BESTIARY: WOLF

BESTIARY: WOLF

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Ale tends to loosen my tongue, so allow me to regale you with a story about how I gained these scars. Oh, don't pretend you haven't noticed them. I kept my life, I'm not ashamed that the tale is written across my face.

Years ago, I ran goods for a warlord, though it's been so long that I can't remember her name. Being young and stupid, I regularly chose to forego hiring guards for my return trips. Anything to save a gold piece or two.

Heading home from a delivery, alone, I was crossing an open plain when a storm roared up out of nowhere. The sky went from near-cloudless to black as pitch in a manner of moments, pouring sheets of rain. I was instantly soaked to the bone, making the sharp wind colder.

With the tempest came a wolf. His dark grey coat swirled in the ferocious wind as if he himself was the bearer of the storm. I can only imagine that he must have been addled. I'd never seen a beast brave weather so foul for the chance at a meal. Maybe he was starving, maybe he was sick. All I knew was that his piercing yellow eyes plainly told me that wanted a bite of me, and he wasn't going to be swayed.

Hunkering down and drawing my dagger as the light was swallowed up by thick clouds, I watched him disappear into the haze. I couldn’t see him, but I could still feel his eyes on me. I strained to hear anything over the rush of rain, to see something through the deluge.

Pain suddenly blossomed in my forearm, and I swung around to see the wolf's strong jaws clamped over my tunic sleeve. I slashed out desperately but he had already retreated and my blade met air. I clamped my bleeding arm against my chest.

Minutes that felt like hours went by. With every flicker of lightning I looked around. The small hairs prickling at the back of my neck told me he was near, but I couldn't catch sight of him.

The wolf abruptly lunged again, this time wrapping his jaws around my ankle. Crushing pain leaked through my boot, but I was ready for him this time. I swung my dagger and felt the blade connect, opening a jagged line from his eye down his muzzle. I expected him to yelp, to recoil. He didn't. He held steady, his one good eye rolling up to lock with my gaze. In terror, I reared back to slash at him again but, just as quickly as before, he was gone.

Giving me no reprieve, he darted back into view almost immediately. With reckless abandon he flung himself at me, full-bodied. A too-brief flash of lightning revealed a clear line of sight down his gullet as his blood-soaked maw enveloped my face. Teeth skittered across my nose and cheeks, opening up more wounds than I thought possible to survive. A primitive scream tore through my throat, muffled by the boom of thunder.

We were locked together, his fangs lodged into my cheek and my dagger buried through the muscled meat beneath his thick fur. I gave the blade a few sharp twists and felt his fetid breath across my face as he grunted painfully. As the grip of his jaw tightened, I felt the bones in my cheek crunch and give way. My hand was slick with blood, so I clenched it as best I could and jabbed over and over until the warmth of his breath was replaced by chilled air and rain on my face.

I scrambled to my feet and fumbled to wipe my eyes as best I could. Lightning illuminated the sky in continuing flares, again and again, and the world was lit almost as brightly as if it were daylight. There was the wolf, not ten feet in front of me, both of us soaked in blood. We stood there for a long moment, each daring the other to move, prepared to lunge at the slightest twitch. Then, for a reason I still can't place today, the wolf relaxed.

I swear to Valkyn I saw him smile. And the smile revealed a black gap where his right fang had been.

He turned and, without a glance back, disappeared into the storm. The relief I felt was immense, but what's more, I felt a sense accomplishment, like I'd passed some test.

I felt my way through the muck and mud to a musty grotto where I could shelter until the storm passed. The smell of roasting meat and a crackling fire woke me from feverish sleep. A passing ranger had found me in my pitiful state, patching my wounds with an exotic array of foraged herbs. He held out a fang as long my thumb, sharp as a needle on the business end and broken jaggedly at the base. “Found this in your cheek, mate. Must have been some fight, some fight indeed.”

He cut a strip from a hide in his pack and deftly fashioned the bit of leather and the tooth into a necklace, whistling quietly to himself as he worked. Holding out to me, he said, “Sure was luck that saved you, same as luck brought me here. Mayhaps there’s still some luck to be had in that tooth for you. Sure didn’t help the wolf any, eh?”

No one believes it, but I know he was right, that there’s still some magic left in this. I never take it off and I’ve never seen another wolf since.

I see you have a few scars of your own, friend. Shall we have another round and talk of them?

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