The woman – she was a relative of mine I think… at least a neighbor. She came in a pair. There were always two of her: the dominant, mentally-stable one and the subordinate, mentally-handicapped one. Each incarnation they switched roles, but they were always bound together. She/they wore a lot of red. Often, there was a contorted face of displeasure also worn.
We lived by grasslands and on or near a farm. I got the sense that we either raised livestock or worked for those that did. Our homes were spartan huts made of stone, clay and wood. The hearth was the focal point of the common room. The open area served as our kitchen, lounge, meeting room and dining room. One long table sat under windows oriented to the East. The same table was used for preparing food, eating, talking and performing minor surgeries when needed. Our bedrooms were small with just enough room for a nightstand, a lantern, a washing bowl, a shelf for prayer or idols and a primitive bed of hay, wool and cloth.
I found myself often taking the journey from our hut to the town for supplies. By foot, it took several days. By wagon, I could be there and back in one day if I was energetic, efficient and not distracted. I usually took the wagon.
The town was all stone. I could see towers and small castles from the windows in our hut. A tall wall marked the perimeter of the town. Only certain people were allowed through the gates. We were known by many of the village officials so entering was never an issue.
The political climate of the village was not to my understanding. Over the years, I had noticed the hierarchy and how the preferred candidate to rule always seemed to gain control. All the leaders looked the same once they entered the system, despite how they may have looked before. They also all behaved the same… as if one man was re-incarnating himself into the ruler time and time again. My curiosity got the best of me one night. I called upon my Sky Dragon, invisible to human eyes, to take me through the village on the night of the passing of the metaphorical crown. With my black cloak, I was almost invisible in the dark sky of the new moon as I sat on the back of my Dragon. Perched on rooftops, we listened. Gripping the sides of the wall, we watched. It became apparent that my previous assumptions were correct; the ruler was a re-incarnation of a previous ruler, and he, a re-incarnation of a previous one, and so on. I do not know how the copies function; they all seem very robotic. Nor do I know the original blueprint, but already I have seen too much. No one caught me spying that night, thankfully. I haven’t ventured there at night on my Dragon since.
This day that I saw so clearly was not a remarkable one. The sun hung high in the sky as I started out to the village much too late in the day. The spring to summer transition was perfuming the air with ripeness and youth. The sky was clear blue and the plains were open and vast. I walked with my empty basket and pocket full of coins to where we usually kept the wagon. It was not there. A bit confused, I wandered our property, looking for it. No luck, so I started down the road on foot.
I met the Black Dog only about 50 paces from the hut. Funny that I didn’t see this stark black speck contrasting the greens and tans of the landscape from the hut. It seemed as if he had become more apparent the closer I got to him. He looked jackal if he turned one way and doberman if he turned another. He did not take his piercing eyes off of me. Naturally, I returned his stare. His glare made me slightly uneasy, but not fearful. I do not know how he felt about my glares back. As I passed him, he began to follow me. He trialed behind at a fair distance from me. His attendance did not feel predatory or even that strange to me, but still I wondered why he had chosen to follow.
I caught sight of our wagon on the road. The one harness was empty. After walking so far from the hut, I was discouraged to retrace my steps. I would lose much precious daylight. As I huffed, I heard a noise from behind me. A black stallion came speeding out of the horizon. He passed the Black Dog with a nod of recognition before stopping between him and I. All three of us just stood looking at each other for some time. I was a little baffled, but also somewhat hopeful that I may receive help from this spontaneous horse. Both the dog and the horse made some gestures that I did not understand at first. They paced a bit impatiently at my stillness. Not knowing what else to do, I sat in the wagon with my basket. Immediately, the Black Dog hopped inside and sat opposite to me, still staring at me with his pitch-black, whirlpool eyes. He sat calmly, not moving one bit except for a slight wagging of his tail. I drew my eyes away from him for a moment to watch the horse. He whinnied and cocked his head at me. I thought to myself: “You wouldn’t want to be a good boy and get in the harness to pull me, would you?” To my surprise, the horse responded by oriented himself close to the harness so I could put it on him. He trotted off rather tamely and almost happily. So I was off to the village with a Black Dog with a Death stare and black horse that was telepathically obedient. And here, all I knew I had for my journeys was the Dragon.
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.