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 Wolves Really Are a Man’s Best Friend

Discussion in 'Roleplay Execution' started by NDP, Jan 12, 2019 at 1:20 PM.

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  1. NDP

    NDP blub blub Member

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    She wouldn’t have recognized him, she sighed, had she not recognized those honest, blue eyes as the same pair to gaze back at her on those mornings when the river was particularly calm. They were her eyes and this, this was her boy, she affirmed, hands burning tender affection into either side of his face. Overwhelmed by the swelling in her chest, she scolded him, fondly, for his unannounced return, for the way his unkept whiskers made her face itch when she dotted relieved kisses on his cheeks and for the mangy locks of flaxen hair feathering over his eyes, obscuring his identity. What would she have done, she admonished, if she hadn’t recognized those eyes? If she had chased him away, broom in hand, to never see her boy again? How many times was he determined to steal himself away?

    After issuing a year-supply of eluded reprimands, she softened. She dried the remnants of her broken heart from her jowls and cooed about how hungry he was after the journey. He would need to get his fill before leaving again. Their voices hushed, they exchanged stories of the months they’d missed and of the shared years long gone. When had they stopped scratching his growth on the doorframe? He was over a head taller than the last mark, he observed casually. Surely, years ago. When illness took his father, she presumed, and her shoulders couldn’t bear their burdens alone. When had Sigri become such a slothful bitch? At least two weeks ago, he mused, when she slept through distressed squawks as a predator stole away their hens. She was still the second most important woman in his life, he asserted. Nothing would change that.

    How was Kristen, the girl from down the way? All grown – he already knew that. Recovering from bringing a second beautiful daughter into the world, his mother detailed. What a blessing, he mourned. Years after illness emptied the village, life returned. “Mila” was a charming name for the child, she remarked. He knew. He picked it in his boyhood, on a hot summer day, laid in downy grass beneath an evergreen, in a memory locked away for only himself and the girl from down the way.

    Sigri sat pretty, blue-merle body curled in on itself on the hearth, secured in second place. If he stayed, his mother suggested as she trimmed his hair, she and Sigri would lose their claims. He could settle down. He could have a life. Didn’t the woods get lonely? No. No. Never, he assured.

    On the day he left, his nephew bawled. The visit hardly lasted longer than a week and he knew from the previous year that he wouldn’t see his uncle again until after the frost passed, after the flowers bloomed and died, and after the air dried with the threat of winter again. That was, if he came back at all. Ursule, an older girl, had filled his head with stories of big, bad wolves that stole away children and grandmothers alike. An uncle in the woods wasn’t a stretch.

    Of course. Of course, he whimpered. Those monsters in the woods. There was one wolf, he recounted, that blew down houses. Covering his nephew’s face with his palm, he warned how its paw was at least twice as large and promised that next year, when he returned, he would have in tow, a lucky wolf's paw of his own. He was bigger and badder than any monster in the woods, he promised, only to be scolded by the boy’s mother for putting such fears in his head. He knew better than anyone that there was no such thing. There was no sense drawing sadistic pleasure from scaring a child.

    “Graham,” his brother finally piped on the morning of his departure, calling after the humble merchant cart as it pulled away. “Be careful, okay?”

    Graham’s journey on foot began at the dawn of a new day, weighed down by their winter supplies as he hiked over uneven terrain with Sigri trotting at his heels. The cold bore into her bones to inspire a limp. He scoffed and lectured her; he wouldn't carry her and they couldn't afford to break pace. Although she never argued or complained, it was a matter of hours before he gathered her into his arms to croon doting reassurances that they were almost home.

    He’d erected his cabin in a large clearing a long stone’s throw from the same river that ran through the village. Through the sea of scattered tree trunks, there was no horizon over which one could watch the sunset. The oncoming dusk, however, tinted the still landscape a soft, serene lavender that washed away all lingering doubts and pushed aside regretful longing for the home he'd elected to abandon again. A cool, docile wind shook the uppermost layer of canopy just as the first tufts of snow fell lazily through openings to the sky.

