A Dog's Life (Reboot - see intro tag to pt. 1): Part II
They were nearing civilization; The trail beneath their feet was more dirt and mud than grass, with sparrodic signs of use.
She kept scanning ahead; this was mainly because scanning the dense and towering forrest to either side of the trail - itself bathed in near-perpetual twilight - was a futile effort.
She hated this stretch of forrest, between the mountains and the plains. Too many things could happen to a lone pair of travelers. Even a pair as strange as theirs'.
Here real predators lurked in the shadows.
DAMN, she wished for a horse!
At least trappers were small fish....
The Wolf paced a steady rythym on her right, ears and eyes forward, alert.
'Reading me?' She should probably try to relax. Wasn't doing either of them any good.
By the time you saw it was probably too late, anyway.
Still in hill country, their trail ran between two wooded slopes, the path barely three shoulder-widths between them. They came to a bend in the road, a long turn, and halfway through Gray went rigid and in a blink was a silent blur disappearing into the undergrowth to their left.
"Uhhhhh...NOT GOOD!" She was looking around, scanning for -
Somewhere beyond the bend she heard a scream and the sound of panicked horses. She ran ahead -
- which proved one of the dumbest decisions of her life; Two mounted figures blocked the road, in full armor - 'Whaddafuk?!' - , chain with plate curving in rows around the trunk and over shoulders with bows at full draw and by the time she saw, she could do nothing but drop like a stone to the dirt and hug the ground, to crawl on elbows to what she knew she would never reach as eternal seconds raced by she was moving too slow too damn slow as the trees drew closer and somehow, she was at the trees, pushing off to stumble through the brushline into the woods - why wasn't she hit? - shrug off the damn pack with the useless damn unstrung bow, flatten her back against a tree and peer over her shoulder at the road below, a glimpse of black, gleaming silver and gray -
'Godsammit Gray giddout!'
She turned at a sound frrom above, a horse bearing down at full gallop, rider drawing sword as she crouched and drew and let fly at the horse, letting the momentum of the throw carry her to the ground and rolling over, and over and over she was going downward she couldn't stop and she was back on the Godsdamn road.
Behind her the horse came crashing from the woods, stumbling and hitting the ground in a tangle of legs and armor, and a fierce smile bared it's teeth to see the rider caught beneath the rolling horse, and she gave a shout, a roar when she saw the blade burried in it's chest.
Gambler's luck; but not that lucky - the rider was moving to rise, not so injured as she hoped and her only weapon stuck in the dying horse beside him. Try to take him still on the ground or make for the woods? She saw a movement in the corner of her eye and turned; Gray, coming full speed - but not to her. A glimpse of bared teeth, of his eyes...and he was past her, on the rider not yet to his feet, scream cut short with a crimson spray. Gray turned to run again, stopped, flew over the horse and had her blade in a single motion before he landed. A running snap of his head and the knife was flying, skidding toward and past her as he disappeared again into the trees.
She stood, turned to pick up the knife - and froze. An armored figure stood in the road, bow drawn. And she knew she'd had too much luck already. Knew he wouldn't miss. Knew she was dead -
- and the man held, turning at a growl that filled the air and chilled the blood and the beast was on him. Rebecca turned away. Crash of metal, choked-off scream and it was - Over?
She held up a hand to Gray. Hoofbeats echoed in the trees, and only when long minutes passed without incident did she finally let herself relax. To take a knee, exhausted, trembling, shock chasing adrenaline.
Lucky, so damned lucky.
She should be dead.
Would be dead, save for - 'Gray Eyes'. He was trotting towards her.
"I'm alright, jus' a little shaken - ey'! Take care where you stick that! I'll be fine. Now siddown, 'ere...."
She knealt and fealt him over - his legs, back and sides - but none of the red in his coat seemed to be his. She ended roughing his neck.
"Mmmmm, my braave Wolf. Huh, some killer!" she said, when he reacted to her scratch between the ears; the way his eyes slitted. She liked that.
