For the introduction and chapter one, click here.
For chapter three, click here.
At length, the men ventured closer to Mr. Lawson’s kill. Blood which had moments before coursed from the wounded side now ceased flow, for the stilled heart. Red-wet fur, smeared from the wolf’s thrashing, matted the side. Mud and grass too were glazed with it, fresh and even steaming the faintest part.
Though the wolf was dead, the terror of the men had hardly faded. So simple was it to slay a wolf? No man ventured to voice that confusion, but young Mr. Warwick worked his way around it.
“So easy a thing?” he mused, wide-eyed.
“Easy?” asked Mr. Lawson.
Mr. Merritt was acquainted with the sport of stags, and addressed the point. “Not a simple thing, to put an arrow on a movin’ wolf.”
“That bein’ the reason as my first shot was not equal to the task,” Mr. Lawson supplemented. “And I don’t mind sayin’ so,” he gave a candid shrug, “only that it was fortune’s favor guidin’ that second arrow.”
Grunts of agreement were shared all around, but also several commendations of Mr. Lawson’s skill.
“Be that as it may,” young Mr. Warwick began again, “my notion o’ wolves is of fearsome beasts that can take a mighty whipping and still fight on, tough as ever.”
Mr. Conn gave voice to another clear fact, “In truth, this is but one wolf, alone. Trifle it not, mind, but wolves in a pack are sure to be severe much the more, while a single beast has not the pack to fade upon.”
Mr. Cartwright then spoke quietly, eyes set upon the dead animal, “Not quite the specimen I’d expect.”
“Why do you say that?” asked the elder Warwick.
Now regarding the other men, he made his reply, “On account of the stories were mentioned by your son, Mr. Warwick.” Waving a hand over the carcass, Mr. Cartwright continued, “Scarce a muscle on it.”
“Ah!” burst out Mr. Merritt. “How true that is! And in our astonishment of seeing a wolf, we recognized it not.”
At this mere observation, all eyes surveyed the beast once more, and only now did the shaking of the men begin to fade. For the wolf had teeth, and teeth polished by the working at bones picked clean of muscle and marrow. And it had claws too, claws far larger than any dog they had ever known of. Yet, the wolf had little else to its credit which was not bones and fur.
Wolves of the old legends were said to have as much weight in their flesh of locomotion as they did in everything else, whereas this animal had the looks of starvation and loneliness. They did not pity it in that. Indeed, they still felt superlative elation at the success of the hunt.
No man among them wished to speak aloud the conclusion that all had drawn, even Vincent Conn who could be forgiven for failing to work it out thoroughly. If this was a lone wolf, perhaps a runt cast out of a pack, contending every day to scrape out survival, where then were the others?
Perhaps wolves continued on their terrorism many leagues afar, and this one had trekked away from that competition, finding Littledon now fertile territory for stealthy raiding. Successful as the hunt had been in bringing down this solitary threat, there was still cause for great concern.
Even a pack of four or five wolves would have had little trouble handling the hunters, if a bare fraction of the legends were true. Judging by the names and stories of those lost in the great hunts, the legends were in considerable part authentic.
They secretly mulled these thoughts, eyes pinned to the wolf as surely as were Mr. Lawson’s arrows.
But the voice of Mrs. Yates retrieved their attention. “Good men! What brings ye out hence?”
“Hallo!” cried out several of the men together.
Mr. Lawson and Mr. Cartwright met her halfway between the Yates home and the bloodied ground, so as to spare her memory the images of the feared creature in a state of agonized death.
She was distraught to see the slain lamb and mortified to hear of the wolf. But upon hearing of its demise, she enthusiastically thanked Mr. Lawson on his fine bowman-ship. And she would not allow the men to leave without the charity of a hearty lunch and a round of ales.
Mr. Yates returned with the medicine which soothed the poor ill child to sleep. He was also joyous of their success, waving away their apologies at the loss of four legs from his flock. Mr. Yates decided to inspect the beast as the men debated what to do, and he agreed with their assessment that this could not be the worst of wolves Littledon had ever faced, nor even the mean.
Mr. Cartwright suggested the carcass be taken back to town and given to old Mr. Mackenzie, who had perfected a trade of the stuffing of carcasses for display, or the mounting of a stag’s head on a plaque. Mr. Lawson protested that the town need not have greater reason to stir panic, and the hauling in of even a withered wolf was sure to provide for more dread.
Such caution was shrugged off by all the others, and Mr. Yates put in that he would rather not have to bury the beast. The Warwicks fashioned a travois with a set of long branches and twine. Three men lifted the body of the wolf upon the skid where it was tied into place.
Deigning at least to retrieve his arrows, Mr. Lawson made sure to clean them upon the leaves of a nearby birch. Vincent and the younger Warwick agreed that their victory would be all the more glorious if the shafts had been within the wolf when the party arrived in Littledon. They were careful not to offend Mr. Lawson however, and the time for departure had thus come.
Exchanging farewells with the Yates’, the group set off for town, each taking his turn at dragging the travois a portion of the several leagues.