Before I could think of a plan, I had to go to my family’s roundhouse, to help them prepare for the war that was coming. We had our own livestock, our cows and pigs, and we had to try to find a way of protecting them when the fighting was happening. We began to herd them into an enclosure. My favourite cow went in last. I watched her amble slowly over the earth behind her friends, and wished I could be as unknowing as she was about what was to come. The cows never seemed scared of anything. It was only when the wolves attacked that they would start to panic, eyes rolling with fear, stamping and huffing behind their fences.
As I waited for her to make her slow, steady way, I remembered one winter’s night, the year after the speckle-nosed wolf was born. The cry had gone out on the hillfort that the wolves once again were attacking. My heart sank. What if she, the speckle-nosed wolf, was one of them? I wished the wolves would leave, go elsewhere, but they attacked every winter when food was scarce and they were desperate. I knew why they did it. But the villagers were ruthless. If the wolves attacked, they’d fight them off, celebrating when one was killed, and then chase them back into the forest, running them down until daybreak came.
That night, I’d joined the rest of the villagers to watch for the wolves. They’d been quiet at first, sneaking in the darkness along the edge of the village, eyes gleaming in the firelight. But as the night wore on, their bellies began to claw with hunger, and they began to run at us, mouths open and panting. I watched my people fight back, and I fought too, but not to the best of my abilities. I would jab my spear at the darkness, shout at the wolves to beat them back, but I did not harm any of them.
And then it happened. A wolf, a long streak of darkness in the darkness, leapt over our heads and into the sheepfold. It had taken a sheep before we even knew what was happening. Fury erupted among the villagers. Instead of defending, they now started to attack. They began to run the wolves back down the hill towards the forest.
And as they did, I saw her, my speckle-nosed wolf, terrified now, running at the back of the wolf pack. And I knew what would happen to her if one of my people caught her.
I did the only thing I could think to do.
“This way!” I called. “They’ll take the western path, we can cut them off at the bottom of the hill!”
And because my people trusted that I knew the forest and its secrets, they came with me.
The wolves got away that night, each and every one of them. I made sure of it.
I remembered this now as I closed the heavy wooden gate on our cows. As I thought of the battle that was facing us, for which we were so unprepared.
I wondered if there was, indeed, something that I could do.
“I’ll return as soon as I can,” I said, and then I was off at a run, back down this path, back towards the bluebell wood, towards the wolves.
Come along with me now. There’s much to do, before war comes to the green fort. Don’t forget to take a rubbing before you go.