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 Wolves Really Are a Man’s Best Friend

Discussion in 'Roleplay Execution' started by NDP, Jan 12, 2019.

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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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  8. ButterMyBuns

    ButterMyBuns Mr. Skullfuckery Pleasant Member

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    Niklaus looked down at himself, offering up a weak tsk and trying to keep the huddled stance as he stood, his feet far more ungrateful for it now that they'd tasted warmth again. "I at least eat with my teeth, isn't that enough of a good use for them?" This man no doubt knew of his kin in the woods, living in this country the way he did, so Nik did not think much of the jest on Graham's part. "Aye, I can walk. My feet will not appreciate it, but the rest of me is far too grateful to let them do the talking."

    He offered a polite nod to Sigri before one to Graham, allowing them a spacing for Sigri's sake so that she wouldn't feel too threatened with his following them. His steps were unsteady from his fatigue, but he had suffered far more in his life. He tucked his face at close to the collar of the cloak, trying to continue to warm as it seemed to all slip out his feet. As they neared the rabbit, he sucked in a breath. So that had been the weak noises he'd heard the night prior. The poor dear. . . She would see a better life now, thankfully, and her body would serve purpose to the world. This was the highlight for anyone in the world, though.

    "I could think of many a story better than mine, honestly, sir, but I wouldn't be able to share them with any honesty. I think I know that my family might be scarce by now, but. . . I do know that I am going to the city, and I am alone." Niklaus hovered back, a few paces behind them and more with Sigri between them, to allow her space and the chance to maintain her guard over Graham. "I could say my things were stolen by a pack of strange monkeys, whisked beyond to the land across the seas, or that I was held up by vagabonds, and I am of the royal family?"

    They sounded sillier when he said them, which wasn't too much of a bad thing. The last thing he would want would be the man to actually believe what he'd said. Graham had a kill, and he would be good for the night, perhaps two or three given the size of that creature, but Niklaus still would think repaying the man with his kindness would be with fresh game. The thought sent a pang through both legs and hands, his injuries reminding him such a thing would be foolish. "You've been the kindest soul I've met in quite a few seasons, I'd like to say, and thank you again. You and your protector, the little madam."
     
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  9. NDP

    NDP blub blub Member

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    She faltered initially, fixated on the stranger at their heel. When she turned to see her companion two paces ahead of herself, she bound ahead desperately, glancing back at the trailing intruder every few steps and insistent on huffing her disapproval loudly under the persistent conversation. Graham’s adamant albeit skeptical resolution to keep from tossing his eyes back, to keep from gesturally communicating his hesitance, however, inspired an uneasy confidence in the animal. The stranger kept his distance and, for the time being, Sigri was content with keeping a cautious watch and hovering near Graham.

    As night washed over, dying daylight swallowed by the trees about them, Graham could hardly distinguish his catch from the powdering of white around. He paused a moment, inspecting the ground at his feet before kneeling in the cold snow to loosen the snare from the hare’s neck. With only a gasp of light yet breaching the trees he set aside the snare altogether, hooking the cable loop atop a supporting branch. They had enough for the next day at least – even with an extra mouth – and even if his trembling hands could manage to reset the trap, it would have been buried within the hour, located so near his small clearing. Graham picked himself up with a soft huff, hauling the limp hare along by its scruff. Each of his motions – his steadying backward step, and his final survey of the woods, were shadowed by the dog at his heels. Just ahead, where the canopy thinned toward his clearing, the night was marginally brighter, but he knew that even that wouldn’t last long.

    Their brief venture was punctuated by largely one-sided conversation. As Graham worked and as he led his larger, unwelcome quarry back toward his cabin, he interjected with the occasional grunt to indicate that he was vaguely listening to the stranger’s string of fantastic stories. His determination to remain distant and aloof stuttered first as they broke out of the thickness of the woods. His cabin laid just ahead, sputtering a steady stream smoke from its chimney in a promise of awaiting warmth. Kind, the stranger proposed. Though Graham had yet to promise the stranger any extension of excess charity. Even what action he had taken had been underlain with dirty thoughts of abandonment. But neither the small pang of guilt nor the worry of what might have happened had he chose to stay in civilization broke him. Rather, he failed to suppress the hearty chuckle as he repeated with disbelief, “Madam?”

    With the utmost affection, he gestured to the dog at his heel, the one still huffing her disapproval of the stranger, as he snorted, “this mangy thing?”

