Authors: James Byron Huggins
A WOLF STORY
James Byron Huggins
A Wolf Story
Copyright © 1993 by James Byron Huggins
This eBook is licensed for personal use only. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.
This is a work of fiction. Any similarity between characters or events in this story and with any other person or creature, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
I only, am left;
and they seek my life,
to take it away.
Saul sensed death on the wind and stood to face his enemy. Old eyes, wise in years, scanned the surrounding woodline, reading every gentle movement of leaf and branch. Yet he saw no predator hidden within the swaying leaves. For a long moment he watched with keen brown eyes, searching, he felt, for ghosts. But there was nothing. The forest was as quiet as a grave. He rubbed his furry face with both paws, then raised his long ears and nose to the sky, knowing every scent, every sound. Uneasily he poised, tasting a fear he could not find. Then he slowly lowered his head, wondering.
Beneath the grassy knoll where he stood guard, the hare colony played and grazed in sleepy contentment. Saul shook his shaggy gray head. Was it his imagination? Was there truly anything to fear? He scanned the forest again, trying to peer through the green leaves into the dark woods beyond. But he saw nothing. He hesitated, doubting.
The colony seemed content and carefree, completely unaware of this strange sense of doom that hovered over him. Some were quietly digging for roots, though most were sleeping and resting beneath the warm sun. Even the Eiders, gathering near the burrow hole, were sleepy with the day, seemingly unaware of any threat or danger.
Saul sat back upon his four paws, the points of his long ears descending to the ground behind his front shoulders, and sighed. Perhaps he was too old to be king, he thought. Soon it would be time to pass the burden of leadership onto younger, stronger shoulders.
Saul heard Windgate's heavy stride coming up behind him long before the burly hare arrived.
"How goes it, Saul?" Windgate laughed, resting his gigantic frame beside the old hare. "A good day, is it not?"
Windgate's broad, expressive face was dominated by two huge black eyes that hid nothing. His warm coat was dark with small white dots running down his back. Saul harbored great affection for Windgate. The big hare was exactly what he seemed to be: large and lovable and easy to be with. Yet none was braver or quicker to defend the weak.
"We have a good life here in the field, far from wolf or man," said Windgate. "It was a good choice we made so many years ago to settle near the deep woods, eh? For myself, though, I think I've eaten too many berries!"
And laughing at his own joke, Windgate put a wide dark paw on Saul's shoulder, as friends would do. Saul felt the smile on his face. It was good to have a friend like Windgate, though he could be loud and boisterous and rowdy. But he was a true friend. If danger came upon them, this huge, clownish hare would be the first to stand in the gap. He had the heart of a king, never failing to embrace the sad or laugh with the joyful. And Saul had often wondered if Windgate would take his place in the pack one day.
Still laughing at himself, Windgate turned his funny, furry face toward Saul. "And why are you so sad, my friend? You have that old look in your eye. Do you see something? Is something there?"
"I always see something, brother," Saul replied. "Or hear something, or sense something. That is the burden of being king. But I'm not sure if anything is there. I have watched all day. And sometimes I think I see a shadow moving somewhere in the forest. But there is no sound, no scent."
Saul feared that his voice sounded frail with age, and weak. Consciously, he stiffened his shoulders as he spoke again.
"Perhaps it is nothing," he said, finally. "I don't know. But I feel … something ..."
Whether the danger was real or imagined, Windgate received the news with characteristic seriousness. In times of threat the burly hare was instantly transformed. Where there had been a smile, the dark face became menacing, a promise of deadly combat. His dark head turned rapidly to the surrounding woodline and his broad, battle-scarred shoulders seemed to swell, challenging whatever would threaten the colony. Saul knew those wide, black eyes were swifter and sharper than his, and as he watched the dauntless head scan the forest gloom, he sensed that, among their kind, never had there been one greater in strength.
After a moment Windgate shook his head.
"I see nothing, my friend," he said uneasily. "Perhaps something passed and now is gone."
