Theobald, rocking back and forth on Malcolm’s back, staring out over the vast pond was troubled. Leaving here was madness. Where else would they find a plentiful fresh water and forage? The wolf had assured them that they would “have a plentitude of earthy delights” and “a most luxurious pond”, in Lupis park, but Theobald didn’t trust Wolfie—he was too assured, too full of himself. Why was he being so gracious, and welcoming? What did he want? He must want something. No animal is generous without wanting something in return. And although Theobald had never met a wolf before, he had heard the disquieting stories about them. So he was resolutely against going with “Wolfie” when they discussed it.
“Why would we go there?”
Malcolm glanced at Wolfie on a rock some distance away. “Because we’ve been invited.”
“By a wolf.”
“We’ve no reason not to trust him.”
“We’ve no reason to trust him.”
Malcolm snorted. “Theobald, he could have brought the wolf pack to the pond and made a meal of us here.”
“Too much trouble.”
“Bewley, do you know anything about Lupis park?”
The Boar shook his head. “No. I’ve never been bothered by wolves, although there was something about the Federation and Lupis park which I can’t remember just now.”
Miranda looked at Theobald. “Being cautious is not the same as being suspicious. Besides, if we don’t go and visit them, they’ll probably come and visit us and won’t be quite as friendly.”
“What about you, Bewley,” she asked, “will you come with us?”
The boar considered a moment. “I believe I will.”
Theobald gave in. He knew he could elude the wolves by simply disappearing into the pond’s depths, but it wasn’t so easy for the others.
At first, as Wolfie led them along the water’s edge, Theobald hoped that the Lupis Park might be by the water; but no, after travelling a few tree lengths over the rocks, they turned inland, entering a gap in the rock which they gradually ascended, with vegetation becoming sparser, certainly not enough to suggest a ‘plentitude of earthy delights’
At the top of their ascent, beyond the rocks, Theobald could see a grove of trees. Would there be water? Gradually, the thwuck of Malcolm’s footfalls on the rocks softened into earth-dampened footfalls, and ferns and small flowers began to dot the path.
Theobald noticed a clearing. Then he heard an animal howling, and as suddenly, glimpsed a deer dart across the clearing with a wolf on its back. It was the wolf howling! Then, two more deer, also with wolves on their backs, also howling, charged across the clearing behind the first deer, and all three disappearing into the woods.
Malcolm had stopped. Theobald noted that he, Miranda, Manley and Bewley, like him, were all staring dumbly after the deer.
“Why are you stopped?” asked Wolfie.
“What’s the meaning of this?’” asked Malcolm.
“There are wolves on the deer.”
“Hunting the deer?”
“Of course not.”
“Why are they on the deer?”
“I told you, they’re hunting.”
“Yes, but why are they riding the deer? Can’t they run on their own?”
“Oh, I see. Yes, I suppose they could, but it wouldn’t be as much fun, would it?”
“But what about the deer?”
“What about them?”
“They can’t like it very much.”
“They love it.”
Malcolm paused. “It’s unnatural for one animal to ride on another.”
The Wolf smiled, “the turtle rides on your back.”
“I don’t mind him riding on my back. He’s my friend.”
“The deer are our friends.”
“If we asked them, would the deer tell a different story?”
“I don’t know. Once we get into the park proper, you’ll see plenty of deer. You can ask one then.”
Malcolm looked to Miranda. Theobald could see a warning expression in her eyes and wondered if she was thinking he had been right not wanting to come.
“We’re almost there,” said Wolfie, loping forward through the clearing.
Cheered by the sight of trees and bushes, Theobald spotted another clearing ahead. Suddenly, he heard many wolves howling, as though a huge pack had surrounded them. It didn’t sound friendly. Malcolm stopped.
“Does anybody want to turn back?” asked Miranda.
“It’s probably too late,” said Malcolm quietly.
“I think we might be,” said Manley, “better off near the pond.”
