A powder of March snow upon a fallen log provided relief for the Chief Guardian's bruised nose. Earlier this morning he scraped this tender area against a sharp branch. Its hurting point remained behind as others of his forest-dwelling clan moved into attack position.
He continued to slowly rub his furry face against the soothing crystals, damp wood being thankfully noiseless as he remained upwind.
Later in the summer there would be a feast of ants, and he salivated in remembering the last time he visited this wooded area. In fact, he was sure he had come across this same fallen Cyprus tree, its upturned roots now providing a shelter from enemy eyes.
He peered anxiously seeking companions who also had made their way laboriously across the steep incline of this hillside. Their band of Guardians intended to defend this small valley where intruders had begun to invade.
Concern developed when packs of Canis Lupus began to show up for the first time in this area. Their growing presence placed in immediate jeopardy young and old Ursus who could easily be surrounded and killed. And that included their allies, the long-legged Family Cervidae and Alces Alces who were more helpless against fast moving packs of marauders.
A "Hush" of warning entered his brain. And his low growl escaped curled up lips as he spotted suspicious movements. About a hundred yards away, a Vulpes slunk into view, gracefully dancing around what must be a newly discovered scent.
Perhaps a mouse had taken up space there, or one of the young Ursus wandered into the vicinity. They had been cautioned to remain in their protected enclaves farther beyond the hill. And the cubs heeded stern warnings from their elders.
The canny one, a large Cannis Lupus, swung his gaze at the hill above and paused, perhaps sensing furtive eyes watching. In a few moments the wind shifted and the lone Vulpes nervously lifted his nose into the air, sniffed then turned to look towards a low brush on his right side.
This alerted the Chief Guardian, who emitted a low "Woof" designed to convey a message to others in nearby concealment. Their answering sounds ricocheted back and forth ensuring their readiness for anything amiss. Each was aware of the need to defend their land from invaders. It was his sworn duty to destroy enemies to protect families of their kin who lived in the valley.
He waited patiently for further Canis Lupus movements. It was known they used shorter legged Vulpes acting as Seekers to discover Ursus lairs, leading larger species of Lupus hunters to a successful mission. Lupus was known to lay in wait in difficult places then pounce quicker than the movement of a falling limb.
Once more the wily Vulpes sensed a larger creature than he followed every movement. Yes indeed, his enemy Ursus the Chief Guardian was a worthy opponent, and in all probability had gained a key position for such watchfulness.
Hackles along the Chief Guardian's furry spine suddenly sprang outwards in every direction. Yes, he was able to see darker forms squirming forward along the ground.
Another could be seen alongside the older Vulpes, with several more from the pack moving to the cave higher up on the hillside. Knowing such an attack may occur prompted Ursus to hastily vacate families from that den which was too far removed from their main population.
Perhaps this time they may provide a surprise for the shaggy ones.
Vulpes, having completed his duty to lead the enemy to this location, now turned and disappeared down the hill. His quick retreat left the area to what looked like a dozen or more Lupus forms that suddenly raised themselves from the ground.
They were powerful looking specimens and prepared to launch their attack upon the open cave mouth. It was not known to these unwanted intruders the target of their mission had been abandoned and now replaced by waiting defenders.
Sharpened claws and strong incisors from a team of Ursus at the cave awaited an opportunity not only to defend their territory but inflict heavy losses upon the dreaded Lupus. And the moment was quickly approaching as a rush of snarls and thudding heavy footpads moved in a gray blur up the hill.
This was the moment the Chief Guardian waited for. He knew two defenders waited anxiously within the den and four others had gained positions of ambush for the enemy. In their haste to inflict a charge of rage upon the den above, the Lupus did not notice silent rushing from Guardians who swept up the hill in pursuit, cutting off avenues of escape.
The battle began as two fierce Ursus swept aside several dark forms, swiping with paws that inflicted deep slashes across their shoulders. This prompted a savage assault from the rest of the pack. Whining and howling led the thrust of battle as six more Lupus hurried forward to enact revenge for the wounding of their leader and his oldest son.
At the mouth of the cave Guardian grunts and snarls joined in battle. Sensing something ominous behind them, the main body of Lupus turned too late to develop a new strategy, except seek escape.
Several of their brothers were left behind as torn up forms. And the remainder of the pack hurriedly retreated through a barrage of claw swipes. This left a signature of grievous wounds on the remaining lupus who barely escaped from a furious assault on their ranks.
Ursus, the Chief Guardian knew it was good the intruders endured a punishing lesson. They learned this territory, would be defended with ferocity. His "Woof" of approval was answered in unison as Guardians licked each other's bloodied wounds.
Soon their tale of successful combat would echo in the lairs of the clan.
* * *
Richard L. Provencher 2006
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