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A Dog's life (Pt.1)

"Is this what you truly want, Wolf?"

Rebecca watches the Wolf's eyes, his face. There's no hesitation there.

Her hand rests in the fur of his neck. She feels it brush leather as she stands, to walk a few paces and turn, look down and lock eyes -

"Show me."

And waits....

***

She'd been afflicted with wanderlust from childhood. What part of this was her blood calling and what part circumstance she would never know. If circumstance didn't light the flame, it surely fanned it. Her family owned an inn at the last major port - and thus last major settlement, in those days - before one left civilization behind for the wildlands, and the stories heard from trappers coming through(and a few who'd settled in town)set fire her imagination. Especially the Wise - beasts by look and habbit, but wise as men.

One other thing may have fed her passion:Mother.

She'd likely never had a nice thought about Wise in her life and thus didn't think much of her daughter's fascination with them, and by proxy the wildlands which fed it, actively and even angrily discouraging her daughter's 'unhealthy' interest.

And the more her mother did so, the more her sense of wanderlust grew, the greater her yearning when she looked to the fire of the dying sun. So when one week in her seventeenth year a trapper laying up for several days before heading west, into the wildlands, took a fancy to her she sweet-talked him into dragging her along.

Gods, but he must have been madder than she was! Twice the burden with damn little to contribute on her end. And it HAD been rough for her, at first. But she adapted...and the compensations had been worth it. What began as teenage wanderlust(among other things)had become a hunger, images of those months etched and burned into memory: her first glimpse from high in the 'Teeth of the land spread out beneath them, vast and open, her town lost somewhere far beyond the horizon;her first encounter with Wise - and his constant teasings about it - the nights....they planned to marry next time through her village.

Plans change.

He'd taken sick that winter as they headed to her village and died, hand in hers', a week out. She spent ten days finishing the journey. Alone.

She hadn't spoken of those ten transformative months since.

Mother had been furious, of course, when she returned; the moreso when it became clear she planned more treks into the wild...and wouldn't hear otherwise. It wasn't just her defiance - and concern for her safety - that had angered Mother; Rebecca's father died in her childhood, and two older brothers notwithstanding, every extra hand was a help. But if you traveled light and knew your trade - and truth be told luck was with you, often as not - there was money in trapping, and the savings she brought home with her led to - well, call it acceptance of her choice, though Mother still constantly asked during stints at home when she planned to 'settle in.'

Maybe someday.

Not soon; The Wilderness...to watch the Autumn sunrise crest the Dragon's Teeth like Creation's dawn, silhouettes against a burning sky; to walk the hidden trails carved by beast common and Wise, unmarked by humankind - to feel yourself first to walk the Earth, stranger to the world; It was in her - a longing, a thirst that broke no denial.

You lived at the boundaries, your boundaries. There was clarity in Necessity; your preconceptions meant nothing to Her.

Take, for instance, patronizing village attitudes toward the Wise.

Trappers learned better; It was their world they must often travel through. It paid to be on good terms with the Wise, and it's hard to disrespect those you spend time and effort knowing. And far side of the 'Teeth, having friends among the Wise could save your life.

Gods knew it saved her ass.

She'd taken a risk, last trip, starting back late; game was better far side, especially late in the autumn season. Still, barring disaster she'd been well on pace to make the pass with time to spare.

Yeah... ' barring disaster....'

Her horse spooked, sending her flying in it's panic and she'd snapped an ankle. She hadn't seen it since.

Losing the horse was bad.

Losing an ankle....

She'd managed to hole up, get wood for a fire and one burning - ten times the work and hurting like hells. The problem was food - gone with an outing's take with her horse. And without horse or two good legs, her bow could be a plow for all the good it did her..

But to try the pass half-crippled, with Winter coming on? She was out of options -

- no, not every option; hoping she guessed right, she'd raised a cry for aid.

A cry carried on a howl to send a shiver through the folks back home.

And Gods-be-praised she'd been right - the pack crying in the night was Wise.

They had her gratitude. Really, they did; Wise seldom hunted Wise(human included), but why divert time and resource in the lean season from real obligations? Fortune smiled on her that night. She'd known the pack that saved her.

Including Gray....

They had her gratitude, yes -

- but Gods, what misery!

She didn't think she fell sick during those nights and days of endless waiting, but she couldn't be sure of it.

No fire once Winter settled in, so - confined to the Wolf-den, inactive save to answer Nature's call(her fortune for a thrice-damned pair of crutches, instead of what she must do with). Weeks and months of half waking from half-slumber to cold, to pain, to hunger dulled but never quelled by raw meat, blood and pap(Ahhhhhhh Necessity....).

Sometimes waking to warmth, a presence(the same?)beneath her soft and comforting, barely noted as she slips again beneath the waves...

...to sleep, to wake again to the hunger and cold, to stiffness and exhaustion, to the waiting waiting waiting through the long dead months for the coming of Spring.

Overjoyed at its arrival. Elated just to be outside the den beneath a pleasant sky. Walking...weak and unsteady at first, but oh to walk freely, skin bare to the wind and stretch her legs; to find a stream and rinse away the months of grime, sweat and blood.

Well, she did still have her flint when spring returned at last; there had been that, at least.

***

She was exhausted.

Her legs ached. Her body, protesting exercise after weeks of innactivity. She fealt the stirrings of a headache behind her eyes.

In a few moments, Rebecca thought, she'd be as happy as she'd been in her entire life.

"C'mon" she muttered, willing the kindling nestled on the ground between her hands to catch.

