Times of Old
Copyright© 2013 by Ernest Bywater
On the Ground
On a day that seems to Ed as fourteen days after being blown up he’s sitting on the seat of his new large wagon while encouraging the four Clydesdale horses they gave him to go east across the plains in front of them. They could have put him here any time in the last ten days, but he had them hold off until all of them were happy with his competency in the use of his versions of an atlatl, spear, gun, longbow and arrows as well as working with the horses. Now he has most of the day to reach a safe spot to camp for the night. He’s very happy with all of the gear he has, and he now only has to make use of the gear to create a new life.
At the estimated current speed of the horses pulling the wagon he should reach his valley late the day after tomorrow. They had to put him down well away from there to make sure his sudden arrival on the planet wasn’t seen by any of the locals. It also gives him time to get used to the wagon and working with the horses here as well as settling in to the new planet and lifestyle. It also allows the locals to see him arrive there in a more normal fashion, despite wagons being unknown here.
While he moves across the plains Ed keeps a good eye out for trouble and for mobile meals. He does have several days of prepared meals, but he wants to start eating the local food as soon as he can. That way he can keep the very long lasting dehydrated meals for emergencies.
A Few Firsts
About midday of the second day on the planet Ed is heading to pass a little east of a medium sized copse of trees he’d been approaching all morning when he sees a small group of elk like animals come into sight on the other side of the trees. They’re only three hundred metres from him and are going to cross his line of advance. He also spots movement in the trees and he can see a group of men ready to race out at the elk. He was told another name for these animals, Megaloceros, which translates as elk with a note the name in the local language is for all types of elk.
The horses are plodding along at a slow pace and what little bumps there are in the ground are absorbed by the excellent shock absorbers of the wagon, so Ed has no trouble standing in the wagon’s driver area while he raises his bow to take aim. He takes care to select three of the elk, then he looses arrows at them by starting with the rearmost one first. He enjoys the stunned looks on the faces of the hunters when three of the elk suddenly sprout odd little spears in their sides and fall down. The men slowly walk out to look at the dead elk, and thus spook the rest of the elk into running away from them.
While setting his bow back into its holder beside him Ed gives the horses the command to hurry up. They move up to a trot and approach the hunt site about four times faster than they’d been walking.
On hearing the sound of the horses the men turn toward them. Seeing the four huge horses bearing down on them the men raise their spears. Ed stands up to yell out, “Put those spears down and stop frightening my horses!” The men are a stunned by this odd sight before them, so they lower their spears while they try to work out what it is.
Pulling up by the front of the first elk Ed unlocks the steps on the side nearest it to drop the stairs out because the wagon is so high off the ground it needs steps to get into it. The way the aliens dealt with that was to make a set of six steps with a hinge in the middle. The lower three fold up and nestle into the top three with the base of them level with the foot-well of the wagon seat, but when dropped down they form six steps to just off the ground. A neat and simple arrangement.
Ed carries one of his long spears while he walks over to the elk. The men just stand and stare at him, sometimes turning to look at the horses and wagon. He pulls the arrow out of the elk before going to the rear of the wagon to release the cable and pull it free from the winch. He gets a lift chain from the small box on the underneath of the wagon and he grabs the cable end. Walking back to the elk Ed drags the cable behind him. It takes only a moment for him to secure the lift chain around the two front feet of the elk and attach it to the cable. Back to the wagon to winch the elk up to be hanging from the wagon on one side.
He locks the cable drum then he calls to the horses to move forward. While they walk up to the next elk Ed walks beside the wagon. He stops them beside this elk to use another chain and the other cable to winch this one up as well. When he calls to the horses to move to the third elk the men suddenly wake up and walk the fifteen or so metres to join him.
After stopping the horses beside the third elk Ed gets out the nose bags and puts them on the horses so they can feed while he works on the dead elk. He cleans the arrows and places them back in his quiver, then he grabs several of the storage containers he was given to store fresh meat in. He keeps a dozen in the foot-well so he has them handy to use.
Back at the rear of the wagon Ed lowers both elk and then he lifts one up with each cable attached to a rear leg. Getting out his skinning knife Ed starts to gut the elk while saying, “I only want the meat of one elk, but I want the three hides plus the leg and rib bones of them all. So if you help me to dress and cut these up you can have most of the meat.”
