Chapter Two: Animal.
The sun went down not long after, and they brought out blankets and bedrolls, and began to cook my kills for today. They each claimed one of the rabbits – I chuckled as I watched them attempt to skin one, and made a horrible mess of it. I could already tell they were from the city – a place where people seldom have to do anything for themselves, where the biggest threat to their survival was disease. The people lived in such tightly clustered homes, with three or four in one building alone, that disease travelled quickly, and often became an epidemic in a short period of time. Many would die from something as simple as a cold, because no one knew how to treat themselves, and doctors were so expensive, and hard to get reach of in time. Many doctors lived in the estates and mansions of the wealthy, so that the lords and ladies wouldn't have to travel beyond their own gates should they ever need anything, which made it a problem for those who lived on the crowded streets. And so quack doctors arose from the dark alleys, promising cures and medicine, and only providing infection and bottles of coloured urine. It had been so many years since I had been in the capital, and I don't miss a single part of it. It was – and still is, one of the most depressing places one can be.
When all the meat had cooked, they began ravenously tearing it apart and consuming it. It was like watching an eagle pull apart a snake, disgusting, yet mildly fascinating. Apparently it had been a long day without food. As an afterthought, they tossed the cooked bird at my feet, I guess I wouldn't be must use to them dead. I simply stared at it silently; I had seen it prepared, so I know it wasn't poisoned, and would pose no threat to me to eat. I hadn't spoken a word since I spat in Alexander's face, would this be giving in to them if I ate? Would they see it as a sign of defeat?
My stomach growled loudly as the smell of cooked bird filled my senses, as if in reminder that however much I enjoy being a horrible guest, I do have to eat.
"You can eat or starve sweetheart, I don't care either way." It didn't matter though, despite my struggles to reach the bird, it had been dropped just inches out of my reach. I couldn't even grab it with my feet. When Nathaniel looked up at me, I snapped my feet back to my side, as if the bird had burned them. He said nothing – as usual – and returned to his meal. I sighed, and hung my head in defeat, my stomach giving me painful nudges, urging me to acquire the bird by any means.
Alexander glanced over at me, and I could just see his disgusting victorious smirk from behind my wild black hair. He nodded at Nathaniel, and the silent man rose, and picked up the bird, depositing it in my lap. My face snapped up to meet his, curious as to what he was thinking, feeling; the silent man only stared back, before turning to make preparations for the cold night ahead, and I gained nothing from his hollow gaze.
Night fell, and so did the blanket of cold that embraces the land once the sun's light dies. This wasn't the first winter night that I had been bedless, but I had made doubly sure never to let it happen again, after that experience. Alexander swept their equipment off the bed, and claimed my worn, straw mattress to himself. Nathaniel had unrolled one of the bed rolls, and slipped into his sleeping bag. They exchanged a few words, then Alexander laid down to sleep. Nathaniel zipped up his bag, but did not lie down; instead sat propped up against the cave wall, crossbow held firmly in his hands, cold, hollow gaze trained on me. Damn, they're not taking any chances with me here.
It wasn't as if I could do anything however, the bitter cold seeped in to the cave and the stone beneath me turned to ice, despite the embers of the fire still burning not four metres away from me. My whole body was shivering, violently; my breath visible in the moonlight that streamed in through the mouth of the cave. My teeth began to chatter uncontrollably, no matter how hard I clenched them, they would not stop. Nathaniel regarded me silently, and after a few minutes of this, Alexander bolted up from my bed, reaching into the pack beside him, and tossing me a blanket.
"If the noise continues I'll pull your teeth out myself so that it can't." He grumbled quietly, before settling back down to rest. I quickly pulled the blanket underneath me, desperate to put something between my skin and the icy floor. Thankfully the blanket was large enough to pull around my shoulders as well, so pulled my feet in to my chest and was soon blanketed in a warm cocoon. My cheeks still stung from the cold but it mattered not, for the most part I was warm.
Despite my efforts I could not sleep – not with the silent mans unblinking eyes on me, so I resolved to stay awake with him. He was like an owl, perched there, unmoving, unblinking. Alexander appeared exhausted but weariness seemed to have no effect on him. After a while I was beginning to wonder if he ever really existed at all? If perhaps, he were only a statue, and the hunger had made me hallucinate, but after several hours he moved, and began rummaging through the packs beside him, and pulled out three mugs, and from a tin, shook some brown powder into each of them. He then removed a small pot, and poured water from a canister into it. He hooked the pot over the dying fire, and then settled back into his previous position. This time however, he was staring intently at the pot, not at me. Curious, I watched it also, wondering what he was making. When he decided the water was hot enough, he poured some into each of the three mugs, stirred them briefly, and to my surprise, handed one to me. I stared at it, not sure what to make of this act of kindness, when he saw my confusion and took a sip from his own mug, to show me it was safe. I gratefully accepted the mug, and gingerly raised it to my lips.
I recognized this flavour, it seemed so familiar, but from a time so long ago. It was sweet, and thick, and had an almost creamy essence to it. Was this... Chocolate? Liquid.. chocolate? Yes, I remember now, this taste is chocolate!
