Barefoot Poetry

SS Matthews

A Season of Wolves

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Ch 1 Scars of Flesh and Soul pt 4

As things stood, after a few days in the field, the wolf continued undiscouraged by my presence with his harassment of the flocks. Coming upon the remains of a ewe on an April morning, it was made clear to me that he would persist until stopped. Therefore, the longer I delayed his pursuit, the greater would be the cost to those who looked to me to protect their livestock. Fearing the hunt might lead me onto treacherous ground; I left the mastiff in the care of a shepherdess and set out alone.

Following faint traces of the wolf’s passage, the trail led me ever upwards. Eventually climbing into the high slopes of the Margeride, I arrived at a particularly steep incline and lost his trail entirely. Searching about for a means to ascend, a change in wind direction brought an unexpected odor to my attention. As the scent of a wolf is unlike that of most other beasts, that being generally less foul and unwashed, there was something about this smell that caused me to think I might be close upon an active den.

Continuing to work my way among the rocks, I also began to realize the perilous situation in which I had placed myself. I had not brought the mastiff. I was alone and it struck me that the wolf was not. Somewhere among these rocks he had a mate and it occurred to me that the clever animal might have purposely lured me into an ambush. Thinking it wise that I retreat and continue the hunt some other day, the sound of a rock tumbling at my back was the signal alerting me to the distressing fact that such opportunity had already passed.

Unwittingly, I’d walked directly into their trap and one or the other was already behind me. Left without recourse, even as I turned I saw it was the male. Emerging from around the cover of a boulder, Already in the first steps of making a charge, he was gray as dusk and swift in closing. Equally magnificent in appearance as he was fearful in aspect, raising the rifle to my shoulder, I fired point blank into the shadow of death.

Discharging straight away into the wolf’s charging face, my aim proved instantly fatal. Falling at my feet I felt certain he was dead, but could ill afford to waste precious seconds congratulating myself. Immediately I set about reloading, for if my fears were correct, his mate was still very much alive and nearby. Though accurate in my assessment, I was too slow at my task. Even as I hastened, the she-wolf leaped from cover striking me furiously in the back.

Sent flying from my hands, the rifle tumbled out of reach. Put at a serious disadvantage, I did at least manage to roll onto my back so I was facing her and able to offer what resistance I could. Even as I looked into her pale eyes, she moved to place her bite upon my throat. Throwing forward my arms to fend her off, she clamped down with her fangs upon my left forearm and her right forepaw fell upon my face. As we struggled, the sharp nails of her foot raked gouges in my brow and cheek, but by some miracle of luck did not pierce me in the eyes. Even so the pain was torturous and believing I was but seconds from death, I realized the need to react with extreme violence before my strength failed me.

With my hand that was free, I reached for the one weapon available. Yet even as I searched for the hunting knife I keep at my waist, the she-wolf began to shake me like a vicious and petulant child would a puppet or doll. Feeling her fangs sink against the bones of my arm, I knew they would not long tolerate that crushing force.

Amidst the fray, it was by act of providence that I managed to find the hilt of my skinning knife. Yanking it free, desperately I stabbed with the point at her underside. With a surprised yelp the bitch released her terrible grip on my arm and before she could leap clear, I struck again with a slash across her ribs. With both combatants crippled and bleeding, rather than press the attack, the she-wolf broke off. As she attempted to flee, with the excited pulse one is prone to experience in such dire moments, I put pain my mind and reached for the fallen rifle. Approaching a cleft between two boulders through which she might escape, even wounded she could outrun the wind. But not so the ball of lead I sent screaming after her.

When it was done, I could not in the aftermath readily tell the extent of my wounds. Knowing the damage to my arm alone would seriously hamper descending from the cliffs, in surviving the attack I still felt a powerful sense of triumph. I had come for a hide and now with two waiting, I unwisely decided I would not leave without them both. All that was needed was to skin the pair and make my way below before my wounds left me helpless on the mountain.

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Author: SSMatthews

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

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