I woke in the freezing dawn, and looked out from the cave, over a misty sea. I stepped outside and stretched, drank the last of the water from my canteen, stuffed blanket into knapsack, and set off eastward along the coast, following a goat-track. The cliffs fell away sheer to the sea on my right. A false step would result in a terrible plunge towards the rocks far below, but my feet were steady and I moved along the trail at speed. I was hungry and the map I had was useless, but I reckoned I should reach a village by early afternoon. A stream crossed the path and I kneeled and drank, cupping my hands, before filling my canteen. Then the track started to climb, and we joined an ancient causeway. I guessed it had been there since Minoan times. I crossed an incline and on a rock to my left sat a man, shotgun across his knees. A large mountain sheepdog lay at his feet, ears cocked, neck muscles straining. The man called a greeting and patted the space on the boulder next to him. The dog sniffed at me before relaxing and lying down again. The man had a face you don’t easily forget, on account of his startling blue-green eyes. He was in his fifties or sixties maybe, mahogany skin, unshaven, with a grey moustache. He was loose-limbed, agile, with an ascetic, martial air. Two dead hares lay on an olive sack next to the rock. He carried old German binoculars around his neck, relics of the occupation. Lifting a red woollen bag, he reached inside. He cut cheese with a big knife, and passed me a hunk of dark bread, olives, a flask of liquor. I ate, and washed the food down with the strong drink. He nodded at me, almost smiled. Then he pointed at the sky. I could make out a dark speck, at a great height. He said the word for eagle, and handed me the binoculars. When I passed them back I noticed some marks had been engraved into the boulder behind us. They were a row of hieroglyphs, carved with complex and concise strokes. I offered the hunter a cigarette and we smoked in silence for a while. Before I left, I asked him about the hieroglyphs, and he looked at me with those piercing eyes and said: those, my child, hold the secret of the world. I wished him good health and went on my way. The sun was over the mountains now and the mist had cleared from the sea. As I walked I was happy, thinking about the marks in the rock that contained the secret of the world. I believe I can still remember the hunter’s face, though I saw him only once, so many years ago. But whether it is his face I am remembering, or the face of some other man, I will never know.
‘Hunter’, by Richard Gwyn, was first published by Wales Arts Review on 25 June 2015.