The Will Of Men
“This is boring. We should go raid the campground or something,” Little Scout says excitedly. “Like normal times.”
Wheat bristles at the shoulders hearing this. He swallows the shard of beef jerky in his maw. “You know this isn’t normal times, kid.”
Scout lowers his head. “But my dad would want us to carry on without these humans changing our ways.”
“Your dad,” Wheat growls, “would want you to do exactly as he demanded. Me, too.”
“You mean set up camp and wait? We’re doing that.”
“Yes, we are. And we’ll do more of it before the moon sets,” says Wheat.
Little Scout noses into the bag of trail mix the humans lugged all the way up into the marsh. He wrinkles at the smell and turns away. “Why haven’t those men come back for their rolling horses?” he asks Wheat.
“They will. As soon as they figure out what to do with us,” Wheat says. He’s familiar with the way humans manage themselves in the forest. “They’re impulsive and stupid. I’ve seen many a man walk along their trails, whistling and clomping along with thick, heavy covers on their paws. They wake up every woods dweller within a day’s browse.”
And it’s true, in the woods men are like a circus act rolling into town, creasing the silence as marching bands and parades, with balloons flying overhead and clowns doing their somersaults. Wheat would have no idea what a circus is, but it would fit his notions of mankind’s wilderness behavior perfectly.
Wheat continues, “There is little danger in their foolishness, but when man takes his time, as these humans seem to be doing, they’re much more of a menace. When they concentrate their effort, they can outwit even us. Only death is the outcome.”
“Do you mean like last summer?” Little Scout asks.
Wheat is quiet, and turns away.
“Well, Wheat?” Scout asks again. “Is it going to happen again?”
“Almost sure of that. We’ve done too much already,” Wheat says. “The humans seem to be following other plans yet, but they know what happened here, and they’ll react soon enough. Lark’s stirring up our pack’s end.”
“That’s my father,” Little Scout snaps. His young belly is incapable of delivering the depth necessary for a true growl, and Wheat only laughs.
“Yes, he is,” Wheat replies, “and he’s made a mistake going into the village. Down there a fisher, a fox, even a bear is a regular thing. But when those men see your father. A wolf. At their toes. They’ll turn that bird of theirs from terrorizing their own like, into another campaign on us. It’s happened many times before, including last year.”
There is a shot heard far off in the valley, from the direction of the town. Wheat and Little Scout recognize the sound. It’s a firestick for certain. He looks up from the manmade machines they’ve been inspecting. Wheat gazes back, eyes glowing in the dim moonlight.
“You see, if Lark’s gone and gotten noticed, it’s a fair prediction the humans will gather against the pack. That may have been their next volley.”
Scout sniffs the crisp breeze. He’s learned to recognize a storm’s approach. “My father always told me there was no rhyme to their actions. They’ll do what they do and take what they’ll take, and they have no purpose.”
“Of course there’s purpose, when their eyes lose that dull glaze. They can turn in an instant. Look into a man’s eye, and you can see fear, you can see rage, and then you see purpose. I’ve seen it when I was…” He stops, his voice trailing.
“When you were what?” Scout asks.
“Shhh,” Wheat growls in a low whisper. “Did you hear that?”
The noise Wheat heard was indiscernible to human ears, but he caught it immediately through the breeze in the branches and the riffling pond. Voices, like a low mumble, from deep in the notch leading to Drake’s Brook. He hears it again, and this time Little Scout notices it, too.
“C’mon!” Wheat says, and darts into the trees back to his den. He doesn’t wait for Scout to follow, knowing the young wolf is sharp enough to need no further prompting. Little Scout darts through the brush right behind him.
From the den, perched in the lee of a cliff on the shoulder of Flat Mountain, they can see the expanse of the boggy meadow below. They watch as the white beams of headlamps emerge from the trees and begin to play across the grasses, and finally set a course toward the machines.
There is something else. With the men, the wolves sense another creature. Like their own kin, but tamed by eons of alignment with men. A dog. This newcomer is far less menacing, but in ways, presents a new danger.
Little Scout and Wheat stiffen when they catch the scent. The hairs on their shoulders stand. All of their senses are energized.
“You see?” Wheat says.
“See what?” Little Scout wonders.
“Robert went through Lost Pass. Your father went over the mountain. But the men came around the mountain on its sunset side. And they came at night.”
“And they have a dog.”
Scout considers the unexpected cunning of all this. They watch as the beams of light reach the machines and stop. The beams spray light around the edge of the pond as the men lift one of the machines from the muck and then start the other one. Its high-pitched growl echoes across the valley. The dog barks. Every woods creature is surely awakened.
“But that would mean these humans know our patterns.” Little Scout says with a shudder.
Wheat nods. “Then you understand. It is a fearsome thing, the will of men. What they’ve just done here… that’s purpose.”