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The Hermit and the Wendigo King

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The ravenstag was caught in a bear trap made of iron. It was an immense beast with dark fur mingled with midnight feathers and antlers stained with old blood. Its right front leg was trapped between brutal metal teeth, and though it struggled to free itself, its supernatural nature made it weak in the presence and sharp grip of iron.

The hermit of the wild wood stood still from where he was hidden behind the foliage, his pack more than a good enough distraction from being noticed by the creature. Barking and snapping at air, the dogs circled the ravenstag, but were smart enough not to approach it and risk being gored by its horns.

Having lived in the woods by himself for most of his life, Will Graham was very familiar with all the strange beings who resided here as well, but it was not everyday one stumbled upon a creature such as this. If the ravenstag had a more human form…and Will was sure that it did from the great press of power coming off of it…it was trapped behind fur, hooves, and horn until it managed to escape the iron’s influence upon it.

A smart man would walk away and let the creature fend for itself. The Fae and the Others were not known for their kindness or understanding. Their King was proof enough of that.

The wild wood Will chose to live in lay dark and deep around a small village. A tribute was demanded from the people who lived there by the King of the wood for intruding upon his lands. Those who had seen him and lived to talk about it described the King as a great horned god or wendigo who walked the night in a shadowed form of inky skin and glinting sharpness from wicked claw and sharp horn.

As for the tributes themselves, there never seemed to be an exact method for their choosing, the wendigo King taking only a few people far between spaces of time. A mark in blood would be left over upon the chosen’s door, their name spelled out in old writing that should have been forgotten with time but was relearned out of grim necessity. Those taken would be found later on in nearby field or dale, splayed out in some gruesome manner with most of their organs removed.

Not many would deem Will wise or even sane for that matter, the hermit snorting at the thought as he toyed with the idea of approaching the ravenstag. Most in the village considered him mad and would happily see him banished or burned at the stake. The rest, namely Lord Jack Crawford and Lady Alana Bloom, considered him too valuable to do either course of action. Will’s unique brand of madness had proven to be very useful in the past, the empath determining innocence in cases of judgment, and catching hidden evils most refused to see on their own.

A hermit left to his own devices most of the time and having only his dogs to keep him company, Will kept the peace between himself and the village by only entering its gates when he was invited(i.e. ordered by Lord Crawford) to do so, or when his talents were desperately sought out by one of its citizens. For the most part, the arrangement worked out fine for Will. The burden of his gift made socializing with other ‘normal’ people difficult for the sensitive empath who found he much preferred the company of nature and animals.

Even as he began to turn away, Will couldn’t resist taking one last look at the magnificent ravenstag. What he read off of the beast’s features brought Will up short and reconsider everything. Whatever this creature was, there was a sharp intelligence, far above that of any animal. It was also frightened, but it was the kind of fear from one who did not experience such an emotion often. Fear was a subject that Will knew all too intimately well, his mind in waking and slumber filled with it on a near constant basis from the horrors he was made to look at. Images that his own mind twisted in on itself and replayed for him in different shades of depravity and darkness.

There was anger there as well in creature, rage, a deep foreboding even, and that was to be expected, but the ravenstag’s fear was something unique to it. It didn’t fit in its nature somehow, Will could tell that much. He wasn’t sure how he knew, but when did he ever for certain? The fear softened the creature’s menace, making it fragile in a way, and more bound in others. Enough so that Will revealed himself to it, stepping out of his camouflage‘s safety.

“Hello there.” Will said gently, catching the creature’s attention. The ravenstag lowered its head, threatening to run the man through if he dared come near it, its good leg scraping the ground as if readying itself to charge. Will lift his hands to show the creature his open palms, the appendages held out wide and empty of any weapon. A sharp whistling to his pack called off the dogs, Will sending them away for now until it was only the ravenstag and himself in the little clearing. The creature remained as it was, tense and ready to attack, its sides heaving like a blacksmith‘s billows with every breath filled with pain and trepidation..

“I know you’re upset and I know you’re scared, but if you let me, I can help you out of that.” Will nodded to the metal trap, but made no move toward the ravenstag. His words got a reaction though, the creature lifting its head as it grew unnaturally still to regard the man with dark, fathomless eyes. “If you could refrain from maiming, cursing, or killing me while I do that, I would be very grateful.”

The ravenstag seemed to consider the offer, the creature tilting its head as it studied Will and dissected his sincerity. When it grew still again, Will knew his offer had been accepted. Approaching the ravenstag cautiously, Will knelt down beside the trap to examine the contraption.

“It will be simple enough to remove this. You’ll only need to lift your leg out when I pry it apart. Getting it open will be the real problem.” Will told the creature, confident that he was being understood. There was too much intelligence in that gaze for him not to be. “Just so you know, this is not one of mine. I prefer to fish or eat whatever the dogs bring back for me.”

