The Talbot reimagined

All modern dogs are effectively wolves. They are the same genus and the same species. The only difference is that after  millenia of human manipulation, modern dogs have diverged into particular breeds. Some breeds are extraordinarily successful. Others are popular in one era only, before their genes are mixed and merged with others until they no longer exist in any real way.

One of the most successful breeds is the greyhound, the only dog to be named in the Bible. It has been popular right through to the modern day, and not always due to their particular role in aiding bookies to separate the gullible from their money. In medieval France, a greyhound cult emerged around a particular dog that become known as Saint Guinefort. The relics of this dog where believed to have healing properties. The church at one time even semi-recognised the “saint” in order to draw these believers into a more orthodox system of worship. It is hard to imagine other dog breeds, such as the dachshund (literally badger-dog in German) capturing the imagination in quite the same way.

Whereas the greyhound has been one of the great successes, another hound flourished for some time before its line became extinct. Throughout the early middle ages, the talbot was  a popular breed throughout England. It had flat ears, a thick white pelt and was large, with long legs and a powerful body. It was renowned as a sleuth hound: a dog that could track prey. I first came across them when reading about my brother’s home town of Sudbury in Suffolk, which has a talbot as their symbol:

sudbury tc arms

Source: http://www.civicheraldry.co.uk/east_anglia_essex.html

The reason for the eventual extinction of the talbot was a matter of cold profit. It was superseded by the bloodhound, which although nowhere near as beautiful as a talbot, has a much keener sense of smell.

At the moment, I am looking for a publisher for my fantasy novel, The Adventures of Siskin and Valderan. In one sequence of the book, the characters need to seek an enemy that they have never actually seen. Being set in a totally imaginative world, this gave me a great opportunity to reimagine this dog breed and bring it back to life, if only through the medium of the imagination. Here is a short fragment of the book:

            Hoarfrost the talbot was running along the steppe: her white fur flying around her legs. Her ears were wide and flat, and hung around her cheeks as she bounded along the ground. Spittle flew from her red gums, and mud spotted her fur. Some even smattered her tail, even though it curved and rose up behind her back. Despite the long trek, the dog’s eyes were bright. She never tired as she followed the track.

            No water would be deep enough to hide the scent that Hoarfrost was tracking. As people move through a world of shape and colour, so dogs swim in an ocean of smells, their senses constantly assailed by new tastes, flavours and aromas. So intense were they that sometimes they were like beams of colour or jets of light, like a will-o’-the-wisp gleaming at the furthest edges of a marsh by night. István’s scent beckoned from afar.

            For three days, they had followed the dog. They were now far from Lirara. Those dirty streets and dark buildings had given way to the monotony of the steppe that lay between the city and the blumman lands. For mile after mile, they rode over open heath and rocky moors.

            Though the land was wild, they had been able to follow a rudimentary path. Some miles from Lirara, the paving stones gave way to a cart track. István had fled Lirara in a carriage , which meant that he needed to keep to some sort of road. Lightly armoured in thin mail coats, they were making quick progress, even though they had to rest at nights because of the lack of post horses. Yet even they were surprised when, at last, Hoarfrost stopped on a rise, panting, her nose and forelegs fixed rigidly forwards. Such a posture could mean only one thing. Their quarry was at hand.

(c) 2012

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