Wendell and the Dragon's Heart

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Chapter 23


In the morning, Wendell sat up, again, as he had so many mornings before. It was becoming something of a daily ritual, the waking up and walking about, and then setting off into the woods again. Garim and the soldier got up too, breathing fog into the air.

Today, no one said anything as they walked. Wendell looked about through the woods, and often saw the familiar gray shape of his “friend”, sitting alert and watchful.

Trees made way to more trees. An awful queasiness was forming inside, and hunger and tiredness gnawed through him always. Finally they stopped for the midday rest. The soldier and Garim hung their heads wearily and leaned against some trees, still never speaking. Wendell paced about haphazardly rather than sit down.

They had been walking for four days, or was it five? He had heard once that a strong man could make it for thirty five days without food... they had dew for water, and an occasional stream. But I’m just a boy, he thought. Surely the labyrinth can’t be more than another week away... they could all make it that far.

He looked off into the trees, and tried to make out anything in the distance, some sort of marker to judge against, but all was just more and more forest.

Finally he stopped walking. He glanced back at the way they came, then quickly looked away. If only there was some way to tell how far I’ve come... maybe I could climb a tree. But I don’t need to know how far to go back yet, of course, only how far until I reach it... even if I have to walk here, for the rest of my life...

Wendell sat down and hunched against a tree. The gentle sounds of the forest came and went around him. He looked up... the wolf was there again, sitting a dozen paces away, calm but very alive. The wolf stared into his eyes, looking so grand and inquisitive, but Wendell hunched up against the tree even more and put his head down on his knees. The wolf’s panting breath continued, never wavering.

A horrible feeling spread through him, and he tried to drown it out, rocking a little. He looked up again at last, and his gray friend tilted its head to one side, in a doggish way, pricking up one ear. Wendell wished the wolf would just go away, but now he couldn’t tear his eyes away from the dumb animal’s fierce gaze. It was just a wolf. It couldn’t tell what he was thinking, the eyes just looked that way because wolves are naturally clever or something.

The wolf looked back at him, never moving, never angry or proud. Wendell felt himself speaking to the wolf without words, softly struggling against the brutish beauty of a face that couldn’t hear or understand him. He gave a sort of withered sigh. The wolf padded towards him, and began licking his face in a playful way with its hot tongue. Wendell tried to gently push it away, but not too much, or it might get angry and bite him... he heard himself laugh as it licked him. The wolf stopped licking and stared at him uncomprehendingly, panting happily.

The wolf licked at his tears now, and Wendell always remembered that for some reason the wolf’s rancid breath smelled sweeter than anything he had ever known.

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