The Wild Boy
The God of the Wild, who haunted the empty places, and loved the desolation and the unpopulated lands watched the people with interest. Not many people came this way, and they tended to be desperate.
He really couldn't understand why more people didn't come to the beauty of the lava lands, but he was glad they didn't. Once people lived here, he would have to leave.
These people had a brightly colored wagon that looked like a birthday present on wheels. It had been so long since he'd had a birthday, he was actually drawn toward the people, rather than repulsed, as he always had been before.
They went strange places, and did very strange things, although he could sort of remember someone doing things sort of like that.
"They are going to build a road completely across the continent! Isn't that exciting, Dace?"
The wild boy shook his head, trying to dislodge the horrible memory. He'd cried for days, and of course his mother had no idea why.
They had used machines, and picks and piled rocks on top. Then Father had walked out to the road and the rocks on top had flowed like water and coated the top of the road.
He had cried even more, and been left with Nanny when Mother and Father left town. Nanny had been an ugly old maid in the Old Country, but here all the men thought she was pretty, and Dace had had all the time he needed to run through the wild woods. He'd always come home though, eventually. And he'd had to do lessons and things. But bit by bit he'd been spending more time out, getting further and further away. He'd had a few magic lessons too, when the comet came.
When things were dark and ugly.
But the mage only had books on tame animals and plants, so he ran from him as well.
Some times a dog or a horse would come with him, but they always turned back, even the big horse.
For a while he'd felt an attraction for girls, but they didn't like him and he had drifted further and further into the wilds until one day he realized it had been days since he'd been home. And he'd shrugged and kept going. He'd stayed away from the road, and during bad storms he'd do a magic shield.
He had a vague memory of several long stretches when he nearly starved, when there were earthquakes and it was dark and cold. But the bad times always ended. Right now was a good time. In the summer he'd live up here on the lava strips and the grasslands, and in the winter he'd live down at the hot river. Either place had lots to eat for a hunter.
Some times he'd run with the wolves, or the wild horses. Real wild horses, their ancestors never tamed. He'd turn himself into a foal and run and play, and graze, and occasionally one of the mares would let him suckle. But that brought memories of placid tame cows, giving their milk and their calves for men to eat.
It was as a foal that he saw men again after such a very long time. He'd run away immediately, and the herd had followed him. He had stayed away, but they, creatures of habit, had returned to their old water holes, their hills and prairies. But he moved on and on, always free and wild.
And now these people were building a road. He worried about it. The old road had been destroyed by the quakes, and he been able to be alone for so long . . . but they drove their horses and their birthday present wagon into the crack in the ice, where he never went because there was nothing to hunt.
And he settled back content in his wild wilderness.
Strange things came and went from the ice, People moved into the Circle Valley, and later some people came and lived by the Hot River. But they mostly went away in a very strange fashion.
Then people started digging up the wild places, but in a strange way that was all right, because the people were so close to wild.
It was a little like a horse herd, dominance through fighting, and a new mare meant more fights. Some times he even walked into their flimsy little towns that sat so lightly on the World. They generally chased him out again, but that was the way packs and herds were. Strange males were not welcome.
And the way they tried to keep strange females was normal too.
He watched in delight as one female, the _girl_, and her horse bolted. That was a really fast mare. They left their pursuers in the dust and kept going so long that the mare's superior endurance was obvious as well. He followed, wanting to talk to that fast mare. He didn't talk very often to tame horses, but _that_ one.
When he caught up to them, he found a sadness. They had tried to cross the ashlands, and the side of a gully had collapsed and taken them down with it.
The pretty mare was standing in pain, her left hind foot raised completely off the ground. Even on three feet she was looking part way up the collapsed wall, the slumped rock. He followed her gaze and something moved. The girl was trapped under rocks. She was slowly and methodically trying to free herself, using one hand to move the rocks that had her pinned.
He shrugged. That was life in the wild places. The wolves would find them tonight or tomorrow.
