Trixie was getting tired of waking up in places she’d never seen before. Today was no different, it seemed, because she found herself lying in a remarkably soft pile of dried grass, straw, and bits and pieces of ragged cloth. A rough cotton blanket was lying haphazardly across her body, as if she had tossed and turned in the night. She squinted and realized sunbeams were coming in from somewhere.
She sat up and looked around her. She appeared to be in a cave of some sort, but instead of the cold, wet, and dark caves she’d been visiting recently, this one was warm, dry, and she could see now that the morning sunrise was peering in from the cave entrance some distance away.
Her hand touched something NOT straw and she looked down with a yelp. Next to her was a somewhat disheveled pile of berries, roots, and a cracked bowl that had at least a modicum of water within it. Trixie gasped and brought the bowl carefully to her lips, trying to hold back from simply splashing the whole of the bowl’s contents in her mad thirst.
All too quickly the water was gone and Trixie began consuming the berries and roots with a grim hope that whoever was responsible for her food and water was not out to poison her. Even though she was careful, she ended up with berry juice all over her face and her fingers were stained as well.
*Is this what I’m destined to become? Some mad hermit in a cave scrubbing about for roots and berries?*
She chuckled a little to herself at the idea, despite what she had been through in the past few days, imagining herself in tattered clothes, her long black hair in a hopeless snarl, and wild, feral violet eyes chasing after squirrels in the forest.
She looked down at her tattered night dress and purple fingers. *I guess I’m not far from that now.* she thought.
She suddenly froze. A voice echoed from a dark corner of the cave, deeper in from where she lay. The voice brought her memory of last night in to sharp focus.
“A nice soft bed. Something to eat. Two out of your three requests isn’t too mad, morsel?”
Trixie placed her hands slowly to her sides and turned her shoulders around, her eyes wide. Like a ghost, a giant wolf emerged from the darkness. It was huge, with pitch black fur and golden eyes that stared directly into Trixie’s own. It came within a few feet of her and flumped to the ground. An action that shook the ground a little under Trixie and blew the air about for a moment.
She swallowed hard and realized now that the white shapes scattered about the cave floor around her that she had been carefully ignoring were now resolving themselves to be bones. Some were small, but many were large - as big as Trixie herself. All the desperate courage she had mustered last night drained out of her like water.
“Are you going to eat me?” she squeaked.
The wolf flicked an ear. “No, not today. I’ve had my fill of humans. Too many bones, not enough flesh. And you don’t taste very good.”
Despite her terror, Trixie quirked a half-smile.
“I’ll have you know I probably taste very good thank you. I come from a long line of tasty humans. You’re probably just eating the wrong kind.” her voice quavered. If she didn’t know any better, she could swear the wolf was trying to make a joke.
The giant wolf blew air out its nose in a long sigh and adjusted itself a bit. The air blew Trixie’s hair back and the blanket from the rest of her body. Trixie shivered.
“What am I doing here? Why did you save me? How did you get this blanket? Did you bring me the food?” Her words spilled out quickly before she lost the nerve to speak again.
“Always with questions you humans are. You reminded me of my daughter last night. Wolves take care of their own. Since you are separated from your pack, I decided to provide you with some things you might need. Not that I would expect a human to do the same for me or my kind.” the wolf’s teeth bared slightly at those last words.
Despite herself, Trixie was fascinated by this wolf. It was like Wildness itself in animal form. It was so large a single paw could have crushed Trixie, yet it had not done that last night. As she gazed into the wolf’s face she could see scratches, and scars beneath the fur. And one ear had a nick in it that she presumed meant it had seen its share of fights.
“Do you have a name?” Trixie said quietly. “Mine is Trixie.”
The wolf tilted its head to the side. Trixie couldn’t help feeling like she was seeing a dog listening to a high pitched whistle. Only perhaps a dog as big as an elephant with fangs and claws, she mused.
“I am called Cur” he growled.
“Cur. I like that. Suits you. All rough and gruff.”
Trixie stood up unsteadily.
The wolf started, and raised its ears up.
“It’s ok, I’m just trying to stand, if that’s ok with you.” Trixie said.
She raised her arms and looked at the state of herself with some despair.
