Times of Old
Copyright© 2013 by Ernest Bywater
Ed is standing in the barn trying to figure out what’s left to do before winter starts. His team made four holes in the store area to place four posts. They’re solid and as high as his shoulder with the area between them and the wall stuffed full of logs with the bark removed and the ends cut square. For the last few months, while Ed was busy taking care of the widows, he’s had his work team cutting logs of varying sizes and putting them there so he’ll have a supply for projects over the winter. The wide hardwood tree a storm had knocked down, which they cut circles off for chopping blocks, has been cut into two metre lengths and they’re in here as well. The men don’t know why, but they did it because Ed told them to cut it up into lengths as long as the string and to bring it in.
All except two of the single men who work for him now have mates, and those two have big issues because the available single women aren’t suitable for one reason or another. Dale said not to worry because they’ll go with him on his pre-winter camp visit due soon.
The ice cave is jammed with food because Ed spent a few days hunting to make sure the larder is full before the snows start. In fact, it’s so full they’ve smoked some to take with them on the planned visiting trip. The wagon is packed for the trip to start tomorrow morning and Dale is still deciding who will go with them.
Dale startles Ed by saying, “You’ve made Wild Thorn happy since the first groups of widows you bedded are all pregnant, so are the young women who didn’t leave their mothers when they should have. Plus your three ladies, you’ve started a one man population expansion.” It’s a good thing you’ve also been able to see to it we’ve several times the amount of food we usually have to get through winter.
Ed grins at all this. He has no idea why Wild Thorn and Dale want him to make so many of the camp women pregnant. He did speak to them about the rations for the widows and their children. Wild Thorn has adjusted them up because the camp can now afford to provide more to them as a camp group than they were be able to provide before. Which has made everyone in the camp happier about the situation.
“You, me, two senior hunters, the seven single men, and the best of the trainee healers,” is Dale’s next comment. He turns to Ed, “Thanks for talking Fair Flower into training some more healers. It means we can take one with us on the longer hunting trips.” Ed smiles as he nods in reply. “Ed, I know you don’t know our ways but you have followed them when asked to, and without any complaints. I want you to take on some more mates or get some more of the single women with child.”
“Why, Dale? I still don’t know why you’re so happy about all of the widows becoming pregnant by me.”
“Ed, just about everyone in this camp, and those camps near us, are related to us to some extent. In the past we’ve seen some horrid births due to people mating with those too close to them for too many generations. The women keep track of who is whose ancestors to see they aren’t too close, but we can only do so much. It’s not quite so bad while we still go and get some extra women from other camps or swap our extra women to them. But you aren’t from anywhere near here at all. So you represent a totally new line that can safely breed with all of our lines for some years. The more children you have, the more options the others have as your children grow older. Do you understand this?”
“Actually, Dale, I may understand it a lot better than you do, now you’ve pointed it out to me. My people call it genetics, and the problem you mention is called in-breeding. Breeding too close to your family for too long increases the chances of faulty births. OK. I now understand you’re doing this for the future of your people. I can do as you wish, but as to extra mates, that’s a question to be answered by my current ones.”
“Ed, while we can speak in private I’ve an important issue to sort out with you. We all know it’s you coming up with all the new ideas that are making life easier for us. Some are wondering when you intend to challenge me to take over command of the camp!”
“Dale, I like being your helper and advisor. Also, there are times when what I know will have me telling you what to do when I think you’re wrong. But I’ve no idea on how to run this camp, and it’s a job I do not want at all. Heck, I don’t even want to be number two or three. I will be a special camp advisor, but that’s all.”
Dale turns and gives Ed a close scrutiny. “Why is that, Ed?”
“Because there’s way too much knowledge about living in this area I don’t know. I could easily make a serious error due to not having the knowledge you and the others who grew up around here already know. Now, if we were living where I come from it would be different. I know I have a lot of knowledge you don’t have, but I also know you have a lot of knowledge I don’t. I also know what my limitations are.”
“I hadn’t thought of it that way. But you’re right. I can smell the snow in the air and know it will snow within a dozen days. But you can’t, can you?”
“No, I can’t. Nor do I know where the other camps are, or how to deal with them. Look, you gave me the men to work for me. But have you noticed with many of the jobs they do I tell them what I want done and then leave them to do it. When we skin and cut up meat I follow their directions because they know how to do the task better than I do. Now, filleting a fish, there I can show you a thing or two. Have you ever noticed I pay attention when the men with me get concerned about where we go hunting? I figure they know something I don’t, and I take that into account. No, you lead this camp because it’s what you know, and I don’t know how to do it as well.”
