Curran took a good long whiff of the air. Peat, rot, snow, silt… something else. He ran surefooted along the berm enjoying the feel of the cold mud between his toes. A slip to either side and he’d be neck deep in icy cold water, tangled plants, and sucking glop, but Curran rarely slipped.
He stopped near the base of an old stone tree and dug his fingers into the black wet soil, uncovering a bit of twine that led to a trap. In the trap he found a drowned rat. Not as good as a fox or a ferret, but good enough. He quickly unwrapped the twine from the latch and pulled out his bounty.
In the distance he heard the splash of horse legs through shallow water. A man shouted. Angry sounds and the howling of dogs followed. They were getting closer.
Curran scurried around the tree, hopping over exposed petrified roots. He jetted up a rocky hillock and slid down the other side into a slippery gully shaded by tall overhanging stone trees. The dogs heard his grunt as he scraped his foot on a thorn. They would catch up fast now so Curran bolted south down the gully, racing ahead of the barking.
A fallen tree lay over two boulders on the path ahead. Vines hung from the dead trunk like a curtain which Curran batted aside as he scrambled to the left up a set of rocks set into the earth like stairs. As he crested the rise he saw her hut. A rotted, oozing thing of peat bricks, bundles of sticks, and vines like a part of the bog itself it rose on three stilts, leaning precariously over the muck beneath.
Curran leapt from the hilltop, plugging his now and pulling his knees in close. He plunged under the water disappearing from sight (and scent) completely in the brackish fluid. His heart pounded in his chest. He wouldn’t be able to hold his breath long this way, but he wouldn’t have long to wait.
Above there was muffled thrashing and the baying of hounds. A horse’s hoof splashed through the water, alarmingly close to his legs. He strained to keep his breath in, his chest beginning soft involuntary convulsions, and his ears thrumming. He wrapped his fingers in some grass willing himself to stay still.
Unable to chain his breath any longer Curran burst up out of the water gasping, prepared to bolt for safety. He quickly dropped his arms and relaxed. No need to run. All around him in the water dead dogs floated, blood trickling from their snouts. Ten strides away a mare was still, chest deep in mud, head bobbing lifeless on the surface of the water. Her rider was gone: fled or… Curran didn’t like to contemplate the other possibilities.
“The bog isn’t safe these days,” Curran whispered. “Old Maggie Bones is mad.”