    When they broke into the clearing, he shifted the weight of the packs on his back to bend to cautiously set the animal in his arms back onto her own feet. Her tail thrashed violently as she skipped ahead toward the structure. She circled first around the makeshift shed pressed tightly against the cabin, sniffing at the ground with the utmost interest, before throwing her eyes back toward her weary companion and sluggishly racing him to the cabin door.

    Inside, everything remained untouched since the time they’d last occupied the structure. Ashes still lined the bottom of the fireplace tucked in the back center of the single room. Pressed against the farthest corner, his treasured bed laid bare, his blankets folded neatly and resting in one corner. A newly reconstructed table sat in the corner opposite, nearest the door, the single chair placed to face the unglazed window closed off with a wooden panel. Scatters of snow drifted in through the open door as Graham set down the supply packs. Hastily, he brushed away old soot before starting the winter’s first fire.

    There was no gradual, peaceful shift from light to dark here. At once, night would surge to swallow the weakening day and they would be drenched in darkness. Deep into dim twilight, he wouldn’t have time to check each of the traps he’d dug for captured predators. Graham was optimistic that he would have the time to set a few snares though. With luck, in the coming days, he and Sigri could eat like royalty before winter’s sleep settled fully.

    Rolling his shoulders back, Graham pushed himself to his feet with a groan. Before trudging outside, temporarily away from the fresh fire, he gathered his bow and a knife and called for Sigri to remain at his heel. The snow stung the end of his nose and the cold numbed his fingertips but Graham persisted. The pair made their way behind the cabin, shuffling toward the trees before Sigri halted, a low growl resonating from the back of her throat.

    @ButterMyBuns
     
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  2. ButterMyBuns

    ButterMyBuns Mr. Skullfuckery Pleasant Member

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    There were dark times to be had when politics meddled with families and clans. A single decision had ripped apart entire families and villages, many a year ago, and now, it had taken up a strong resurgence. Had his own family not suffered enough? Had the trials and tribulations they'd faced for the first decision been enough? To his kin long gone, his family had been in the wrong. His family had made the poorest decision of their lives, and one their children would suffer for. Nik suffered, but he refused to believe it was for his family's beliefs and ethos. Not that it mattered anyway. His pack had been long since separated, most dead with the second wave of slaughter that left the rest fleeing for their lives and coated in blood that they'd never hoped to see in their lives.

    Nik was thinking on that now, as he stared at his own blood, tufts of his own fur and hair separated from his body. He'd been one of the firsts to run. He was still but a young man, not yet the age to take a mate, not yet the age to properly defend anyone. Still, it was a cowards move. He was paying for it now, in his own way. He had been scouting for food, a task made difficult in solitude when he was far too used to hunting with kin. In the past few seasons, as they had come and gone, he would side with the wildlife around and hunt with them. His leaner frame showed just how little he'd be able to take from their mutual kills, but it was better than starving. They showed him where to hunt, what was safe and where to avoid, but there was only so much they could do for him when the whiteness blanketed the earth and shifted everything to an eerie silence. The predators that stalked the woods thinned out, in search of better hunting grounds, with the only animals remaining far too alert to hunt after solo.

    A man had come upon this land, a man who built himself a home and had settled down. He had animals. Birds. He hadn't seen birds like that in years, long before the scarlet haze had cast over his pack and their former hunting grounds. They were good food; plump, flightless, and far too stupid to put up any effort that wouldn't result in their own harm. One would be filling for him, but he couldn't bear to encroach on another's belongings. The man -- nor his land and home -- smelt of anything but human, aside from the birds and the dog he'd had to outrun once, but it was the principle of the matter.