“I’m glad we have an understanding. Now all we need to do is find a way to let the others know this in a way they understand.”
“That’s easy. I’ll cover it tonight.” Dale gives him a sideways look, but he just nods because he knows he can trust Ed to do it, somehow.
They both check the load in the wagon then head off to their women.
It’s late afternoon so Ed isn’t surprised to find his mates checking over the things he’s taking with him tomorrow, they’ll be loaded when he gets the wagon ready. Seeing them doing this has him review it all. He makes a decision and goes into the secure cave to get another bow, two quivers of twenty-five arrows (making it a hundred he’ll take), a box of bullets for the guns, and five more spears to make it ten.
Seeing him place more weapons with his packs makes the women smile and nod their agreement with his actions.
Ed says, “While we have a moment to ourselves Wild Thorn and Dale want me to take more mates and to get more of the single women with child. He’s explained about the need to introduce the new blood as widely as possible. How do you feel about this?”
All three of his women look at him for a moment before Dove says, “We’ve been expecting this and spoken of it. Naturally, if you want more mates we will accept them. We know none of the women will refuse you.”
“You don’t understand me. I may bring extras in to breed them, like with the widows. But I will not bring in a new full-time mate unless this is what you want. Do you understand?”
They all smile and nod yes before Fawn says, “If you were to select any of the single women who would you ask. Another two or three, if they fit in, would be good, because it’ll make our work easier.”
“Let me think on them for a moment. On another matter, have you heard anyone talking about me taking over command of the camp?”
“Yes, we have. We’ve not said anything because we don’t know what you want on this issue.”
“There’s too much knowledge needed to run this camp well which I don’t have. I don’t want the job, and I’ll refuse it if asked. So, in future, when you hear such talk tell them I know I can’t do half the job Dale does and I intend to leave him with the headaches and troubles of the job of camp leader!”
They smile as Dawn says, “A very wise reply, my mate. Very wise. I don’t want the job Wild Thorn does, either. Now, three names.”
Ed stops to think before saying, “Please consider Blossom, Little Doe, and Red Deer. I think they will fit in with us.”
“We will talk about them and let you know our answer later.” He nods agreement and goes away so they can talk. Deciding to get on with his agenda he goes looking for Dale in the main cave, and soon finds him.
From about fifteen metres away Ed calls out, “Dale, are you certain the snow is coming soon? I’ve been looking at the sky and it doesn’t look like it to me. From my knowledge of what to expect, based on what I was taught where I lived before, we’ve a lot of days before we can expect snow.” They both notice the looks some of the men give each other on hearing this, especially those suggesting a change of leaders.
Dale knows this is part of Ed’s plan, so he keeps his face very serious while he says, “Ed, you come from a very different area. I know this area well, you don’t. The snows are coming soon, ten to fourteen days, no more. We’ve time for the trip to the other camps with your wagon, but not time to waste on it. I can smell the snow in the air, so can most of the other men from around here.”
“If you’re sure, then we best go tomorrow. It’s a good thing I’ve you and the other local hunters to tell me about such things, or I’d be in very big trouble real quick.” The experienced hunters smile at his admission of lack of knowledge. They had been feeling a bit inadequate about how fast Ed can kill when he hunts, but they now realise he does take notice of the advice they give him about hunting, and he appreciates it too.
The men finish the spear throwing practice and gather as a group to discuss the weather while they head for seats around the eating area because it’s almost time for the last meal of the day. “Dale, as to the trainee healer for the trip, can I suggest we take Red Deer. I believe she’s well up on the type of wounds from hunting and similar injuries.”
“I’ll see what Fair Flower has to say about it.”
On reaching the women they accept bowls of food and Dale moves off to speak with Fair Flower while Dove hands Ed a bowl as she says, “They agree, and Wild Thorn says you’re well ahead with camp food.”
Ed laughs while he accepts both the food and the information. He glances over at Blossom, and she smiles at him before rubbing her belly to indicate she already has a child by him and she wants more. His eyes go to Little Doe, and he wonders how she got that name. She’s the oldest single woman because she intimidates the single men. She’s of perfect proportions but she stands one hundred and ninety-five centimetres tall, which means those proportions are equally large. No fat on her but a larger waist than any other two single women, and stronger than most of the men. Ed can’t even guess at the size of her breasts. But it’s clear they’re firm and bigger than anyone else’s. In stark contrast is Red Deer as she’d make a perfect elf. At one and a half metres tall she looks more like a ten year old girl than a young woman of seventeen years. The real oddity is if you blow her up to the height of Little Doe she’d be the same size because both have the same proportions between the key measuring points, one is compact while the other is the large version.
