The Wolf and the Lamb
The mouth was coming at him. Bright, bright white teeth in the gaping black maw, the coyote's eyes seeming disconnected above them. They both had the same message for him – those teeth, those eyes. Death. I am your Death.
Taylor was afraid – and yet, it was Right. There was nothing wrong in what was happening. This is how it's supposed to be. I am your Death. Yes. Nothing new about that.
But something new about Taylor: learned instinct, practiced moves, conscious but un-thought reaction. He pulled out the sword, just as The Lady had shown him.
He held it in front of himself - not really knowing what his NEXT move should be - and the coyote impaled itself there. He could feel it, he cold metal an extension of his own body, as the tip pierced flesh, slid between ribs, cut through muscle. He could FEEL it happening!
He took it's life. HE was Death, now. Taylor was death. The dead body flopped on top of him, toppling him over. This was new. No. This was Wrong...
If only he could figure out why! Then, with dream-like clarity, it became obvious why it was Wrong.
Because the teeth, the eyes, and the face – were Tristan's.
"TRISTAN!!!" he screamed. What had he done?
"TRISTAAAAAN!!" But the wolf was dead. Dead forever. Tristan would never kiss, or nose, or touch, or even speak to him again. Taylor had killed him. How could he have done such a thing?
"Taylor! Wake up, Taylor! Tay... Wake the hell up!"
Taylor's eyes shot open, awake but uncomprehending. He saw a black muzzle above him, and eyes reflecting the campfire. The Black-Faces! They were here! "AAAAAH!" he shouted in terror.
Tristan grabbed the lamb's arms as he struggled, "Taylor! It's me! It was just a bad dream! Now... now stop it," he said, struggling to hold on to the squirming boy, "It was just a nightmare Tay... Everything's okay. Everything's okay..."
Looking again, Taylor saw that the muzzle wasn't in fact black – it was just dark out. And the eyes... were grey in the reflected light of the fire. Not brown like a coyote's. And he could see the outline of familiar ears against the night sky... "T-Tris?"
"Yeah. You were having a bad dream, Tay. That's all. It wasn't real. It's okay."
Taylor got it, and Tristan could feel the difference – the arms that had been struggling to get away from him - were still struggling. Trying to get to him. He let go, and the boy's arms wrapped around the wolf instantly, lifting his back off the ground as he hugged Tristan with all his might. "Tris!" Overwhelming relief, if not joy, flowed through Taylor's mind. It was just a dream. He hadn't killed Tristan. Tristan was here.
But... he had killed. Yesterday. He – the twelve year old lamb – had killed. It didn't matter who, or why, or under what circumstances, or even whether he'd meant to or not. Taylor had killed, and he would never be the same again.
Despite The Lady's advice, Taylor had not "talked with his wolf" about it. He'd barely talked at all, as the group spent the rest of that day – and all of the night – making final preparations and loading up to go. They had finally left the Base Camp at four in the morning, and trudged on tiredly all that day. No one spoke much. Taylor, not at all.
"I... I dreamed that I killed you, Tris..." the lamb said shakily.
Still holding him, Tristan nuzzled into the white hair on top of Taylor's head, "Well... you didn't."
"But..." Taylor backed off to look him in the eye, "But I could, Tris... I know how. I know what it feels like. It's... It's easy, Tris! With the sword, it's so easy..." That was what shocked Taylor so much – how simple it had been. Before killing that coyote, Taylor simply had no idea if, or how, or why, he would ever kill anyone. When it happened, it had been the simplest thing in the world. Frighteningly simple. Easy.
"Yeah... I imagine it is, Tay. That's why I didn't like weapons at all, at first... remember? Because I'm... I'm a killer by nature, Tay. It just felt like weapons would make it too easy."
And they had, too. Tristan's bow had changed the whole dynamic of what it meant to "hunt". It wasn't a matter now of catching, or biting or anything else. Hunting had come down to "finding" something to kill. Once the prey was found, the killing was almost a given. A non-event. Easy. The only way the wolf could even do it was to keep reminding himself that it was for food. Just for food. Not Balance. He had to kill to live. It was only survival – it didn't reflect anything about his worth as a predator.