Within seconds the hunters are hard at work on each animal to gut them, cut them up, skin them, and remove the meat from the ribs and legs. By the time they’re finished Ed has six containers of fresh meat, two containers of cleaned bones, and three scraped elk hides on the drying frames hanging on the sides of the wagon. He put the collapsible frames together while the others scraped the skins for him. The other hunters end up with the meat of two and half of the elk, but Ed has enough to feed himself for several days, plus the bones and hides. Little is said by the men or Ed while they work, and nothing is said when they pack up the meat in the hide packs on their backs. The men do wave as they leave.
After packing away the feed bags Ed climbs into the wagon seat, raises and locks the steps after he reaches the top. The horses are trained to stand still while in harness or eating from the bags. When he moves off he says, aloud, “My first hunt and kill with the bow, and my first meeting with the locals. Neither went anything like I thought they would. I wonder what they thought of me and the wagon. They seemed a bit stunned, but they dealt with it very quickly when given the chance to get some easy meat.” He laughs while he moves off toward his valley.
In the late afternoon he stops in a stream he’s crossing so the horses can take a drink and he can refill his water bottles from just upstream of them. After checking his map Ed decides to make camp among the thorn bushes he can see in a dell several hundred metres ahead of them. He moves off after the horses indicate they’ve had their fill of water.
When he reaches the curve of bushes it takes a few minutes to back up to one side, unhitch the horses, unlock the tongue, and move it to its storage spot then lock it into place. Another couple of minutes are spent directing the horses to pull the front of the wagon sideways to close off the hollow in the bushes before he unharnesses the horses. Ed climbs back onto the wagon to put the harness away and to get out the hay for the horses’ main feed. Each gets their own lot of hay, bucket of grain, and bucket of water to see them through the night before he sets up the fire to cook his own dinner so he can have his first taste of the local meat.
This is his first ever taste of elk, so he takes time to analyse it. It is a bit different to any other meat he’s had, but it’s OK. He has no idea of how it compares to the elk of the Earth he left. He does like its flavour, and it’s a bit better with a touch of salt. After cleaning up the skewer he used to cook the elk meat on Ed climbs into the wagon. He goes to sleep after locking the step and the door to the main wagon storage area.
The Third Day
The sunlight coming through the small air vents wakes Ed up and he gets ready for the day by cooking another meal of elk and feeding the horses. An hour after him waking up the camp-site is all packed up with the horses in harness and pushing the wagon front to make room to get out. About ten minutes later all is set and they’re on their way again.
In the early afternoon Ed enters the valley he now thinks of as ‘his.’ A few hours later he pulls up next to the river flowing down the west side of the just over one kilometre wide valley. He crosses the stream flowing out from under the thorn bushes against the eastern canyon wall and stops. The stream isn’t really big enough for the horses to have a drink while hitched to the wagon and he doesn’t want to take them into the river, thus he gets down to fill their buckets with water so they can have a drink while he looks around the valley here.
Even knowing where the cave entrance is he can’t make it out in the thorn bushes. This area is almost rectangular and not quite flat for a few kilometres because it has a slope of five degrees toward the river. Over to the west are the entrances to two good sized box canyons, one of which he knows is a wide flat plain of grass often visited by the local horses. It’s one of the reasons he sees this as a prime site. There’s a fair sized forest of hardwood trees beside the river just upstream of here while just downstream is a large forest of softwood trees. Opposite the middle of the hardwood forest is a wide sloping area going up to the huge plateau, almost like a purpose built ramp. It’s about ten metres wide with a gentle slope to it. The area between the river and the west canyon wall, from the entrance to the box canyons to the softwood forest, is a little marshy with a lot of the local vegetables growing in it.
Overall it’s a very good location with all of the natural resources close to hand. Now all he has to do is to make a show of finding the cave then build the door in its entrance. He knows he has to make a show of finding the cave because this area is visited by people from the nearest camp on a daily basis as it’s their main source of vegetables.
