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					Peter Rogers                                                                                    Word Count: 2,800
11 Kendal Ave
Toronto ON M5R 1L5

                                        In the Mouth of the Wolf
                                              Peter Rogers

There is a Roman expression “in boca al lupo”, said to wish one good luck, yet, it translates as “in the mouth of the

wolf”. The common response, “crepi il lupo”, or, “may the wolf die”, is something like saying, “break a leg”. This

saying may very well originate from the story of Remus and Romulus and the founding of Rome, no one is really sure,

but in the Radena Valley, it has a different meaning.


Scattered throughout the Radena Valley, were a cluster of orchards and farms where almond and

cherry trees grew, and wheat and barley fields rippled like waves upon a sea. Amongst these farms,

one family had worked the land for generations and no one had ever thought there was any reason

for this to change.

         Except one young man, Orsino, who was known more for his dreaming and sloth than for

his labour, and cared little for farming and even less for what others thought of him. His older

brothers, Basso and Mezzo, cared a great deal about farming and what others thought of them and

at any opportunity attempted to convert their carefree brother into a life of usefulness. For despite

Orsino‟s foolish ways, they could not help themselves from caring deeply for him. They could, on

occasion, bribe their little brother with fishing expeditions if he were to help at harvest. For these

were two things Orsino did care something about, fishing and expeditions. He felt a great desire to

Peter Rogers In the Mouth of the Wolf                                                                              1
explore and if there was a little time to fish and nap by some restful pool, then this too, would be a

worthy pursuit.

         As the days grew shorter Basso and Mezzo noticed that not even the most enticing promises

could interest their younger brother. Orsino grew ever more distant and spent countless hours in

complete idleness. He was changing. His clear ruddy cheeks were now beginning to show a downy

hair and sometimes his voice croaked as though parched. He let his hair grow longer, perhaps to

hide the berry-stain birthmark on his neck, or perhaps, out of youthful vanity.

         There came a day when the boys‟ father told them that winter preparations should be started

and the first thing to be done was to cut firewood for their grandmother, who lived not far away.

Despite her age, their grandmother kept the house that she had shared for so many years with their

grandfather. Basso and Mezzo still had so many chores to do that they knew they would need

Orsino‟s help. Orsino, as was his nature, declined. Basso assured Orsino that if he didn‟t help his

brothers, rather than sitting on his behind, he would find himself wearing it as an old woman would

her shawl. This made little impression on Orsino, saying that at least he would be warm when winter

came. Mezzo, who was keener in these matters, pulled Basso aside and said that he had noticed

Orsino‟s recent attentions to their cousin, Larosa, who now lived with their grandmother. Larosa,

once only a stringy twig of a girl with a wild crown of red hair, had, over the span of one season,

grown from a seedling to a wild flower. According to Mezzo, Larosa‟s distracting countenance had

not been overlooked by Orsino, and if he were reminded of this, surely he would take more easily to

his task. Basso let Mezzo advance his plan. Mezzo proposed to Orsino that rather than cut wood for

Grandmother while Larosa helped, perhaps he could stay at home and roast peppers with their


         “No”, Orsino said, and he took a moment before claiming : “Peppers make my hands itch,

which is far worse than the calluses from chopping wood. I will go to Grandmother‟s.”

Peter Rogers In the Mouth of the Wolf                                                               2
         Mezzo then said that he and Basso would follow later and help Orsino with the work.

He then bid Orsino luck saying, “In boca al lupo.”

         Orsino replied in kind, “Crepi il lupo,” and headed off towards his grandmother‟s, but not

before scooping up his fishing pole and bait pail from the back step. After all, if one is to work up a

hunger cutting wood then there should at least be a good meal of fish to enjoy afterwards. Besides,

didn‟t Larosa make the finest herbed fish he had ever eaten and such a talent should not be wasted.

Though she treated him no differently than his brothers, he was drawn to her. Her collarbones were

strangely appealing to him.

         As he made his way, Orsino pondered that if he first cut the wood, he would not have

enough light to go fishing later. As cutting wood required little light, it made far more sense to go

fishing first. This infinitesimally small seed of logic was all that he required. He would take a

shortcut through the woods that would bring him closer to a rumoured pond that he never been

able to find. He would simply follow the stream to its inevitable conclusion.

         Venturing into the forest, Orsino noticed how the trees closed in around him. The further

he went, the denser the woods became. Where before he had walked along the embankment with

ease, he now had to crouch and twist past old, low reaching branches. At one bend in the stream, he

looked behind and could see no further back than he could ahead. It was as if the brush on either

side of the water had woven together.

