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Short story snippet: “Zouriel”

I wrote another snippet from my novel in that alternate point of view. A little shorter, but rather nice all the same. It’s a better stand-alone thing I think.

It was clear it was going to be a long, cold winter.

Cassandra was glad for the autumn storms now, which had torn a good number of trees up by the roots and they had since been cut up and converted to firewood for her woodpile. It still worried her sometimes, that she’d not have enough to last them through the long winter.

That was why she found herself venturing outside as often as she dared to find smaller branches and twigs, not just for kindling, but also to supplement the wood she used to keep her house warm and snug. This was something her surprise visitor should be grateful for, because, if she had not been out gathering wood that day then she would not have found him. Or would not have found him until it was too late.

She peered over at him, where he lay on her couch, taking up room. How annoying.

But she could not very well throw him outside in this weather, especially not since he was wounded. His wounds healing but slowly and there was the fever too.

It would certainly not be a good thing to turn him out considering those circumstances.

Oy was glad to have him there, though he mostly slept the days away. The boy’s fascination was not surprising as he had not had much exposure to other people. She had brought him with her the previous two years when she headed into town, though when he was but three he was kept close to her and she wondered how much he truly remembered from then.

“Lots of noise”, was all he’d said when she asked him.

But this was a new person, not noisy at all, reclining on their couch in a dead faint or sleep or mixture or the two. And Oy was fascinated by him.

He played with his fingertips, pawed at his messy hair and just plopped down on his chest and felt the steady rise and fall of his chest. He had figured out one thing on his own; that Cassandra was a girl, but this one…The stranger was a boy just like him.

She supposed it was natural for the boy to latch onto the first male he got to spend some quality time with, though she wondered how much of a quality time it was, when the other mostly slept.

He had woken up a few times, though he seemed barely lucid. She had helped him relieve himself and then offered him a drink of water, before he fell back into slumber again. Yesterday he had woken up while she changed his dressings and his gaze seemed to scrutinize her closely for an instant, his mouth moving as if to speak, but then he’d fallen back upon the cushions and his eye had shut.

She gave him another thorough gaze where she stood behind her canvas. He did seem more well than previous days. His skin had a fairly healthy tone to it, though he looked awfully thin. Some food would right that though. She had no doubt of that.

Oy was sitting, curled up against the couch and peering through a book, flipping pages in such a way that they made as little noise as possible. He was being considerate to her, in the middle of her creative process. Guilt prickled at her, the knowledge that such a small boy was forcing himself to be so considerate to her needs. She was the adult, who had a responsibility to allow the boy to be a child.

Ah, but Oy was not a normal boy. Whenever he could, he did play around like other children. He just had a more keen sense of when to not be rowdy and rambunctious. She felt a swell of affection for the boy instead as he flipped through his picture book.

There was a slight moan coming from the shape on the couch and Oy’s ears immediately pricked up. Sure, at present he did not have the kind of ears that could prick, but she could see it all the same.

“Miss Cass!” he whispered and moved to the man’s side.

She put her brush in the cup of water and then joined Oy. The man’s eye fluttered open and his brow knit in confusion. His hand emerged from under the blankets and he slowly started to unfold himself, pushing the blankets away. Cassandra just watched him move, slowly, laboriously all the while he gave her strange looks.

Then when he attempted to get back up on his feet, his right knee buckled, through the artificial left seemed to stay straight, which resulted in him falling in a rather comical and lopsided way. She would have laughed, but instead she rushed up to catch him, if she had not he would have hit his head and that might not have been a good thing.

He hissed, whether it was from frustration or pain or a combination of the two, she could not tell and she guided him back on the couch where he sat, leaning rather heavily into the cushions and looking like he was very close to flopping right back down into a reclining position. His hand found one of the blankets and pulled it close again as he visibly shivered.

“Not quite ready to brave the world again, are we?” she said and watched him closely, as Oy crawled up next to the man and peered at him closely.

“Are you okay, mister?” Oy asked, hugging his knees.

“Jus’ peachy…” the man croaked out as he leaned his head back and shut his eye.

“I can get you something to eat”, Cassandra offered. “Maybe some hot soup would hit the spot.”

The man narrowed his eye suspiciously. It was not a gaze she was unfamiliar with, she’d used it herself more than once. She’d received it too, but that she was used to as well. What she could see clear as day was that she had another person here who didn’t trust easily, much like herself. Finally he nodded, slowly.

“You’ve been hogging my couch for days now, so it’s no wonder you’re a little unsteady on your feet”, she called from the kitchen.

“You was bleeding a lot too!” she heard Oy supplement. “There was blood all over!”

The sound, which could only be a weak laugh encouraged her and she let Oy continue to entertain their guest.

“You seem really tough, mister. I bet the other guy was even worse looking! What’s your name? My name is Oy. I want to be tough like you when I grow up.”

Cassandra couldn’t help smiling where she stood, heating soup from a can. The boy certainly had a way of breaking down your defenses with his boundless enthusiasm. So it was also not surprising when she heard the other man actually respond to Oy asking for his name.

“Zouriel.”

What Cassandra had not known then, which had not even become clear to her until much, much later, was the great impact this man would have on their life. The impact he would have on her.

But at the time, she had just continued to smile, even as she returned with a bowl of hot chicken soup and asked him, grinning all the while if she would have to feed him.

The look of terror mixed with shame, adding to the already present flush on his face was quite entertaining to watch. Almost as entertaining as when his first spoonful dribbled down on the blankets.

She’d laughed, but left him to it. The rest of the soup went down the hatch as it should.

And she resumed her painting, while she watched Oy chatter to the man called Zouriel.

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