The Werewolves' Story

Healer and Hunter: Chapter Two


Zzandoren's first conscious thought as the early-morning sunlight fell in his eyes, waking him up, was that he had gone to sleep feeling remarkably good. So why, now, was he waking up feeling so remarkably bad?

He hurt. That much was very clear. Painfully clear, even.

Ha ha. 

But he wasn't a healer for nothing, and it was that profession he fell back on to keep confusion at bay. Without opening his eyes to face the new day just yet, he took a deep breath-- it rattled uncomfortably in his chest, and his ribs ached as if bruised-- and made himself relax so he could take stock of what, exactly, hurt. The slight congestion wasn't anything to worry about, at the moment, but he might need to get to some real shelter tonight just in case. The ribs weren't, he thought, broken, but they would be painful for a few days, if not a couple weeks. His head throbbed dully in time with his pulse, and the back of it-- which, he noted, was resting on a much reduced pillow that was minus either his spare set of clothes or his cloak, though he didn't think both-- was unpleasantly sensitive, like he'd hit it with something hard.

Nothing else internal seemed hurt, though he did feel a bit... odd. It wasn't something he could put his finger on, or put into words, or even examine. But he was a healer: he knew his own body, and he also knew that something was... odd.

He also knew he wasn't awake enough to ponder that and manage to make sense of it. On to surface injuries. Bruises on both shoulders and chest-- probably from whatever bruised his ribs, actually. Deep, welted scratches on the same, as well as on his arms. An animal? Torn skin on his shoulders, on his forearm, and on his legs. Bites.

Wolf bites?

Oh, abyss take it, he remembered what had happened, now. With a groan he lifted his hand-- his good hand, the one not attached to an arm that felt like that damn wolf had tried to bite it off-- over his eyes and propped himself painfully up onto his elbow. At least he was alive. What a ridiculous thing that would be, killed in the prime of his life by a berserk, wounded animal. His goddess would be much annoyed with him if he'd managed that. Perhaps he'd better pay more attention to his reflexes and fighting skills in the future, just in case....

What a strange thing, being attacked by a lone wolf. Probably a desperate one. Hadn't it been bleeding? Probably enraged by whatever had attacked it to begin with, perhaps even ill from it, not thinking straight-- in whatever way wolves thought, anyway. That made sense. Poor thing; he hoped it had gotten away all right. He obviously hadn't done it lasting damage, if he remembered rightly; probably hadn't even broken a leg. He'd been so surprised by the unexpected attack, and still half-asleep, that he'd been knocked down and into a position where he couldn't even fling it off properly.

How had he survived the attack, then? Obviously he'd hit his head on something-- probably the tree-- which was why he'd been knocked out and why he skull ached-- but then what had kept the wolf from killing him?

That was when he realized he'd been bandaged: leg, shoulder, and arm. His own bandages, and even a few of his own herbs-- he could smell them even through the tang of his own blood-- but he was certain he'd remember if he had woken in the night to tend to himself. So someone else had tended him, which explained why the wolf hadn't finished the job. He'd probably been rescued.

When he finally got around to opening his eyes and squinting into the early-morning sunlight, he even saw his rescuer. Curled up against another tree and wrapped up in his own patched cloak-- so that's what had happened to it-- was a young anari, dark-haired and -skinned and very thin. Unhealthily thin, almost, Zzandoren thought with a frown. He was also fast asleep, his head resting on his folded arms, curiously like a dog.

Well, Zzandoren needed his cloak back, kind stranger or no, so he would have to wake him up. Besides, one had to be awake to be thanked, didn't one? So, he carefully picked himself up, wincing at the various injuries-- there was no help for it, he realized immediately: he'd have to throw some actual, magical healing at those before he started off for the day-- and limped the few paces it took to get to the young man's side. He bent over, wincing again as his sore ribs protested, and shook his shoulder gently.


Shaking. Someone was shaking--

--touching him--

Rythri came awake all at once with a snarl, scrambling to his paws and trying to bristle. The sound and movement turned into a whimper a breath later as half-closed wounds pulled painfully in protest.

Then, fully awake, he first realized-- again-- that he wasn't a wolf anymore. Following hard on that was the realization that he wasn't alone. The human who had been shaking his shoulder-- who had been passed out a few feet away, not long ago-- had fallen back and was now on his rump beside him, face drawn and pale beneath his tan with pain of his own.

"Gods," Rythri breathed, sliding down to his own rump and trying to get his heartbeat to slow down again. "Are you-- I'm sorry. Are you all right?"

"I think--" the man said through gritted teeth, "--that I'm bleeding again. No, don't get up," he said, holding up his non-bandaged hand when Rythri made an awkward lunge to get to his feet, to help. "Or do get up. Get me my bag, over there--" He gestured vaguely back where he'd been laying. "I'll handle it."

