DRACO

wolfhound

Another of the dog “characters” found in my novels. This handsome fellow allows certain humans to exist peacefully in his territory. In the colonial American wilderness, those piercing eyes and impressive teeth could be the last thing seen by the enemy of his friends.

The mountains hide danger that can come on four legs or two. Captain Ben Deland counts on this wolfdog to watch his back on both land and sea.  From my historical novel, CAPTAIN’S CROSS:

Late winter 1753

Ben heard the pack horse nicker and then the rustle of a bare branch sliding across leather. That soft sound caused him to shudder. Not quite daylight and misty, Ben could only see a short ways into the hardwoods as he lay next to the embers of the fire. From beneath the elk robe, his movements were slow but deliberate; his right hand gripped the pistol at his waist and his left found the hawk. His long rifle was propped on the saddle next to his head and he knew if he reached for it he would not live the minute out. Now the mare snorted as it scented the threat. A low growl rumbled from the other side of the fire pit and a grey and black mass exploded up and out toward the horses. Ben rolled fast to the right and threw off the robe in one movement while he brought the pistol to bear on the shadowed form reaching for the hobbles of the mare.

“No!” Ben yelled as he first kneeled then sprang to his feet, moving left to clear his target from the now shuffling horse. Switching to Iroquois, Ben ordered, “Your life is mine, stop!”

The young warrior crouching beneath the chest of the horse looked at Ben and his eyes widened and then glared in a hard and deadly gaze. Before he could draw another breath, he was knocked to the ground by the moving mass of four legged fury charging in from his left. The thief uttered not a sound as the big dog had his neck in its jaws and bit down hard. Both tumbled into the wet leafy ground and the warrior’s right hand came outward with his knife. The momentum of the big dog striking the youth carried them over and Ben could see the Indian raise the knife to cut the dog. Ben fired the pistol and the ball struck the Indian in the back of his head. The young warrior collapsed onto the snarling dog and was being shaken by the animal that would not release its grip.

Ben shouted, “That’s enough; come back, Draco!”

The dog shook the lifeless body a few more times before he released his jaws and stood panting over the young Indian. The big dog turned and trotted to Ben’s side, alert but still. The sharp dark eyes of the hunter scanned the forest as the smoke from his pistol drifted past the dead body. Replacing the hawk in his belt, Ben stepped back, snatched up his rifle and dropped down on his knee. Unsure if the Indian had been alone, he watched for movement through the trees and sparse underbrush. The wind was from his back, and Ben thought that was why the dog didn’t smell the warrior approach.

Ben blew a puff of breath into the warm touch hole of the pistol to clear any remaining embers then pulled his powder horn around to unstop the end and poured powder into the pistol barrel. Reaching into the sealskin bag slung at his side, he extracted a ball wrapped in grease soaked cloth. Working it into the end of the barrel, Ben snugged the ball in tight with the bone handle of a short bladed knife attached to the bag with a leather thong. He pulled the ram rod from the underside of the barrel and rammed the ball down on top of the powder. Cocking the pistol, he then slipped some powder in the pan beneath the striker and lowered the striker and hammer. All this while never looking down. His eyes kept watching the woods but saw no other movement except for the skittish horses.

Slipping the pistol back into his belt, Ben rose up to his full six foot height. He pulled the leather strap from the back of his head and shook the forest scrap from his long black hair. Pulling it back to the nape of his neck he tied it tightly again, watching the now brightening woods. He moved to saddle the mare and load his meat and skins onto the pack horse. Working while watching the approaches to his camp, he put everything in place ready to move. The dog, part wolf and part hound, roamed the edges of the camp sniffing the air and lifting his leg on every other tree.

Ben discovered the dead Indian was not a Mohawk or Oneida as he had assumed, as he was in their territory. The youth was probably a Delaware wearing bits of store bought clothing along with his tribal leathers. Now Ben had to decide what to do with the body. The Indian was likely not alone and his people would be looking for him when he did not return from his horse stealing task. Ben couldn’t hide from them for long. There were still patches of snow here and there and the ground was soggy. The horse tracks would be easy to follow.

Slipping one of the elk skins from his pack, Ben rolled the dead boy onto it, scooping up all of the bloody leaves that he could see, and tied the bundle with cord. Hoisting the body up onto the pack horse, he cleared his camp of as much trace of him as possible. His long rifle in his right hand, he gripped the saddle with his left and his strong arms and shoulders pulled him up and onto the mare. She responded to his light heels and moved through the trees at a fast walk. Ben felt the tug of the lead to the pack horse and hoped he could cover the ten miles back to his crew before more trouble found him.