    Sigri’s displeasure mounted again as they neared the cabin, as the stranger hovered nearer their home. Graham’s short-lived cheery interlude faded as he hushed her again and backtracked to fall in line with the stranger, careful to place himself between the stranger and his restless dog. He clutched a wad of his own cloak, intending to usher the stranger alongside himself.

    “Come on now,” he urged, “before we freeze.”
     
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  10. ButterMyBuns

    ButterMyBuns Mr. Skullfuckery Pleasant Member

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    Amusement glittered in Niklaus' eyes as he watched Sigri bound between the pair. The shift in her glance every time her eyes fell to him did not go unnoticed, a complimentary pair to her unwillingness to give much space to her master. It firmed Nik's opinion in the man, knowing all too well the treatment some humans -- and even the more unearthly kin he shared space with -- offered up to animals like her. They viewed them as not but property or beings to sit below them in the matter of importance. Not here; though she might be seen as less intelligent by most, she proved that thought wrong with her loyalty. Loyalty even from the smallest mouse was not earned easily.

    He offered a closed-lip smile to Graham at the first words offered to break the one-sided silence. Graham's words did not seem true, in one of the best ways Nik knew -- light jesting. He knew the good that his relationship was returning to him. The man was far from simple. "But of course, sir. She is staying close to you, her eyes only leaving me to seek assurance from you and ensure your safety. I would consider her standing in your home to be rather high for her to hold such firm loyalty to you."

    The animals that stuck close to humans and the like -- dogs, cats, birds even -- always were far keener than their counterparts. They could sense when someone was not what they seemed and they often held more caution than normal, Sigri no exemption to this. Nik would be sure to show more care before he left the territory so as not to encroach more than he had. "I mean no harm, and I am sure she may be aware, yet her protection hasn't wavered in the slightest. Truly, you are blessed with such a companion. I am sure that, even if you were to be injured, you would be safe with her."

    He made sure to leave an extra pace or two on top of what he already had as they neared what he knew Sigri would consider her and her master's domain. One hand alone now held the cloak closed around him, the other reaching up to prepare to unclasp it and return it to its owner before the man gestured for him. The kindness he considered the man to show extended no further than the assistance and the warmth offered to him for that short time. Now to be invited in? He paused, knowing that his perceived nudity did not bode well for the image of self-sufficiency and perhaps this was what earned such a treat. Kind was not the only word he thought of to describe Graham now, the gratefulness taking over the confusion that had fallen over his face. Nik made quick with the offer, hurrying inside and hovering near the door so not to upset Sigri more than a stranger invited in would as it stood already.

    The fire going strong had warmed the room enough that his feet and his face began to sting already, his eyes glancing over the interior of the quaint home he'd found prior. The man lived alone with his protector, then. The home was too small to afford more, though it seemed perfect enough for Nik. "I never thought I would be more happy to see a fire and room, sir. My feet weep with joy all their own."
     
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  11. NDP

    NDP blub blub Member

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    Come sunset, the woods transformed. In parts, so little moonlight filtered through the trees that the pitch-black could swallow a man, turn a man around and spirit him away to another realm entirely. Graham loved his land. He loved waking to the raucous cacophony of desperate bird calls when winter broke to spring and when summer broke to autumn. He loved the cool shade on a hot summer’s day and the way the scent of wet earth lingered so much longer here after a rainstorm. He loved the dead quiet of winter – the still solitude and the primal struggle against the elements. He loved his land, however, with humble reverence – kept cut down to size by the height of the pines, the unrelenting flow of the river just a stone’s throw from his cabin, and the inquisitive gleam in the eye of the red squirrel that fancied itself one of his hens last season.

    One false step and this land he loved would swallow Graham with the same cold indifference as it had the hare in his hand. That morning, he and Sigri only paused for the minute it took to gather the old girl into his arms. Daunted by the shortened day, they hadn’t been afforded the opportunity to rest for a proper meal. His stomach grumbled with the same unrest as the growl caught in the back of Sigri’s throat when the stranger stepped into their cabin – the one still intent to make light conversation. Trapped in narrow quarters, she clung closer to Graham, hugging his leg tightly enough that he almost stumbled over her when he moved to set the hare on the table just beside the door, out of reach of the hungry dog. He exchanged it for the loaf of bread, lovingly wrapped in coarse cloth, that his mother had pressed into his hands when she’d imparted the final goodbye kiss on his cheek.

