The wolf was gnawing on half of the jawbone when Sean emerged onto the sunny cliff. He was juggling the two heavy femurs when he froze in place. The waterlogged bone began to seep its broth down his arms and legs as he warily surveyed the she-wolf in front of him. He could see that her belly bulged with child as she sharpened her teeth. Some of the arm bones sat splintered near her – the rich marrow had provided a high-fat treat for her body’s cravings. Even though the bones had been split and boiled, she had torn them apart so that she could lap up every bit of the remaining buttery marrow inside.
The majority of the deer’s skeleton was still drying in the sun between them as the boy carefully tried to lay down the long, slippery thigh bones. The wolf’s gaze tracked him passively, until one thigh-bone slipped and dropped. As it bounced loudly onto the ground, she began to stare at him hard with her golden eyes, lips raised a little further than necessary as she held the bone and growled deep in her chest. The remaining femur was carefully clenched against Sean’s brown cotton shirt, but he realized this was only making him smell more delicious. He quickly arranged both bones into their place by the others, and stepped away.
But then – his recent training kicked in. Instead of fleeing, and possibly providing a delightful target for the hungry wolf woman, he took off the sodden shirt and sat. He cris-crossed his legs, and observed her.
Once he showed himself to be relaxed, she did, too. She stopped growling and allowed herself to retrieve a big piece of arm bone. He watched her pin it between her forelegs, and lovingly lick up the darker, soft center. Her eyes closed in obvious pleasure. She licked again and again, smiling so wide that Sean found himself smiling, too.
He looked down at the femur before him, and realized that it, too, was full of lingering marrow – even more than a humerus. He carefully picked the big bone that had the larger break, the rougher finish, and set it over a stone. The lady wolf – having decided he offered her no threat, but still wary – watched him closely. He placed the bone so the broken center rested over a ridge of rock, wedged so one end was firmly held in place. He then stomped on the higher end, forcing the bone to snap after a few tries.
The wolf had stood when she saw him struggling, and almost fled with each stomp. But once the hot, wet bone fractured open and the smell wafted to her nose, she couldn’t resist. Sean had only to back away, and she helped herself to his gift.
When the boy tromped back through the woods to the pot of marrow broth, he was relieved to see his teacher next to it, drinking a cupfull happily. “Sorry, Grey. I hope you don’t mind. I need this.”
The older man looked up in surprise, then in bemusement as the younger man took the pot away into the underbrush. “What are you – Sean – where are you GOING?” He followed along as Sean tried to speak over his own noise. Grey couldn’t understand a word over the graceless tromping, nor could Sean hear the questions he in turn tried to ask.
Sean’s gait quieted as he hit the edge of the forest, but now that he could finally hear his teacher, he shushed him. Flummoxed but tickled pink by this odd situation, Grey shook his head and smiled as he turned onto the cliffside – and saw the very pregnant mama wolf already digging into the rich broth.
“NOW I understand.” And he began to laugh heartily.
Sean smiled as wide as the day is long, and said, “I seem to have made a friend.”
“Then you have learned the true lesson of the warrior.”
The grin wilted some in confusion. “How is that?”
“You can face any enemy without fear, if you’re willing to make them an ally.” He clapped the boy on the back and wrapped an arm around his shoulders with pride, as they watched the wolf lady finish and even clean the pot.