Excerpt of Wolf Totem by Rong Jiang
(Page 3 of 4)
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He sensed that the alpha male was gazing at the hill behind them;
all the other members of the pack turned their pointed ears in the same
direction, like radar locking on to a target. They silently awaited orders
as the unarmed man and his horse pranced boldly past them; the alpha
male and his followers were not sure what to make of this.
The sunset slowly faded away as man and horse drew ever nearer.
The next couple of dozen steps comprised the longest journey of Chen
Zhens life. A few steps into that journey, he sensed that one of the
wolves had run up to the snow- covered slope behind him, and he knew
intuitively that it was a scout sent by the alpha male to see if other troops
lay in wait. Chen felt his soul straining to leave again.
The horses gait faltered slightly; Chens legs and the horses flanks
were trembling. The horse turned its ears to the rear, nervously monitoring
the scout wolfs movements. Chen imagined himself passing
through an enormous wolfs maw, with rows of razor-sharp teeth above
and below; once he was in the middle, the mouth would snap shut. The
horse began to gather its strength in its rear legs, preparing for a mortal
engagement. But the burden on its back put it at a terrible disadvantage.
Suddenly, Chen Zhen, like the shepherd he was supposed to be,
appealed to Tengger, Mongol heaven, in a moment of peril: Wise and
powerful heaven, Tengger, reach out and give me your hand. Next he
summoned Papa Bilgee under his breath. In the Mongol language, Bilgee
means Wise One. If only the old man would fi nd a way to transmit
his knowledge of the grassland directly into his brain. No echoes
anywhere disturbed the stillness of the Olonbulag. Gripped by despair,
Chen raised his eyes, wanting the last thing he saw to be the ice blue
beauty of the heavens.
Then something Papa had said dropped from the sky and struck his
eardrum like a thunderclap: Wolves are afraid of rifles, lasso poles, and
anything made of metal. He had no rifle and no lasso pole, but did he
have anything made of metal? His foot felt warm. Yes! There under his
feet were two large metal stirrups. His legs twitched excitedly.
Papa Bilgee had lent him his horse, but the saddle was Chens. No
wonder the old man had picked out the largest stirrups he could find
for him at the beginning; it was as if he knew that someday they would
come to Chens rescue. Back then, when he was learning to ride, the old
man had said that not only did small stirrups make staying in the saddle
diffi cult, but if the horse bucked you off, your foot could get caught
and you could be dragged along, which could lead to serious injury or
death. These stirrups, with their large openings and rounded bottoms,
were twice the size of the more common small- mouthed, flat- bottomed
ones, and double the weight.
The pack was waiting for the scouts report; horse and rider were
now directly opposite them. Chen quickly removed his feet from the
stirrups, reached down, and pulled them up by their leather straps.
Holding one in each hand, and calling upon all his strength, he spun
the horse around, roared in the direction of the wolf pack, raised the
heavy stirrups chest- high, and banged them together.
Clang clang . . .
A crisp, ear- splitting clang, like a hammer on an anvil, tore through
the silent air of the grassland and straight into the ears and the seats
of courage of every wolf in the pack, like a sword. Nonnatural metallic
noises frighten wolves more than any thunderstorm; they produce a
sound that has a greater and more devastating impact on them than the
snap of a hunters trap.
The wolves trembled when the first clangs from Chens stirrups resonated
in the air. The next burst sent them turning away; led by the
alpha wolf, they fled into the mountains like a yellow storm, their ears
pinned against their heads and their necks pulled into their shoulders.
Even the scout abandoned its mission and followed the other members
of the pack in flight.
Excerpted from Wolf Totem
by Jiang Rong. Translation Copyright © 2008 by Penguin Group USA. Excerpted by
permission of The Penguin Press,
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.