Darkness descended upon the river, here far from the lights of human dwellings and with no moon a million stars could be seen brightly twinkling in the sky on this cloudless night.
There was little sign of the surface disturbance that the pike had caused whilst seizing its prey from the depths. The ripples had dispersed and had been smoothed away by the rivers flow, the tench had bolted to the thickest parts of the far reed bed only to emerge cautiously their greed overcoming caution, the roach had careered madly downstream using the waters speed to aid their panicked escape and now clustered tightly together ignoring the last fall of cold smitten insects upon the river’s surface and of the perch there was no sign at all. Only a solitary feather, held by surface tension against the fallen willows trunk showed that there had been a moorhen there moments before.
From the tangled roots of the willow two fearful eyes peered out at the surface of the water. Maili could not comprehend what had happened when, with smooth, silent, strokes he was closing in upon the bird a feeling of dread enveloped him causing him to float paralysed with fear on the water’s surface, before his eyes the river exploded from below and all he glimpsed was the mottled flank of something huge. The initial wave had thrown him against the roots of the willow where instinct had one again kicked in making him scramble and push his small body as far into the root ball as it would go. Here he stayed as darkness settled its cloak upon the river, fearful almost to breath lest the leviathan from the depths should come tearing through the roots to rend his flesh.
The pale rays of the autumnal sun slowly drove away the darkness and chill of the night air. Jack Frost’s carpet of white powder was slowly melting away in all but the deeper holes where the sun had yet to kiss warmly. The last of the night’s predators had finally slinked away to their dark abodes, cursing the loss of the night’s mantle and the advantage that it gave to them. The rooks, after much noisy ceremony, took raucous flight and headed away from their parliament in the hope of finding easy pickings left by the night hunters.
Along the river bank it would yet be some hours before the sun warmed the sufficiently for the many grounded insects to take lazy flight. Under the surface the solid tench slowly made their way back to cover of the reed beds to wait for the sun to be high enough to bask in, the perch returned to hover in their look out station prepared to rush upon unwary victims that were small enough to fit in their over sized mouths.
Finna the otter bitch climbed onto the old willow trunk noiselessly from the water followed by her one remaining cub, Bree. Now eight months old Bree could sense and share in his mother’s shame, rage and deep calling for the fire of revenge as they gazed down upon the pikes retreat. It had been four turns of the moon since the family of three had entered the river at this very point to chase the glittering shoals of sleek roach that looked so enticing upon the river’s surface. But terror had struck lightening fast and would be hunters were now nothing more than prey. Now just the two of them remained, Bree’s sister lost to the sudden rush and gaping maw of the colossal monster from beneath the willow’s trunk, her name not uttered as was their tradition. It was the first time that Finna had returned here not trusting in Bree’s youthful playfulness to overcome the need for stealth until now. Last evening they had watched the drama unfurl from the far bank the unknown Cailean entering the water just a length from their hiding spot, unaware of the watchers. They took in all of the action, the bird’s doomed move to the river, the Cailean’s clumsy approach and the erupting pike’s strike. Now Bree moved swiftly to Maili’s spot of refuge dragging the half comatose and wretched creature before the burning eyes of his mother. Maili looked up fearfully as Finna uttered the first words that another creature spoke to him since being parted so ruthlessly from his mother; “ah we have the bait for the trap”…..