Something else occurred to the wolf, "Now you see why I didn't want to do the Blood and Teeth thing? It's my nature to kill, Tay. Especially people like you. See why I was so scared to do it?"
"I knew you wouldn't kill me, Tris..."
"And I know you won't kill me, Tay. No matter how easy it is."
"That was different."
"No, it wasn't. It's just that we are so different from each other, Tay. We see it from different angles - but it's the same thing. I've been killing since I was ten years old. This was your first time. We're predator and prey. We're different."
Taylor snuggled up into the wolf's collarbone again as he thought about that. Tristan just let him. Gordon and The Lady – who had been woken up by Taylor's scream, went back to sleep.
After a few moments, Taylor said, "I still like it that we're different, Tristan. No matter what."
"Me too, Tay. Me too. Now you might as well get up, your watch is starting soon." Taylor was now a full-fledged watch-keeper. He could be depended upon.
"Okay. Uhm... stay up with me for awhile?" While traveling, the watch-change when Tristan got Taylor up was the only private time they had.
They were probably a good two days ahead of the Black-Faced Coyote tribe – but the Coyotes would be moving as fast as they could. Luckily, that wasn't actually all that fast, because it meant moving the whole tribe, pups and pregnant mothers and the sick and elderly included. The Lady wasn't sure if they would follow them into the Desert or not. On one hand, there would be absolutely nothing for them to eat in the Desert... but on the other, the stream they were following would provide them with water for quite a while. If the tribe did follow them into the Desert, would they maintain their two-day lead for all that time? She didn't know. If they did – they'd be some damn hungry Coyotes by that time...
The trees got thinner and more sparse, the grass started to appear in clumps, and then disappeared altogether as they walked. On their second day, coming down the last foot-hill, they got their first view of the Desert.
It went on for as far as they could see – and while on that foot-hill, they could see a long, long ways. It was yellowish-red, and it was rock and sagebrush, with a few scraggly creosote bushes here and there. It was not pretty – even in a desolate kind of way. It was only barren. But at least the stream – by now a small river – flowed out into it. The only green in sight was a two-foot-wide strip on either side. And there were mean-looking black clouds here and there over it, too, so that was at least a little promising. They only had enough wine-skins to keep themselves hydrated for eight days without finding water, and The Lady had already told them that it wasn't enough.
So they all knew what they were heading into. The Desert was to be their gamble, and they would bet with their lives.
At least it was obvious which way to go. They followed the water.
It was almost funny how lush that two-foot strip was, compared to where they were walking next to it. There were huge trees, green bushes, flocks of birds, squirrels – all kinds of life depended on that water. And the water was moving at a fair clip, too. That meant the snow was melting.
Their second day following the river, and Tristan surprised everyone - "Why don't we build a raft?"
Gordon and The Lady froze mid-stride. The Lady was leading, and she slowly, very slowly, turned around to face the rabbit. "Gordon – why don't we build a raft..." The Lady and Gordon both had been here before – but going the other way; upstream. It simply hadn't occurred to either of them.
"Uh... Well... because you never mentioned... and I didn't think... uh... You wanna take your staff back now?" He felt just as stupid as she did.
"On the contrary. But I think we've both punished ourselves enough for the time being. You may hit my shins later. We are still in a hurry... we have Coyotes behind us. How long would it take? More than a day?"
"No ma'am. With Tristan – and Taylor – helping, a day should be more than enough. What if the Coyotes think of it too, though..."
"They have no tools, Gordon. The Black-Faces live by their teeth. Tristan? You get a gold star. Gordon – give us jobs."
They had one saw, two hatchets, and that was all. It would have to be enough. Tristan and Gordon went to work sawing and chopping, while Taylor collected vines with which to tie them together. The Lady prepared dinner. She'd been trying to fatten everyone up while at Base Camp – now the food was quite thin. It was going to have to last a long time. But at least it was hot.
Next day they all piled on with their stuff. It creaked, and one had to be careful when moving about, but at least it was dry. They could sleep on it. Gordon manned the pole and pushed them out to mid-stream.
