Rough, I guess.
That’s a light word for it, but that’s the only one I can think of. Scars dragging along his face, shattering the color of his eyes. Creating the most piercing stare I’ve ever seen, all wrapped up in sharp teeth and a snarl.
“You the new rider?” he asked, voice rumbling like a rock falling off a mountain.
“Yes,” I told him levelly. Proud of myself for looking him in the eye.
He snorted, though I’m not sure what it meant.
He said, “Then I guess I’m your wolf.”
Wolf riders were a newer development in the war.
People clad in armor, spear in one hand, shield in the other. They’d climb to their saddles with extra spears, extra bows, extra arrows, and extra grit. They’d take the front line and they’d push back against the throes of goblins and trolls and dreadlocks.
They’d sit tall on their steed.
Also clad in armor. Wearing a helm that would fit their snouts and muzzles, often adorning the top with spikes, or horns, meant for ramming through enemy forces.
My new steed—the werewolf with the scarred eye—had ram’s horns on his helm.
“I prefer battering,” he explained. “Skewering makes things messy.”
I’d nodded at him, accepting the statement easily. This was war after all, and, from what I gather, he was a well-worn veteran. Of course he’d have a preference.
I’d have to keep that in mind.
I’d been told that Revin was a hard partner to work with. That he’d thrown his last few riders in the surge of battle. They’d made it through somehow, but still. He’d thrown them, and they didn’t want to partner with him again. Which meant:
No one expected this to work out.
Not for me.
Revin was strong enough on his own that they allowed it to slide. That they ignored riders’ pleas, kept throwing them on his back and then into battle. He was strong, could take a beating, and, thus far, had never been beaten. They kept sending him.
At this point, it felt pretty obvious:
They didn’t expect his riders to last.
They sent him out for the sake of having him in the battle.
Policy stated that werewolves must all have human riders. If they go to battle, they must have a partner. Something about appeasing the courts—though it seemed that the armies fully trusted them. Despite only recently coming out of hiding, we still trusted them.
And they’d changed the tide of the war completely.
I can’t blame them. Not really. Sending Revin out was smart, beneficial. Even if he threw his rider, he did his work well.
I respected that.
He was quiet as I looked over his armor. Over the fixtures that were on his shin plating, the armor of his hindquarters.
“What’re these markings?” I asked, pointing to something that looked like beautiful scrawling.
His face didn’t change and he didn’t move as he answered.
Arms crossed, looking serious as ever, he said, “They tell a story in the language of wolves.”
“What story?” I asked, infinitely intrigued.
Hearing that genuine curiosity—or maybe just because he felt like it—he answered.
“The story of the bloodhound and the wolf.”
“The one where the hound tried to convince the wolf to join his master? And the wolf saw his neck and refused?”
Revin blinked at me. Sturdily, steadily. As if making a silent assessment.
“The very same,” he eventually affirmed.
And I knew then why it was that Revin threw his riders. Why he refused to back down in battle. Why he fought so hard. I knew, and I understood.
I would be no exception.
In the heat of battle, he would throw me, too.
I wasn’t afraid.
And, I wasn’t wrong.
When the battle came, we charged with the front line. Crashing against the goblins headfirst. Causing their line to disburse, be disabled.
And Revin kept charging.
Kept tunneling through the mob, head down, breaking bones and crushing foes with every leap he took. Blazing a trail through the angry horde, the messy, chaotic lines of our enemy’s panic.
And that was when it happened.
When I was thrown.
Before the gray stump that composed a troll, Revin reared up. Took his full werewolf height. Glared at the troll, daring him to do battle.
And that was when I was thrown.
Not out of spite.
Out of necessity.
A werewolf that is tethered to a rider can never be all that it can be. Can never accomplish what we need it to accomplish.
And Revin—with a mighty roar that was followed by an unearthly clash—knew that.
In ten seconds, he decapitated the troll. One of the mightiest, deadliest foes a human can face—
He’d killed it.
In less than ten seconds.
From the ground, I watched the troll’s head topple, crushing a few goblins beneath it. Awed as the battle raged on.
