Warning: This poem contains material that some readers may find disturbing. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It features a traveling menagerie in poor condition, race/class prejudice, abused animals, traumatic imprisonment, messy medical details, assault on a prisoner, forced violation of potty training, offscreen animal death, confiscation of property, attempted displacement of blame, traumatic stress, and other challenges. If these are touchy topics for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.
"Not Behind the Bars"
When a traveling menagerie
came over from Transylvania, it
started the common arguments about
thieving gypsies and dangerous beasts.
Igor looked at Victor. "That doesn't
sound very good," he said, frowning.
Upon investigation, they found
a dilapidated dancing bear attached
to the showman with long chains trailing
from collar and muzzle to Stochelo's waist.
A lion stood in a small cage, rubbing
its scarred head up and down the bars.
"Zoo," Adam said happily,
stretching his pudgy hands
and kicking Igor in the hips.
"No," Victor said. "We won't
be visiting this zoo as customers.
Look how unhappy the animals are."
Adam looked at the lion,
now trying to lick the lock
of its enclosure. "Sad kitty."
Yoska drove by in a supply wagon
pulled by a tired buckskin mare.
"I don't like these gypsies,"
Anca grumbled. "They're not
nice like our Căldărari. Look at
that poor horse, her hooves are
so overgrown that her shoes
are about to slide off her feet."
Not only that, but a rope bracelet
encircled one leg where the horse
had broken free of a picket and
the ostler hadn't even bothered
to remove the remaining loops.
Igor was seething. "Can't we
do something about this?"
"Indeed we can," Victor said,
clapping his hands. "Stochelo,
Yoska, you may stay only one night
in the village. See that you keep
your beasts under control, and
do not molest the wildlife here.
In the morning you must leave."
They were happy to host the Căldărari
for a weekend, or even for a week if
the weather soured and kept them
from regaining the road as planned,
but they wanted no part of these men.
The two brothers grumbled about
his poor hospitality, but they could not
go against the word of the mazil.
Victor and Igor abandoned
the traveling menagerie in favor
of exploring the village market.
Stalls overflowed with baskets of
early vegetables such as ramps,
peas, and asparagus. Someone
had foraged for fiddleheads, and
Igor happily bought a basketful.
The first of the strawberries and
raspberries were ripening too.
Victor bought a modest amount
of each, taking care to leave some
for the other shoppers to enjoy.
They spent a pleasant day at
the market, loading their wagon
with supplies, and then joined
Dorottya and Dénes for dinner.
Victor and Igor were walking back to
their wagon when sharp cries of alarm
made chills run down Igor's spine.
Nandru raced to meet them. "Mazil, mazil!"
he shouted. "The gypsies of the menagerie
put your black-and-tan wolf in a cage!"
"Take Adam back to Dorottya and
stay there," Igor said, pushing
the toddler into Nandru's grasp.
Then he took off in pursuit.
Victor had already run ahead,
calling for Imre to take up the gypsies.
Igor made for the cages, where
he found Shandor in wolf form
trapped in the smallest of them.
He had gone completely mad,
thrashing and snapping at the bars.
In its neighboring enclosure,
the feeble lion cringed away
from the berserk werewolf.
Fridrik, in human form, shook
with rage and fear. "We all have
our own demons, depending on how
the humans have hurt us," he confided
to Victor and Igor. "For me, it's about
traps and poisons; for Shandor, cages."
"How horrid," Victor said. "I do not know
if I can reach him, though -- he's gone wild."
"I have more experience in this area,"
Igor said grimly. "Leave it to me."
He spoke firmly in the tone he used
for calming restless livestock, and he said
the words that people would expect to hear,
but underneath he whispered to his friend.
"Shandor, it's me, Igor," he said. "I will
get you out of there, but I need for you
to back away so I can get at the lock."
Long minutes later, the terrified wolf
stopped chewing the bars and pressed
himself against the back of the cage.
The lock was old, and covered in
wolf slobber, but Igor managed to pick it.
As soon as he yanked the door open,
Shandor dashed past him and ran
for the nearest copse of trees.
Igor followed at a careful distance
to see whether he was hurt.
The black-and-tan wolf paused
in the shelter of the trees, pawing
at his mouth and drooling in pain.
"Let me take a look at that,"
Igor said as he crouched down.
Then he waited for the wolf to approach.
It took a while for Shandor to calm down
enough to stop circling the grove and
creep toward Igor, his belly fur
nearly brushing the ground.
