Taylor and Tristan were awoken this time by loud, loud banging on their door. Not "knocking". Banging. They knew without having to ask that it was Gordon, and that it was time to get up. Sleep had been so wonderful... but in this new world they'd adopted – The Lady's world – sleeping-in was apparently unknown, regardless how much one had worked their ass off the previous day.
There was just one problem -
"Tris? I... I can't move my arms... and they hurt..."
"Same here, kiddo. That damn rabbit was right – we're not used to this. What'd you do yesterday to make your arms sore?"
"Nuthin'... except... maybe practicing with my sword..."
"Ah ha," Tristan said, putting aside his anxiety about Taylor's even having a sword aside, for the moment. He had to help the boy get to his feet – but doing so only made him realize all the more how sore his own upper-body was.
"I wonder what they're gonna do with us today..." Tristan wondered out loud.
"I gotta keep memorizing The Lady's walls. She doesn't call the things what we did in Town – she has different, funny-sounding names for everything. And so many! I'm supposed to call Ickystem 'Averotti Viscousi', now. It's got something to do with being slimy, and the first part is just whatever the guy who named it wanted."
"Sounds like you're getting an education, all right. Good. I was kinna feeling bad about you not going to school."
"This is worse."
"Tell me about it," Tristan said, rubbing his arms. It didn't do any good. They still hurt.
Just after first light, Tristan, Taylor, and Gordon stood at the edge of a large clearing, a meadow covered with short grass. It was about a mile from The Lady's house, which they'd come to call 'Camp', following Gordon's example. The Lady would be joining them soon – she'd stopped off a way's back babbling something about Fungoisa Earitimus. Throughout the early-morning walk there, Taylor had clung close to Tristan, as usual. Now he let go as they surveyed the field of green.
"So, what are we doing here then, Gordon?" Tristan asked as he looked for good ambush locations out of habit.
"I'll let The Lady tell you that. Not my place. I will tell ya one thing, wolf-boy – whatever she says, don't laugh. She'll make you sorry if you laugh. I mean it."
"Why would I laugh?" Tristan asked, but just then they heard her coming through the brush, so they waited silently for her to join them. As she got closer, they could see that she had apparently found herself a wooden staff somewhere, which Tristan thought was odd – she'd never needed a walking stick before...
"Well now, Tristan, Taylor," she said, "Your very first Blood and Teeth lessons. This is a big day for you – although you don't know it yet. This will be your first step down a long and rewarding road – it's something I hope you'll carry with you your entire lives."
"Uh... okay... 'Blood and Teeth'?" Tristan said.
"It is a... a club, of sorts. I won't explain what it's about – you wouldn't understand it yet anyway."
"So... what's going to happen in this 'lesson', then..."
"I'm going to teach you how to become a better wolf." She waited for the him to laugh.
And he almost did – until he glanced at Gordon and saw that the rabbit was staring right back at him.
The Lady continued, "A goat is going to teach a wolf predation lessons. Don't you think that's funny, Tristan?" She was tapping her new staff on the ground impatiently.
"Uhm... no ma'am..."
"Not from you – no ma'am."
Still tapping her staff, The Lady said suspiciously, "I see..." and looked over at Gordon. Both the rabbit's ears were down, and he was obviously pretending to have a great deal of interest in a nearby milk-thistle. She made a mental note to teach Gordon a lesson later – realizing even as she thought it that that was probably the rabbit's intention in the first place.
"Very well. Here's what you're going to do. Taylor? I want you to run up and down this field – to the end and back here. You will take ten steps, then turn forty-five degrees left, ten steps – you will have to count them – and turn forty-five degrees to the right. Tristan – you will chase him."
The wolf looked at the goat questioningly, "Okay... but why? You just told me what he's going to do... and besides – Tay's already a pretty good zig-zagger, he really doesn't need a lesson on-"
"You will stay ten feet behind Taylor at all times, Tristan. No closer, no farther away. Do you understand? Get into position, please – Taylor, here. Tristan..."
As Taylor moved into place, he asked, "Uh, ma'am? How fast should I run? As fast as I can?"
"No, no, Taylor – thank you for reminding me – an easy pace. You're going to be running all morning – choose a pace you can live with for now. All ready?"
"Yes, ma'am," the wolf and sheep replied at the same time.
Gordon and The Lady watched them run off. They continued to watch, studying them, as the two ran to the end of the field and back. Finally, the wolf and the lamb stood in front of the goat and awaited further instructions.
