The Quickening: an 1857 romance
As Richard neared the spot, there was an eerie hush. Instincts warned him of danger. He held his dagger tightly.
And then everything happened at once. He had barely caught the movement on his left side when his horse reared, neighing in fear and throwing him to the ground before bolting. Jarred by the impact of the fall, Richard barely had time to ready the dagger in his hand when the wolf leapt from the opposite bushes – its fangs bared, howling for blood.
He slashed the dagger through the air blindly and felt it make contact with the animal as he rolled away. A gash opened around its neck. An enraged scream reverberated through the forest. Richard rose quickly retaining the hold on the dagger. The wolf heaved its massive body into the air again, the yellow fangs bare now, aiming for Richard’s throat. There was a whizzing sound as it leapt through the air and came down heavily on Richard. The hand carrying the dagger lifted high in the air. The blade thrust through the beast’s hide and all its weight fell on the arm. Crack. As he went down with the beast, Richard heard the sounds of daggers whizzing in the air.
The hush that followed was as sudden as the attack. The predator lay hot, heavy and unmoving, its blood flowing over Richard and mingling with the muddy water beside him. The stench of the beast threatened to overcome him for a moment. He felt faint. Richard drew the last reserves of his strength and tried to heave the body aside. Unbearable pain shot through his arm. It did not move. The blood of the animal was flowing down his neck, wetting his shirt. It added to the feeling of being trapped. He would soon pass out if he remained stuck under the beast. Richard used his other hand to move.
It was a while before he realized that there was another pair of hands, pushing aside the beast.
Meera grunted as she pushed the body of the wolf. Her heartbeat was still galloping. What if she had been a few moments late? She pushed the thought aside. With some feeble help from her husband, she pulled him out from under the beast. He lay silent, breathing deeply, his eyes closed while her eyes ran over him. Fear and worry were etched deep. His throat and shirt were covered with blood. How badly was he hurt? There were scratches on his hands and face.
‘The blood is… not mine,’ Richard panted trying to sit up.
Distress gave way to anger. ‘Are you mad? Trying to tackle it alone? Can you see the size of the animal?’ she raged even as she came down to help.
Meera pulled his uninjured arm around her shoulders and helped him walk under the shade of the nearby peepal. Pain wracked his upper body. Richard slumped on the mossy green roots. Leaning against the trunk, he turned to look at the wolf. Its massive frame lay stretched out on the grass. Three daggers stuck out from its side. One was buried in its heart.
‘I think it would make a fine rug for our chamber,’ he said. ‘I detect worry, Meera? I told you, my wife was watching my back.’
Meera snorted and gave him an exasperated look.