He nods to the three young women, and they all nod back. Dove has made sure there are three vacant seats with them, so he taps the one beside him while looking from one young woman to the next. They all smile when they stand to walk over to sit amongst his mates. Little Doe and Red Deer on either side of him with Fawn and Dove outside of them, then Blossom between Dove and Dawn. The seating arrangements aren’t lost on any of the camp members as most of the women have already been told by Wild Thorn. There’s a few smiles and a few gasps when the others take in this change in their camp’s personnel infrastructure.
When the meal is over Ed and his six ladies are quick to head off for a bath. They all enjoy his washing them, and the two of them new to being with Ed soon find reason to enjoy his talents as a lover, although he’s not as physical with them tonight as he has been with the widows. He does need to have Red Deer able to go with him in the morning. He does see to it all his ladies are well satisfied with his efforts, both in the hot pool and later in their bed.
When he wakes in the morning Ed finds a note on his pack. It’s from David and it tells him he’ll find clothes for his new ladies while he’s away on his trip, but to loan them some of his clothes for now.
When they dress for the day Ed asks Dove to loan Red Deer a set of her clothes because she’s nearest in size to her. They fit, but are a little loose. A set of Ed’s gear is loaned to Little Doe while Blossom gets one of Dawn’s sets to wear. While they’re shown how to put them on Ed explains how important it is to wear them, and he demonstrates how much safer they are with them on. They all agree to wear them.
Breakfast is a quick and quiet meal with Ed producing the vacuum flasks for the ladies to fill with stew so the crew can have a hot meal on the road. The gear in the wagon already includes a large cauldron and the gear to cook in it over an open fire. With all of the extra gear he’s taking, including the other large first aid kit and medical book, it takes the seven of them to carry it all to the wagon.
Ed stores all of his gear where it’s easy to get at while safe, with the bullets, first aid kit, and manual locked under the seat. It’s all packed and ready with the horses harnessed and hitched up by Dove and Fawn when the rest of the travel crew arrives. Two of the single men are from Ed’s crew, but the rest are men he has met and worked with only on a casual basis when hunting. The whole camp is here to send them off.
Before they leave Ed goes through the horse introductions with Red Deer and Dale so he can train them in working the horses while they go.
Darter and Big Elk check all is clear outside then they open the wagon door. As soon as they’re outside it’s shut again, and Ed hears the logs go back into place. Until they return there’s no need to open either door, so they won’t. The men will stay inside to practice weapon skills and they’ll fix things on their huts, something they haven’t been able to do in past winters. While they’re away two men will stay in the barn on a rotation so they can be on hand when the travelling party returns.
Ed immediately moves the horses up into a trot, and they’re off. Due to the quality of the springs the ride in the wagon is very smooth. Only Ed, Dale, and Red Deer are on the driver’s seat with the rest of the men are in the wagon while the front door is locked open with the back door fully up and locked shut from the inside.
It doesn’t take long to teach the new drivers the commands, but Ed has them whisper them, for the moment, because he doesn’t want the horses to get confused. When they reach the end of the valley it’s Red Deer who calls out, “Furl,” a short delay while they slow down, “Port,” waits until the horses make the turn, “Flank.” Clyde is in control and he recognises the commands of the trainee driver so he does as told. Ed always has all of the turns done at a walk to avoid turning the wagon over by accident, thus they slowdown, turn, and speed up again.
When they cross a stream Ed has Dale stop the horses so they can have a drink, and they walk for an hour afterwards. At lunchtime they stop to eat some not quite hot stew from the vacuum flasks while Ed gives the horses some hay and water. After an hour long break Red Deer gets them going again after they pack up.
Late in the day they arrive at the first camp they’re visiting. The trip has taken only a day when it used to take nearly three days to get here. The men of the camp come out to deal with the strange beast heading toward their camp. The stunned looks on their faces are interesting when Dale stands to tell them to lower their spears.
