The storm had blown in from the South. A wind from the Far Isles, it carried with it more moisture than the Northern planes saw in a year, but the wind of Circle mountains, with their colder origins, would rush to meet the advancing clouds.
Jonas sat cross-legged before the fire and watched the two fronts collide through the windows. The rain was near constant, threatening to undo the makeshift repairs he had made to the roof only the month before. Or was it the year before? He had lived here so long, just him and Mai, that he did not bother with the passage of time. He picked at the tattoo of a long snake on his arm; he had got it straight out of boot, a time when he was ready to do things for his country, before he knew the cost.
A radio crackled in the corner, the only semblance of technology within the house, and their only link to the world beyond the mountains. The house sat on no-mans-land. Lost between the North and the South, which meant they heard snippets of voices, reporters for both sides and both sides stories.
“The fields will be impossible after this,” Mai said, emerging from the kitchen, a wet towel between her hands. “We’ll have to plant the fenix next week.”
Jonas grunted, watching the skies. The horizon flashed and a moment later the windows shook with the sound of thunder. Jonas stood in a heartbeat, hand clenching on the dagger he kept on his belt from morning to night. Mai had seen this a hundred times before. She loved the man, but hated the monster.
“You’re home,” she whispered, dropping the towel and taking Jonas into her arms. “You’re home.”
They sat for the longest time, Jonas resting peacefully in the arms of his wife. It had been a two decades since he left the Army, three decades before that since he signed up, an eager teenager. Nearly seventy and still the shells were falling in his mind.
A bang broke Mai from her reverie, her husband sleeping lightly. She cursed, looking out the low windows at the grain shed. The large door had broken free, swinging to and fro, until it slammed closed for a moment.
The wind had picked up and for a moment Mai considered leaving the door to its eventual fate but figured it would mean one more task for Jonas to fix if it did break loose. She slipped out, sou’wester tucked in tightly.
The door had wedged itself shut against the far jamb. Mai struggled but couldn’t budge it. She looked back at the house, thought better, and disappeared into the shed to find something to pry it loose. The wind had swept into the small space, knocking over bags of seed yet to be planted, and sending hoes and shovels skittering across the floor. She bent down, not an easy thing for a woman her age, and picked up the handle of an axe.
She’d heard it. Over the wind and the rain and the thumping in her chest, she had heard the whimper of a small animal. She had no lantern, not even a candle to light the way, but pressed on. Her eyes adjusted to the dark, shadows taking on depth. A fox had taken refuge under the house once, crawling into the narrow space so it could curl up and die in a private place.
The howls had been so bad.
Mai tightened her grip on the axe. She moved aside, letting the light of the house illuminate the shadow. The boy flinched at the light. Mai didn’t hesitate. She set the axe down, the boys eyes following it with such intensity she could feel the gaze. She swung off her poncho and wrapped the boy in it, his sodden clothes freezing to the touch.
She tried to lift him, but a combination of strength and fear left him like a feral animal, twisting and contorting to escape capture. Finally she gave up, stood back, held out a hand and watched the boys face.
His chest heaved under the poncho. His eyes flitted between Mai’s face, her hand, the house beyond. Finally he shifted, moving a foot under himself. Mai stepped back, he rose. She entered the rain again, feeling it bite at her exposed skin. The boy moved to the edge of the shed, looked out both ways.
Mai turned and walked back to the house, not bothering to confirm he was following. She passed the sleeping form of her husband and collected a bundle of blankets from their bedroom. When she returned to the living room, the boy was standing in the doorway. He had seen the fire and then the sleeping man lying before it. His eyes took in everything.
Mai moved in before the boy could bolt. She took the poncho and exchanged it for a fresh blanket. The boy was barely older than thirteen, disappearing into the deep woollen folds. She guided him to the fire and set him down in front of it.
Jonas stirred as his heat was robbed. His hand sought out the warmth of his wife and when he found her missing he sat up instantly, hand against his dagger. The boy was a fraction slower in his response. The heavy blanket fell to the floor, his own dagger appearing in a shaking hand.
Mai returned to the room, a bowl of stew and thick bread clutched in her hands, to find the two grimacing at each other.
“Jonas,” she said. “Jonas!”
He didn’t look at her. Didn’t take his eyes off of the boy for a heartbeat.
“He’s one of them,” Jonas finally said. “The uniform, the weapon. He’s a South Isle Soldier born and bred.”
“You are Northern warrior,” the boy said in reply, his accent guttural in comparison. “You have Snake tattoo. Mountain men.”
“Well at least eat before you kill each other,” Mai said, stepping between them with her offering.
Prompt originally posted by araso on reddit and received 3 upvotes.