The Werewolves' Story
Healer and Hunter: Chapter One
When Zzandoren finally escaped the little village he'd been
working in for the past week, it was with a sense of relief. Pleased,
accomplished relief-- but relief nonetheless. He'd spent too much time alone, on
the road, outside the close-knit village communities with their enmeshed
relations and curious neighbors, and now spending too much time in one place
like that made him feel smothered.
But it had been a good week, even so. They were good people, all tendencies to pry, cling, and speak too loudly aside. He'd been able to heal many a malady in return for a new coat, plenty of provisions, and a chance to share knowledge and remedies with the village apothecary. The older anari woman had even compiled a book on local herbs and things she and her predecessor had come across, including a few fevers Zzandoren had never heard of before. It was productive and educational all around, and, as it sometimes happened, they hadn't wanted to let him go. Not even being human-- a small minority in this part of Talma, and this village was no exception-- was enough to override the siren song of having a resident priest and healer.
It wouldn't have happened, anyway. Even if he hadn't been feeling the uncomfortable pressure of so many people in one place at once, all trying to get to know him as closely as possible in the span of a few days, he wasn't meant for staying in one place. He'd made his vow to his goddess to help and heal however he could, as many people as he could, so staying in one place defeated his purpose. He supposed that living in a large city would have made it possible, but after growing up on an isolated farmstead and, then, a small healing temple, the idea of so many people around him made him nervous. Large cities had plenty of healers, already, anyway.
So, after finally and firmly telling the villagers that he was leaving on the morn, they'd given him a farewell dinner, as much food and herbal supplies as he could carry, and given him his freedom that morning along with directions to the nearest few villages. That had been almost eight hours ago, and the sun was setting. He'd forgotten most of the instructions already, content to just walk until he got wherever he wound up, though he did know he was going in the right general direction for two of them. Which one he ended up at, if he found either, was up in the air for now.
For now, actually, it was about time to start looking for someplace to spend the night. It was a warm night with no hint of rain, so actual shelter wasn't necessary, and Zzandoren was used to sleeping out in the open. After so many years of living on the move, even when villages and inns offered him featherbeds and piles of pillows, he usually wound up taking a blanket with him to the floor so he would actually sleep. All he wanted now was ground that wasn't too rocky or uneven, and maybe a tree or boulder to block any wind that might come up.
Such a place was, thankfully, easily found. Even better, he found a nice spot by a stream, where he could wash his face, soak his feet for a little while, and even catch a little fish to cook up for dinner. He had enough time and energy for a brief entry in his book that he'd been traveling and hadn't see anything of note, written to a small, conjured light that bobbed brightly above his head in the much fainter light of three moons in various stages of fullness. All in all, he was comfortably full and comfortably tired when he finally set a couple small wards to wake him up if trouble approached-- not that he really expected any-- wrapped himself up in his new coat, pillowed his head on his pack, and settled in to sleep.
Night in a forest was rarely actually quiet. Zzandoren had long since learned to sleep through any sounds that didn't set off his wards, including the howls of the wolf pack in the distance. Wolves didn't bother him: they were usually shy creatures, not usually a danger to anything except deer, rabbits, and the occasional stupid chicken. Yell loud enough or conjure some fire out of nowhere and even a pack would run. Zzandoren slept through the howls and the sound of a distant fight.
He didn't sleep through the single bloodied, angry wolf crashing heedlessly through his wards and into his campsite.
It had been a bad day from the start. The pack had caught nothing the night before, and had been chased away from the sweet-smell prey-pets of the men-creatures when, desperate, the pack had followed their noses to a men-creature den. One of the younger pack members had even been shot by one of the men-creature hunters, out looking for meat that might have fed the pack instead. Two of the spring's five pups were already smelling ill and weak. One of their experienced hunters had been caught in a sharp-bright-smell trap, and now she couldn't walk.
And Rythri, as usual, had been acting oddly.
Bad enough that he was the only wolf in the whole pack who had a name in addition to his identifying smell-- none of the pack was sure how they knew this, but it was undeniable, if confusing, that they did. Bad enough that he smelled vaguely like man-creature no matter how many times it rained, no matter what he rolled in, no matter how many matrons of the pack tried to groom the smell off of him. Bad enough that he kept trying to catch dinner by doing things no sensible wolf would ever consider-- and failing badly at them, whatever they were. That he simply would not conform to pack hierarchy made him only barely tolerable to the rest of the wolves.
