Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Man's True Nature"

This poem is spillover from the March 3, 2015 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] rix_scaedu. It also fills the "trapped!" square in my 12-15-14 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles, LJ user Zianuray, and EdorFaus. It belongs to the series Frankenstein's Family. This is the first of three connected poems.

WARNING: This poem is intense and graphic hurt/comfort. The detailed warnings contain spoilers; highlight to read. Fridrik steps in an abandoned trap and suffers serious injuries. He is sometimes in human form, sometimes in wolf form, so be aware of the switch if animal injuries are squicky for you. He feels betrayed, even though that's not exactly what happened. Victor is pissed that somebody broke the rule forbidding traps, after he specifically designed the rules to prevent accidents like this, and consequently having trouble controlling his temper. Lots of gross medical details, quasi-historic treatment methods, a miserable flashbacking injured werewolf, desperately worried friends and family trying to help, awkward social dynamics, dominance issues, trouble thinking clearly under stress, trust issues, difficulty accepting urgently needed help, vampire bites, werewolf licking, and other mayhem. Also a bunch of the supporting links are graphic too. On the bright side, Fridrik will eventually recover, the teamwork is terrific, and this installment ends with two cuddlepiles. The mood is pretty typical of the "gothic fluff" in this series; it just has a higher amount of gore due to someone else's stupidity. Consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"Man's True Nature"

Igor was feeding the chickens when
Shandor and Fridrik returned from the forest
through the slanting afternoon light.

Shandor was half-carrying Fridrik,
who left a trail of bright red blood
over the white snow.

Igor shouted for Victor,
who was fetching firewood,
and ran to meet the two werewolves.

"Shandor! What in the world
happened to Fridrik?" asked Igor.

"We need your help; Fridrik
stepped in a --" Shandor began.

"You said there would be no traps!"
Fridrik snapped. "You swore it.
You betrayed us, just as humans
always do. Man's true nature
never stays hidden for long."

"I declared there were to be no traps,"
Victor said, coming alongside them.
"You heard me give that order.
Whoever has set a trap on my land
has broken the mazil's law. We will
find out who, and punish him."

Victor was as coldly furious
as Igor had ever seen him,
and a little frightening.

"Let's treat the injury first," Igor said
as he reached for Fridrik.

The slim werewolf wore only
a woolen tunic as concession
to the frigid weather, his bare legs
both streaked with scarlet, with
the mangled right held off the ground.

"You just want to cage me, or kill me,"
Fridrik said, cringing away.

"Let Igor help," Shandor urged.
"It's why we came back to the keep.
That wound is more than you
can heal on your own."

Shandor had a point. Fridrik's right leg
was torn from the lower calf down to the foot,
long ragged slashes gushing blood at a steady rate
from where the trap had dug into tender flesh.

Janika arrived, frantic with worry for her mate,
and Victor finally snapped out of his rage enough
to send her for Csilla. Janika dropped to all fours
and flashed away as a sleek white wolf,
running with preternatural speed.

"Fridrik, I need you to hold still for me," said Igor.
"Your leg looks bad enough already, and
if you keep moving, you could make it worse."

But the moment he laid hands on the injured limb,
Fridrik jerked away from the gentle touch --

and they were facing a black wolf,
who snarled at them as he held
his bloody paw off the ground.

Shandor whuffed softly and sat down.

Igor followed suit, not certain why, but
trusting Shandor to know what would help.
Even Victor crouched down, his long coat
pooling around him in the snow.

"You must be miserable," Igor said.
He could sense the waves of pain and fear
and helpless, frustrated anger pouring off the wolf.
Even after escaping, Fridrik still felt trapped.
"It was a terrible thing that happened to you.
Nobody should have to go through that."

Igor concentrated on his own feelings, trying
to broadcast concern and compassion.

He'd always found that you could tell
a man's true nature by how he treated those
who were vulnerable, who were powerless,
and who could do nothing for him.

"It would help for you to change back
into human form," Victor added.
"I can treat the injury, but I know
a lot more about human legs
than I do about wolf legs."

Victor excelled at taking charge, but
he was being extra careful not to
overwhelm Fridrik, who was sensitive
about authority even at the best of times.

Fridrik whined, shuffling uneasily in place.
His ears pinned so far back that they
vanished into his ruff, his back arched
and tail clamped between his legs.

