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"What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?

Snakes and snails
And puppy-dogs' tails,

That's what little boys are made of."


~ Attributed to English poet Robert Southey (1774–1843)



Winnifrid was well aware of the need to eat at fairly regular intervals in order to survive. She had done so daily upon her bloodied arrival at the Mound, vulnerable and blue, and found it quite enjoyable, too. So many varieties of food and ways of preparation, an endless buffet of savoury and sweet. She understood that food was a necessary delight, to be slaughtered, plucked, picked and drained; grilled, poached, fried and baked; sliced, ground, beaten and pureed; bitten, chewed, sucked and licked. Swallowed.

Waste not, want not.

However, Winnifrid didn't understand how anyone could forget to commit to such a vital thing. Most living organisms required the regular intake of nutrition in order to function properly; if it was tasty, so much the better. For example, meals were a feast for the senses when Kristopher prepared them, and there was generally plenty left over for sandwiches or casseroles or whatever it was that some people prepared in order to expand upon their nutritional options with remnant food. It wasn't all fine dining, the best dishes and silverware, name cards and manners and chit-chat; she still hunted for her meals, sometimes. That was pure and fierce and instinct and the Blessed Mother wouldn't want her to deny her true self, would she?

Winnifrid had a theory about one person in particular: Stacey Doyle. The theory went as follows: The woman pretended to be forgetful about regular meals so that Kristopher would cook for her and her family. There was nothing deliberate or malicious about this behaviour, nor a conscious decision. It was a habit, a coping mechanism, a desire to be comforted by someone who would always care for her, so meals arrived at least once a week at the Doyle abode, sometimes twice. Holidays were a given. This was a logical theory she had regarding a being with an illogical way of thinking. That Kristopher would always cook for Stacey and her family, regardless of actual need, was irrelevant. Stacey had only but to ask him.

Oddly enough, it was something she didn't like to do, even though that was part of his purpose.

Sighing and cracking the knuckles on her fingers in harmonious succession with one, long flex, Winnifred focused on gathering the arrangement of bowls on the counter, lidded, foiled, cling-wrapped and boxed, and proceeded to tuck them into insulated bags with zippered closures. Ideally, the bags would prevent anything hot from getting cold and anything cold from getting hot. It wasn't magic in the traditional sense, just very clever engineering. Regardless of temperature, the food smelled delicious, even though the kill wasn't fresh. She surveyed the kitchen, checking to ensure she hadn't left anything behind. Wouldn't want to waste any of Kristopher's creations, would she?

The room was ridiculously clean. A hint of apple-scented cleaners still permeated the air, to Winnifrid's acute senses, at least, and mingled with the aroma of the food. The late afternoon sun tentatively peered through the maple and spruce trees to rest on the plain sheers of the bay window. It warmed the cushions on the window seat, cast a languid spotlight on the old wood floor. Green glass tile shone like the surface of a calm sea, stainless steel appliances reflected the world with the purity of holy, oft-used items of worship, and stone counters gleamed as if a master sculptor had just polished a work of art. Not a pot or pan or dirty utensil was in sight. Kristopher preferred the kitchen this way and couldn't leave the house until everything was shiny and in its proper place. He was also very particular when it came to sorting things, but he'd asked her to take over the task of packing dinner while he attended to his appearance. This was a level of trust only given to those he truly loved.

"The deed is done, Kristopher," she announced, sealing the bags and carrying them into the main hall. She tipped her head back to look up the double flight of stairs and added, "Are you ready to go?" Her voice sounded very loud in the large entry and it echoed slightly as it ascended. The red, flocked wallpaper had been scraped off a few years ago, but she suspected it was a lack of proper insulation that made the space feel hollow. The plaster was exposed now, too, and had yet to be painted or otherwise treated. Tapestries would greatly assist with the decor and with curbing the echo effect, making the house feel more like home. That was how it had been when she was young and the Great Halls were lined with tapestries and portraits and the skulls of the enemy. Winnifrid knew that hanging the current equivalent in their home would be a lame approximation of how things used to be; and she hadn't set foot in the Great Halls for a very long time.

When Kristopher had finally left the kitchen, he'd taken the stairs two at a time to shower and dress properly for the evening. The stairs had protested rather loudly, despite their structural reinforcement. It was an old, old house and Kristopher, though agile, was no light-weight, even though he resembled a wiry teenager. Now he called down, "Coming!", his usually soft baritone echoing much as Winnifrid's warm alto had, then he descended, by the stairs not by sliding down the banister, as might have been his want, his steps slow and deliberate as if he were distracted, which he was. Apparently his wristwatch needed winding, a task that shouldn't really be done when one is navigating stairs, but no matter.