"What did you learn, Tristan?" she asked.
"Uh... I learned how to count to ten really, really well..."
The Lady lashed out with her staff, hitting the wolf on the shin moderately hard.
"OW! God... what the hell was that for?" Tristan cried, bending down to rub the bruise.
"Stop rubbing it. I want it to hurt for awhile," she said in reply. Tristan – getting the idea, straightened back up.
The Lady repeated: "What did you learn, Tristan?"
"Uhm... well... nothing. Nothing, ma'am," he said, and winced in preparation for another blow to his shins.
"You're counting in your head?"
"Then stop it. And do it again – do not stop when you get back here, just turn around and keep going. I'll tell you when to stop. Places... begin!"
After five more laps, she finally allowed them to stop. The boys were barely even panting, though.
"What have you learned, Tristan?"
"I can tell when he's gonna change direction – I never noticed before. He sort of leans ahead of time, and when he goes right, he has to push off on the left foot... or the right one when he's gonna go left. And I think he even sort of tenses up before he turns..."
"Wow. I do?" Taylor asked.
The Lady cut in - "Yes, Taylor – you do. Good – we're getting somewhere. Taylor – you can hear Tristan behind you, yes?"
"Can you tell his left foot from his right one as he runs?"
"Uh... I never tried..."
"Try, Taylor. In fact, shout out 'left,right,left' or 'right, left, right' from time to time, when you think you know. Your predator will say 'check' if you are correct, and nothing at all if you are wrong. Got that, predator?"
"Yes ma'am," Tristan said, "This is kinna fun..."
"Tell me, young wolf – what does it sound like when Taylor is about to turn?"
"Sound, Tristan. You're relying on your eyes only – use every sense. Keep your mind clear and focused. Close your eyes from time to time – see if you can guess when he'll turn, and which way. Now resume as before – and Taylor? Slow down a bit. Ready?" she gave them time to set up, "Begin!"
This went on for three more hours, with more instructions when The Lady seemed satisfied with a particular exercise. She allowed Taylor to vary the steps between his turns. Then the angle of his turns. Then the direction of his turns. And finally – all of those at once. Everything except speed – that was kept constant.
By noon, Tristan was mirroring Taylor's pattern across the field with only a few mistakes whenever Taylor threw some new combination at him. The mistakes were getting further and further apart, though, and nine out of ten of Taylor's guesses about which foot the wolf was currently using were correct.
"You may stop!" The Lady shouted when the two neared her again. Then she said very slowly, "What... have... you... learned..."
The wolf answered without hesitation, "A lot! It would take... a long time to tell... It's amazing!"
"Would you care for another lesson?"
"Very well – come Taylor," the Lady said, turning around, "We have picking to do, and lunch to prepare. Have fun with him, Gordon. And don't be an idiot."
"Ma'am," Gordon replied. The rabbit and the wolf watched – with some apprehension, on the wolf's part – as she left with Taylor following behind her. The lamb turned and waved to his boyfriend.
When they were out of earshot, Tristan said, mumbling, "I have a bad feeling about this..."
"Don't worry about it, wolf-boy. All I'm supposed to do is teach you that you still have a lot to learn. And I ain't gonna hit you in the shins or anything, either. Hurts, don't it..."
"Very much. Okay, so... what're we gonna do?"
"Think you can catch me, wolf-boy? Think you can take me down?"
"Well... you're pretty strong, I know that already. And I want to say I could catch you – but I have a feeling that I'd be wrong..."
"Tell ya what – don't worry about taking me down – if you manage to even touch me, you win, 'kay?"
"Okay..." Tristan said uneasily, feeling a little like a wolf sniffing around a bear-trap.
"Awright, here's the game – my goal is to keep you twenty feet behind me, and keep a constant speed. I ain't gonna be running all-out, only a little faster than your boyfriend was, in fact. You can run how you want - this game ain't about speed. Your goal is simply to touch me. Now, to start, I'll do what Taylor was doing at first. You just follow me - that way you can get a feel for how I move. After I turn around at the far end, it starts for real. Got it?"
"So it's a chase. Okay."
"Heh. Yeah – it's a chase. Ready?"
Seemed easy enough... the rabbit still had to push off with an opposing foot to turn, and his body still tensed up perceptibly just – and only barely just – before he did. The sound of the crushing grass still sounded different when he pushed off... No sweat.
