The packed snow made for a slippery walk from the small house to the old barn. No farm animals lived inside it, not for a long time. The only creatures inside were two horses. He braced the cold and slow falling snow for the stored firewood held inside. His boots did almost nothing against the ice and snow under his feet, and he pulled his thin green jacket tighter over his body. Flakes of snow fell lightly onto his shaggy white hair that hung to his brow. He forced one of the doors open, stuck against the newly fallen snow and slid inside. He shook the snow from his hair and tucked his bare hands under his arms.
The barn was no warmer than the outside. The old wooden planks had cracks and were rotting away in places, their decline sped up by the wet snow of winter. Most of the old stalls has been torn out, with only four left towards the back. Two had the horses, and the other two kept the dwindling firewood.
He shuffled over to one of the horses, checking the bundles of blankets on top and the water and grain, and cleaning out the muck. "Sorry, no carrots," the boy apologized, grinning tightly as the horse searched his hand for a treat. "I need to get you and me into town one of these days. We're out of perishables." He patted the horse along the head and went to the other stall across the way.
He froze at the open stall, eying the furry white form tucked away in the corner with the horse. It's breathing was ragged, and… "Wolf," the boy gasped out in surprise. No, not even that—it was too big to be a wolf. Why wasn't the horse scared, was another question. The boy made a clicking noise with his tongue against the roof of his mouth, getting the horse's attention. The horse turned in the tight stall, careful of the wolf, whose ears were now perked.
The boy grabbed at the horse's main and led him out into another stall. The horse snorted, fighting the lead slightly. "Into the other stall, come on," the boy urged, which only made the horse fight more. It was his father's horse, this one. The horse didn't like him, and he didn't like it either. He finally got it into one of the other stalls and returned to survey the wolf.
The wolf laid it's ears back and let out a low growl, it's eyes fixing on the boy. The boy stepped back slightly, letting out a swear word under his breath. The wolf growled again, louder, it's coat shivering slightly as it bristled. It didn't move though, just stayed curled up on the ground.
This wouldn't end well. His first instinct was to call out for his father, but knew for a fact that the man was passed out drunk from moonshine on the hearth.
The wolf's body relaxed slightly, though the growl didn't subside. The boy let out a breath of relief as well, figuring he wasn't of interest. He noticed the blood on the animal's coat then, too. He was injured; that's why it wasn't moving.
The boy put his hands up, trying to show he wasn't a threat. He crouched down slightly, and the wolf seemed to ease. He kept his eyes on the wolf's mouth while his hands framed the would on its shoulder. When the wolf didn't go to bite, the boy moved his eyes down to the wound. It looked clean—no dirt—but it was deep and covered in dried blood. "I'll… I'll be right back," the boy stepped back and hurried out of the barn.
He double checked that his father was out before getting water, rags, and some cloth wrap. He returned to the barn and ran water over the wound, gently rubbing away the dried blood. The wolf tensed and let out another growl from the pain, but kept still otherwise. After he finished cleaning, the boy wrapped it with the cloth, having to loop around the back and chest of the animal to properly cover the shoulder. "There you are," the boy commented softly, patting the wolf's belly. "Now please don't eat our horses. I'm sorry we don't have any food for you; I do have to go hunting in the morning. I can bring you a share of food after that, okay?" he promised.
The wolf nuzzled his hand, flashing his eyes up at the boy, still slightly untrusting.
"You're fine here," the boy continued. "My dad never comes into the barn anymore. He's too drunk and shaky to even ride his horse into town." He stood up and wiped his hands down his thighs. "Now I have to feed his horse, and bring in some firewood, okay? Again, please don't bother the horses…"
The wolf snorted and turned its head away. The boy paused, slightly surprised at the reaction. "I'll take that as you are going to cooperate," the boy grumbled. "My name is Cain, do you have a name?" Not that he expected any reply, really, but it was nice to have a conversation. He sighed and backed out of the stall again, on equal grounds with the wolf—not fully trusting each other.
Cain fed his father's horse and made sure it had water. He fixed some of the blankets that had begun to slide off. He poked his head in on the wolf again, making sure it hadn't moved. Cain grabbed an armful of old logs and hauled them back to the house. He fed a few to the fire, laying a blanket over his father.
Cain felt his stomach growl and looked towards the unwashed pot. There was nothing to make in it, but in the morning, he was making rabbit stew, or something with rabbit. That was the only thing he could seem to catch this time of the year. He needed new lining on his boots, too. And in his jacket, and pants. He had just bought them the past summer, and hadn't been winter proofed yet. Cain groaned and sat by the warmth of the hearth fire.
Most of the animal skins he got went to sale at the market, or traded for food. Now he would have to spare some for himself, and he hated the idea. Cain stayed by the fire for a while, trying to put it off before retreating down into their cellar. He shivered with the cold from the dirt walls, and started to go through his small stockpile of animal skins. He picked out a few to line his clothes and went back upstairs.
