The rain beat down outside, the long moss-covered vines layer the entrance hiding their home well from prying eyes but the noise created from the water pouring off the leaves echoed through the cave like thunder. The weather was unseasonably wet with mud shifting around the mountains which would freeze by morning from the blistering cold. Their roaring fire that was centred just below a small hole in the ceiling. It helped little despite being lit nearly all day. Thick brown roots that were the size of trees themselves tore the cave roof apart that made the roots look like figures that were going to pull him from the cave.
Rendall sat next to the fire, a deer hide wrapped around himself. Helping little, he sat shivering, trying to remember the feeling of the sunshine on his skin. He took off his worn leather gloves, fraying at the edges and covered in small holes from the years of use although they seem to now fit him better than they did when he found himself here. Rarely thinking of the past or how he had changed since his parents had died. Recalling no specific date it was at least three winters had passed since the horror of that day making him seventeen. If his general size wasn’t a sign of his growth, the small brown hairs growing on his chin were undoubtedly indications that he had matured.
“A long time, maybe I have gone mad and not realised yet,” he whispered to himself.
He glanced back down at his hands that had turned a mix of grey and blue due to a lack of blood flow that made it seem as if none left in his body. Having no feeling in them and barely able to clench a fist and so placing them only inches away from the fire in hope to bring back some life into them.
After a few moments, he began to feel the heat burn through his hands as he stared at the entrance of the cave. As if on cue Celer entered, the great white wolf herself. She had got large over the years that had passed since he found her left to die by her pack. Standing on all fours, the wolf was the height of an eight-year-old child and if on her hind legs would easily stretch to nine feet. Great paw prints were left as she walked about the cave easily the size of blacksmiths yet it was her magnificent legs of well-defined muscle that caught the eye. Their power and speed she could run on them with would cause any foe to think hard before challenging her.
Walking around the cave her pointed ears twitched as the rustling of wildlife could be heard from outside. The thought of a chase sent waves of excitement through her. Rendall looked at Celer, locking gazes he saw the same silver eyes that he had. They would often catch the glow of night, particularly in the darkness it would be unnerving to many folk. Celer was a predator, her strength impossible to ignore, though Rendall was lucky to call this one his family. Wolves were something of a legend, No one had ever seen one and lived, at least not that he had known yet for all their power many stories would claim centuries before they were often hunted by large raiding parties to claim as a trophy.
When Rendall had found her those years ago huddled under a brush seemingly left to die, he hadn’t known what to do at the time as wolves were something of a legend. He was always told to stay away from the beasts, even cubs, as they were born hunters to anything moving. Not killing the wolf cub he found but nurturing it, not taming the beast but becoming her friend, a friendship now that was unbreakable. They shared everything, food, water and even who’s turn it was to hunt. Hunting was difficult for her as no one could teach her how to do it though would still enjoy the chase and when she did catch something would often let it go again. She had developed an interesting tactic that Rendall used and was usually better at it than her. Being able to run long distances at a steady pace that many animals could not, their prey would often give up panting on the floor.
Though capable of taking down animals in the woods they would only take what they needed, not more. Celer would kill when she was hungry and often when she returned her entirely white fur would be tainted with blood around her mouth, making her look feral. Seeing the wolf return on the first few hunts made Rendall run in fear initially not realising she had just eaten prior. Rendall, not interested in meat would graze throughout the day mostly living off nuts, berries and plants found in the woods. The resulting effect on his body meant he had a lean muscular figure, able to tackle the trials that were put in front of him.
The two seemed to be a perfect fit for one another, both suffered lost and were expected to have died, even so, they were able to make a life together. If it wasn’t for her, Rendall thought he would probably have given up a long time ago, either killing himself or driving himself into madness. The wilderness was a lonely place, especially for a boy that had lost everything at the age of fourteen. The pain still tore at Rendall, wearing him down a little more each day.
Rendall stared into the firelight, the thought about the events of the past brought back a wave of sadness and anger. His parents were murdered, burnt alive by bandits, he could not help them and justice would never be delivered to those responsible. Not able to shake the feeling that it was his fault, his emotions took hold of him that day, preventing him from acting sooner. Clenching his fist Rendall bowed his head into his knees and wept.
Rendall hadn’t moved, his emotions had gained control again. Yet this time it was not only the guilt of being unable to save them, but that he could no longer remember their faces, almost like someone was slowly erasing his memory. Even trying to recall childhood memories only brought back blurry pictures to his mind. Jumping from the cliff he had taken several knocks, many of which landed on his skull. Running his hand over his head he would feel soft areas, scars that had never healed properly. One thing Rendall clung onto and still remembered was their voices. Yet while images faded, Rendall recalled the soft tone of his mother and deep seriousness of his father. He held onto their voices and pieced them together with the fragments of memories he could recall. Spending countless hours he would try to make some sense out of simple fragments of even hunting with his father or being read a story to when young were now gone.