Up ahead, Wolfie had realized that they had stopped and came trotting back. “What now?”
“What about it?”
“It’s a bit frightening.”
“It’s meant to be. We’ve arrived.”
“Do they always make that noise?”
“We don’t consider it noise. They’re greeting my return.”
Malcolm looked at Miranda; Miranda looked at Manley, Bewley and Theobald.
“Come along, so I can introduce you.” Wolfie bounded off for the clearing and, after a slight hesitation, Malcolm lumbered forward again. As much as Theobald understood how his fear was useless, it had started to grip him again.
Miranda spotted them immediately. From the trees they entered a large, sheltered pit of rock stratas. Wolves lounged in the sun on the rock ledges. Cubs played at the bottom of the pit, two were mounting a deer from a rock precipice, and on a high strata of rock above them, standing apart from the rest, two strikingly-marked gray wolves watched over the sheltered enclave. They were obviously the pack leaders. For a moment, Miranda wondered if she had been incautious. Was it a trap?
Wolfie dashed across the pit and bounded up the rocks to the couple. Approaching them, he crouched down, lowering his fur and ears. He then reached up and licked the muzzle of what seemed to Miranda to be the Male wolf. The Male wolf listened to Wolfie and nodded. Wolfie then bounded down a level and began to howl. Almost immediately, the pit filled with wolves. Miranda was astonished. More wolves than she could count abruptly appeared from the forest surrounding the pit.
When they had all assembled, the Male leader, pausing, stepped forward onto a protruding rock. He looked at the wolves gathered below him for some time. Miranda sensed that he was gathering his thoughts.
“These are auspicious times, Brother Wolves,” he said. “That’s what I believe. I know what I believe. And you know what I believe. I will continue to believe and to speak what I believe, and I believe that what I believe is right. That’s what’s I believe. I know the wolf and the fish can be together peacefully and free. Free animals is hopeful animals, they are against the hateful animals who kill, unless the killing is to protect their freedom, a freedom to kill. No animals can bully ourselves and our friends. Our enemies never stop thinking about ways to harm us wolves and neither do we. And that’s because we love freedom. That’s what they don’t understand, because they are haters. They hate things. We love things. They make acts of hatred, while we seek justice. We love justice. Wolves are strong because we are willing to love our neighbour. Whether they be squirrel, fox, or muskrat, or deer, animals have heard the call to love a neighbour just like they’d like to be loved themselves. Freedom is like wings flying and taking dreams. Let us look around the forest where there’s been death and destruction and ask ourselves why? Why? Because some animals hate. Evil is everywhere. I’m certain. We are all certain that there is animals that can’t stand what we stand for… we’re certain there’s terror too, and I’m certain of this, I’m certain we’re the ones who fight for peace. Before, it was clear who ‘they’ were. Today we’re not sure who ‘they’ are, but we know they’re there. All wolves can agree that we’re ready for any unforeseen incident that may or may not occur. I’ve made good judgements before, I’ve made good judgements now, but if we don’t succeed, we could fail. But with success we can succeed.”
Miranda blinked. She was concentrating hard, but unable to understand what he was saying. Who were ‘they’? Who were the ‘enemies’?
“As you know,” he continued, “I’m a patient wolf. And when I say I’m a patient wolf, I mean I’m a patient wolf. That’s why we’re making the right decisions to bring this solution to an end, but all animals must come together to unite. And now, Brother and Sister wolves, let us pray.”
All the wolves stretched out their front legs, bowing their heads.
“Oh great and mighty Yaglimth, thank you…”
“…for giving us the trees and rocks and the animals we eat, although we don’t eat all the animals just some of them.”
Yaglimth? The raven? Yes. That’s where she had heard that word. What had he told her? The Yaglimth was a… great, powerful animal that no one could see that maybe lived in the sky and maybe looked like a giant raven who protected animals from themselves. Was this wolf talking to a giant raven that no one could see? She glanced at all the wolves. They had their legs stretched before them, all facing the head wolf above them, their heads bowed. It was clear they believed in a yaglimth, somewhere.