After spending several minutes looking around Ed collects the now empty water buckets and he moves the wagon over to near the bushes at the cave entrance. Stopping, he gives the horses their feed bags before getting out a couple of shovels, along with a few other tools he’ll need.
The tall bushes end about ten metres north of him so he goes there to dig twenty holes in the ground close to the canyon wall. Going back to the wagon he uses a door sized sheet of wood-looking steel to push the first bushes back before he starts to dig around the stems of the bushes.
In a bit over two hours Ed moves thirty-five of the thorn bushes to the area at the northern end. He’s relocating them because the bushes also have edible berries on them for part of the year and he doesn’t want to waste or destroy any food sources. Now he has a niche made into the bushes he backs the wagon against the bushes on one side of it then he prepares his normal style of overnight camp with thorns on three sides. He looks up while the horses pull the wagon front into position for the night and he smiles when he sees the locals who have been collecting vegetables down near the softwood forest are packing up for the day. He’d noticed them hiding in the forest when he passed it. When he started working on the bushes they returned to collecting vegetables because he was busy well away from them they felt it was safe to work. However, they’ve been keeping an eye on him all the time he worked.
Ed sets up his camp the same as last night then he has another meal of elk before settling down for the night the way he did last night.
The next morning Ed takes his time breaking camp. Thus there are several people busy collecting vegetables when he has the wagon ready to drive away. Which is something he doesn’t intend to do, but he wants to look like he is. He also confirms the other people are watching him. All is ready as he gives the site a last inspection prior to leaving. He makes a production of stopping to examine the thorn bushes at the back of his little dell. This is where the horses have been scratching their sides by rubbing up against the bushes and pushing them back a little. He leans forward to peer hard at the bushes. Going back to the wagon he notices all of the others are paying close attention to what he’s doing. He gets out a shovel from last night and goes back to the bushes to push it into them. Leaning to the side he forces a bit of a passageway to look down. With a loud exclamation he turns around and he goes back to the wagon to get the wood-looking sheet from last night. Within minutes he’s very busy digging out some more bushes and transplanting them. Within an hour he has a metre wide path through the thorn bushes to the cave mouth. He starts a fire and makes a firebrand. He locks up the wagon then he holds the brand high when he walks along the path and into the cave. He checks out this part and it’s as ordered, so he thinks the rest of it is too.
Ed shows great excitement when he leaves the cave while shouting to the horses as he calls them by name, “Clyde, Lanark, Strath, Lothian! You lovely horses, you’ve found me a nice cave with your scratching.” When he names them the horses turn to just look at him because he isn’t giving them any of the set orders they know because they’re very well trained horses who respond to verbal commands as well as to the reins. When he walks up to the wagon Ed can see the vegetable collectors all understood what he said because a few of the more adventurous souls have come a lot closer to see what has him excited.
He’s quick to unharness the horses again and he sets out some feed for them and they’ll get water from the stream. He knows they’ll return when he calls them so hobbles aren’t needed. Within minutes he’s set up to transplant a lot more of the thorn bushes to the northern end.
By lunchtime he has the whole cave mouth uncovered to open an access way that angles in at forty-five degrees on each side to make it easier to enter as well as see if anyone is close to the entrance when he leaves. By now many of the vegetable collectors have wandered close enough to see the cave and a couple are heading back to their camp.
Ed cleans up his shovels before he stops to have a lunch of cooked elk. After the meal he takes his bow and a firebrand while he makes a better inspection of the caves. Some minutes later when he comes out Ed finds the horses in the back of the cave and several men with spears at the cave entrance. Ed says, “I hope you don’t intend to try and kill my horses, because they took a long time to capture and train.”
One of them replies, “No, we came to look at this cave. The women getting the plants told us you found it. They also said you control the horses so we should leave them be. One of the men from another camp visited last night and he spoke of a man with horses and an odd thing who killed three elk with great ease then let them have most of the meat. Was that you?”
“Yes, a few days ago, on the plain, I saw the elk and them hunting. I need more furs and bones but not much meat. So I killed three elk and let them take most of the meat after they helped me skin them all.”
The leader of this group asks, “What are you doing here?”