"Perhaps," said Saul, but he did not relax. Somewhere, hidden within the shrouded forest, he sensed something more than darkness. But the signs were wrong. He lifted his head to watch the lofty trees. The sparrows and swallows continued their song. Squirrels leaped and danced in the swaying branches as lightly as the wind that swayed the gentle grass of the glade where crickets carried their raking cry.
He gazed again across the glade, unable to lose his doubts. For despite the sunny calm, he felt a danger so real, so close. He hesitated sounding the alarm only because he did not wish to run from shadows. Nor did he wish for the children to see such a display. But there was something there
... he knew ... he felt.
"1 will stay with you," Windgate added, settling in closer to Saul's gray mane. "And we will watch together for a while. Perhaps four eyes will see what two eyes cannot, eh?" And he laughed again.
Saul smiled and nodded, grateful for the company of an old friend.
Beneath the low hill where they watched, Thurgood and DeSoto raced across the small field. The two little hares were notoriously prone to trouble, sometimes by chance but mostly of their own making. They never tired of playing, playing
, sometimes having so much fun that they did not notice the open approach of danger. But they were young, andthey would learn. Saul thought that it was best to let them enjoy the freedom of youth before they assumed the hard burden of guarding the colony.
DeSoto leaped into the air, swatting the top of Thurgood's shaggy head with a yell, then tore off, screaming, in a new direction. Thurgood gave chase, laughing and grabbing at his friend.
Windgate shook his head.
"I cannot count the number of times we have saved the lives of those two."
Saul laughed, despite himself.
"They are the reason we are here."
The big hare nodded and the two rested in silence. After a time the golden orb of the sun began its slow descent and the evening beamed with scattered crimson rays. Touched by the majesty, Saul spoke with eyes that gazed beyond the glade and forest and sky.
"I was king before you were born, my friend, and I have been king since. Over the long years I have taught you the way of faith, by my example and by my words. You know, as well as I, that we are children of the Lightmaker. And you know that servants of the Dark Lord hate us because our faith proclaims their doom. For this they will destroy us, if they can. They do not grow weary of plotting against us. So we must never grow weary of guarding against them.
"That is why 1 have found great comfort in you. As an Elder, you have always been faithful, protecting the little ones. You have stood against foes far stronger that yourself, and but for the grace of the Lightmaker, you would have been destroyed. But he preserved your life so that you would do a greater work for him one day. Now, though, I feel the heavy weight of age upon me, and I sense the end of my days is near. When 1 have gone the way of all flesh, it will be time to choose a new king. 1 hope it will be you, my friend. Because you are willing to stand alone. You are willing to answer all the questions of the scornful, despising their scorn. And you are willing to die protecting those you love.
"Only remember this. Always the battle begins in the spirit, but it is war in every dimension of our life: spiritual, mental, and physical. And as in any real war, some of us will die in the fighting. So prepare yourself. Servants of the Dark Lord, in themselves alone, are strong
, for flesh has a strength. But we struggle against more than flesh. We struggle against the Dark Lord himself, who never sleeps or rests."
In his hard silence Windgate's head seemed framed by strength beyond flesh, his brow stern. He looked at Saul, grim and defiant, almost as if, even in this quiet moment, he was in some cosmic conflict with their unseen foe. Then the burly hare turned his gaze back toward the field, nodding solemnly. The sun continued its slow descent, and a heavy, unnatural cold began to fall while they watched together, on guard.
Mothers quietly gathering roots screamed as Thurgood and DeSoto catapulted across their paths and an Elder raised a paw to swat the two ruffians as they hurtled past, causing Saul to smile at the antics.
The old hare began to feel easier, more comfortable, even though the disturbing sensation refused to depart. Perhaps, he thought, he was simply too old to trust his instincts. Windgate was alert, yet sensed no danger waiting within the leafy gloom of the woodline. Saul wondered if the shapeless fears he sensed might not be the ghosts of battles past. He had learned long ago that some scars never healed.
