~ a Medieval Story
This Story is based on a version of the allegory of ‘The Call of the Wolf’
expanded and re-written by Matilda Faltyn*
Once upon a time, in a far away land in days of olde, the villagers of a kingdom situated in the valley of mountains were suffering an unusually bleak and bitter winter. Snow storms had buried them under an icy blanket boxing them in, making it difficult to move and secure supplies.
Soon they started to run out of food and hunger had set in. Then, after a series of nights when their stock of cows, sheep and chickens was ravaged and destroyed, the villagers were roused into action.
A group of the men gathered in the village town square and compared their frustrated attempts at snaring or killing what they knew were attacking wolves. They heatedly argued about what they should do. Eventually they came to some unity and decided to visit the king to petition their ruler to help them in their hour of need.
They trudged on foot through the icy cobble-stoned streets to the king’s castle. The guards at the entrance to the king’s court heard their plea and got permission for them to enter. At the feet of the throne the villagers stood in front of the king and the assembled courtiers in the court.
The king ponderously sat and listened intently to the spokesman of the villagers who recounted how their farms had been set upon. Despite their best attempts, they were not able to trap or slay the wild pack of wolves night after night. They were angry and their families were distressed and hungry.
The king assured the villagers he would put an end to their battle with hunger. He was also concerned because his own food supplies were obtained from the farmers. Without hesitating, he summoned his fleet of ten archers from the garrison to stand before him in attention and declared he had an emergency mission for them.
As he rose from his throne, he stepped forward and said:
‘Our town must no longer suffer the wrath of these vicious beasts and you are ordered, within three days upon pain of death, to slay them without fail and save the villagers from further harm and protect our stock’.
Then he raised his voice and roared at them:
‘The most worthy and deserving among you who has done his best to rid our land of these vicious beasts, will, together with his family, sit at my table to share my meals until spring returns’.
He turned his gaze and glared at each of the archers in turn:
‘You, which one of you, will dine with the king and not taste hunger!’
The archers stood in rigid formation and bristled at the kings words. Some took a deep breath and set their faces to a steely determination staring ahead. While others lowered their heads, stern and grim.
The king abruptly dismissed them and they bustled out, ready to go, invigorated by their new challenge. The archers each set off in different directions into the forest to hunt down the pack and rid the town of the scourge. Through the piles of snow and frozen landscape they tracked and searched, and watched from camouflaged vantage points stopping only to replenish themselves with food and rest.
On the morning of the fourth day, the time was up as the king’s three-day challenge came to a close and the first archer dutifully arrived at the king’s court. His clothes were torn and bloodied. Using a stick for support he limped from a heavily bandaged wound on his right leg.
Trailing his leg with the foot pasted to the floor, his walk to the king’s throne was painfully slow to watch. As he hung off the stick to stand before the king with his last bit of strength, his hands and arms displayed his scaring wounds of dark lines of scratches and deep gouges encrusted with dried blood.
‘Your majesty, I humbly present myself as most worthy’.
With a gesture of the hand the king permitted him to present his case. The first archer croaked in a hoarse voice:
‘I have shot and broken all my arrows. I have ambushed the beasts and fought them with my bare hands’.
The king nodded with a serious and set expression but said nothing, so the archer continued:
‘The pack were ready to attack me but I assailed them. With my careful aim I wounded the leader of the pack with my last arrow. Alas – as your majesty is quite able to see, I was viciously attacked by the wolves whose snarling evil teeth I will never forget. I have smelled death and my wounds are testament to my supreme sacrifice. They are too numerous to show your majesty but the pain I endure is for the good of king and country and for the good of all’.
The king was about to say something when the second archer arrived and strode in measured steps towards the throne. His clothing was ripped in places and hastily re-arranged, and a smear of mud on his chin made him look less than presentable but his eyes were blazing. On his left shoulder was draped the body of a wolf.
There were murmurs among the courtiers in the court.
The second archer stood in upright attention before the king and threw down the wolf carcass onto the floor in front of him. Taking a sweeping bow he said:
‘My king, may I have the honor of claiming the victor of this most worthy challenge.’
‘Proceed’, the king nodded.
‘I have hunted and driven the pack of vicious wolves from our land. My king , here lies before you what was once the leader of the pack whom I spared no mercy and struck him down with my finest arrow and best aim. The last of the miserable pack fled for their skins, but not before I was able to wound another of them. They will not be back. Our good village is rid of the scourge as they will not return knowing they will face my force’.
The courtiers applauded the second archer and there were cheers for his heroic bravery.
‘You have done well, my fine archer’, the king added.
He was about to concede that the second archer had won the challenge, then remembered the, by now, bedraggled first archer who seemed to have slumped further into a beaten state and now looked appalled. The king winced and was about to utter his comforting words when he stopped to look sharp as a commotion could be heard from the back of the court.
From somewhere near the entrance to the king’s court, a scuffle broke out and a yelp sounded. The tangle of onlookers suddenly parted and from it emerged a third archer, clean as a whistle and walking side by side with a young wolf.
‘What is the meaning of this?’, the king shouted.
