The leather satchel, its cloth handles fraying, swings back and forth as he runs through the thick long grass of the moors.
His footsteps are heavy but he is fast.
He catches the sharp edge of a hidden rabbit hole. His ankle shoots pain up his leg. He curses himself, steadies his balance and runs on.
The shouting gets louder behind him. He is not sure if the caws he hears are the circling birds or the wheeze of his chest.
He closes on the forest surrounding the field. Cover. Escape.
The rush of the grass. A click of a latch. That will be the farmer is readying his gun. Sounds like the old man’s gaining. He looks for the best gap in the forest. One without low branches, one with an easy route into the canopy of the trees. His breath escapes in violent bursts and a stitch digs into his ribs. A few more panicked strides and he is safe.
The farmer calls again. Swear words, out of breath. The old man sounds unfit and this lifts him for a moment. He feels a burst of energy. Almost free.
He doesn’t see the root. His foot hooks under it. It stops him dead. He feels his centre of gravity fall away. The trees swing sideways from his vision, and as he falls he hears the snapping of bone. He holds out a hand to brace himself.
He feels almost relief as the sound ricochets over his head and into the forest. Above them, birds fan from the trees in alarm. Like an explosion. They darken the sky.
He hits the ground. His shoulder and the palm of his hand take the blow. Everything judders. Everything blurs. He lets his focus return. The satchel has skittered into the grass, handles snapped, its contents spilled.
His throat tightens. His injured foot rushes from hot to cold. He lies there. Exhausted. Defeated.
The farmer stands over him, all jowls and red cheeks. The shotgun shakes in his grasp. The old man mutters something under angry breath.
They both look at the goshawk eggs scattered in the grass. Their shells are cracked and split. It is over, he thinks. He wonders if the old farmer thinks this too.
A high cackle from above followed by more cackles. The hawks. Not just circling, but...
The farmer aims his gun, the front sight pointing unsteadily at the poacher’s face. Mutters something again, but he is drowned by the screech of birds. A choir of distress.
The farmer’s shoulders slump. The anger drains from his face as he becomes aware of something above him.
The poacher sees the sky. Sees everything in the sky.
As thunderous clouds, the swarm descends.
The goshawks descend on the long grass of the moors.