The mare raised her head and looked at him. Nickered. A faint picture of him moving the rocks. It had been a long time since a horse had so clearly communicated with him. He looked at the rocks. The Wild Boy knew about moving rocks that big, and he trotted off to the next gully, and used a quick spell to cut a willow trunk, a pole as wide around as his arm and twice his height. He ran his hands down it as he walked back, and water squeezed from it, leaving it tough and stiff.
He slid down the pile well to the side of the girl, and carefully climbed over to her. She blinked at him and nodded. She didn't speak, too dry, but she understood the lever, and shifted a rock herself, to use as a fulcrum, and when he put his weight to it, she shoved a rock chip in to hold the bigger rock and slowly pulled herself out from under. He carried her down to the horse, although he could see she wouldn't recover. Her leg was broken in at least four places, the foot crushed. He laid her in a bit of shade, and when she gestured he brought her the canteen. It was nearly empty, but she still saved some for the mare. Then she wanted him to unsaddle her, and bring her the saddle.
Her lips moved, but nothing but a faint rasp came out. She pulled the saddle bags to her and pulled out a bottle and pulled the cork. It was half empty, and she drank nearly half of that. Then she gestured for him to give it to the horse. He pored most of it into the little canvas bucket he'd given her the water in, and the mare drank it, curling her lip back, and sighed and relaxed, obviously feeling a lot less pain.
He sniffed it, took a tiny taste and shivered. _Magic wine_. He put the bottle back beside the girl and took both the canteen and the canvas bucket to get water.
She was asleep when he got back. The mare drank the whole bucket. The girl blinked sleepily and drank half the canteen then slumped down and slept.
The Wild Boy gave the rest of the water to the mare, and walked back to the little spring to fill them again.
The sun set, and the wolves came. He sent them away. They couldn't have these two yet. When it got cold, he covered the girl with the saddle blanket, and when she started shivering, he curled up around her. Warmer than he was used to, he even dozed off and on.
He awoke when she did, feeling her start and pull away from him. He rolled away himself, and looked around for the mare. She was browsing the thin brush, barely limping. The girl sat up and carefully moved her leg. The Wild Boy poked at it carefully. Yesterday it had looked to be broken in several places, crushed. He hadn't even tried to do anything with it.
But she wasn't going to die.
Or at least not of her injuries. He fetched more water, and then he picked her up and carried her to the spring. The mare limped after them, and grazed on the grass where the water soaked into the thin soil.
He walked back and brought the saddle and blanket, the saddle bags, the tiny bit of wine left.
Then he climbed out of the gorge and went hunting.
The wolves kept their distance wary of him after yesterday's commands. He slipped up on a small herd of bison, and slashed one. The others ran away, then circled a bit, uncertain. He sliced out a big chunk from the rump, and the liver, and left the rest for the wolves, sending a contrite, head down, faint whine and tentative wag of tail.
The girl looked up when he returned, and eyed the meat he had in each hand. She had collected a bunch of little sticks, and she looked at it and it burst into flame.
He jumped, startled. He hadn't been near a fire, a tamed fire, for a very long time. She held her hands out for the meat, and he circled the fire to give them to her before retreating.
She didn't feel wild, but she didn't feel very tame either. He didn't feel itchy, like he needed to go away, so he just prowled around a bit, then came back and ate the meat she handed him, small chunks skewered on sticks.
He hadn't eaten cooked meat in a long time, and salt and pepper . . . he'd nearly forgotten about salt and pepper.
She had a knife, and after she'd eaten, she started sawing on her boot. He realized that she didn't want to injure herself further by pulling on it, and edged forward to slice it mentally, carefully. She lifted it off and very carefully examined her foot. He jumped again when she rebroke two bones, and tried to pull them out where they belonged. He took over, and pulled and manipulated the bones carefully. They were already healing, as he put her foot down. He felt her leg carefully, but those bones were fairly straight, and pretty well healed.
Curious, he walked over to the mare, picked up her foot and felt it. He could see where the little bones of the ankle had failed, and now were being reassembled. He pulled her hoof a bit, and poked the pieces in where they belonged. The same unnatural healing leapt into action as the pieces returned to where they should be.
A desire to know the wizard who could make such magical wine blossomed in his mind. A strange and wonderful thought, to dare to seek out a person.