It beat walking. They all took turns at the pole – just to keep them in the middle of the river, and their worries about the Coyotes ended. So with no worries about them, all the water in the world, full bellies, and nothing to do but laze about on the raft all day, things seemed pretty easy, in this big, scary, Desert.
Four days later, the river ended with a whimper. It just gradually – in the space of a quarter-mile – trickled down to nothing. Gordon said that it was probably going underground, or perhaps through a porous layer of rock. Either way, they weren't going to see it anymore. They'd reached it early in the afternoon, and decided to go ahead and have one last easy half-day and night before starting across the Desert proper.
Next morning, after breakfast, The Lady gave a speech:
"Gentlemen – here we go. We have water enough to last us for about eight days – it will be imperative that we find some along the way. So keep an eye out for patches of green – sorry Tristan – or any kind of formation where it looks like water might go, or have once been. If we're lucky, we will get rained on.
Meanwhile, we will need to make the water last. So the first rule is simple, if perhaps uncomfortable. No one is to pee. Now, I know how that sounds – and obviously I don't mean that you should hold it in if you are absolutely writhing in pain – but if you are not writhing in pain – then don't pee. Just keep walking. Chances are, the need will go away. By the same token, do not drink unless you really feel you need to. Stay thirsty – but not overly so. If you need to pee – then you do not need to drink. There may come a day when you'll end up drinking your pee – so think about that.
We will not have regular meals. You are to snack when you feel the need – keeping in mind that food will make you thirsty. Eating will not be a priority until we find water. At that time, we will cook and eat normally again.
By stretching out our water in this fashion, we might be able to go a week and a half – but if that happens... well, pray to whatever gods you like that it doesn't. We have been somewhat unlucky on this trip so far. Let us hope that our luck will change.
Right. I only have one more thing to say – mostly to you, Tristan and Taylor. You are the reason we are doing this. It is not important that I get to Civilization. From my point of view, it's not terribly important that Gordon get there either. The only thing he really wants is to be left alone. All that matters to me is that you two make it. You are my only legacy. It is what you will do with your lives that matters to me. As I've said before – I'd hoped there would be more than just you two – but... well, there it is. Quality over Quantity, as they say.
Let us begin."
Was uneventful. Tristan and Taylor had filled themselves to bursting with water before they began, and so of course they spent most of the day uncomfortable on that account, and had to pee before noon. It hadn't really done them much good to fill up like that. People aren't camels.
The wolf and the rabbit both pulled tavois. Tristan affixed his bow and arrows to it, while Gordon carried his two spears (one long, one short) on his back in a special quiver he'd made. Taylor, as always, had his sword, and The Lady had only a staff.
Was more comfortable on Tristan's and Taylor's bladders – but four wine-skins were already empty. They would have to be more careful with water. The Lady agreed that waking up thirsty – and not doing anything about it - "really sucked", as Taylor put it, but that was what they did.
Days four, five, and six:
Went the same way. They were doing better on the water, though. Only ten more empty skins were added to the empty pile in that 3-day period.
Day seven -
it rained. To put it mildly. It poured down in buckets. They hurriedly stretched out a tanned hide to catch it and filled up their empty containers – and then their stomachs – and still it came on. They couldn't walk through it because they couldn't see more than a few yards ahead of them, so their land-marks had become invisible through the downpour. There was no place to get away from it, either. Eventually, the four of them huddled under the hide they'd used to collect the rainwater, and while still wet and uncomfortable, at least it wasn't as annoying as just sitting out in the weather. Although The Lady had said they'd have a "regular meal" if it rained – how were they going to start a fire in this? Where would they get dry wood to burn, even?
But at least, maybe their luck was changing...
Over the course of the next several days, the landscape changed from absolutely flat, feature-less sagebrush, to low and rocky hills. Even the sagebrush couldn't live here. The travois bumped over the loose stones on the ground.
