“When people see a person with a disability they immediately think ‘this person is useless’ ‘they can’t do anything’ those people are dead wrong. Many people with a registered disability are very creative, and if given the tools they require can be just as effective in the workplace as the normal person. All people need is a chance.”
Monster in the Hollow
‘Ha! A monster hunter with a bung hip. You’re as good to me as a three-legged horse. Get out before I have you put down!’
The words of Captain Mortise echoed in Regnar’s mind. He might be the King’s consort and captain of the guard, but what did he know. Regnar left the castle furious. He’d asked the captain for a moratorium — a stay of execution and a chance to heal. Mortise fired him on the spot. Sure, the slight limp caused his right leg to drag over the cobbles as he headed home, I didn’t make him useless. It was just a reminder to hold onto the reins more tightly when making your horse jump ditches. There was only one thing for it, Regnar decided to saddle-up and prove he was still a good soldier.
Even as Regnar pulled on his chainmail and slipped his Damascus short sword into the leather scabbard at his waist, he knew what to do. The city of Garin had always lived in fear of the Monster of the Hollow. Nobody knew what it was. Anyone who’d encountered it never returned. The only clues were unearthly growlings coming from the forest in the hollow at night.
Regnar hauled himself into the saddle of his chestnut mare, Enbarron, with a groan of pain. “I’ll slay the monster and returned with his head. That’ll show everyone,” he vowed at his set Enbarron cantering along the streets of thatched houses lit by the orange glowing of fiery torches.
He was soon enjoying the cool night air as the horse carried him from the gates of Garin toward the hollow. The gibbous moon gave the trees an ominous silvery sheen. The only sounds, thundering hooves and the hoot of an occasional owl flying overhead.
This was a world of dragons although none had been seen in many years thanks to the savagery of the great Dragon Hunters. People swore by legends of living rock called Golems. They told stories of hideous ogres which leapt from the trees to plunder and pillage the food carts. Some even reported spiders as big as horses. Regnar had been a monster hunter for twenty years and never killed anything more unusual dangerous than a rabid wolf.
This was an ancient birch and alder wood. It smelled of decay and fungal growth. The canopy so thick the moonlight failed to penetrate the leaves. Worse it was quiet – no deer moved about. Not a single mouse or fox seemed to be scratching about. It was too quiet!
Enbarron snorted, stomping a hoof as she slowed to a nervous trot.
“Easy, old girl. There’s nothing to fear —”
An earthy roar split the air.
The cadence of the beast rumbling deep into Regnar’s chest. “Well, that was no wolf waking from its slumber!” He breathed with chills tingling his skin and standing his hair on end.
Somewhere in the darkness, the monster let rip another bloodcurdling cry. The sound of a thick branch snapping followed.
Enbarron could take no more. She bucked into the air, dumping Regnar to the earthy ground. With a whinny and a kick of hooves, she galloped away into the darkness.
Regnar tumbled like an armoured ball. Crashing into a hawthorn halted his fall. “Bloody horse! You nearly broke my other sodding hip!” he groaned as he staggered to his feet and unsheathed his sword.
Nobody could call themselves a soldier while being a coward, and Regnar was no coward. He faced the sound of the beast and ambled forward to complete his quest. Alone now, every breaking branch, flutter of bat wings, and possible footstep had him pivoting ready to attack.
The smell of death assaulted his nostrils before he’d gone much further. Rounding a thicket of alder trees, he came upon a massacred deer. “By the unholiest demon, what did that?” he breathed.
The deer’s neck was snapped, almost decapitated. Each of its legs broken as well. The poor creature looked for all the world as if it had fallen from a mountaintop.
“Oh, Regnar. What did you get yourself into!” With only small slivers of moonlight, he had little visibility. It was enough to see the great clawed track in the mud. The pain in his hip had grown since tumbling from the horse. He limped on looking for further tracks. Coming upon one, then another; he paused with a groan of pain scanned the dark forest around him. Were those red eyes watching him?
Something cracked and thundered against a tree trunk.
Regnar felt old and worthless as oppressive energy crushed down on him. The tension in his chest rising with every ragged breath.
The monster roared, lunging from the bracken like a vision straight from hell.
The soldier screamed as he felt those mauling paws rip into his chest. Powerless under the immense weight of the creature, he slammed to the ground.
The giant monster used one massive paw to hold him down. Flaring its nostrils, it sniffed its new victim as if deciding where to start ripping him apart.