Celer stopped Rendall from losing his wits. The friendship that had kindled sometimes wasn’t enough, so much so that on occasion he wished he had died that day. It wouldn’t have taken much he had thought, he had no memory of hitting the water, assuming he fell unconscious. When he did wake, he washed up on a muddy embankment, hours if not days later wet, cold, hungry and in pain.
He couldn’t remember exactly where his home was. He wanted to go back after he woke, wet and dirty from the water all those years ago. When he first came to, he could only walk for several paces before falling. Having no idea where he was, Rendall recalled stumbling every step wandering lost and disorientated, finally ending up in the cave where he resided now.
Days merged, Rendall did not know whether some of his memories were dreams or truth. Though he did remember the headache he had when he finally came around, it was like someone was breaking his skull in two.
The cave itself was deeper than he had ever seen in the forest. Seemingly several days in any direction to reach civilisation as Rendall had often spent full days running and walking in every path, he never came across any human villages or towns, just a few abandoned roads. Rendall had liked it this way as no one could ever hurt the one bit of family he had left.
Not knowing how long he had been staring at Celer, she had realised something was troubling him. Strolling over she sat next to him, her tail wrapped around her body as she brushed her wet fur all over his face.
“Oh come on!” he shouted.
He tried to be angry with Celer as he looked into her eyes. It was always a little strange when he spoke now as they instinctively knew each other’s needs and seemingly thoughts too. Though to keep some of his sanity he thought it would be good for him to talk occasionally.
Not dwelling on his dark thoughts any further Rendall jumped on Celer. Catching her off guard they went tumbling over the rocky jagged floor that they barely noticed and small stones dug into their backs.
Rendall got her in a bear hug, attempting to restrain the great wolf though it was pointless. Celer just rolled onto her legs then stood grinning at Rendall, her white, sharp teeth promising retribution. Rendall, grinning back at her, hung on, refusing to let go.
Taking a few steps, she looked at him with a slight grin and let out a soft playful growl.
Rendall tucked his head into the beast’s back and tightened his grip. She got faster and started to jog around the cavern.
Knowing he was in trouble, he nevertheless wouldn’t give up, not again. He clenched his hands onto her wet fur, knowing already this won’t end well as his hands were already starting to slip. He might be able to jump on her back, but she could easily throw him off. Celer started to go even faster around the cavern. It was quite a large home they had found, not sure who it used to be home to as it spanned thirty feet in diameter with rocks protruding from the ground that could certainly cause some damage if Rendall fell onto one. He was, however, doing a good job holding on this time, despite the wet fur.
The great wolf started bounding onto the rocks and even leapt onto the wall to immediately push from it. Unsurprisingly moments later Rendall fell to the floor without grace. He had been flung off and landed straight on his stomach with his face planting in the mud.
Groaning for a moment as the air left his lungs, he pulled his head out of the mud. With a large grin, he wheezed out, “Next time.”
Putting his head back into the mud, Celer then laid down next to the fire to dry off and started to brush the mud from her paws. Rendall watched the wolf gloat in front of him and slowly crawled on his stomach over to her, placing his head on her stomach while scratching behind her ear. It was late already. The sun had set several hours ago though they wouldn’t get much sleep tonight with the downpour outside. The rain echoed at the entrance of the cave while they cuddled up with Rendall’s head on her belly with his arms wrapped around the wolfs two front legs, no matter what else happened they knew nothing would harm them while they were together.
The next morning Rendall awoke, surprised to find both of them still lying in the exact same position. While comfy when he fell asleep, he was stiff and as he stretched out his bones cracked and creaked. Sparing a glance at Celer, he saw an open mouth dribbling with her tongue falling outside her teeth. He chuckled, unable to hold in his laughter. No matter how majestic she believed she was, when asleep, she was like a little puppy.
The rain eventually stopped and the sun shone through the gaps of leaves in the entrance of the cave. He picked up his worn wooden bow, a few arrows and shuffled outside. The weariness of just waking up had not yet worn off. Stopping as he did every day to enjoy the view. Their cave was on the side of a mountain overlooking thick forestland for miles. The sun rose in the distance of the hills lighting up the valley and with it brought the birdsong and the movement of animals running around the forest below. This time of year the leaves on the trees were browning and falling off making it look like a barren waste in some areas, haunted in fact. No matter the direction Rendall looked he could not see any sign of civilisation. No distance smoke from fires, travelling carts and no gaps in the woods for small houses or huts, it was his little piece of the world, and he had no intention of leaving.