Grey Wolf’s Camp
In only a few more minutes they’ve the wagon parked to one side of the camp inside a kraal type fence. Ed tends to the horses while Dale and the camp leader, Grey Wolf, talk. Also, Red Deer speaks to Grey Wolf’s woman and the single men check out the single women. Dale’s camp is the largest in this area and all know when he makes these visits it’s for him to exchange extra single women. Since he has only men with him he has to be seeking extra women for some of these men.
The talk between Grey Wolf and Dale is taking a long time. Ed walks over to them and he finds they’re arguing over something. He asks, “Dale, what’s the matter?”
“Ed, I make this trip to exchange single women between the camps. This time Grey Wolf wants me to take some young widows and their kids as well as his four oldest single women and two single men who are hurt and can’t hunt now. He’s short of food for the winter and this will cut the camp size down to what the food they have can feed.”
“So he wants you to take the others along with the single women so they won’t starve over the winter. If that’s all it is take them all and pay less for the women. Also tell Grey Wolf and all of the camp members of our new location in case they run out of food during the winter. That way they can leave here to join us before it’s too late.”
“He’s talking about a third of the camp, Ed! And single men who can’t hunt. What about them?”
“Dale, remember our talk of yesterday. This is a time when what I know requires I tell you what to do instead of just advise. Take them all, and think about Darter.” Dale is about to object again, but he stops at the end and thinks. A little later he nods yes and starts talking payment.
Very soon there’s a group of women and children standing close to the wagon talking to Red Deer about what they can take with them. Ed listens to them for a moment then he explains when they pack to go they can take all they want, including huts, because it can all go into the wagon. He climbs into the wagon and he moves the large single mattress to get out the posts stored in the floor at that place. While he does this he softly says, “To whoever it was that designed this wagon. Thank you very much for the thinking and design that went into making it suitable for many uses.” In a moment he has the poles and netting in place to section off a fifth of the wagon as storage separate to the rest. When he lowers the back gate they can store things in this section up to the roof, and still have room for people in the rest of the wagon.
The last meal for the day is eaten soon after that and Ed makes a big stew in the cauldron he sets over the fire he builds. Dale’s men will take turns to stay up on watch all night and they’ll see the fire is kept going. They have a vested interest in this because it’s for tomorrow’s first two meals.
After eating Ed heads for the wagon with Red Deer and he’s surprised when all of the older women they’re taking go with them. He looks at Red Deer and is told, “It’s the start of their breeding time.” He gets the message so he does his duty by all the women in the wagon with him before going to sleep that night. And again in the morning, at daybreak.
The next morning Ed takes all of the men out hunting in the wagon for the agreed five meat animals. On the way he stops to cut and trim two strong poles about three metres long and thick enough to carry the elk they’re after. They ride past two herds of bison to hunt the elk further from the camp so as to minimise the impact on the hunting near to the camp. Mid-morning they stop and Ed shoots five elk at the back of a herd and two well up the side of the herd.
Grey Wolf gives him an odd look, but Dale asks, “What, where?”
Ed replies, “Four or five cave lions in the tall grass near the front of the herd. You take the wagon and hook three up on the back while I get my arrows back.”
The men from the camp have a hard time locating the lions, even when told where to look. They have a harder time believing Ed is going to go after the arrows by himself when the others tell them why he’s walking toward the last two kills.
Ed is almost to the two dead elk when the cave lions rise up from the grass several metres on the other side of them. It’s obvious they’d been moving in and now they want to challenge him for the meat. He walks up to the first elk and reaches for the arrow while saying, “The meat is for you. I just want my arrows back.” They’re confused by his behaviour because he’s not acting scared or aggressive with them. But when he backs away from the dead elk without touching the elk they move forward to feed. There’s enough meat here for the five of them.
When Ed reaches the hunters again Dale has three elk hanging from the back of the wagon and the poles out beside the last two elk. He knows they’re meant to be used to carry the elk, but not how. Ed shows them how to cut the legs and insert one foot between the bones so they lock together over the pole. When he has two men pick up each end of one pole and place them on their shoulders they all see how this makes the carrying away easier, and by changing one carrier at a time they can share the load while they walk back with the load on the poles.
Grey Wolf’s men carry the elk while Dale’s men keep watch as they walk beside them. Ed climbs into the wagon and he heads back to the camp at a trot so the camp women can get to work on these three first.
It’s just after lunchtime when Dale leads the hunters back into the camp. They find the camp women have finished skinning and cutting up the three Ed brought back, and they’re ready to start on these two. Also, the huts for those leaving have been taken down and all are ready to go.