The trap was simply enough, more meant for bears than ravenstags. It was probably due to the creature’s fae nature that its leg wasn’t broken, only deeply gouged as it was held in place by the trap’s metal teeth. Sighing, Will cursed the village’s blacksmith Francis Dolarhyde in his head. The trap’s metalwork had the man’s signature style of cruelty all over it, the teeth longer and more jagged than they needed to be and the trap having a double spring to add extra pressure. This savage thing was meant to severe an animal’s leg, not keep it in place for later collection. It existed simply because it could, Will already reading that much in its design, that Dolarhyde had no intention about coming here to reclaim any prize. He had simply made it and inflicted it upon the forest because he could.

Swallowing back disgust and a growing sour taste in his mouth, Will focused on opening the trap, prying the bloody mouth of it apart. It was not an easy task. The trap’s mechanisms were rusted over and Will was nowhere as strong as the muscular blacksmith, but then few men were. It was a task Will had to put his weight into, the hermit breaking out into a light sweat as he worked the metal loose while trying not to inflict further injury or pain upon the beast.

The ravenstag made a low keening sound as the metal was removed from its body, the process slower than either man or beast would have liked. With one last push of strength, Will spread the trap’s jaws wide enough for the ravenstag to pull its leg out, the creature skittering back as it did so with a wail of hurt saturated sound. Letting go, Will fell back himself as the trap snapped shut again with a sharp nasty sound.

Laughing in relief and triumph, Will kicked at the useless lump of metal, wondering if he should even bother bringing it back to the village. In his opinion, Dolarhyde hardly deserved the warning. It would serve the man right to find out what he had caught out here, what Will had freed to do what it will. The vision of Dolarhyde mounted on pitch black antlers filled Will’s mind, the blacksmith arranged so that he would bleed out slowly from the multiple wounds so that he lost life in inches and minutes. It was more beautiful than it had any right to be.

Shaking his head clear of such dark thoughts, Will looked up to find the ravenstag limping away from him. It was doing a poor job of it, the creature unable to put any sort of pressure on its wounded leg. It all but nearly fell over from its efforts.

“Don’t go.” Will said as he got up off of the ground to follow the nightmare stag, surprising himself by doing either action. Apparently, it surprised the ravenstag as well, the creature stopping with a deep groan to regard Will once again.

“I could help you. I have salve.” Will offered, feeling silly about doing so. Human medicine was a laughable concept to beings of Fae and Other who could heal with a touch or on mere whim. The fact that the ravenstag was still struggling with its wounds just proved how effective iron was against its kind.

Obviously the ravenstag thought as much about Will’s offer, the creature snorting at Will in what sounded like amusement despite all its suffering. It began the process of stalking off once again to find itself falling to its knees. Anger rolled off of its fur in near visible waves, making the ravenstag an even greater danger that before. Will saw this but still approached it as the beast glowered at him for being witness to its moment of weakness. The empath could see murderous intent begin to form in the creature’s mind as he drew closer to it.

“Please?” Will asked the ravenstag softly, offering the creature his palms and keeping his movements slow. The creature struggled to rise one last time before giving up. Turning its head to look at Will straight on, the empath found himself staring into liquid eyes that could have been pools reflecting back star studded night.

With great dignity, the ravenstag nodded its head as it settled to a more comfortable position on its side while still sitting up a bit as if to oversee the proceedings. The beast looked up expectantly at Will, daring him to approach. Swallowing hard enough to make his dry throat click, Will took a deep breath to try and calm himself. He could read so much from off the creature, more so than from a dog or any other animal, but it was not overwhelming like it would have been from a fellow human. Will found that there was disbelief about his offer, the ever present promise of violence and painful death if he failed, but even more so above all else was a sense of curiosity, in such a great amount it outweighed all the rest. .

Kneeling down closer to the ravenstag than he really deemed safe, Will examined the wounded leg, the deep gouges left behind in its leg by the cruel trap. He doubted that the ravenstag would put up with stitches so wrapping up the leg was his best bet.

“You’re lucky. If this had been winter, all my gear would be back at my little house and me along with it.” Will told the ravenstag as he took out a small clay jar full of ointment and a wrapped bundle of boiled linens. He felt the need to fill the silence even if he was the only one able to talk. Will knew that the creature was listening to him, though with an understanding far beyond that of any dog or other animal. The look of question from the ravenstag was proof enough of that, and more than enough to make Will chuckle a bit as he sorted through his inventory. “I live out in the woods and keep moving about when the weather is good. Harder for them to find me that way.”

“I have to touch your leg. Is that alright?” Will asked, watching the ravenstag closely for any sort of answer. It was clear enough, the creature dipping its head in silent permission. Taking hold of the leg gently but firmly, Will cleaned off the blood and other ick, pouring out spring water over it from his canteen. The ravenstag rumbled in discontent but made no other move to stop his effort so Will kept on going until all the debris and caked on matter was gone, leaving behind only fresh blood to ooze.

