The Giant Wolf
The times were a bit different. In this dream realm, passive entertainment did not exist. The public was drawn to county or town fairs, outdoor festivals, executions, gladiator-type fights and village games. This particular day was the Wolf Challenge. This day occurred annually in mid-Spring. The hostess was a cold and intelligent woman who kept the only (or last) Giant Wolf as her companion. He was too wild and dangerous to be considered her pet, but he lived closely with her, on her land, and often times, they sat within the same rooms or around the same campfire sharing meat and quiet nights. They were as much friends as they were open enemies. For the Wolf knew that if he attempted to escape or to challenge her authority, she would kill him. Likewise, the woman knew that if she were to let her guard down or show any sign of weakness, the Wolf would see it as an open invitation to go in for the kill. They both seemed oddly comfortable with this arrangement, living in certain captivity of each other until their respective Judgment Day by the other.
The Giant Wolf was the fiercest and most cunning creature this side of the realm. Every year, the Giant Wolf was pitted against a worthy opponent, usually a champion, hero or gladiator of sorts. The challengers entered willingly and trained intensively for many years until the hostess, the public and the monarchy deemed them fit for the test. A handful of men would be assembled in front of the hostess’s stage while the Wolf was released. The Wolf would ultimately choose his opponent out of the candidates. There must have been some great prize for defeating the Wolf (or else why enter the contest?), though I wasn’t sure what it was; I never saw anybody defeat the Wolf.
People from other villages would journey many days and nights to come to the annual battle, many with a representative gladiator. Only a small percentage of the champions that were presented would be chosen as a candidate. There were many areas organized for spectators. Crude bleachers were assembled on the cliff above the fighting pit and preferred spectator seats. The fighting pit was all rock, with heavy, spiked stones marking the boundaries of the fighting arena. Outside of this was a buffer zone of grassy patches before the small field of tall grass and wildflowers opened up for other seats. Preferred guests and the spectators that arrived earliest would often get these seats. Preferred guests (royalty, rich villagers) would have a guaranteed seat. The average spectator usually camped out many nights before the fight in order to have a chance at a close seat when the hostess and the ushers (and bodyguards) announced that seating was open. Some people would be crushed by the masses rushing to the front.
I came this year with my partner. We usually inhabited the upper cliff, safe and impersonal. I was wearing a flowing white dress, similar to many of the women who came. Before seating opened, the spectators up on the cliff were either setting up their spaces with blanket and wine or else bobbing around anxiously, waiting for the field below to open for commoner seating. I was gathering flowers and wandering over the grassy areas when I heard the horn sound for seating. I came to a tree and tugged on a branch so I could reach a particular flower. The ground opened up from under me, and I slid swiftly down to the filed below. I had reached the field quicker than anyone else. The hostess entered with her two large dogs (half breeds of Giant Wolves and dogs… another safety precaution). The dogs were all black and about 2/3 the size of the Wolf. They were bred to be fierce protectors. The hostess eyed me strangely while I looked around in daze, trying to figure out what had happened. People started hurrying down the hills, tumbling and pushing through the crowd in madness. I tried to signal to my partner from below, but I was soon lost in the flurry of people. I retreated to the edge of the field, against the mountain side, as far from the stage and fighting area that I could get. Regrettably, I was on the side of the arena with the cave from which the Giant Wolf entered. I held myself against the wall and hoped to remain invisible.
Before the hostess sat in her stone throne, the dogs both stopped following her and looked in my direction. They came over to me and stood, one on each side of me. The hostess was left to sit alone. When she realized that her dogs had left her side she became quite petulant. They snubbed her as she tried to quietly, but forcefully call them back over to her. She gave me icy glares. The dogs would not budge from my side.
The ceremony began by lining up all the champions in front of the raised rock stage where the hostess sat. Words were said and a portion of the champions presented were voted as candidates while the others were directed to a seating area. Some time passed as the worthy candidates made themselves known and gave short speeches. All the while, the hostess glared at me in a cold rage as her dogs ignored her.
Finally, the time had come to release the Wolf so he may choose his opponent. The hostess called to him and sent her bodyguards to rouse the Wolf with pokers and spikes. He came out of his cave in a quiet, seething anger that seemed almost supernatural. His eyes came upon me first before he walked in the direction of the candidates. He paced in front of them, his fur twitching, his eyes narrowing and his tongue flicking out of his mouth to lick his chops. His eyes fluttered back to me in a predatory, playful way. His stride in front of the candidates widened as he slowly worked a wider range for himself, a range wide enough to meet my eyes as he paced.
The dogs became uneasy and began to circle me, their eyes never leaving the Wolf. As the Wolf came closer to where I was standing, the dogs guided me in different directions to evade the Wolf. The Wolf did not make eye contact with the dogs, only with me; he was unfazed by the dogs’ warnings of growls and nips. He seemed to smile as he went to turn his back on me. When the dogs stopped pacing ferociously, the Wolf swiftly turned and leapt for me, in the space the dogs had left between themselves and me. He was quickly almost on top of me. I had moved back quickly so he could not had pounced on my body, but he was only inches from me. The dogs barked and got under him, biting his belly as the Wolf snapped at me. My body had somehow become much heavier than it was previously, like I was half a stone woman. My forearm blocked my head and was enough force to keep him from eating my face; however, my arm was not as lucky. It was bit and almost broken, bleeding all over my white dress.
At this point, all I could see was him and my blood. I do not know what happened next, but I was not eaten. As far as I can recollect, no person came to my aid, and I did not kill the Wolf. I believe both myself and the dogs injured him so he retreated, but I could not tell you how any of it happened. The last I remember was grabbing whatever was close to me to hurl into him as I kept blocking his advances with my arm. I saw and heard the dogs whimper and growl around me as they dove for any part of him they could get. The dogs and I were heaps of a bloody mess when the Wolf retreated, but we were all still alive. My partner hurried to get me as riots broke out all around. Many champions attacked the nobles and the bodyguards while the hostess attempted a clean escape with her servants rushing her out.
The scene changed. I was inside a house with her, sitting by the fire. She had a rattlesnake in her lap. I had my cats, the black dogs, a large rabbit, an owl and a few more animals around me. She was dressed in red and black and I was still in white. It was evening. We sat and stared at one another in silence as she pet her rattlesnake as if it were a kitten. My animal friends and I turned up our noses at her. I told her I was not afraid of her or her rattlesnake, and that she should best be careful since snakes often act unpredictably around fire.