Picking up her knife, she stood. Gestured over her shoulder with a thumb at the dead horse behind her; good mount from the look of it, a charger with skin white as winter snow, now crimson in spots. "So tell me, friend - what's a gang in full dress ridin' mounts like that doin' out here?"
"Yeah. Well...no sense wastin' it; least I contributed somethin' to the fight. Hungry?"
He leapt to his feet..
She laughed. "I'll take it that's a yes."
She picked up the knife, a brief, painful memory flashing as the handle's silver-laid design catches the light; of the man who brought her into the guild, who taught her to throw it. 'Thanks, Jack; Found a use after all.'
A single slice to split the horse along the middle: "Dinner is served."
She tried not to look at the dead figure a few hands away.
Later, back on the trail again, she thought back over the fight; Gray bolting into the woods, in full attack - how much of his actions had been on good evidence, how much guess? This time he guessed right(thank Gods), but guesses could be wrong. Dangerously wrong. Maybe she'd talk with him....
They came to a bend in the road, and Gray stopped, gestured with his head..
Rebecca's heart skipped a beat. "What is it?"
A low growl as he gestures again, more emphatic. Wha-...OH. "Go on ahead?"
Nod, and a look roughly translatable as 'Gee, ya think?!'
"Aright aright, I get it."
She cautiously followed the bend - and froze.
'Lucky, LUCKY Wolf!'
A stallion stood in the road, pure, jet black, in full tack and harness. It could only be one of the mounts from the earlier fight.
There had been four waiting for them in ambush; two in the the road and one to each side. Their armour and mounts spoke of money, maybe even professionals. Why way out her, going after the likes of her?
She didn't like her answers.
She walked toward it slowly, clucking and cajoling. The horse was nervous, and moved farther up the trail a couple of times as she drew near, but in the end it let her approach and take the bridle.
Well, all right then; Problem solved.
Rebecca sat, glaring at first the Wolf, then the wide-eyed stallion straining at the end of it's lead, then back again.
Gods-be-praised she'd had the sense to be on the ground leading it when it first caught sight of the Wolf! She'd had to fight the entire trip to keep it from bolting. With her pack still on her back, naturally, until she could rig something appropriate for said horse. Her shoulders hurt in new and interesting ways.
The Wolf thought it all about the most hillarious thing imaginable.
She glared. 'Lucky Wolf, my ass!'
The tavern door opened, two entrants silhouetted in the light of the afternoon sun. Nobody took note of the buckskin-clad woman who entered first; mid-to-late 20's, average height with blond hair gathered in a ponytail; female trappers were unusual, but not remarkable.
Everyone turned to look at the beast that came after, behind and close at her side; an enormous canine, coat rippling in shades of white and gray, with a predators' gaze.
"~I have lost my damned mind.~" Rebecca muttered through her teeth as everyone turned to look. She walked up to the counter.
"Haven't seen you through here in a while." said the bartender, smiling.
"'Ey John; how's business?"
He shrugged; "Same as ever, nothing changed; still the crossroads to nowhere."
'If you say so.', she thought.
"What'll it be?"
"Same as ever; cheap licquor 'n a few days' rest."
"To sleep it off, no doubt. Good thing you like the cheap stuff, 'cause it's all we get here. The usual?"
"You remember?" She raised an eyebrow.
"You're hard to forget." He was looking at her companion, then glanced at the window; "Say; that your horse outside?"
"'Aye." She held up her hand. "Don't ask." The horse had finally (finally!) begun to relax around the Wolf; She still didn't trust it to carry her, though.
She took a seat. "And don't worry 'bout Gray here;" she said, reaching down to pat the Wolf laying next to her. "He's harmless."
He gave her the price, she paid and he went to get her drink.
"Godsdamn trappers!" Patron sitting on her left. Staring at her. He was big. And drunk.
"How's that?" She asked, not turning to look at him.
"Sellout to the godsdamned guild fer a buncha fuking brutes is how!"
"Ah" still looking straight ahead "you mean on petty little things like 'don't steal their land, don't murder 'em, keep your godsdamn hands off their _persons_'...things like that?"
