"Haven't you finished your drawing yet, Taylor? You've been at it for three days now... All I asked for was one quarter of one wall…"
"Well, there's a lot to it, ma'am. The different sizes, the way they're turned, the shadows. Then there's the labels, and I-"
"The shadows?! Taylor, dear… perhaps you'd better show me what you've done so far."
Taylor handed her his notebook, making the excuse, "It's not finished yet…"
What The Lady had in mind was a simple diagram, with lines representing the shelves, and little boxes with writing in them for the various ingredients. What she saw was a picture of one-quarter of her wall – complete with cob-webs, stains, each label turned at a different angle, and the writing on that label wrapping around with it. Her mouth hung open. She was expecting "engineering". What she was looking at was art.
"Oh my… god…"
"Uhm… it's not okay? You said-"
"I know what I said, Taylor. Oh my… I just didn't think – I mean, I wasn't thinking… Taylor!" she began laughing, "Oh, my god! I just wanted you to memorize the names and where they went! I never thought… Oh! Oh my!"
Was she laughing at him? "You said 'a picture'.."
"Yes, Taylor, I did say that. I apologize. I suppose it's that Gordon has been my sole companion for so long – he would have drawn a crude diagram in half an hour! So THIS is what you were up to! It never even occurred to me that you… Well. All right then… you seem to have a talent I was not aware of. Obviously. So now I have an accurate, true-to-life, and beautiful picture of part of my wall." She laughed again. "Such a waste. If I'd known you could do this…"
"So… you like it? I still have to fill in the top shelf, but I wanted to get in the knot-holes behind the jars, so it was kind of taking a long time…"
"Oh Taylor… No. Forget this drawing. I'm too ashamed to look at it now. Something like this – and of a wall of herbs… I'm sure you can find more fitting things to draw than that. Let me be specific, Taylor – rather than trying to be oh-so-clever, which I have obviously failed to do. I want you to memorize all these labels, where they go, and what's in each jar. And this time you decide how to do it. I give up. Oh, god…" She was still snorting and giggling.
"Oh. Well, why didn't you say so?"
"Taylor! I'm the Old Goat of legend! Do not question my methods! Especially when they're wrong!" She began laughing out loud all over again.
They fell into a pattern as the days went by. The mornings were spent with predator/prey lessons, concentrating mostly on Tristan. Sometimes he'd have lessons with Taylor, other times with Gordon. The Lady excused herself more and more – letting Gordon take over training the wolf. She was pleased to finally have a predator for Gordon to train with. She'd tried – but there were things about predators that required having one there with you to do properly. Gordon was coming along nicely – except for his troublesome blind-spot. But that would take care of itself eventually. Gordon would have to face it and overcome it – or else The Lady would have to consider herself a failure. She didn't think it would come to that, though. Anyway, she hoped it wouldn't.
The afternoons were time for archery practice, and Gordon would go about his other duties while Tristan did that. Taylor would continue his memorization of herbs, or go collecting with The Lady, or sometimes hang out with Tristan – his personal arrow-retriever. As for the herbs... god and spirits! So many plants! So many parts of plants! Each with it's own special purpose, it's own method of preparation, it's own shelf-life. There was a lot to remember, and The Lady taught him special tricks to memorization. It was another of her Arts, and she was passing it down to him.
At night, they'd sit around the fire, telling each other about their day while they worked on their separate projects: Gordon usually sharpening or carving something – he had an obsession with sharpening, they found out - Tristan was trying to learn to make arrows. The Lady was usually sewing clothes for them all, much to Tristan and Taylor's surprise. She told them they would need them – but they didn't see why. When they asked her, she'd just smile. Taylor would draw. Portraits. They were all quite amazed.
Tristan and Taylor kept their nuzzling and sex-talk to themselves, for Gordon's sake. Taylor would still touch noses with his wolf from time to time though, when Gordon wasn't around or wasn't watching. Usually, it was just a casual thing - I love you. But sometimes it was more. Sometimes the message in Taylor's eyes seemed to be something like "I'm yours", and the intensity of meaning during those times would leave Tristan shaken. Pleasantly shaken – but shaken nonetheless. Gordon had seen it a couple of those times, too. He could tell something was going on there – but didn't care to think what. Too disgusting. The Lady saw too, of course – but never said anything at all, one way or the other.
