Barefoot Poetry

SS Matthews

A Season of Wolves (cont.)

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Scars of the Flesh and Soul pt. 3

Finding myself sorely in need of supplies; with my store of salt, sugar, gunpowder and lead all severely depleted; carrying the few coins that remained to me I decided one day to travel to the city of Malzieu. Making my way to the marketplace and conversing with a seller of goods, he informed me the city council was actively seeking a watchman to protect the flocks of the ranchers and herdsmen outlying the city. The post was as yet unfilled and if I should present myself to them, I might put my hunting skills to use for wages.

Although a post such as this was not generally maintained, during what had become a difficult winter, a wolf had wandered down from the mountains. Descending from the Margeride in search of prey, it had taken to the killing of sheep. With the arrival of spring, rather than retreat into the highlands, the wolf remained, stalking the herds of the lower pastures. As it seemed a good fit for my disposition, I did present myself to a councilman of the city and in short order we agreed that for the modest sum of five livres each week, I would walk those areas where the sheep were pastured. As part of attending to the safety of livestock, in the event I should draw sights on a wolf, I would be rewarded an additional bounty for its hide.

It might be thought strange for a hunter to have misgivings regarding the killing of animals, but to my surprise I did feel a reluctance. In the past I possessed few reservations in that regard, for more than once I had hunted wolves. During my winter of solitude however, more changes must have been wrought within me than were first realized; some of which were not to become obvious until challenged.

The bounty offered was not so large that I would profit from actively hunting the wolf and without personal grievance concerning their kind, I felt no need to seek their destruction. Still, reconciling the matter as being one of territory, I could justify ending this loner’s predation as necessary to the survival of those who keep sheep. With this in mind, if I should happen upon the wolf in the act of predation, without regret my rifle would speak the language of death.

Since our earliest days, the stalking and confronting of such a beast in the wild has been a sacred and mystical mission. For many ancient cultures it was a rite of passage into manhood. Much time and care was taken in preparation of the hunt and the experience was more than a test of one’s skill, it was a sojourn of the spirit; one that demanded a hunter’s complete attention and dedication to successfully achieve. Although for me the hunt bore a similar importance, I did not consider it a mystical journey. Aside from the opportunity to remove myself from the confusing affairs of other men for the promise of pay; at times such as these I could escape the boundaries of faith and belief. Alone in the wilds and focused on the hunt, I could push all else from my mind and concentrate solely on what existed around me.

Albeit my purpose in the present was not quite the same, I was able to convince myself it was equally as venerable. Throughout our history, man has suffered a primordial fear when confronting the fangs of this superior predator and with good reason. His wiles and cunning are without equal. With intelligence beyond question, there is no creature in the natural world more a mirror reflection of a man’s own soul. So similar are they to men that inevitably the two must find themselves in competition. Both are predators and for both, survival is always of the first order.

The discovery of gun-powder and development of firearms certainly unbalanced the scales in the favor of men and when hunted, a wolf will most often retreat into exile. Where much rock is present, prints are difficult to follow and a careless move can well result in a disabling fall for the ill balanced hunter. In addition, if he should corner the animal, a falsely aimed shot will leave him at the mercy of his intended quarry. As mercy is not an emotion readily available to either adversary, it is rarely requested or employed.

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Author: SSMatthews

Author of The Moon and Rowan Wolfe and Wolfe's Banes.

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