Ed replies, “I’m looking for a new place to live and I was searching for a good cave that wasn’t already in use, because caves are better in winter. I’ve found this one, and now I intend to live here. However, this is a group of linked caves big enough for many people to live in, if you also wish to move in and live here too.”
“It is well placed! Why are you looking for a new place to live, and where are the rest of your people?”
“I come from very far away. Our old leader and my father died in a very unusual accident and a man who hated me forced his way into the position of camp leader. I packed up all I owned and what I could trade for on that day, then I left when dark came that night. I left my people a few moons ago, and have been travelling since then. In my travels I’ve found and traded for many useful things to help set up a new place to live. I wish no trouble, but I will defend myself if attacked.”
“Let’s look at these caves and then we’ll talk about them with the rest of our camp tonight.”
Ed turns and leads them around the caves to show them all there is to see while he says, “I’ve found these caves and opened the way to them, so I’ll control the use of them. However, I’ve no objection to others living here as well because there’s a lot of room. There are some caves that I’ll use for a particular purpose, but the main cave is big enough for many to camp in, even to put up their huts.” He points out what he wants for his quarters and what he thinks will do well for the single people. They love the main cave with its own water on hand, and the ice cave is approved of by all of those inspecting it.
Returning to the entrance the leader says, “I can see why you want the small caves for yourself, and I agree with the main use of the other caves; but why use these caves for storage as you wish to?”
“My animals, plus others I catch and train, will live in this cave so they’re handy to the entrance. With their feed and some tools here too.”
“It’ll be a long walk to the main cave to carry food and firewood as well as all of our other things.”
“To store the meat in the ice cave means we need to carry it all there. We can also store some plants there for use in winter. To use that cave we have to take everything there and the main cave is very close to it.”
“Yes, that’s all true. We will speak among ourselves.”
“Good. I need to move up the valley a bit to get some trees so I can build a strong cover to keep out animals and other unwanted guests. Do you accept this is mine and you won’t try to take it over while I’m away?”
“Yes, I don’t think there’ll be a problem with that!”
Another man interrupts, “Dale, why should we not just kill him?” The name isn’t a direct translation of the sounds, but it’s how Ed translates it.
The leader replies, “Fast Deer, that’s not our way, and you know it. Also, this is the one who killed three elk from a long walk away in less time than it takes to throw a spear. I’m sure if we tried to kill him many of us would be dead before anyone killed him. He’s agreeable to share, so there’s no value in fighting over it. Anyway, he only wants to use caves we would probably not use at all.”
When the men walk away Ed calls the horses to him and he hitches them to the wagon. He has them pull the wagon into the cave and backs it up against the wall at the front of the storage area. After locking the brakes into place he gets down to unhitch the horses and secure the wagon. He places some medium sized stones in front of the wheels so it won’t roll anywhere. He gets out an axe, saw, and tow chains for the horses. After spreading the chains and tools out on the mares he grabs the harness of Clyde, the stallion, and swings himself up to ride him. With his bow in hand he gives the orders for the horses to head out.
Ed enjoys the looks of surprise on the women collecting the plants when they glance up to see him riding a horse while the others follow.
It doesn’t take long to reach the hardwood forest where Ed gets down to look for suitable trees. In only a few minutes he finds eight suitable fallen trees. He needs to cut off the rotted end near the stump, but the bulk of the logs are good wood and of suitable lengths. By the time he has eight logs out and ready to drag away it’s getting toward time to set up camp for the night. He’s quick to set the horses to drag two logs each, then he’s leading them back down the valley while keeping an eye out for food or trouble. They’re soon back at the cave where he has the horses pull the logs into the cave and over to the side.
It takes several minutes to move the wagon to block the cave mouth. On previous nights he hadn’t been worried about small animals passing under the wagon because the horses can stomp them with ease. But tonight he lays out his net before he has the wagon moved over it, then he pulls the net up to secure it high on the wagon as he won’t be keeping a fire going all night. With the wagon in place, brakes locked, and stones against the wheels, the cave access is well blocked by a wagon longer than the cave entrance is wide. The horses are soon unharnessed with plenty of hay and feed set out on the wall in different spots for them. They recognise the layout for a stall and move up to their spots to eat.
