Telling Tales 71
A Quality of Mercy
The gray wolf panted from where it lay bleeding at their feet. “I cannot run and am at your mercy, but if you let me live I will recover.”
“You have already spared a bird and a fish,” pointed out Ipiktokiyakovik, “and all of us are hungry.”
Ivan considered the wolf. “Have you ever eaten a wolf?” he asked the hunter.
“Where there’s muscle there’s meat. Though I admit, this animal has seen fatter days.”
The wolf’s pelt was matted black with blood and it appeared to be little more than skin and bones. Its tongue dragged its jaw to the ground. It was much worse off than the hawk with the broken wing or the trout cast ashore, far from the river. “What happened to you?” asked Ivan.
“My pups are on the far side of the river. I attempted to get past the giant, but he is too large and too wild. A branch on his club caught my side and flung me against this rock and you see me as I lay.”
As it was with the wolf, so it had been with the bird, whose nest had been nearly crushed, and the trout who had lain on the shore. “Is there anything you can do for her?” Ivan asked Vasilisa.
“My skills are not precisely with healing, but I will do what I can. If you will allow me?” she asked the wolf. “It will hurt.”
“I will do my best not to bite you,” she answered back.
“I’ll hold you,” said Ivan, whose strength had indeed become marvelous to behold. “I cannot permit you to harm my princess Vasilisa.”
The wolf struggled and howled as Vasilisa worked with Ipiktokiyakovik’s help. They placed a red-hot blade against the open wound after they had washed it clean and then Vasilisa smeared a combination of plants against the raw and oozing but no longer bleeding flesh. The wolf snapped her jaws in agony, striking out at anything and everything, but Ivan held her fast. At last Vasilisa was done. She thanked the hunter for his help and Ivan rose stiffly to his feet. The wolf whimpered at their feet, delirious.
“It smells like cooking meat,” observed Ivan. “Will she heal?”
“She would have healed without me, I am sure that with my help it will only be faster.” Vasilisa sniffed. “But yes, it does smell like meat.”
“That is us,” said the runner from behind them.
Entendtout bowed. “I listened for a deer. Monsieur le Hunter shot it from five hundred leagues away and Monsieur le Runner retrieved it. Mademoiselle des Skins dried the wood and I have lit the fire. Dinner shall be ready anon.”
“I saved a raw leg for the wolf,” offered the wild girl. “I know how they are. And we should leave the innards for the birds.”
“As you say,” said Ivan, thankful for the independence of his company.
“I am in your debt,” gasped the wolf. “For my life, for my healing, for this food. Call on me when you are in need and I shall help you as best I can.”
Ivan thanked her and left her to mend.
“What can a wolf do?” asked Vasilisa. “Or for that matter, a bird and a fish? They have all promised aid, but what are they against a giant when our very company is helpless?”
Ivan remembered the soldier’s kit and how it had got them into Yumni’s castle. “It is not right to measure their offer against our immediate problem. When the problem is right, then will we call upon them.”