Let the world be still
The Wilderness, Guardian’s Grove
The first candle of the season was burning with a strong flame in the window. Gordon sat by its light, whittling away at a long wooden dowel, brow furrowed.
“What’s that, lad?” The old Guardian, Jacob, was stoking the fire, watching him at his work. Gordon looked over, smiling before blowing the shavings away.
“Flute.” Holding it up to the level of his eyes, he squinted along its length. “Gotta figure out how to hollow it out.” Gordon set it down, looking over at the old man. “I saw pictures in the Book you gave me last Christmas, Coby.”
Jacob chuckled and said, “The Guardian before me passed it on.”
“And we are all grateful,” Gordon said, as he checked the candle.
The sound of a mournful howl gave him pause. “Is that?”
Jacob went to the door, opening it a crack. “The pack is on the move.” A frown passed over his features. “There is something…” He looked back at Gordon and said, “Keep the fire burning.”
Gordon shifted to sit by the fire as the old man slipped out the door.
Dingos roamed the Wilderness in these days. Though they never used to gather in packs; they were traditionally solitary beasts. However, as Gordon grew up he began to notice an increasing number of the wild dogs gathering where resources were high. The flashes of yellowed coats were unmistakeable when he went out on forays with Jacob.
Christmas time was when they started patrolling through the woods near the cabin, though, otherwise their usual haunts were the outer fringe.
The fire crackled, Gordon staring into the flames as his mind wandered. Leaping flames reminding him of earlier Christmases. Such joy he never knew came to him at this time. Jacob always took care to make each season as memorable as an old man could on their meagre means. There were never any gifts, but Gordon had no need for such fleeting objects in time. No, Jacob would take him out, both of them swaddled in furs, and they would sit on the hill where they could see the stars. And he would tell such beautiful tales of the old times.
Gordon’s favourite tale was one of such mystery and wonder he sometimes thought it could be the truest story ever told. An ancient tale of a saviour God who came down to dwell with the people and, through an amazing sacrifice, brought peace and goodwill to all. In fact, the old man said it was the real reason they celebrated Christmas each year. Gordon liked to believe that it was true. The thought of everlasting peace was a balm for the life that he’d grown up knowing.
Sure, he was sheltered from the life his parents faced in the City. But, Jacob told stories of that place too. Valoren City, the great walled city that kept The Wilderness at bay. Gordon didn’t know what there was to fear having lived in the Wild all his life, but the old man said the City governance embellished things and put fear in the hearts of its citizens.
And, they banned music.
Gordon shook his head at the thought just as the door set to creaking. He cast his gaze in that direction as Jacob reappeared.
“Lad, get the tub…need warm water.”
“What is it?” he started to ask, pausing when a soft whimpering came from a bundle in the old man’s arms.
Jacob, nodding, said, “Injured and abandoned. Now, the water.”
Gordon got to his feet, gathering what was needed. As he did, he watched the old man open the bundle to reveal a ball of dirt covered yellowish-white fluff. The whimpering was emanating from within. A Dingo pup.
Pursing his lips he filled the tub with water from the pot over the fire then brought it over to set on the table. He grabbed a towel on the way, handing it to the Guardian. The he sat opposite, resting his hands on the edge of the table and waited.
It took a while, with the pup crying the whole time, but Jacob managed to clean away the dirt and grime and then to tend to the wounds on its trembling body. The whole time the small creature kept its snout tucked into itself so Gordon couldn’t get a good look at it.
Jacob scooped the pup up in his arms, carrying it over to his cot where he set it down in the pile of blankets. Gordon tilted his head to the side.
“He can sleep with me tonight. Body warmth is what he needs.”
Gordon, smiling, said, “So, it’s a he?”
Jacob nodded as he made sure the pup was comfortable before joining him at the table again.
“And, now, a spot of tea, lad.”
Later that night, Gordon woke to something snuffling in his ear. He started then smiled as he felt something cold and wet nuzzling at his arm. Blinking, he turned his head to the left seeing the glow of predator eyes in the low candle light. Blinking again he fought back a laugh as he realised the pup was balancing against his bed, ears pricked up.
He held still, allowing the inquisitive young dog to sniff at his face. The delicate nostrils flared, as its ears set to twitching, listening to his breaths.
Gordon took the chance to examine the pup, not ever having the chance to be close to one before. The creamy fuzz of puppyhood made it look larger than it actually was though it was beginning to lose the softness around its face. Large intelligent eyes watched him as he watched the pup.
