Lukitt Bachman begins as a would-be scholar, ends as a murderer, with a dizzying array of adventures in between.
This is a novel about friendships made and lost, about the need to strive for a better life, about the terrible dilemmas Lukitt find himself in because of both.
Twenty odd huntsmen reining in their eager horses, forty odd boys behind them, two assigned to one, all waiting, eyes bright, hearts pumping, stamping their feet, rubbing their hands against the cold, other hands clutched about reins, about beating boards, everyone loading up: bags on backs, knapsacks around necks, guns on shoulders.
Lukitt focussing briefly on an ash tree that was growing all on its own midway between the lochan and forest, wondering how it had come to be there all alone.
Then came the signal they’d all been waiting for: the ooooo-eeeee whaooo-eeee coming from the horn sounded from the very top of the Graf’s tower, and they were off.
Front of the pack were the Graf and his oldest son, done up like woodcock in brown leather and muted velvet; next came the Groom-to-be in his yellow vest that shone in the early morning sun, boots flashing; Graf’s youngest son behind them, small and lithe, jumping up and down in his saddle: all heading towards the Eberswald, a sprinkle of frost creaking and crisp beneath their feet; breath of animals, huntsmen and beaters like a cloud fallen all about them; a few dogs whining in excitement as they strained against their leashes.
Everyone pouring from the castle down the trail that led to the lochan and from there into the Eberswald, each keeping to their own, everyone heading the same way: through the vast wood, from one end to the other, soon dissipating to their separate paths, calming as they went, as they concentrated: boar the main goal, but a few deer and birds not going amiss. Anything for the wedding feast, and the more the merrier.
Lukitt and Alameth following their instructions, veering off the main path to the lesser one their huntsman was taking, Lukitt going to the left, Alameth to the right, as planned. Two hours in and Alameth had lost his sense of direction, circling back unwittingly to the main path.
For Lukitt it went differently: strong smells in the morning of wet leaves and acorn mast beneath his feet, old foliage dropped, sweet scents of their rotting, fox musk catching in his throat; hearing the batter of beak on bark as woodpeckers fought to raise a final brood, clouds of gnats rising from the grass hovering in halos just above his head; intermittent scritlings and scratlings coming from the dark underbelly of the forest made by Lukitt knew not what. What he was aware of was the plan, and stuck to it rigidly, running head down along small paths between the trees, quick short whistle every five minutes to let his huntsman know where he was, getting the same in return. Nothing from Alameth, but Lukitt had to ignore that. This was all about the hunt and he battered his board with the best of them, running through the increasingly tangled undergrowth, eventually having to stop for a few minutes after crashing through a load of dying brambles that snagged him at every turn, needing to catch his breath, untangle himself.
He hears scattered pot shots reverberating through the woods, is reinvigorated by them, doesn’t want to be the one left behind, doesn’t want to let his huntsman down; crouches, takes a swig of water from the metal flask in his knapsack, brank-ursine high above his head with its large shiny leaves. Puts the canister back and then…stops. Hears a rustling to his left, strong musk in the air; he parts the leaves before his face: sees two great hairy boars, shoulders arched and strong, up-thrust tusks short and mean, bodies high at the head, low at the tail, each heavy, easily capable of stomping him into the mud, goring him through throat or belly where the skin is weakest, though both for now are focussed on each other, grunting, hooves pawing at the ground, hot breath going up in pluffs in the cold morning air, the fur along their spines horrent, small eyes black and vicious.
Lukitt keeps absolutely still.
Grizzle’s voice whispering in his head.
They’ll take you in a second, lads, if you’re standing in their way.
Keep low if you’re near them, and whatever you do don’t run. If they scent you you’re a gonner. Gotta take `em by surprise if they ain’t taking off on their own…
Lukitt concentrates on the words, on breathing slow and even, afraid to drop his hands in case he rustles the leaves, alerts them to his presence.
They’re moving, circling each other; snorting, stinking, clashing their teeth, angry with the rut and not about to leave; the blood withdrawing involuntarily from Lukitt’s skin to the depths of him, to the safest places it can go, the sudden loss from his extremities causing his hands to shake, the leaves to shiver, the slightest shift in the boars’ stance as they react to the changing circumstance and Lukitt knows it’s now or never.