    He tore a piece first to drop to the floor where it sat neglected by unappreciative companion. Sigri’s focus remained locked between Graham and the stranger. The second, he stuffed into his own mouth as he nodded along to the stranger’s expression of gratitude, grumbling without swallowing, “your feet do a lot of talking.”

    As Graham stepped back again, pulling the chair away from the table and turning it to face the unexpected guest, he stumbled over his cautious companion again, cussing beneath his breath as he bent to lift the dog from the floor. He tossed his head in the direction of the chair and the unwrapped bread set on the table before it with wordless welcome as his focus shifted to dotingly scolding the unfortunate creature caught in his arms. He carried Sigri to the bare bed, setting her down gingerly and keeping one hand over her shoulder to keep her from rising again all the meanwhile muttering with a softhearted scoff, “you here that? He thinks you are high standing.”

    He unfurled the blanket folded at the edge of the bed, lifting the dog just enough to bundle her in it. Her huffing growls settled as her tongue lapped out of her mouth to catch his face and, although he grimaced and recoiled, he planted his own kiss on the top of the tired, old creature’s head before pulling away with a derisive grunt, “blessed companion.”

    Parting with one final, sharp order for her to, “stay,” Graham shuffled to the foot of the bed, opening the chest set there to draw out a set of linen clothing, made morose by the idea that he wouldn’t be changing into something dry anytime soon. He paused before holding them out to his guest to clarify, “not until you are clean.”
     
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  12. ButterMyBuns

    ButterMyBuns Mr. Skullfuckery Pleasant Member

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    "They do indeed, but listening to them has yet to do me wrong," Nik offered, knowing it was not his feet that had led him to his predicament, but his mind and the lack of awareness. He made sure to hug close to the firm wall behind him, so not to step on feet or risk straying too close to Graham. Sigri seemed far too intent on him to stray, lest he risk her anger and wrath for his trespass. Nik's eyes watched closely as Graham showed that kinder side to Sigri, smiling softly at her simply ignoring the bread offering. His stomach made a weak noise with just the soft crunch of the bread, realizing now that it had been enough time since he had last eaten.

    No doubt, Nik knew what Sigri was seeking, but he didn't think that Graham would deny her any of it when the rabbit was prepared. See how gentle Graham was, even with her as underfoot as she was! Picking her up and treating her like the companion she was, settling her on the bed. He waited until he had her settled before he moved for the chair, sinking down and sighing when his feet spoke again. This time, they were grateful for the rest they were once again offered -- now, though, in comfort of warmth and safety. Nik felt to hold the cloak close, a sensible modesty in someone's home more than anything else. Were this the home of someone he knew, or even someone he could smell any sort of inhumanity to, he would be more willing to be exposed.

    "Indeed, high standing." Nik's voice carried less now, his heartwarming as much as his body was seeing the tender affection Graham bestowed upon the dog. As Graham stepped out from between them, Nik offered eye-contact to her before lowering his eyes and sinking ever so slightly in the chair to offer his yielding to her, reminding her again that she was above him when in the home, and he wouldn't encroach that. He made no other movement, no doubt a kind offering to Graham as well, given he was but a stranger to the both of them.

    Nik's eyes left the floor when Graham spoke up, studying the clothes with a look of surprise. Clothing? For him? Cleaning himself? Niklaus was thoroughly caught off-guard now, reaching a steady hand out to take the clothes. He brought them close, his thumb running over the material when he set them in his lap. "I. . . Thank you." He had not worn clothes in far too long, but it seemed he should keep such things to himself until he felt the man out further. "I'm afraid I haven't made myself known, and I apologize. My name is Niklaus. My family hail from Nightshade, as I said, but we were only known as the Holz, from where our homes lay."
     
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  13. NDP

    NDP blub blub Member

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    The arrival of an unannounced, uninvited guest – alone and exposed, venturing far from civilization without so much as the clothes on his back and riling an otherwise sociable dog – brought about endless questions. At first glance, the stranger appeared harmless. He maintained a comfortable distance and kept his eyes lowered, even for Sigri. Graham was content to preserve this same detached familiarity for as long as it would take for the stranger to find his own feet again and to leave his land without planting seeds of obtrusive, involuntary concern. Graham had already gone too far. He’d already internalized a sense of hazy responsibility for this unwanted quarry. Despite his curiosity, he knew it was better to keep his mouth shut – to keep himself inattentive and to ensure the guest remained a stranger. The stranger, however, named himself regardless.