"Ready, wolf-boy?" Gordon said coming around at the far end of the meadow.
"Go for it, bunny-man!"
No sweat. Except -
Gordon would fake push-offs, and keep going the same direction. He could even fake the tensing of his body.
Gordon could turn a full 180 in a single step.
Gordon could change-up his foot-falls at will, and his stride-length, too.
Gordon could jump completely over Tristan, and keep going the other way.
And finally – just as the wolf thought he was close enough to leap and make contact, he found out that Gordon could also twist around and duck under him while he was in mid-air.
After an hour of this, Gordon stopped, and Tristan – understanding the signal - jogged up to him and said, "Lemme guess – what have I learned?"
"That I have a lot to learn."
"That's lunch! Race ya?"
"You're on! I know you're gonna be faster – but I've got more stamina."
"Heh. Not yet ya don't, kid. On three. One... two..."
"What did you do with the wolf, Gordon? I told you not to be an idiot..." The Lady asked, looking at him severely.
"He'll be... along... shortly," Gordon replied between breaths. Damn wolf was faster than he'd thought...
And so he was – shortly, and about to keel over for lack of air. Tristan ran right into a tree, on purpose, and clung to it in order to remain on his feet. "Fucking... rabbit..." he wheezed.
"Language, Tristan," The Lady said, "Well, you've arrived a bit early. Lunch will be ready before long, and you boys look as if you could use a rest."
"Ma'am" they said in unison. Gordon sat on the porch steps, as usual, while Tristan collapsed onto the ground facing the bubbling pot. While they both caught their breaths, The Lady went back and forth to her shack bringing out little bottles of what they hoped were spices.
Eventually, Tristan said, "Hey, bunny-man - you were amazing out there, I mean it. The Lady taught you all those moves?"
"From square one. It's not just moves, though – it's also getting a feel for what your predator is doing, and is likely to do. And I'd been watching you for awhile, so I kind of had the advantage."
"I can't believe you jumped over me that time..."
"There's another lesson for you, wolf-boy. I'm a rabbit. Now – what do you suppose the strongest part of my body is?"
"Uhm... your legs?"
"Yup. And they're not good for just running and jumping, either. We'll get to that in combat – that'll be awhile off yet. Just remember – even us prey have our weapons, just that most of us don't know how to use 'em. That's what The Lady teaches."
"That's what 'Blood and Teeth' is all about?"
"Yeah. The prey and predators who're into it spend a lot of time practicing with each other – they teach each other how to be better predators and harder-to-down prey."
"That sounds kinna cool, actually..."
The Lady returned and stirred the pot, "It's more than 'cool', Tristan – it's a way of life. It's a spiritual connection with our roots, as manifested in our species. But we aren't many – even in Civilization, the eaters and the eaten don't often become friends, let alone... anything further. But when they do – they often end up seeking us out. There is a dynamic to the predator/prey relationship that takes... time and training, to appreciate fully."
"A dynamic?" Tristan asked.
"Yes, Tristan. The dynamics of the kill. You wouldn't-"
"-understand, yeah, I figured you were about to say that. So... where's Taylor off to? Still drawing pictures of your walls, ma'am?"
"I sent him to the field to bring us some onions. He ought-"
"You sent him to the field? Alone?!" the wolf cried, jumping to his feet. 'The field' was The Lady's garden, fenced in, tilled, and planted with vegetables. It was only about a hundred yards away, but it was completely hidden from the shack by thick forest. And Taylor was out there all by himself... "Shit! Taylor! TAYLOR!!" the wolf began screaming, running full-tilt down the path.
Once he disappeared into the forest, Gordon lifted his head to look at The Lady, "You're throwing lessons at 'im awfully fast, aren'tcha?"
"We do not have a lot of time, Gordon. After what you told me last night about his reluctance to hunt animals or use weapons, I thought we'd might as well address the issue right away. I think he's a fairly bright young wolf."
"He'd better be..."
The lamb was just headed back towards the gate in the fence when he heard Tristan shouting at him.
"Taylor! Taylor - what the fuck are you doing out here alone! God DAMN it, Tay!" The lamb only stared at him from the other side of the fence. Tristan was about ten yards away now – and he wasn't slowing down. Taylor watched in slack-jawed amazement as the wolf hurtled gracefully over the five foot high fence.
