The whole Scene:
The wolf was thin, but not emaciated. I judged it to weigh perhaps eighty or ninety pounds; less than me, but not enough to give me any great advantage. The leverage was definitely in the animal’s favor; four legs against two gave better balance on the slippery crust of snow. I hoped bracing my back against the wall would help.
A certain feeling of emptiness at my back told me I had reached the corner. The wolf was some twenty feet away. This was it. I scraped enough snow from under my feet to give good footing and waited.
I didn’t even see the wolf leave the ground. I could swear I had been watching its eyes, but if the decision to leap had registered there, it had been followed by action too swiftly to note. It was instinct, not thought, that raised my arm as a whitish-grey blur hurtled toward me.
The teeth sank into the padding with a force that bruised my arm. It was heavier than I thought; I was unprepared for the weight, and my arm sagged. I had planned to try to throw the beast against the wall, perhaps stunning it. Instead, I heaved myself at the wall, squashing the wolf between the stone blocks and my hip. I struggled to wrap the loose cloak around it. Claws shredded my skirt and scraped my thigh. I drove a knee viciously into its chest, eliciting a strangled yelp. Only then did I realize that the odd, growling whimpers were coming from me and not the wolf.
Strangely enough, I was not at all frightened now, though I had been terrified watching the wolf stalk me. There was room in my mind for only one thought: I would kill this animal, or it would kill me. Therefore, I was going to kill it.
There comes a turning point in intense physical struggle where one abandons oneself to a profligate usage of strength and bodily resource, ignoring the costs until the struggle is over. Women find this point in childbirth; men in battle.
Past that certain point, you lose all fear of pain or injury. Life becomes very simple at that point; you will do what you are trying to do, or die in the attempt, and it does not really matter much which.
I had seen this sort of struggle during my training on the wards, but never had I experienced it before. Now all my concentration was focused on the jaws locked around my forearm and the writhing demon tearing at my body.
I managed to bang the beast’s head against the wall, but not hard enough to do much good. I was growing tired rapidly; had the wolf been in good condition, I would have had no chance. I hadn’t much now, but took what there was. I fell on the animal, pinning it under me and knocking the wind from it in a gust of carrion breath. It recovered almost immediately and began squirming beneath me, but the second’s relaxation enabled me to get it off my arm, one hand clamped under its wet muzzle.
By forcing my fingers back into the corners of its mouth, I managed to keep them out from between the scissoring carnassial teeth. Saliva drizzled down my arm. I was lying flat on top of the wolf. The corner of the prison wall was perhaps eighteen inches ahead of me. Somehow I must get there, without releasing the fury that heaved and squirmed under me.
Scrabbling with my feet, pressing down with all my might, I pushed myself forward inch by inch, constantly straining to keep the fangs from my throat. It cannot have taken more than a few minutes to move those eighteen inches, but it seemed I had lain there most of my life, locked in battle with this beast whose hind claws raked my legs, seeking a good ripping purchase in my belly.
At last I could see around the corner. The blunt angle of stone was directly in front of my face. Now was the tricky part. I must maneuver the wolf’s body to allow me to get both hands under the muzzle; I would never be able to exert the necessary force with one.I rolled abruptly away, and the wolf slithered at once into the small clear space between my body and the wall. Before it could rise to its feet, I brought my knee up as hard as I could. The wolf grunted as my knee drove into its side, pinning it, however fleetingly, against the wall.
I had both hands beneath its jaw now. The fingers of one hand were actually in its mouth. I could feel a crushing sting across my gloved knuckles, but ignored it as I forced the hairy head back, and back, and back again, using the angle of the wall as a fulcrum for the lever of the beast’s body. I thought my arms would break, but this was the only chance.
There was no audible noise, but I felt the reverberation through the whole body as the neck snapped. The straining limbs—and the bladder—at once relaxed. The intolerable strain on my arms now released, I dropped, as limp as the dying wolf. I could feel the beast’s heart fibrillating beneath my cheek, the only part still capable of a death struggle. The stringy fur stank of ammonia and soggy hair. I wanted to move away, but could not.I think I must have slept for a moment, odd as that sounds, cheek pillowed on the corpse. I opened my eyes to see the greenish stone of the prison a few inches in front of my nose. Only the thought of what was transpiring on the other side of that wall got me to my feet.
I stumbled down the ditch, cloak dragged over one shoulder, tripping on stones hidden in the snow, banging my shins painfully on half-buried tree branches. Subconsciously, I must have been aware that wolves usually run in packs, because I do not recall being surprised by the howl that wavered out of the forest above and behind me. If I felt anything, it was black rage at what seemed a conspiracy to thwart and delay me.
Wearily I turned to see where the sound had come from. I was in the open away from the prison by this time; no wall to brace my back against, and no weapon to hand. It had been luck as much as anything that helped me with the first wolf; there was not a chance in a thousand that I could kill another animal bare-handed—and how many more might there be? The pack I had seen feeding in the moonlight in the summer had had at least ten wolves. I could hear in memory the sounds of their teeth scraping, and the crack of breaking bones. The only question now was whether I bothered to fight at all, or whether I would rather just lie down in the snow and give up. That option seemed remarkably attractive, all things considered.
Still, Jamie had given up his life, and considerably more than that, to get me out of the prison. I owed it to him at least to try.