ahead before it circled an area up ahead twice. With a scream, it quickly descended, falling into the forest once more.
Neilson took off to follow, leading her deer behind her. As she came up on her eagle, her heart leapt as she saw the body of a big creature lying up ahead. Blood was everywhere and she could see the stained body and her eagle atop of it. She ran ahead.
The eagle was sitting on the body of a sheep. Its wool was stained with blood and cast about. Neilson brought her rifle to bear, her eyes looking around the forest.
Reid was following behind as quickly as the cart would allow. Seeing the sheep, he abandoned the Ram and rushed forward, feeling the sheep's body.
"It's still warm," said Reid, "That Coyote can't be far."
"That way," pointed Neilson.
She saw a trail leading away. The creature must've been spooked and was heading towards the mountain. Reid knelt and began removing the metal spikes from the eagle as he ate at the leftovers of the sheep.
"If we hurry, we might catch him," said Neilson.
"He hasn't gone far," said Reid, "Most likely watching us right now, weighing his odds."
"I don't see him."
Reid weighed the talons in his hand, eyeing the forest himself.
"Pack him up," said Reid, "It's time for Mother."
"We are losing light," said Reid, "No arguments. We must act now."
While Neilson gathered up her eagle, Reid approached the cart once more, and retrieved another eagle. Mother was a special eagle. She had come to Reid years prior, fully grown. She was waiting by a trap of a new eagle, and she was keeping the eagle calm and company. When Reid retrieved them, she had come of her own free will as well. The next few weeks showed she learned to trust Reid quickly, and she learned commands at a rate that made Reid believe she was previously trained a released. However she would always find her way back to Reid when he tried to release her.
Now, as Reid slipped her out of her cage, Mother was the oldest Aegor Reid had, but by far the most dependable and trained. Reid easily strapped the metal claws to the eagle's feet and he prepared to set her lose. The sky was beginning to turn orange, and they were losing daylight. By the time Neilson was struggling to get her eagle's lather cap back on Reid had slipped the leather cap off Mother and held her aloft.
Mother did not fly off right away. She scanned the forest with her eyes and even eyed the sheep on the ground nearby. After a moment or two longer, she spread her massive wings and launched into the sky. With a few flaps of her wings, she was above the canopy and off into the sky.
Neilson struggled to get her eagle inside the wagon as Reid was already preparing to leave. Without even a sound, Reid pointed outward and Mother spread her wings. Without a sound, she was airborne and above the forest canopy. Reid didn't even wait for the cage to close when he clocked and jostled the reins and the ram moved forward.
Neilson slammed the cage shut and ran for her doe. Grabbing the reigns, she took off ahead, spreading out towards the mountains.
Mother, above, flew in a different pattern then the other two Aegor before her. She systematically flew in a circle, careful to widen it with each pass. She seemed to be able to keep an eye, or an ear, out for Reid below, who would move forward and put out a short, clipped whistle every so often.
They hadn't been doing it for a moment when she let out a scream, and flapped back above the two hunters. She circled tightly twice before flying off towards the south west.
The hunt was on.
Reid clicked again, sending the Ram into a short trot and Neilson was quick to run off in the same direction as the eagle. She thumbed the safety off her rifle and flicked up her sights.
Cresting a hill, Neilson found herself slipping down a ledge slick with dead leaves. The short ledge went down into a small, rocky area leading to the mountain. The trees were beginning to look shorter and thinner. Bushes and brush were beginning to litter the forest floor once more.
She could see it. Ratted grey fur. Long, knobby legs. Snarling, bloodied teeth. The coyote scanned the sky, trying to track the large Aegor circling it. The eagle dived, raking its claws across the back of the coyote. The coyote let out a pained bark, but its teeth missed the eagle as he retaliated.
Neilson came to a stop jamming her foot into the base of a tree. She stayed on one knee and brought her rifle up to bear. This was it. This was the creature. This was her chance. She carefully took aim at the coyote, adjusting her sights as she calculated the distance.
"Qadira, do you see it?" yelled Reid from behind.
Neilson lined up her shot with the coyote's chest. The eagle screeched out. Neilson began to apply pressure to the trigger.
The hammer raced down, slapping down.
Neilson's eyes widened. The rifle had jammed. She pulled the lever to eject the shell but if got stuck halfway through. The bullet in the shell was stuck. Neilson panicked, desperately trying to force the bullet out.
"Qadira, the Aegor!" shouted Reid. He sounded closer.
The eagle soared at the coyote again, its talons raking into the coyote's eyes. Grabbing the snout fiercely, the eagle dug into the coyote's eye and blinded it. The coyote shouted out in pain, but was able to scratch at the eagle with a paw.
Neilson struggled with her receiver lever. The bullet wouldn't budge. She slammed it harder and harder.
"It's jammed!" she screamed.
The eagle let out a pained scream. It flapped to the ground a little bit away from the coyote, and held out its wings menacingly. However its right wing wasn't extended as much as the left, and the bird was avoiding putting weight on the right foot as well.
The coyote snarled, peering through one bloodied eye at the eagle.
Reid bounded past Neilson like a raging storm. Neilson looked up to see him charging down to the coyote. Reid held an old, curved battle ax in his hand. It must have been the old one he kept under the bench on the wagon. That ax was older then he was.
Lifting it above his head with both hands, Reid grunted with the effort of throwing the ax forward with great force. Silently it flew through the air spinning end over end. As the Coyote knelt to strike the ax hit it just behind the shoulder.
The coyote whined in pain, being tossed down with the sudden force. In a blink of an eye Reid was on top of him. He ripped the ax out of the creature and swung it in a circle in one hand. With the momentum gained, Reid brought the ax down swiftly on the coyote's neck, beheading it in one swing.
With that the forest went eerily silent again. Reid breathed laboriously and dropped to his knees. His eyes seemed squeezed shut. Neilson slowly made her way down the incline towards the coyote.
Reid looked to Mother, who was staring at him and the coyote back and forth. Reid held out his hand to the ground, clicking lightly to her. She limped forward and grasped at his hand. Reid lifted Mother up and placed her on the corpse of the coyote. The eagle began to hungrily dig into the meat, crying out with pained movements of their feet. As they did so, Reid skillfully removed the metal talons to make it easier on the eagle.
Neilson walked up, cradling her rifle.
"Failure," said Reid, "You lost focus, you didn't trust your partner, and you failed."
"My gun jammed," murmured Neilson.
"You almost got her killed! You have missed the whole point of bringing you out here today!"
At Reid's raised voice, mother looked up from her feasting and cawed. It watched the two of them arguing with wide eyes.
"That stupid rifle isn't what hunting is about," shouted Reid, "You came to me to learn to hunt. To truly hunt. You wanted to be an Austringer. You refuse to take care of your partner as much as they will take care of you."
"It would've been fine if this didn't-"
"But it did, Qadira," said Reid, "And since it did you needed to act quickly to protect your Aegor."
Neilson turned around, glaring into the forest. They stayed like that for some time. Finally, Reid stood and cut off some bits of the Coyote. Picking up Mother, he tossed the corpse of the coyote over over shoulder and grabbed its severed head. He walked passed Neilson and began the trek up the hill to the cart.
"Let's go," said Reid, quietly but hard, "Light some lanterns. We have to get back and get our payment."
Neilson sniffed away her growing despair and followed Reid up the hill. She said nothing as she did so as her eyes couldn't leave the injured eagle.