Kris wore freshly laundered and pressed grey trousers, grey socks and running shoes and carried a clean t-shirt in the crook of his elbow while he finished with his watch. He reached the landing, turned, and sat on a favourite step, halfway down, to retie one of the laces on his runners, eyeing the bags of food resting on the marble floor on either side of his friend. His expression announced that all seemed in order. While he finished with the laces, Winnifrid's eyes wandered, lingering on the intricate patterns imprinted on a generous portion of his exposed skin. They were clearly visible and audible, to her, anyway. Clothing hid them most of the time. If anyone were to see any of the markings, which was very unlikely, they would appear as tattoos, something familiar and vaguely culturally accepted, depending on where in the world they were living and how much reality television featuring tribal markings had been digested by the local population.

It was important that anyone who could understand their meaning not see them at all.

"Thank you, Winnie," he said as he tugged the t-shirt over his head and dragged a hand through his slightly damp, unruly brown hair. He liked to be presentable, but his hair was often opposed to order. It tended toward curls and frequently looked like he'd just woken up. 'Bed-head' someone had called it. 'You look like you got lucky' someone else had said. Of course, he had no clear idea what they were talking about. Today's t-shirt, selected from his proud collection, was a deep, blood red and bore the words 'Thicker Than Water' outlined in black.

Winnifrid didn't understand half of the slogans on Kris's t-shirts and this one was no exception. She was aware of the saying, of course, but failed to see the importance in the observation. She regarded the t-shirt with disinterest and then took four steps up and reached over to run her lacquered fingernails through his hair. It was thick and soft and still looked like it needed combing, but then, it was still damp. Errant sections stuck out due to pulling fabric over his head. There was no help for it. It didn't really matter: Kristopher was a beautiful creation, regardless of the state of his hair. Even she found him appealing, but not as food. Never that.

And only he was permitted to call her 'Winnie'.

Her own hair was far less chaotic, in the extreme. As usual when leaving the house, she had bound it in a long, tight braid and twisted it into a bun at the back of her head. Several pins held it there securely; it obeyed her rule. Her clothing had less structure than usual today. Winnifrid had chosen a long, pale blue dress of spider-silk with diaphanous sleeves in the pattern of faded oak leaves. While Kris's hair was dark and his skin fair, her hair was almost white, the colour of pale straw before the harvest, and her skin was a rich brown, as if she worshiped the sun. She didn't, though. Worship the sun, that is. The sun was a false god to her. The earth, however, was another matter.

"We should go," she said crisply, retreating back to the marble floor with grace. "I've no doubt that Stacey hasn't eaten a single thing since we were last there." That was an exaggeration, of course, but Winnifrid liked to occasionally make statements that sounded dramatic. It was a part of her world view, the epic perspective of the long-lived. Bending at the knees, she lifted two of the bags with no apparent effort.

Kris didn't mind that Winnifrid fussed with his hair. It was a sign of her affection for him, which he appreciated greatly.

"Stacey remembers to feed her family before she feeds herself," he said. "Though as the primary guardian for her children, I doubt she'd completely forget to eat or she'd put their lives at risk." Kris figured that at least Stephen might manage to find something for them to eat, if worse came to worse. He was the eldest of Stacey's children at fourteen and sadly, couldn't boil an egg, but he knew how to use a microwave. Kris didn't like thinking about anything that involved Stacey being incapacitated.

Humans were so fragile. It was very inconvenient.

Kris stood and regarded his companion as she wrapped her long fingers around another bag handle.

"Would you like assistance with those?" Winnifrid could carry all that and more without any help, but Kris had some gentleman impressed into his core. He had to ask.

Winnifrid Bear - not her True Name - was all too familiar with Kristopher's way of thinking and so she handed him one bag without a word. It wasn't a very heavy one, but he would feel left out if she carried all of them. "I suspect there is some truth to that." She agreed with him on Stacey's eating habits. "But I do not think she will eat enough. Just barely sustaining herself is hardly sufficient."

Kris walked down the remaining steps and accepted the bag with a 'Thank you'. He was aware of the reason she had surrendered one in the first place. If he didn't feel useful, needed, then he was lost, and it didn't take much, sometimes, for Kris to become lost. He would likely suggest that she go first through the front door, so Winnifrid didn't wait. She simply left the house ahead of him. All these archaic, human traditions could be so complicated. Kris picked up his key ring from the hall table, frowning slightly, a little perturbed that he hadn't been able to hold the door open for his friend. He followed and locked the door behind them.

Then he checked to make sure the bolt was secure, even re-locking it.

Twice.

"She becomes engrossed in projects," he said of Stacey Doyle, catching up with Winnifrid, who had drifted down the stone steps from their front terrace. "And forgets to stop to eat." He didn't add that one of those 'projects' involved an embarrassing obsession with video games, though they were both aware of that particular addiction.

