A sample of a short story I’m writing, for my dissertation this year.
The Wounded Wolf
A white wind whistled through the crack in the window. The fire burned, and the room was heated, but it still felt cold. Gloves on, or off, the creeping feeling of danger would not go, and the stench of death would not be shaken. It followed Thomas like a madness. He sat on the floor by the fire. His wife had his bed. She had his cloak, too, hugging her with its stained white fur.
“When are you going to clean this thing?” Freya asked, mindful of her words.
“When we finally have a chance to slow down. We’re only here to get lost for the winter, and hope that no one else is stupid enough to follow us, please, don’t get comfortable enough you want to stay here.” Thomas replied, chewing the bark of the wood he was cutting.
“I’m aware. Do we have anywhere left to go to?” Freya said sharply. She feigned a smile, but words like those are what kept death around.
“Maybe one or two,” Thomas muttered, poking the fire.
“It’s not your fault,” She shuffled to the edge of the bed but struggled to stay sat up, “Don’t give up now, if we go far enough then we’ll be free of the usurper Alaric, and Katherine. We can be free from all of them,” she said, resting her hand on his shoulder.
The door twitched, and rattled from the winds shifting direction, “I don’t think we’ll ever be free unless I kill them,” Thomas looked deeper into the burning wood, “I don’t think he’ll leave us alone until I kill the bastard.”
“That won’t bring the dead back, but what we can do is once winter is over, we can leave and never come back to this place,” Freya said.
“I’m not sure the dead will let me go if I ran from this fight Frey, I’m not sure anyone will. If I run, I submit to being the monster they make me out to be if I fight I’m doing the same, but I think I can challenge him because he’s told everyone about me now. You saw it back at the inn with the soldiers. They were scared of me,” he said, scratching his patchy beard with his long finger nails.
“I feared you,” Freya said. She wrapped her arms around her stomach, and felt the baby kick, “We feared you. We have a chance of something more than blood for blood; we have a chance to prove we’re better than them.”
“Our fathers would look down on us if we walk away now. The old ways—”
“The old ways are not our ways…”
Silence brewed. Thomas struggled to his feet and checked his bandages. “ribs are open again,” he said as the bandage soaked in blood.
“Why did you leave it so long?” Freya asked.
“Maybe you should help me cauterise it.”
“I’m not helping you kill yourself. If you wish to, then do it yourself,” Freya yelled.
“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Thomas gave a short laugh, “Remember when I found you?”
“Covered in cuts and bruises, even had a shard of glass in your side from the window you broke through,” Freya smiled softly, “You plucked it out as if it were nothing.”
“What makes this time different?” Thomas asked.
“It was summer then, and I was young and stupid. The difference is I’ve seen enough death from cauterising flesh not to want you to suffer the same fate.”
“Haven’t died yet,” Thomas said, heating his hunting knife in the fire.
He looked away so he could not see Freya staring at him. Half an hour later, a quarter of the blade was hot enough to do what he needed. He peeled the bandage off the skin, and the sound of burning flesh followed. He treated the rest of the wounds with medicine and ointments.
They were staying in a little hut in the middle of nowhere, far from any town, village, or city. The closest one stood several miles west, a border village they were fond of. They were not allowed to go back there. Too much trouble.
“I’ll sleep outside tonight,” Thomas said, shivering away, “I’ll be shivering like this for a few more hours, and I don’t want to disturb you.”
“You won’t… you never—”
“I know,” Thomas interrupted, “I need to be alone like this.”
Thomas staggered away, closing the door behind him. Freya must have felt isolated, but isolation allowed her time to breathe. Thomas gathered wood and stood under the wooden awning. He set a new fire. The winds had slowed. He lit it and kept close. Every noise and whisper woke him. He eyed the darkness as if someone was watching him from it. He never saw anyone, but he was sure things were moving around him.
His bandage was now tightly stuck to his sticky skin. Thomas had a moment of bliss as he watched what looked like shadows move in and around the trees. When he watched them it reminded him of how many people he had lost on the way to this point. “Alone, together, in the middle of nowhere,” he whispered despairingly. He shivered more, “Everyone’s gone, and it’s all because of that bastard.” Thoughts of revenge infected his mind, turning his pain into anger. The episode of thinking was disturbed. A crow flew from its nest, disturbed. He heard a twig snap. He had hoped it was nature’s doing.
The night turned bright, and in a sequence, fires were lit all around the hut. The fires weren’t safe, they touched the brambles, and the ash trees. The fire started to spread. Men walked through the fire as if they resisted it. They stepped over the fire, and it sizzled beneath their feet. Thomas squeezed his fingers around the water bag on his belt. He looked at the men and sighed. His path had felt long, and he had grown tired. Still wounded, he said, “You should have stayed away.”