The wolves glanced sideways at one another, then, at the dip of the leader’s head they tensed their grey bodies and started to run towards Normal and the others. The youngsters began to back away but Killian and Mr Quintius didn’t move. The ground shook a little as the animals pounded towards them. Flecks of spit flew from their mouths as their jaws snapped open and shut. Big clumps of mud flew up in their wake.
‘Sir, d’you think we… er… well, should we…’
Mr Quintius just smiled at Normal and gave a little shake of his head.
Ararnia was backing away so fast she collided with Petrona and stamped on her foot.
‘Sorry,’ said Ararnia. ‘But I…’
The rest of what she said was drowned out by the sound of the wolves approaching.
They were coming closer all the time. Ten, eight, six, now just four metres away. At the last moment Killian cleared his throat and shouted at them.
‘Grrchhgr, oy!’ And he held up his hand as if he was stopping traffic.
As one the pack of wolves skidded to a halt, their feet jamming in the dirt, and sending a spray of mud over Ararnia, Petrona and Normal.
‘You lot make too much noise,’ Killian said.
The wolves looked at him wide eyed. The leader licked its lips, but they stood absolutely still.
‘Are they safe, sir?’ asked Normal.
‘To you and me, absolutely,’ said Mr Quintius.
Petrona took a nervous step forward and held out her hand towards the leader. The big grey animal sniffed at her fingers and licked his lips again. A drop of sticky saliva drooled from the corner of his mouth. Petrona pushed her hand closer to the animal. The pink tongue snaked out again and slapped across Petrona’s outstretched fingers.
She giggled. ‘Tickles, sir,’ she said, and she reached out and stroked the wolf under the chin. The wolf looked a little perplexed, but lifted his head and let Petrona stroke him again.
‘They don’t normally get much petting from Mr Killian,’ said Mr Quintius.
‘They’ve come for a good meal, not a pat on the head,’ said Killian and he cleared his throat again and jabbed a muddy finger at the bucket in Normal’s hand.
‘There’s not much in here for this lot,’ said Ararnia, looking inside Normal’s bucket.
‘Just give it a shake and hold it out,’ said Killian and he handed her a bucket.
Ararnia shook the bucket and nervously stuck her hand out, covering her eyes with her other hand as she did so. A group of the wolves moved towards her and formed an orderly queue. One by one they dipped their heads and took a few mouthfuls of food, then they turned away and let the next one in. Normal and Ararnia watched in amazement.
The feeding went on, and the buckets never appeared to run out.
‘They’re very well behaved,’ said Normal.
‘I won’t stand for any nonsense,’ said Killian, ‘and watch out there lad, you’re about to step on a cobra.’
There was a loud hissing sound and Normal looked at his feet then leapt in the air, colliding with Ararnia as he jumped out of the way.
‘Come on, I think we’d best get back for this assembly,’ said Mr Quintius.
Petrona was still busy stroking the wolves. A group had gathered around her now, still slavering and drooling but looking as if they were warming to her attentions.
‘Can we come back again, sir,’ she said.
‘You can always use some help, eh Killian?’ Mr Quintius said.
‘Grrchgrr’ said Mr Killian, looking as if help was the last thing he wanted.