Eventually, a couple of weeks later, it was time for Gordon to take Tristan hunting for the first time. The wolf had not lost his distaste for the idea.
"Smell that?" Tristan asked.
"Yeah. Female, though. We'll wait for a male to show up."
"Because there are lots of extra males around – and one male can breed a whole herd. But you kill a female, and you've killed every doe she might have ever had. So we prefer to kill males. Makes less of a dent in the population."
"I thought you said the Balance would take care of itself..."
"Doesn't mean we don't need to think about it, wolf-boy. See – that's the thing that puts us outside all that Balance talk you learned in Town. We can think about things. We're not animals, even if we're related to 'em. Our lives are not governed by the same rules as the animal's are – they can't think like we can. They never look up at the sky and wonder why they're here. Ya get what I'm sayin'?"
"I think so. Not sure I agree with all of it, though."
"You don't have to agree with me. You just have to do your job, and we'll get along fine. Wait for the buck."
Sure enough, after another hour, he showed up. Silently, Tristan loosed his arrow. He'd steeled himself for this for a long time – but he still didn't like it. It was necessary – so he did it. It was a good shot – but the buck didn't just keel over and die, it ran off with the arrow still protruding from it's side, bleeding heavily. Except in unusual circumstances, arrows never kill immediately. The idea behind bow-hunting is that the animal bleeds to death over time. The better the shot, the less time that takes.
So they have to be tracked.
As they followed the blood, they came to a place of moss-covered rocks, and Gordon said, "Okay – let's split up. You go around that way, I'll go the other, and holler if you pick up the trail again."
"Uh... Gordon? It's right there..."
"Right there," he pointed to a rock, "See it on the lichen?"
"I don't see no red anywhere..."
"Gordon – I don't even know what 'red' is... See the pattern – like splattered blood? And how some of the splatters are kind of shiny? See how the big spot has kind of flowed down a little, like blood does?"
Now that he put it that way, yes, Gordon could see it. "Well I'll be damned... it's sort of soaked up the color of the lichen or sumpthin, didn't it... I was lookin' for red, and there's the trail – in orange."
"It's like you can see the colors and so that's all you see. You don't pay attention to anything else."
"Yeah," Gordon said, rubbing his chin in thought, "You're probably right about that, wolf-boy. Damn."
"Seems to me like 'color' is just a distraction..."
"Yeah, well... I hadn't thought of it before, but you do seem to get along fine without it... I think I'll keep it though. For the sunsets."
"Hey – tell me something Gordon. Are Taylor's eyes the color of the sky?"
"Well... yeah... I guess they are. Close, anyway. Why?"
"Is that... do they look good that way?"
Gordon smirked, "Heh. Yeah. Your boyfriend has pretty eyes. That what you're gettin' at?"
"Just wondering. C'mon. That buck can't be much farther."
They found him, collapsed but still panting for breath. Still alive, but too exhausted to get up.
"Okay, wolf-boy. Go ahead and cut his throat."
"Uh... with a knife?"
"You'd rather use your teeth?" Gordon asked. People killed each other and ate them raw – but not animals. Animals had to be cooked. You were asking for trouble eating an animal raw. Trouble from parasites.
Tristan got out his knife – he wore a belt too, by now – and knelt beside the animal's head. The buck's eye was watching him.
"Gordon... This... This doesn't feel right..."
"You gonna let him die slowly, then? Might take a few hours. Sucks for him. Look, kid – I'm gonna go take a leak. You gotta wrestle with this yourself, I can't help ya. I wouldn't have thought it be a big deal for a predator... so I'm kinna at a loss here. You think about why you killed him, and you do what you think is right. See ya in awhile."
A few minutes - and a silent apology - later, Tristan cut the buck's throat. It died in a matter of seconds.
I'm NOT an animal – I did this because... because... I needed to. I need your flesh to live. I HAVE to kill to live. I'm a predator. It's what I do. It's right. I know you don't know that – you don't know the Law, you don't know about Balance... but I do. Maybe that's enough.
It was the first time Tristan had ever killed something that couldn't talk. With people, well, they usually didn't talk during a kill, but at least Tristan knew they could think, that they'd put themselves at risk on purpose for the very same reason he was out there hunting them. None of that was true with this animal. He had no unspoken agreement with it. It was... just an animal.