Eventually they got down to only a handful of wine-skins of water, and everyone started to become seriously anxious about it. But – luck was with them again. They camped next to a ravine that night, and in the morning the dry gully had become a raging torrent of muddy water. Tristan first noticed the noise on his watch, and by the time he got everyone up, the ravine had become impossible to cross. But there hadn't been a drop of rain on them. Obviously, it must have rained somewhere...
They made the most of it, though, filtering the muddy water through cloth to make it at least translucent rather than opaque, and filled their wine-skins with the cloudy brown product. The Lady added a few drops of disinfectant to each one just to kill anything that might be alive in it. By the time breakfast was over, the temporary river was back down to a burbling stream, so they crossed it and continued on their way with muddy shoes.
That was to be the last water they'd see for a long time. It was the last flowing water The Lady would ever see. Their luck had run out.
"Ma'am? ... do you think they'll find any?" Taylor asked, after Tristan and Gordon had left the cave, each of them carrying half of the empty wine-skins behind them. They had one wine-skin between them, and the lamb and goat had the other. If it didn't rain, and the men didn't find water, then this would be where they would die.
The Lady didn't have much hope for rain. There hadn't been a cloud in the sky for days now. Even if she were to smell rain – who knows how far away it might be? It would need to rain right on top of them. There weren't even any gullies where they were now.
"I'm sure they will, Taylor. We must rest and be patient. We are tough people."
"Do... do you think I could have a drink? I haven't had one yet today."
"Go ahead, dear."
"I had one earlier. I'm okay for now." Taylor didn't know that she was lying.
"Come on, Gordon!"
"Now look here, wolf-boy. I know you're concerned about Taylor, okay? But it don't do us no good rushing around! We'll just wear ourselves out! We need to spend more time looking and thinking, instead of running balls-out from one ridge to the next."
"Well, I'm looking! You can't see shit at night anyway! So I'm the only one with eyes right now, and I say we need to get to the next ridge!"
"So you don't see anything from here that looks like it might be wet..."
"No! No... I don't. Gordon... if I did, you'd be the first person I'd tell! We've been out here a whole day – even if we do find something it'll take us a day to get back... and... and..."
"Okay, Tris... okay. C'mon – race ya."
"Are you okay, ma'am? You're so hot..."
"Taylor... come here. I want to tell you something."
"My name is 'Roma'. I hate it – but it's my name. Say it, Taylor..."
"R- Roma. Roma. There's a little water left..."
"You drink it. Wait until tomorrow, though."
"Ma'am... Roma, I mean... are you going to die?"
"Probably, Taylor. I'm old, you know. I was the 'Old Goat' from your fairy-tale, so I'm even older now. I have done what I intended to do in life, Taylor... or at least, I gave it my best shot. No one could have asked more of me than I gave. I am satisfied with that. It is you who must carry on. Taylor – I will probably be unconscious tomorrow. Most likely, I will die the next day. You must not cry, Taylor. You must not waste the water. Save your crying for later. Will you promise me that?"
"Taylor... I am your mentor. You owe me. Promise."
Stupid goddamn wolf... Gordon thought, "you go that way, I'll go this way – we'll meet back here and talk about what we saw". It wasn't a bad idea... but it wasn't terribly wise, either. Well... they didn't have time to do the wise thing anymore. By the time they got back to The Lady and Taylor, almost 4 days would have gone by. 4 days on one skin of water. For two people.
And if they saw none today – then what? Keep looking? Knowing that they were condemning the kid and woman to their certain deaths? Or turn back, only to die with them... Tristan would probably want to do that. But what would Gordon do? He prayed he wouldn't have to find out.
Gordon was lost in this reverie as he made his way between the ridges towards the one he was to observe from. He wasn't really paying attention to anything except where to put his feet. Gods he was thirsty...
Then he heard something that literally made his hair stand on end. Somewhere between the scream of a woman and the roar of a cat – but higher pitched. He'd heard that sound before, once, while out hunting. He knew that a mountain-lion had just targeted him for the kill. He spun around.
Ah – not cougar-animal after all. A cougar-PERSON. A cougar-woman. And quite a looker too, even with all her teeth showing and saliva drooling from her open mouth. She glared at him with eyes full of her intention – I'm going to kill you.
