The second part of a A Short Story for all ages by Lorna Stallman.
Bolting out of the trees, something seized the serpent just below its head in mid-strike. With powerful jaws it slung the kingsnake out of sight.
Screaming, Monique jerked suddenly, freeing her hair from the thorny bush.
Standing in front of her was a beautiful red wolf. Its piercing golden eyes seemed to cut through her. Monique panted. What just happened? She didn’t know whether to be thankful or scared and stared unblinking at the wolf for what seemed like a long time. “Why did you save me?” she asked.
“I did not save you,” said the wolf. “I killed a snake.”
Monique noticed the wolf favoring a badly injured back leg. “What happened to your leg?”
The beast bared his teeth and growled. Monique took a cautious step back. “I led a mighty wolf pack.” The wolf glowered into Monique’s fear-filled eyes. “I was injured in a hunt and one stronger than I leads the pack now. I am no longer welcome there.”
“I see you are angry,” said Monique. “How do I know you won’t attack me, too?” Her heart was still pounding from the episode with the snake.
The red wolf laid his ears back and stared at her even more intently. “Yes, I am angry at being driven from my pack. And hungry. I should eat you right now.” He slinked toward her.
Monique’s mind raced. Her stomach lurched inside, but she stood bravely against the wolf. “No you won’t.” She held out her hand telling him to stay back.
The wolf cocked his head as if surprised at her resolve.
Monique pondered her words carefully before speaking. “I challenge you to a battle of wits. The loser shall do the winner’s bidding for one week.”
The wolf straightened his head and narrowed his eyes at Monique. “One week? You won’t live that long.” His voice was low and threatening.
Monique swallowed hard. “We shall see about that. I don’t intend to lose.”
“You are courageous,” said the wolf, “but foolish. You shouldn’t be so boastful.” He sneered. “I accept your challenge. This will be easy.”
“Easy?” asked Monique. “I am sure, Wolf, that I am much wiser than you.” She stood straight and looked him in the eye. “You are not even so wise as to find your way to the crystal blue stream that runs along the edge of the forest.”
The wolf’s eyes grew wild with rage. “I will prove that I am wiser.” Despite a wounded leg, he raced through the forest, bounding over stumps and through heavy brush. Monique chased after him, barely able to keep up.
When at last the wolf reached the crystal blue stream, he heaved with exhaustion. When Monique caught up to him, he huffed. “You see, I am wiser than you think.”
Monique collapsed in a heap onto the ground. “Yes, wolf, you are very wise,” she said catching her breath. She pushed herself up off the ground and pointed a finger. “But look, that is my cottage across this narrow footbridge. Thank you for bringing me home.”
After a long silence, the wolf hung his head. “You win. I will do as you ask.” His words were slow and quiet.
Monique noticed the wolf holding his back leg gingerly. More flesh had torn open from the run. “Please don’t be sad, red wolf,” said Monique. “I only wanted to get home. If you will stay and protect my family’s house, I will give you scraps every day from our table. You can drink fresh water from the stream and roam free. I will not hold you to our bargain.” Monique held out her hand to the wolf. “whatever you decide, please first let me take care of your leg.”
The wolf picked up his head and looked at Monique with softer eyes. He lifted his front paw, placing it in her outstretched hand. Monique smiled and thought she could see the wolf smiling back at her.
Monique stayed true to her word and Red Wolf protected her house day and night. Wherever Monique went, so went the wolf.