And Tristan was not. He was more. And from now on, he would do his best to prove that he was more.
Fall was in the air, and The Lady was leading Tristan and Gordon to the usual clearing for their morning Blood and Teeth lesson. She hadn't done that in a long time now. Usually it was just Gordon and Tristan alone – so they knew something was up. Gordon had a feeling what it might be, and was dreading it.
"The time has come for you to begin combat training, Tristan. Up until now, you've been honing your wolf instincts. Now you will go beyond that. Now you will learn to fight in ways only people can – although most don't. And the first step in that process will be to fight like a wolf does – a kind of refresher. Since we don't have another wolf at our disposal – Gordon will have to pretend. I can assure you, though – he's quite good at it."
Tristan looked over at Gordon – both his ears were down. That meant he wasn't looking forward to this. Why?
The Lady continued, "For reasons you don't understand yet, Tristan – this is a rather... personal... exercise for Gordon. Putting ourselves in the mind-set of a predator isn't easy for prey. It isn't something we do willingly – and once we do, it isn't easy to break ourselves out of it. This will be a private thing between the two of you, I will not be here. Good luck, Tristan. Gordon? Carry on." Without further words, she turned and left them there, staring at her back.
Tristan could tell this was a Big Deal for some reason – though he couldn't imagine why. So the rabbit was going to pretend to be a wolf… given everything else he'd learned to accept as second-nature since living with The Lady, this hardly seemed all that different. But obviously it was serious business to Gordon – he was making no effort to hide how much he didn't want to do this. When both of Gordon's ears were down, it meant something important was up.
When The Lady was finally out of sight, the rabbit sighed, turned to the wolf, and said, "Let's go over there in the shade. We gotta talk."
Tristan followed him silently, and they both sat in the morning shade of an enormous spruce. Tristan didn't ask the obvious question – Gordon would get to it eventually, he knew.
"Okay, wolf-boy. The thing is – I can't do this with you. Because I don't like you - enough. I don't respect you, either. I think you know why…"
The reason was obvious, "'Cuz of me an' Taylor..."
"Yeah. Now, what gets me is, The Lady doesn't seem to have a problem with it. I don't understand that… I know how she thinks – or I thought I did – so… all I can imagine is that I'm missing something. We're gonna find out what that is right now. This ain't easy for me, and I don't imagine it will be for you either. But I gotta know." Gordon took a deep breath before continuing. "So tell me, wolf-boy – you and Taylor. How'd that ever happen in the first place? How'd you meet? I've been to that Town of yours for supplies from time to time, and never once saw a predator in the company of a prey. What happened?"
This was going to be... embarrassing. "Uhm… we met in the field. He was out with his flock doing Balance, I was with my pack doing the same. We… uh… He started to get close to the woods, so I split off to go after 'im, and he went into the woods. And I caught him." Tristan stopped, unsure about how to proceed at this point.
Gordon could see that, so he prompted the wolf, "So you downed him. You didn't know him before that at all?"
"No. He was just another lamb, is all…"
"Well obviously you didn't kill him..."
"I… uh… look, we got to know each other instead, okay? I really don't wanna go into-"
"What happened, wolf-boy!?"
"It's none of your business what happened, Gordon."
"So you've got your lamb down. You… had your mouth on his throat?"
"And you didn't bite?"
"I think we can all see that I didn't…"
"Were you ready to kill him? Had you intended to at all?"
"Yes and yes. I… I don't know why I didn't go through with it… It's… It's like… I had the right to. I wanted to even – badly. I mean, you wouldn't understand – I was feeling the heat of his blood on my tongue, and the pulse of his heart... I could taste his fear. I was tuned in to him, just like for any kill. And he… he did his shudder. Y'know – or maybe you don't – they shudder right before they die, when they know it's about to happen. That's usually when ya kill 'em. That's when they're expecting it. But… look - I dunno, okay? I don't know why I didn't do it!"
Gordon had an ear up now, and his forehead was wrinkled in thought. He said, "So after the death-shock… you just stayed there, still on his throat?"
"Well… for a little while. I just… I felt like I… Gordon? This is really… private…"
The rabbit could see that it was – and he was pretty sure he knew why. It was things The Lady had told him. Things about Blood and Teeth. As well as being the name of the 'club', it was also the name of a ceremony. And the experience resulting from that ceremony. Normally, the predator and prey involved spent weeks in training before attempting it, and even then only the watchful eyes of two Coaches: one each, predator and prey.