I gasped in astonishment, and hungrily took small, careful sips in an attempt to savour it, make it last longer but it was no good, the delicious drink was quickly disappearing. Chocolate! I hadn't had this since I was a child!
Nathaniel had roused Alexander by this point with a mug of his own, and I guessed it was time for them to exchange watch, but I was too busily enjoying the warm drink to notice. Alexander was standing with a blanket draped around his shoulders, watching me curiously. Now it was me who looked like the hungry animal, but at the moment I couldn't care less. Nathaniel slipped into the warm bed wordlessly, and I couldn't tell if he was asleep or awake – there was no change in breathing, and he rarely seemed to move anyway.
Alexander picked up Nathaniel's bed roll and dragged it around the fire, and to my surprise propped it up against the wall next to me. I lowered my cup from my hands for a minute to watch him curiously. He settled into the sleeping bag – crossbow at his other side, no doubt – and began drinking from his own cup, much slower and less urgently than I had been.
"So then," He murmured quietly - a shock to the ears, after only silence being exchanged for so many hours. "Do you ever plan to let me know your name?" I remained silent, and he studied my face as I did so. "Guess not." He sighed, and took a quiet sip of his chocolate.
"Ren.. Renyon." I mutter, after some hesitation. My voice is slightly hoarse so I drown it in chocolate.
I seem to have caught him off guard, and he looks at me, mild surprise colouring his dark eyes. "Renrenion?"
"Just Renyon." I clarify, busily taking small sips once more. In all honesty, it took me a while to remember my name, it had been so long since I used it. My one hand was getting tired of holding the mug so I placed it carefully on the blanket next to me and shake the cramp out. I flex the fingers on the hand that is cuffed to the bed leg.
"How long have you lived out here in the forests, Just Renyon?" His voice was much softer than before, but his blunt humour still makes me flinch. Again his question receives a short pause, as it requires a lot of thought.
"Nine." I finally whisper. I can't look him in the face, so I just stare out over the dying embers.
He whistles in awe in response, as if impressed at my ability to survive for so long. My eyes narrow slightly and I scowl a little. Yeah, you better be impressed. You couldn't survive for one day out here without invading someone else's home and stealing their food. "How old were you when you came out here?" I can tell he is picking his questions carefully; like stepping on broken glass. One wrong step and..
"Ten." I answer, this question not requiring much thought. I remember the very day I wound up out here, in perfect detail. I dream about it most nights. This detail, I'll never forget.
His face is painted a mask of shock – the first genuine emotion I think I've seen from him, and so I pull myself from staring intently at the embers just to see it properly. I stiffen under his gaze, awe and shock swirling in his black pits for eyes. I lean away, made slightly uncomfortable by this look he gives me, shrinking into my blanket. He notices this and his face relaxes to neutral, and it is his turn to stare out into the embers. "Ten years old.." He breathed, "And already learning how to survive for yourself.."
It was now my chance to study his face keenly. He had a layer of rough stubble along his jaw, and his eyes had dark rings underneath them. His hair was tangled and wavy, and when he was upset or serious, it would dangle playfully in front of his eyes. His jaw was strong, angular. His eyes clear and dark at the same time. He had a scar under his right eye. My free hand twitched, I had the sudden, unreasonable urge to touch him, to feel the rough texture of his skin. It wasn't until the rough of his stubble brushed my fingertips that I realized my hand was obeying these desires. We both flinched away immediately; as if the touch had burned one another. He stared at me, long and hard, as if trying to decipher my actions. His skin was warm.. so warm...
As if deciding that in my current state I wasn't dangerous, he straightened up again, this time watching me carefully as my hand slowly made its way back to his cheek. This time he didn't move, only studied me curiously – like a wild animal. It took me a moment to realize that is exactly what he thought I was. At this, however, I couldn't feel angry. I had ignored the world for nearly half my life, hadn't had human contact in almost as long. I had lived like an animal too, I suppose. Every day I would go out and kill for my dinner, I lived in a cave, hanging onto what few possessions I did have. Why shouldn't he think I'm an animal? I was raised like one. I am a wild child.
My hand was cupping his warm cheek, fingers brushing over the rough stubble. Suddenly I felt a pang of shame, sitting here, tied up like a wild animal, and reacting to my first human encounter in many years like one. My hand gingerly retracted from his face, when suddenly his own hand was clamped around my wrist, not allowing me to take it back. His black eyes burned into me, and I turned away, not able to bear looking at him.
"How did you get here?" He whispered after a moment, gently releasing my wrist. I pulled it quickly under the cover of my blanket and leaned away from him, against the end of the bed, saying nothing. He waited patiently, expecting a pause before an answer, but his answer never came. He sighed and stood, dragging his mat and sleeping bag over to their original position and sitting there, staring at me intently from the other side of the fire.
I felt like a freak show. I did my best to bury my face in blankets and eventually drifted off to sleep out of exhaustion.
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