Suddenly, out of nowhere, a grey wolf ran up to him. “What is the matter, Tzarevitch Ivan?” asked the wolf. “Why so downhearted?”
“Grey wolf, I have lost my trusted steed.”
“It is I who ate your steed... And now I am sad for you. Tell me, why are you so far from home and where are you bound?”
“My father has sent me on a quest for the Fire Bird.”
“Three years would not have been long enough for your steed to take you to the Fire Bird! I alone know where she abides. So be it. Since I have eaten your steed, I shall become your loyal servant. Now climb on my back, and hold on tight.”
And so Tzarevitch Ivan sat astride the wolf, and the wolf began galloping so fast, extensive forests and wide lakes flashed before his eyes.
The huntsman noticed an injured eagle in the tree. He drew his bow and aimed his arrow. Suddenly, the eagle spoke to him in a human voice. “Spare me, good man. There will be little profit in killing me. Better take me alive. Nurse me and feed me for three years, three months and three days. Once I have regained strength in my wings, I shall repay your kindness.”
(Extracts from Russian fairy tales)
Last week, I joined a small group of fans surrounding a policewoman’s horse in Covent Garden. The dark brown filly nodded as half a dozen adult and child hands tried to stroke her head, muzzle and neck. When I began caressing her and speaking words of endearment, she turned to me and I am sure I saw a glint of mischief in her eyes. Then, she opened her mouth and my hand suddenly disappeared between her large jaws. I left it there, curious to see what the horse would do next. Well, she began chewing it gently, her teeth playfully grinding my knuckles. A few seconds later, I pulled out a hand glistening with equine saliva. I walked away with the sense of deep satisfaction you feel after sharing a joke.
A year ago, while holidaying in Abruzzo, I walked up a mountain to see the ruins of a Mediaeval castle. On the way, I was joined by four village dogs who – bored and with nothing else to do on a hot day – decided to tag along and escort me. Among the pack was a sheepdog-wolf mix. You could tell by her slanted shape of her eyes. There are many such dogs in the area. We followed the sign-posted tourist route. At one point, I veered off the designated path. The wolf dog, who had run ahead, immediately turned around and bounded towards me. What happened next was a miracle of love and concern I will remember for as long as I live. Very, very gently, she took my fingers between her teeth, and pulled me back onto the marked path.
My late cat, Genie, woke me up when I had nightmares.
The cat I had before her, Pyewacket, would sleep on my pillow, curled up around my head, while I was ill with high blood pressure. She resumed her place at the foot of the bed as soon as I got well. Pyewacket also took sides during my divorce, and decided she no longer wanted my husband to stroke her.
Yesterday, I was walking in Kensington Gardens with a friend. The side of the pond was lined with swans. Sleeping, their beaks buried in the feathers on their backs, grooming, people watching, gliding on the water, or enjoying a lunch of bread proffered by humans.
I got it into my head that I wanted a swan feather. There were none lying around the grass or on by the pond, so I decided to ask for one. I went up to a swan engaged in meticulous grooming and waited for a feather to drop. It did not. “Can I have a feather?” I said.
The swan pulled out a large, ragged feather from his side and tossed it on the water. It floated away before I could reach it. The wind then lifted it and carried it further away. “Can we try this again?” I asked.
This time, the swan stretched his neck towards his tail, plucked out a smaller, perfectly formed feather, and dropped it closer to me, where the water carried it to the shore.
“Thank you!” I said.
The swan straightened up, beak in the air, and wriggled his bottom. I kissed the feather, and walked away, my beautiful, generous swan gift in my hand.
For more stories about animals, please see:
The Swan Who Gave Me a Feather