Finding him had been a surprise.
An unconscious, giant of a man with wild brown hair and a small armory of knives secreted about his body. She found him leaning against a tree, unconscious, soaking wet and almost frozen solid. Pieces of his dreaded hair were frozen together and snow had already begun to cover him; as if winter was claiming him for herself. He must have been out there for while, the falling snow had covered most of his tracks, but she could see the drag marks where he had crawled out of a frozen lake, not 20 feet away.
He must have been walking across it and fallen in toward the shore where the ice was thinner. Saro knew the lake well, she swam and fished there in the warmer months. It stretched for miles and the stranger obviously must not have been aware he was walking on frozen water until too late. If she left him there he'd be dead within hours, if not sooner. There was no choice, really. Now the came the hard part. How to get him home. He must weigh over 250 pounds, and even using her sled Saro highly doubted she had the strength to pull him the entire way. No, she would have to call in a favor from Alces.
Ronon was confused. He was laying down, freezing cold yet wrapped in blankets and he felt like something, or someone, was pulling him. His head was fuzzy and he couldn't hold onto a thought for long. Opening his eyes hurt, it felt like they were glued shut, but keeping them open was worse: the world was bright white, the snowy ground sparking at him like a carpet of diamonds. The Satedan also discovered trying to move was impossible for two reasons. One, he was strapped down somehow and two, his body felt like he'd been used as an ice cube. The Runner's mind was not clear either, he couldn't hold onto a thought for very long before it slipped away like the shadows the Wraith could sometimes make their victims see.
Suddenly he heard a female voice, "Yes, we are almost there. Would you stop your complaining? He cannot be that heavy. Besides, you do owe me after I untangled you from those thorny bushes this past spring, I had a devil of a time of it. You are lucky I didn't have to give you a haircut in order to free you." There was gentle, patient humor in her tone.
Ronon couldn't see the woman speaking, but it sounded like she was in front of him. The strange thing was, he didn't hear the question the woman was obviously answering. Who else was there? But before the dread-locked man had the chance to contemplate further, he stopped moving. Or rather, whatever he was on stopped moving.
She spoke again, "Alright, Alces, this will be difficult. I may need help getting him off the sled and into the cave. You stay here with him while I prepare a bed by the fire, he'll need to be kept warm."
Ronon heard the woman walk away on crunchy snow and decided now was the perfect opportunity to sneak a look at his rescuers, captors? But when he did open his eyes, all he saw was an enormous dog staring at him from above. The animal was at least twice as big as the biggest dog he'd ever seen on his home planet, probably weighing at least 150 pounds more than himself and stood perhaps four feet tall. What struck Ronon most however was the animal's eyes, for one they were glinting with intelligence and...wait, was that bemusement? Deciding that he must be hallucinating or dreaming, (and even if he wasn't, he was now well beyond caring) the exhausted and confused man closed his eyes and slipped back into blissful blackness.
After dragging all her blankets and furs to the hearth, Saro stepped back outside and spoke to the dog whose furry shoulders almost made it to her own. "Alces, would you pull our mystery guest inside? I'll unstrap him from the sled. I just hope I can manage, he's awfully large."
The hollowed out tree that served as the entrance way to her cave was tall and wide enough to allow Alces to walk through it, even with the sled attached. Untying the man and dragging him into the nest she'd made in front of the hearth was not easy but Saro succeeded. Unharnessing Alces was next, then she'd have to strip the sleeping man of his wet clothes. It was not something the young woman was entirely comfortable with but necessary if he was to live. With the harness removed, Alces shook his massive body and sighed a heavy sigh while Saro quickly rubbed him down.
Settling inside the large cave by the fire, her four legged protector lay on the ground and stared at the swaying flames. Looking over at him, Saro said "You don't have to stay you know. I'll be fine, and I know you wanted to hunt today. Besides,the man's unconscious after all..." At that Alces snorted, amusing Saro, "Alright, alright, I suppose you can hunt tomorrow, there's no need to get snippy."
Creeping closer to her "guest" she noticed his clothes were no longer frozen, but wet. Slowly the redhead managed to strip him down to his undergarments. There were large bruises on his body and many scars, old and new. He was clearly a warrior.