Igor had studied wolves with great care
ever since the lost Bertolf had come to them,
although most of the references he found
were unreliable and so he wound up
depending mostly on the werewolves.

That hunched posture worried him --
for a wolf, it shouted distress.
Fridrik was plainly terrified, but
either unwilling or unable to withdraw.

The dynamics of a wolf pack were complex,
the werewolves were different because of
their human aspect, and Shandor had
quietly explained that their ragged pack
was different yet again because they had to
merge the remnants of several packs, which
made for difficult issues with status.

Igor tried the pleading whine
that Ena used when she wanted
people to stop fighting.

Shandor gave him a startled look,
and even Fridrik flicked his ears up
for a moment to catch the sound.

Igor whined again.

Fridrik finally straightened up a little
and began inching his way
back toward Shandor.

Igor and Victor waited, grimly aware
that if nothing else they could hold off
until Fridrik passed out from blood loss.

Long minutes passed while they
tried to coax him closer.

When Fridrik pressed himself against Shandor,
the older werewolf reached down to dig
his brown fingers into the coarse fur,
scratching gently along the ruff.

A moment later the black wolf rolled over
and then a man lay looking up at them.

"Oh, thank God," said Igor. "I was starting
to worry that we wouldn't get you back."

"Hard to listen. Hard to think," Fridrik said.
"The wolf in me wants to run, to hide.
I know I need -- I can't -- "

His voice broke off, fear choking reason
to the point he couldn't speak.

Hoofbeats pounded up the road, and
Janika returned, running flat out,
her belly skimming the ground.

Behind her galloped Csilla, clinging
to one of the village's few riding horses.

"What happened?" she asked
as she slung herself from the saddle
without slowing down, supernal grace
transferring the motion to her own feet.

"Fridrik stepped in a trap, and now
he's having trouble calming down
enough to accept our assistance,"
Igor explained to her.

Victor collected the horse, which
dripped foam from heaving flanks,
and walked it toward the barn.

"Perhaps I can help," Csilla said,
and did -- something -- that made
reality seem to ripple and blur.

All along Igor's back, his muscles
relaxed even in the frigid weather.

Fridrik relaxed too, but
as soon as Csilla touched him,
he jerked away again.

They tried coaxing him,
but he trembled and growled,
torn between conflicting needs.

Victor returned from the barn and said,
"We can't afford to waste so much time.
The longer an injury goes untreated,
the harder it is to heal and
the worse the outcome."

Janika flowed back into human form
and cupped a hand over her mate's throat,
squeezing just hard enough for her fingernails
to dimple the soft skin there.

"Stop this," she growled.
"You need help. They can help.
Quit fighting and submit."

Fridrik hesitated a moment longer,
then whimpered and tilted his chin up,
giving her his throat.

Janika gave him an assertive little shake
and said, "That's better." Then she
turned to those waiting to help.
"He should obey you now."

Victor took that as an invitation
to stride forward. "Steady,"
he said to Fridrik. "We will
take good care of you."

He laid a hand on Fridrik's shoulder,
gently but firmly, and this time
the werewolf allowed it.

"Csilla, see what you can do
to help him settle," Victor said.
"Igor, check the injury."

At Igor's touch, the whole foot
rocked loose, held in place
only by skin and muscles.

Fridrik whimpered again,
loud and pained.

Csilla put his wrist to her lips.

"Try not to swallow too much,"
Victor advised quietly. "Fridrik
has already lost a lot of blood,
and he can't spare it now."

Igor's careful examination provoked flinches,
but no refusal, and he watched closely
to see how Fridrik moved before
Csilla's bite reduced him
to a limp doze.

"It's bad," Igor reported. "Both bones
are broken clear through, and I think
the fibula has more than one fracture.
I can't tell yet how small the splinters are,
until we can take him inside and
get a better look in the lab."

"Muscles and nerves?" Victor asked.

"The extensors and the soleus
are ripped to hell," Igor said.
"The nerves all seem fine, though,
and some tendons might be nicked
but they're not cut; he moved
his foot and toes plenty."

"The bleeding looks heavy, but
I haven't seen any spurting,"
Victor observed.

"I don't think the arteries are involved,"
Igor said. "He got lucky there. One of
the larger veins must be cut -- probably
something in the saphenous network,
though I haven't pinned it down."

"So the blood supply and the nerve signals
are intact; we only have to worry about
return flow and whether the bone fragments
are big enough to piece back together,"
Victor said as he leaned over to look.