Falling into the turnip patch face-first, somewhat less gracefully. Nonetheless, he flew back onto his feet in a cloud of dust, ran up to Taylor, grabbed him around the waist, and lifted him into the air, "Taylor! Ah, god... you're okay... you're okay..." This tender scene was soon replaced with something quite different - "Fuck Taylor! Fuck! I mean... goddammit... fuck, Tay!"
Taylor was having a little trouble taking it all in. "Tris?"
"What the fuck are you doing out here by yourself? Huh? Are you trying to get killed, Taylor?"
"The Lady sent me to get some onions..."
"And you just said 'Oh, okay, ma'am – I'll just walk through those dark old woods by myself and then hang out in the wide open field where everyone can see me'..."
"There's no people around here, Tristan. Only animals. And I have my sword so-"
"Fuck your sword! I don't wanna hear about your goddamn sword! You shouldn't even have the damn thing anyway – it ain't right. You're a fuckin' lamb, Tay! Everyone and everything is watching you, waiting for their chance! God... I can't believe that bitch sent you out here alone... What'd she say – 'Now, Taylor, don't be scared'?"
"Tris... Tris – put me down..." Taylor said, trying to push the wolf away, "Put me down, Tris."
"Taylor, I was-"
"Put me DOWN!"
That outburst surprised the wolf enough that he actually did it. Taylor had yelled at him? He'd never done that before... Ever.
"I was-" Tristan began again, but was again cut off.
"I was fine, Tris! And no – as a matter of fact, she didn't tell me not to be scared! What she told me was that I should be scared! The more scared, the better, she said. Just like you told me one time – be scared, but don't panic. You remember that?"
"Well yeah, but-"
"She told me to use my fear – it's my best defense. And she told me not to just feel it, but to think through it at the same time! Think about the things I'm afraid of. Dark places, thick bushes, open places where I can be seen. Avoid the ones I can, be ready for what I can't – that's what she told me! And... I did, Tris! Yeah I was scared. I was scared to death! But it was good for me to feel that way! It makes me sharp! It makes me strong! And I can use the sword, too! She gave it to me! I don't want to – it's a last resort, but at least it's something!"
Tristan had calmed down by now – and it finally occurred to him that sending Taylor here alone must've been a lesson for him - just like chasing Gordon had been a lesson for Tristan. "Okay... okay, Taylor. I get it. It's just that-"
"And I wish you'd stop telling me that I'm a lamb all the time!" Taylor went on. Maybe Tristan had calmed down now – but Taylor had not. "I know I'm a lamb! I know you all have to watch over me and keep me safe and everything... Tristan..." he trailed off, unwilling to go any further explaining how he felt being 'the little kid' of the group. If he did, he'd probably start crying, and he didn't want to do that while he was still mad. "I'm going back to Camp. Excuse me," he said dead-pan, brushing by the wolf on his way to the gate. Tristan just stared at him. Taylor had never acted like this before, rebuffing him like that. Not that he didn't have good reason, the wolf knew... but it still felt... unusual.
The forests began no more than twenty feet away from the garden gate, and although it was mid-day, the contrast between field and forest was so sharp that to Taylor the path might as well have gone into a cave. He couldn't see a thing in there, and it made him afraid. He began to unsheathe his sword – then remembered: use the fear, think through it. He didn't have to go in there alone. The smart thing to do would be to go with Tristan. Even if he was mad at him. The smart thing... that was his defense. That is what made him different from animal-sheep.
He looked behind to see Tristan still standing in the garden, wondering what to do. "Hey Tris! Are you going to walk me through the woods or what?"
"Oh... oh yeah... coming..." he replied, a little bewildered.
Taylor waited until Tristan passed, then followed him into the dark shade of the trees. Tristan put out his hand, expecting the boy to take it – but he didn't. That hurt a little. Too much was changing too fast, and it scared the wolf. Taylor out by himself, arguing with him, carrying a weapon, not holding his hand...
After a moment, the wolf finally spoke, "Would you really use that thing, Tay?"
"She told me to use it if I felt like I needed to. We talked for a long time about it... On one hand, I shouldn't let it make me over-confident, she said. I should still listen to my instincts. But on the other hand – it'll never do any good at all if I never take it out. So she said it's all up to me – I'll have to figure it out for myself, every time. She says she'll show me more about how to use it, though."
"More? What'd she show you so far?"
"How to stab. She said that if I use it, I should be trying to kill whatever it is right away. Not scare it off or wound it or anything. Just kill it fast. Stab it in the neck or chest, or gut if that's all I can do – but neck or chest is better. She said that if I'm not really ready to use it, I shouldn't even take it out of the scabbard."