So Tristan and Taylor – with absolutely no knowledge beforehand, no training, without even having met before, had done that, or something like it? Naturally? It seemed hard to believe that it could happen like that… Yet, there they were, all the evidence was right in front of him. With the blinders of his distaste about it taken off, Gordon could see the truth of it. That's what had happened. That's why these two boys were a couple. The Lady had probably seen that right away, when the pair had strolled into her camp together.
Hard to believe... Gordon had to make sure, regardless how embarrassing it might be for the teen wolf –
"You wanted more from him than just food. You wanted him. And he… gave himself to you, didn't he... Not with words though. He said, 'I'm yours – take me', didn't he, and you did – but not in the way you'd been thinking of until just then. That sound right?"
Hearing the things stated so clearly – things he'd barely been brave enough to think about in his own mind – and hearing them from Gordon - was acutely, severely, and unbearably humiliating for Tristan. He couldn't answer. He just stared at the ground.
"And something else," Gordon went on, "I see the way you guys touch noses sometimes. Not every time – just sometimes. People usually close their eyes when they do that – but not you two. You keep your eyes open the whole time. And sometimes, it looks like you're both in some kind of trance. That's when he's doing it again, isn't it… 'giving himself to you'. That's why you have to shake yourself out of it when he finally looks away or closes his eyes. Tell me I'm wrong and I'll shut up."
After a pause while he took in the fact that Gordon knew more about what was going on with his boyfriend than he did, Tristan choked out, "You're… you're not w-wrong…"
Gordon was indeed an idiot – and now he realized it. Not only that, but now that he understood, he also understood how much he must be torturing Tristan by talking about it like this. For Tristan to be hearing these things from Gordon – who hadn't even called him by name yet… That must be awful. God, Spirits, and Nature. The Lady was so right when she called him 'idiot bunny-man'. And he'd thought there was so little left for him to learn from her.
This was another lesson, he realized. She was still teaching him lessons! He'd been ignoring an answer that was right in front of his face – repeatedly, almost every day – because he didn't like what that answer meant. Gordon smirked to himself, at himself. And he'd thought he was a pretty wise rabbit, too. Too smart to blind himself intentionally simply because the truth wasn't his cup of tea.
Goddamn Lady. Was it ever going to end?
He hoped not. He too, apparently, still had a lot to learn. About himself.
"Yeah. Okay. That's enough. That's all I need to hear. You guy's had a Blood and Teeth experience without even knowing what it was. Fuckin' amazing. And The Lady knew it all along. How the fuck else would a wolf and a lamb hook up, especially from your Town? She should beat the crap outta me – but she won't, because she knows I'll do it myself. Crafty old witch. Heh. Listen – I'm sorry about embarrassing you like that… I can imagine it must've been hard. And I'm not saying I understand it either – at least not from your perspective – but I can see it from Taylor's, and I'll take The Lady's word for the rest."
"This… happens to other people?"
"Not like it did with you two, I don't think. At least not often - have to ask The Lady. Everything I know about it comes from her. But yeah – apparently it's a thing with the Blood and Teeth people. Only the way they do it is a little more… complex… than what you two did. They break the skin when they do it. Blood flows. I have to admit – and you know how I feel about predators – it does sound like… like it's worthwhile. Never happen to me, though. I can barely stand being around rabbit women – forget about meat-eaters."
Apparently Gordon had found out what he needed to know – to the wolf's immense relief. "So can we please change the subject now? Get a little less… personal? Don't you wanna ask me what it feels like when he fucks me or something?"
After a moment of shock, Gordon smiled at him and said, "Nice try."
"Or how we sixty-nine? 'Cuz he's too short for us to-"
"OKAY, wolf-boy… That's enough now…" Tristan was just trying to pull his chain , Gordon knew. Not doing a bad job of it, either. He suppressed a chuckle.
Tristan went on - "I'm kind of worried about what's gonna happen when he grows up. I mean, rams are pretty big – down there, if ya know what I mean – and I hope I can still-"
Unable to help laughing out loud now, Gordon said, "For GOD'S SAKE, Tristan! STOP!"
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