    More snow was falling now, his head lolling back a little to look up at the top of this - this bastardly hole he'd found himself in. It wasn't natural. He'd seen ditches and caves, but this was unlike anything he'd ever fallen into or dared to explore. There were sharpened branches and sticks around the top, just a few but more than enough to have injured him as he'd fallen in. It had been covered! Covered with a layer of brush that the snow had clung to far too eagerly, thin sticks and twigs supporting the forest debris until he'd run over it. The sticks had caught him as he'd fallen, his foolish paws struggling out to find purchase in them and only serving to tear at the pads of his paws further. He'd slid past them and down, chunks of his fur and blood clinging to the sticks above him with a haughty air; these were reminders that his predicament was his own fault, his own carelessness, as if the trap found humor in his suffering. The debris that had covered the snare only served to add insult to injury, causing him pain with new jagged edges and an uncomfortable surface.

    Nik had had no choice but to painfully bring his human hands to light, the injuries ripping anew and sending new fiery waves through him. It would be bad enough to make the trade with so much as a fever, but physical injuries? His body wasn't meant for that! It was his only hope, though, and he was desperate enough for it. He wasn't tall no matter which presentation he stood in, but at least his slender fingers offered more grip in the dirt, against the branches. Only three remained above him now, the rest having been pulled out as he struggled to climb. Grooves lay in the snow around the hole in sections, he'd gotten close, one hand up, another, but as his hands warmed the ground and snow, he would come fumbling down and land in further pain. The night had forced his hand, more pain as a trade-off to keep warm through the cold. Faint noises of creatures from above, a hopeful prayer for food that was never answered. He'd uncovered this snare, and none else would venture close enough to inspect it -- or fall prey to his open maw. It was impressive, no matter the means, but it felt more like a grave than any attempt to capture food -- no one would go to this much effort simply for a meal.

    With the sun, he'd dared again to reach out as human, falling another dozen times before he considered giving in to this fate. As the sun stretched and he prepared himself for the night to fall over him, he heard noises. Different noises, now. Growling. He lamented his weakened senses, unable to tell whwat it was. If he cried for help, would it be to another predator, or perhaps someone to aid him? Had the man returned, at long last? The man had no doubt built these, and the man would perhaps take mercy on a fellow human that had been lost in the woods. He didn't have time to present differently, nor would he think it would aid his case. No doubt the man would kill an animal should it be in his traps. Nik stood up again, reaching his hands to the top and beginning his struggle anew. "Hello? Is someone there? Please, if there is, I beg you," he said, his voice faltering with the cold. His lips were an unhealthy shade and his skin paler than would be safe with the cold. His natural body heat proved well in either shape, but humans were weaker no matter the genetics.
     
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  3. NDP

    NDP blub blub Member

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    That territorial growl prompted Graham to ready his bow, nocking an arrow and drawing the string back in a practiced motion. Another tranquil breeze rustled the leaves and, after a tense second prepared for an invader, the landscape hushed and stilled. Nothing moved save for the thick clusters of snow lazily drifting down in growing hoards. They stood – exposed on the line separating their clearing from the rest of the dense forest, the rich blue of his winter cloak strikingly pronounced against the building white even in the dimming light – motionless as Graham surveyed the land ahead only for Sigri to drop her guard in favor of wary curiosity. She pressed forward first, nose low to the ground, upturning the fluffy uppermost layers of snow in search of the familiar and unwelcome scent that caught her attention.

    “Sigri,” Graham scolded without heat. He kicked the snow from his boots to march after her, still holding his bow forward though slackening his draw.

    She didn’t react to his disappointed sigh or to his second call in favor of ambling onward, following a meandering path as she found and lost the trail in turns. First, her limbs weakened and then her ears. Graham pressed his lips as he looked down at the dog with cautious exasperation. It wouldn’t be long before she lost her sense as well. That would be a problem for another day – after they had time to sit down and to recover from their journey and after another quiet winter in their humble dwelling. Sigri served better than most of the stray mongrels roaming the village. She faithfully watched over their land to the best of her ability and Graham wasn’t ready to fault her when those abilities declined. To his misfortune, she also ate better than any of those roving mongrels and he, inevitably, always caved to her whims and shared his meager supply of meat. With any luck, they would have at least one last good meal before turning to winter rations.