He unearthed his thread and needle and stripped by the fire. Cain spent his evening cutting the fur to fit his clothing before sowing it on the insides. He slid his boots back on, plush with fur lining. The fur tickled against his legs inside his pants, and his jacket had new bulk to it. He found his father's jar of grease and rubbed it into the outside material of his boots to water proof them. Paired with his wool socks, hopefully his feet would be warm for the rest of the season.
Winter was always long and wet, prone for sick people. Cain eyed his father, wondering the likely hood of that. He got up from the hearth again and grabbed a some blankets from the bed. He took them out to the barn and into the wolf.
"Just some blankets," Cain held up the bundle and started to lay them down on the wolf. He got a growl and return. "Hey; you have a fur coat and all, but that doesn't mean you can't freeze," Cain pointed out. "Same reason the horses get blankets."
The wolf continued to growl and started to squirm. "All right, all right," Cain snatched the blankets back up. "Don't hurt yourself over it anymore." He knelt down and ran a hand across the beast's belly. "I'll admit, you are really warm," Cain commented.
The wolf snorted again. Cain eyed it curiously for a moment. "You're really big for a wolf." He said. "I've killed wolves before."
The wolf turn its head and growled. Cain raised an eyebrow. "Maybe you're just a really, really big dog." Cain paused. "No, maybe not. Well, sleep well, I guess. No freezing to death, or your skin is mine."
The wolf growled more viciously, and Cain backed out of the stall quickly. "Sorry, life cycles. You're lucky I haven't already done it. You should have been dinner tonight…" he sighed and left the barn again, closing the doors. His summer job would be fixing the wood panels on the side.
He returned to the house, and curled up in front of the fire with a blanket. He was warm in his newly lined clothes, and it felt nice. Cain slept restlessly for the night, worrying between his father waking up and the wolf in the barn. With a few hours of sleep, Cain was up and moving again.
He grabbed his bow and small supply of arrows, ropes, a sack, and his gloves. He stopped through the barn, glad to see the horses still alive. The wolf was still in its stall.
Cain ventured out in the dark of early morning, trudging across the barren snow covered land of his small farm to the edge of the forest. His breath clouded out in front of him, his eyes scanning the snowy ground in the dark for droppings. He found a few, having melted down into the snow slightly.
His stomach growled, and he climbed up into the low branches of a tree. He waited there, bow across his lap with an arrow at the ready. It was a good hour before a rabbit finally made its way under him, its grey body almost blending in with the snow.
Cain quickly pulled off his gloves and notched his arrow against the bow, eye following the rabbit as it hopped along. It stopped to sniff at something, and Cain let his arrow release. The stone head pierced with a squeak of pain, and dropped down from his tree. He pulled his arrow out from the head of the small animal, leaving the rest of the skin good for use. He tied rope around the neck, and then tied the other end to his belt. He moved a few trees further in, climbed again, waiting.
The sun started to rise, piercing through the trees and glinting off the snow. Things began to stir, and Cain waited. He was able to snag another three rabbits, though he really wanted a deer. He gutted and skinned the rabbits in the snow, leaving the rest for other animals.
He returned to the barn, tossing two of the rabbits down in front of the wolf. It perked up and sniffed at the raw meat. "Careful of the bones," Cain warned. "I really can't believe I'm feeding you," he went on to complain, getting those black eyes fixed on him again. "But better a few rabbits than my horse. You could have my dad's horse, though. He never rides it anymore, and it's a stubborn thing."
The wolf started to pick apart the two rabbits, holding them between its front paws and tearing carefully with its teeth.
Cain left the barn and went back to his house, where his father was groaning and starting to move on the floor. "I have some rabbit. Do you want stew, or for me to make some jerky?" Cain offered. His father mumbled something unintelligible and crawled up onto his chair, closing his eyes.
Cain shrugged and readied the spit over their fire. He tossed more wood in, and mounted one of the rabbits above the fire. His stomach growled almost painfully as he waited for it to cook, the smell wafting into the small house. When the meat was brown, Cain took it down and put the second one up. He began to tear off the cooked meat with his teeth, swallowing it down hungrily. It was tough, but it was food. He picked the bones clean for all he could of meat, and offered the second rabbit to his father.
He waved it away, looking sick. Cain shrugged again and filled himself up with the second rabbit as well. He tossed the bones into the sack, and went down into the cellar. He spread salt over the raw side of the small rabbit skins he had got, and hoped his father was two out of it to notice the four skins and only two cooked rabbits.
Cain shivered, and checked his stockpile. Despite having used some on his clothes, they still had a decent amount. He wanted to take the rabbit skins in with him, but they wouldn't be ready, and no one wanted fresh skins. He left them out and gathered up the older skins in his arms. He climbed out of the cellar to find his father still slung over his chair.
"Well we're out of food otherwise. I'm going into town to try and trade or sell for some," Cain said. "I'll be back later." He left the house and went to the barn.
He checked in on the wolf, and gathered up the bones from the stall. The wolf watched him move, but seemed content to just lay there.
"I'm going into town," Cain explained, not that it mattered. He put the bones into his sack, and got his horse ready to go. He led the horse from the barn and closed the doors, mounting without a saddle, since that had been sold off the winter before. He laid the skins across his lap, and pulled his jacket up over his face to block the cold air.
