I am German by birth. My father never told me how he was taken into indentured servitude in England. He was named Frederick Packer. I am named Alfred. I was born into servitude. I never knew another life. Sr. Darkbridge held my papers and those of my father. I never heard mention of my mother. Sr. Darkbridge was a practicing Puritan and let no man go by that was not chastised for not believing as he did. He seemed to hold dear the principle that only through constant beatings should a young man be led into a goodly life, yet I saw no evidence of a bloody shirt upon the children of the others in the society. I came to believe that the wretched man simply enjoyed inflicting pain. I was told that my back held evidence of more lashings than a lazy slave was wont to bear in a lifetime yet I was but thirteen. This hardened my heart and I tended to show a stern countenance. Ah, my face.
I caught the pox when I was eight or so. I was left alone to live or die. I lived yet was horribly marked. Women cringed at looking upon me and children stared from a distance.
As an indentured servant I was taught many small, rough skills that free men cared not to perform themselves. I was strong and handy yet I was still beaten until my blood flowed at least twice a week, simply because my master could.
The Society took ship for the colonies in 1649. I knew not why. My father caught the bloody cough during the trip and died. None mourned him but me as his shrouded corpse slid into the sea. For the first time in my life I was alone.
I did not rail at my circumstances. There were many others aboard ship whose papers were held by the Puritans, bought just before the voyage to the new world. I was certain that their heaven on earth was to be built on the backs of their slaves.
Once we arrived in a place called Connecticut the real work began. Fortunately it was early summer and the brutal weather was gone lest most of us perish from weakness, ill-feeding and sleeping in the freezing cold. We cleared land, built cabins, dug wells and constructed privies. I grew so tired from my efforts that I barely had the will to eat much less clean myself or my garments.
I was awakened early one morning by the stroke of a rod across my ribs, causing me great pain. I quickly grasped the hand sporting that rod and threw my filthy blanket over them. Then I proceeded to purge fifteen years of frustration and undeserved beatings upon whoever was stupid enough to awaken me. I found Sr. Darkbridge to be nought but bloody rags when I threw back my rough cover to see who had received my ire. I sat back on my heels with a small smile on my face. All I could think was "so the worm turns". I dragged the corpse to the household privy then dumped him in the pit. I smiled once again, sat and eased my bowels. I had learned to kill in vengeance and feel nought but satisfaction.
I could not stay in the village. I would have been whipped, beaten, burned or pressed to death. Regrets? I had none. I was totally unrepentant though I did not glory in the kill though I did take advantage of it.
I took a small waxed chest that had made the voyage, emptied it of the papers that it had been tasked to protect and placed within it the items that I might use to build my own life. The thing was four feet long by two feet deep by three feet tall, built to conform to the proportions required for storage in the ship's hold. I loaded it with all manner of carpentry tools, a few good kitchen tools, a heavy copper pot, two heavy kitchen knives, a tin box of good beeswax candles, both of the house fire making kits, The few coins kept by the old man, a hank of rope, a folded canvas, a felling axe and a shovel.
I knew that it was much too heavy to heft, much less carry for any distance. The work shed held a one wheeled barrow with high sides. Within it went the chest, the old man's portmanteau filled with good linen sheets and woolen blankets, a five gallon puncheon filled with salt, a small ten-gallon barrel filled with flour, A tripod with chain and hooks, the house's one good iron kettle, a small water barrel and as much clean canvas and cord that I could latch onto. I dressed in the best the house had to offer then started down the path to the seashore.
It took me several months to learn the ins and outs of the scavenger's life. I was robbed of all I had more than once. Eventually I became incensed to the point of retribution. I tied a rock to the end of a hefty water-smoothed limb, then crept up behind the last brigand that had last robbed me and brained him. I got back my own and more. I left him with his head split open on the low beach for the crabs to feast on. I had learned to kill in retribution and make an example of my victim.
