Saturday, May 28, 2005

 

the child, sixty-five


Stone froze. The canteen was full, but the man was frozen. He had never seen a wolf up close like this before. He had no idea how big this one was, compared to other wolves. He only knew that it looked big, and that was enough.

For someone who was fetching water, Stone's mouth was suddenly completely dry.

Slowly, the man drew the canteen out of the water. Slowly, he moved to put the cork in - fumbled it - nearly dropped it - finally got it in and tight. Slowly, he slung the strap over his shoulder. Then, carefully, he turned his eyes to the right - and now to the left - looking to see if there were any more wolves about. Stone had heard the phrase 'lone wolf' before, but suspected it was more likely that, where there was one wolf, there would be more.

He didn't see any more.

He moved his fingers onto the walking stick, taking a firm grip. Shifted his feet slightly, getting them under him. Getting ready...

He threw a prayer Heavenward, a desperate silent cry of, 'Help me, Master! I don't want to die!'

And then - Stone sprang. Planting the walking stick firmly, he used it to vault across the spring, heading straight for the wolf. His feet landed, and for a heartbeat he was staring right into those savage eyes, right into those slavering jaws. The jaws gaped wide, right in his face...

Without slowing down or changing direction a whit, Stone brought the end of the walking stick that had just been on the ground up, with all his might, sending it smashing directly into the wolf's chin. Sending the animal flipping through the air and crashing into the underbrush.

And again without slowing down or changing direction a whit, Stone took off at a dead run. Well, maybe the word 'dead' isn't the best choice to use, for someone running for his life.

Stone ran.

With the walking stick clutched fast in his hand, he ran. With the canteens jostling together, dangling from their straps over his shoulder, slapping against his side - he ran. And it did occur to him to drop the walking stick. But since he could use that again as a weapon, he held on to it. And it did occur to him to drop the canteens. But the thought hit his brain that they too might be used as weapons. That if worst came to worst, he could fling the canteens at the wolf, possibly beaning it, possibly tangling its legs in the canteens' straps.

He ran.

Through the woods he ran, dodging trees, using the stick to spring over small bushes. And something else occurred to him - that it would be easier to run along the path at the bottom of the valley. Well, marginally easier, what with the holes in that path, and the brambly bushes along it. But if taking that path would be easier going for him, he wondered - how much easier would it be for the wolf to follow after him there?

And so he continued on, pelting through the woods as fast as he could, not looking back, his ears straining to hear a sound he really did not want to hear - the sound of pursuit.

He wasn't even sure if the wolf was pursuing him. He had smashed it so hard with the walking stick, it was possible he had broken its neck. And he fervently hoped he had! But in the meantime - he was going to keep running.

The way was rough, the trees thick about him. He was growing weary, and a stitch was starting up in his side. Ah, he wanted to stop!

When a sound began, that put wings to his feet once again. The sound of footfalls behind him, and heavy breathing.

He ran. Keeping his eyes looking straight ahead of him, knowing that looking back could slow him down, slowing him just enough that whatever was back there following him - the wolf, surely - might be able to catch him, to leap on him, to bring him down.

He ran faster.

Worse - it could get worse? Oh yes, it could! For suddenly - not only were there the footfalls and heavy breathing rapidly gaining on him to his right...

But now he heard the same sounds, coming from his left!

Swiftly, trying not to break his pace, he took a glance over each shoulder. And his heart sank. For now there were two wolves!

He ran even harder, if that was possible, his arms and legs churning, using the stick in his hand to help him dodge swiftly past tree after tree. Oh, Master! his mind cried out - for he had no breath for talking now - I do not want to die!

And then he noticed something. Two somethings. One was that the trees suddenly were more spread out just ahead of him - and before he could wonder why, he learned the reason. For his feet suddenly splashed right into a stream.

And the second thing he noticed was that, along with the canteens slapping against his side at every stride, there was also - how had he forgotten it? - his sword!

His feet gained the far bank of the stream, and he turned. Slapping the walking stick into his left hand, he brandished it against the wolves as he swiftly snatched forth the bright and glittering sword with his right. Something welled up within him, and he cried out, 'Come on, you wolves! Let's end this!'

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