"Contamination," Igor warned.
"The lacerations are a mess,
he's gotten leaf litter in the wound,
and I have no idea what condition
the trap itself might have been in."

"See for yourself," Shandor said grimly,
holding out a device red with blood and rust.
Jagged steel teeth glinted in the winter sun
where some of the rust had flaked away
to show the sharpened edges.

Victor snarled, fully as fierce as any wolf,
and Shandor shied away from him.

"I know you're angry about this, Victor,
but don't take it out on us," Igor said.
"Save that for the culprit later."

"Oh, I shall," Victor breathed.
"I apologize, Shandor, my temper
is getting the best of me today."

"All dominants struggle with that
sometimes," Shandor agreed,
moving close enough to hand
the savage trap to Victor.

"You should know that toothed traps
have been banned in my territory
since I became mazil here,"
Victor said. "The blacksmith
has not made any in over a year."

"We were running so fast --
there was a deer -- when Fridrik
hit the trap, he fell very hard and
started tearing at it with his teeth
before I could go man and try
to open it with my hands,"
Shandor, looking down.

"Check for dental damage,"
Igor said without lifting his fingers
from the tattered leg.

Victor abandoned the trap
to examine Fridrik's mouth.
"His teeth seem fine, he's just
cut or bitten his lips in a few places."

Csilla let go of Fridrik's wrist
to come lick over the wounds,
intimate as a kiss but not sensual.

Even Janika made no protest
from where she crouched,
holding her mate's flaccid hand.

After a minute, Csilla picked up
Fridrik's arm again, sinking her teeth
a little higher up his forearm.
The first tiny cuts had already closed.

"I did everything I could for him,
but I don't know if it was enough,"
Shandor said, his anguish plain
in the slump of his shoulders.

"You did well, bringing him to us," Igor said.

"I think I can save that foot," Victor added.
"Much depends on the size of the bone chips,
how well your people heal in general, and
what use can be got from special abilities,
the vampire and the werewolf alike."

Igor had been utterly fascinated by
the unique qualities of vampire saliva, with
its anesthetic and regenerative qualities,
along with the impressive shift from
anticoagulant to coagulant effect.

It also had a modest antibacterial influence,
although the werewolves had far more of that, and
a stronger tendency to glue together the ragged edges
of ripped flesh. Werewolf saliva lacked the numbing aspect,
though. Igor suspected that the difference lay in adaptation:
vampires mostly dealt with small neat cuts from feeding,
while werewolves had to cope with more serious injuries
caused by hunting accidents or deliberate attacks.

"If Fridrik loses a foot, he won't see himself
as a leader anymore," Shandor said with a frown.
"We're barely holding this pack together as it is.
I tried to discourage him from licking the wound
or shift-healing because I hoped you could help.
If things aren't in the right place, they stick that way,
and sometimes they never grow back like they should."

Igor realized that, for all Fridrik's fussing,
he must still have some trust of them
in order to hold back whatever healing
he had while shifting back and forth.

"We will help as much as we can and
Fridrik will allow," Victor promised.

Csilla lifted her head to say,
"Well, you're not waking him up
so you can ask permission. He was
fighting so much, I pushed hard enough
to put him down until tomorrow."

She latched on again, clearly
trying to get as much saliva
under the skin as possible while
taking as little blood as she could.

"Janika?" said Victor. "With Fridrik
unable to respond, any decisions
are yours until he wakes up."

"Save Fridrik," she said firmly.
"If he loses a foot, then we will
deal with tomorrow when it comes."

"We need to stabilize the injury
before we move him inside," Igor said.
"That means finding some slats for a splint."

"I will go," Janika said, and
hurried away to fetch supplies.

Igor sacrificed his sweater --
fortunately a plain black one,
so it should be salvageable later --
to wrap the wounded leg.

Soon Janika returned with
several sturdy poles in hand,
each as thick as a broomstick.

"We need two long and two short ones,"
Victor directed, measuring with his hands.

Janika casually snapped a pole in half,
handing him the shortened pieces.

Victor and Igor positioned the poles
with meticulous care and then
bound them together at hip,
knee, and ankle.

"We'll need help to carry him too,"
Igor said. His back ached fiercely in
the frigid air; lifting a heavy weight
would just make it worse.

"There are horse blankets in the barn,"
Victor said. "That will make it easier
to carry him without jostling anything."