Rendall made his way down the rocky mountain edge. The rain from the previous night had made the clay between the boulders slippery. Rendall was careful not to go too fast or he would lose his footing and easily break his ankle, or worse. Over time he had worn down a faint path in the cliffside that he would follow, yet the rain had turned it into a mudslide. So he carefully found another route through the rocky edges. Slowly making his way down the mountain where the air became colder. No more was there a warming ray of sunlight but instead the shadow of the towering trees and hills in the area.
The hairs on his skin were rising as he shook suddenly to try and keep warm. The memory of washing up on a riverbed with soaking clothes made him feel even colder.
Rocks tumbled behind him, he turned drawing his bow, nocking an arrow and already drawing back ready to release. He could shoot in less than a second. Yet as he sighted up the hill it was only Celer standing on top of the edge of the hill overlooking the woods then looking down at him. Always wanting to join him in the woods, whether it was to just be close to him or she had some duty to protect him as she was part of his pack he didn’t really know. No matter though. He always enjoyed her company and so she leapt from the rocks with ease, descending the cliff slide quickly and without incident. He wasn’t really ever sure how she managed to do it as some of the rocks were almost like walking upon ice but she could still walk and even run over it effortlessly.
Together they walked into the woods that seem to swallow them in moments. In this ancient part of the land, trees were fifty feet tall with branches that could be called a tree if seen in any other part of the world. The pair decided to head west, a direction they had rarely been since the last winter, not out of any fear just no need as food and exploration was abundant in the northern and eastern areas. Today though Rendall decided to investigate as wildlife rarely came around after heavy rain as they either burrowed deeper into the earth or fled as rabbit, fox and badger tunnels would flood. It looked no different from the other regions, trees dwarfed him, the floor covered in a chestnut brown from dead leaves and a layer of fog wrapped around him from the waist down. No matter what the time of year there was always a lingering mist. Even when the sun rose in the summer to burn it away there would still be areas of it clumped around trees or little enclaves.
As time past, they would sometimes find rabbit or fox holes that were slightly hidden by the surrounding area though when Celer found them she would always poke her head in to dig a little bit to see if she could catch something. As Rendall expected, she didn’t find anything, pulling her head out which would be covered in mud that could almost pass as war paint against her white fur. He laughed at her but soon regretted it when she rubbed her face over him.
“You’ll pay for that.” Rendall muttered to himself, though with her keen hearing Celer sharply turned her head around and glared at him.
“Err, I love you.” he hastily replied, realising that he was in trouble.
There was a low growl in response as she trotted on, her tail swishing from side to side, promising revenge. Rendall knew he was going to be put through some form of torment for that, but also knew by now that he often made things worse if he tried to make amends.
“Maybe she’ll forget about it,” he said to himself when Celer was out of earshot.
Hours had past and as the day wore on, they had broken out into a steady run. Having not really changed direction Rendall looked up to see the sun was getting lower and he knew he’d have to turn back soon as he had already run on too long and would get caught in the darkness. Rendall knew not to be out at night in the woods, especially this deep. The howls, pierces and screams he would hear at night from his cave would sometimes keep him up all night. The stories he recalled his mother telling him, legends that wolf packs roamed. Giant stags that would attack anyone that came close. But the worst was the Vespers. Human-like creatures that were the haunted of the forest, lost souls that would drag the living into their realm to forever be tormented. He hadn’t known if the latter two were real, but as giant wolves were, why not the other demons and beasts. The screams he sometimes heard seemed to be different, someone else’s voice each and every night that would wail constantly. Knowing he wasn’t hearing voices as Celer seemed to listen to them as well as she even often crouches low near the entrance of the cave growling in a low predatorial tone. He was never able to get her out of this state, which unnerved him further.
Before he turned back though he noticed an opening in the woods. He pondered how far be had actually gone, as not before could he recall this part of the woodland, a woodland that now was farmland of overgrown corn fields. He had been walking, running and chasing Celer for most of the day at a steady pace not thinking of anything in particular but just living in the moment. The boy walked towards the edge of the clearing though curious, all he had known for so long was the deep woods and no other sign of human life. Having mixed feelings of fear that wanted to make him run back and excitement that propelled him to go ahead.