Thurgood leaped on DeSoto's back, and they crashed headlong into a low stump. Then they were off again, DeSoto in pursuit, racing after Thurgood as he sped fast and low to outrun his pursuer.
Saul sensed the deadly shadow rising from the forest floor, even as the two hares neared the woodline
, and his desperate cry of alarm shattered the quiet field but it was too late. DeSoto caught his friend, leaping upon his back with a shriek and a furious tangle of legs and the two disappeared into the green foliage.
"Get everyone to the hole!" Saul shouted.
Windgate responded with a bellowing alarm.
Like a gray thunderbolt Saul hurled himself down the steep slope toward the forest. His grace and speed made lies of his years as the ground sped away beneath him, and his ears were laid back by a great rushing of wind. In seconds he was at the spot where the children had vanished.
Then, as his flashing legs brought him to the forest edge, he twisted to avoid a collision, for the young hares had burst free from the forest, faces white with terror, screaming in fear.
* * *
Run!" screamed Saul.
Then the forest wall exploded before a murderous impact, shredded beneath a monstrous beast that roared and struck in horrific rage. Only a desperate leap saved Saul as he threw himself to the side, narrowly evading its flashing fangs. He had no time to think, fighting frantically for balance, yet even in the frenzied encounter Saul sensed a power and rage beyond anything he had ever known and glimpsed a glaring red eye that blazed with hellish hate.
Almost too quickly for the old hare to avoid, the jagged maw snapped for him again. But Saul had anticipated the attack and twisted violently to avoid the blow. Still, the beast was lightning and sharp edges tore long burning furrows along the hare's side before he was hurled, stunned and wounded, into a heap of boulders.
Roaring, the beast pounced toward him. But with reflexes trained from a hundred fierce battles, Saul had already gained his feet. He leaped across the boulders, landing lightly at a distance.
Horrified and livid with fear and rage, Saul half turned in panic to flee for the forest. Then he realized he had to distract the beast for a moment longer so that the children could reach the burrow. And even with the thought he whirled back to face the predator, his entire body electrified, prepared to evade its deadly lunge.
Horrible and malignant in the dying light, the beast did not hesitate. It moved after Saul with unnerving hatred, a rumbling snarl revealing two knifelike canines that extended to its lower jaw.
And Saul knew his enemy.
It was a wolf. But not one of the ordinary, gray wolves that roamed the mountains of the North. This was a monster
- a beast as much a creature of Hell as Earth. Saul had known its kind.
Head bowed and eyes glaring with demonic hate, it stalked forward. Bloodstained fangs hung distended and heavy with deaths of the innocent. Saul stared into the merciless eyes, caught the scent of the grave, and knew it was not hunger that drove the beast to kill. It killed only for the pleasure of killing. It was an evil servant of the Dark Lord, a creature that lived to destroy.
The dark wolf seemed to sense Saul's thoughts. Slowly, a hideous grin curled the cruel lips. Forest shadows, deepened by the descending sun, cast them into darkness. The beast halted a space apart, a silent laugh separating the deadly fangs. Then it lowered its black head and spoke.
"I have watched you long, Saul."
A voice of dirt shifting in the grave.
Saul involuntarily stepped back. He could only guess how long this beast had laid and watched, awaiting the chance to destroy his colony. Creatures such as this had infinite patience. For in their unholy allegiance to the Dark Lord, they had no higher purpose.
"1 thought you had seen me," it intoned. "But you never sounded the alarm. Is that because you didn't trust yourself, Saul? Oh, yes, I know you. I know of the great Saul, King of the Colony near the Deep Woods. I have often wished to meet you so that we might ... embrace."
Knifing wounds sliced through Saul's side but he had recovered himself. His mind was detached, racing, measuring the distance between them and the surrounding rocks and trees. If the beast pounced again, Saul estimated that he had room for one desperate, evasive leap.
"You are not so wise, Saul. If you were, then perhaps both you and your colony would all be safe in their holes. But you are a fool. And you are weak."