There’s still some light left, so Ed spends the time trimming the logs. He didn’t do that at the forest because he knew he can use the limbs for firewood. It doesn’t take him long to trim the trees and to cut the limbs to suitable lengths for his fire. The fire is burning and he’s cooking some elk before it’s too dark in the cave to see, though outside has more light.
Tonight Ed takes time after the meal to give the horses a very good brush down, but he leaves checking the hooves until he has better light in the morning. All of the horses appreciate the attention and being spoken to while he works on them. Both the horses and Ed have missed this little time together the last few days. They may be work animals, but to him they’re just very large and useful friends.
Ed takes time to tidy up the cave and put things away while he still has the light to do so. He even gets some things out for his work first thing in the morning. His first task is to put two doors he brought onto the two small secure storerooms so he can unload most of the wagon.
Ed wakes up when the sun shines in the vent holes. He starts the fire to put some elk on to cook before he moves the materials to install the storeroom doors. When the caves were made grooves were put in the design so the doors are easily recessed into the stone. Now all he has to do with the pre-built doors is to assemble them in place. He stops to eat before leaving the barn cave to assemble the door in the secure cave in his quarters. Once that’s done he does the same for the tool storeroom. In each case it’s a simple matter of placing the parts of the outer frames then inserting the inner frames into place. Once in the right spot they lock into place and he can’t get them undone again. They’re a top grade metal made to look and feel like a local hardwood.
With the doors done he starts moving tools into the tool store. It’s mid-morning when shouting at the entrance has him stopping to see what’s going on. It’s the occupants of the camp from yesterday. They’re heavily loaded. Ed apologises, and he’s quick to harness the horses to move the wagon out of the entrance. Once it’s to the side he rolls up his net while Dale watches. Ed unhitches the horses again when that’s done.
Most of the camp is here with gear from their camp. They take it all down into the other caves with the single adults dropping their own gear in the two designated caves while the rest take their stuff to the main cave area. Then they all leave for another load while Ed goes back to moving the tools from the wagon into the storeroom.
By the time they’re back with the second load Ed has all of the tools in the tool store with the bows and arrows in his storeroom. While they’re on hand he unloads the hay, grain, and seed into the barn cave. When they go for a third load he goes back to moving the weapons, knives, and salt into his personal secure storeroom. Once he has everything he wants secured behind a locked door Ed moves his bedding materials and personal cooking stuff into his quarters. He puts the extra cooking gear in one of the rooms of his quarters and he throws a fur like blanket over it all. He finishes unloading what belongs in the barn while they’re on hand. The wagon is soon empty, except for some trade goods under the seat, by that time they’re ready to go for more gear and it’s lunch time.
Ed starts a large fire and sets up a lot of elk to cook on the skewers. All the women stop to see how he’s cooking the meat. He looks up as he says, “If you want to put more wood on the fire and watch the meat we can put the rest of this elk on to cook for lunch.” The women are soon busy cooking the last of his meat while the men go for another load.
While alone with the women Ed finds out most of their names, who is mated to whom, and who is available as mates. So he’s well informed when the men return and stop to eat after dumping their loads. All their gear is now here, but they’ve yet to set up camp in the cave properly.
Ed talks to Dale while the men sit and eat, he asks, “Dale, what’s the procedure in your camp to organise for a woman to look after my cave and to cook for me?”
Dale has a large grin when he replies, “I wondered how long before you’d ask that. It’s obvious you can cook, but you don’t like doing it. Unlike some other camps we allow the women to refuse to match up with a man. You must ask the woman or women you choose, and if they agree they move in with you. We’ve a number of single women, and several widows as well. At the moment we’ve more single men than single women. Also, we have a few females who are old enough to be single women who still live with their mothers.” He takes time to point to a woman with two mid-teen girls beside her, “There sits Dawn with her twin daughters Fawn and Dove. The girls should have moved to be with the single women last winter, but haven’t done so. They don’t like any of the single men and it’s easier to refuse them while still with their mother. Also, it’s easier for the three of them to find enough food than they can alone. They’re considered unlucky because Dawn’s man and her son both died while hunting. I suspect one of the single men may have caused the death of the son because he didn’t like him. Large animal hunts are dangerous because the animals can panic and run in any direction.”