She wore clothes – a loin-cloth, and a vest-like top over her bosom, moccasins on her feet. And – Gordon saw to his surprise – she carried a bow slung over her shoulder, the string tight between her breasts. She was armed... but she didn't seem to be interested in using her weapon. That was odd...
(Translated) He's not running... why isn't he running? Rabbits ALWAYS run... And he has a spear - a weapon - but he's not bringing it into play. He has time... What's he up to? This is an odd rabbit...
That's why she was on her walk-about in the first place – to discover "odd" things, and learn what she could from them. It wasn't a ritual, it wasn't a rite-of-passage for her People... it was just something one did, from time to time. See if there was anything to be Discovered – either about the World, or about herself. She had Discovered an odd rabbit. Just how odd was he, then?
They stared at each other. Gordon was almost transfixed by her luminous, vertical-slitted green eyes, and the look in them. The woman closed her mouth and wiped away the strings of slobber with her arm. She turned her head slightly, almost as if questioning his intentions. Gordon wondered - was this woman a hunter? Or... or was she a warrior of some kind...
Gordon pulled both his spears off his back, slowly, deliberately, never taking his eyes off hers.
She pulled her bow from around her body and just held it, casually, but where she'd be able to bring it into play in a hurry if she decided she needed to.
Gordon tossed his spears on the ground. It wasn't that much of a sacrifice – bow against spear was hardly competition. He just wanted to see what she would do.
(Translated) A warrior? Rabbit? Well... he IS a BIG rabbit... This could be interesting...
She carefully laid her bow down on the ground. Then she took off her quiver of arrows and the back-pack to which it was attached.
A warrior, then, Gordon thought.
Then he watched as she removed her moccasins. Then she removed her top. Then she removed her loin-cloth and stood before Gordon, twenty feet away, naked.
Gordon stripped himself naked, too. He thought that it might be part of her Way or something. That the woman even had a "way" made her all the more... special. He went into a standard defensive stance, and looked back into her eyes.
She bowed to him slightly, so he straightened up and bowed back. Now they both knew where they stood. But there were still some things to be agreed upon. She held out one hand, folding her fingers and tensing them to extend her claws. She also opened her mouth and showed him her teeth, as if he needed reminding.
Gordon looked at the claws, looked at the teeth, then looked into her eyes again. Then something occurred to him, and he looked down at her feet. He'd never met a cougar-person before. There were no claws there. He looked back up at her.
She nodded 'no'.
He nodded 'yes' as in, 'I understand'. They were both on the same wave.
The contract agreed upon, she began walking toward him. And to her surprise, he began walking toward her.
(Translated) A very strange rabbit indeed... Should I take stock of his ability first? Yes... yes, perhaps I should...
Once in range, she jumped towards his right side, swiping at him with her right hand. The rabbit blocked the swinging arm, at the same time catching her left hand at the wrist. Careful to keep away from her mouth, he twisted her body against his and threw her to the ground. Then he took a step back. This was a serious business – but that had just been too easy. In the back of his mind, he hoped she had more to show him.
She pushed herself up with her hands, springing back to her feet, and spun to face him again. And again, she bowed ever so slightly. As did he.
They closed again, and Gordon saw an opening as she was apparently setting up for another, different kind of strike. So he stepped in before she could complete it, ducking down and throwing an arm around her waist. He knew those claws would already be coming for his exposed back, and twisted out of their way, which threw her off her feet and back to the ground again. But not before he felt the stinging claws dragging along the skin of his shoulder. It wasn't deep – she hadn't had time to do it right - but it still bled. The woman was fast!
He'd thrown her to the ground twice now, and she'd got a cut on him. This time, he bowed first, and somewhat more deeply. She returned it in kind.
It went on in this fashion. Her style was definitely not Blood and Teeth. It was cat-like, as far as Gordon could tell, never having fought a cat-person before, and it was obviously highly thought-out and practiced. Some of the things she did weren't cat-like at all, as when she'd wrapped her leg around one of his from behind, spinning him sideways and kicking him in the gut with her other foot at the same time. With no claws on her feet, he hadn't expected her to use them for fighting. He was impressed.