Smiling, and murmuring low so as not to spook the pup, he said, “Feeling better, pup?”
The pup stuck its nose right in his ear then he felt the wet curl of its tongue on his cheek. Then it stuck its head down and tried to snuggle into his arms. Gordon couldn’t prevent the laughter bubbling up in his throat, smiling as the pup tried to press close into his body.
“Want cuddles, pup?” he said in a whisper. “Guess we can do that.” With care, he settled an arm around the pup’s body, smiling as it snuffled then went quiet, nostrils twitching still as it slept. He drifted off soon after the warm body of the dingo pup like a hot water bottle chasing away the cold of the night.
Gordon woke with a yelp then laughed outright when he realised why. Needle sharp teeth nipped at his arm before the pup jumped down off the bed, trotting across the floor to sit next to the table, nose pointing upward in an expectant gesture.
Jacob, already up and stoking the fire, chuckled low. “Tough little lad.”
Gordon rubbed at the back of his neck as he got up. “Just like you, Coby.”
The Old Guardian, smiling, said, “Wasn’t always so tough.”
“Yeah…being Guardian changes you, right?”
Jacob nodded as he brought a bowl over, setting it down in front of the dingo pup. Gordon smiled more as the pup stuck its snout into the bowl, wiggling its whole body as it almost inhaled the meat in the bottom of it.
“Well, nothing wrong with the pup,” he said.
“Except its colouring,” Jacob murmured. Gordon blinked, looking up at him. “It’s unusual to see creamies.” The old man sighed. “They don’t do well in the Wild.”
Gordon said, frowning as he spoke, “So, it’s going to stay with us?”
Jacob looked at him, a serious light in his eyes. “It’ll pay to have a companion. I won’t always be here.”
Gordon ducked his head down, continuing to watch the pup. It walked circles around the bowl, licking it clean before flopping on its belly and looking up at him, tongue lolling out of the side of its mouth. He smiled then looked over at Jacob.
“I’m going to finish my flute.”
Jacob, nodding, stood to take his coat down from the hook on the wall. “I’ll catch breakfast.”
Gordon sat outside, whittling away at his flute, as the pup was fossicking around the bushes that lined the path. Sticking its quivering pink nose into the brush, pulling out with a sneeze, causing a smile to flicker at the corner of his lips. Laughter felt strange, but it was definitely welcome.
He glanced further up the path where Jacob had gone. One day he would be the one to do the hunting and the watching. When the old man’s time came. Gordon, sighing, set his knife down and sighted along the flute again. Dusting his fingers along it he allowed a small smile again as he deemed the instrument ready to test out.
“Hey, pup. Listen to this.”
The dingo pricked up its ears as he set his lips to the flute and began to blow across the hole. Tilting its head to the side and giving a low huff the pup didn’t seem too impressed before sitting back on its haunches, lifting its head and howling for the first time. Gordon couldn’t help but laugh at the sight. He set the flute down, cupping his hands around his mouth to imitate the young dingo.
Then he stopped as Jacob appeared at the top of the track, a brace of pheasants slung over his shoulder. The pup’s nose set to twitching as it too took note of the wild birds.
“Breakfast,” Jacob said, with a grin. Gordon jumped up, heading inside to get the fire ready, the pup trotting in behind him.
Sucking on his fingers Gordon cleaned the juices of the pheasant breast from them, before looking up at the old man. Jacob met his gaze, lifting an eyebrow.
“Do they celebrate Christmas in the City?” A question that was forever niggling at his mind.
Jacob nodded. “Yes. But, it’s a solemn affair. And no music, of course.”
Gordon shook his head, gaze drifting to the pup who was gnawing at the whole baby pheasant that Jacob had presented to him. “How can they live like that?”
“It’s normal, for them.”
“My parents…” Gordon started, but then deciding not to finish the thought. “That’s just so sad.”
Jacob’s smile was weary as he said, “They know no other way.”
Gordon sighed, then let the sadness filter away as the pup came wriggling up to him, licking at his fingers. “Well, pup…we know what it’s really about, don’t we?”
The dingo gave a small whine then sat back on its haunches and lifted its voice in a howl.
Jacob smiled and said, “I believe he agrees with you, lad.”
Gordon, chuckling, picked up his flute and began to play a merry tune.