    “Niklaus,” Graham repeated, lips pressed as he looked over Niklaus once more, already unable to separate the name from the face. The gratuitous additional details and the excess humanity it imbued in someone Graham hoped to keep a distant, passing stranger held his attention even as he made his way to retrieve the large, wooden water bucket pressed against the opposite wall. As he walked, he looked, from the side of his eyes, with raised brow and piqued interest. Years prior, he’d been in a similar state – set up in a cautious stranger’s cabin, hapless, undersupplied and alone save for the dog that, even then, clung to his heels. His host had been unashamed of probing and he, then, had been too happy to tell his tale while shoveling a stranger’s rations into his overfull mouth.

    Niklaus wasn’t nearly so presumptuous. He wasn’t nearly as desperate. When Graham made his way back across the room, he paused. He set the bucket on the floor just beside the door in favor of retrieving the loaf of bread he’d left bare on the table. As before, he tore two pieces. The first and smaller of the two, he shoveled into his own mouth. The second, he laid on the table in front of Niklaus, this time more direct as he motioned toward the torn portion and offered, “eat.”

    Graham retrieved his bucket, pausing to throw a stern gaze back at the dog yet bundled atop his bed. She leaned forward, ready to follow along, though the severity with which he barked a sharp, “no” kept her in place as he disappeared out into the dark night, door swinging shut behind him. Without a companion to defend, Sigri relaxed enough to rest her head atop her paws though she maintained an attentive, wary watch on the stranger at their table.

    Though the river ran near his cabin and though he doubted even the slowest currents had frozen over this early into the season, Graham hugged the cabin tightly. In the dark, it wasn’t worth the journey through the woods – not when a water supply already built up just around his cabin. He shoveled freshly fallen snow into his bucket, working quickly despite the protests of his already shivering hands. When he’d collected enough to fill most of the bucket, he hurried back into the warmth of his cabin and announced himself with a displeased groan at the sudden wave of heat. Graham crossed the room immediately to crouch in front of the fire, setting his haul near the hearth before hovering his open hands before the flame.

    He sat frozen, intent to take in the painful sting of warmth penetrating his cold-reddened nose and fingertips, melting only to announce with a defeated sigh, “My name is Graham.” As he placed another log from the adjacent pile into the fire, eyes locked on the dry wood as the flames rose to lap at its edges and, eventually, to set it alight and to reinvigorate the gust of heat and light, he added, “the friendly one is Sigri.”
     
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  14. ButterMyBuns

    ButterMyBuns Mr. Skullfuckery Pleasant Member

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    There was something about the way the man said his name that drew further attention, his head tilting slightly. He couldn't put his finger on the tone, having never heard it before. He'd heard many emotions from humans alone, but this one. . . hm. Niklaus pushed it to the side, for now, giving a soft smile. It seemed to fit well on his face, "Indeed." Niklaus' eyes fell back to the clothes in his lap, the exposed hand he had offered to accept them running fingers down the fabric. It had been an awfully long time since he'd worn clothes; these ones were close to what he had been accustomed to wearing then. For this man to offer them, well, he would hope it would be purely from the kindness at the sight of a man wandering nude, but. . . How would he return them? He couldn't take this sort of kindness like that, not. . .

    He would leave them by the door, tucked where the man could get them and the elements could not, after he left. He didn't know how he'd be able to carry the clothes when he was in his element, let alone care for them. His family. . . Nik chose to refocus, his head turning to see what Graham was doing. "Most call me Nik. Well, anyone I introduce myself to, I would hope. It's less of a mouthful."

    The bucket. . . So the man had not been joking when he had referenced Nik getting clean. He wondered how they did things on the human side of things -- he was far too used to streams, rivers, the small ponds they used to live near. Amusement twinkled in his eyes at the thought -- bathing like a human, in a home with a fire going, and a lovely dog close by. Clothes after, well. . . it was awfully human. Niklaus reached for the offered morsel when it was set down, picking it up and bringing it up to smell. It was incredibly rich compared to the meat he was used to, the berries and fauna he'd sometimes partaken in during the nice weather.

    He took a small nibble from it as Graham left. It wasn't a flavor he had been able to enjoy in a long time, but it clung to his taste buds as he returned his focus to Sigri. "He's a very good companion, isn't he?" Nik said, knowing he wouldn't receive a response, least of all one he could understand with human ears. "I can see how much he cares about you. It's. . . refreshing. I have seen many people do things to their companions like you, but he. . . he is one of the very good ones." Another nibble, enjoying the bit of bread as it should be. "I won't harm anyone, least of all you, or someone who would treat you with such kindness, so please, you mustn't be so tightly wound."