A black tongue flicked out, tasting Saul's fear.
The old hare maneuvered for a more defensible position.
"What is your name, beast?" he
asked, stalling. "I know who you serve."
Dead eyes narrowed to black slits. "Do you think to trick me, Saul?"
Saul evenly held its gaze. "I trick no one."
"Yes. You trick me. But by now the little children are safe in the burrow. You have indeed saved them. Only you will die," it laughed. "But one dead servant of the Lightmaker is better than none. Your blood will satisfy me for the day."
Saul risked a glance toward the field.
Yes, it was clear. All were safely underground.
He had always known that death would come for him like this; he was only surprised that he had defied it for so long. But it was his place to face what his flesh feared to face, protecting those who could not protect themselves. And he had no regrets, for it was the highest service he could render to the Lightmaker. He steadied himself before he spoke, refusing to reveal the fear he felt.
"Then I will gladly die for those I love. I despise you. Do your worst."
The dark wolfs head tilted, a grin of amusement drawing forward the hideous jaws.
"Don't think to deceive me, Saul," it said. "I know you're afraid. And I am going to make you even more afraid. You are trying to be brave because you know I'm going to destroy you. But I am no fool, as you are. I don't believe you will live forever in some make-believe kingdom of the Lightmaker. Your faith is useless, Saul. Your faith did not save you from this. You serve a god who is weak, as you are weak. Whoever serves the Dark Lord lives by strength. We fear nothing. We take the Earth and destroy what we wish."
Carefully, slowly, Saul continued to inch away, subtly increasing the distance between them. Experience had trained him to always seek the tactical advantage.
"Useless words," snarled Saul, reacting as much against the creature's lies as its murderous intent. "Do you think I'm a child? Do you think I don't know the truth? I am King of the Colony near the Deep Woods, a servant of the Lightmaker. Your lies mean nothing to me. Your flesh is strong. But your days are short. I do not fear you. I will never fear you."
Stung, the creature moved mountainously forward, primordial, creating its own Night. Saul retreated, maintaining the gap as he spoke.
"Your doom is upon you, beast. You are deceived. Your master cares nothing for you. He will betray you in the end because you are worthless to him. His true battle is with the Lightmaker, and it is a battle he lost long ago. All you have is your flesh. But the spirit knows truth that the flesh will never know. And I will have victory over you in the end."
Though it had not increased its measured pace, the creature seemed to have slightly closed the gap. Saul backed into a boulder, adjusted, and quickly angled to another line of retreat.
"No, Saul, it's you who are deceived. The Lightmaker is defeated. And now my master awaits the extinction of your pitiful kind from the earth. You stand in the way of victory, Saul. So you must be destroyed. But before I destroy you, I will make you suffer. Yes, I will make you suffer long and horribly. And then, in the end, I will make you know such terrible pain that your feeble mind will crumble beneath me, and you will deny that you ever knew this accursed Lightmaker."
It laughed, scornful, and a cold wind rattled the leaves surrounding them. Carefully, so as not to trigger an attack, the old hare edged toward the dead trunk of an ancient oak.
"I only suffer because the Lightmaker has not yet ended your days, beast. I do not suffer because you rule the forest, or anything else. You rule nothing. I only suffer because I take a stand against you in the world. But even if you destroy me I will defeat you, because you're going to die, too. And then we'll stand together before the Lightmaker, who can choose between us."
Carefully positioning himself, Saul stopped his retreat. And the creature reflexively stopped its advance, confident in its strength, savoring his opponent's fear. The old hare crouched, subtly bringing his hind feet beneath him. Then he dug his claws into the soft forest floor, tensing his legs to leap.
"Oh, be assured," the dark wolf whispered, "there will indeed be judgment. And your judgment is death. Nothing will give me more pleasure than destroying you, your useless faith, and the children who would drag on your faith. And after I have destroyed you, I will give your bodies to the worms of the earth. I hate you, Saul, and all those like you."