I kept traveling south, keeping to the coast. I ate more than my fair share of clams and mussels. I was near a town called Brick. The coastal reefs supplied me with enough shellfish to live on and some flotsam from the coastal wrecks to burn for firewood and to trade for necessary supplies. I survived there for over two years.
It was some eight days after a strong blow. The weather had held bright and windless for days, then another short yet violent storm blew up overnight. I followed the seacoast looking for whatever the storms had washed ashore.
A twenty-four foot long high-sided dagger board sailboat had made its way between the rocks and onto a sandy beach. The sail had been torn to shreds by the high winds. This was the best salvage that I had ever seen. I hurried down the shoreline to it and thrust myself half up-and-over the side to see what was within. I promptly turned and emptied my stomach on the sand. There were three ripe bodies within. Once I had cleared the slime from my mouth I once again carefully peered over the side.
One man was more stout than the other two. He wore the blue coat and gold braid of a ships captain. It appeared that he had bled out from a gash in his upper thigh. One other was dressed as some sort of ships mate. He appeared to have died from a rude blow separating his skull from his spine as his head laid unnaturally. The last was dressed in canvas slops. He had died from a ball fired through his chest. At his hand lay a hatchet. I pulled myself over the side and searched the bodies for any valuables. The captain kept a tidy little purse at his belt and had died with a discharged flintlock pistol in his hand. These I gratefully seized. He also bore a fancy dirk and a large emerald ring that quickly became mine. I took his fancy hat and coat then tossed his body over the side. The mate had nothing of value on his person but was laying on a fascine knife--a broad-bladed tool boasting a sharpened hook, all on a two-handed haft. It had been well used in place of a boarding axe as the bloodstains on the blade told their tale. The last man again bore nothing of interest. I tossed the both of them over the side then jumped overboard myself. I had a desire to quickly remove the craft to a less-populated beach so that I might keep the boat and its contents to myself.
After shouldering it off the beach I jumped aboard and poled the craft down the shoreline until I reached a small cove, quite close to where I made my rude home beneath the root ball of a storm-flattened tree. I grounded my new craft and tied off beneath some overhanging limbs. There I felt I was protected enough to pause and take stock. There were several chests within the dory. One was quite long by comparison to the others at over four feet. I opened it and, to my joy, found it to be a ship's carpet entry box. Another large square box held ledgers, much of the captains finery, a small sewing kit, a second flintlock pistol and supplies to clean and reload them several times over. I also found a till, a locked box that jingled wonderfully. Another chest, quite large, held packets, jars and sacks of spices which strongly perfumed the air when opened. It was well-waxed to keep its contents safe from the sea and weather. After consideration I felt that this was the top tier of portable goods from the ship.
After cleaning the blood and seawater out of the scuppers I carefully examined the boat's rigging and got the idea of how it was sailed. It obviously required new canvas. I had a canvas sheet in my stores which I cut and seamed into a serviceable though shortened sail. I rigged the boat well enough then loaded aboard my meager possessions, taking care to include a pair of casks of sweet water. I found that the captain's clothing fit me well enough for a man that had been starved so I took on the role of a distressed captain whose ship had been blown out from under him. I hoped that the lack of my letters would not ill-serve me. I had my numbers, for they made sense. I learned them on my own. However, never having been schooled, reading and writing escaped me.
I followed the trade into Norfolk harbor, where I obtained a broad-brimmed hat to cover my scarred features, several changes of rough clothing, good boots and brogans. I then closely observed the price of spices in the market and proceeded to dicker myself into quite a pile of silver. I noticed quite a few evaluating glances passed my way but a good stare and an exposed brace of pistols left me safe.
I needed a secure place to call my own. My disfigurement did not lend to easy accommodation in town. I felt that my only opportunity was to gather stores and explore up river.