"I mean putting thir own people second to a bunch o' fucking BEASTS!" he said, standing. Rebecca followed. Now she did turn to look at - er, up at him.
"Awh, th'poor mistreated humans. I'm all teared up - seriously, I - I think I might need a hug."
"I'll give you huuug!" He made a clumsy swing at her.
She ducked, and in an instant had him over the bar, arm bent behind his back with one hand...and her knife at his throat in the other. He froze.
"Momma never told you it's not nice to hit a lady?" she hissed in his ear.
She stepped back, sheathed her knife - and the asshole swung at her again, a ceramic jug this time. He missed, stumbled away from the counter and suddenly -
The Wolf had the man on the ground, was bent over him growling, claws on his chest and teeth bared inches from his throat.
She ran over and bent down by him; heart racing; 'Rot, this could get ugly!' 'Ummmm' Reaching out, she grabbed the collar and yanked. " ~ Play along ~ " she hissed in his ear as she dragged him off, praying he'd take the damned hint. She grabbed a handfull of scruff and shook hard. "NO!" Grabbed his chin to glare eye-to-eye; "No! Bad dog!" She rapped his muzzle lightly. "NO!"
She bent near his ear; " ~We'll talk later.~ " She rose back to a half-crouch. "Lie down an' stay!" she said, pointing at him. He dropped to the floor, eyes following her as she rose.
She looked up; Everyone was looking at her. "Sorry 'bout that, John." she said, moving back to the counter. "He can be protective."
"Can't say as I'd blame him." John's voice was loud enough for all to hear. "Jackass had it coming!" Judging by the response of the other patrons, some on their feet, he wasn't the only one who thought so. She flashed him a grateful look
Still, his eyes didn't leave the canine.
The man slowly struggled back to his feet; took a step forward, looked around at the patrons on either side now shifting their attention to him and finally got a clue. He glared at Rebecca and pointed:
"Watch your back, trapper; trails are getting dangrous these days."
And stumbled out the door.
"I should probly leave too; Sorry 'bout the fuss."
He grinned. "Don't think of it, an' he did have it coming." He looked to the door. "You not worried abou - "
"No." She half-drew the blade at her hip, motioned to Gray with her thumb; "Y'think he's that drunk?"
He laughed; "And if he is, what's to worry 'bout anyway? Look, inn's just up the road; you go on ahead, I'll see to the horse."
She smiled; "Thanks, John." 'You have no idea.'
She grabbed her shot off the counter, tilted back and drained it in one swallow, then got her and Gray the rot out of there.
"Damnitt Gray, you can't do that." Rebecca said as she closed the door behind her.
They were at the inn, just arrived at their room; spartan, bare unpainted wooden walls with a single small, dim wavy window set high in one and barely enough room for the bed and two of them.
Grey, in ahead of her, lay down..
Good idea. She sat on the bed(Feathers now! Nice.); bent over, pressing both hands to her forehead; sat up again.
"D'you have any idea how ugly people can get about a beast with a taste of human blood? Any beast? Your defense, mine; wouldn't matter. You don't let a man-killer run free, and Wise 'r not might not matter either - assumin' we were even allowed to dem'n'strate that minor detail." That some might think it more reason to kill him, she didn't say.
"Look, I know" - 'I think' - "you weren't gonna kill 'im; he'd've been dead when he hit the floor. But they damn-well didn't! That kinda crap'll get us tossed out!"
Gods, maybe the hassle wasn't worth it, after all....
She looked at the Wolf. "Look - the whole point o' this damn circus act is so people don't feel scared around you - they feel safe." The Wolf grinned. "Well, safer leastwise - and th' only way we do that is if they think you're under 'control'. 'Jus' another mutt', remember? That's your role - least in public. Don't stay in character an' the game's over." She rubbed her eyes. "Now" she said, leaning forward, "if you've come to your senses, an' don't feel like playin' 'dumb pet' every town we stop at, we can find somethin' diffrent...."