“Thank you for giving us the trees that shelters us and the rocks we climb upon. We follow your scent in everything. We thank you for sending us new friends…. we know they will be strong and courageous allies. O Mighty Yaglimth, you are the greatest wolf, you lead the pack in every way.”
Miranda resisted smiling. The Yaglimth was a wolf.
“We ask you to guide us, and help us catch other animals when we have hunger, and rain on us when we have thirst, but not too much, please.” The leader then gave a short howl which the other wolves joined.
As the wolves rose, their leader continued. “I hope you will join me in welcoming new friends to Lupis park. They are our guests and I know you will treat them. And now, let us have a howl of welcome.”
All the wolves howled once more. It was loud and frightening. Miranda glanced at the others and saw that Theobald and Manley were trying to hide their terror, Malcolm was apprehensive and Bewley seemed stunned.
When the howling finally stopped, Miranda noted that the Leader nodded to Wolfie who responded by bounding over to them. “You’ll be excited to know,” he said confidentially, “that he wants to meet you.”
Miranda glanced at the others, then followed Wolfie who slowly crossed the pit through the many wolves who were now disassembling, making his way up the other side.
Wolfie carefully led them to a spot just below where the couple stood. “This is our leader, His Excellency, Walen he-wolf.”
Miranda bowed her head.
“And this is Her Excellency, Willary She-wolf. They welcome you to Lupis park.”
“Thank you.” Miranda returned the smile, “for inviting us.”
Willary smiled. “We love all animals.”
“And we want,” said Walen, “all animals to be free.
“Aren’t they free already?”
Walen looked at Malcolm. It was a stupefied look.
“As I said, all animals must come together to unite. And now let us eat.” He emitted three short barks and from behind a rock formation two wolves carried out a partial carcass. Miranda couldn’t be sure what kind of animal had been hunted down. The carcass was brought forward and dropped at their feet. Walen and Willary started tearing a chunks of flesh.
Wolfie edged forward and whispered, “you may eat when they’ve finished.”
“It’s very kind of you, but I don’t eat other animals.”
Wolfie’s smile disappeared and, for a slight breath, Miranda detected an odd expression in his eyes. What? Anger?
He drew closer to her. “What about the others?”
No, they don’t eat animals either.”
Wolfie’s eyes betrayed puzzlement. Tentatively, he moved close to Walen and whispered into his ear. Walen looked up at Miranda. “Don’t eat meat?”
Miranda shook her head. “We would be content to forage on our own. Perhaps you will tell us where to find water, some berry bushes and good rich earth.”
Walen nodded at Wolfie who trotted over to Miranda. “Follow me.”
Miranda glanced back at Walen. His head was down, tearing vigorously at a thigh.
They followed Wolfie over the rock ledge, through pine trees, to a small pond surrounded by pussy willows, rushes and Aspens. There were lilies on the pond and tall grass beside it. “Will this be alright?”
Miranda looked at the others. Theobald, Malcolm and Manley were smiling, Bewley seemed hesitant. She looked at Wolfie. “Yes, thank you.”
Wolfie, glancing back curiously, loped away.
Malcolm came close and whispered, “what do you make of all that?”
“I don’t know. It made no sense to me.”
“Let’s eat as much as we can in case we need to run.”
Theobald rolled off Malcolm’s back into the pond with a splash and dived down to forage. Malcolm stepped into the water and began feeding on pondweed. Manley burrowed down and disappeared, leaving Miranda with Bewley.
She smiled at him. “What shall we eat?”
“I’m not hungry.”
“Is something bothering you?”
“I’ve remembered what it was about Lupis park and the Federation. When the Committee was first formed, the Federation sent two representatives here to discuss ‘areas of mutual interest’. We never saw them again.”
“Did you inquire?”