“I sleep…” Will picked up right where he had left off, hoping that his voice would be a distraction or a source of comfort while he worked, the empath keeping his tone soft and even. “…when I can manage it, out under the stars or beneath roots of trees when it rains. I only dare stay at my little house in the winter when I know the villagers are kept in by the cold as well.”

Happy that the wounds were clean enough now, Will began to rub the herbaceous paste into the lacerations, keeping his touch as gentle as possible. It was a concoction of his own making, one he used often enough for the injuries he incurred while fishing, or dealing with other people. Though he had Lord Crawford’s and Lady Blooms protection, that didn’t stop some of the villagers from treating him poorly. Most ignored him. The few who did not gave merit for the paste’s existence. Will’s body was littered with mementos of their displeasure, scars from stoning, lashes, and even stabbing. If it were not for Alana’s friendship, Will would have left the village’s presence a long time ago. That and Lord Crawford’s threats to hunt him down if he attempted to do so. Capture and confinement would be his reward if he tried to run.

“I’m not sociable. I don’t do well with other people. Never have.” Will told the ravenstag who seemed to be listening intently to the empath. “I have this….gift. Well, others call it a gift, but they don’t have to live with it. I see too much with it, too much of everything. That doesn’t win me any favor. People don’t like it when you know they’re lying.”

Unwinding the bundle of linen, Will set out the strips he needed to bind the wound, carefully wrapping the material around the ravenstag’s leg. All the while, he kept on talking, finding it easy to do so in the creature’s presence.

“Animals don’t care though. Probably why I have more dogs than friends.” Will muttered, the sounds of it soft and sad in nature, the empath tying off the linen. His work complete, Will rose to his feet slowly, keeping his movements easy to read as he gestured for the ravenstag to rise. “I’m all done if you want to give that leg a try now.”

Will found his words to be unnecessary though, the creature already taking to its hooves to tower over him. “You should try to keep the bandage on….” Will’s nervously spoken words trailed off as the ravenstag lowered its head. A brief moment of panic within Will occurred, the empath envisioning being speared in the gut by sharp antlers. A moist nose snuffling through his dark curls relieved Will of this notion, the ravenstag scenting his hair before trailing downward to his ears and the sensitive skin of Will’s neck, making the man chuckle outward as the side of his face was bumped by a great snout and a moist tongue lapped at his tongue, tickling his skin.

Knocked off balance a bit, Will steadied himself by grabbing hold of the ravenstag’s head, his hands cupping the sides of it. The fur beneath his fingers was like strange warm velvet, fur mingled seamlessly with feather to give it a soft, almost unearthly texture. Both beings froze under the realization of what had just occurred, the intimacy of it.

“I’m sorry…” Will said quickly, beginning to pull away to have a huge head pressed closer to him in open invitation. Smiling in what felt like the first time in forever, Will stroked plush fur in shades of night and spilled ink, sinking his fingers into soft depths of it, making the creature sigh.

Being this close to the ravenstag, Will could smell the scents of a sun warmed pelt, the kind of musk deer carried about them, but also the more metallic scents of blood, new and old, that didn’t seem to be coming from the wound on its legs. The odors of petrichor and ozone reminded Will that he was petting something otherworldly, a being that would more than likely run him through when all was said and done. Will supposed it wouldn’t be a terrible way to die. At least then his death would have company that he wanted in a place he found comforting, and not surrounded by the faces of a jeering mob or atop a lighted woodpile.

“Thank you.” Will said to the ravenstag softly as he finally withdrew. He couldn’t keep the creature here forever, and all moments ended in their own time. Fish still had to be caught if he wanted any dinner for himself or the dogs. Despite all that, Will couldn’t resist the urge to press a quick kiss to the end of the ravenstag’s pitch black nose, making the creature stare wide eyed at the empath like he had just struck it. Will could tell the ravenstag wasn’t insulted by the gesture though. It was surprised more than anything by the gesture as beast stared openly at Will who smiled back helplessly at it.

“You’re beautiful.” Will explained the best he could. He was so grateful that he had been able to help a creature such as it. “I’m glad we met though I wish it could have been under better circumstances.”

The ravenstag dipped its head in what seemed to be agreement, the creature regally raising its head and crown of antlers to its full height as if to show itself off better. Even though the creature limped, it strode away with grace and dignity from the clearing. Already feeling bereft of its company, Will stood his ground and watched it go, the ravenstag slipping into shadow to disappear like it had never been, leaving the man to wonder about the encounter. Left on his own, Will gathered up his supplies, packing them away neatly again before calling his pack back to him.

As Will made his way to the river he liked to fish at with all his dogs in tow, the man was watched by hidden dark eyes that transformed into maroon and something far more human in form.

oOo
TBC