The girl was drawing in the dirt. Not pictures, but a map. A clever model of the wild lands she showed the mountains and the Round Valley and the Hot River.
He broke up some sticks into almost squares, and put some in the Round Valley, some south of it and some north, where the road crossed the Hot River.
She smiled as she approved of his additions. Then she pointed to herself, and uncertainly at the model. The Wild Boy put his finger down where they actually were. She drew a finger from there to the Round Valley, and then uncertainly up to the Hot River crossing.
The Round Valley was closer, except they'd have to go round about to find water. If they followed this lava strip to the Road, there were springs along the edge all the way. And no so much climbing for the mare. He tried to think how to tell her that. It had been so long . . . "Hooter." He reached and scooped a handful. "Hooter." he traced a line up to the Road.
She understood. "Water." her voice was a harsh croak. "Go that way so we have water."
He smiled in relief. He understood enough of that to know she understood.
He went up on the Ash lands then and sliced off a large armful of grass and carried it back to the mare. The girl was hobbling and picking berries. To his surprise, what she was doing with the berries was squeezing them into the wine bottle. Had she made the magic wine herself? Was she making more?
He slipped away, and up on the ash lands found some brambles and picked berries for her. She squeezed them all into the wine, and then filled it with water. He sort of remembered an old wizard who had made wine. It hadn't involved water at all. But the girl poured almost half for the horse, and drank almost half herself. She eyed him sidelong and offered it to him.
Magic. Powerful magic. He took a small sip, and handed it back. It was very good, it tasted more like wine than berries and water. It made him feel good and want to do things, starting with kissing the girl. He got up and ran away. He would hunt, and _not_ kiss the girl.
He got two rabbits, and gathered some crab apples from a gnarled old tree.
The girl cut up the apples and put them in the wine bottle too. With water. The rabbits she wrapped in grass and buried with coals. She slept most of the day, and when she dug up the rabbit it was tender and wonderful. When the sun dropped below the horizon the temperature dropped. The girl shivered, and gave a bit of apple water to the mare, drank a bit herself, and again offered it to him. This sip tasted like wine with apples and berries in it, and he ran away from the feelings that were doing things to his mind and his pisser.
When he'd cooled down he circled back and laid down a bit away from her. It was cold, but he'd been cold before and dozed off and on, until the shivering girl came and cuddled up to him. He kissed her and she kissed him back and rubbed up against him, and they found all sorts of interesting ways to keep warm, and he discovered that people didn't mate much like horses or wolves.
In the morning the girl put her injured foot in the old boot and wrapped strips of rabbit skin around it to hold it together. He realized that she was leaving. Leaving him. Were people like the deer, with the males and females living apart except when the breeding season came? She took her saddle bags and blanket, but left the saddle, when she started walking. The mare followed, barely favoring the injured leg. The wild boy hesitated, then he picked up the saddle and followed as well.
By noon he'd abandoned the saddle and was carrying the saddle bags and blanket, and was taking half the weight of the girl. He steered her up an arroyo to another spring and sat her down a bit firmly, then he went in search of fruit. More berries, and more berry water for both mare and girl. The Wild Boy avoided it, and they only mated twice that night.
He hunted the next day, and they walked the day after that. It was a slow trip, but the mare wasn't limping at all, and the girl only limped at the end of a long day's walk by the time they reached the road. He didn't like the feel of the road. It bothered his feet. But he walked with her until they got to the bridge. He knew what a bridge was, and this one soared and swooped like a tree branch or a vine. He left then. Backing away from the girl and running back to the wilds. He returned several times, and finally, in the dark of night he crossed the bridge. It was an easy way to cross the Hot River, however bad it felt to his feet. He hid and watched, as the people came and went so oddly, walking into glowing spots, and sometimes days later, coming back. Sometimes. Some people never returned.
He didn't see the girl, and he wondered if perhaps she had gone into a glowing spot and would never escape.
One night, he decided he should follow. It mostly had to do with his pisser, and wanting more mating, but worry, and bravery and even curiosity had a part in it.
