Chirin returned.

During the day, this time. Ni-Frith, in fact. The sun was high. There were no shadows for him to hide in, as was his intent. He should be seen, and so he made every opportunity to be seen. It was against everything Wolf ever taught him, to make himself so obvious, but the wolf had taught him killing. There would be no death today.

This was not the Wolf King's domain.

The plan was to stay near the fence, so that the sheep would see him in full light without him entering the meadow itself, but they were nowhere to be seen. He followed the fence from the furthest corner, towards the mountain, to the other side, which was stopped by the trail of a creek. And yet, though he looked for them, Chirin saw no sheep. Not one. Not even a lost lamb.

Well. That was good, he supposed. Some predators might be foolish enough to pass by without even realizing that this was a sheep farm, if the sheep themselves stayed away from the border. See no sheep, smell no sheep… eat no sheep?

But the sheep hadn't figured that out… had they? No, they probably wouldn't know anything about that. Sheep didn't really understand the minds of predators. (He did. He was a wolf. He was a ram again, like he should be, but he was a wolf, once.) Perhaps it was because of… the dogs. Yes, that would be it. He had killed the dogs. The farmer, surely, would have new dogs to replace them, but probably only pups, and until they were old enough to protect the sheep, the sheep would not stray as far.

You're overestimating them, sighed the Wolf, somewhere. You have grown strong and wise, so you forget that sheep are stupid.

Ah… yes. That was… true. Sheep were very stupid. He was stupid, once. Stupid and stubborn, as all sheep are.

So he jumped the fence, as easy as anything, and wondered if the fence was even meant to keep predators out, or only to keep sheep in.

Considering that he could not think of a single predator that fence could really stop, it was very likely the latter.

How… pitiful.

He walked only a little while before he could smell them, and then hear them. They were just beyond the little hill covered in yellow flowers (were they buttercups or not? He couldn't recall those lessons of nature that his mother tried to teach him), which… he remembered rolling down that same hill. It had seemed so big, like his very own mountain. Now he could probably jump right over it in one big bound.

This, he decided, was as close as he would come. For today.

Chirin eased himself to the ground with a gusty sigh and set his weary head down, careful of his jutting horns. He had forgotten how comfortable grass was! The wolf lived in the cold, craggy mountain peaks, and when Chirin found grass, it was not for sleeping on.

Chirin had certainly not stopped eating grass when he was with the wolf. And when winter came, he had eaten the moss off of rocks, and stripped the bark from trees. He needed to eat green things, he knew that, just as Wolf needed to eat flesh. It was what they were. But when the grass was scarce, and the rocks were bare, and the trees could give no more, Chirin did what he had to do.

He ate like the wolf ate.

It wasn't so bad. Deer ate mice, sometimes, and baby rabbits. So Chirin, who was not so unlike a deer, could certainly partake of… Wolf's preferences. It kept all the killing from going to waste, anyway.

(Although Chirin had often wondered if he was not really a sheep anymore.)

But now, there was no need for such things. There was a full, healthy meadow, and hay in the barn, and mossy rocks and unstripped trees. Chirin would never have to eat the red again, if he stayed.

If he stayed. What an odd thought.

Would they let him stay? It wasn't as if they could stop him from being here, but he wouldn't want to stay if they wanted him gone. That was painful enough the first time. And, no doubt, they would be afraid of him, at first, but… ah, there was no point in thinking about any of that before it happened.

For now, he could rest here, and later this evening, he would decide whether or not to move any closer to the barn.

Chirin tucked his head down against his chest and closed his eyes, content, for the moment, with a warm afternoon and the smell of sweet grass and the distant bubbling of the stream. He could survive without anyone's acceptance for the rest of his life as long as he had this. This would be just fine.

"Mama!"

Chirin's ear flicked at nothing.

"Mama!"

With a snort, Chirin lifted his head.

A spotted lamb stumbled down the gentle sweep of the hill, clumsy and unaware of his surroundings. His dark legs were spindly and shaking. He was a new lamb, then. Very young. And, considering the weather, probably one of the first lambs of the season. A surprise that he should be lost…

Chirin only watched, just to be sure that the lamb did not wander too far toward the fence. Or, he thought that he would only watch.

The lamb stumbled, stumbled, this way and that, until he was nearly face-to-face with Chirin, and only then did the lamb realize that he was not alone.

"Mama?" the lamb asked stupidly, gazing with pale, pink-rimmed eyes at the dark monstrosity that was Chirin.

Chirin blinked. "No. No, I am not your mother."

And then the lamb asked a question that was far less stupid.

"Are you a wolf?"

Chirin rasped out a laugh, and it sounded like the Wolf King.

"No," said Chirin. The lamb shook. "I was a wolf, once, but I am not anymore."

The lamb swayed again. "... I didn't know that could happen."

Chirin looked very closely at the lamb, and discovered the true source of his imbalance. He was badly pigeon-toed, legs bent awkwardly inward so that his small hooves could not properly find purchase upon the ground.

This one would die. He was born crippled, incapable of running from danger. This was the sort of creature that, once, Chirin would have plucked up with his horns and his teeth and eaten him.