‘Your highness’, the archer replied, ‘I saw my fellow archers’ valiant efforts and bore witness to my own attempts. I thought too that I should go hunt to kill the pack even as it is impossible to kill them all in three days. It is as true as from our understanding that as long as one is still alive, it and others will return.
I followed them from a distance, and I saw that they were neither vicious, nor cruel, but very hungry. The harsh winter is leading them to desperate attacks on our farms. The vermin on which they feed are hibernating, and it is many months before the melt of spring reveals the bounty of nature. The wolves seek only to survive.
It occurred to me to use a portion of our mutton as bait. I then thought better to chop it into smaller pieces and try to tempt them away from our border. For the last two days, I laid pieces down a few furlongs apart. The last piece I used to draw them away across the bridge to the other side of the river.
I led them farther into the valley, where the grounds are more sheltered from the mountain winds and an early melt promises a quickening of the return of spring. The river provided some unfrozen water from which the wolves were able to their quench their thirst and rabbits were seen to be about.’
‘What of this wolf you have brought into the kings court?’, the king quizzed, and pointed at the peaceful wolf who stood by the archer without moving.
‘He saved and spared my life’, the young man answered with a gush of emotion.
There was a louder round of murmurs from the court.
‘I had not slept after the first night. At the mid-line of the mountain where I had been vigilantly at watch I must have fallen into slumber after resting inside the mouth of a cave. I woke up to the sound of a bear and a wolf growling ready to launch. The bear thankfully retreated and I fled the cave. The bear would surely have slaughtered me if it were not for this blessed animal’.
The king sat silent in thought. Then he looked at the first and second archers, then rested his gaze on the third archer and the unlikely sight of a tame wolf by his side.
He was a king who took pride in being a fair and just ruler over this subjects. It was never his wish to impose the pain of death upon the archers should they fail. Often the king would speak with such finality and add colour to his words to spur his servants and soldiers to do their best, who at the end of the day, served him with a loyalty he knew was born of respect and not from fear. He took a deep breath and said:
‘If there are no more archers who have returned to claim victory, I must give due praise to my loyal three who stand before me and who have each completed their mission according to their strength, will and courage’.
The king saw the look of strain on the first archer’s face whose eyes implored the king not to overlook him. As he stood in alert silence still hoisted on the stick with a forlorn posture, the king stepped forward and facing the first archer said:
‘You fought but you did not give time to strategy. Instead you were hastened by the thought of beating your colleagues and threw yourself at the challenge with only the wish that to be first was best. This is not wise, your efforts yielded little and your wages are the wounds and scars you now endure.
You have shown your willingness to serve. But to serve without thought to how you serve is not service but a reaction. You reacted to the challenge from first instincts. This is how we once fought but the price was high and the lesson a painful one. Often it did not yield the rewards we hoped. No, stop and think before you go for the kill.’
To the second archer the king now turned to face:
‘And you, my also accomplished archer, the fire in your heart is matched by your bravery. As one of the king’s men you have shown how much we depend on our brute force to defend our territory and show our enemies that we are a force not to be trifled with.
Indeed, all the king’s men are brave to a fault and the art of war is a part of our protective strategy. You attacked and rendered them weaker and forced them to retreat, yet…’,
the king sighed.
‘The route of war is a never ending cycle from which we are bound. We fight, we die, we rise only to fight and die again. What do we gain but a fleeting victory. Even the spoils of war can be over-turned or taken back from us by a twist of fate or a foe now wiser from the last battle.’
Finally, the king turned to the third archer and the young wolf. In a deeper and warm tone he said:
‘You, my youngest of the archers, have delivered a surprise to me. For I was sure that age and experience would serve the more seasoned archers better, yet none are here to claim victory.
You who are so young, yet did not act with brash impulse befitting your youth. Neither did you launch your body into attack with all the ferocity of a fighter at war, and nor did you stalk your prey with the vigor of a relentless predator. Indeed, my young alchemist, it is your sweet self who is the victor of the king’s challenge.’
There was a rustle and murmur in the court and the king invited the archer to his table that night but the young archer hesitated. He said:
‘Thank you, your highness, but I believe I am already rewarded.’
The murmurs turned into stone silence. In that vacuum the young archer continued:
‘This wolf and I are now allies. His spark of instinct saved me from certain death and I have shown him my desire not to harm. Now we are at a new understanding. He may be an animal but he knows the way of peace.
I know that if I put myself in another’s shoes, I find our needs are compatible, not in opposition. If I don’t fight or force my will on them, they will respect me and help me with my need. They are adept at catching game which we could avail of if we offer to not be their enemy.’
From among the courtiers, a caped and wrinkled old man, the sage, stepped forward and approached the young man. Laying a hand on his shoulder he said in a clear and crystal voice:
‘Today this man of pure heart has revealed to us all one of the fundamental laws of the universe. All outer threats are but an illusion: they are no more than the echoes of our fears and a reflection of the shadows within.’
* Inspiration Source: Bianca Gaia, Welcome to the Fifth Dimension, North Atlantic Books, 2010, p 222, Integration: The Call of the Wolf.