Whimpering, the werewolf
laid his head in Igor's lap.
It was a surprising show of trust
and loyalty from the injured wolf.
Finally Igor managed to identify
the problem: a thin wire wedged
crosswise in the roof of his mouth.
"You were trying to pick the lock
without giving yourself away,"
Igor guessed. "When your pick
slipped and got stuck, you panicked."
Shandor gave a shallow nod.
"Cages are horrid," Igor said
as he reached into a belt pouch for
his pliers. "Removing the wire will
probably hurt. Try not to snap at me."
Igor reached into Shandor's mouth
and wrenched the wire loose.
Shandor yelped and jerked away,
but did not bite. He just pawed
at his mouth and drooled again.
"Stop that, you might make it worse,"
Igor scolded gently. "Come back here
so that I can clean it properly."
Shandor gave an aggrieved whine.
"I know, you hate the taste," Igor said
as he uncapped the flask of pálinka. "I'll
rinse with water as soon as I'm through."
The wolf's ears flattened so much that
they nearly disappeared into his shaggy fur,
but they pointed out toward the sides instead of
straight back, and his snout did not curl in a snarl.
As far as Igor could tell, that meant
submission instead of a threat. Werewolves
made surprisingly good followers, if they
agreed that you were in charge.
Carefully he poured pálinka over
the shallow punctures in Shandor's mouth,
then ran his fingers over the tongue and teeth
to make sure he hadn't missed anything else.
Fortunately, Igor found no further injuries,
so he sloshed water over the area,
and then let Shandor loose.
"There you go," Igor said.
"I suggest that you eat soft foods
for a day or two, to give your mouth
enough time to heal, and don't gnaw on
any bones until you feel normal again."
Shandor trotted in circles, snuffling
and shaking himself, but at least
he had quit pawing his mouth.
Igor headed back toward the menagerie,
with Shandor no more than a fleeting shadow
dogging the corner of his vision.
Imre had Yoska the ostler well in hand,
although Stochelo was still arguing that
his brother had done nothing wrong, and
Victor was clearly running out of patience.
They were all so distracted that Igor
managed to walk up and punch Yoska
in the kidneys -- once, twice, thrice --
before a shocked Victor recovered
enough to drag him away.
"I sympathize with your outrage, but
I cannot countenance beating a man
already held in custody without so much
as a proper sentence," Victor scolded.
"Oh, I didn't hit him hard enough to do
any permanent damage," Igor said,
glaring at the instigators of the trouble,
"just enough to leave the bastard
pissing blood for a week or two."
Victor flicked a glance over at
the moaning ostler, then made
a quick examination to confirm
Igor's claim of minor damage.
"Nothing serious for Yoska,"
said Victor, then lowered his voice.
"How badly is Shandor hurt?"
"The physical injuries aren't much,"
Igor said. "I'm more worried about
his mind and his feelings. He isn't
acting like himself. I hope that
seeing justice will help."
The werewolf was doubtless
ghosting around somewhere
within earshot of the events.
"If you're that intent on dispensing
justice," Victor said to Igor, "then you
may offer to participate if we decide
it's to be a whipping in answer
for what Yoska has done."
"I'm not fond of whips,"
Igor said, shaking his head.
"Do you have a better idea?" Victor said.
"Lock him in his own cage," Igor said.
"Let Yoska learn how it feels to be
deprived of his freedom."
"For how long?" Victor asked.
"Until he pisses himself like
an animal," Igor said grimly.
So Imre shoved the protesting ostler
into the cage, and Igor locked it.
The village children were already
gathering around to make rude remarks,
and Traian was eyeing some loose cobbles.
"No throwing rocks, or filth," Victor warned.
"If you insist on being crude, you may
throw spoiled vegetables or fruit."
"That's not fair," Traian protested.
"You'll thank me when you don't
drop a rock on your foot, or put
your dirty hands in your mouth
and get sick," Victor said.
"What do you want done with
the other animals?" Imre asked.
"I do not like the thought of
leaving them with these men."
Igor looked at the bear and the lion,
then sighed. "They're not very healthy."
"Put them out of their misery,
and bury the remains in the woods,"
Victor said. "What about the horse?
Do you think she can be salvaged?"
"Yes, she just needs a good trim
and some new shoes," Imre said.
"Confiscate her too," Victor said.
"Tomorrow, Stochelo and Yoska
may leave with whatever they
can haul without their horse."
