Monday, March 7, 2016

A Remnant of Humanity

This is the hardest of the live writes so far.  I have not forgotten these, I have just been stumped by this one.  Hats off to Heather for bringing me to a full puzzled stop.  Such as it is, I worked my way through it.

Live Write - Reader's Challenge from Heather Scoggins
1. A werewolf
2. in a snowscape
3. lost
4. with a pine cone

raincarnation40 / Pixabay / Public domain

Merrin looked about the outside of his cabin.  He had heard noises during the night that had caused the horses in the barn to create a ruckus, and had made the hair on the back of his neck stand straight out.  Which was pretty amazing since there wasn't a lot of hair on his head.   He spotted the first of the tracks in the snow on the far side of his home.  The tracks were wolf like and huge.  He had never seen a wolf with such large feet.

There were wolves on the mountain, but usually they did not stray down to the farms.  His was the closest to the deep woods, but even he had not had problems with the packs that roved above him. There was plenty of wild life to keep them sated and no need to stray towards the farms.  So why was this one here?   He followed the tracks that had stopped at each window.  In more than one case, he could see signs where the wolf and stood up on two legs to look into the window.  It was odd behavior for a wolf.

He followed the tracks that led to the barn.  Merrin wasn't concerned as the barn was barred for the night. It was with alarming surprise that he found this not to be true.  The wolf's tracks showed it had paced in front of the door for some time.  The bar across the barn doors had been lifted.  He had never heard of a wolf with enough intelligence to move a bar a good three feet off the ground.  He could hear nothing from in the barn. Had he lost his plow horses or the one riding horse he owned? He pulled back the bow string and kicked open the door with the side of his foot.

Moving slowly through the barn, he checked each stall. He was relieved to see the three horses peak their heads over the stall doors.  There were footprints into the barn but there were none leaving it.  The wolf had to be inside still.  One by one he checked the stalls.  Merrin approached the last one where he kept the winter hay.  It was shut, but if a wolf could open a door, it could shut a gate.

He peeked over the top and his mouth dropped open.  There, lying in the hay, was a naked woman clinging to, of all things, a pine cone.   He looked about in confusion. Merrin knew that he had seen no tracks of a woman, only the wolf.  The tracks of the wolf did not leave the barn. It had to be a shapeshifter.  He had heard of them, but thought them ghost stories to scare children.

He drew his bow tight, intent on killing the thing when she opened her eyes to look at him sadly.  Her eyes were large and brown.  Her hair in the dim light appeared brown.  There was such sorrow in those eyes that he swallowed hard.  Merrin realized that he had relaxed the bow and drew it back tight once more.

"Can you speak?" His snarl startled the horses and they whimpered and shifted in their stalls.

"I can."  Her accent was thick, but he could understand her.

"How did you come to be in my barn without your clothing."  He motioned to the door with his arrow point slightly.

"If you would spare me your cloak, I will tell you all." Her soft promised held a lulling edge, a promise of a long tale.

Merrin considered her request for a moment and then with one hand undid the clasp at his neck and swept the cloak from his back.  He kept the arrow feathered as he did so, ensuring he could draw back quickly if she moved.  He tossed the cloak over the stall door and the woman swiftly wrapped it about her.  She moved to stand but he motioned her back down.

"You can be telling your tales from where you sit." He waited till she was seated before resting his bow.  "Now, your tale if you will."

"I am a wolf shifter.  I come from a village three miles above the snow line.  In last night's storm, I lost my way.  I knew I was safer moving downhill than up.  When I saw your light, I knew I could seek shelter." She looked up at him with those large brown eyes and he swallowed.

"What is your name?" He could no believe he was standing feet away from a wolf shifter.  He had never believe such things were real.

"I am called Ylva in the tongue of two legs." She stated. Her small hands were clasped around the pine cone that she held in her lap.

"Is that a magic pine cone?" he asked.  He felt even more stupid for asking when she began to laugh, but at the same time, he had not thought wolf shifters real minutes ago either.

"This?" she held it up.  "I use a pine cone when I feel the hunger of a wolf and know I should not eat.  Last night, I could smell your cooking, your scent, and the scent of the horses. I bite upon the pine cone till it hurts that I restrain my more feral instincts."

He considered this for a long moment.  "Then I guess I should thank you for not eating my horses, I could not afford to replace them." He watched her as she sat primly within his cloak holding the pine cone.  "Do you eat, people's food?"

"In this form, yes.   I would be most grateful for a bite." She looked to her right.  "It will get harder to remain aware the hungrier that I am." She looked up at him after her soft admission hopefully.

"Well, you done no harm so far." He put the arrow back in his quiver.  "I don't believe in hurting those that have caused no harm in their wake.  Best you come along and we give you some food. Then you need to be on your way." He opened the hay gate. "There are others that would cage you just in hopes you are being truthful.

He watched as she gracefully rose to her feet, clutching the cloak around her.  She left the pine cone on the floor.  He picked it up after she left and set it on top of one of the higher bales.  He grabbed an armful of hay and swiftly fed the livestock. Then, he led her from the barn.

"There is a fair bit of snow, let me carry you to the porch." She did not utter any dissent as he shouldered his bow and swept her up.  He took a faltering step in surprise.  She weighed far more than her frail look.   She watched him with those big eyes all the way to the house. He was trying not to notice her eyes or the fact that she wore only his cloak.

He set her down on the porch and led the way into the house.  He had to smile as she sniffed her way about as he went to the fireplace.  "I have some oats left.  I am afraid I have nothing a wolf would find favorable and that I could afford to part with.

She looked over and smiled. "Oats will do nicely," she replied   Her long hair was a deep burnished brown shot with red highlights in the better light..

 He had to admit, if she really was a shifter, she was a beautiful one.  "Do you live all your time in wolf form?  You mentioned a village, are there more of your?"  He handed the bowl to her with a spoon. He was unsure if she used one and was relieved when she picked it up as any other.

"I can tell you no more lest the humans come in fear to exterminate my pack."  She took a bite and considered.  "I live in both forms.  During the full moon, the need to sing is so strong, that we are often in our feral form.   But other than that, humans and wolfkin are very similar."

He had a hard time imagining a village full of such creatures.  That was if she was not some mad woman and her placement a coincidence. The storm could have covered her tracks before the wolf appeared.  He frowned considering this the more likely possibility.  "Should I find you some clothes?" he offered.

"Oh no. I must be leaving as soon as I have eaten.  My pack will be looking for me and it is best they do not find me here." She paused her spoon waiving it about her.  "They might think me captured rather than having taken shelter."

Merrin's eyes widened.  If the creatures were real, he could see how they might be quite angered at this.  "I see.  Well, make yourself at home.  I have some things to be about on the farm." He suddenly felt uncomfortable and felt the need to escape.   He turned and headed out of the house.

He worked throughout the day occasionally glancing at the house.  He could not help wondering if the girl was mad or serious.  He rather hoped for crazy as the thought of earning the ire of a pack of wolves was rather daunting.  Finally, he braved returning to the house from his fields.  He walked in and looked about, but there was no one there.

He blinked in surprise as he took in the room further.  There was a wonderful stew bubbling on the edge of the fire.  His cloak hung neatly on the peg by the door.  His house had been cleaned, and in the center of the table, sat a very large pine cone.  He moved to it and touched it with a smile.  Well, mad or shifter, she had paid her thanks.   He ran his finger back over the pine cone.  He suspected he would see her again, and strangely found the prospect appealing.