"Neither did I, until it did." Chirin shuddered, tasting blood. "Are you lost?"

This was fairly obvious, but obvious questions had to be asked to get any information.

"I can't find Mama," the lamb said, and hobbled closer to Chirin on rickety legs.

"Hmm." Chirin "She'll come for you."

"I know," and the little lamb sounded so sure, because he was probably only a few days old and it was doubtful that he had any idea that his mother would not always be there, as sure as the sun rose in the morning, "but it's gotten so dark…"

It was not that dark, Chirin thought, but he must have been resting for longer than he thought, because the sun was much lower in the sky and the forest and the mountain were casting shadows across the meadow. It was not yet so dark that it could seem menacing or unfriendly, but to a small lamb, it must have seemed like too much to brave without his mother.

Not every lamb was to be likened to a young Chirin.

"Stay with me, then," Chirin said, and although he would not eat this lamb, his own invitation somehow felt manipulative and wolfish. "I'll protect you until she comes."

And because the lamb was stupid enough to trust, stupid enough to look at a creature as fearsome as Chirin and not understand that he was a monster, he took one unsteady step forward, slipped and struggled the rest of the way, and then collapsed in a messy heap against Chirin's side. Chirin huffed out something that might have been the beginning of a laugh and then, mindful of his horns, used his nose to tuck the lamb into a more comfortable position. The lamb wriggled happily, burying his velvety nose into Chirin's shaggy coat, and was asleep before the shadows could reach any further.

Chirin would have liked to sleep as well, but he couldn't. Not now.

He turned his gaze back in the direction of the barn, and waited.

He waited for a very long time. Long enough to be distracted by sweet clover blossoms. The lamb against his side was warm and comfortable and deeply asleep, but if Chirin was hungry, he imagined that the lamb would wake up to whine for his mother's milk very soon. And Chirin couldn't find it in his hardened heart to be angry at the expected neediness, because he could just barely remember being small and content with the barn and the hay and what milk his mother could give him. He could remember being warm and full, and he could much more clearly remember the constant hunger pangs and stretches of fatigue that became his life later.

Maybe his heart was not so hard. He would give up what little he had left to be young and warm again.

Eventually, when it was getting so dark that Chirin was wondering if the lamb had lost his mother in the other sense, and perhaps was now an orphan, a panicked ewe came bolting across the meadow.

"Shiso!" she called out. He could clearly hear her desperation. "Shiso, where are you?"

She was a great deal like his memory of his own mother, and like most every other sheep on this farm. She was white, and soft, and fat.

She froze at the sight of him.

Chirin leveled his gaze at her, knowing the look of a prey animal's fear when he saw it. She was like a deer or a rabbit, staring in terror but not doing anything to save herself or her offspring from a perceived threat.

"Take him, or let him sleep," he grumbled at her, tired and in no mood to face the oddity of sheep just yet. He knew, somehow, that he was one of them, but for all that he remembered being like this, he couldn't understand it anymore.

But the ewe did not step forward to take her child. She only stood, staring, staring, letting precious time slip away in her inaction.

Too afraid.

Chirin felt some violent urge within, to tell this stupid, cowardly ewe exactly what he thought of her. What mother does not find courage for the sake of her child? He had not threatened her, had not threatened her child, but only offered the pitiful thing back up to her. Would The Wolf have done that? Would any bear have offered her such mercy? No, and so what was she trembling for? He should break the lamb's neck, just to teach the ewe a lesson, just to remind her how fragile life is, just to–

The Wolf made a low, mournful sound. Uo.

So you are to take after me, then? Is it your turn to give lambs lessons in cruelty?

Chirin tucked his legs closer around the lamb and turned his nose back to his clover.

"Fine, then," he grunted, casting his eyes down to the ground. "But he'll be hungry when he wakes and I have nothing for him."

The ewe backed away, just a few steps, before coming forward again. He was aware of her movements, as he was taught to be, but purposefully looked away from her as she stepped nearer and nearer, as if having his head turned would stop him from turning back and biting her or lashing out with his hooves faster than she could get away. If that illusion allowed the ewe enough bravery to come fetch her own child from him, then he could gather the patience to offer her that. Let her think she was being sneaky, the little fool, and perhaps she would be less frightened of him.

Doubtful, but possible.

It took awhile to rouse the lamb - Shiso - but soon, Chirin watched the crooked child and his foolish mother heading back towards the barn, and he was left alone.

Well, that was quite fine. Dealing even with just those two sheep had been exhausting to his patience. And he would likely have to do it again tomorrow.

Tomorrow?

Chirin laid himself out flat against the ground, long legs stretched out and head lolled to the side. He was confident in his superiority. Nothing would be stupid enough to come into the meadow attack him in his sleep, and if something was, it would end up dead very quickly. His exposed belly made for an appealing target, he well knew, but his coat was thick against a bite and his hooves were faster and sharper and struck harder than any teeth.

Tonight, he would sleep, and tomorrow, he would travel further in.

After all. This was his meadow.


This story is technically complete, but I plan to eventually add more as a writing exercise. Reviews are appreciated!