THE LAIR


   Chary-aga and I were sitting and waiting for Kuly-aga. to return with the flock. Today he was later than usual. Finally we saw them approaching in the distance. Chary-aga could tell by Uncle Kuly's gait that there had been some trouble that night.
   And he had guessed correctly: one of the sheep had lost its kurdyuk to a wolf that night. A kurdyuk is the thick, fatty tail  of certain breeds of sheep.
   "We'll have to go take a look at the lair," Chary-aga said.
   "But where is the lair?" I asked the shepherd. "And how did the wolf rip off the kurdyuk? Is the sheep all right?"
   "The sheep will survive," Chary-aga said. "And you'll get a chance to see the lair for yourself tomorrow. You know the saying we have in the steppe: 'One look is worth a hundred words."'
   The next morning we headed into the steppe. I had imagined we would have a long distance to cover, but after we had walked about two miles Chary-aga turned to me and whispered: "Lay down flat on the ground and don't move!" He lay down beside me, pulled out his binoculars and then edged forward a bit and motioned for me to follow. "They're leaving the lair," he whispered into my ear. I could make out two full-grown wolves and three cubs. The female nipped at the male's shoulder and scratched him with her front claws, but he didn't even snap at her. I glanced
questioningly at Chary-aga. "He came back with too little. The female can't leave her cubs, and he has to feed all four himself. Sheep kurdyuks aren't enough to satisfy a hungry family for long."
   "Why aren't you going after the litter?" I asked.
   "They've discovered that wolves are useful, too. And the litter poses no threat to us: wolves ordinarily leave their neighbors in peace. It looks as though this male only attacked our flock out of desperation. Wait a bit, until those cubs get a little bigger,  and then we'll go after them. But they must be taken alive-they can be tamed."
   "Wolves will look after our sheep!" I marveled. "What a wise grandfather I have! The wolves won't go hungry, and the sheep will be safe!"