    Fortune smiled on them that evening. Though his intent had been to set snares to catch hares in the coming days, a tuft of white fur almost perfectly blended into the frosted ground caught his eye. It laid, unmoving, unbreathing, neck entangled in a trap that had slipped Graham’s mind prior to their departure. The guilt prickling in the pit of his stomach was obscured by peckish delight. It was the largest hare he’d ever seen and, on closer observation, freshly snared. They would be eating well tonight.

    “Sigri,” Graham eagerly tried again, aware that she wouldn’t hear.

    She persisted further ahead, prompting Graham to chase after as she moved nearer the pits Graham had spent afternoons digging. She stopped again to fix her paws in a rigid stance and to growl in the direction of the nearest of those traps, now uncovered, before breaking into a series of sharp barks in response to the voice that arose from the ground. She crept close enough to glance down before Graham tugged her away from the edge, taking her place with bow in hand, drawn and aimed toward feeble-voiced the trespasser.

    The journey away from civilization and through the woods was arduous. In all the seasons Graham stayed in his secluded retreat, he’d never once had a neighbor walk by on a morning stroll or a friend stay the night for a casual visit. When he’d picked that spot, he’d picked it for the impossibility of having to lock eyes with another man for months on end. Yet, there he stood, gazing down at another, uncertain whether he’d trapped the country’s worst navigator or its worst thief.

    Whichever he was, he’d tried and failed to work his way out. His struggle tore apart the trap so only three of the sharply pointed branches remained intact. He stood cold and dirty, wearing his own blood and not much more, bare form appearing smaller from Graham’s angle perched directly above, appearing worn down by the climate as indicated by that falter in his earlier cry for help. The sight was enough to remove all indications that this person, yet caught, was a threat despite Sigri’s persistent bellowed warnings. If this was a trap and this man was bait, he was far too committed to the role. Graham set his weapon aside, on the ground at his feet, in favor of stripping the woolen hat from his head.

    “Are you really so starved,” he called down, voice a mix of equal parts concern, confusion, and irritation, as he slipped out of his cloak, “that carrion would entice you?”

    Before he’d left, he’d covered the trap to look less conspicuous. Hoping to draw the predator that had torn apart his hens, he topped it with a hare carcass. This was a man, however – someone he would have much more expected to cause grief along the road or even in the cabin a short way off.

    Graham set himself on his knees to pass down first his cloak and then his hat, careful to stay at arm’s reach from his bow and casting his eyes regularly into the trees above.
     
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  4. ButterMyBuns

    ButterMyBuns Mr. Skullfuckery Pleasant Member

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    The barking offered lesser hope than the initial noises had -- animals had far keener senses of smell, and he could only hope that whomever was friend to the dog had ties to his alternate community or he would be forced to make haste before he’d gained his bearings. The face after the dog, though. . . Nik couldn’t say what the man was, but he’d never been more thankful to see a man before. “Bless the gods,” he whispered, staring up without a care that between him and the man lay a weapon.


    He let his arms sink down to bring closer to him, holding close to his chest as had been drilled into him by an overly concerned mother and siblings. Keep the center warm, they’d always stressed. Fingers did not matter when it would be a little finger or his life. He moved backwards, feet finding the sticks he’d made fall and the harsher parts of the covering as his back found the opposite side of the pit. He watched as the man let down his bow, a sign that perhaps his death wasn’t in the cards just yet. As the man removed his hat, Nik squinted as he searched for any sign of more than human -- ears, hidden by hair; eyes, from what he could see were normal to humans. Aside from that, their standings against each other told of no other hints.