He shook his head.
"No?" she leaned back. "Well then, if you're a dog out in public then ACT LIKE ONE, DAMNITT!"
'Whoaaaah; easy, girl!'
Th'hells did that come from?
Feeling the room sway a bit, she closed her eyes a moment. Oh...right.
She looked at Gray. He'd taken a couple steps back, watching her from the corner of his eye.
What had his rank been back in the pack? Pretty high from what she remembered(though what she'd seen had been little enough she could be mistaken). Not low, certainly. But it was Omega, more like, for all of how he acted around her - thin-skinned, temperamental her, not a Wolf even!. What was it with him?
Course back an the trail had been anything but; the image of his face when he'd run past her during the fight would stay with her for a while -
"'Ey!" She gave a quick whistle, beckoning him over as she took a knee down on the floor. "Come 'ere." He trotted over; she tapped the floor in front of her. "Siddown, friend." She wrapped her arms around his neck. "Look," she said, looking him eye-to-eye, "all I'm saying is; sit back, relax, an' follow my lead here. The guy back there - jackass was drunk damn-near cross-eyed, and I'm pretty damned quick myself, case you hadn't noticed. I could handle him." Well, usually...barring bad luck, anyways....
She ran her hand down the side of his neck. "Ya gotta trust me, Gray. Back there on the trail you saved my ass, sure 's shit, but if we're gonna keep playin' this little game, here, I need you to trust me. Do you thnk you can do that for me?"
"Jus' let go, and trust."
His head dropped, pressing forward until - to her surprise - his muzzle burried itself under her arm. She heard a soft whine, then he pullud back to raise his muzzle - and give her several licks on the chin, making her laugh, not near as startled as she should've been....
Growing uncomfortable in her crouch, she drew both legs under her; ended with his head resting in her lap, raking lines along his neck, his back, liking - no, loving - the site of him now; relaxed and vulnerable, eyes half-lidded, given over completely.
She reached over, grasped the scruff of his neck and shook it gently. And fealt a shiver run down his spine....
She woke with a moan.
The dreams again; of Jack. Not of the final days. Worse; of good times, on the trail, talking, teaching, teasing, of sweet. sweet evenings, all somehow heightened by a small part of her mind that even in her sleep knew the truth and remembered the loss, giving the pleasure of those moments a fierce, desperate urgency...
...until it was suddenly, inevitably wrenched away, shades burned off in the morning light and he was lost to her again.
Knock at the door; once more.
'Horse must've gotten here.' She was still sitting. Gray stood facing her; it was his movement that brought her awake. "Coming!" She made to rise. Youch; Rot! Did her back ache! How long had it been? Not long enough for the drink to burn off.
She opened the door. A young boy, early adolescence, stood there. "Man 'ere with a horse he claims is yours?" He sounded slightly dubious. 'Boy, you'd never believe....'
A short time later, the rest of her belongings brought up and secured - well, as out of the way as possible in the confines of their room - she sat on the(literally!)feather-soft bed. She was sore, bleary-eyed...and quite happy to miss as much of when the licquor wore off as possible.
Ugh, good NIGHT. She quickly undressed and sat, ready to collapse into slumber. "G'night mutt" she said, half-teasing, reaching down with her right hand to fuss his neck.
She stopped, hessitating; "Gray...." She raised his muzzle with the back of her hand, to meet her gaze.
Fealt again that strange sensation; of dislocation, vague anticipation, and the prickling of guilt. Saw this time the wave rushing towards her.
Another day and time, with defenses raised she'd have likely fought it; for guilt or fear, of missreading, giving offense, crossing a line she'd only immagined there leading to one Gods-rottin' mess....
Not here, now; she let it crash into her. Grabbed the scruff of Gray's neck with her right hand as she cupped - HELD - his jaw with her left, pulling it up to lock gazes; new, fierce intensity in her eyes.
"You are mine, aren't you...pup?" Low. Commanding.
She didn't need the confirmation in his eyes.
She already knew.
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