I am old.
My body is weak, my vision cloudy, my hearing no better than a human. Worse than all of that, my body’s greatest betrayal is my slipping sense of smell. I would gladly give up my sight, my hearing, bear the aches and the pains, if I could only keep my nose in working order.
Layer by layer, I am loosing that which makes me, me. Gone are the days when I could tell every place the people around me had visited throughout the day. Gone are the days when I could find the scent of a single person amidst the refuse of the city.
It is as if as I age, I become more and more like the humans around me. It is unsettling.
I am tired.
As my body grows old and weak, I seek to escape my pains and diminished senses by sleeping. Even this refuge I am denied. Though it appears that I sleep, the best I can do is drift. As I drift, I remember. Sometimes the memories are old and faded, like the blanket that the Man gives me to lay on near the fire. Sometimes, the memories cut like a knife, so fresh and full of scent and sound that it is like living through them all over again. Sometimes this is good. I remember the Boy, his Companions, his Mate in happy times. Other times, I remember the Boy, his Companions and his Mate during those days at the end. I would give much to not remember the end. That is a memory I wish with all my soul I could forget.
Do you know that love has its own scent? Not the smell of rutting, even humans can smell that. No, I mean love. I smelled it on the Boy and his Mate long, long before either of them spoke of it. Before they shared a tent even and began that awkward dance that humans often confuse with love.
It is not only love that has its own smell. Anger, fear, sadness – all strong emotion has scent. The world would be a much better place if the humans could sense this as we Mabari do.
On this day by the fire, I sink into a good memory. An old memory, faded yet still clear. I am young and so is the Boy. All long limbs and unruly hair, he is hanging back behind his pack mate. His sire has brought the older one to the kennel to see me and my brothers and sister. I am aware of him, of his brother and sire, but far more interested in fighting for my turn at my Mam’s teat. I am strong, stronger than my sister, stronger than most of my brothers, so the fight is short. Already I can tell where each of my siblings is as they wallow in the hay. I can smell so much – the hay, my siblings, my Mam, the Boy and his brother and Sire, the other Mabari in the kennel, my Mam’s milk, the urine from each of my siblings, indeed from all of the other Mabari , the Kennel Master and his helpers – one of them has had something for his morning meal that I have never smelled before – it distracts me and when I lift my head to puzzle over the scent, my sister slips between me and my Mam.
With a full belly, I let her take her turn and follow my nose away from the comfort of my Mam and packmates. As I wander closer to the edge of the enclosure that has been my home for all of my short life, I smell something new. This smell is so enticing that it completely eclipses the food smell that had drawn me away from the comfort of my Mam’s teat. It is complex and wonderful and calls to me. I whimper at the gate and dig at the dirt, trying to find a way out, a way to reach the source of that smell.
The Kennel Master and the Sire laugh at my attempts and open the gate. They think that I am interested in the older one, but a quick sniff of his boots tells me he is not the one, not the source. Neither is his Sire so I follow the scent further away yet and then I find it. It is the Boy. It is his scent. He smells of many things – his breakfast of oats and milk, the dirt and horse dung that he stepped in on his way to the kennel, the scent of soap that clings to his clothes, even the cotton and wool that make up those clothes. Under all of that is the scent that is uniquely him – I cannot describe it but over the years it will remain. Other scents will cover it – leather and blood, steel and musk, but under it all will be that which is uniquely him. As I sniff him and attempt to memorize that scent, he reaches down and ever so gently scratches my ears. It is bliss.
He is mine.
The other humans are not happy. I can smell the irritation and confusion wafting off the Sire; the anger and jealousy coming off his sibling. I cower, confused. Why are they angry? I keep myself between the Boy and his sibling, lying on the ground.
The Boy kneels down behind me and places both of his hands on me, one on my head and one on my flank.
“You’re scaring him, Fergus.”
“Father, Liam is too young for his own Mabari.”
“Mabari bonding is not something you can force, ser. Perhaps one of the other pups will be interested?”
The Kennel Master leads the one the Boy called Fergus back to my litter mates and his Sire kneels down beside him. He offers me his hand to sniff and I tentatively lean forward to smell him. His scent is similar to the Boy’s. He smells of leather, wine and smoke and curiosity.
“Well, Pup. It looks like you have a new friend. What’s his name?”
“But Father, what about Fergus?”
“He has the others to attempt to bond with, but this fine fellow has chosen you. That’s the way Mabari bonding works. “
“Really. So, what will you call him?”
The Boy looked down and me and I raised my head. We looked into each other’s eyes. I know not what the Boy saw, but as I stared into his blue eyes I caught a glimmer of something, a glimpse perhaps of the man he would become. Perhaps it is just my memory playing tricks on me in my old age, but I like to think that I knew as I watched him that morning that I knew he was destined for greatness.
He leaned down to press his forehead to my head and I marveled at the sudden surge of love I felt for him.
“Rowan. His name is Rowan,” he whispered.