Monday, June 29, 2009

1.21.1


Game wardens under the direction of the head huntsman placed the hunters in a long row at the edge of the forest, in such a way that while being hidden they had open space for shooting from their bows or crossbows. Nets were fastened along two sides of the glade, and behind these were the men whose duty it was to turn the beasts toward the hunters, or to kill them with spears if they became entangled in the nets. Many of the locals were sent to drive every living thing from the depths of the forest into the glade. Behind the hunters there was another net stretched; if an animal passed the row of hunters, it would be entangled in it and easily killed.

The duke was standing in the middle in a small ravine, which extended through the entire width of the glade. The head huntsman had chosen that position because he knew that the largest beasts would use this ravine. The duke had a crossbow in his hands and a heavy spear leaning on a tree beside him. Few steps behind him stood two bodyguards with huge axes, and crossbows ready to be handed to the prince should he need them.

The duchess and Danusia did not dismount, because the duke would not permit that. He reasoned that it was easier to escape the fury of large beasts like urus or bison on horseback than on foot. De Lorche, although invited by the duke to take a position at his right hand, asked permission to remain with the ladies for their protection. Zbyszko drove his spear into the snow, put his crossbow on his back and stood by Danusia's horse, whispering to her and sometimes kissing her. He became quiet only when head huntsman, who in the forest would scold even the duke himself, ordered him to be silent.

In the meanwhile, far in the depths of the wilderness, the hunters’ horns were heard and another horn answered from the glade, then perfect silence followed. The hunters looked at the snow-covered glade, where only the wind moved the bushes, and wondered what kind of animals would first appear. They expected abundant game, because the wilderness was swarming with urus, bisons and boars. The locals had also smoked out from their dens several bears, which were hungry and angry because their sleep was interrupted.

But the hunters had to wait a while, because the men who were driving the animals toward the glade, had taken a very large part of the forest. They were so far away that the hunters did not even hear the baying of the dogs that had been let loose.

After a while small pack of wolves appeared on the edge of the forest, but sensing people, they again plunged into the forest, evidently searching for another pass. Then several boars emerged from the woods running in a long line. They stopped and listened. Turned and listened again, turned back, but sensing people coming behind them turned and went toward the trap, snorting and approaching more and more carefully. Finally there was a clatter of the iron triggers of the crossbows, the snarl of the bolts and then the first blood spotted the white snow.

There was a squealing and the whole pack dispersed as if struck by a lightning. Some of them rushed blindly straight ahead, others ran toward the nets, while still others mixed with the animals that just came out the woods. The sounds of the horns mingled with the howling of the dogs and the bustle of the people coming from the depths of the forest. The wild beasts of the forest driven by the huntsmen soon filled the glade. It was impossible to see anything like that anywhere else. Nowhere else was such large primeval forest anymore as in Masovia. The Knights, who saw in Lithuania bisons attacking an army and causing confusion to its ranks, were astonished at the great number of such beasts. Sir de Lorche was even more astonished.

The duchess shot arrow after arrow, shouting with joy when a deer or an elk was struck and fell heavily. Some of the ladies-in-waiting were also shooting their arrows, because they all caught the fever of the sport. Only Zbyszko did not participate in the hunt. He planted his elbows on Danusia's knees and his head on the palms of his hands and looked into her eyes. She was smiling and blushing and tried to close his eyelids with her fingers, as if she could not stand his stare.

Suddenly De Lorche's attention was attracted by an enormous bear, which jumped out unexpectedly from the thicket near the hunters. The prince shot at it from his crossbow, and then rushed forward with his boar-spear; when the animal roaring frightfully, reared, he pierced it with his spear in the presence of the whole court so deftly and so quickly, that neither of the bodyguards needed to use his axe.

The young foreigner doubted that few of the other lords, at whose courts he had visited during his travels, would dare to amuse themselves in such a way, and believed that the Order would have hard work to conquer such rulers and such people. Later on he saw the other hunters kill in the same way, many boars much larger and fiercer than any that ever saw in German forests. He has never before seen such expert hunters with such strength. He concluded, being a man of some experience, that these people living in the boundless forests, had been accustomed from childhood to use the crossbow and the spear; consequently they were very good in using them.

The glade was finally covered with the dead bodies of many different kinds of animals; but the hunt was not finished. In fact, the most interesting and also the most dangerous moment was coming, because the hunters had met a herd of urus and bisons. The bearded bulls marching in advance of the herd, holding their heads near the ground, stopping often, as if calculating where to attack. From their enormous lungs came a muffled bellowing, similar to the rolling of thunder, and perspiration steamed from their nostrils; while pawing the snow with their forefeet, they seemed to watch the enemy with their bloody eyes hidden beneath their manes. Then the hunters shouted, and their cries were followed by similar shouts from all sides; the horns and fifes resounded; the wilderness reverberated from its remotest parts; meantime the dogs of the Kurpie rushed to the glade with tremendous noise. The appearance of the dogs enraged the females of the herd who were accompanied by their young. The herd, which had been walking up to this moment, now scattered in a mad rush all over the glade. One of the animals, an enormous old bull, rushed toward the hunters standing at one side, then seeing horses in the bushes, stopped, and bellowing, began to plow the earth with his horns, as if inciting himself to fight.