         “No wonder I‟ve never come this far before. It‟s too much work,” he thought to himself, or

at least he believed he was only thinking. For now the woods and leaves were so close to his face,

and the forest so thick that his own voice sounded as though it were only in his head. He heard

nothing except his own breathing and this frightened him. Just when he wasn‟t sure whether he

could either go forward or backward, he thrust his hand through a curtain of tree-beard, and there

before him was a shimmering pool. The water glowed and glistened in what seemed a wonderful

Peter Rogers In the Mouth of the Wolf                                                                3
bowl of jade nestled into a pillow of vivid green moss. Even the air was fresher. Cables of sunshine

rained through the canopy of trees. Orsino had never seen anything quite like it.

          Tired and scratched from his trek, he nonetheless was eager to cast his hook into the water.

Orsino watched the shady spots of the pool closely, looking for resting fish. A good deal of time

passed without event. Orsino didn‟t mind. He enjoyed watching the clouds pass over the small patch

of sky above the water. He imagined that he lay in a hammock aboard some great ship and that it

was he, not the clouds, who floated off to some unseen land. He sank back on the velvet moss and

soon his daydreaming became sleep.

          Orsino was awakened by the sound of splashing water. It took him a moment before he

remembered where he was. Once he did, he sat up quickly. Seeing the cork of his fishing line

floating undisturbed, he wondered if he had been mistaken. No fish had taken his bait. Yet, the

splashing sound continued. It hadn‟t come from his line at all but somewhere nearby. Perhaps an

animal was feeding near the shore just beyond a small point. Not wanting to scare the animal off,

Orsino crouched down and crawled along on his stomach. He took great care to move the

undergrowth ahead of him without making a sound. Orsino was a great observer of forest life and

fancied himself a stealth hunter, yet he was unprepared for what he saw.

          There, standing in the glowing pool, was a woman, slowly bending and washing herself. Her

hair was shining wet and drops dotted her head as dew on a spider‟s lace. Water clung to her

shoulders and gleamed like set gems. Her skin was the colour of pale butter and her arms moved like

willow branches leaning on a breeze. Orsino‟s eyes followed fine streams falling from her hands and

down her hips. He glanced from her neck to her elbow and to the back of her knees, never blinking

for fear the vision wouldn‟t last. His mouth went dry and his eyes became wet. His scalp pulled

tightly back as his ears twitched upwards. There was a light all around her as though she were its


Peter Rogers In the Mouth of the Wolf                                                               4
         The thought now occurred to him that indeed this wasn‟t a woman at all but a nymph of the

woods whose beauty, it was said, was as great as their magic. He had heard of things so beautiful

that would stop a man cold, such as Northern skies alive with colour, or of seas so vast the mind

could not comprehend them. Yet, no distant legend could match what he saw for himself. While still

awed by her loveliness, he realized that her eyes were even greener and deeper than the pool all

around her. Now, he was looking directly into them.

         Orsino was affixed. The Nymph drew a cloth about herself and kept a locked gaze on him.

Orsino wanted to turn and run, but could not. He could not move at all, even to avert his eyes.

         “Who are you, Boy, and how long have you been there?” Her voice, soft and powerful, was

like a chorus. His throat tightened and he thought he would choke.

         “Nothing to say? You spy on me like a shameful animal ambushing its prey and you are quiet

still? Your silence is as hateful as your act. If you like crawling on your four legs alone in the woods

then so be it!”

         And with this, a flash of light overtook Orsino, and his eyes burned and a coldness crept up

his neck as if he‟d fallen into a deep well. The light shrank and became darkness. He fell fast asleep.

         When he awoke, he saw no sign of the beautiful nymph, and began to believe the whole

thing was but a dream. He knew much time had passed and that he had better make his way to his

grandmother‟s before his brothers did. On his way back to the road he felt weak, and ill, as though

he had some hot liquor in his chest. He stopped to drink from the stream and saw that he had a

much more hair than he had remembered. He knew his hair was long but had not noticed it on his

face. Perhaps he would let it grow. A beard suited him, he thought and smiled. Still hot, he doused

his neck with handfuls of water. It wasn‟t as refreshing as he had hoped. In fact, it bothered him

more and he stood to shake its itchiness from his back. The forest air was dark and thick with rot,

and he wanted more than ever to be back at the road.