“What would we have done? Sent another representative? I think we should leave as soon as possible.”
“It’s probably too late, chum.” The voice was from behind them in the trees. It was low and whispered. “Don’t look around. Pretend you haven’t heard me.”
“Who are you?” Miranda listened intently, trying to place the voice.
“‘What do you want’ is the question. Your friend is right to be nervous. The two boars were wolf dinner the very day they arrived.”
“What!??” Bewley turned, stunned.
“Don’t turn around,” whispered the voice angrily. “Do you want to give me away?”
“Why are you telling us?”
“I don’t know. Anger maybe.”
“What have the wolves done to you?”
“They ride us.”
“You’re a deer?”
“Why do you let them ride you?”
“So they won’t eat us. They know if they eat even one of us, we will stop carrying them.”
“Can’t you escape?”
Bewley was silent.
Miranda was mulling over what to do. “They told us that you liked being ridden.”
“Who told you?”
“We like it, yes, because it means we’re not being eaten. So I guess it’s a kind of like. Anyway, you’ve been warned.”
“What should we do?”
There was no answer. Miranda, aware now that they might be observed, pretended to look for berries and turned to look behind her. There was no one there.
Malcolm chewed thoughtfully. “Did he tell you anything else?”
“The question is, what do they want from us?”
“The question is,” said Theobald, looking about to ensure they weren’t being overheard, “how do we get back to the big pond?”
“If we attempt to leave now,” said Miranda, “they will most likely try to stop us.”
“You’re right,” said Malcolm, “it would mean confronting them. We would be better off waiting to find out what they want before attempting to leave.”
“What,” asked Theobald, “if what they want is to eat us?”
“If that was what they wanted, they would have done it before now. No, it’s something else. I suggest we get lots of rest and eat plenty so that if we have to move, we can do it quickly.”
Malcolm watched in the fading light as Miranda curled up beside a safe log, and Bewley lay next to her. Malcolm came and stood over them and closed his eyes.
A few breaths later, he opened them again. Then he closed them. And opened them again. It was impossible. He couldn’t sleep. Were they being watched? He felt as though someone was watching them. Carefully, he lifted his right back hoof just off the ground, placing it slightly back. Then he did the same with each leg, repeating the movement, little by little edging away from the others, until, as blackness fell, he slipped into the shelter of the trees. When he felt safe enough, he moved deeper into the forest, trying not to trip or call attention to his presence.
“Where are you going?” It was Wolfie’s voice, in the dark, close by.
“Where are you going?”
“I can’t sleep.” He couldn’t see him in the darkness. Then, a short distance in front of him, he saw the eyes—bright, intense, piercing.
“I’m too excited.”
“What about? Well, what we’ve seen today. Wouldn’t you be excited?”
“What are you doing here? Can’t sleep either?”
“Something like that.”
“Well, why don’t we go for a walk?”
“It’s too dark for that. You might get injured. It would be better if you went back and joined the others. Where’s the turtle, by the way, and the mole?”
“In the pond, and Manley’s below ground. What do you mean too dangerous?”
“You could trip on a log.”
“I see. Well, maybe I’ll try to sleep again.”
“Good idea. See you in the morning.”
“Yes, good night.”
Quickly, Malcolm made his way back and resumed his position over the others.
When Theobald woke he was uncertain as to where he was. He was floating among reeds and rushes, shadowed in the early morning sun, beyond that he couldn’t see much except the tops of trees. Then he remembered the wolves and arriving at the pond. Where were the others? He looked for open water but none was visible. Where was he? He heard movement nearby. He was about to call out when he heard voices.
“Where are they?”
“The visitors. Who else?”
“Can we eat them now?”
“No,” said the voice, sounding irritated. “Wolfie has plans for them.”
“What kind of plans?”
“How do I know?”
“Well, can you speak to Wolfie and let him know that I deserve a full share?”
“I suggest,” said the voice, scathingly, “you ask Wolfie yourself.”
