Felton and the Wolf: Chapter I
Honey and wheat, moon and tide,
Beyond the days of harvest time
Look to the sea on the eastern side
Of Elandor…see him there,
The Dark Wolf Lord
On the greenish waves his standard comes
And with him war and flames and sword
And all is smoke and blood and noise…
from The Book of Times
The rise and fall of the ship’s prow beat down the waves, as if the very wood of mast and hull were alive and raging. The crisp cold waves, nearly frozen, ripped over the vessel, sending sailors scrambling. Save for the wolf; he alone stood motionless as the ship rocked beneath him and as sea-spray wetted his black mantle. He seemed a statue with a frozen glare, staring only forward, focused only on the horizon. But frozen clouds of breath escaping from his mantle revealed life beneath the cloak. They came in a terribly slow cadence, as if the wolf were barely alive.
A stoat scrambled higher up the mast to the crow’s nest, and a ripple of anticipation and energy fell downward and onto the deck of his ship and all the ships surrounding it, as his voice called out. But the wolf had already seen. He was more than alive, he was exultant. And a sneer wrinkled up his snout.
The stoat’s voice rang out again: “Land ho!”
Felton woke with a start but quickly regained composure. There was no drool on his desk, he could be thankful for that. The late October sunlight filtered through the classroom, seeming to set the airborne dust on fire, the room awash in an orange bath. Awake again, his teacher’s droning reached him like a bee’s buzz, but he was somewhere else, already roaming the woods and hills.
“And so you see,” said Mrs. Burby, a stout rabbit of advanced years who wore spectacles thick as window glass, “that is was not economic interest alone which lead to the founding of the Land Pact and the Society of Interested Parties.” She was growing excited now, and she crescendoed on and on, about the resiliency of the animal-spirit and redemption, glory, and honor.
Felton sat bleary-eyed.
Kathump. Kathump. Kathump. He watched his paw rise and fall lifelessly on the desk. Kathump.
He stretched out his paws and tail, suppressed a groan, and fought to keep his eyes open. Sleepy. Sleepy. Sleeeeee…
He was awakened by the eager prodding of his fellow classmate, who was also his best friend, Bernard--a beaver. Bernard was exponentially more interested in the intricacies of the animal struggle against nature and the greed of toads. Indeed, the beaver was busy as…a deeply-interested pupil. Pen in paw, he scribbled furiously, scrambling after every morsel of wisdom.
“Fascinating,” he whispered to Felton from the corner of his mouth. Felton looked out the window. It was not that the fox lacked intelligence; he was quite bright. It was simply that, to his way of thinking, no October afternoon should be left to drain down the hour glass to the drone of a teacher above the drone of insects.
But at last, from the town plaza, where merged the four main roads of Yarnton, there arose the knelling of the afternoon bell: a release for the captives. The twenty-or-so students gathered their belongings and headed to the door. Felton arose with alacrity, suddenly all alert, stretched his limbs quickly, and began packing his books into his satchel.
“Are you ready for some exploring?” asked Bernard.
“But of course, my good beaver.”
On the steps of the school, Bernard fumbled with his satchel, trying not to topple onto the street below. Felton breathed in the afternoon deeply, standing paws-on-his-hips as foxes will when they are satisfied with life. There was the crispness of burning air on the wind, whispering of adventures to be found.
Bernard was saying something, but Felton’s eyes were roaming the streets. It was Friday and also the day before the Great Pumpkin Festival, so the streets were bustling. Animals scurried over the cobblestones to gather flowers and baked goods from the markets for the weekend’s feasts. Felton scanned the crowd of foxes, moles, rabbits, beavers, groundhogs, and squirrels, looking for someone…and there she was. His gaze fixed on a fox moving through the crowd.
She stepped gingerly, with grace in her movements, floating (so it seemed to Felton) through the clamor. She was tall, and beautiful, and she walked with a quartet of young girls who giggled and bounced as if they possessed some marvelous secret. The fox stopped at a flower cart, picked up a bright bouquet of red, orange, and blue, and whisked the flowers to her nose. When her eyes opened, bouquet still pressed to her face, her gaze met Felton’s on the far side of the street. Above the flowers and through the crowds, they touched with their eyes, and she froze awkwardly in the midst of the swirling tides of animals. And then a young rabbit grabbed her by her arm and quickly spun her around.
Felton’s gaze followed her to the end of the street and he was rewarded when, with one furtive glance before the corner, she smiled over her shoulder towards him. At least he thought it was towards him.
“ …and then we could see about that cave we found last time, eh, Fox? Fox?”
“I was saying,” repeated Bernard, rolling his eyes, “that we could explore that cave we found last time.”
“What? Oh, sure,” said Felton, gathering up his satchel and cinching his scarf. “That, my good beaver, we shall most certainly do.”
The pair bounded down the stairs and were off to the hollows.