“What do I owe the pleasure of a visit from the mighty Night-hoof?” the wolf snarled, as he gnawed on the leg bone of the unfortunate prey that had attracted his appetite.
Night-hoof has no love for Spirit, or his death-reeking den of bones and decaying meat. The wolf, much like the great Shire horse himself, bared the wounds of survival—in Spirit’s case, almost half of his face had been singed away by a brush-fire, leaving nothing but knotted, hairless, burnt-purple flesh and exposing all of his flesh-tearing teeth on the right side of his muzzle. It created the illusion that Spirit was always smiling on that side of his face, while his unmarred left side, with onyx fur and a permanent scowl, indicated he was anything but happy.
“There is one in my herd, the young tigress, who has come of age and must return to her home to claim her place as queen,” Night-hoof told him. “But she is determined to return with a king at her side. She needs someone like herself, someone strong and fearless, but one who will also show her patience and kindness. You prefer to keep to yourself, but I know you are an honorable wolf, and would be a good king for her.”
Spirit chuckled deeply as he spat out his dinner. “You cannot fool me, Night-hoof. Often on the hunt, I have passed by your herd and I have seen the way she favors you. I am sure she would have you as her king, but you have no love for her so wish to pass her off to me.”
The wolf’s words stung Night-hoof, and he was tempted to retort how wrong Spirit was, but the stallion restrained his anger. “I have the herd to protect. She refused to bring the others along to her homeland, thus I have chosen to stay with the herd and find her another…more suitable…companion.”
Spirit yawned, stretching his long lanky limbs. “I have no need to be a tigress’ king. I have plenty of hunting ground, plenty of food, a fine den, and my own watering hole. There is nothing your Clawed Queen could offer me that I would desire. And I do not wish to be your cub-sitter.”
The Shire thought a moment. “You have no pack, Spirit. Do you never ache for companionship?”
“Hardly. If I wished to have a pack, I could easily find one and battle their alpha for dominance. I am alone because I wish it so. ”
Night-hoof thought again. “You have no friendly feelings towards me.”
“You are of the hoof, and I am claw and fang. We will always be enemies. You also keep me from the delectable morsels in your herd. No, I do not like you. I would enjoy more than anything to see you miserable and broken.”
“Then understand this. If you go to the Clawed Queen and tell her you would be her king, and she accepts you…then you will be taking from me the one I care for more than anything else in this world.”
Spirit’s ears perked forwards at this. He stared at Night-hoof with his moon-yellow eyes, and could see that the Shire was not lying. “I smell your sadness. Your heart is as soft and weak as I always thought. Very well, then. I shall go to your Clawed Queen and offer to be her king. She will then realize how foolish she was to adore you, when she should be with one of claw and fang, not hoof. If anything, it will please me to take from you that which you care for so dearly.”
While the weight of those words hung on Night-hoof’s heart like a thousand stones, he guided Spirit down the mountain, through the forest and to the river, but told Spirit to wait by the river bank so as not to reveal to the wolf where the herd slept.
“In the morning, I will bring her here to drink, and introduce her to you,” Night-hoof said.
“You do not worry that I may try to hurt your tigress, just to spite you?” Spirit asked.
Night-hoof grinned. “I have no worries about that, my old friend. You misjudge her ferocity and strength.”
Spirit smirked. “As do you, my old friend.”
It was one of the few nights, perhaps the only night in Night-hoof’s life, that he wished that the sun would never rise.