And when, on this very bad night after the very bad day, when the wolves were hungry and hurt and tired, he refused again to submit to the pack leader and move out when he was growled at to move, the old alpha's patience finally ran out. The fight was brief and bloody, and resulted, unsurprisingly, with Rythri fleeing the pack's denning grounds with half the pack on his tail. They didn't pursue him for long, just long enough to make sure he would keep on running.
Rythri did keep on running. Angry, hurting, afraid, alone... angry.... Not a very wolfish emotion, anger, not unless it was a protective anger or a fearful anger. But this wasn't like either of those: this was a destructive anger. He'd been cast out, chased out, beaten and bitten and fur-torn by a pack he'd lived with for almost a year. A pack he'd loved, in his own way, had wanted to be a part of, to fit in. Being cast out hurt in a way that was very unwolfish, and it made him angry in a way that was even more unwolfish.
So angry that when he stumbled across a man-creature, sitting up in surprise at his sudden-- to him-- appearance, he didn't run away. He growled at the man-creature's angry words-- not just noise, not just sounds... they were words, though he didn't pay attention to them. He snapped furiously at the waving hands and dodged the dead-wood-smell thing that got waved at him next. Even though he flinched at the unexpected flare of light and unnatural-strange-frightening smell that accompanied it, he didn't flee.
Instead, against all instinct, against all reason, despite the horrified scream in his head that told him he was doing something Very Very Wrong, he lunged.
The man-creature yelped and tried to swing the dead-wood-smell thing at him, but Rythri was too close and he missed. They went down together, clawing and snapping and thrashing and wrestling against each other. The fight here was brief and bloody, too, but this time Rythri wasn't chased away. He was launched across the clearing and into the stream, after a few moments of angry struggle: registering the bitter tang of blood-- man-creature blood... no, human blood-- in his mouth shocked him out of his fury. Though his last snap cracked the man-creature's-- human's-- head back against a tree root, dazing him, he still apparently had enough of his wits to somehow sent his assailant flying back several feet-- a "somehow" that smelled sweet and overwhelming at the same time-- to land with a painful splash in the shallow water.
A moment later, Rythri picked himself up with a whine... but it sounded wrong. When he crawled out of the water and tried to shake off, his pelt didn't shake. His paws were sensitive and prickled against the cold grass, and his wet skin shrank and shivered on his bones. His nose felt plugged, stuffed, he couldn't smell anything-- and he couldn't see, everything was murky and indistinct, shadowed oddly in the moonlight.
Like the fingers curled on the grass, and the tendrils of dark, wet hair hanging in his face.
Oh. Oh, yeah.
He looked up, shivering in the night air, naked and sopping wet from his fall in the stream. What had happened... where was he....
Blood. He spat. There was blood in his mouth.
And there was a body lying on the ground under that tree a few feet away.
... a body....
"Oh gods," he rasped, his voice strange and rough with disuse, and he scrambled up the stream bank in a blind panic. If he'd killed someone, he would never forgive himself-- if he'd hurt someone, that might have been even worse.
A quick check proved that the fellow, whoever he was-- middle-aged, brown-haired, weaponless but for a dagger, a staff, and a battered-looking short sword, and with a glint of gold woven into his hair-- was at least still alive, if passed out. Worse, though... he was bleeding. From several wounds-- several bites. Rythri stared in dismay: he knew what that meant, and he wished he could howl. He wished he could run, but he knew, he knew that was cowardly. Cowardly, dishonorable, and completely unfair to the poor man. The stranger had no idea what was in store for him, and ought to at least get an explanation from the man who had done it to him. And an apology.
So he stayed. He wrapped up what wounds he could-- whoever he was, he also had a veritable apothecary inside his satchel and belt-pouches, and enough neatly-rolled bandages to service a war-effort-- shrugged into his patched and worn extra cloak, as the only clothing he felt safe enough to borrow, and waited for him to wake up.
He'd never had to tell someone they were a werewolf, much less that they were a werewolf because of him. It was going to be...