Regnar couldn’t believe his eyes. The creature was a mass of wrank, blood-matted, black fur that smelled like a dozen corpses. Its eyes shimmering pools of blood filled with pure evil. Most terrifying was its chops full of razor-sharp fangs. Like an armoury of swords, dripping, oozing saliva upon the soldier’s beard.
“You – are – one – ugly – bastard!” Regnar breathed while slowly feeling about for his sword. He’d been mentally scanning his bestiary while searching for an escape route. There was only one beast this could be — a demented Barghest. A devil dog from the pits of hell.
Barghest finished his inspection with an excited bark. It reared, brandishing talon-like claws.
Regnar gulped as they slashed toward his face. He threw his legs up, deflecting one death blow as the second raked his face like razor blades over a ham. Still, his boot crunched into the creature’s devilish snout.
The blow stunned Barghest sending him reeling back into a bush.
Regnar rolled to his right and seized his sword. It became a walking stick as he forced himself to stand, swore and dived away.
The monster had lunged. Missing, it slammed into a tree trunk and proceeded to tear off lumps of bark in frustration.
The soldier sucked great lungfuls of air. Blood oozed from deep scratches in his cheek like the mourning wounds Huns would gouge in their faces when a loved one died. His hip burned and gave an agonising crack as he straightened and prepared for the next attack. “I won’t run, Barghest. You’ll chase and kill me anyway.”
The Barghest raised its ugly maw to the sky and roared. With two giant steps, it threw itself into the air.
Regnar laboured to evade. Swinging his sword, he cleaved hunks of fetid fur from the monster but was too slow. It bulldozed him, breaking his arm at the elbow with a sickening crack.
Sensing victory, Barghest stepped over his falling prey. Its nose wrinkling with anger as it watching him writhing in agony.
White lights popped in his vision as Regnar howled off the pain. He forced his useless arm across his chest and prepared for death.
Barghest opened his jaws, spreading them over the soldier’s head. Closing slowly, savouring the moment when he’d crush this humans skull.
Regnar was looking right into its foul stinking mouth now. The rows of teeth gleaming with menace. Tonsils quivering with anticipation and the darkness leading the way to the unsatiable stomach. Death was coming and it was grotesque. Regnar was not going down without a fight. He snapped his neck forward and bit down on the Barghest’s tongue.
The monster shrieked and yanked away.
Bursting free, drenched in blood and saliva, Regnar whirled his sword before him. Driving it deep into the Barghests chest, he wrenched and twisted it in deep.
Barghest roared in mortal agony. Swiping at Regnar in a last-ditch effort, it missed and fell.
Regnar withdrew his sword and stabbed it again to be sure of death. The Barghest had been rendered a corpse. The soldier felt like one as he collapsed, panting against a tree. His broken arm, lame hip and catalogue of flesh wounds pounded his body in waves of pain. He could take no more and passed out.
A nuzzling at his face woke him. Sunlight dappled through the forest canopy, half-blinding him as he opened his eyes.
Enbarron nickered, nose to nose with him.
“Well met, girl. You could have helped me win the fight though.” Regnar hauled himself to his feet, swearing all the way. Staring upon the body of the Barghest he smiled. “Time to claim victory.”
One hour later, Regnar cantered into the castle courtyard aboard Enbarron. “Captain Mortise! King Rudyard – people of Garin, join me!” he yelled.
“Regnar, you old bag of bones. I banished you from this castle!” Mortise called from the battlements some minutes later. Around him and filling the castle grounds were soldiers and peasants alike — all interested in the proceedings.
“Indeed you did. You fired me because of my injury. Look at me now, cut to bits, broken arm, but triumphant.” Regnar raised the head of the Barghest. This is the Monster of the Hollow. Let it be known; even with a slight disability, I slew it in the night. We all have ailments but we are, none of us, useless. If allowed to fight we are all strong enough to claim victory!” Regnar allowed the disgusting head to hit the stone floor. “Now, what say you, Captain Mortise?”
The captain disappeared. Appearing from the main doors moments later. “I applaud you. I admit that I was wrong, Regnar,” he said extending a hand.
Regnar shook it but said nothing.
“If you’ll forgive me. Get patched up and heal yourself. Your post is yours when you feel fit enough to return.”
Regnar beamed as everyone cheered. “Very well, Captain. See you in a couple of weeks,” he said before riding away a triumphant man.
Have a great day!