Janika fetched the requested blanket,
and Victor showed everyone how to
lift an injured patient onto a stretcher.
Then Janika and Shandor carried
Fridrik into the castle.

It took Igor an hour just to clean out
all the filth from the jagged wounds, while
Victor boiled up a pot of the bone glue
that they'd invented for splicing together
parts taken from different bodies.

As the stuff bubbled away in its pot,
they discussed more details
about Fridrik's broken leg.

"You think it needs traction?" Igor asked.
He had finally found the lengthy slit in
the great saphenous vein and was now
working his way down smaller leaks,
closing each one with hair-thin silk.

"It probably would if we were planning
to hold it together with plates and bolts, and
expected the healing to take full time, to keep
the damaged muscles from pulling up short.
Instead, we're counting on Fridrik shifting
tomorrow," said Victor. "What concerns me
is the number of little pieces; even with
the bone glue, they won't be set firm for
a while. That means keeping this foot
elevated and completely immobilized."

"We'll need to rig some kind of support,"
Igor said as he snipped off the thread.

"I'm a doctor, not a mechanic,"
Victor said testily. He was actually
quite good with electricity, but he had
still bought more equipment than he'd
built himself; most was just modified.

"I could probably cobble up something
suitable," Igor said. He started repairing
the muscles at the top of the injury,
away from the broken bones.

Csilla let go of Fridrik's arm
long enough to suggest,
"Send for Vladimir. He's
good at making things, if you
can tell him what you need."

"I can show him," Victor said.
"I have a whole reference book
on managing bad fractures, for
anyone who's mad enough to try it
instead of just lopping off the limb
above the damaged area."

He stepped out to send one
of the other wolves for Vladimir.

Csilla shifted her grip again,
biting into the skin just
below Fridrik's elbow.

"Your turn, I think," Igor said to
Victor when his partner returned.
"You're better at puzzle work than I am."
His back popped painfully as he straightened.

Victor spent the next couple of hours
meticulously painting the broken ends
of bone with the glue that would
promote quick knitting, and then
piecing them back together.

Igor helped primarily by holding
the glued bits in place while the stuff
set as much as it was going to, rubbery
like thick gelatin. The resulting seams
would not tolerate much weight, but they
should hold as long as the leg stayed still.

By the time all the fragments had been
reassembled into tibia and fibula, and
Igor closed the skin with sturdy stitches,
his back hurt so much that he was getting
ominous tingles all the way down to his fingers.

He looked up to find Vladimir putting
the finishing touches on some
complicated contraption of rods
and slings and handwheels.

"See now, this will allow you
to adjust the height and the angle,"
Vladimir explained. "Right now, it's
just enough to hold the one leg, but
if you need something more elaborate,
I could make one for the whole body."

"Yes, please," said Victor. "We could
really use that the next time someone
winds up under a horse or a wagon."

Csilla finally pulled away from Fridrik,
looking not much better than Igor felt.
"May the other wolves come in yet?"
she asked. "They'll want to keep him
company, and it will help him heal."

"Bring Janika first," said Igor.
"She wanted to lick the wounds
before we cover them up. Then
once we have Fridrik bundled into
Vladimir's rig, Shandor and Mircea
can come in. Better keep the cubs out,
they're too rambunctious for this."

"Ena can mind the cubs," Csilla
said as she went to get Janika.

Igor took the opportunity
to check Fridrik's arm,
which had a neat row of
bites running from wrist
over elbow and halfway
up to his shoulder.

The first one had all but
disappeared already,
the others successively
darker, some of them
with actual scabs, and
the last haloed with a bruise.

Evidently the supply of
healing chemicals in
Csilla's body was limited.

"You might want to put something
on the last few of those bites,"
the vampire said as she returned.

Janika pushed past her to swipe
a long pink tongue up her mate's arm,
then moved down to the lines
of stitches along his leg.

Then Igor helped Victor with
the bandaging and splinting.
Vladimir got the suspension
arranged properly, which
should keep the swelling down.

"All right, you can join him
in bed now," Victor told Janika.
"Just avoid any jarring motions.

She went out to fetch the others,
and soon they came back as wolves:
one pure white, and two in shades
of lighter and darker browns. All three
of them curled up on the bed beside Fridrik.

Csilla looked ready to fall asleep where she sat.

"Do you need anything?" Igor asked,
trying not to yawn himself.

"I could use a real feeding," she admitted.
"Fridrik is so heavy in the head, and I was
trying not to swallow much, so I wound up
giving him more energy than I took."