    His teeth began to clatter again, this side of the dirt frozen unlike what he’d pressed against for support. “Carrion? I-I’m afraid I don’t understand.” He hadn’t smelled anything around the area, perhaps too caught up with the animal he had been hunting. A glance around, wondering if he’d missed something, but there were far more animals in the woods, and no doubt a bird had foraged the remains for a passable meal. Lucky. “There wasn’t anything -- not that I saw. I was running, I didn’t see this - this. . . trap.”


    It would make sense, but he wished it had been there. If there was death, then it was to be avoided; only foolish animals would go to a place where there weren’t enough animals to finish off a body. Every animal did their parts -- if a pack caught something, they would eat their fill, and the smaller animals would come for the scraps. In cold weather such as this, the birds that remained would pick off their fill, and then it would be left for the winter. Men were resourceful, and they were good with using all they had to work with, but if he’d left a carcass out deliberately, he would have done well to ignore such a thing.


    As fabric ruffled before him, he looked up and nearly moaned with relief. How long had it been since he’d worn clothes? This was a blessing, surely, even if it had been from the man who’s careful planning had been his reckless endangerment. He reached for the cloak, pulling it on with weak fingers and holding it close to him. The warmth was not immediate, but he felt his own heat begin to stick close to him and the comfort showed promise. He watched the man now, eagerly moving to take the hat and tug it on, grateful fully for this man. “I can’t offer enough thanks for this warmth, sir,” he said, his tone honest and true beneath the chill. “The trap. . . I apologize for disturbing it. It certainly is effective.” His hands could tell that, his feet, and by far the gash on one arm he’d earned with his thrashing to keep out of the trap. "I'll set it to right, if I could get out of here, I will."
     
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  5. NDP

    NDP blub blub Member

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    It was a brisk autumn night but all he could feel was the burning heat of the pink tickled over his nose, spilling onto his cheeks as he laughed himself into a frenzy. They were young then – boys tromping about in overlarge boots, thinking they’d fooled the world into presuming them men, reverting to childish games when eyes were turned, wrestling on cold nights and howling at the moon. They’d never have the world. Still, they dreamed and they schemed and set so close to one another, laid on the prickly remnants of dying grasses with a canopy of stars hung overhead, his world expanded and he was master to all that mattered.

    It’s blue, your favorite.

    Though his youth passed in a haze, daily life underscored by the darkness of looming death, the memory of the words breathed over his ear still sent a chill down his spine. His knuckles still stung from the lighthearted blow he landed on the speaker’s chest as he insisted that he was sick of the sight. He preferred red – vivid and bold, as you are. The boy was two years his senior and, at the time, appeared grown from his perspective pinned between the dry earth and the proud, proper boy from the regal dwelling at the far end of town.

    After a mirthful scolding for that flagrant flattery, the boy eased off, still intent to share the bounty. The younger froze and swallowed all complaints about how he’d grown sick of the sight of blue in favor of slack-jawed awe. He’d never seen such a deep and royal shade. No bird or flower could compare. First-dip and lined with thick grey fur stranded with liberal whites and the rare black, his companion went on, lowering his voice to innocently suggest that it still was far from the finest royal azure he’d seen. He’d seen at least two better. Still, after all of the praise, the then oversized cloak was cast aside and Graham’s mind still lingered more on the sensation of warmth and the onslaught of breathless laughter.

    -

    It remained his finest possession, far and away unbefitting of someone of his origin. Several times, Graham considered selling it, though lingering sentimentality and lack of another kept it in his possession years after that old life slipped from his grasp. Turning the cloak over to the stranger provided a sense of ease. If this had been a case of mistaken identity – if this was an ill-conceived, elaborate scheme and this entrapped stranger harbored any aspirations of running off with something of value – Graham had just turned over half of what distinguished him from the other opportunistic men who had the means and the luck to stake claims in this empty territory.