Hating to admit it, Rendall smile at the thought of seeing another human face. The years had not been kind to Rendall, and there was a part of him that yearned for someone to talk to. Without thought, he slowly moved to the overgrown grass. It was vibrant and wild, the green shimmering slightly in the dying light of the day, reflecting off other flowers that popped up in the long grass. As Rendall walked he wondered if the farmland had been abandoned as within patches of the grass were nettles growing to the height of his chest. He expected his feet to fall into the soil beneath his feet yet it was rock hard. The cracks all around the clay-like soil that wildlife grew gave proof that the land had been left for several years and nature was taking it back.
Taking cautious steps Rendall closed his eyes for a moment and breathed in the scents of fresh grass, getting the feeling of life and freedom. With the rays of sunshine that beat down on him, it almost felt like a spring day even though it was autumn.
He noticed an old wooden hut in the far corner of the next field that looked terrible. It was the only building in the area and the first sign of man Rendall had seen in years. The hut looked like it had been abandoned, the door was hanging off by a single hinge with what looked like an axe mark ripping out of a hung chunk of wood. Vines covered the hut that appeared to be crushing the building and slowly turning it back into dust. To the right of the hut was another cornfield with a giant white windmill in the distance. The building again looked abandoned with ivy covering the bottom half, with bricks and mortar breaking away at different points. Surrounding the kernels were nettles and other weeds, clearly more signs that that the area was nobody here.
Looking at the plants and bushes in front of him, Rendall’s mind started to wander, thinking about all the food he could make from corn and all the food he missed. With saliva drooling from his mouth at the thought of bread, soups and of course anything coated in sugar, Rendall had to pull his mind away from distraction and see what he could scavenge.
Before turning to fill his pockets he looked over the area further and saw a group of people in the distance, seemingly having a disagreement. Taken back of a moment, Rendall did not expect to see anyone. He shared a look at Celer who got low, covering herself in the surrounding undergrowth. Rendall followed suit and began to make his way closer to the ground of people.
As they approached, Rendall had a flashback of the thugs from years ago. Memories of that day were fragmented yet as he stared at one of them, the build of the man and armour he wore looked similar if not the same to one of the men that killed his family all those years ago. Recalling images from his past, he remembered a scar that went down the man’s neck, the same scar that he could faintly see now. Shocked, Rendall knew it couldn’t have been a coincidence. How many people would have a deep purple cut going down the side of their neck?
Wanting to find out more the pair hid just out of sight and watched the events unfolding.
The couple who stood against the three men weren’t being beaten or attacked, at least not yet. The woman stood with her back slightly hunched over looking at the floor with her hair in front of her face. Two of the men stood to one side, with another man who was on his knees seeming as if he had given up. Rendall didn’t know what had happened before he arrived though it didn’t stop the cold rage building up inside him. Forcing down the desire to rush in and attack the men, he had glimmers of the last time he did. His parents got killed, and so didn’t want the same thing to happen again even if he did have a wolf on his side.
Hoping he hadn’t been spotted Rendall crouched and slowly snuck closer to the group until he was only meters away hiding, near the old hut just out of sight. Celer bore her teeth, white, razor-sharp, waiting to tear chunks out of the thugs.
“Ple…..ase sir, we don’t have much to give you, I already gave you all the money we have.” Muttered the old man.
Peering through the bushes, Rendall inspected the man speaking, seeing a red cheek from an apparent beating while also clutching his ribs as if they were broken. He guessed that was the reason the man was on his knees. The pain must have been agony.
“You expect me to believe all you have is six measly bronze coins? I could get more off a child in the street, now don’t play with me anymore!” Bellowed one of the thugs, striking the man again.
“Please stop!” whimpered the old woman as she ran over to her husband, stepping around the thug in front of her.
Her husband laid on the floor now as the thug kicked him repeatedly. But he stopped when the woman put her body over the man, who was crying in pain.
“Well if you have no more money, looks like I’m taking payment another way.” the man smiled as he looked at his friends then back at the woman.
“Take off your clothes.”
The woman’s eyes bulged in terror. She looked around frantically looking for a way out yet all she saw were the wicked smiles of the dirty thugs in front of her. With her body still over her husbands, she clung onto her clothes holding them close.
Grinding his teeth, Rendall had heard enough. Another one of the men he recognised had grown a bread, his hair was now cut short showing wide red eyes which seemed to undress the woman in his mind. He remembered that this was the man that dragged his mother into the house, bleeding and beaten. A sickening thought came to his mind of what else happened to his mother before arriving.
Fury overtook Rendall, detaching him from over emotions. His silver eyes now glowing. He focused on nothing but this pathetic excuse for a man.
