Tale of the Poisoned Lake
by Matt Ingoldby
It so happened that a Hunter, who had been lost in the wild Forest for many days with but one arrow left in his quiver, was searching for some source of food or freshwater by which he and his horse might survive the night in their depleted state.
By good fortune, the Hunter came upon a secret glade in which a lake of clear water shimmered in the afternoon sun. His horse bowed its tired head and joyfully began to sip, whereupon it suddenly fell dead at the Hunter’s feet. The Hunter perceived the water was poisoned, and determined not to drink it.
Some crows and other birds had watched the horse expire, and swooped upon it, plucking out its eyes with their beaks. The Hunter shooed them away, then thought, “If I cannot drink, perhaps I can still eat.” And he aimed his last arrow at the flock, but they were too quick and flew away.
Lamenting his horse and his own sorry state, the Hunter headed back into the trees, following the flight path of the birds. He was a skilled Hunter, and found the tree where the crows roosted before the sun had fully died. What’s more, a particularly plump and juicy crow had settled on the ground close to where he hid. But even before he drew his bowstring, an agile fox (also a hunter of the Forest) sprang upon the bird, biting its neck and spiriting her prey off into the darkening trees.
The desperate Hunter gave chase, but with faded strength he soon lost the animal. Then he heard a SNAP, and followed the noise to a cluster of bushes. He saw the fox had been caught in a spring-trap.
“My luck improves!” the Hunter thought as he approached the trap. But before he could reach it a red-cheeked, feral-eyed trapper appeared, who briskly made off with his prize, whistling. The Hunter called out, but his voice was too hoarse to be heard; he pursued the trapper, but his feet were too slow and heavy to catch up with him; so he brought to bear all his hunting skills and dying strength to follow the trapper’s trail through the black Forest.
At length he staggered in sight of a modest cottage in a small glade, evidently the trapper’s home by the boots on the doorstep and the stream of smoke from the chimney. The Hunter was positioned to knock on the door and beg for a share of the trapper’s meal, without which he surely would not live past midnight, when he glimpsed through the window the trapper snoozing by the fire, the empty bones of the full fox arranged on a plate before him. Despairing, the Hunter snuck around the cottage to the kitchen door, and entered silently; but the cupboards and hideaways were all bare. Before the gurgles of his stomach could give him away, he cocked his bow and crept up behind the dozing trapper and sank the bolt through his back, piercing his heart.
In mortal haste the Hunter fell upon his prey, biting the still-warm flesh and swallowing each sweet chunk whole.
At last he felt sated, and raising his head from the trapper’s breast saw then the bones of the fox on the plate were oddly corroded. At once he understood the fox had been poisoned, poisoned by the crow into whose neck she had bitten, poisoned by the horse at whose eye it had pecked; and as the Hunter’s returned strength dropped away he knew, too, the trapper had been dead before the arrow had entered his heart. A bear entered the cottage the next day, sniffing out food for her cubs.
Matt Ingoldby works as a copywriter in the UK. His stories have appeared in The Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Adelaide Literary Magazine, The Next Review, the Lowestoft Chronicle, Crimson Streets, the Charleston Review, Millhaven Press and various anthologies, working his way up to a novel. He is an active member of the Waterloo Theatre Group, and a keen runner. He currently lives in London.