    His unanticipated quarry and his relentless companion were the only signs of nearby life. The longer Graham spent scrutinizing his catch, the easier it became to convince himself that he was genuine in his gratitude and need for aid. Regardless of the circumstances that brought them into that situation, failure to act with haste would leave the unpleasant task of scraping a stiff body from frozen earth before it drew whatever desperate predator had dared to venture into his clearing weeks prior. If it was gone – if it hadn’t been hungry enough to bother his hare or harass his larger, louder hunt – Graham would have been equally satisfied if it made a point of never returning.

    Without a word, Graham pushed himself back onto his feet, shaking his head at that promise as he gathered his bow and shuffled through the trees back toward his cabin. Sigri lingered a moment longer, maintaining her vicious barks until she glanced up to realize she’d been left behind and bounded after.

    Graham moved quickly and with purpose as light faded. He had been pressed for time even before he’d stumbled upon this pitiable, half-frozen intruder. Even after extracting this intruder, Graham would have to decide whether his time would be better spent chasing the stranger off to make his grave somewhere less disruptive or cleaning those fresh scrapes and donating time and charity he didn’t possess. When Graham returned some minutes later, his snarling dog at his heel, he brought along a length of sturdy rope, pair of fixed loops already knotted on one end by trembling hands. On his second throw, the knotted end flung over a low-hanging branch of the tree above before dropping into the pit.

    “What had you running all the way out here?” Graham piped in the same moment that Sigri’s persistent warnings eased to the occasional, soft woof.
     
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  6. ButterMyBuns

    ButterMyBuns Mr. Skullfuckery Pleasant Member

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    The dirt was far more agreeable with the layer between his skin and it, his hands grasping at fabric and fur to keep it closer to him as he hunched and made sure he was fully covered. He’d never owned something so fine as this, even as it showed age and wear -- his family had all been simple folk. The hat was not of the same quality, a brief thought in his mind on what sort of a man this was. He was living in the small home nestled in this great emptiness, traps laid out and his scent -- along with the dog -- were the only scents he’d ever really caught. The birds, too, but he hadn’t smelled those as he’d ventured close to the house as of late.


    Nik’s eyes wandered back up as the man moved again, watching him disappear from view. The dog still continued on with its racket, not that he would ever hold it against the poor creature. He was a threat until he proved otherwise, something more difficult to do as a human. He could still roll over and offer belly, but it didn’t hold the same meaning; perhaps this was something he could offer should the man recognize kinds other than his own. As the dog’s noise fell quiet, and the snow moved to signal its departure as well, he fully sank against the dirt and returned to sitting. Nik bundled up tighter, his hands moving down to feel at his feet, trying to coax warmth to them. He had not turned the darker colors of sickness, thank whatever gods that be, but he knew there were always chances it could happen until he was warmed. The injuries weren’t helping that, knowing that the weakness would only prove to turn his body against him should anything take a worse turn.


    Nik tucked his chin and nose into the fur lining the cloak as best he could, letting it trap his breath and bring on the sting of temperature change to the sensitive skin. Perhaps, he mused, he should beg those gods for the man to return. Surely, he wouldn’t leave his own belongings, but the thought wouldn’t be surprising. He was a stranger on what he discovered was most likely a stranger’s land, and his life would be fully in the man’s hands. Never enter owned land, a rule that had been highly stressed to him as he grew. Man will not be kind to us, nor will most others. Kinship only goes so far, they’d say, so what would strangers’ kindness be limited to?


    This man’s limit had extended in Nik’s mind as he returned, earning a sigh of relief and a gratitude as the shuffling he heard resulted in a length of rope dropping into his despair. Even the companion’s chatter was a soothing sound as he hurried himself up, fumbling for the rope. The cloak’s parting sent now painfully cold air to his skin. He hadn’t realized just how cold it had been until warmth had been offered, a deeper awareness of how dangerous his peril had been to him. The rope, cold and coarse, hurt his hands as he tested it, but simple aches wouldn’t prevent him from escape.


