Davidge, the noble Ward of the Wood, was sitting by the warmth of his fire one night in the usual clearing of the woods, where he was known to do his late evening meditations, when along came the same Silver Wolf who happened to be a friend, to the very same man who sat there eating his dinner, warming himself next to his fire.
The man raised his empty hand to the Silver Wolf and held it high. It was the universal sign of friendship. It looked like an invitation. The Wolf understood the gesture with some solemn attention, from a distance, in the moonlight and starlight of the cold night air. Daring to accept an invitation from a thing as dangerous as a man can be, to a wild creature, yet with some confidence, the animal considered himself vouched safe by the Ward.
The Silver Wolf approached the fire, but only because of the invitation gesture. Without the gesture, the wolf would certainly have been on his own way quietly, unless the Holy One had given him a message to deliver, as he had at another time altogether.
“Ah, it is so nice to see you, my friend,” said the Silver Wolf to the man, as he approached cautiously. In fact, the Wolf had such a way of talking, that no other man, if any other had been present, which none happened to be at the moment, would notice any such a thing at all.
The language of the Silver Wolf was much more subtle than what most ordinary men would know to look for. But the Ward of the Wood was no average man. That particular man noticed all sorts of things about the wood, and it’s creatures, that an ordinary man would overlook.
“May I come share your fire with you for a moment?” said the Silver Wolf to the mountain man, Davidge, as he drew within earshot of the man, trying to gain confidence in the reality of the man’s invitation. The Wolf wanted to make certain he had interpreted the spirit of the invitation correctly. “The night air has a chill to it,” he ventured as he drew closer.
“It’s true. Please, don’t be shy. Please, come to my fireside, Wolf,” said the ward, leaving his weapon altogether set aside, greeting what he knew to be a friend. “Would you happen to know the time of year?” said the man to the Silver Wolf.
“Winter,” said the Wolf, “maybe Spring. I’m not certain.”
The man breaks off a piece of rabbit meat from the makeshift spit, as it hung by the fire, and tosses it across to the Wolf, who takes it in his mouth from mid-air. The Wolf enjoys the cooked rabbit with some appreciable enthusiasm, knowing that the Ward of the Wood could just as soon kill him for his dinner, as he managed to do with this rabbit that the two shared together in friendship.
The Ward of the Wood could very well become a ruthless adversary, if need would arise for the occasion. This was well known on the mountain, and well respected among all the many wild creatures that lived there. Davidge was not only well known, he was well respected there.
“I suppose the deer will be shedding soon, if it’s Springtime,” said Davidge to the Silver Wolf.
“I believe this will begin soon, even this high up, where the snow almost never leaves the mountain,” replied the Wolf, in response to the man.
“Do you enjoy venison?” inquired the man of the Wolf.
“Well, there’s an awful lot of meat there for a single wolf to eat, Ward.”
“I seldom ever have guests at my fireside, either,” said the man.
“I’m the same way. I’d much rather have smaller game for my fare. Things like raccoon, badger, rabbit, woodchuck, things like that.” It seemed to the man that the Wolf was leading the conversation to go in a certain way. There was something on the Wolf’s mind.
“Reminds me of an old rhyme I learned when I was a boy,” said Davidge, trying to make light of the situation. “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood? A woodchuck would chuck as much wood as a woodchuck could chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood.”
Man and beast enjoyed the mirth mildly, over the crackle and warmth of the fire, eating the food with little apprehension. This man and beast had been friends for a long time. They had the sort of relationship, where it was well known that either one might be given a message for the other, by the Holy One. There was a mutual respect between them.
“My fellow wolves don’t know a certain secret about me…” ventured the Wolf to the man.
Here is the mystery, thought the man.
“You’ll be careful of my reputation with the youngsters, won’t you, Ward of the Wood?”
“Well, if it’s that delicate an issue, certainly, Wolf. I’m a man of honor. You know that, sir. And what might the closely guarded secret be, if you’ve the need of telling it, sir Wolf?” queried the man.
“I’ve never eaten venison at all,” confessed the great Silver Wolf.
“Odd behavior for a predator,” ventured the man. “Do you mean to tell me that if you had a deer within your reach, and could take it easily, that the great Silver Wolf would let a deer go, for some reason you’re about to tell me?” The man was frankly astonished.
“Just the other day, my friend, I had such a deer caught in one of your very own traps in the woods, and I stepped on the spring and let her run loose, sir. She was more than a little bit skittish when I was done, too, I must say, sir.”
“That’s an amazing tale, Wolf! Why did you do such a thing? I would have thought you’d have had the feast of a lifetime, with such an opportunity come your way by sheer Providence.” The man was obviously flabbergasted. Davidge was having difficulty containing himself. “You had the prey dead to rights, don’t you know? Not even the owner of the trap would find fault with you claiming a trophy like that one. You arrived before I did. That prey was yours by rights!”