“There’s a stream just outside the cave. You humans seem to enjoy cleaning yourselves all the time. I assume that’s what you want to do next. But don’t even think of trying to escape, little morsel. I believe I could outrun you.”
The threat in his voice seemed hollow somehow to Trixie. Why was he helping her? It was obvious to her that his normal inclination was to fight, kill, and eat just about anything that got in his way. Yet something was holding him back. She remembered him talking about his daughter. She wondered...
As she made her way to the front of the cave, with the rough cotton blanket wrapped about her from the cold morning air she gasped as she looked out at the expanse before her. The cave entrance was high up in the mountains, with trees of all kinds blanketing a bowl-shaped valley that yawned beneath her. The sun was rising higher in the sky by now, and Trixie emerged from the cave entrance to a thin grove of trees. Pine needles covered the ground in some places, with patches of fresh thick grass growing where the sun shone through the tree leaves.
Carefully, on bare feet now muddy and wet from the morning dew on the grass around her, she made her way to where she heard a stream burbling nearby.
She felt more than heard Cur emerge from the cave behind her and he followed along some distance behind her, still staring in that unnerving way, as if she were going to suddenly bolt and run.
Trixie shivered again - though from the morning cold, or the unblinking gaze she wasn’t sure. Then, she stopped short and turned around abruptly.
“Can I have some privacy? You may be a giant wolf, but you’re still a male, and I’d appreciate what little privacy I might get out here in the middle of - wherever this is?”
Cur looked down for the first time and huffed.
Under his breath he said “Humans” and casually padded back toward the cave entrance.
Trixie noticed that even though he was close to her, and impossibly large, she could barely hear any sign of his movements. Tamping down her fears, which was fairly easy because she was also terribly cold, she peeled off her tattered clothes and proceeded to methodically scrub every bit of dirt and grime she could from her body and hair. If she thought she was cold before, she gasped at the icy stream water and bit her lip while trying to get clean.
A few mind-numbingly cold minutes later she stepped out of the water, gathered her clothes and wrapped herself with the blanket again and strode back into the warm cave. She dreaded donning those clothes again and was surprised to see that while she had been in the water, Cur had been piling random bits of clothing - presumably from his victims - near the bed of straw that she had awakened from.
As she arrived back at the straw, Cur dropped the last of the random clothing. It looked like a warrior of some sort had paid Cur a visit, and had met an unpleasant end, judging by the huge gashes in the armor. The cave wasn’t large, and Cur was so close to her that she reached out and touched his side before she realized what she was doing.
Cur froze at the touch. His huge head turned to look her in the eyes. She could not tell if he was angry, or sad, or if she had made a big mistake. She pulled her hand back as if she had been burned.
“I’m sorry. It’s just. You look so ... soft.” She giggled again. Was she going mad?
“It’s been a long time since a Human touched me, without wanting to kill me at the same time.” Cur growled. He did not move.
Suddenly bold, and scared, and needing to be held more than anything in the world, Trixie took a step forward and hugged the wolf. She didn’t care if he decided now was the time to consume her. She couldn’t take being alone any more. All of the memories of the past few days came flooding back and she sobbed into his fur.
Cur simply stood there. He was dumbfounded at this girl’s boldness. He should bite her right now. No Human should ever touch him again. Not after all they had done to him. All the killing they had done. But for some reason he did not. This girl. This “Trixie” was not like them. Not like the others. And somehow Cur saw in her something he had not seen since his daughter.
Since he lost his daughter.
Had this Mage girl spelled him? She seemed too much of a pup to have much knowledge, and he had been watching her for spells or gestures. What was going on?
Cur sighed inwardly. Perhaps he had been away from a pack too long himself. Without thinking, he nudged her with his cold nose. She yelped at the touch, but seeing that he was not only not running away, and not attacking, she let go of his side and hugged his muzzle tightly instead.
*Well, I can’t eat her while she has my mouth held shut. And humans taste bad anyway.*
Cur lay down in place and waited patiently while Trixie cried herself to sleep once again, exhausted. She held on to him tightly, even though he felt she had fallen asleep, still sobbing gently against his face.
He sighed. What was he getting himself into?