“Wuhhhh,” Gopher managed.
The wolf shook its shaggy head. “Oh, dash it all, I don’t have time for this nonsense again.” It bowed its head, eyeing Gopher with piercing golden eyes. “Listen here: I am not going to eat you. Understand? That’s not why I am here. You will not be harmed by me. “The wolf paused. “For goodness’ sake, man, bloody well nod if you understand.”
“And close your mouth! Wolves are known for their terrific sense of smell, and your breath isn’t doing me any favors.”
Gopher’s mouth closed with an audible plop.
“Good.” The wolf sighed. “I won’t be here long, but I’ve found that sometimes you humans do better with a chat if you know each other’s names. So, what is yours?”
“What, really? That’s got to be a nickname, right?” The wolf’s eyes widened. “Oh, sorry then. Guess that explains the drinking, doesn’t it?” He laughed uncomfortably. “In your parents’ defense, though, you do look like a bit of one. Got a little overbite, haven’t you?”
Gopher pulled his lips tightly, and stared with terrified eyes.
“Right-o. Sorry.” The wolf straightened himself. “My name is Malachi. You still seem a bit skittish, so I want you to say my name back to me.”
“No, no; that’s your name,” Malachi said, his voice gentle. “Say my name, Mr. Gopher. Mal-a-chi.”
The wolf accepted this. “Good good. Now, Mr. Gopher, I have to ask because I want to be sure you understand: Am I going to eat you?”
Gopher swallowed, and shook his head.
“Excellent! Am I here to hurt you in any way?”
Gopher’s head swayed from side to side.
“Top marks, Mr. Gopher!” Malachi answered. “Now that that messiness is out of the way, it’s time for me to get down to business: I need directions, and I hope you’re the man to give them to me. Can I count on you?”
Gopher offered a noncommittal grunt.
Malachi sighed. “Better than no, I suppose,” the wolf muttered. “What’s the name of that village you just came from?”
The wolf’s nose wrinkled. “If you’re going to be sick, I can turn away for that, too. You know, you really should consider drinking less. It’s not what I would call ‘a redeeming quality’.”
“The village. It’s called Hurm. That’s it’s name.” Gopher amazed himself that he hadn’t stuttered.
“Ah.” Malachi paused, and glanced at the village. “Not Starfall, then?”
“Afraid not,” Gopher said.
“Is Starfall far from here?”
“Couldn’t say,” Gopher replied.
“Oh, come on then; you have to have at least heard of Starfall?”
The man shook his head.
Malachi groaned. “Of all the people I meet…you know, I count this entire meeting as a total waste of time. I should eat you, for all the good you’ve done me. Oh, stop cowering, I won’t. You smell terrible and chances are you’d taste worse. Are there any other villages nearby? You know, ones without an abundance of idiots?”
“Carrolton. From what I hear, it’s about twenty spans that way.” Gopher pointed in the fading direction of the rarely-used road. “Never been there, of course, but I hear they have dancing girls.” He shrugged.
“Yes, that will help quite a bit.” Malachi rolled his eyes. “Thanks.”
“Yessir. Thank you,” Gopher added. “Y’know. For not killing me, and all.”
But the wolf was already running down the road, its massive frame disappearing into the darkness and away from both Gopher and Hurm at frightening speed.
Gopher changed from that moment. His change didn’t bring him newfound respect or sudden success. He found that most people still couldn’t stand his company. You see, he didn’t stop drinking, because that was something he rather enjoyed and it was one of the few forms of recreation that Hurm actually offered.
But he never urinated on trees again.