Piling layers of blankets and furs on top of him, Saro was relieved to note his skin had taken on a healthier, more normal color. Even the ice crystals in his eyelashes and beard had melted. She stared down at the stranger, he was handsome no doubt. Looking deeper, she thought she recognized a bit of wildness in him as well. Something that was reminiscent of her Friends in the forest, and herself. Shaking out of her reverie, Saro started dinner in the kitchen area, Alces would be getting hungry.
Soon enough the beast lumbered into the kitchen and sat, deep blue eyes staring at his human companion. Over 400 pounds and as large as a pony, he appeared more like a bear than canine. The species he belonged to were called the Alcessian by her people. Known for their wildness, ferocity and inability to be domesticated, they lived in packs in the wild, generally hunting deer or boar. Occasionally during harsh winters they would prey on villagers' sheep or cattle, making them a threat in the eyes of humans. Saro had rescued Alces when he was only a few weeks old. His mother had been killed by a farmer in Saro's village, but he had left the pup to die of exposure.
Big and brown with a long curling coat, Alces was a natural hunter, not even needing Saro for guidance as most hunting dogs did. He always brought back meat which he shared with his beloved foster mother, his pack leader. Communicating with him was not hard for the woman, she simply spoke aloud or in her head and while speaking or thinking the words, sent a kind of mental push, and he always understood. When Alces "spoke," Saro heard a deep growling voice in her mind and would see, though not really with her eyes, his words in the air, colorful thoughts dancing on ether, flowing like water from him to her. Every different animal she conversed with had a distinct voice, but the method of communication was always the same. She hadn't yet met an animal she couldn't speak with.
After dinner both dog and woman went back to the fire to settle in for the night. The stranger was still sleeping, and remained in his spot in front of the fire. Gazing at him, she offhandedly realized that she had never before known that men could be beautiful. Slightly embarrassed, Saro lifted the blankets covering the stranger, and motioned for Alces to crawl in next to him, on the side that wasn't closest to the fire. Body heat was the most effective way to keep a person warm and the man was still shivering in sporadic bursts, but damned if she'd be the one to sleep right next to him. Climbing in next to Alces and using his furry side for a pillow, Saro let herself descend into sleep, praying to wake before their guest.
Waking up wasn't easy. He was too warm and comfortable. Blinking his eyes clear and wincing, he realized he was sore and stiff all over. Relying on his internal clock Ronon judged it be just before dawn. Still laying down he looked around, he was in a cave, but not a cave. The walls and ceilings were stone but there was a fire burning in a carved out fireplace in front of him and he was bundled up in blankets. The room was large, and there were what looked like natural doorways which lead to other rooms. The floor was hard packed dirt and appeared to be swept frequently. Stranger still, there was the dog from his last awakening laying next to him, panting quietly. Next to the dog, a woman no more than 25 or so lay sleeping. She had pale skin and long curling auburn hair that seemed to change from brown, to red to gold in the firelight. The woman's lips appeared to be moving, as if she was talking in her sleep, but Ronon could not hear any words. Lovely, she was truly lovely, he thought. The enormous dog broke his concentration.
Getting up slowly so that Saro would not awake, Alces slipped out from the covers and stretched a long dog stretch. Once finished, he padded over to Ronon and looked at him, looked down at Saro, then back again at the Runner. The beast stared in the man's eyes for several long moments before trotting out of the cave. Ronon felt as though he had been very carefully warned that if anything should happen to the mysterious woman by his side, things would not go well for him. Realizing that he was bone tired, and wherever he was, he was safe, he let the reaching tide of sleep reclaim him.
She woke an hour or so after the twilight that is dawn to see Alces staring at her with what she had long ago decided was a dog's version of amusement. "Good morning, Alces. Did you sleep well? How is our guest do you think?"
Standing up and looking over at the bundle of blankets Saro reached over and gently pulled back a fur covering the stranger's face. He was still asleep. The man would need to eat and drink though, he'd wake in time. Leaving the room, she felt strangely calm, but there was also an undercurrent of electricity flowing through her. Excitement? It had been a long while since she had felt something like that. Since before she had even considered leaving the village, almost before she could remember. Why did she not feel fear? There was after all a strange man in her home, she reminded herself. What if he is like those in her old village? What if he found out. Now fear began to creep into her heart. Shaking herself like a horse does after a good dirt bath, Saro shuffled over to the kitchen and prepared some tea, bread and dried meat for herself and the man.