Time seemed to slow down. Standing from cover drawing and nocking an arrow to his bow, he fired. A fluid move of an age-old warrior, yet he was just a young man, a boy in fact, knowing at that moment the only right thing to do was to kill the thug that had helped to murder his parents.
The arrow flew quickly, the black feather fletching guiding it to pierce the man’s neck. A perfect shot, the man was immediately wounded though not fatally. Rendall wanted the thug to suffer before leaving this world. With blood pouring from the wound he fell to the ground like a rock, still in shock as he hadn’t known what had happened. Moving his eyes to where Rendall was now standing his eyes widened. He saw this boy fall off a cliff into a river. Surely he had drowned.
Celer sensed Rendall’s intention and leapt out of the undergrowth into the man on the right. She bit into his skull, her teeth sharper than swords instantly ending his life. Tales of wolves that parents would tell their children at night certainly seemed accurate when seeing Celar’s brutality. While the man she just bit into was no doubt dead after the first blow she grabbed him by the torso and violently swung the man around left to right, his limbs now limp as a snake. Satisfied she threw the corpse into the nearby fence. Blood staining her white coat, the great beast started looking for her next victim.
The third outlaw, the man with the scar on his neck, was already running and screaming in terror down the road. Celer sneered and was about to chase him down, it would have only taken a minute but looking over to Rendall she knew he needed her.
Slowly walking over, Rendall held a thousand-eye gaze into the distance. Tears rolled down his face while the scenes around him unfolded. He had not moved since he released the arrow, the noises of death and screams from the dead and the couple in the area didn’t even make him blink. Knowing there was little she was able to do and not truly knowing what happened to him before they met she settled in next to Rendall, letting him know that she was there, by pushing her head gently against his cheek then settling in to sit by him.
Rendall’s gaze moved over to the man that lied on the floor. Blood poured out of his neck, drenching the outlaw’s clothes and creating a pool just under him. The man still stared back at Rendall, his eyes showing no remorse at what he did, but held fear, of the boy that should be dead.
A single word passed his lips before his heart stopped beating, “How?”
Rendall watched the man die before him. Having wanting to kill the men that ruined his life all these years he thought that a sense of weight would be lifted from him, yet as the realisation of the nothingness that came thereafter Rendall fell to his knees letting out the pain. Sadness and anger poured out of him. His eyes swelled up, letting it out as he fell to his knees and lent into Celer.
Rendall had never given himself time to grieve since that fateful day. Burying his emotions there were days that he fooled himself that he was playing in the woods and would go home that evening. Other days he thought his parents were still alive and just got lost in the woods. It was those days he would sit in the side of their cave, knees against his chest staring at the entrance waiting for the moment they would walk through.
Tears flowed freely down his face before Rendall even noticed, his hands shaking violently. He could get no words out to Celer asking her for help. Sitting in front of him Celer blocked the sight of the dead man and buried her head back into him, showing that she loved him.
The couple laid there on the floor in shock and fear, who was this man, no, this boy? He had only a few hairs around his chin and cheeks with smooth skin with no wrinkles of age. As they looked at him they saw the wolf that was next to him. They quivered at the sight of the beast, now with blood staining her hide.
No matter they thought, the boy and his wolf had saved their lives, yet he seemed to be in pain and like the thug on the floor recognised the boy before he bled to death. There was silence between the couple and the boy. The couple had many questions they wanted to ask, but sensed and saw the boy clearly in pain, though with the wolf next to him, they had no idea what to do.
Rendall felt the brush of Celer’s head on his shoulder and he slowly came around. He looked at his surroundings, seeing blood spatters everywhere and then saw the couple who were being robbed. It had been years since he had seen anyone and as if he was being tortured after all this time he encountered some of the thugs doing what they did to his parents to another couple. They looked back at him in fear and amazement. Rendall wanted to leave, he liked his time on his own and facing the world was too hard. He didn’t wait any longer and knew what he wanted to do. Standing and looking to Celer to let her know they were leaving. They ran, running through the field and heading back the way he came.
A minute later, the woman’s voice echoed “Wait! Please don’t go, we can he…” Though Rendall was now too far gone for him to hear what else they were saying.
He ran on, Celer close on his heal, her blood-drenched fur coat made any animal in their path run to cover.
But they weren’t running to their cave. Rendall decided it was time to go home. He changed direction to go upriver. He had not noticed it was late, the sun now would be dripping over the horizon. Celer sensed his stress, knowing it would be dangerous ahead and he would need her. Already complete darkness engulfed some areas, the screams would not be far off.