Red Deer and Ed are soon handing the men of their camp bowls of stew and sending them to get in the wagon. When the last bowls are being handed out they pack up their cooking gear and put it in the wagon. Ed hands Grey Wolf’s woman a leather poke with about a half kilogram of salt while Red Deer starts the wagon moving. Ed helps two of this camp’s men to close the gateway before he climbs on the wagon.
While the horses move up into a trot toward the next camp Ed says, “I don’t know much about Grey Wolf, but I don’t like how he does things, and I didn’t like the way he was looking over the wagon and horses this morning. I’m getting well away while I still can. Also, I’d rather pass by those cave lions now, while they’re well fed, than later.”
Dale laughs, “Yes. Safer to pass the lions before they get hungry.”
“Red Deer, you and Dale keep a good eye out for trouble. I want to travel through the night, so I’ll get some sleep now. When we’re past where we saw the lions you can slow down to a walk.” Both nod yes, and he goes inside the wagon. He also asks the two older hunters to help keep an eye out for trouble.
When Ed lies down for a sleep in the middle of the day the widows have their young children join him on the mattress for a sleep as well.
Just before nightfall Dale stops beside a stream for them to cook a hot meal. They make a large stew for tomorrow’s first meal as well. The horses are unhitched to graze, and they also have some hay and grain put out for them. They take a lot longer than usual for a meal-break.
When it’s time to go Ed makes sure the horses have their armour and warm blankets on properly while he checks the harness over before hitching them to the wagon. When all are in the wagon he has Red Deer lock the front door shut from the inside. He sets off at a fast walk when Dale gives Ed the travel route, “Straight ahead to the next river then left up into the valley it comes out of, you’ll see the camp OK.” So that’s what he does. Clyde watches where they’re going while Ed watches out for the night predators.
A couple of times some small packs of animals come near the horses, but Ed discourages them by using some of the wooden arrows Shorty made for him. Ed has about fifty of these, but he doesn’t use them when hunting as they don’t penetrate as well as his do, thus he can’t be sure of a kill with them. But they are good for a kill with smaller animals.
Ed reaches the river and he turns left. When the dawn breaks he spots the camp in a side canyon. He turns the wagon toward the camp while knocking on the wagon door. A moment later Dale opens the door and he comes out to sit beside Ed.
Slow Elk’s Camp
They arrive at the camp and they’re allowed entrance in time to have breakfast with the camp members. While they eat Dale speaks with Slow Elk about women and the camp’s situation. Ed looks about the camp while they talk.
They soon reach an agreement so Ed joins them to ask, “Slow Elk, does that wind always come up the valley that way?”
“Yes, Ed. The wind always comes up the valley, and it’s often stronger than today. It’s always very cold, too.”
“Why don’t you block it?”
“Block it! How?”
Ed calls across the camp, “Shorty, get six of the digging shovels and a small board from the wagon, please.” The single man from his work team goes to get what’s wanted. They loaded twenty wooden shovels Shorty made for them to use as trade items. Ed turns to Slow Elk, “Give me ten of your men for the day and I’ll show them how.”
“This I have to see. So we hunt afterwards.” They all nod agreement.
After the meal Ed sets some of Dale’s men to digging holes in front of the kraal style fence defending the camp before he leads most of the camp men down the valley to where some of the thorn bushes grow a short walk away. He has Shorty use the board to hold the bushes back while he digs some out. The men carry the six plants by the stems to where the holes are in three staggered rows, and Ed shows them how to plant them to grow there. Very soon all six shovels are in use with four men digging out the plants while four carry them to where two men are digging the holes and four other men are planting them. Ed puts two men to work using buckets to water the plants once they’re transplanted.
When they stop for lunch half of the length of the fence has bushes in front of it and the area behind them is free of the wind. Ed says, “Give them a year to grow in stronger for them to be a bigger and stronger defence than that fence ever was. Also, the women will like having some of the berries that much closer. Once you have the full fence line done like this duplicate it on the inside of the fence as well to make it thicker and hold out even the strongest winter wind.”
In the afternoon the men making the bush fence are left to work on it when two of Slow Elk’s men joining Ed and Dale go to hunt for the three large animals agreed on as the payment. They wonder about the low number of hunters when they go, but accept Dale knows what he’s doing.
