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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Fantasy · #2319623
Always dark before the dawn...
Ryan tried ineffectually to brush the mortar stains off of his ragged tunic as he trudged up to the bar. He collapsed onto a stool, running a hand through his sweaty brown hair and drumming the other on the counter.

"Long day?" The bartender asked.

"The usual."

This provided both an answer and an order. The bartender brought forth a tall glass of root beer and a bowl of porridge, setting them in front of Ryan, who pulled a copper coin out of his leather bag and pushed it across the counter.

"Lord Dennis wants his wall right quick," another man grumbled, sitting next to Ryan. "Summer heat never stopped nobody from working hard, says he. Too many wolves afoot—his lands must be protected."

"One doesn't mess with wolves," the bartender observed. "You'll be glad you put in the work to protect our lord's domain."

They ate in silence for some time, listening half drowsily to the minstrel strumming on a lute in the corner. No one else was in the pub that afternoon, save for some ruffians guffawing at a table.

Suddenly the door flew open. Everyone looked up as a tall young lady strode in. She wore a long green tunic with a leather belt, on which was strapped a hefty sword. Her red hair was in two chunky braids, and her boots were thick and rugged.

She marched straight up to Ryan and pointed at him.

"You're the one!"

"What?" Ryan dropped his spoon into the bowl with a clunk.

"Ryan Greenwood, isn't it?"

"Yes, but… who are you? How do you know my name?"

She swung herself into the stool on the other side of him, produced a sovereign from her bag and laid it on the counter.

"One leg of mutton and a root beer, please," she said to the bartender. Then to Ryan, "my name is Gina. I'm on a journey to live with the wolves. In a dream, Saint Francis told me to find you and take you with me."

"Good God Almighty!" Ryan crossed himself and leaned away from her. "The last thing I want to do is live with wolves. Why, lady, they'll eat you alive."

"Yer darn tootin'," the man on the other side of Ryan said. "They raid the villages and carry off children, doncha know? Hungry, ravening beasts."

"Nonsense!" Gina flipped her braids back with a toss of her head. "I have nothing to fear. I am an animal whisperer." Her green eyes narrowed as she glanced around the room, sizing up the men's reactions to her.

Ryan felt a chill down his neck as he saw the steely resolve in her eyes. There was something fascinating about this Gina, but he had to admit he was also terrified of her.

"Why would Saint Francis tell you to come and get me?"

"He said you were born to live where the wild things are. You are not meant to be a vassal of this lord."

"But—but… what else is there?"

"Wolves are a tribal species. I can make a pact with them for us, and we will live alongside them."

"I fear I'm not an animal whisperer. I can barely ride a horse."

"The power lies within you, Ryan. I wouldn't have been told to find you if it wasn't meant to be."

He took a long pull of his root beer. Lord Dennis is a harsh master. And building the wall is the hardest thing I've ever had to do. But if I abandon my responsibility, I forfeit everything I've ever known. Plus I'll have a price on my head.

"The risk is too great," he said simply. "And I have no interest in living with wolves."

"Would you be so kind as to accompany me to the edge of the forest, then? It looks more natural for me to walk with someone than alone."

Ryan shrugged. It wouldn't take much out of my day to see her off on her strange quest. And besides, I'm curious about her story.

When they'd finished their meal, Gina stood up and headed for the door. Ryan followed slowly, aware of the men's curious stares and whispers as he passed.

Ryan caught up to her quick strides and walked alongside her.

"Why are you doing this?"

"I'm escaping," she said in a low, even tone.

"From what?"

"Lord Dennis himself, to be precise." She paused for some moments, eying him sideways. "I was his bride to be."


Ryan's brow furrowed. I don't like the way this is going. If someone notices the two of us together…

"Born and raised with one purpose in mind." Her voice was cold and sarcastic. "An orphan. A wild soul. Animals like me. People usually don't."

A dog lunged out at them from an alley, its barks echoing in the silence. It was a thin, mangy creature, obviously abandoned.

Ryan backed away as it pressed forward, growling. Gina knelt down and held out her hands, her eyes locked on the dog's hungry, bony face.


For a long, tense moment it seemed as though surely the dog would attack her. Ryan was ready to run and shout for help. Then, it relaxed and began to whimper. She leaned forward, petting it and speaking soothing words.

"If I'd known we would meet, I'd have saved some of my food for you."

Gina stood up and continued walking. The dog sniffed at her boots and trotted alongside her.

"You want to come with me? I'll take good care of you. I'll name you Brutus. Doesn't that sound nice?"

She talks to that thing as if it were a person.

"It's sickly. Flea-bitten. You shouldn't keep it."

"I know the herbs that will heal it. Love and good feeding also works wonders."

I could use some love and good food myself…

"Are you coming, Ryan?"

They were now at the side of the unfinished wall, looming in stepped blocks in front of them, bathed in the orange glow of the setting sun. Beyond the gaps lay forests whose leaves whispered beckoningly in the wind.

Gina faced Ryan. He admired her green eyes, catching the fast fading sunlight. He looked at the wall.

If I don't take this chance, I'll never see her again. Wolves? No, I can't… but this wall… ugh. Why, I'm building my own prison. Once I sweat and slave to complete this wall, I will live and die within its bounds.

"Is that everything you desire from life?" She asked, waving her hand to encompass the lines of shabby thatched dwellings, and in the distance, the mansion of Lord Dennis, pennants waving.