Walking back to the fire, Saro again thanked the gods for providing her with such a perfect dwelling. The large cave was shaped like an E, with several chambers that allowed her to have a kind of kitchen, bedroom and living room. The kitchen was the furthest room back in the cave and the coolest, enabling her to store food there without it spoiling, and she had smoked meat there more than once. The bedroom was the middle room in the cave, it was small but she only slept there in the hotter months to keep cool. Finally there was the living room where she kept her fire and slept in the winter.
Her fireplace had been carved from the surrounding rock by someone years before she'd come here. The carver taking advantage of a natural flue that pulled smoke out and dispersed it through several cracks outside the cave. The entrance of Saro's home, the dead, hollowed out tree, provided excellent protection against the wind, rain and snow and unwelcome intruders. It in fact totally blocked the cave from sight, it's hollow trunk dark and foreboding. She also hung a blanket over the trunk from inside of the cave, keeping the light of her fire from being visible. But if someone did become unusually interested in the tree and ventured closer, happened to peer through it and see the cave, fear of a bear inhabiting it would hopefully discourage most from actually going inside it.
Eating her breakfast while leaning against Alces, Saro tried to think of what the best course of action would be. Once the man woke, and was fit enough, she could take him to the edge of the village and beg him not to reveal her hiding place. There was no way Saro would ever step foot inside of that place again. Though she had been born and raised there, she felt nothing but fear and anger for her former neighbors. But surely they would be kind and help the stranger, at least if they didn't know he had any connection to her.
The young woman smiled bitterly at old memories, before her...ability...had been exposed, she was accepted, welcomed and even loved in the village. Farmers would ask her help with sick or injured livestock. If someone's animal was about to give birth, they would send for her. If a goat or sheep had gone missing, they asked for Saro to look for it. It wasn't until she'd turned 16 that the village had turned on her. The new priest in town had seen her cooing and speaking to a chicken that had stopped laying eggs. The very next day the hen laid four eggs, her first in weeks. After that the priest began to follow Saro. That is how it all started.
A little while after he trailed after her into the forest and saw how the wild birds follow her, and witnessed a notoriously savage bear present her with honey combs. He immediately slunk back to the village and started asking the villagers about her. At first the priest was subtle in his questioning, as if he was merely curious about a member of his flock, one of his new parishioners.
'You know,' he'd say, 'that pretty, young redhead who's always with some manner of creature or other.'
Then slowly he began asking questions in such a way that the answers the villagers gave left a bad taste in their mouths.
'Yeah, girl's always had a funny knack with the beasties, has since she was a wee lil one. Strange really, never seen nuthin' else like it.'
'She's a bit of an odd child, I suppose. Spends most of her time alone or with some animal or other. Probably comes from being raised by her Granny. That woman was something unusual, herself.'
'Been like that since she was a babe, she has. Always running wild in the woods or hiding in someone's barn, that one. Her parents were culled some years back, ya know, only she survived. It was a miracle that she did. Truly.'
His questions would leave the folk thinking, reevaluating their own answers and slowly tainting their memories of Saro. He planted a seed of doubt in the town's mind.
How does she do it? Almost like she can talk with 'em, ask 'em why they stopped givin' milk or quit layin' eggs. Can always find 'em too when a beastie wanders off...
That Granny of hers certainly was odd. Always making teas and tonics and potions. Maybe even poisons. The rumors did say she'd perform a spell for the right price. Wonder how much she taught that granddaughter of hers?
How did that girl survive? The Wraith would never have mercy for a human, not even a young babe like that one had been. Not after sucking the lives from that child's parents, I doubt. If it wasn't so far fetched, I'd say she'd been left behind on purpose...
The weekly sermons began to speak of a woman's rightful place and the dangers of harboring evil. How difference could be dangerous. Gossip turned ugly. It seemed that a child with a talent with the livestock was acceptable, but for a grown woman to...talk with wild creatures...It was strange, bad, out of the ordinary...Evil. The word 'witch' began to be bandied about. It didn't help either that Saro's grandmother, the local wise woman, had died weeks after her grandchild began to foster the wild puppy Alces. Saro's grandmother was a respected figure (having been the midwife at almost everyone in the town's birth as well as doctoring them as they grew) and had protected Saro when people called her different. But she was now alone, and the whispers had grown in volume until that awful day.
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