“I’d rather not.”
There was silence. Theobald strained to hear, but all he heard were sounds of movement through the bushes. He looked about anxiously for a path to open water. He must find the others.
With a full belly, Manley broke through the surface. The light stung his eyes. Coming aboveground after a night below, they always adjusted painfully. Squinting, he listened for the others, hearing voices near the pond’s edge, in earnest discussion. As he hurried near, he heard Theobald quietly but urgently telling them something. He sensed trouble. For a breath, he considered going back underground. He’d found some white grubs last night and had feasted accordingly. Why live aboveground? The only time he had found any joy aboveground had been with Bernard. Since then, it had been contentious, having to deal with mendacious or cruel animals whose rationale was puzzling. Perhaps, once they got away from Lupis park, he would seriously consider remaining underground. Perhaps.
“What’s up?” he asked.
Keeping an eye on the trees, Malcolm quietly told him what he and Theobald had experienced.
Listening, Manley could sense that the others needed to be reassured. “We don’t need to panic just yet. Let’s find out what they want.”
“We know what they want,” said Theobald sharply. “They want to eat us,”
“They could have eaten us before.”
“Why does everyone want to eat us?” Theobald moaned.
“It might,” Manley continued, “be of some advantage if we had a story.”
“Hasn’t it struck you as odd that Wolfie hasn’t asked us what we’re doing together, or why we’re here?”
“Yes,” said Malcolm.
“He might not care, especially if they plan to eat us, but if we were here on behalf of someone, they might wonder if the someone else would show up eventually.”
“If the someone else were considered dangerous, they might be afraid to eat us.”
Miranda leaned over and smiled at him. Every now and then, he felt almost intelligent, but especially when Miranda smiled on him.
“Okay, we’ll think up a story,” said Malcolm, “and hope it confuses them.”
The two wolves they were ordered to follow didn’t appear to Theobald to be terribly respectful. They seemed to have no interest in them except to lead them back to the wolves’ pit. Wolves, Theobald decided, were not terribly intelligent These two hadn’t said anything except “he wants you, now, let’s go.” Not exactly respectful or gracious. ‘Rude’ would be the word to describe their behaviour, rude and unintelligent.
He could see few wolves in the pit as they approached. Whatever it was they were being summoned for did not involve the pack. That seemed encouraging, unless of course they were only going to be eaten by a select few wolves. Eaten? Oh Theobald, stop.
As Malcolm lumbered into the clearing, Wolfie strode across to them. Theobald noted Walen and Willary lying peacefully on the rock above, grooming each other with their tongues. They didn’t seem to have noticed their arrival.
“Welcome,” said Wolfie. “I hope you feel refreshed.”
“Yes, thank you,” said Malcolm.
“I thought we might have a little talk.”
“What about?” said Theobald abruptly.
Wolfie looked at him curiously. Theobald felt foolish, but he couldn’t help being anxious, he realized, it was simply in his nature. “I mean, is it something that concerns all of us?”
“As a matter of fact, yes, but first I’d like to know a little more about you.”
“Such as?” asked Malcolm.
“Where are you from?”
“You mean recently or before?”
“Well, as I believe Miranda told you we’ve recently been with the Federation.”
“We know that.”
“And, ah, before that we travelled from a long way from our home.”
“Which is where?”
“Beyond the Federation is a plain which takes days to cross. And beyond that, the mountains, and beyond that, Boggy Bog. And beyond that is our forest, our home.”
“Why are you here?”
Malcolm hesitated, then rolled his eyes in the direction of his missing ear.
“Your ear?” Wolfie asked.
“For some time now,” Malcolm continued, “the minks in our forest have been breeding rapidly, with the result that there are now many more of them than any other animal. They dominate the Forest. And they now demand that the other animals do what they command.”
“Hmm, well, gathering forage for them.”
“They are,” interjected Miranda, “extremely powerful and extremely dangerous, not to be trifled with.”