"That sounds... reasonable. So... you'd kill, then? Really?"
That was a hard question to answer. Taylor didn't know whether he could actually kill something or not. It wasn't what sheep were supposed to do... Well, rams, maybe, in defense of the flock, but even they didn't intend to kill. The purpose of a ram's attack was to drive the predator away, period. Not to necessarily kill it. It was the predator's job to kill - the prey were supposed to defend. Just defend.
"I dunno... It kind of goes against everything I was ever taught... and Balance, and... everything. But, what am I supposed to do, Tris? Is it really right that I deserve to die because some animal can run faster than me?"
"You're supposed to stay safe in your flock, with rams all around. That's what you're supposed to do."
"And you're supposed to hunt in a pack, Tris. Hunt other people – not animals. But what if there aren't any other people? Animals are faster than people. You couldn't catch an animal-deer no matter how fast you run."
"No. I couldn't. I'd starve to death, I guess. Without a weapon, anyway. But it's just so - gah! - disgusting! Killing with weapons! It's cheating! What the hell kind of a wolf would I be, shooting at my food with a bow and arrow? I don't see how I could... live with myself..."
"Yeah – seems like we're having to do a lot of things that go against Balance now..."
After a moment of thought, Tristan said, "Gordon told me that the Balance will take care of itself, without our help. In ways we can't imagine."
"You think he's right?"
"I'm beginning to wonder. Uh... Tay? I'm sorry about... how I was back there. It's just... I was kind of... If something were to happen to you..."
Taylor sighed, "I know. It's just... everyone treats me like I'm just a little kid, y'know? Gordon, The Lady... Sometimes even you, Tris."
Tristan stopped and turned around, squatting down to the lamb's level to look him in the eye, "Taylor... yeah, okay, maybe I do sometimes. But listen – you know you're a lot more than 'just a kid' to me, right?"
"I know," Taylor said, taking the wolf's hand in his, "And you'd better be nice to me. I might be bigger than you someday."
The wolf and the lamb hugged tightly, and resumed their walk through the woods. Only one more thing was spoken before they got to Camp.
Tristan said, "That'll be... really weird..."
After lunch, Gordon retrieved his bow and arrows from his shack, handing them to Tristan, the new Hunter of the group. He had to explain everything about it of course – Tristan had never touched a weapon of any kind in his life. Wolves weren't supposed to need more than their teeth to get the job done – that's what it meant to be a wolf. Tristan grudgingly accepted the lesson, though, listening, asking questions, learning. Which was a great and unexpected relief to the rabbit. He thought he'd have to fight Tristan tooth-and-nail about every little thing.
"Okay, let's do some target practice. I sure hope your good so you can start bringing back your own food in the near future. I'm tired of the way The Lady is having to over-cook everything for you. It all ends up as mush."
Taylor – who'd been allowed to come along and watch for a little while – said, "Yeah, I noticed that... she does that for Tristan? How come?"
"'Cuz I can't chew like you can kiddo. My jaws don't go side-to-side like yours," the wolf said.
"His teeth aren't suited for it either, Taylor," Gordon added, "and neither is his gut. If The Lady doesn't turn the veggies into mush, he ain't gonna get no good from 'em. They'd just go right through 'im, un-touched. You'd see 'em again in-"
"I think he gets the point, Gordon," Tristan interrupted, "no need to get all gross about it."
"Now y'know how I feel when you two get all lovey-dovey."
"Bunny-man – fuck off."
"Watch your language. Children present."
"Yeah, bunny-man – fuck off," Taylor said, smiling up at the rabbit.
Gordon looked down at him, annoyed - but it was hard to be mad at the kid for long, especially when he smiled like that.
"Y'know... I think I'm starting to understand what you see in him," Gordon said, then looked back up at the wolf, "Okay – there's your bale of straw. Now, these arrows ain't the best – 'cause you're probably gonna ruin 'em anyway. I'll getcha good arrows once you hit the bale every time. Right, just pull back, I'll let you decide how far, just make sure you pull back EXACTLY to the same point every time. I use the corner of my mouth, myself. Then aim, and let it go. Think smooth."
"How do I aim?" Tristan asked.
"You don't. You'll get a feel for it. Eventually it'll feel as natural as... well, ripping out someone's throat with your teeth."
"You're an idiot."
"Give 'er a shot, wolf-boy."
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