A Wolf Amongst Ravens
Driving through the milky dawn twilight, the hills and forest of the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park begin to materialize. The air flowing over the vehicle seems to almost crackle with the intense cold. I started this drive in pitch-black darkness, coming to this place in search of one of the spectacles of the northern Rockies: the gray wolf roaming wild and free in an essentially unaltered environment.
A Wolf Amongst Ravens
The raven and the wolf seem to coexist with a certain sense of harmony and understanding. The predator rovides scavenging opportunities for the bird, and the bird may be welcome company on the coldest of nights.
Gazing across the valley, I occasionally glimpse one of the younger wolves moving amid the trees. Standing atop the carcass, a large raven picks chunks of meat from the rapidly freezing body. Other ravens and black-billed magpies soon join it. These scavengers have sought out this kill from some distance away. Watching the ravens, I wonder if the black birds witnessed the hunt that took place the previous night. Did a large raven, silhouetted against the moon, maintain a watch on the life-and-death struggle, and hope for death? A shy coyote has joined the mob at the carcass. It acts like a scolded child, as it smells the wolves at the kill. It quickly rips off a mouthful and retreats to a safe distance. The small coyote knows if the nearby wolves catch it at their kill, it will mean a quick, violent death from the crushing jaws of its larger canine cousins.
On the left side of Face-of-god stood the men of the Face all glittering in their arms, and amongst them were Wolf-stone and his two fellows, but Dallach was not yet whole of his hurts. On his right were the folk of the House of the Steer: the leader of that House was an old white-bearded man, grandfather of the Bride, for her father was dead; and who but the Bride herself stood beside him in her glorious war-gear, looking as if she were new come from the City of the Gods, thought most men; but those who beheld her closely deemed that she looked heavy-eyed and haggard, as if she were aweary. Nevertheless, wheresoever she passed, and whosoever looked on her (and all men looked on her), there arose a murmur of praise and love; and the women, and especially the young ones, said how fair her deed was, and how meet she was for it; and some of them were for doing on war-gear and faring to battle with the carles; and of these some were sober and solemn, as was well seen afterwards, and some spake lightly: some also fell to boasting of how they could run and climb and swim and shoot in the bow, and fell to baring of their arms to show how strong they were: and indeed they were no weaklings, though their arms were fair.
Then he passed on, and his men after him, tall, lean, and silent amidst the shouting. All these men bare bows, for they were keen hunters; each had at his girdle a little axe and a wood-knife, and some had long swords withal. They wore, everyone of the carles, short green surcoats over their coats of fence; but amongst them were three women who bore like weapons to the men, but were clad in red kirtles under their hauberks, which were of good ring-mail gleaming over them from throat to knee.
Then the chieftain said: "Come up hither, I say, O Hallblithe, and bring thy war-thrall with thee if thou wilt. But delay not, unless it be so that thou art neither hungry nor thirsty; and good sooth thou shouldst be both; for men say that the ravens are hard to satisfy. Come then and make good cheer with us!"
But when the healths had been drunk as aforetime, and men had drunk a cup or two thereafter, there rose a warrior from one of the endlong benches, a big young man, black-haired and black-bearded, ruddy of visage, and he said in a voice that was rough and fat: "O Erne, and ye other chieftains, we have been talking here at our table concerning this guest of thine who hath beguiled us, and we are not wholly at one with thee as to thy dealings with him. True it is, now that the man hath our meat in his belly, that he must depart from amongst us with a whole skin, unless of his own will he stand up to fight some man of us here. Yet some of us think that he is not so much our friend that we should help him to a keel whereon to fare home to those that hate us: and we say that it would not be unlawful to let the man abide in the isle, and proclaim him a wolf's-head within a half-moon of today. Or what sayest thou?"
Then arose a white-headed carle from a table nigh to the dais, whose black raiment was well adorned with gold. Despite his years his face was fair and little wrinkled; a man with a straight nose and a well- fashioned mouth, and with eyes still bright and grey. He spake: "O folk, I find that the Erne hath done well in cherishing this guest. For first, if he hath beguiled us, he did it not save by the furtherance and sleight of our own kinsman; therefore if any one is to die for beguiling us, let it be the Puny Fox. Secondly, we may well wot that heavy need hath driven the man to this beguilement; and I say that it was no unmanly deed for him to enter our hall and beguile us with his sleight; and that he hath played out the play right well and cunningly with the wisdom of a warrior. Thirdly, the manliness of him is well proven, in that having overcome us in sleight, he hath spoken out the sooth concerning our beguilement and hath made himself our foeman and captive, when he might have sat down by us as our guest, freely and in all honour. And this he did, not as contemning the Puny Fox and his lies and crafty wiles (for he hath told us that he loveth him); but so that he might show himself a man in that which trieth manhood. Moreover, ye shall not forget that he is the rebel of the Undying King, who is our lord and master; therefore in cherishing him we show ourselves great-hearted, in that we fear not the wrath of our master. Therefore I naysay the word of the War-brand that we should make this man a wolf's-head; for in so doing we shall show ourselves lesser-hearted than he is, and of no account beside of him; and his head on our hall-gable should be to us a nithing-stake, and a tree of reproach. So I bid thee, O Erne, to make much of this man; and thou shalt do well to give him worthy gifts, such as warriors may take, so that he may show them at home in the House of the Raven, that it may be the beginning of peace betwixt us and his noble kindred. This is my say, and later on I shall wax no wiser."
Thereafter he himself spake, and the sound of his voice was strange to him and as if he knew it not: "Chieftain, I will not gainsay thee, but will take thy gift, and thy friendship therewith, whatsoever hath betided. Yet would I say a word or two unto the woman that sitteth yonder. For I have been straying amongst wiles and images, and mayhappen I shall yet find this to be but a dream of the night, or a beguilement of the day." Therewith he arose from the table, and walked slowly down the hall; but it was a near thing that he did not fall a-weeping before all those aliens, so full his heart was.
Thereat she smiled most sweetly, and whereas she had been looking on him hitherto with strained and anxious eyes, she now beheld him simply and friendly; and she said: "O Hallblithe, I am a woman indeed, and thy speech-friend. This is the flesh that desireth thee, and the life that is thine, and the heart which thou rejoicest. But now tell me, who are these huge images around us, amongst whom I have sat thus, once in every moon this year past, and afterwards I was taken back to the women's bower? Are they men or mountain-giants? Will they slay us, or shut us up from the light and air? Or hast thou made peace with them? Wilt thou then dwell with me here, or shall we go back again to Cleveland by the Sea? And when, oh when, shall we depart?" 041b061a72