After twenty minutes of this, he was very impressed – even though he was bleeding from a few more places. They still weren't severe cuts – but they were cuts.
This woman could win! Well, maybe. She certainly had a chance. She could take him down! He realized this as he threw her yet again down and to the side. If he wanted to take this to the next level, he'd continue to attack her while she was down. But... she hadn't done that, when he'd been down. They still had a contract, and they were still abiding by it. The woman had honor.
This cougar-woman, who might just be able to actually kill him, had honor. Honor enough to match his own.
He looked into her eyes as usual, preparing for the next contest – and that's when it happened:
He hadn't been thinking about it, and even if he had, Gordon would have had no idea how to go about doing it, but nonetheless –
She was beautiful. She was impressive. She had honor. And she wanted to kill him. Because of all those things – all those things – he was overwhelmed with a feeling of rightness about it. That was acceptable. To die by her hands, to die for those green eyes, would be... worthwhile. He just kept staring, unable to think, unable to stop the feeling from flowing from him. To feed her would be... good. He would like that. He would... love that... He couldn't help it. He was a rabbit. She was a cougar. As it should be.
And Gordon – who wanted to keep all of his life for himself - gave it to her instead.
Tristan had heard the cougar's initial warning-scream, and come running. By the time he got to where he could see them – the top of the ridge above – he saw both of them just standing there, only a few feet apart, eyes locked together, frozen in place.
He knew that look, he knew what was happening – not that he'd ever seen it from the outside before. And he'd certainly never expected to Gordon do it. Gordon? It... it was unthinkable! And... a little hard for him to watch, too. What was happening down there was... personal.
But there he was, no stance, no defense, not even tensed-up. And she was just locked there with him, her conscious and unconscious mind unable to comprehend what she saw in the rabbit's eyes. It wasn't so much that she couldn't move - it was just that she had absolutely no idea what to do. At any level. How to handle it. What to think. He was giving himself?
Then, finally, Gordon let her go: he looked away from her eyes and took two more steps towards her. He wasn't aware of what he was doing, let alone why he was doing it. It just seemed... like it was Right. Their bodies were only inches apart now. She blinked, trying to regain her senses, to remember what she was supposed to be doing. When she looked slightly up at the rabbit's face again, he was looking up and over his left shoulder – presenting his un-protected throat directly to her mouth.
Tristan held his breath as he watched. This woman didn't know Gordon. She had no reason in the world not to take that throat in her mouth, close her jaws, and rip out his windpipe.
But – she didn't. Instead, after a moment, she put one hand – claws now retracted – to the rabbit's neck. With the other, she reached up and pushed his head back down to face her. She looked into his eyes again. The odd, hypnotic expression in them was now gone, she saw – but the rabbit still wasn't trying to defend himself in any way. He was hers. All she had to do was extend her claws, a quick swipe of her hand from ear-to-ear, and the rabbit would die. She knew that he knew that, too.
Curiouser and curiouser... She wanted to know more about him. Deep down, where she couldn't realize it, she wanted to know everything about him.
She removed her hand from his throat, and poked a finger at her chest: "Fay taka Teesah", she said.
Gordon shook his head and raised his eyebrows.
"Fay taka Teesah," she repeated, then poked him in the chest with the same hand, "Fis taka..."
"Gore-dun..." she said slowly, "Gore-dun." Then she giggled, smiling.
The rabbit thought his knees were going to give out on him when she did that. My gods...
"Teesah." he said.
"Ka, to brek im Akkelah?" she asked.
Gordon shook his head again.
"Muy t'be ak Yamuno?"
"Frashoah bu Sekesh?"
She frowned, then cocked her head to one side, "Sprekenzy Doych?"
"I hate to break this up, guys," Tristan said, coming up to them, "but we're kind of in a hurry?"
The cat-woman hadn't heard him coming, her attention being as it was on the fascinating rabbit. Tristan was behind her, so she spun around, her claws coming out at the same time, and faced him, her arms out.
