To everyone else, it's not KKM fic! *waves* It really isn't!
Although I er may have been writing under the influence.
The enemy you face at the beginning awaits you at the end.
- Russell Hoban, The Mouse and His Child
fleeing the wolf
Keep running. And don’t stop.
The implacable voice in my head is the only thing that I can hold on to, as trees pale with snow flash past. It’s the only thought that makes sense as I race through the woods of winter.
I don’t even know where I’m going. All I know is that I can’t afford to stop.
As a child, I’d watched a blinded wolf tear out a man’s throat as he and six others struggled to take it down. If a wolf so hopelessly outnumbered could still do that, I had no hope alone, untrained, against a wolf bigger than any I’d ever seen.
Such a wolf is behind me, somewhere in the shadowed forests. And in my heart I know I cannot outrun it. Humans weren’t made for this. I know I have to turn around and face it, and soon, before my strength runs out. Already, I’m tiring.
Just as the thought comes to mind, I skid suddenly. My mind closes up in terror as I realise I’ve hit the frozen edge of a lake. But my momentum carries me over and across the ice, where my exhausted body gives out. My ankle comes to life with agony, and I bite my lip to keep from crying out and pray that I haven’t broken it.
Gingerly, I pull my foot out from under me. The dull throbbing in my ankle makes me think that it isn’t a break, but a badly twisted muscle. I pull myself back to the bank, and collapse at the foot of a fir tree. Silently, I tug my sword into my lap. It’s going to have to be here, then. I can run no more.
I draw the sword with a shaking hand. I have never been so afraid.
As I wait for my pursuer to find me, my mind goes back to the days when wolves inspired this much terror in me, to the days of my childhood in the forests of the light.
“It’s a wolf!” I’d shrieked in terror, when my father brought him home, and refused to change my mind for days. By then, the name had stuck, though, and he was Wolf from then on. Father had found him wandering lost in the woods of winter, and since he thought I needed a companion, had brought him to me.
I was one of the very few children in the village, by then. The Kyren War had taken its toll on our village. I was a surprise of a child, born to my parents late in my father’s life. They hadn’t expected to have any children, and were rather amazed when I came into their life.
I was very small when Wolf and I first met, so perhaps the mistake was understandable. He came up to my chin, and I had never seen anything quite like him before. I was afraid of him until the day he saved my life. Playing in the woods one day, I’d tried to cross a frozen stream and fallen through the ice. I would have been carried away by the swift-flowing water if not for him. He had been watching me, and at the first sign of trouble, bounded into the stream and to my rescue.
I clung to him and he pulled me from the ice. He brought me home, shivering with fear, and too cold to cry. But we were inseparable from that day onwards, Wolf and I. I refused to be parted from him, and insisted that he sleep in my bed until he grew too big for it. My father took this with a laugh and a shake of his head, saying that he’d never thought his little mouse would be anything like one of Decado’s Wolves. Then he would close his eyes and say that he hoped I would never be anything like one of those desperate men, who fought in the frontlines of our pitiful army, who kept the Kyren at bay. The Decado’s Wolves were one of the fiercest legions in our army.
They were also the most short-lived.
But my father wasn’t enough to keep the Kyren from our borders, and one by one, our armies fell to the merciless Kyren legates. We were a peaceful nation, unused to war, with more talent for song than killing.
That was to be our undoing.
But all that didn’t matter to Wolf and I. I was too young to understand what it all meant, and it would never mean anything to Wolf.
But soon, it would.
War does things to people. Twists their minds. Makes their hearts put up walls no one can get through. And makes them see shadows where they once saw only light.
The older Wolf grew, the more people in the village began to talk. They said that he wasn’t the hound my father thought him to be. Said that he was too large. Too fierce – not that he’d ever done anything more than hunt mice. And eventually, the time came when the villagers decided that he was no hound at all, but a timber wolf my father had accidentally brought home, and a danger to the entire village.
That night, I fought the hardest I ever had in my life. I’d screamed and punched and kicked anyone who came within reach. I’d broken the window of our cabin and had gotten halfway through before my father stopped me.
But it was no use. Father was sorry, but implacable. I have to do this, he’d said. He is a danger to you. To us all.
Finally, when the men came to take him away, I heard him howl as though his heart was breaking, and I felt as though mine was breaking, too.
But soon, there were other troubles to take up our world, and none but one mourned a lost wolf. For as the years wore on, it was my turn to be called up to give my life in the defense of what was now a ghost of a once-proud country.
And that was how I ended up in the Eternal Forest in the depths of winter. A surprise Kyren assault had scattered my legion, and we’d fled into the forests. I’d gotten lost in the trees, but found myself a pursuer more determined than winter itself.
I see him at last, a flash of movement between the trees at the edge of the lake. Wincing, I fold the injured leg under me, as my heart begins to race.
And then he is out upon the lake, knowing that the ice won’t give under him. I thought my fear had made me think him the biggest wolf I’d ever seen, but now I know that I was not wrong.
He lowers his head and charges.
But instead of being torn apart by teeth, I find myself knocked over by an enthusiastic ball of fur, and the sword slips from my nerveless fingers.
No wild wolf should have done this. I should be bleeding my last into the snows of midwinter, now, rather than trying to withstand the loving onslaught of a -
“Wolf?” I whisper, as my throat threatens to close up on me. My heart comes close to stopping as I run my fingers through the startlingly silky fur, so different from the bristly coat I remember from his days as a pup. The wolf – my Wolf¬ – whimpers a reply and tucks his head under my chin.
“You’re all grown-up!” I say, taking in the broad shoulders, those massive paws which are wider than both my hands together. Wonder takes the place of fear as I lean forward and gaze into Wolf’s eyes, the same amber I remember from the days when we were young together.
And I smile as I reach for him and embrace what I was running from.
Under the trees of the Eternal Forest, I breathe in the sharp, clean air, and know that I am no longer alone.
For whatever demons we face from here on, at least we face them together, Wolf and I.