It was a slow ride into the town, and barely anyone was on the streets. Cain tied his horse up, and carried his skins into one of the shops.
"Good to see you're alive," the shop owner commented playfully.
"Barely," Cain answered dryly. "Almost out of food, and had to use a few skins to winter proof my clothes."
"You'll get more over the winter," the man replied, looking over the skin. "Not bad, a few rabbit and wolf. This white rabbit skin, I can give you a bit more for that… people like the white fur."
Cain bit his lip, thinking back to the very large, white wolf in his barn. No, he didn't imagine that going well, no matter how much he could get for that white fur.
The man handed Cain a handful of coins. "Will this do you?"
Cain counted them out in his palm. It was small, but it should be enough for food. "I guess."
"Here," the man tossed in another two small valued coins. "I can spare that, and it might make some difference."
Cain smiled and put the coins into his pocket. "Thanks," he said and ducked out of the shop.
He ran across the street, buying up dried meat and some carrots. That alone took most of his money, and he still had to get horse feed. He bought a small shaker of seasoning, figuring that it would be nice in soups. Cain picked up the horse feed, and with his last two coins got some seed packets.
He wouldn't be able to plant anything yet, but they were a farm after all. Anything they could grow themselves was something they didn't have to buy in the market. He returned to his horse, piling everything onto his lap and heading back. His stomach was knotted with nerves the whole ride home, knowing he hadn't bought any moonshine for his father.
How much had they had left? Maybe his father could last until the next trip. Unlikely. Cain let out a sigh and slumped over. His rib had just healed from the last time, too. His eyes stung for a moment, but he blinked the feeling away.
"I got you some carrots," he told his horse. "I'll give them to you when we get back."
Getting back to the farm, Cain tied up his horse in the barn. He checked in the stall for the wolf, but it was gone. He searched some, but couldn't find it anywhere else. His father's horse was still alive, so that was good. He only wondered how the wolf had gotten out with the barn closed up. There was probably a hole somewhere.
Cain fed the carrots to his horse, smiling as the lips ran over his skin. "I'll save a few for some other time, okay? You don't want to eat them all in a day." He took the food inside, excited over the seasoning he had bought. He stored the dried meat away in cupboards. He went outside and filled a basin with snow, bringing it inside to melt.
His father stirred, seeming to come out of his stupor slightly. He asked for food then, and began to chow down on some of the dried meat. Cain grit his jaw at the wastefulness of it. He washed out the cooking pot with the snow melt and set it aside by the hearth. He filled a few leather water skins, and took the rest to the barn for the horses.
By then it was already dark outside. Cain just wanted to collapse and sleep in front of the fire, ready for another early morning of hunting.
"You went to town?" His father asked, running his hands over his face.
"Yes," Cain answered, tensing.
"Any money left over?"
"No." Cain turned away cautiously. Maybe if he hadn't bought those seeds, or the seasoning, he could have gotten just a little bit of alcohol—
"No drink?" his father pressed.
Cain ground his teeth together. "No," he squeaked.
He heard his father swear, and the creak of his wooden chair. Cain stood up quickly, but still couldn't compare to his father's towering height. His father grabbed him by the collar, landing two hard punches uncross Cain's face.
Cain tried to pull away, dropping to his knees and trying to cover his head. A kick put him on the ground, the toe of the boot driving again into his side. Cain curled up protectively, arms over his sides, trying to protect his ribs. The blows frequented his back and sides, finally stopping as tears burned his eyes.
He still didn't move right away, not wanting to open up for more. Cain heard his father shuffle away, and he pulled himself up and out the back door. He stumbled into the barn, his back aching and his face stinging. He knelt by the tub of water he had brought in earlier, and rinsed his face off. He dragged himself back into one of the stalls, and curled up in the corner.
His back and sides ached with every deep breath, so he tried to keep it shallow. The barn was colder than the house but his clothes kept the chill out. He drew his knees up to his chest, and rested his forehead on his knees. The cut on his face stung, but the cold helped to numb it. Keeping still, some of the ache in his body started to dull.
He wasn't getting up early in the morning, and he was tired. His eyes started to drift, his body going slack with sleep. He tensed when he heard heavy panting, and glanced up over his knees. The wolf was standing in the stall, two dead rabbits at its feet.
Cain chuckled slightly, flinching when pain spread over his back. "Didn't think you'd be coming back."
The wolf lowered its head, entering slowly with ears flattened back. Cain tensed defensively, fighting back a sound of pain. "Must be nice to be big, huh?" Cain asked dryly, inching away as the wolf came closer. "No one wants to hurt you."
The wolf stopped for a moment, before nuzzling its nose into Cain's neck. Cain bit down on his lip, waiting to feel teeth. He shivered when he felt a rough tongue lap over his skin. He laughed faintly at the strange feeling. The wolf left out a whimper and continued licking his neck.
The wolf laid down next to Cain, resting its head across Cain's lap. Cain sighed and slumped back, enjoying the warmth radiating from the beast.