    “Travelling, hunting. Foolish things, if I was in your territory. I had seen your home, but I wasn’t sure how far your ownership went.” Nik began to heft himself up, managing enough of a climb to reach for the fresh snow and level ground he was more than grateful to see. He hauled himself out, falling on the ground and feeling at the snow to push himself to sitting. He brushed his hands together to free the snow from them and bundle himself back up in the cloak, now able to look up to his savior and the man’s companion. “What a blessing it is, for you to be here, though. I would have perished was this further away from you.”


    “I’m trying to return to the capitol city now, now that things have settled. I’ve been separated from my family, though I’m not sure any remain. Most likely, I’m lost.” He’d been wandering, more like it, afraid of what he would find when he met the end of his journey. Taking his time and only loosely following the path of the sun and the stars.
     
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  7. NDP

    NDP blub blub Member

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    On a good day, the hike to the nearest road was a full day’s venture over rough terrain. From there, the path eased but the journey to civilization stretched miles in either direction. With the onset of winter, Graham had no intention of unnecessarily abandoning his seclusion. All other seasons were spent in preparation for this long, scarce period when the sun set before a full day’s work and the cold cut down new life. Winter was unforgiving, merciless in doling out a frozen death to the under-prepared, the ill-fated, and any that dared misstep. Surviving alone required constant calculation – counting down limited daylight, monitoring supplies, and maintaining constant guard as resources dwindled and the fools that remained on sparse lands were brought closer.

    He’d planned carefully, even around the misfortune of losing his hens, to maximize the odds that he and Sigri would see another spring. Another mouth turning up at the last minute, in the midst of thickening snowfall and without even clothes on his back to call his own, was too large a variable to fit neatly into his excess preparations. Though Graham had no intention of looking after the unfortunate creature that inhabited his pit, he couldn’t quite find the will to truly consider chasing him off with nothing.

    He was, however, less helpless than he’d appeared from Graham’s first glance – less meek than the angle and the dirt covering his bare and bordering frozen form had let on in the dim light. It had been Graham’s intention to hoist his quarry out of the pit. But before he could tug, the trespasser was already hefting himself up the rope. Graham held it steady, counterbalancing the stranger’s motions with his own weight, until that stranger rose high enough to pull himself onto the ground instead.

    In the same moment, Sigri’s soft barks reverted to fierce and desperate snarls. With teeth barred, she moved to lunge in a motion unfitting for an animal otherwise so weary. She was caught, midair, by her increasingly frustrated companion. The rope, unmanned and weighed by the loops knotted in one end, dropped into the pit in place of its previous occupant. Graham pulled Sigri back, clicking his tongue as he cussed at his misfortune and pleaded with her to calm, cautiously running a gentle hand over her side in the hopes of placating the old and restless girl. She’d always been social and patient – hardly the type to initiate conflict with any man. Graham would joke that she was his better half for it but she was growing restless in old age or, perhaps, she had picked up on the subtle hints of his own hesitation and amplified them in her own anxiety toward another man inhabiting their land. Even as she settled, she still huffed a growl with every exhale.

    Graham fixed his guarded gaze on the form bundled on the ground to preserve what heat he could against the elements. About them, snow fell in steadily multiplying droves as the sun sank low enough that the surrounding trees ate all but a few wisps of light. The temperature was dropping and in sharing his wealth, all he’d done was ensure that neither he nor the stranger were prepared for the rising night.

    “Hunting?” Graham snorted incredulously. “What, with your teeth?”

    He couldn’t tell which detail to fixate on first – their distance from any cleared roads, the bare form hidden beneath his cloak, or the lack of supplies, let alone weapons, as this stranger so casually asserted that he’d been merely traveling and hunting on this trip to the capital. It was his relative calm, however, that settled unease deep into Graham’s stomach.

    As Sigri’s muscles relaxed, Graham released her, making a point of keeping himself between her and the stranger. Calling for her to remain at his heel, Graham trudged away from the pit, back toward the trap he’d abandoned in favor of inspecting Sigri’s find.

    “Can you walk?” Graham called, “Think up a better story as we walk.”
     
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