Tuesday, May 31, 2005

 

the child, sixty-six


The wolves had not crossed the stream - yet. The one to Stone's left was snarling, growling, drawing the man's attention. While the one to the right - Stone saw it out of the corner of his eye - was slowly and quietly beginning to slip further to the man's right, into the stream, so softly, so silently.

Well. It wasn't hard to read their plan; that one was obviously trying to circle round Stone to attack him from behind, while the other was trying to keep Stone's attention to the front. That wouldn't do! He would have to act swiftly, Stone thought, before the pair of them had the chance to come after him from two directions at once.

Another prayer to the Master who had brought him safely out of the dungeons of his youth - and Stone, with a savage yell, lunged at the wolf that was trying to circle him. The weapon he held on that side was his sword, so he slashed at the wolf with it, catching the wolf by surprise. Catching himself by surprise as well, for he actually hit the wolf!

It howled, and at the same moment the other wolf, seeing the trap had fallen apart, leapt forward to the attack!

Stone was already turning towards the second wolf. He swung the walking stick, smacking it with a dull thud into the second animal's belly. Once again, a wolf went flipping through the air and landed in the underbrush.

Stone turned back to the first wolf. It was stunned and bleeding, but still with the savage gleam in its eye. It rose, snarling.

Stone swung the stick, smashing the side of the wolf's head, blooding it anew. Pinning it with the heel of the walking stick, the man once more slashed with the sword...

...and the wolf lay still, the light winking out in its eyes.

Minor relief. Stone turned again to see the other wolf coming right at him in a dead run. No time to think - on instinct, the man threw up the stick in front of him to ward off the blow, at the same time pointing the sword straight forward at the onrushing enemy.

There was a sickening sound as the wolf impaled itself on the sword. Momentum carried it onward still, and Stone had to twist the stick sideways to prevent the awful head from possibly biting him in its death throes. Wrenching the sword free, Stone jumped backwards and let the huge body fall to the ground before him.

Stone was trembling from head to toe, his stomach churning, his heartbeat pounding in his ears. He thought he would be sick.

He was right.

Wading into the stream, he washed the blood off his sword, drying it on the tail of his shirt, then sheathing it. Then he began scooping up large double-handfuls of water, splashing it over his face and head, washing away the horror of the battle and the remnants of the bout of nausea. And then he stood there, for a long time, thanking the one who had preserved his life, thanking the Master.

At last, when his heartbeat had calmed down till it no longer echoed in his ears, when the stream around his feet was no longer stirred up from him being in it, he squatted to finish filling the other canteens. He worked this time with his walking stick in his hand, looking all around, no longer focusing on the sight of the water going in or the air coming out of the canteens.

Who knew if perhaps there were other wolves about?

And when he was done and the last canteen was corked and slung again over his shoulder, he stood up to go, taking one last look about at the scene of the battle.

And froze once more. For the wolves - the two wolves he had just now killed with his sword -

Were gone.

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