He stepped bravely into the glowing spot, and found himself in a village. He scuttled into the bushes, and then surveyed the area very carefully. There was a big building. Barn. It had glowing spots all over it. There was dew on the short grass, gleaming faintly in the moonlight. He could see his footprints coming from one of the spots. Could he go back? A scent caught his attention. Food, delicious food, the kind of food he'd forgotten about. He slipped from bush to tree shadow to hedge and stalked the scent.
The smell was coming from houses. Homes. Places where people lived. There were people there now and he stayed back, breathing in the smell, listening. He didn't hear the girl, so he backed away, circled around. More homes. More good smells.
He explored further. Plowed fields. Pastures with sheep and cattle. Tame ones that moved uneasily, knowing him for a predator despite his humanness. He found a place where wine was made. Could this be where the wizard was? The one that made _that_ wine?
A horse walked up to him, curious and unafraid. Sniffed and snorted. A pretty chestnut gelding.
::What are you?::
The Wild Boy blinked at the horse. "Ummah bouy."
The horse looked down the hill. ::Wake up! Come and see the funny boy!::
The Wild Boy jumped up and ran. The horse cut him off and pushed him, making him circle. He hadn't done such a thing in a long time. Gathered a handful of power. He used to be able to . . . no, he was too young, he'd just been training to . . .
"Hey, who are you?"
He threw the fire ball, but the boy batted it down like it was nothing.
::Isn't he funny?::
"Yeah, I think he's wild." The boy looked at him. "Are you wild?"
He jerked his chin up, and shifted under the boy's gaze.
"Come on then." The boy turned and walked away, and the horse followed him.
The Wild Boy shifted uncertainly, then finally trailed after them. Where the grass ended and the grape vines started, he balked. It was bad. It was warped and wrong. It wasn't wild, or anything close.
But the boy came back and he had food. Bread. The Wild boy had nearly forgotten about bread. There was meat and _cheese_ stuck in it, and he wolfed it down.
The boy offered something else. A cookie. He took it hesitantly and nibbled slowly. Cookies. "I furgot bout cookies."
"I'm Xen. I'm thirteen, how old are you?"
"Umm, Dace." How old was he? How long ago had he wandered off into the wilderness and never returned? He squirmed uncomfortably. The boy was clean and civilized. The horse's mane was trimmed, and his hooves had iron shoes nailed on them. The grass wasn't really wild, it was a pasture. He suddenly couldn't stand it and ran away. He ran uphill into the forest, and found a place too steep for wood gathering, where it was completely wild. It wasn't cold, but he curled up and shivered for a bit. He slowly relaxed in the little wild canyon. and thought about going back to the lava lands.
The wine, a wizard that powerful. Spells. Magic. Wild magic pouring through his hands. The boy, Xen. He was a magician. Dace slipped back through the forest and hesitated at the edge of the pasture.
The horse was grazing a little ways away, and the boy was there too.
He edged out cautiously, staying closer to the forest. He could ask about magic, he could even ask about the girl.
"Are you the Wild Boy who rescued Topaz?" Xen sat up and concentrated, and Dace saw a picture of the girl and the mare.
And then he thought Xen was talking to someone else, and shifted uncertainly.
"It's all right. I just told Topaz that you were here." Xen frowned down the slope. "My Dad is really really old. You feel sort of like that." He concentrated again and Dace saw a face.
"Wolf." He jumped up. The man would take him back, would make him stay in the city.
"There's no city any more. It was a very long time ago. Only the old gods are still alive. And you."
Dace was suddenly overwhelmed again, and ran. But this time it was down hill. Back to the barn, and through the glowing circle. Then he was back in the canyon by the hot river. He couldn't stand the feel of the pavement under his feet and jumped down and ran off into the rough lands around the geysers. He kept going long after the road and buildings were out of sight. he finally found himself a nice safe spot for the night. Up above the crocodiles, where a stream of cold, unmineralized water tumbled down the cliff. He curled up and slept, safe in the wilds, and in the morning he climbed the cliffs and ran off over the lava lands. In time these memories would fade as well, and he would be able to live with the horses and wolves and never see mankind again.