Ryan gulped and took a deep breath. There's nothing here for me. I haven't found a lady I want to marry yet. This one is so beautiful…

"My time is short…" Gina turned to go. Brutus gave Ryan a brief sniff and followed her.

He watched as she scrambled up to the shortest point of the unfinished wall. Her sword caught in a crevice, and her hand slipped.

"I'm coming!" Ryan stumbled after her, tripping over chunks of masonry.

He caught her and helped her scale the sharp mess of construction, and together they landed on the other side, with Brutus sliding down after them.

"Now follow me," Gina ordered, brushing herself off and plunging ahead into the woods without a moment's pause.

Does she have any clue where we're going?

Darkness settled over them as they forged deep into the woods, their footsteps crunching in the leaf litter. What on earth am I doing? How am I going to survive out here? I'm not even armed!

As if reading his thoughts, Gina bent down, picked up a hefty branch and held it out to him. Ryan immediately felt a little better as he leaned his tired body's weight on the staff, as if there were some magic in it.

"Freedom does not come easily," she said. "We must ensure we are not being tracked down."

"Where are the wolves of which you speak?"

"Saint Francis told me there is a hidden convent of nuns in a cave. The wolves protect them."

They pressed forward hour after hour. Ryan heard owls hooting eerily back and forth in the trees. A glimpse of eyes glimmering in the brush, along with a distant howl, sent a chill down his spine as he gripped his staff.

I should turn back… this was a terrible idea. If they see I'm not on the estate—if Lord Dennis sees that Gina is gone—I'll be in big trouble…

Ryan lingered in the shadows, allowing Gina and Brutus to forge ahead without him. She didn't look back.

She's leaving, and I don't even know how to get out of here… oh, what have I done? I don't want to go on with this, but I don't really want to go be a slave again either.

He plodded alone down a trail with a vague hope of its leading somewhere desirable, wishing he hadn't plunged himself into an existential crisis of this nature after a long day's work.

A burst of noise erupted from the woods behind him: crashing, shouts, frantic barking, and a clang of armor.

Ryan's first instinct was to run as far from the action as he could get.


It was Gina's voice, desperate and faint.

He turned back the way he'd come, his staff digging into the ground at each leaping step. He slunk down into the shrubbery and inched closer to the fray, trying to be stealthy.

Gina was surrounded by three soldiers bearing the crest of Lord Dennis. Her sword lay broken on the ground.

"You thought you'd run away, huh?" One man jeered. "We'll see to it you're brought back safe and sound!"

They laughed and began tying her up.

No one is looking for me. If I let them go on ahead and slip quietly back into my hut on the estate, it'll be like this never happened. They'll never know I was out here with her…

Gina held her head proud and high, her eyes darting around the edges of the clearing. Ryan could sense she was waiting, wondering where he was.

I'm not letting them drag her away! I have to do something. She risked everything. I have nothing to lose. But how do I…?

A glowing pair of eyes caught his attention as a wolf sidled into view on the trail. It approached him with a low growl as if demanding credentials. Ryan shuddered, but he remembered how Gina had treated the angry dog.

He scrunched down on his knees and reached out to the wolf, locking eyes with it. He felt a rush of connection, a bond, as the animal came closer and sniffed his hands. It was like nothing he'd ever felt before, but it was suddenly the most natural thing in the world.

Gina was right—the power is within me!

"Go get help!" He spoke low and firmly. "I need as many of your comrades as you can muster up. Look, that lady is in trouble." Ryan placed a hand on the wolf's neck and pointed through the brush into the clearing, where the soldiers were mocking Gina.

The wolf sniffed at the ground, then faded into the shadows. An exchange of howls arose from across the area as the pack communicated with each other. Ryan heard the soldiers arguing.

"Come on, let's get back to the estate!" the leader snapped. "I don't want to be near those vicious beasts. The longer we dawdle, the more danger we're in."

"Do we know how to get out of the woods?" a second one asked.

"Help! We're lost!" the third wailed.

While they argued, Ryan became aware of more and more wolves gathering around him. He held the staff Gina had given him and took a deep breath. When it seemed as though no more wolves were coming, he straightened his back and squared his shoulders with grim resolve.

Ryan burst through the trees into the clearing with a wild banshee yell and nine wolves by his side. He brandished his staff in the air.

"Wolves! Ghosts! Run!"

The soldiers stumbled over each other with cries of panic as the wolves chased them down the trail. Ryan met Gina's eyes with a nod.

"I knew you'd be back," she managed to smile as he untied her. "Come, we still have a long way to go."

They set off again into the forest. At some point, Brutus (Gina's rescued mutt) and a wolf met them, leading the way up to a wooden door set into the rocky mountainside.

"This is the convent," Gina said. "It would be rude to disturb the nuns at this hour. We will be safe out here with the wolves until morning."

"But what if more soldiers come looking for you?"

Gina laughed and tossed back her braids, leaning down to pet Brutus.

"As far as they're concerned, I've been eaten by ravenous beasts. We're free."

Ryan held out a hand to her.

"Gina… I… I think…" he squirmed and looked down at the ground. Then he looked up into her mysterious green eyes. "I was born to love you," he blurted out, feeling ridiculous.

She laughed again, a light and gentle sound, and squeezed his hand.

"Why, Ryan, that was the whole point. I was born to love you where the wild things are."

They sat down together on the ledge, waiting alongside the wolves for the darkness to be replaced by dawn.

Word Count: 2,259.
Born, by OneRepublic
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