"Asarlai," Winnifrid said with some hint of contempt, though wasn't Kristopher the result of those with power? She knew that it wouldn't feel right if he wasn't part of her circle, so perhaps she shouldn't be too harsh on the humans who wielded magic. Sometimes they did foolish things. She never forgot to eat, though she had, on occasion, forgotten to stop. It was that instinct again and a fresh kill sometimes overrode the higher processes. "Skinny sorcerers with small progeny," she amended, pleased with that conclusion. Stephen was hardly small anymore, but he was skinny and had no skill with food preparation. Winnifrid suspected that he and his younger siblings were beyond pleased that Kristopher enjoyed cooking and it was a bonus that he was good at it. Otherwise, packaged meals somehow related to television would be all they would eat. Stacey was skinny, too, but then she'd been through a recent spate of Chaos, so her condition was understandable.

"I look forward to dinner," she told Kristopher, smiling at him as they walked down the winding drive to the road. In earlier times they would have taken a carriage and most humans now would likely not walk but travel in those infernal machines that left Winnifrid's kind coughing and feeling a little queasy. She enjoyed walking and neither she nor Kristopher were likely to tire. Besides, it would be hard on the smaller, plastic cars to convey Kris. Something sturdier would be required, made of steel. Wood was fine, too, as the Earth and her Garden accommodated such things. A carriage made of wood was still possible.

Kris was saying something about preparing Cornish hens and how little meat they really provided when all was said and done. Winnifrid had let her mind wander from the present moment and she hoped she hadn't missed anything important. It was rude not to listen to her friends and present company certainly qualified as a friend. He was family, like a brother or maybe a cousin, though not by blood.

"Scalloped potatoes can be tricky," Kris said, engrossed in the topic of cooking. "They are sliced very thinly and can easily burn if you don't time then properly."

Winnifred graced him with an indulgent smile. She was usually careful not to show too much of her teeth when she smiled. Glamour only went so far when it came to her kind and she didn't want to alarm the neighbours. The Blessed Mother knew how twitchy humans could be. Right now, she was alone with Kristopher and trusted him implicitly.

"You know I'm very fond of the food you prepare." He'd told her that he'd bake something sweet, too, before he'd shooed her from the kitchen. It did please Winnifrid. She had -- 'sweet teeth' -- she thought that was the correct human saying. She sighed. It had been a happy time indeed when Master Doyle had created Kristopher Robbins and imbued him with so many, many talents.

"Thank you," her companion said, looking to one side and blushing slightly as was appropriate for a young male when complimented. Winnifrid found it so endearing. Then he cleared his throat and changed the topic.

"Stacey is a skinny giant," Kris stated, and laughed a little. He'd never seen a giant, didn't know if any still existed, but their human family was prone to being tall, so...

"Quite," she said softly, her feet making barely any sound as she walked beside him. They continued in a comfortable silence, each contemplating a variety of different things. Once they reached the end of the drive, they continued west using the shoulder of the road. There were no sidewalks here, as it was farther away from the shops and such and considered a rural area, but still within the official borders of the town proper. Fields went from there, rolling away until the next town. Just hard-packed dirt and the occasional stream of gravel and rough clump of scraggly grass. Unkempt and a little wild, not unlike the two people on the road.

Despite the humid weather and mosquitoes of late summer, they maintained a fairly even pace, cool, fresh and unbitten, and it wasn't long before they had arrived at the home of Stacey Doyle. The house was about four miles away in a more recent development, with sidewalks and crosswalks, paved driveways and more modern, less interesting homes. The Doyle's lawn needed mowing again, but it didn't look too awful, and the structure was in decent repair. Kris had a free hand so he was the one to knock. He did so three times, quickly, then paused and did another quick three. Rap-rap-rap. Rap-rap-rap. He always knocked like that, in the same way as the kitchen had to be thoroughly cleaned when he was done cooking. Winnifrid thought it was quaint.

Stacey called it 'OCD'.

The door opened to reveal a lanky young man who was still getting used to being the tallest in his class: Stephen Doyle. Barefoot and dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, he grinned at the two and said, "Hey, great, c'mon in." Then he stepped back, opening the door wider, and let them enter. Kris waited for Winnifrid go ahead of him. Naturally.

"Hello, Stephen," she said with her small smile.

"Just put the bags in the kitchen, please," Kris called out, as Stephen took one of Winnifred's bags, struggling a little with the weight. "I'll get them sorted." To a large dog of indeterminate breeding who slid into the hall, he said, "Hello, Abbadon. I've made something yummy for you, too." That was a line Father had taught him and he was rather fond of it. "Is the table set? Yes, no?"

"No!" came a reply from the basement, followed by thumping and footsteps as several children abandoned their games and television and headed up the stairs.

Kris arrived in the kitchen, which needed more lights on if he was to work in it, and smiled at Stacey Doyle, saying, "Hello, I need a very sharp knife."

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