“Oh yes, I do know, reverend Ward. Yes, I do know, and I’m telling you, I sprung the trap, letting her go, sure as I am here with you now.”
“But why, my good friend, do tell, why? I can’t imagine any predator behaving in such a fashion. I think it’s astounding!”
“Well, it’s something of a great reverence for me; nothing easily said, and not easily understood, either,” said the Silver Wolf in a hollow, foreboding voice. Davidge found this state of affairs to be remarkable, indeed. He held his piece with eager anticipation. Both creatures remained silent for what seemed to Davidge to be a very long time, until the Silver Wolf chose his own time to speak again, of his own volition.
Davidge was done prompting his friend to reveal a sensitive secret, long since. The man respected the reverence of the moment to settle in and be established by his friend’s silence. This was something most unusual among the creatures of the mountain, the way the Ward knew all of those kinds of creatures to be. The great Silver Wolf was inclined to tell the Ward one of his secrets, all of a sudden, and Davidge considered that to be something remarkable.
The great Silver Wolf was always one of mystery, not one of confidences.
“It’s just that the deer are something special, Ward,” continued the Silver Wolf, after a deafening silence had elapsed at great length. “There are few things in nature that are quite so beautiful as a deer, and I refuse to defile one by presuming to eating it.” There, it was out, and the Wolf exhaled with the very great labor of the telling of the tale. He finally had it said.
“You say they’re a thing of beauty? Is that your reason?”
“That’s right.” The beast was somewhat daunted by the question. He had taken a stance with this man, and he was determined to stand his ground.
“Well, I must say that I do agree with you, Wolf, but I am taken aback by this demonstration of humility on your part.”
“Thank you for that, kind sir.”
“Were you hungry at the time?”
“That has nothing to do with it,” quoted the Silver Wolf, “and I will not suffer any ridicule over the content of my confession.”
“Oh, no sir, Mr. Wolf, no sir. I have no inclination to ridicule you about anything in the slightest. It’s just that I find your principles to be rather remarkable, for the sort of creature you happen to be. You are a hunter and a predator, remember?”
“I’ve learned my principles from an Old One, who lived on this mountain a long time ago, when I was just a pup. He taught me in the ways of the forest, at a time when civilization was not so much as it is now. It was before your own time here, good Ward. It was a time before a Ward of the Wood.”
“Ah, and you’re claiming to be older that I am?” bantered the man.
“Indeed I am,” countered the Wolf. “and I don’t have a natural silver luster to my coat just because of my natural, great youth, mind you either, Ward. I have been here a good long time now, I’ll have you know. Growing old is not for sissies. It takes some sand to accomplish, Ward.”
“Whatever prompted something like a predator of the mountain to develop such an aesthetic sense about another beast of the forest, sir?” The Ward was more serious about asking his questions by this time, because it was, of course, so unusual for a predatory beast to possess such a quality in the first place. Here was a predator with an aesthetic sense to appeal to – yea, to be careful of, no less.
“It was a long time ago, and man was not anything like a friend to any of the wild creatures of the mountain in those days,” said the Wolf to the man at his campfire, who had been his friend for a long time since. The latter was struck dumb with incredulity at the moment.
“We were only pups, and there was a very dangerous man, who was hunting with an ancient gun, who had found us in our lair. It was at a time when there was another Silver Wolf, of many more years than I ever was, came and drove off the dangerous man and his gun, before he could ever get a shot off to kill one of us. The act was done with some considerable cunning, I might add.”
“It was that Old One who taught me ideas and ‘principles,’ as you like to call them. I wanted to hear what the Old One had to say, because he had saved us all from certain death. I went walking with the Old One, and he told me things that he thought I ought to know.”
‘Hear me,’ said the Old One, so many, many years ago, when the Silver Wolf that was Davidge’s friend, had been a pup, listening wide-eyed to his elder of the pack, after escaping certain death.
‘The one thing you need to do is respect the lives of each and every living creature on this mountain. If you’ll learn to do that, you’ll live long enough to have a coat of Silver, the way mine is now,’” quoted the Old One, who had been an elder of the pack from well before time remembered.
‘The deer are beautiful, vulnerable creatures, which harm nothing on the face of this mountain,’ the Old One said. ‘If you will respect the innocent, it will go well with you and the Holy One.’
‘There is no need for a single hunter to ever kill something of such beauty and grace, for the sole purpose of getting an easy meal. You will surely waste more of the deer than you can eat, young sir. Mark my words, and you will find long life,’ quoted the Old One, ‘by treating such creatures with awe and respect, in the place of hostility and greed. Quench your hunger on smaller game.’
“I’ve never hunted or killed a deer in my lifetime, sir Ward. I am faithful to what I’ve been taught from my early days. I’m a predator and a hunter, and I’ll own to it, sir, but the deer are sacred creatures, sanctified by the words of the Old One.”
“Well, that is a remarkable tale, Wolf. I’ve never heard anything quite like it.”
At that, the Silver Wolf turned aside and trotted off into the night, apparently satisfied.