In Summer Warrior, book 1 in The Clan Donald Saga, David, King of Scots, invites Somerled to take part in a hunt in the woods near Irvine where the king is holding court. As the morning of the hunt arrives, Somerled observes,
The day presented all they could hope for in weather, the sky nearly cloudless and the leaves on the trees that had changed with autumn were ablaze with red, yellow and gold. The air, too, spoke of autumn, being dry and crisp.
While the king and his guests break their fast on the riverbank, as was the custom if the day was fair, the huntsmen went forth to seek out the mature stags with great antlers. Somerled and Ragnhild, the Princess of Man, have brought their bows and quivers of arrows, eagerly awaiting the hunt.
Many kinds of dogs and hounds might be used in a hunt in the 12th century. Edward of Norwich, the second Duke of York, who wrote medieval English hunting manuals, listed five types of medieval dogs used in aristocratic hunting: the spaniel, the mastiff, the running hound, the alaunt and the greyhound.
In a “drive hunt”, such as I recount in my story, the rough-coated greyhounds from which the Scottish deerhounds of today originated, were favored to drive out the stags from the depths of the woods. Bred as deer hunting dogs for the Scottish chieftains in the Middle Ages, they had a balanced temperament. Over time, they gained size and strength and, due to the harsh climate, they also gained a rough protective coat. The deerhound was once so popular with Scottish high nobility the breed became known as the Royal Dog of Scotland.
In a hunt, the deerhound could bring down a deer and was used especially to hunt the male of the red deer, known as the hart.
The hart was a deadly opponent to both dogs and men, even more dangerous in some ways than the boar, which was known for eviscerating its foes with its razor-sharp tusks. To bring down a hart required a powerful dog, combining strength with speed, agility and a good nose. A hart would “ruse” or double back on its tracks or run through a stream to send the dogs off their scent.
So, back to our hunt in Summer Warrior:
The huntsmen in their green garb and hats returned, telling the Master of the Hunt they had spotted several harts, at least one of which possessed ten tines on his antlers.
The deerhounds, waiting with their keeper and sensing the hunt was about to begin, whined and strained at their leashes. At the instructions from the Master of the Hunt, the huntsmen took the hounds forward to be stationed along the expected route the hart would take.
Once the harts run by, the deerhounds would be released to give chase. They would find the stags hiding in the woods and chase them out toward the waiting archers.
You’ll have to read the story to see what happens in the hunt in Summer Warrior, just whose arrow brings down the hart and what unexpected thing happens after that.
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Somerled’s parentage was noble, of the Kings of Dublin, the royal house of Argyll and the great Ard Ri, the High Kings of Ireland. But when the Norse invaded Argyll and the Isles, his family’s fortunes fell with those of his people. All hope seemed lost, when he rose from the mists of Morvern to rally the Gaels, the Scots and the Irish.
Sweeping across Argyll and the Isles like a fast-moving storm, brilliant in strategy and fearless in battle, Somerled began retaking his ancestral lands, driving away the invaders and freeing the people from the Norse stranglehold. In doing so, he would win the title Somerle Mor, Somerled the Mighty, Lord of Argyll, Kintyre and Lorne and, eventually, Lord of the Isles.
This is the unforgettable saga of his path to victory that forged the Kingdom of the Isles and won him the heart of a Norse king’s daughter.
The Master of Game by Edward, Second Duke of York, written between 1406-1413
The Art of Medieval Hunting: The Hound and The Hawk by John Cummins, 2003
The Medieval Deerhound: A Lecture on the Origins of a Breed by Ryan R. Judkins, 2012
Medieval Hunting, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_hunting