Like all timber wolves, Sharp Fang knew his territory. It reached up this mountain slope, and spread out at its base. He knew the territory, and he could tell what had been through it and what was there now.
It was the latter that bothered him. At this edge of his territory was a large mountain cat, almost as big as Sharp Fang. The cougar had no respect for territory.
Sharp Fang was about to teach it respect.
Even for a timber wolf, Sharp Fang was large; broad-shouldered, big – and (as many of his enemies had found) fast. Even as fast as a cougar.
But the cougar’s spoor was mixed with another one – Two-Legs! A family of them had moved in over a season ago and they mostly stayed away from Sharp Fang’s territory. He was glad of that, because some Two-Legs carried a firestick, a strange thing over half as long as an adult Two-Legs and could sound like thunder as its fire sent death out at great distances. It was something Sharp Fang respected and avoided.
He knew a lot about the Two-Legs pack. His mother had been a dog who had lived with a Two-Legs family and was badly burned trying to save them when their den burned down. The wolf pack had found her, dazed and wounded, and took her in. She had healed and became a valued member of the pack and, eventually, the mate of the leader.
So Sharp Fang was familiar with them, but preferred distance.
Why was Two-Legs here?
Right now, he preferred to deal with something he was more familiar with – the cougar. Woods were around them; tall trees, younger ones, and many bushes. The cougar was taking advantage of the cover, but Sharp Fang’s nose and ears told him where the cat was. The wolf made his way stealthily forward until the cat was within striking distance. Unhesitatingly, Sharp Fang lunged forward, into what had been disguising bushes. He landed on the back of the startled cat and they tumbled on the ground, snarling and hissing and slashing of claws and teeth, until –
The thunder of a firestick.
Its power tore dirt between them while Sharp Fang leaped to the right and the cougar darted ahead. Sharp Fang didn’t know which of them the firestick had been after, but he noted several things: There had been a Two-Legs cub, riding another horse, and the horse had skittered at the presence of the cougar and ran, the cub holding tightly. The cougar, meanwhile, had born left, paralleling the base of Sharp Fang’s mountain. He also noted that the adult Two-Legs was distracted by the antics of his cub’s horse.
Swiftly, Sharp Fang was at the mountain base, where rocks and boulders piled up. The cat, he knew, was moving fast. So did he, jumping from boulder to boulder, moving quickly but knowing what he was doing. His heart pumped in response to the action. In some places the rock was slick, in others there was jagged edges, but Sharp Fang knew them all, and his paws never faltered.
He was parallel with the cougar, and gaining because of his knowledge of his land. Before he was ready to attack, a new element was added: The Two-Legs cub was seated on the ground, his back to the cougar, and reaching around as if he was holding an aching ankle.
The cougar was not going to take prey on his territory! With a growl, the wolf tore forward, off the rocks and into the brush. As intended, the cougar heard his growl and had turned to face him, one paw raised. Sharp Fang’s weight landed on the paw, pushed it down, and the cougar was on its back. The cat lashed out with its strong rear legs, claws slashing at the wolf’s innards, but the furious wolf had expected that and dodged away.
Sharp Fang had faced cougars before. He disliked all trespassers, but cougars brought out a fierce anger.
The Two-Legs cub was standing, mouth agape, as the two beasts battled.
The cat’s claws connected with Sharp Fang’s fur, but the wolf's covering was so thick that only the tip of the claws stung the wolf. In return, Sharp Fang slashed his teeth at the cat’s throat – and connected. Blood squirted everywhere, and the cougar collapsed.
Panting and pleased with victory, Sharp Fang stood over his defeated foe – and then something surprising happened: The cub reached out to pat the wolf’s head, and made an approving sound.
It wasn’t the pat that was surprising, it was the fact that Sharp Fang stood there and allowed the intimacy; allowed it and, somewhere deep within him, felt a sense of pleasure.
The approach of a horse, ridden by the adult Two-Legs, interrupted that. The wolf looked as the Two-Legs came forward, raising his firestick. The cub made an objecting sound and stood in front of Sharp Fang, who didn’t move. He wasn’t going to run from a Two-Legs, firestick or not.
The two exchanged sounds. Then the adult lowered his firestick and held out a hand to the cub. He swung the cub up behind him and they turned away, to go after the other horse. The cub looked back, and waved at Sharp Fang, who paused another moment, still puzzled at his response to the cub's attention, then turned to go back to his woods – the unexpected pleasure still with him.
“I don’t understand that, Timmy. You stood there beside him and petted him!”
“He’s a good doggie, Daddy. He saved me from that mountain lion.”
“He’s a timber wolf, Jimmy! He isn’t a dog at all. Although,” he added, “he did look like he had some German Shepherd in him.”
They found the other horse. Jimmy got down and mounted it. “I don’t care what he is, Daddy. He saved me!”
Buck Wilson looked at his son and shook his head. As puzzled as Sharp Fang had been, he finally shrugged. “True enough, Jimmy. I owe him one. We’ll try to stay out of his territory as much as we can.”
In satisfaction and comradely silence, the two rode home.