The group spends half the afternoon travelling to reach a herd that’s not near them. When they do Ed is quick to kill four of the bison. Then he’s real fast getting three hung on the back of the wagon; he even has Dale winch one up while he drags a line to another. It only takes six or seven minutes to get three hanging from the back of the wagon, then he loads everyone up and he heads off at a trot.
When they leave Slow Elk asks, “Why the hurry, and why leave one?”
Ed replies, “There’s a large pack of hyenas on the other side stalking the herd. I’m leaving one to slow them down while they fight over it and eat it. I hope to quickly get far enough away they decide to go back to stalking the herd for the rest of their meal.”
Slow Elk and Dale hang out either side of the wagon to look at the last bison on the ground. They both comment when they can’t see it for all of the hyenas that are all over it while they eat the bison. They get back to the camp in the late afternoon without any trouble.
When they approach the camp they can’t see any of the huts because it’s on a slight rise just inside the side canyon and the thorn bushes now form a fence along the top of the gentle rise, thus hiding the camp from their view while below the rise.
While skinning and cutting up the meat the women comment on how much easier it is to keep the meat clean without the wind blowing dust all over it. They all appreciate the cut in the wind effect as well.
That night the new women stay in their usual huts and Ed has to do his breeding duty to the same team as the night before. He figures this will be a nightly event until Red Deer tells him to stop.
The next morning all are up to eat and pack up to go with only two of the single women and an older widow with her family from here. The widow’s hut and the bulk of their gear is added to the rest in storage.
They leave soon after breakfast, and they spend the day travelling. They make camp for the night in a dell surrounded by thorn bushes.
Just after they stop for lunch the next day they pass a copse of trees and find a herd of cattle, so they stop to kill three. They move on when the animals are field dressed and hung from the back of the wagon.
Long Spear’s Camp
Late in the afternoon they reach the camp of Long Spear, and cause a stir with the wagon and horses. They missed being challenged outside of the last camp due to them being on it with Dale calling out before the watch knew anyone was nearby. This camp is in a cave and they have a nice lookout point above the entrance, so they’ve been watching them for some time. However, the lookout is also able to recognise Dale, so they aren’t challenged, they just cause a stir. The excitement factor increases when the three new kills on the back of the wagon are spotted.
The talk between Long Spear and Dale is very short bcause they’ve no excess women to pass along, but they do have an injured hunter Dale agrees to accept with his family. This is a surprise to Long Spear, and when he asks about it Dale replies, “Ed has a number of jobs injured hunters can do for him. So they do that work for him and he hunts for them for doing the work for him.”
Dale has the travellers keep the meat from half of one of the cattle, but he hands the rest of the new kills to the camp and Ed hands Long Spear’s woman a half kilogram poke of salt as well. They all enjoy a nice evening meal, and breakfast the next day before moving on again.
On leaving the camp Dale directs Ed further to the east while saying, “A little way along there is a ramp down onto the long plain. A day and a half should see us to the camp known as ‘Two Rivers,’ as it’s where the two rivers from up here come together. We can’t see it from here, yet.”
They spend the day travelling and camp for the night behind a small hill to be out of the wind coming from the south. Two men stay awake on watch all night. In the morning they break camp and head south again. The intent is to go south until they hit a river and then travel along that to the junction.
Mid-morning they’re approaching a slight ridge when a wagon like Ed’s tops the rise while heading north at a slight angle away from them. No one is visible in the driver’s seat and the horses look like they’ve been travelling all night. Ed turns his wagon toward the new one and he orders the horses to move up to a canter. He doesn’t like doing this, but he feels speed is important. While he moves toward the other wagon he wonders what it’s doing here, because it has to be from David. There’s no way it could be just like his and it not be from David.
Nearly half an hour later Ed slows down to turn and come up beside the other wagon. The horses look tired and are now moving at a slow walk. The new horses look over at Clyde a few times, so he whinnies. To Ed this indicates they know each other. When Ed gives the command to stop the other horses don’t react until after Clyde whinnies at them, then they stop and let Ed come up beside them.
Ed lowers the steps while calling out, “Dale, get some people out here to keep an eye on the back trail.” Since the design is the same he has no trouble unlocking the stairs on the other wagon. When he climbs up he sees a man’s body. He half smiles when he recognises one of the men shot by him back in Jerusalem, but he now has some short spears in his body. There’s a note in his shirt pocket. Ed gets it out to read:
Cannibals attacking the camp of Two Rivers. They suffered big losses but breeched the defences. I got all the still living women and children on board and broke out. Headed north as they came from the south. The spear throwers they have make them hard to beat. But they weren’t much use from in the water, thus their big losses. The last of the men alive were setting fire to everything before they left. I don’t know how they went, but the cannibals are chasing us on foot. They got me good during the break out, so I don’t expect to last much longer.