Rythri, remembering the amount of medicinal odds and ends in that bag, hurried to do so. It hurt-- the bites on his hip and his shoulder were both still untended, unless he counted the dunk in the stream or his own couple, half-feral licks before he fell asleep-- but his guilt and worry for the older man was more important. He did have enough presence of mind to keep the borrowed cloak about him; it was a bit chilly, first thing in the morning, and he didn't think this fellow would think too highly of him wandering around naked, anyway.

Dropping the satchel carefully next to his unwitting victim, he said again, "I'm sorry."

"It's not your fault," the man said, tersely and with his voice strained, but he cast Rythri a small smile to take the sting of his tone away. "I startled you. You took care of me well enough last night-- at least, I assume it was you." Rythri jumped guiltily before he realized the man meant wrapping up the bites, instead of causing them. "So I can hardly complain."

Ooooh, it was tempting to pretend that was all he had done.... Come upon him in the middle of the night, chased away the wounded wolf, tended his wounds and borrowed his cloak.... But there were too many things he wouldn't be able to answer. He had no clothes; he was wounded himself, in the same places the wolf had been; he had no reason to be out in the middle of the night, naked and weaponless, to begin with. And then this poor man would still be unaware of his current... situation.

No... it would be better to tell the truth.

"There is plenty of blame for me, here," he sighed, sitting carefully next to him and folding the cloak over his lap, bundling it around him with a shiver. He missed his fur already. He didn't miss the way the man's sharp eyes noticed the flash of bare chest and narrowed, whether in suspicion, concern, or even just thought, but he didn't look long. He was, obviously, more concerned at the reopened wounds on shoulder and leg. He also didn't ask what Rythri meant, he just focused, with practiced and even habitual motions, on inspecting, cleaning, and rebandaging the jagged, torn flesh of his thigh.

"I'm Rythri," Rythri said quietly, after a moment.

"Zzandoren Viore. Nice to meet you."

An Aran-Mor sort of name, odd to find on a human, but Rythri didn't ask. He was too busy trying to find a way to broach the subject of werewolves and bites and fault.

"You did a pretty good job on these, the first time around," Zzandoren said conversationally a moment later. "Thank you."

Rythri nodded, meekly, uncomfortably. "It was-- the least I could do."

"It was a good deed," Zzandoren disagreed with a small but friendly smile, glancing up from his work. "And a lucky chance you came by, or I'd probably be someone's lunch by now."

That time Rythri choked, and Zzandoren frowned at him in concern. "I... wouldn't call it lucky, at all," he finally managed. And, because Zzandoren looked so confused, it all just tumbled out: "I'm the one who did it, I had to do something to make it right, or at least better, or-- or I wouldn't be able to live with myself."

"The one who... what?" Zzandoren stared at him blankly. "It was a wolf, I remember that clearly enough, bump to the head or not. You're most certainly not--"

Rythri shifted. Zzandoren cut off with a gasp, but before he could scramble away and injure himself further-- and before Rythri could forget what he was doing-- he shifted back. "Yes," he said sadly. "I am."

"But-- but-- I mean, how-- last night wasn't-- I mean, the moons weren't--"

Did he really have to explain? After he just turned into an animal right in front of him? "I can change whenever I like. I've-- I've been a wolf for... a long time. For two-- two--" He fumbled for the word, still a little jumbled with wolf-thought. "Cold seasons. Winters." That was the right word. "Yes. A year and a half, almost two years, maybe?"

"But then-- does that mean--"

"Yes," Rythri said miserably. "I'm sorry... I really, really am sorry...."

"Oh, gods," Zzandoren said, his voice strangled and his face even paler. He'd completely forgotten about his bandaging, staring blankly at Rythri. Rythri cringed back, humiliated and guilty and wishing he could just take back the past twenty-four hours.

"I'm not normally like that," he tried to explain. "But-- but I was just so upset. I-- I think I got cast out of my pack. They'd just chased me away, they'd hurt me, and I... I should've run. I know I should've. I normally would've. I'm really, really sorry-- I am. I wouldn't wish this on anybody else."

"Slow down, slow down," Zzandoren said weakly. "You're talking so fast I can hardly understand you."

Oh. Old people never liked people talking too quickly, he supposed... and Zzandoren had to be at least a hundred. Probably more. Middle-aged counted as old. "Sorry," Rythri said again, wincing.

Zzandoren seemed to shake himself a little, and briskly went back to his tending. "Help me with my shoulder," he said curtly, "and let me think for a minute. Then we'll talk."

Taking orders for a few minutes to help dress a hard-to-reach wound was definitely something he could do. Neither of them said a word beyond the necessary "do this" and "not so tight" involved in the bandaging of wounds for another half hour, though the word that hung painfully between them refused to disappear.



Chapter One - Chapter Three


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