My mother sent me out to get eggs.
“I need six,” she said.
It was a chore to get eggs, but I always did it. I got the eggs, she cooked them. She couldn’t climb trees like I could anyway, so without me she wouldn’t get them.
“This is the last day to get them this season,” she called to me as I left. “Any later, then they’ll start to become embryos. So make sure you get at least six.”
“Ok,” I said as I slid the glass doors shut behind me as I left the house. Six eggs? Normally she only wanted three or four.
So I went out our back gate, across the little road and into the forest. The eggs I was after were from the Elaykeo bird. It lays the sweetest, whitest, most brilliant eggs I have ever seen, but it nests high up in the Wilbern trees, long, spindly, willowy trees that are difficult to climb because the bark is sharp on the edges.
I pulled out my climbing gear and I walked towards the closest one that I knew. It was also the tallest I had ever seen, but there might have been at least six nests up there, all with fresh eggs to take.
I walked up to the base and wrapped my arms and rope round it. Then I got my feet on it, and I started to climb. I was good now, because I was so experienced. I could hop up a tree faster than anyone I knew, and the gloves my mum got me for Christmas stopped my hands from ever being cut.
But as I stopped to adjust my feet, I looked down and saw something gleaming at me from the forest floor.
My senses went all sharp and clean for a few seconds. Bird calls were louder in my ears, golden leaves and golden sunlight made beams through the trees down to the ground that looked like they were solid, and on the floor, in a large, dark, fallen nest, were six perfect Elaykeo eggs.
I started to climb back down. Perfect. I jumped down from a great height, and I made my way over to them. Then I stopped, and I froze, and I trembled, when I heard a huge grunt. A snort. Not from a man, but from a huge beast. I couldn’t see it yet, but I could tell it was huge, the depth of the noise, and it knew I was there. Then I heard its footsteps, its slow, heavy footsteps, and out from behind two trees walked something that made me lean and step backwards.
It was a Dundenbeast. I was sure of it. I thought they were a myth, but there it was, right in front of me, huge, standing on all fours, a massive, hairy, dark body with a massive thick neck and head like it was armour-plated, with two razor sharp horns sticking out of its head for weapons. Its hooves were like large, jagged trays, and its legs were more like horse’s hind legs, but bigger and thicker.
It walked out in front of the eggs, and it stood there, facing me. Then it started to drag its front hooves along the ground, like it was making tracks for itself.
I wanted those eggs, but I didn’t move. I thought I was standing still, but everything around me was slowly moving as I edged backwards.
It grunted again, and I kept backing away, and I went off to find another tree.
It was about ten minutes of quiet walking before I reached another one. I could see it in the distance, tall and looming over other trees. As I got closer, I saw two men, standing at the bottom of the tree.
They saw me early. One was holding a metal bar.
“Hello,” one of them said, the one without the bar. I didn’t like them. Already I didn’t like them.
“What are you doing here?” he said. The one with the metal bar was looking at me as well.
“Nothing,” I said. “Nothing.”
“They’re nice gloves,” he said. “You don’t suppose I could use them, be easier then to climb this tree? We’re after some eggs, you see.”
“No,” I said. “No you can’t.” I thought I would just walk on to the next Wilbern tree, but they began to follow me.
“Oh, come on,” he said, “just let me use them.”
I didn’t say anything. I wanted to be at home, I was scared. They were much bigger than I was and the way they looked scared me, they had teeth missing and their hair looked dirty and the one talking to me had a tattoo of something climbing up his neck.
“Let me!” he said, and he grabbed me and started trying to wrestle me to the ground, but I had done wrestling at school so I grabbed him and threw him over my shoulder, and he crashed into the ground instead.
“Didson, get him!” he yelled. The one called Didson, with a grey t-shirt and an even less-toothed smile, came charging towards me with his metal bar brandished beside him, and just as he was moving towards me, the one on the floor grabbed my feet so I couldn’t move. I stumbled over and I saw Didson laughing, about to swing this bar right at my head, and just as he was about to, I heard that huge grunt again, and the Dundenbeast flew out from behind some tall bushes off to my left, and crashed its head into Didson’s side, sending Didson flying into a tree next to him, and he dropped his bar and he lay on the floor.
“Aagh!” the one on the floor screamed, and the Dundenbeast picked up the man with its horns, like they were scoopers, and it flung the man to land on top of his friend, so they were in a neat pile on the floor.
It stood and it looked at me, and I could see its body moving as it breathed.
“Thank you,” I said, and the Dundenbeast snorted, standing in front of the men, so it was between me and them.
“Thank you,” I said again, and it bowed its head for a moment, very slightly.
I left the woods that day, and I said I would never steal another egg again.
The Dundenbeast – A Note From Dr Bernard J. Hoothfellow
The Dundenbeast protects all living things. It might be a tree sapling, or an egg, or a chick, or a young animal, or even an adult creature. The Dundenbeast’s job is to protect it until it is able to look after itself. It will die doing its job, and it seems to want it to be no other way.