"Whoa!" Tristan cried, "Calm down girl! Shees. Hey, Gordon, look - she's protecting you from me!" he laughed, "Never thought I'd see the day..."
Gordon tapped her on the shoulder, "It's okay, Teesah. He's with me. Uh... fay... taka Tristan."
Between the wolf's laughter and Gordon's words, she got the idea. She stepped to the side, and looked back and forth between them, just to be sure, and then pointed to herself again, looking the wolf in the eye, "Teesah."
"Nice to meet you, Teesah. We need water. Waaa – terrr..."
"Oh, gods, Tris – you're embarrassing me. You think she's hard of hearing?" Teesah had gone to retrieve her clothes, so Gordon went up to her and – catching her eye just as she was pulling up her loin-cloth – said, "Teesah. Uh... water... uhm..." He pretended to hold a cup and drink from it. "Water..."
"Wa-ter. Les. Too, too. See-bah Gordon." She pulled a canteen out of her pack and handed it to him.
It was full. He pulled the cork and drank.
"Uhm... hey, Gord?" Tristan said, joining them while Teesah buttoned up her vest again.
Gordon handed the canteen to him, then turned to Teesah again, "Teesah. Uhm... more? More water? Uhm... dammit, how the hell do you talk to people who don't-"
"Soda les?" she looked at him questioningly. He stared back unsure how to get through what he meant, but she brought her hands up, as if holding a bowl or a pot, and pretended to drink it up. Then she moved her hands apart – a bigger bowl, and did it again.
"Yeah! Yeah – soda les! Soda, soda les! Uhm... four... uh..." He put a fist out as she watched him. He pointed to himself and extended a finger, then to Tristan, and extended another. Then he extended two more. "Four," he said again.
"Four?" she repeated questioningly. She appeared to think about that for awhile, then she too extended a fist, and one by one extended fingers. "Gordon, Tristan, pow, kef, Teesah. Mah."
She took them to the water. After four hours, they could see it in the distance. A stream. A stream and an oasis of green in the middle of this vast wasteland. They saw it from one end to the other – it was only twenty feet long. It sprang from the the gravel out of nowhere, and then disappeared again at the base of a small mound. Around it, green things grew – but you'd never see it unless you knew exactly where to look.
The men immediately set about filling their wine-skins and loading them back onto their travois.
While they were doing that, Tristan asked, "So Gordon – I saw what happened back there. You gave yourself to her, didn't you..."
"I guess I did. Yeah," he replied, a little embarrassed. Both his ears fell to his shoulders. It was cute.
"She'll be joining us?"
"I don't think I can stop her, wolf-boy."
Tristan chuckled, "Uh-huh. And if you could?"
Gordon looked over at the wolf, then to Teesah who was sitting on a rock watching them, her legs crossed. She was wagging one foot as she waited, arms crossed over her chest. Her eyes caught his, and he got that feeling in his knees again. Yeah. She was coming with them. Forever, if he could talk her into it, somehow. "You're enjoying this aren't you, wolf-boy..."
"Oh, no! Not at all!" Tristan smiled, "A girl? Ick! I hope you'll keep all the perverted stuff to yourself, is all. Ya know how I feel about that..."
"Tristan? Fuck you."
There was no need to come up with a clever reply to that. And besides – it would be 'too easy' anyway.
As the walked back – fast as they could – it eventually grew dark, and Teesah nudged Gordon with her elbow. "Gordon?" she said, then pointed at the moon, and a few stars.
Since there was no way he could explain why they were not stopping, he just looked her in the eye seriously and said, "Yes," nodding his head for added emphasis.
"Oh-kay," she said. Apparently it had been enough. The wolf was ahead of the pair of them, quite obviously pushing himself hard. If not for the travois, it seemed, he'd probably be running. Teesah guessed that whoever was waiting for all this water had probably been waiting for awhile – that's why these two guys were so anxious to get back.