"Oh, that's wonderful," Igor said,
feeling the grin stretch his face.
"My back is tying itself in knots."

"Tired as I am, the bite may hurt,"
she warned him, honest as always.

"Don't care, if I want any real rest tonight,
it's you or the laudanum, and I hate
that stuff," Igor said firmly.

"You should eat something first," Csilla said.

"I'm too tired to cook," Igor said.
"Hell, I'm too tired to eat."

"The soup should be done by now," said Vladimir.

"What soup?" asked Igor and Victor.

"I don't know," said Vladimir. "When I came in,
Ena had all the children in the kitchen and
said they were making soup."

There was, in fact, soup ready in the kitchen,
rich chicken broth thick with ... what?

"Are these shredded vegetables?"
Igor asked, frowning over the fragrant mug.

"Yes?" Ena said, shuffling her feet. "I wanted
to help but I didn't really know how to make
human food, and soup seemed like the easiest.
Adam said to make the pieces small but that
only his parents were allowed to touch the knives.
So we used the cheese graters instead."

"It's delicious," Victor said firmly. "Thank you, Ena,
that was very thoughtful. Igor, eat your soup."

Igor ate his soup, although he had to use
both hands to hold the mug so he could
drink out of it. The shredded vegetables
melted in his mouth, and there was barley too,
all of it tender and satisfying without
being too much effort after all.

By then Igor was so stiff that Victor and Csilla
had to help him to the bedroom, out of his clothes,
into his sleeping flannels, and finally the bed itself.

With a sigh of relief, Igor stretched out
and let his eyes flutter shut.

Csilla started to take her usual seat
in the bedside chair, only for Victor
to interrupt. "You're as tired as we are,
Csilla, just get in the bed already."

"Are you certain?" she asked, careful --
so careful! -- of their odd relationship
and its delicate, finicky balance.

"I'm certain that I don't mean to be a miser
with what is precious to me," Victor said quietly.

One long arm reached forward over Igor,
who obligingly snuggled back into Victor
to make room for Csilla to join them
in the warm nest of the bed.

This too, Igor thought, was a sign of
the man's true nature, that he would
think of others before himself --
would use them to encourage
the best of himself, in fact.

Igor counted himself incredibly lucky
that Victor had grown so fond of him.

He felt the touch of cold, wet cloth
at his elbow and then the gentle nip
of Csilla's teeth breaking the skin.

It took longer than usual for the flesh
to start going numb and the heady rush
to build, but after a few minutes, Csilla
seemed to gain strength from the feeding.

The pure, bright energy washed through him,
untangling the snarled mess of his back muscles
and all the unhappy emotions of the day.

The last thing Igor noticed was a sound
like Csilla purring in his ear, and Victor's
answering chuckle, as Csilla lowered Igor
down into the warm, welcoming darkness.

* * *


"All the seven deadly sins are man's true nature. To be greedy. To be hateful. To have lust. Of course, you have to control them, but if you're made to feel guilty for being human, then you're going to be trapped in a never-ending sin-and-repent cycle that you can't escape from."
-- Marilyn Manson

(These links are gross.) Animal trapping includes leg-hold traps, which can lead to animals losing (or chewing off) a foot. The older saw-toothed traps are even worse than smooth ones. Various types of trap are banned in some areas, but still in use. This is what happens when a wolf steps in one, which raised a lot of fuss. Dogs can also be caught in traps meant for other prey. Obviously they're hazardous for humans too.

Wolves communicate using their tails, ears, body posture, and vocalizations. You can see differences in rank: Fridrik, Shandor, Janika, and Mircea are all dominants. Ena is the only subordinate who survived. The men tend to lead -- but the women actually outrank them.

(More gross stuff here.) Fridrik's injuries are complex. Here are the anterior and posterior calf muscles, lower leg anatomy, nerves and blood vessels, another look at the blood vessels, and a messy multiple fracture above the ankle.

Gelatin is an animal byproduct that has medical, culinary, and other uses. It is one ingredient in the bone glue used to speed the bonding and healing of fractures.

Handwheels are machine parts designed to allow very precise adjustments by means of rotation. Often they have dimples around the rim for better grip.

Shredded Vegetable Soup is easy to make and eat, tasty, and nutritious.

Move on to "Between Power and Vulnerability" and then "The Noblest of All Animals."
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing

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