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IC:Why The Golden Wolf Howls

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The young Abayla settled herself in her seat. She dared not say so, but the attention she was being given was flattering and she felt a blush building. The whole tribe had its jet eyes on her, and the nerves were fluttering in her chest.

“Hurry up, child. I swear, all the stars will go out before you begin,” the older Abayla chided gently. The younger Abayla gave a small smile to the tribe and began her tale, her voice shaky.

“Once, some time ago, there was a terrible shortage of-”

“Speak up, child, and show some confidence. This is an exciting tale, tell it with enthusiasm.” The older Abayla tried to look stern, but her lined face could show nothing but kindness. There was another sheepish smile from the younger Abayla, who continued with new strength in her voice.

“There was a terrible shortage of food which swept the whole of Eyktol. Our people were starving almost as much as they had been after the Valterrian. The animals we keep and hunt were dying like the flies that gathered to feast on their corpses.’ Her voice conveyed the emotion the Chaktawe undoubtedly felt during the time of hardship. ‘The Wayhali, who was becoming old and frail, took ill. In contrast, his son’s wife seemed to be almost glowing with vibrancy and life although she hardly ate anything at mealtimes. The son, an excellent tracker and hunter, was perplexed by his wife’s health as he himself was feeling his energy becoming weak with hunger.

“One night, the old Wayhali’s wife, who was becoming blind, came to her son and told him what she had seen during the night. ‘I was sleeping badly and needed fresh air, so I decided to take a short stroll. As I lifted the covers, my nose was met with the smell of roasting meat that floated to me lazily like the desert butterflies. Your wife was by the fire, cooking and greedily eating a bowbacked goat,’ she said to her son, who listened in dismay.” The young Abayla’s expression became confused and shocked, a perfect impression of what the hunter must be feeling. It changed to sadness as she continued. “‘When I asked her to share some with me, she denied me the food, saying harshly that I’m blind and I was half asleep so I could not know what I was seeing and I was only dreaming. Although I reasoned with her and eventually begged her to share some with me, even a morsel, she would not. In the end she left me only the bones which I am ashamed to say I had to gnaw on like a dog before returning to sleep and the warmth of my bed.’

“Shocked, the hunter apologized profusely to his mother for his wife’s behavior. He begged his mother not to mention anything to the selfish young wife and to pretend it had never happened. When the young wife awoke, the hunter pretended all was normal and treated her the same as he had before, but he kept a closer watch on her. All through the day, nothing in particular happened, and the hunter began to think that perhaps his mother had been dreaming. However, when night came, the young wife slipped quietly from her place beside her husband, who lay awake and followed her after a short time. Keeping low and keeping his distance so as not to alert her to his presence, he observed her turn her face to the moon and sing magic songs to the sky. Soon a number of animals were drawn to her and she slaughtered one to bring back and eat. Disturbed, the hunter returned to his tent and pretended to sleep while his wife ate the jackal she had selected. As he lay, he went over the words and tunes his wife had uttered, memorizing them completely and listening as she buried the bones so the tribe would not discover her secret."

“The next day, the hunter managed to catch a desert cow that had wandered from a herd nearby. The beast was half-dead anyway but the tribe shared it amongst themselves. The wife was honored with plenty of food and she ate well, stumbling to her tent afterwards to sleep deeply, content with her full stomach."

“As she slept, the hunter crept away to the exact place his wife had stood. He looked up at the moon and sang the magical songs that his wife had sung. Soon many different animals were assembled before him, including a fearsome tsana, all as docile as lambs. Amazed at his wife’s magic songs, he killed a few small desert creatures to take back to the camp with him. He woke his tribe and shared the food with them, not divulging any secrets involving his wife to them and merely saying his intuition told him to go hunting. His wife, disturbed by the merriment, awoke and lifted the flap of her tent. The hunter’s mother shot her quick, triumphant glances as she crouched at the fire eating the soft meat. The young wife knew instantly that her husband knew her secret. She stood and fled, running as fast as her feet could carry her, ashamed at her behavior and selfishness. The hunter felt the disturbance and followed her, meaning to forgive her and welcome her back into the tribe with open arms, calling her name over and over, for he loved her dearly and only wanted to show her the error of her ways. He was beginning to lag behind her as she was well fed and he was still weak from malnutrition."

“Suddenly the young wife tripped and fell, her glossy black hair spilling over her shoulders and into her face. It began to turn gold, and as her husband watched, she grew fur and became a golden wolf.” The storyteller’s voice became even sadder and she seemed to be almost on the verge of tears. The older Abayla nodded encouragingly and the girl continued. “He called her name again and again, desperate to have her back, but the magic she had used for her own selfish purposes was taking its revenge on her. He watched as the last traces of humanity left the wolf’s eyes and it howled a mournful song to the solemn, unforgiving moon. This is why the wolf’s howl is so regretful, because of a great deed of selfishness it cannot remember.”

(Contributed by Naledi)