While looking around Ed is glad to see Shorty and Red Deer attending to all of the horses by giving them water and grain to eat. Ed knocks on the door of the wagon and he asks them to open up. He hears some talk, then the door is slowly opened by an older woman with a knife in her hand. On seeing Ed she smiles as she calls behind her, “Good news, they aren’t people eaters because they don’t have their necklaces.” It doesn’t take them long to tell their story to Dale and Red Deer. Ed doesn’t like it, but he stays there while the horses have a rest. Red Deer is very busy with the first aid kit when she treats a lot of people with minor injuries. While stopped they also have their midday meal.
During the break the wind changes to come from the north. This makes Dale sit up and take notice. He and the older hunters all sniff the air before he says, “The snow is coming faster, two days now.” That’s about how long they’ll need to get home.
Right then one of the men watching behind them calls out about people coming over the ridge behind them. Ed and Dale climb up onto the wagons to hang out the sides to look at the ridge line back there. A large group of men are jogging down the ridge. Too far to see much, but they are only about seven kilometres away.
They quickly break camp and mount up with Dale on Ed’s wagon and Red Deer on the other one. While feeding them she went from horse to horse introducing herself. They only accepted the grain from her when Clyde insisted they do. They move out at a fast walk because Ed doesn’t want to tire the new horses out too much.
Ed and Dale keep checking behind them. They appear to be keeping the distance, but a much larger group is also moving down the ridge a few kilometres behind the first, and both are heading after the wagons.
Near mid-afternoon Dale says, “The front group is about fifty men and getting closer. The back group is about five or six times that and they’re also gaining on us. We need to slow them down.”
Ed asks, “How far to where we can get up off the plain?”
“The nearest way up is a few hours ahead, just off to our right. It will bring us up near where we saw the lions while hunting with Grey Wolf. The next is about a half day to our left and closer to our valley. If they follow us up that ramp they’ll find us soon after.”
“Then we go to the right and have everyone from Grey Wolf’s camp leave there to go with us so we leave no one near where these people can find them. Later, we’ll need to warn the other camps, but we need to see to our own first. This wind from the north, how long will it last?”
“Until it snows in a few days, why?”
“There are no other camps on the long plain between the rivers?”
“None. Only Two Rivers!”
“Right. I need a few things from the other wagon and then Long Walker and I are getting down to slow them down while you head to our right and the ramp. We’ll follow you on foot, and we’ll catch up as soon as we can. If we don’t join you by tomorrow night take everyone home and we’ll make our own way home as best as we can.”
“How will you slow them down?”
“I’ll set fire to the plain. It’ll burn away from us and stop at the rivers. The animals will cross the rivers to be safe. Once I start the fire it’ll move fast with this wind behind it and the big group of people won’t be able to run fast enough to get away. But the lead group may get to the side before it gets too wide, so we’ll have to attack them when they do. My bow will out range them and Shorty’s arrows will do for such as these. I’ll need someone to carry extra gear and to show me where to go after we deal with them. Long Walker can do that for me.”
Dale nods his agreement, so Ed goes about getting ready everything he needs from this wagon while Dale angles the horses a bit to the right toward the ramp up off the plain. Ed takes all of the arrows he has, both bows, the extra bullets, the dehydrated meals he has left, a vacuum flask of cold water, and some smoked meat they have. With the two packs ready he has Red Deer slow down a bit before Dale does so he and Long Walker can get off while the horses are walking and wait for Red Deer to catch up to get aboard and they go back to a fast walk.
He tells Red Deer what’s going on before he goes into the wagon to get the one litre bottle of petrol he saw there earlier, a damaged cotton shirt, and two half metre long pieces of firewood. He rips the shirt into strips to wrap them around nine wood arrows. He also wraps some around the firewood he has. After placing them all together in one of the buckets he pours the petrol on the cloth while telling both Red Deer and Long Walker what’s about to happen. After waiting a moment for it to soak in he uses his flint kit to ignite the petrol. He takes the first fire arrow and readies to loose it as far as he can to their left. The arrow flies about three hundred and fifty metres before landing in the grass and starting a fire. He sends five more to hit between it and them. The last three are spread out behind them.