Revin raged with it.
And, so did I.
After that feat, I had to start defending myself. Goblins were closing in, threatening to overtake our army. I had to start fighting. Had to do my part too. I wouldn’t be doing as much as Revin, but.
It was something.
At the end of the battle, I found myself alive. Complete, save for a bit of blood and cuts on my skin. Nothing was pierced, nothing internal was suffering, and I could move my arms and legs.
Really, that was all I needed.
As the army of dark creatures receded—retreating as our army shouted—I began to limp through our forces. The cheering mass that shouted after the dark creatures was too much for me right now.
I needed to get to a medic.
The gash in my leg wouldn’t kill me, I knew that.
Did it hurt.
“Do you need a lift?”
Behind me, Revin loomed. Still in werewolf form, his silver-colored armor stained with red now. His strange, cloudy eyes focused on me.
“I’m fine,” I assured him. “You should be celebrating the victory with the others. I know you had a large part in winning the battle.”
“Many died in this battle. Many. And many more will die before the day is done. I will celebrate when this war is over,” he informed me, voice strict. Stern. “But, that’s neither here nor there. Your leg is injured.”
“But, not badly—”
“Let me take you to a medic.”
I sighed, but relented. The pain burning through my leg as I stood on it. “Alright,” I relented.
Once in my saddle, Revin picked up his pace. Not quite running, but not quite walking. Trotting, I suppose.
“I’m glad to see you made it through the battle,” he said, catching me by surprise.
I would’ve said something in response—made some kind of joke—but, just then.
My vision was blurry.
And I wasn’t able to think properly. Or speak. Or, really, move.
I passed out.
When I woke up, I was in a medical bay. All bandaged up, attached to fluids.
Aside from that, the first thing I noticed was Revin standing next to me, looking solemn. Like some sort of ancient gatekeeper.
“Yeah,” I replied. “What happened?”
“Poison-tipped spear. That’s what got your leg,” he informed me.
“Oh? Interesting,” was all I could think to say. “Is it… do I…?”
He nodded. “They managed to save your leg. You’ve been here for three days now. Drugged, but, recovering they assure me. They said that, when you wake, you’ll be good to go. You should be able to walk and run just fine.”
“Good,” I said, swinging my legs off my cot.
They really did feel fine.
Standing proved to be much easier than I thought it’d be. I thought it’d be at least a little bit difficult, but.
I was fine.
Since it was no trouble at all, I felt confident enough in my recovery to ask.
“So, when’s our next battle?”
Revin blinked at me, puzzled. “Our next battle?”
“Yeah, I’m your rider, right? I go out to battle when you do, those are the rules. So, when’s our next battle?”
My words were chosen carefully.
And we both knew it.
We stared at each other for a moment. I could see clearly in his eyes the confusion, the curiosity. Wondering why I was okay with this, why I was okay with being his rider still. Out of all the riders he’d had, I was sure I wasn’t the most impressive. For a female, I was of average height, and average weight—which meant most of our army’s men could sit on me and I wouldn’t be able to do jack about it. I had enough muscle to throw spears, but I wasn’t anything impressive. I didn’t have any magics, no enchantments, and no beast blood in me.
Out of all the riders he’d had, I was the least likely to stick around. Think that I could survive being thrown off my wolf in battle.
Here I was.
Serious as stone.
Ready to go to battle.
Ready to try and survive.
Ready to be thrown again.
“You’re odd,” he told me simply.
I nodded, unable to disagree.
After giving me another level look, he turned, stalking away.
“We ride in three hours.”
This time, I was more ready. Much more prepared. When I was thrown, I didn’t hesitate. With my spear, I began cutting a clean path through the goblins. Doing my best to keep up with the others riders.
Only, it was sort of pointless.
Once Revin threw me—slaughtering a wyvern with ease—he came back around.
He didn’t pick me up.
Thank goodness, because, I’d have had to refuse, but.
He stood with me.
And we fought together.
Side by side.
Not “fighter” and “steed”.
Not “man” and “beast”.
Not as “master” and “servant” but.
And I couldn’t help but think:
As it should be.