An unearthly, volcanic rage smoldered in the dark wolfs eyes, and Saul saw the massively muscled chest breath once, deeply. It took all the old hare's control to still himself, waiting until the creature leaped upon him. Only then, he knew, could he make his desperate move. Saul hoped dimly that his powerful hound would carry him beyond reach of those murderous claws.
"You are weak, Saul," it rasped. "The Lightmaker is a dream. And the dream has ended!"
Instantly it was upon him, its thunderous roar shattering the night. Saul reacted like lightning, leaping in a high arch over the fallen oak. But even as he cleared the other side, a dark paw flashed toward him and a deadly blow struck him full in the chest. Saul felt claws tear deep, hot wounds across his side, spinning him through the air, stricken and torn, to crash brokenly against the ground.
Devastated by the cruel blow, Saul rolled numbly on the forest floor, struggling frantically for breath and consciousness. So powerful was the impact that for a moment he lost sense of time and place, gasping, only dimly perceiving where he was. As light rising slowly through a fog, his consciousness returned, and with it came the agonizing sensation of a mortal wound. Saul rolled dazedly onto his back, to behold a nightmarish shape looming over him. Foul breath descended.
"Killing you will be my pleasure," the dark wolf snarled, its eyes gleaming with an evil thrill. "I have won!" Hellish jaws shuddered, revealing jagged rows of fangs tinged with the blood of fallen foes.
Saul gasped for breath, speaking numbly. "1 despise you, beast, but I pray for you. For the Lightmaker is coming
… and your end ... is near."
Only a brief moment did the dark eyes cloud, slavering jaws halting their descent. Then the black lips shook, drawing back in a hideous snarl, and a rumbling growl broke loose from deep in its cavernous chest. Saul closed his eyes.
The intruder's bellowing yowl hit Saul's ears at the same time that the furry shape hurtled through the air to smash against the dark wolfs head. A long leg flashed out, raking a bloody furrow across the beast's snout.
Stricken with rage and roaring in pain, the creature snapped on empty air as the giant hare leaped away, laughing. Saul was forgotten in the dark wolf
’s maniacal rage as its bloodthirsty jaws snapped again and again after the intruder who had launched this suicidal attack.
"Windgate!" Saul gasped numbly, shocked and dazed. It took all his broken strength to rise from the ground, yet he gained his feet in time to see Windgate disappear beneath a bush. The black wolf leaped after him, unable to reach within the thick branches.
"Ha!" Windgate mocked. "You may be ugly, but at least you're stupid!"
In a flash Windgate raced from the bush and burrowed beneath another one. The monster roared savagely and leaped after him, deadly fangs missing the soft fur by inches. Windgate shouted and taunted, allowing the jaws close enough for a touch, but never more. For all his burly size, the mocking hare moved with blinding speed, never ceasing, never tiring. Within moments he had lured the wolf deeper into the woods where it roared and struck demonically in its wrath.
Saul turned to the voice beside him. It was Benjamin, another Elder of the colony. Benjamin's old head, with his wild gray hair stuck out in all directions, appeared from behind a bush.
Numb from his wounds, Saul gasped, "I'll not leave Windgate alone!"
"Hurry, Saul! We have a plan! We won't leave Windgate to the beast!"
Saul heard Windgate dashing about, now here, now there. But he knew that the game would soon be up. If Windgate were left alone, eventually the beast would wear him down. But he also knew that his friend was too smart for a suicidal attack. Windgate would not have done this without a plan to survive. With a last quick glance, he turned and ran after Benjamin.
The Elder quickly led him across the field, halting in the middle. Saul could see that they were only a few feet from a well-hidden burrow hole. From a distance the wolf would not be able to see it. The beast would believe they were standing in the open field, far from the main burrow located on the far side.
"Now stand up!" stressed Benjamin.
Saul stood on his hind legs, sensing a gathering pain in his wounds with each passing breath, and felt blood seeping from his torn side.
"Aaaiiieeee!" Benjamin shouted across the field.