This is one of my Prince Jarov tales, concerning a young prince and his mare ‘Fleetfoot’ who has lost his kingdom to a wicked uncle and the warriors of the north. He is destined to travel the great east road seeking out allies in his bid to reclaim his kingdom. Ska, the central character in this tale is one bad wolf, not all wolves are like Ska – but Ska can send the shivers up the spine of the bravest soul!........................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................
If you travel far to the east and the north, beyond the eastern plain, beyond the wide, dark green river, beyond the snowy mountains that is the home to the frost giants, towards the ends of the earth and beyond, in doing so you will come to the great forest, the home of birch and pine, of oak and beech and dear reader, grow uneasy for it is also the home of the great wolf Ska.
Ska by name and Ska by nature, well named he was for his muzzle was scarred and disfigured by endless battles. Born to a bitch mother in a thunderstorm, beneath black clouds and a storm tossed moon, beneath the black branches of lightning blasted oaks, Ska was born into a world of violence and pain.
Little by little Ska, grew large and cruel, ferocious - he always got the best of the kill that the pack took down, greedily gulping down gobbets of flesh and blood of the poor unfortunate prey. Always hungry, Ska in turn began to pick on the weakest and the smallest wolves in the pack, tearing them into chunks of bloodied meat and swallowing them down.
Soon all the wolves were afraid of the great beast and one by one they slunk away into the forest deserting their pack until they became just amber eyes peering from beneath the dark trees. “Who needs a pack” growled the great wolf Ska, “I was born alone and so shall I live – alone. I am the only pack that I need, all the more prey for me!” He howled at the moon as if to seal his decision with lunar power, and the creatures of the forest shivered in fear.
So, Ska lived and all the animals were afraid of him, for his greed knew no bounds – the beasts of the forest, the birds in the trees and the fish in the lakes were all subject to his greed. Even the great white stag Elannir and the royal family of the great stag who had ruled the great forest wisely for many generations feared his howling in the dark forests beneath the silent moon.
Now, another had heard of the immense forest and the great white stag who dwelt there, the exiled Prince Jarov of the northern towers, wanderer, a seeker of a way to reclaim his lands from his Uncle Ulric and the foreign invaders who had stolen his kingdom and cast him onto the dusty roads of the east like a homeless peasant. So, sitting in a tavern beside the great trade road, and hearing from others of the great stag and how it was rumoured that if a man could get the stag into his debt, then he would grant a man’s deepest wish. Now this intrigued Prince Jarov and made his heart beat faster with a plan.
Setting out on his mare, the brave Lightfoot, she of the blond mane and the white muzzle, he meant to hunt down the great stag and find a way of binding him into his debt. Travelling down the great trade road and out of the kingdoms of man, he entered into the dark recesses of the great forest. Soon the light grew dim and the sun didn’t reach the forest floor, there were no birds singing nor animals calling. All was silence except the crackle of leaves and pine needles beneath the hooves of gentle Lightfoot. Soon a cold shiver travelled down the prince’s back through cold or apprehension he didn’t know. “I don’t like this Lightfoot, where are the birds, the bark of fox and badger? Maybe this was a fool’s errand and fool I must be for to believe those stupid travellers tales” Lightfoot snorted in answer as if to agree with the trepidation that its master felt.
For days he travelled through the dark forest, seeing no other living creature and only the terrible sound of a great wolf howling into the night sky. With no game to catch, the prince was hungry and on the verge of giving up what he now thought of as a foolhardy adventure when he saw what he thought was a ghost of the forest. He then realised that it was a magnificent white stag. Slowly Jarov stretched out his hand for his bow, not knowing what to do, he realised that he had no idea on how to get the stag into his debt.
“Hold! Son of man, Prince you may be but here I am king! Hold I say and lower your bow!”
Stunned into inaction the prince held fast, and lowered the bow. The stag had spoken!
“Know you that I am Elannir, king of these lands. All the creatures bow before me. What do you in my kingdom?”
“Great stag!” said Prince Jarov. “I am far from home and on a quest to seek a way to reclaim my kingdom stolen by my uncle and foreign raiders. I have heard that you might be able to help me in my task if I can do a great service for you – is there anyway that my being can serve you in return for your help?”
The great stag moved forward and lowered his head as if in thought. For minutes the stag stood thus and for a moment the prince thought that the stag had been turned into stone he was so still. Then raising this head and fixing the prince with his golden eyes he spoke.
“I will make a pact with you prince. Have you heard the howling of a great wolf on the northern winds?” The prince nodded in agreement. “Know now, that the howl is the voice of the great wolf Ska. He has terrorised these lands for many years now and we have been powerless to defend ourselves. Aid us and release us from the scourge of the great beast and I promise that in return I and all those who bow their paw to me will assist you in regaining your title and your lands!”
So, here was how Prince Jarov would regain his lands and one so easy! To kill a lone wolf! Pah! This would be no task at all!
“Great Stag! I accept the task, but tell me, how shall I find this great wolf?
“Do not worry, son of man, do not worry, the wolf Ska will find you – of that there shall be no doubt.” Replied the great stag cryptically, and so saying the great stag seemed to fade into the darkness of the great forest like a ghost of morning mist. “Well, Lightfoot, I hope I have done the right thing.”
The mare looked at the prince, as if to say that all men were foolish at one time in their lives, and possibly this would be it.
Prince Jarov travelled further into the dark forest. The silence from beast and bird was unsettling and made him nervous. Even the brave Lightfoot was becoming nervous and snorted her dislike of the circumstances that had brought them to this place. Then a ‘CRACK!’ as a branch broke behind them brought them to an abrupt halt. Both could feel a presence behind them.