    He rolled his shoulders, setting down the bread and reaching to move the clothes to the table beside it. He hoped that she might understand him, as he always understood the people that spoke to him when he was a creature. Nik tried to keep his tone calm enough for her; trying to convey the gentleness inside himself. It wouldn't be the first time that an animal known to man would rear up against his kind -- they all seemed to sense the crime against both species, the utter abomination that all of them seemed to be when placed in the row with the rest of the creatures God had made.

    Graham's sudden re-entry made him jump, hand slinking within the cloak to touch at his chest. He had felt the urge ripple beneath his skin with that small startle, thankful that he was at least partially experienced with learning how to control it. He kept as he was until Graham was settled in, the returned greeting earning a full flash of his teeth. Graham. . . and Sigri. Rather nice names, he thought, moving to stand. One hand yet again remained under the cloak to keep it closed, the other reaching for his bread so that he could finish it as he walked to sit by Graham. He made sure there was enough space between them, turned to face both Graham and Sigri. This spot was far more lovely, earning a weak sigh from him as the heat from the fire began to fully soak into the cloak.

    "Sigri is a wonderful name for her. Lady Sigri, I should say," Nik grinned, finding himself unable to do anything but. "I would like to say thank you, before anything else, Graham. You've offered a world of kindness. I'm sure that I can repay you by filling your stomachs before I return to my journey."
     
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  15. NDP

    NDP blub blub Member

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    Though it wasn’t long before the heat became overbearing, Graham remained planted too close to the crackling fire. He took hold of the poker rested on the hearth, left lazily on the floor, to usher the newest log back far enough to ensure that when the supporting logs burned and crumbled, it wouldn’t tumble out of the fireplace altogether. Nik rose and shuffled across the room to settle at his side, maintaining a safe distance yet sitting just close enough that Graham could examine his guest in the light for the first time. Face alight by the orange flames, Niklaus didn’t appear nearly as miserable as he had huddled in on himself in the depths of the pit. He was, however, dirtied and yet stained with his own blood, somehow maintaining a cordial air despite the untreated wounds now hidden beneath Graham’s cloak.

    He looked young – too young to be out on his own searching for scattered family. Then again, Graham was hardly one to judge. Nik was at least grown and perhaps not many years separated from Graham himself – no matter how aged and weary he felt. When Graham first ventured off, he still had the soft face and sprightly tenor of boyhood. That had been a different time and neither illness nor scarcity practiced partiality toward any being. Outside of this – outside of his clearing in the woods – the world was still in recovery even years after and, perhaps, Niklaus, alone in the wild, was a product of poorly mended scars.

    Graham’s gaze caught briefly on Niklaus’ eyes with disbelief. They were light enough that in the dim firelight, they took on same warm glow, imbued with an animalistic yellow hue that Graham had never seen in any man prior. He held his tongue however, rather than remark, still half-convinced that it was a trick of the light or, perhaps, his own exhaustion after a seemingly endless day. Instead, he turned his face away again, this time to examine the mass laid atop the bed. Curled in the woolen blanket, Sigri watched the interaction with fixed attention but less intensity as she ran her tongue over her worn, wet paws. Repeating after Nik, Graham scoffed flippantly, “Lady Sigri.” Her ears twitched with the repetition of her name though her companion’s affable tone didn’t convey a sense of urgency and she held her position.

    With the chill lifting from his extremities, Graham shifted to sink to his knees so he could edge himself toward the cast-iron pot pressed against the far wall. He stood to lift it, hauling the heavy pot back to the wooden water bucket. Already, a portion of the snow within melted and settled toward the bottom. Again using his bare hands, he scooped handfuls of the solid layer into the pot, sharply drawing in breath with each repetition, never fully prepared despite practice.

    His thoughts lingered on Nik’s latest expression of gratitude. Although Graham knew better than to believe Niklaus’ assurance, he couldn’t bring himself to remind Niklaus of his severe lack of supplies, let alone weapons. Few plants survived the season and most animals could easily outrun a man through dense snow and dried thickets. It would have taken a special, persistent naivete to believe that Nik could fulfill his promise. Graham didn’t expect anything. Still, he bit his tongue, determined to remain silent about his awareness of the impossibility of Nik finding anything with which to fill anyone’s stomach. There was a sense of relief to holding tightly to the belief that every exchange could be mutual. Graham knew that firsthand. He knew that it was easier to accept charity when accompanied with the delusion that it could be returned. Then again, perhaps the appearance of this unannounced, uninvited guest was his opportunity to return kindness once imparted on him. Either way, Niklaus, regardless of what journey had brought him there – hopelessly lost in the midst of nowhere – was entitled to cling to his optimism for as long as the world would allow.