Stochelo began protesting again,
waving his hands for emphasis.
"And what of that wolf you released?"
he said. "It's a monster. It ought to be
put down before it kills someone."
"The wild, cruel beast is
not behind the bars of the cage,"
Igor said coldly. "He is in front of it."
"Stochelo, you have disobeyed
me enough already, and disrupted
the peace of my valley. Do not attempt
to blame the wolf for your own mistakes,"
said Victor. "Now shut your mouth, or I will
declare the rest of your goods forfeit as well."
The showman shut up after that.
By then it was nearly dark, so
Victor and Igor went to retrieve
Adam, who had fallen asleep.
When they returned to their wagon,
Shandor slipped out of the shadows
to press himself against Igor's legs.
"You must be exhausted," Igor said.
"Ride home with us, if you like."
Shandor crawled into the wagon
and curled up in the straw that
protected the baskets of produce.
"Want a hand up?" Victor asked
as he settled Adam on the seat,
then reached down for Igor.
"I think I'll ride in back with Shandor,
if he doesn't mind," Igor said.
The wolf's tail thumped once,
stirring the straw, and so Igor
clambered into the wagon bed.
Shandor shuffled close enough
to lay his head in Igor's lap.
Igor lifted a hand to stroke
the coarse black-and-tan fur.
"You'll be all right," he murmured.
"We've had an awful day, but now
everyone is safe, and Yoska is
spending the night in a cage."
The ride back to the castle
was slow but uneventful,
and they were half-asleep
by the time they arrived.
Shandor was still clinging to Igor,
so Victor parked the wagon, unhitched
and stabled their horse, and last he
went to put Adam into his crib.
Finally they bundled into the lordly bed,
putting Shandor and Igor in the middle, with
Mircea and Victor on either side of them.
"I don't care what that fool gypsy said,"
Igor grumbled. "You're not a monster."
In the dark, Shandor reached up
to lick gently across Igor's chin,
and that was answer enough.
* * *
Stochelo -- He has light brown skin, brown eyes, and short black hair going gray with a scruffy mustache and very little beard. He wears glasses. Along with his younger brother Yoska, he keeps a traveling menagerie. Stochelo is a showman and musician, although he isn't very entertaining.
Yoska -- He has light brown skin, brown eyes, and short black hair with a thick mustache that wraps down under his chin. Along with his older brother Stochelo, he keeps a traveling menagerie. Yoska's job is taking care of the animals, but he doesn't do it very well.
Shandor -- He has light brown skin, green eyes, and brown dreadlocks just past his shoulders. A short beard and moustache bracket his mouth without quite touching. He is the mate of Mircea and the father of Simza. He was the alpha male of his first pack. His wolf form is dark brown to black on top with an ivory face and belly.
The menagerie lion is not in very good shape.
* * *
The traveling menagerie has roots going far back in history. Animals are often, though not always, mistreated in these situations.
Traveling people include various clans of the Romani. They are often considered beggars and thieves, which some are, but many are not -- much like any other group. Racism and classism remain serious impediments to their health and happiness even today.
Horse hooves require competent care or else problems develop. Overgrown hooves happen when horses are not trimmed and reshod regularly.
A buckskin horse has a tan coat with black or dark brown points.
Early fruits include strawberries and raspberries. Early vegetables include asparagus, peas, ramps, and fern fiddleheads.
Traumatic events can cause lasting emotional harm. Imprisonment is particularly prone to destroying mental health. Understand how to handle PTSD for yourself or someone else.
Animals such as dogs can also suffer PTSD. Tips for helping traumatized dogs may also work for other animals such as wolves.
Wolves use body language such as postures and ear gestures to communicate. In this photo, a submissive wolf approaches a dominant wolf. This is the overall attitude of fear/submission.
Due to the shape of the canine oral cavity, it is possible for objects to get stuck across the roof of the mouth.
Abuse of prisoners is generally considered unethical, but it is also common.
Bruises are usually superficial but can go deep enough to affect internal organs such as the kidneys. First aid involves ice to stop the bleeding. The ideal treatment for kidney bruises is bed rest, but people from a poor or rough background often just walk it off if it's not severe enough to be life-threatening. The big risk with organ bruises is that the difference between minor and major is very difficult to discern.
Nonsexual intimacy comes in many forms and builds connections within a relationship. Sleeping together is a classic example. There are ways to get more nonsexual touch.