Chapter 1

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The boar fell, an arrow lodged just behind its shoulder. It kicked once, then was still.

Hamish allowed himself to breathe again. Precious few things were more dangerous than a wounded animal. He leapt across the fallen tree in his path, easily getting to the animal's side before the rest of his impromptu hunting party.

Close up, the size of the black-haired beast had him wishing he'd brought more men. The brute had given them a good run around as it was, leading them all over the forest of the western ranges, which was a challenge at the best of times. Getting the boar back through such terrain would be no small feat. The boar likely weighed as much as he did, if not more.

"By the Goddess' swollen tits," Ewan said as the rest of the farmers-turned-hunters reached the boar. He brushed back his dark hair. The day was young and, already, his hair clung in sweat-drenched clumps across his face. "Just look at the size of that monster. He's going to be a beast to carry."

The corner of Hamish's lip twitched at that. It would certainly feed a good number of the clan, perhaps even make up for the sheep they'd lost to the beast's tusks. If the five of them were able to get the whole carcass back to the farm, which seemed unlikely. "Are we certain this is the beast?" He'd never seen such a large boar descend from these woods and had been hesitant to bring so few into a hunt without proper preparation. His reservations had ebbed somewhat after seeing the downed fences. It would take a good-sized boar to break through the railing they'd passed downhill.

"Aye, this is the brute. See this here?" Ewan extended his spear and gave the boar a nudge in the belly. There were two prominent scratches along the animal's sides, about the right height for fence rails. "If this isnae the bastard that broke me fences, then he's keeping bad company."

"What does it matter now?" muttered one of the other men as he drew his hunting knife. "He's nae going to get any less dead, might as well get to gutting him before the bears come sniffing." The man bent over the boar's head before pausing and glancing back at Hamish. "I'd clean forget me head if it wasnae attached." He offered up his knife hilt first. "First cut goes to you, your highness."

Hamish took up the man's knife and made a swift cut across the boar's throat. Everyone knew not to take their chances with these brutes, especially when those tusks were sharp and a good doctor was some hour's march away.

It took the five of them manhandling the carcass, largely due to the fact they had to roll the beast onto its other side so gravity would help in the gutting. It left Hamish hot, sweaty and not the least bit covered in pig's blood. If ever there was a time to not get an itchy nose, this had to be one of them.

Done, they stood back and stared at the gutted beast. Usually, Hamish would have no qualms in chucking a smaller boar or deer over his shoulders and marching home with it, but this brute was nothing like the smaller prey on the edge of the woods. Seems a shame to leave anything behind.

"What I'd give for a cart," one of the farmers muttered.

Hamish glanced over his shoulder at where the steward, Lyall, sat upon his horse, clutching the reins of Hamish's own heavy steed. The animals had a hard time traipsing through this rough terrain without the hindrance of a cart. "I guess we lop off the good bits and be on our way."

"And—what?—leave the rest for the bears?" Ewan asked, his brows raised in incredulous horror. "Forgive me, your highness, but this winter's already been lean and me wife will go spare over the fact I'm leaving the offal behind. If I leave the bones too..." He shook his head, likely imagining his wife voicing her opinion.

"We're nae exactly equipped for carrying out everything." Not easily. None of them had been expecting to chase the damned sheep-gorer at all, let alone deep into the forest. They had no packs, no extra horses, not even a sledge. Even if they quartered the blasted thing, they would be trotting off to Ewan's home with the chunks balanced on their shoulders. Not the best position to be in if they came across a spring-hungry bear.

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