Malcolm nodded. “Minks completely rule the forest. If any animal provokes them, well…”
Theobald noted that Wolfie’s expression seemed perplexed.
“That’s why we left. Why do you ask?” said Malcolm.
“I had hoped,” said Wolfie, “to ask you to join us.”
“To free the animals.”
“We are aware that the freedom that we enjoy here in Lupis park is not available to other animals in other parts of our forest.”
“Which other animals?” said Bewley.
Watching Wolfie warily, Theobald thought he glimpsed a frown.
“I’ll be frank.” Wolfie said, looking at Bewley directly. “You know that we’re not on good terms with the… ah, Federation—a true federation, by the way, would consist of several species of animals and not just boars—but that’s beside the point. We have attempted to open a dialogue with the Federation many times and have always been rebuffed. We are concerned about the other animals in the Dell. They are being denied their freedom.”
“How does this concern us?” Miranda stared at Wolfie directly.
“We need someone to act as go-between to begin discussions with the Federation.”
“What about the deer?”
“Yes, they could, but because they’re our friends others might be prejudiced against them. We’re hoping you might assist us.”
“Why should we?” Theobald couldn’t disguise the suspicion in his voice.
“I’d hoped that you’d be interested in promoting good will here. If you were to succeed, you would certainly win the admiration of all.”
“What would we say to them?”
“That squabbling achieves nothing, that we should live in peace.”
“What happens if we fail?” Miranda’s voice was quiet but firm.
“We don’t expect you to fail. Come with me.”
Wolfie jumped up the rocks to the next strata, and as he looked up Theobald saw him signal to Walen who then came bounding down to them. He stopped on the rock above them and again Wolfie went up to him, crouched down and lowered his fur and ears.
Walen nuzzled him slightly and looked down at them.
“Has Wolfie told you about our desires to spread freedom and peace around the forest?”
“You know, there’s a certain attitude outside Lupis park that says it’s a waste of time to free animals in other parts of the forest. I’ve heard that criticism, but we cannot let terrorfying, rogue animals hold us hostile or our animal friends.”
“I have asked them.” said Wolfie, “to help us.”
“To join the fight.”
“We haven’t agreed yet.” Malcolm glanced at the others. “We’ll need to think about it.”
“See, free animals are peaceful animals. Free animals don’t attack each other. Free animals are free.”
Theobald felt Malcolm shift his weight slighltly as if making ready to bolt.
“You’re free. And freedom is beautiful. We have to give all animals freedom, but it will take time. We have to restore chaos and order—order out of chaos.”
“Yes,” Malcolm repeated, warily.
“Tomorrow, all animals will be free.”
“Nothing can be further than the truth.”
“We have to struggle to not proceed but to proceed forward.”
“I want to call upon the best of the forest and that’s you.”
“Ah, well, as I said, we would have to think about it.”
“If you don’t stand for anything, you don’t stand.”
For a moment, Walen stood there, staring at them, a slightly odd expression on his muzzle. “Where’s your other ear?”
“It’s a long story,” said Malcolm.
“I like’em short,” said Walen, “but later we will speak of this together.” With that, he bounded back up the rocks, stood for a moment surveying the wolf pit then lay down again beside Willary.
Watching Walen, Wolfie said, “He stands out as a leader.”
“I can see that.”
“Are you convinced?”
Stunned, Theobald almost let go of his grip on Malcolm’s back. He looked at Miranda but she was expressionless. What was Malcolm thinking?
“You will go?” asked Wolfie.
“I haven’t spoken with the others yet, but it is plain to me that if what you’ve said is true, we will need to help.”
Theobald could see that Wolfie seemed somewhat surprised. “Are you sure you don’t need to think it over?”
Malcolm glanced at the others. Miranda, Manley and Bewley all shook their heads. It occurred to Theobald that something was going on that he was unaware of. Perhaps it would be best to agree. Yes. “We don’t need to think it over,” he found himself saying.