Puff. Was there the briefest glow?

A couple more breaths; and again.

"Yes." As the kindling came to life. Shifting back to her knees, she picked one of the smallest twigs from the pile beside her and held it to the kindling. After a few moments it caught. "Yes, yes yes." Adding more and bigger pieces to the pile, she soon nursed it to a blazing fire.

With a whooop of triumph, she looked up at the Wolf - being Wise, a good hand-n-half taller than it's 'cousin'-kind - turning to stare at her from the direction of the den. "Roast beef tonight!" she cried, grinning.

Well, leg-of-elk, anyway. Could be bladder-of-elk all she cared at the moment.

Cooked food again!

Maybe if she had the energy in the next few days and weather permitting, she'd hike up to check on the temp-shelter she'd holed up in before winter fell.(Damned if she'd huddle in that thrice-damned DEN one moment more than she had to!) Dangerous to have a fire inside or too near one, but the buckskin she wore made good insulation, and with limited space reducing heat loss she'd be fine most nights now Winter was past.

She hoped.

Sigh. Well, worst case and Winter cold makes a late comeback, there was always the bleedin' den... Maybe heated stones....

"Not" she muttered as she sheathed the knife in her belt - used to spark the flint - "that I don't enjoy the company." She slowly took her feet, wavered, paused a moment to steady herself. 'Especially the pups.' she thought with a smile.

-----
-----

Rebecca held the slice of meat in front of her and, eyes closed, took in a deep breath.

"Mmmm-hummmh". She tore off a bite, torn between savoring her first hot food in weeks and filling her stomach with at best speed.

Didn't taste as good as she'd hoped....

It tasted better!

She smiled, and eyes still closed began slowly chewing, chewing and chewing untill, stomach winning out at last she swallowed, eyes opening to reveal twin orbs of ocean blue.

Setting the remainder on her lap, she took up her knife again and began cutting off bite-sized(relatively speaking)chunks, to spear them with the tip, bring them to her mouth and swallow almost before they so much as saw her teeth.

Hells with appreciation, she thought. Savor it later.

An hour yet 'till sunset, the fire allready cast dim inconstant shadows around and on the bank behind her. Catching with the corner of her eye, she turned toward the den, grinning at the Wolf she saw standing there watching.

"'Ey!" She made a motion with her arm. "C'mover here."

After a moment's delay, he began trotting toward her. Yes, she saw as he came closer, he was the same Wolf.

She started cutting at what remained of the Elk's leg as he approached. "You're the one what carried this back for me, aren't you?" she smiled, carving right on through the bone. She looked up to meet eyes that stared back with steady, measured appraisal. "Yep;not that I'm not good enough to be pretty sure've it when I saw you standin' over there, but" - she gave a grunt as the knife sliced through the last fibres of meat, severing the piece in two - "those eyes are a sure giveaway." The usual color for wolves of either kind, including the other members of this pack, was amber. Far less common was that of the pair before her;Gray.

And...with a slight start of surprise, she leaned in for a closer look. She'd never noticed before, but seeing them up close, was there a trace of ocean blue as well?

Yes indeed;there was no mistaking that pair of eyes.

Pulling back again, she picked up one of the pieces of leg. "Anyway, whatever reason it was you that bought it, thought I'd return the favor!" And so saying she drew back and let fly as best she could from ground level.

She'd aimed to send it a bit past the Wolf but in a move that surprised her, with a running jump he snatched it from the air before it struck the ground.

"Huh, nice catch!" She said, laughing to look at him standing proudly, tail held high. With a sweep of his tail, he crouched down to dig into his 'take'.

"Wow", she chuckled as she watched his piece vanish before her eyes. "Looks like I'm not th' only one who likes a lil' 'home cookin'!

She stood up, walked over and tossed another branch onto the fire;turned and
stood for a minute, just watching the Wolf staring up at her, knawing on what remained of his portion. Something'd suddenly begun eating her that she couldn't put finger on, teasing the recesses of her mind;something wasn't quite right.....

Finally dismissing it with a shrug, she resumed her seat. Ah well, sleep on it, she thought. It'd probably come to her if it was anything important. She looked to the sky;great good fortune it looked to be another pleasant evening. Her fire should keep well into the night. She stretched. Tonight, she'd sleep out here! Full stomach, clear skies and a pleasant breeze - THIS was living!

~~~~~
~~~~~

Howls woke her.

"Unhhhh." she groaned, shifted. 'You'd think I'd've learned to sleep THROUGH the damned things by now!' she thought blearily.

They came again. With a sigh, she sat up and slowly opened her eyes to look around.

The fire was low but not yet out;life enough yet to hold back some of the evening chill. Looking in the direction of the howls she was surprised to see a Wolf standing just close enough to be visible;he was turned away from her, twin candles looking back to her. Silent. Somehow, she thought she guessed it's identity;and that he wasn't staying to watch over cubs.

"So, you goin' with 'em or not?!" she yelled.

The candles dissapeared, the shape gone like a shadow, and only then did the Wolf add it's voice to the chorus.

_________________

Fair warning: this tale began as a 'short story'(HAH!) that just keeps growing in the telling, so how this story unfolds will be nearly as much of an adventure for yours truly as for you readers out there. Which is as much as to say if when the whole things written and assembled the flow of the story should end up seeming a ittle bit herky- jerky or a bit off...yeah, well...there your are! :P

S'how's it looking so far? Feedback and advice of course always welcome and appreciated! :)