That brought me back to the idea that British wolves, eighteen hundred years ago, living half-hidden among towns and villages and farms, might not be quite the same as wild wolves as they appear to us today, in the remote places where there still are wolves. And then I remembered that in Eagle of the Ninth, Esca said that three hunters went into the den where the cubs were hidden. A normal wolf den is a low burrow of a thing, it would be hard to get three men into it, particularly when one of them was the elegant Placidus.
And before I knew it I had written this very short, rather sad story.
The Cub's Pedigree
There is a story behind the wolf hunt and the den where the Cub was born, even though Placidus knew nothing about it, and nor did Esca - though I think perhaps Esca may have guessed.
Long enough ago that nobody can remember exactly, there was a smallholding in the hills a little way from Calleva. It wasn’t good land; it was steep and stony and difficult to get to because of the way the streams ran there, and the way the hill sloped.
In the hills, there lived a shepherd with his family, in one little house, scraping a living as best they could from a few sheep, a few hens, the deer in the woods and the wild birds on the hills.
A hard life, and when the fever came, the shepherd died, and his daughters, and his cousins at the next farm over. Even the tax collector died, though everyone agreed that his life was much less hard than anyone else’s.
For a few years, the shepherd’s wife lived on there, with her hens, and the few sheep that were left, and her big brindle bitch-hound, with the little house becoming a little ramshackle, repaired here and there where she could reach.
From time to time she came down from the hills to sell a few eggs, or a lamb, or the hide of a deer that the dog had killed, but after a while she came less often, because it was a long steep walk and there was always so much to do.
And the new tax collector didn’t want to go all the way up the hill in the mud, and the way to the little holding became brambly and overgrown.
Then, one long winter, the shepherd’s wife died, quietly, with the big brindle bitch lying on her feet, and nobody noticed at all.
And the big brindle bitch mourned her sincerely, as dogs do, and when she became hungry, she ate her body, as dogs do. And then she ate the chickens and the few remaining sheep, for a dog must live.
When the bitch came into season, a male came by, perhaps he was a dog-wolf, and perhaps he was a hound, or perhaps he was a little of both. They raised a litter of cubs there in the old house.
And the woods grew up around the little house, and the roof -timbers slipped, and the name of the holding and the shepherd and his wife were long forgotten, for who would wish to scrape a living in such a poor remote spot, when one could go to Calleva, or Regnum, or Londinium and take up any of a thousand trades and see the world go by?
But the wolves stayed there in what was left of the old house, and they raised their cubs in its ruins, generation after generation. For the shepherd had built it as strong and warm as he was able, and they thought of it as their own place.