Wolves at the Door (part 80)

Bow in hand, arrow nocked, Gil waited for a target to present itself. When it finally did, it was not the charging horde he was expecting. A single wolf approached slowly, gave a few short barks and hung back, just within sight. Gil had been practicing, and he was getting more accurate, but at that range it would take a very lucky shot to hit it. Still, the purpose of the exercise was not necessarily to kill the wolves, but scare them off. A near enough miss might spook them just as well as a hit.

As he began to draw the bow, Gil heard a noise closer to hand. Other members of the pack were approaching on both sides, trying to surround him. They were near enough that he dared not take his eyes off them, but he listened out for any sound behind him. The tree at his back offered some protection, but a tree was not a wall. If there were any more creeping around it to tear at his heels and hamstrings, this could all be over quickly.

The wolves stood motionless, watching. They seemed curious to see why he had stopped running and what he would do next. Either that or they were waiting for packmates to come around behind him and begin the attack.

Either way, Gil needed to pick a target and go on the offensive. The nearest two wolves he could see were close enough that he was confident he could hit whichever he aimed at, but they had him flanked. Whichever he didn’t take down would be on him before he could draw a second arrow.

They both started growling. When the one on the left yelped, he turned and loosed the arrow without thinking. Before he knew it, he had turned and was rushing screaming at the charging wolf on his right. He couldn’t remember dropping the bow, drawing the knife or even if he had hit his target. The only important thing was that the wolves know he was not prey.

Leading with his blade, Gil caught the side of the wolf’s mouth as it bit down, grazing his forearm. Turning as their momentum took them past one another, they each regarded a bleeding opponent. The wolf did not spring again immediately, but stood growling as Gil tried to maneuver his back to another tree.

If this wolf had needed a cut to teach it caution, the rest of the pack were faster learners. A larger wolf right behind barked a couple of times, turned and left. Gil was left in no doubt who called the shots in the pack, as answering barks sounded and finally even the bleeding wolf followed suit. Only one remained, whining as it tried to follow, dragging one paralyzed side. At point-blank range, the arrow had bitten deep. Cautiously, Gil approached. It may not be able to run, but there was nothing wrong with its teeth. But it offered only a token fight as he put it out of its misery. Injured so badly, it could not have survived long anyway.

Suddenly alone, Gil took a moment to catch his breath and let his hands stop shaking. He hadn’t seen or heard the lead wolf come up behind him. If he had waited indecisively any longer, they might have taken him down before he got a single shot away.

But a moment was all he could afford to take. Then it was time to retrieve his bow and sling the wolf carcass over his shoulder. Quick as the fight had been, the light was fading quicker still, and he still had a long way to go.

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