“Well.” Said the prince more bravely than he felt, “I assume we are in the presence of the great wolf Ska?”
The answering low evil growl was the ensuing answer....
“Welcome to my hunting grounds” growled the great wolf, “It’s so nice when my meals come to me rather than make me exert myself, so tiresome.” There was almost a mocking sneer in the tone of the wolf.
The prince turned in his saddle to face the great wolf, the horrible snarling, slavering muzzle disfigured by a long and wicked scar that ran the length of the snort, the lips curled back from the long, yellow fangs that were being licked by a long black tongue as if the wolf was already tasting the flesh of the young prince.
The prince sounding braver than he actually was, cleared his throat and tried to put a commanding tone in his voice. “My dear wolf Ska, I hear that you have been causing far too much fuss in the forest. Heavens, your high jinks and japes have quite upset the other inhabitants of this realm. Why I hear that the badgers have quite lost their appetite for earthworms due to your howling in the night and your barking at the moon has led to many sleepless nights for the birds. Now, now my dear Ska, I’m afraid that I have to ask you to pack up your belongings and vacate these trees. Begone! I say! Be a good wolf and find yourself a nice quiet forest beyond the black mountains that lie farther to the east. I hear that there are plenty of young, plump rabbits that don’t run too fast for a portly fellow like you!”
Now, you might think that the prince was being too brave, almost as if he was stirring up the wolf to get him to become too angry for his own good, and you would be right in your thinking!
“Why you insolent little cub!!!” barked the great wolf, “I have eaten bigger warriors than you! I have even eaten the brother of that great stag who claims these lands, Elannir, and all those other foolish warriors who have believed those wild claims about rewards and magical promises. Know that all have come to nought. You I could swallow in one gulp and then follow up my snack by eating that flea bitten nag that you’re on!”
Lightfoot took a distinct dislike of this “well really! The cheek of the thing!” thought the horse “Flea bitten indeed! Slightly nibbled maybe but bitten? pah!”
“So this may be, but I still need proof, for I am of royal blood.” The prince retorted, trying to sound more haughty than the scared young boy that he was.
“All well and good, but do you have teeth sharp enough to eat me, I mean I want to be eaten cleanly and not chewed too much. Can you prove that you have sharp enough teeth? I don’t want to be eaten with blunt fangs.”
The great wolf looked around the clearing and selected a tall pine tree towering towards the moon and the clouds, and with a tremendous bound he lunged towards it and seizing it between his great slavering jaws, he tore the mighty tree in two and then shredded the wood into splinters.
“That’s all well and fine, so your teeth are sharp, but are they strong? I don’t want to be gummed to death, as a prince of royal blood I deserve a nice, clean death.”
Again casting his great amber eyes around the clearing he spotted a boulder, and with one gulp he grasped the boulder between his teeth and with a growl and a grind he turned the boulder into gravel.
“Fine, fine!” dismissed the prince with a wave of his hand, as if there mighty feats of the wolf were nothing. “So sharp, strong teeth, but what about your appetite? I don’t want to be half eaten – do you have the stomach for royal flesh?”
The wolf raised an eyebrow, was this human WORTH all this effort?
“Name your task, princeling.” Snarled the wolf.
“Hmmm, a task?” Thought the prince and looked skyward for inspiration, seeing the clouds floating high above the swaying treetops. Somewhere far away a lonely owl, who had been brave enough to stay in the forest, high above the prowling of the wolf, hooted. It was then that the clouds began to part, revealing the pale face of the moon.
Then with a flash an idea came to the prince. “Well, my dear wolf Ska, do you see the moon floating high above us?”
Ska turned one baleful eye towards the sky. “Yes, what of it?”
“Well, if you can swallow the moon whole, then I would agree that you had an appetite suitable for a prince. If you can eat the moon, then I will gladly let you eat me and if you are still hungry you can have my dear friend here, Lightfoot.”
Lightfoot’s eyebrows rose in alarm and he snorted as if to say, “What?!”
All that came in return was a long low growl that might have been laughter....
“Oh manling! Do you think me to be a fool?” The wolf Ska, was shaking with mirth at the shallow attempt to fool him. “As you well know the moon is far away, and it would take time for me to jump so high, and as soon as I had leapt you would be away like a startled rabbit.”
“Ska, you are too clever for me, that is clear.” It looked as if the prince had been stumped, yet there was more to his plan, which had yet to be unveiled....
“Well, let me see...” hummed the prince, “If that moon is too far away, how about this one?” And with this, the prince swept his hand towards the lake in which the reflection of the moon far above glittered in the still, dark waters.
“This one is much closer and you could easily grab it between your jaws and devour it before I have got to the nearest trees and I will keep my bargain – you have my royal word on it.”
“Hmmm. That I will prince, and when I have finished the moon, I will follow up with a human and horse pudding.” And with this the great wolf launched myself towards the moon reflection and the deep cold lake.
SPLASH!!! Went the wolf as he landed in the waters. It was then that the wolf realised how foolish he had been and as he struggled, he cried out. “Prince, prince help me and I will give you anything you wish, for I cannot swim and I fear that I will drown” whimpered the wolf.
“I’m sorry Ska, too late, you have tormented this forest and its inhabitants for too long, time is up for you.” And so saying he turned the gentle Lightfoot away from the lake and back to the great road.
And as the prince was leaving the glade came one long, plaintive howl and then there was nothing........
So time-by-time the prince came to the glade where he had first met the great stag Elannir, who appeared as smoke in the dusk. The stag bowed his head in respect to the prince. “Well, young prince, you have completed the task laid upon you and now I will repay you and aid you in reclaiming your kingdom.”
Well, how the great stag and the inhabitants of the great forest helped young Jarov to reclaim his kingdom is another tale....