And about "these two guys"... a wolf? And a warrior-rabbit? And they seemed to be... friends? This was getting weirder all the time. Her tribe of cougar-people lived in the Desert, close to the western edge of the mountains, but far, far north of where she was now. She'd met a lot of different kinds of people – mostly on caravans – but she'd never seen two species work together like these two were. The caravans were usually all one species or another – wolves, deer, cats, bears... even beavers that one time. Her people were known to them all, so the caravaners would let her join them for as long as she wanted. It was always interesting hearing how other people lived, in far-away places. Interesting enough to go to the trouble of learning their language in order to talk to them. She'd gotten good at that.
But these people... especially the rabbit – Gore-dun – was just... fascinating. She'd been pulling out her best tricks fighting him, and barely scratched him, let alone killed him. He might teach her a thing or two, one of these days. And the young wolf... Well, she didn't really care much for wolves – or canines in general – but he seemed okay, too. He probably had a she-wolf waiting for him, was why he was so anxious to get back. Teesah wasn't too excited about the thought of hanging around with a pair of wolves. Although... the rabbit didn't seem to mind... Fascinating...
By morning, it was their third day out, and Tristan was getting anxious. "Come on Gordon – pick it up, man!"
"Hey – I got an idea, Tris. Why don't you load me up with almost all your water, then we can strap a few skins on your back, and you can run the rest of the way. How's that sound?" Truthfully – it should have been Gordon doing the running, but he could imagine how the wolf must feel, so he didn't even mention that.
He needn't have worried. Tristan immediately began un-strapping his harness.
"Taylor! Taylor!" he shouted, still fifty yards from the cave. There was no sign, no movement. If Taylor had only walked out of that dark hole, waved at him, and said "What?" the wolf would have just collapsed on the spot. But that didn't happen, so he ran on.
"Taylor!" He stopped just inside, letting his eyes adjust. There was still no answer. Cold dread filled his chest and belly. It was a physical thing. It seemed centered on the same part of his chest that the boy had made flutter so often, in times past. Now that part was growing hard and cold. Tristan was scared.
When he heard it, the thing in his chest seemed to split open. And apparently, it had been full of lightning.
"TAYLOR!" the wolf shouted, already running forward, even though he still couldn't see. He tripped, and fell, and banged his knee, which hurt – a lot – but he couldn't have cared less. "TAYLOR!"
Over 'here'? Tristan stumbled again, stubbing his toe hard. More pain, and more complete apathy about it. But finally his eyes were getting used to the dark – there, on the ground. White. Tristan ripped a wine-skin from from his back. And fell to his knees on the rock to hard that he could hear the bones make impact.
"I brought water, Tay! Here... here..."
Taylor began to drink from the skin Tristan was holding to his mouth. Then the boy brought up both hands to grab the wine-skin for himself. As Taylor's hands touched his, Tristan was amazed at how hot they felt. Hot and dry. Taylor was sucking at the wine-skin greedily, squeezing more water into his mouth than he could swallow, trying to flood – or drown – himself in it.
"Hold on... Tay... that's..." Tristan fought to pull the skin away, but the boy's strength seemed frighteningly magnified, "Okay, Tay – you're just gonna... Tay... Let go... Let GO!" Tristan toppled over backward as he finally pulled the wine-skin from Taylor's grip.
"Damn, Tay! There's lots more – you can have some more in a minute, okay? Remember what The Lady said about- Tay? Where's The Lady?"
Taylor's head fell back heavily onto the roll of clothes he was using as a pillow. "She's back there, Tris. She's dead. My head hurts so much..."
"She's... Uh, okay... Here, Taylor. Take it. Drink slowly, okay? I have more with me, and Gordon's on his way with the rest of the skins. You're gonna be all right, Tay... I'm gonna go find The Lady, okay?"
"Okay. Tris... I didn't think you'd come back..."
A lump formed in the wolf's throat. Back when he and Gordon had split up to look for any sign of water, he'd been wondering if he ever would come back. "Tay... Taylor..." he stammered. The right words wouldn't come. "Be right back."
Even though Tristan could see in the darkness of the cave now – his sight was becoming blurred with tears. And for some reason, he didn't want Taylor to see that. He looked for The Lady.
He found her. She was dead.
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