Winter Rain, part 67

The baying of dogs chases me from dream into waking and I snap my eyes open to fading twilight, but too late. They’re closing from all sides—nearly a dozen of them, from the sound—and only seconds away. And I’m alone—Garvey is nowhere to be seen.

I haul myself to my feet, my back scraping against the tree as I rise, and cast about for a way out, but to no avail: from every direction, I can hear them crashing through underbrush. All of them coming toward me.

I steel myself for a fight I can’t win.

A large setter bounds in from the left and stops short, his bark dropping to a low, deep growl. An enormous wolfhound—ten stone if he’s an ounce—steps into the clearing from the right. He doesn’t make a sound, but, then, he doesn’t need to. His size and his stiff, flat tail are making all the threat he needs.

“Hey, boy,” I say calmly, quietly, to the setter, then nod to the wolfhound, holding my hands up non-aggressively. My shoulders want to tense, but I strain to keep them down, relaxed. “Easy. You guys wouldn’t happen to know Garvey, would you?”

Another setter enters opposite. Not the physical threat the wolfhound is, but there’s something far more aggressive about her. And I can’t see it clearly in the fading twilight, but I can smell it—a dark, slick stain on her muzzle. Blood—still wet. Our eyes meet and she watches me cooly as the other two stalk in another step. I glance to either side, then back to her. She barks once—not at me—and almost instantly the noise in the underbrush turns even more sharply in my direction.

Maybe, if it was just the other two, I could convince them to commit and roll out between them, but this other one . . . she’s way too smart, there’s no way she falls for it. There’s no way I get out of this without going through her—and she won’t be even remotely easy.

“Garvey?” I call—a little more loudly than I should, but as calmly as I can manage. I shift my weight, ever so slightly.

There’s suddenly another presence to my right. The first setter reacts instantly—all his attention goes in that direction—and the wolfhound’s attention flickers behind him. The other setter doesn’t even flinch.

But neither does she attack. I watch her for a moment longer, then steal a glance toward my new doom.

One grey wolf. Not much bigger than me, but utterly calm and ready.

Two more large dogs spill in around him, and run over to join the wolfhound at my right. They stiffen, and show teeth.

I check positions again, but nobody—not even the dangerous one—has taken advantage of the distraction. Watching the setter as best I can in my peripheral, I turn again to the wolf.

He pauses over the spot where I fell and sniffs the ground, almost casually.

Suddenly, to my great relief, Garvey bounds into the clearing from behind the wolf, his tail wagging energetically. He barks to me as he pushes through the growing crowd of growling dogs—who react with confusion—and runs up to thrust his head into my hands.

“Shit, Garvey,” I say, almost under my breath. He licks my hand.

The wolf steps casually through the crowd as two more dogs run in from the left and stop. The dangerous setter holds her ground, watching me intently, without so much as a moment’s distraction.

I rub Garvey’s head and wait as the wolf approaches. The others grow quiet and tense—ready to end me at even the slightest threat, waiting for the verdict.

He stops at my feet and sniffs me carefully, but without apparent malice. Garvey—apparently unaware of the gravity of the situation—bumps his flank against the wolf and licks playfully at his muzzle.

The wolf steps back and changes.

“Who are you,” he asks, without emotion, “and what are you doing on my land?”