    “You aren’t indebted to me, Nik,” Graham assured, shaking his head. With the pot full of snow, he wiped his hands on the already wet fabric of his clothes before rising, again hefting the heavy pot along. With a grunt, he lifted it high to hang it over the cooking crane before slowly easing the crane to swing over the fire. When it settled, he tossed his head in Sigri’s direction to add, “We’ve been where you are.”

    Graham wished he had been half as polite as his own guest. It’d been years ago, returning from a foreign war. Back then, home was a sweet, distant memory. It was something he dreamed of nightly, an idea he regarded too highly, unaware that nostalgia could kill real, tangible experiences. An ill-advised shortcut drew his venture days through the wilderness where so little light filtered through the trees that the pitch-black threatened to swallow them, to turn them around and to spirit them away to another realm entirely. When he came to a cabin in a clearing, his heart wrought with fear that he would never find his home again, he ran with all the energy he had left, Sigri barking at his heels, and pounded vehemently at the door until his host allowed entry.

    “We never repaid our host, so we will repay you,” Graham elaborated, making his way toward Nik. He settled his hand on Nik’s shoulder, planting a pair of firm pats and offering a regretful smile. “When you have found your feet, Nik, leave us to our solitude and repay someone else. Sigri and I have had more than our fair share of good fortune already.”
     
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  16. ButterMyBuns

    ButterMyBuns Mr. Skullfuckery Pleasant Member

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    The fire was far too inviting for Niklaus to consider moving, even as Graham did. He did, however, find himself leaning towards the light warmth with every flicker and crack from the logs. His eyes wandered to watch Graham, already assured that Graham meant him no harm just as much as he knew that he wouldn't dare return with the like even if there was an attempt to do harm. Graham had done him enough services thus far, and the -- ah, the snow? The snow melts, it turns to water. This was how Graham got water quickly. Humans were so clever; he would just lap at it when he was thirsty and far from water, but only after the second snow. The first always tasted strange to him.

    He wrinkled his nose with Graham's words, wondering if Graham held that foolish human belief that there was never an exchange in life. Look, see how Graham worked for this stranger! How could Nik not try to repay him? Everything in life was an exchange -- he would hunt the rabbits and the deer, and he'd leave the rest for the other hunters such as himself. Those hunters would be kind to him, and there would be less wasted and life lost down the road. The ground would be rich there, where the dead lay, and then the plants and grass grew and fed the next generation. He would take the little birds and critters that would stray from homes, if desperate, and he would always make sure that there would be a rabbit or bird stuck on their property to be found later. If he ever wandered close enough to humans while desperate, but this time had been enough of a ward-off for that in the future.

    "Then you would know what it would feel like, to receive such kindness and be told that nothing was wanted in return, Graham." Nik's lips turned up in a soft smile with that, wondering if Graham would feel that and still say such things. His eyes wandered to Sigri, wondering how long it had been that they had taken up each other's companionship. This home was nicely settled, and well-prepared for their living. That sort of thing, even with how inventive and industrious humans were, was not common. His back straightened, his feet exposed by a sliver that made him shift to expose them further -- direct heat was a deliciousness he wanted to savor for as long as he could!

    Nik's head tilted, glancing down to Graham's hand as it made contact with his shoulder. Even with this thick fabric in the way, it was still a deep gesture for him. Humans were funny like that, he had to remember. Humans weren't ones to put stock in it unless it was kin or lovers. "Well, I would have to repay your repayment. I hope you understand. After that, I would hope that my presence wouldn't bother you for longer than it has. Good fortune never has to stop, especially when having it means that the misfortune has less time to rear its head. . ."

    A wiggle of his toes, moving to get them closer and stretch more of his legs out from under the cloak. He let it part, allowing the heat to wash over the newly exposed skin and gap in cloth that kept him from fully enjoying it. Nik returned his gaze to Sigri, smiling wider despite his lips keeping more closed than before. He knew it wouldn't be polite to show teeth to her, no matter how used to it she was with the humans. "I wouldn't dare encroach on Lady Sigri's task in the household, regardless. You won't have to worry."
     
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