The Oric Medieval Adventure Trilogy for young adults, and young at heart, features many colourful characters, animal and human. One of my favourites is Parzifal, the wolfhound. Inspiration for this quirky creature came from a dog who once owned my Mother. Though his initial introduction into her life was somewhat ignominious, he had her twisted around his large hairy paw at first sight.
Shortly after Mum moved into an old house in Yorkshire, she began tidying up the overgrown front garden. On her knees, weeding a flowerbed, she heard a dog woofing. The sound echoed and seemed near, but distant at the same time. As Mum worked her way around the flower beds the sound diminished, and she forgot about the barks.
The following morning, Mum returned to her weeding and was distressed to hear the same little woofs she had heard the day before. An animal lover, she worried that a dog may be in distress somewhere; but where? Further investigation into the depths of a garden bed unearthed a manhole, giving access to the underwater sewage system. The miserable barks issued from beneath the creeper-covered lid.
Mum called a friend, whose husband arrived, post-haste, armed with a crowbar. In the event, the tool wasn’t needed. The heavy iron cover tipped open if pressed, then snapped shut immediately the pressure was taken off. The poor dog had stepped on the lid, fallen through, and had been trapped for at least 24 hours. Mum’s brave friend removed the cover and lowered himself into the dark, fusty- smelling hole. The dog, wet, bedraggled and smelly, was soon hoisted back onto ground level. A swift hose down and a shampoo, using Mum’s best designer product, revealed a black whiskery animal with grey highlights. He was big, and no-one had a clue what breed he was. A trip to the vet, for a check over, solved the puzzle. The dog was a wolfhound/cross. Crossed with what, no-one was game to hazard a guess. However, the vet insisted that the wolfhound strain was the canine’s predominant feature.
Thus, Mr Black entered my Mother’s life. She posted ‘lost dog’ notices in local shops and advertised in the newspaper. No-one stepped forward, and Mum breathed a sigh of relief. She had fallen in love with the mutt, and he with her.
Mr Black was a character-and-a-half and remained Mum’s faithful companion until the sad day, several years later, he died. I like to think I have immortalised him in my books, albeit with a pseudonym.
A short passage from Oric and the Alchemists Key, involving my take on a wolfhound, follows
Glancing back, to make sure Oric had not fallen behind, Ichtheus caught sight of Sir Edred’s wolfhound skulking along under the cover of some tall ferns. “Ye gods, what is yon mutt playing at? Send him home at once, Oric. The last thing we need, is to look out for him all day.”
Oric flapped his arms. “Shoo! Go back home, Parzifal!”
The dog collapsed in a heap on the muddy track, wagging his tail half-heartedly. He had clearly taken to Oric, and he intended to follow his new friend come what may.
“Clear off, you scrofulous mutt,” Ichtheus yelled.
Parzifal took no notice.
“You certainly have him well trained, Master Ichtheus,” Oric tittered. “One word from you and he does exactly as he pleases.”
Ichtheus wriggled in his saddle and glowered. “Mind your manners, boy, or I shall send you home… along with the dog!”
Belly to the ground, Parzifal inched forward. Crescents of white beneath the brown of his eyes gave him a comically doleful expression.
“Look at him,” Oric chortled. “Crafty dog moves only when he thinks we are not watching.”
“Aye, well, we are watching, and he cannot come.” Ichtheus remained adamant.
“What if I throw a few rocks at him? I could do with a bit of target practice,” teased Oric.
“You will do no such thing!” Ichtheus snapped. “If anything untoward happens to that wolfhound, Sir Edred will likely chop us up for dog meat.”
Oric paled at the idea. “Perhaps we should let Parzifal come with us. That way I can keep an eye on him.”
Dreading the thought of turning back, Ichtheus agreed. “Very well, but for goodness sake call the dog to heal.”
Oric whistled, and Parzifal bounded forwards. He shook his leonine head, splattering Ichtheus with globules of drool.
“Wipe that silly grin off your face, boy,” growled Ichtheus, mopping the dog’s saliva from his leggings,” else I shall fetch you a clout.”
Oric continued to smile, for he knew his master’s words to be naught but an empty threat.