Peter Rogers In the Mouth of the Wolf                                                                     5
         Finally reaching the road, he breathed in the air and let the gentle wind coil through his

lungs. He felt so much better now, refreshed, stronger and glad to leave the forest behind him. Not

too far away he could make out another person on the road. It was Larosa, his cousin. He could tell

it was her from her bright scarlet cloak and mane of red hair. He felt that he could almost smell her.

Orsino was not the type of fellow who ran often but now he wanted to. He wanted to walk with

Larosa to his grandmother‟s. As he approached, he realized that she still had not heard his footfall.

As often as Orsino liked a nap, he liked a prank and thought to surprise her. At the last moment, he

called out her name, “Larosa!” but such a wretched and violent sound that came from his mouth

was more like a dog caught in a snare than his own voice. Larosa, turned quickly and sprang back

screaming, dropping her bundle.

         She cried out, „Wolf! Wolf!” her arms and legs whipping wildly as she ran off towards the


         Orsino, shocked, stood silent. He turned, looking every direction, fearing his cousin did see a

wolf. He saw nothing. His heart thudded against his chest. Had the wolf appeared and run into the

woods after Larosa cried out? Was it lying in wait for him in the nearby grass? He kept an eye on the

grassy clearing and bent to gather Larosa‟s dropped bundle. He fumbled with the package and

looked down to better his grasp. That was when he saw his hands were no longer there. In their

place were fur covered fists, more like paws than hands. His forearms too, were covered in a

chestnut fur. Orsino ran back to the stream where it followed the edge of the road. He looked into

the slow running waters and saw his own eyes peering through the face of a wolf. He pawed his

cheeks, trying to claw off the unnatural mask but he could not. Orsino whimpered and howled and

sniffed the dirt of the road. He circled Larosa‟s dropped bundle as though it were an artifact of the

waking world. He hoped the dream would end at any moment, but it did not. Then he remembered

Peter Rogers In the Mouth of the Wolf                                                                 6
the Nymph and her angry words. Again, Orsino cried out and lay on the road. He knew this was her

retribution. How had someone so beautiful been so cruel?

         Frightened, Orsino decided to continue on to his grandmother‟s. Surely, one of her age and

wisdom could help him. Again, he began to run, only this time, on all four legs.

         Orsino arrived at his grandmother‟s darkened home. It was dusk and he hoped the dying

light would hide his form. He clawed and whined at the door. There was no answer. Standing on his

hind legs, he forced the door open. Though the house was dark and quiet, he could sense his

grandmother was near by. The day‟s last streams of light fell through the windows and led him into

the hallway. He followed her scent along the floor, even though he knew this place like the back of

his hand. Or at least, what was once his hand.

         Orsino‟s grandmother stood at the end of the hall. Seeing him, she backed away. She did not

know that this creeping beast was her dear grandson. She did not recognize the boy, whose soft chin

she had tickled many times. She could not have known that she had once told him, his birthmark

was a sign of good luck or that playing with toads would give him warts.

         Excited to see her, Orsino pounced on the elderly woman, who collapsed beneath his great

weight. Had she fainted? He wondered. Even worse, had she died? He couldn‟t tell. He began to lick

her face, trying to wake her.

         Just then his cousin appeared in the doorway, his brothers behind her. They saw Orsino as

he really was, a large wolf, licking at the face of their fallen grandmother. Basso and Mezzo attacked,

both with their axes. Basso‟s blade cut Orsino‟s hindquarter. He cried out in pain and barked in

anger. Not wanting to fight his brothers, he surged past their slashing axes, ran out the door and fled

into the woods. Basso and Mezzo quickly followed his trail of blood, intending to finish the job they

started. Licking his wounds, Orsino could run no farther and so lay at the base of a sheltering tree.

Soon his brothers were upon him and as he looked from Mezzo to Basso, he hoped to see

Peter Rogers In the Mouth of the Wolf                                                                7
recognition and mercy in their eyes. He saw none. With a cascade of blows, it was done. The

brothers stood over the dying wolf and saw him writhe his last breaths, and watched in shock, as his

form changed. Mezzo was the first to see a berry coloured stain on the creature‟s neck and knew

that Orsino too, had such a mark. As the thing took its last gasp, and the spell unwrapped from it‟s

body, a knot formed in their stomachs, their chests ached and their shoulders tightened. Now, they

saw the truth. Laying still, at their feet was their sweet younger brother.

Peter Rogers In the Mouth of the Wolf                                                             8