Oh my, I bought supplies. I gathered shovels, rope, axes, wedges, hammers, half a hundredweight in foot long spikes, spare auger bits for the carpenter's chest and a fresh set of saws. I also cheaply bought a hundredweight of heavy rope ends from three to twelve feet long and a dozen huge bags made of heavy sacking. I purchased a large barrel of salt and another of lard, several dried hams, bags of dried beans, two small barrels of flour, several casks of whale oil and an oil lamp. I made certain to obtain the tools necessary to build in rock such as chisels, a pick-axe, a long pry bar and a barrow. I also bought a barrel of tar and two tin buckets. All this, along with wool blankets, canvas and over a thousand feet of line served to immoderately load my brave craft. However I knew enough not to leave without a serviceable cooking pot, a frying pan, two bows, several bowstrings, two dozen flights and a generous bag of metal arrow heads. I secured my load with rope and canvas then sailed upriver. First the stench of the harbor then the continuous 'clank-clank' of the point buoy faded behind me.
I'd heard tales of a small village established in the shadow of Fort Charles, some weeks up river. I had hopes of building a redoubt a small distance away from there so that I might have a place to trade without making the lengthy trip back to Norfolk.
I traveled some two weeks and more, moving slowly and closely evaluating the shorelines as I went. I found two deep oxbows, the first of which was quite silted up but the second had a deep break with a steep rocky rise at its peak. It appeared as if a natural dam had given way at some time, littering the area with slabs of rock, making it perfect for my purpose.
The first winter was hard. I survived in a mean little log cabin half dug into the river bank. The air was moist and unhealthy. I caught the bloody coughs but survived it. I shot game to supplant my diet and on the warmer days worked on my stone cabin further up the draw. I dug out the side of a hill and laid in thick slab-stone walls. I knew the tricks of how to make a fireplace that would draw properly. I had to travel up to Fort Charles for three bags of cement to set the rocks of the fire box, smoke box and chimney. I over-built the cabin for one person, making it thirty feet wide by twenty feet deep with a shed roof. I had to raise a line of posts down the middle to support a center beam, lest the roof collapse. Once the walls were up I used large squared-off timbers to roof it, then shingled flat stones over those.
I overlaid it all with stone and dirt so that all that showed from up the hill was the bit of chimney and even that was rocked in to a small hillock. The entire roof was covered in thick thorn bushes by mid-summer. Standing below the deeply shadowed porch hid a thick door and four heavily-shuttered windows. All four were covered with oiled parchment to let in a bit of light yet keep out wind and weather. I caulked the stone walls with oakum made from shredded rope mixed with hot tar and forced between the stones with a hammer and chisel, as we had done aboard ship. The stone cabin was finished before snowfall of my second year. The first time I laid and lit a fire in the firebox I felt as secure as a child in its mother's arms. With great care I slab-cut some winter-dry trees to drill and peg together a table, a sleeping bench and a chair. I fashioned several stout shelves at one end of the cabin for my larder as I had no attic for storage. I closed them off with four doors, two hinged at the center post and two hinged at the walls. I did this in hopes that the temperature would remain cooler within, with rock on three sides and in still air.
I experimented with bedding and found that several large bags lapped and sewn together then filled with shredded rope, made a handsome bed. However I had to raise the edges of my sleeping shelf to keep the bags from working out from under me during the night to leave me laying on bare wood. I later learned that a pair of tanned bear-skins below me and one above did an even better job. I traded for several my furs at the fort.
My next project was a smokehouse. The Indians would burn anything on dry land that they could. My response was to once again build in stone. I extended my cabin by twenty feet to make an adjacent yet separate room that I could use as both a smoke house and meat locker. It took a while to complete as I did not feel the urgency that I previously had while constructing a warm, safe place to live. As time went on I dug up the dirt floor of the cabin and spiked in sleepers beneath sawn boards. It was warmer, drier and cleaner.
I bore witness to a run of fish during the previous spring. I prepared for its return by weaving a net with a heavier rope bound to its edges so that I might cast it out and draw it back in again. For a while it caused me some confusion while I determined the best way to smoke fish.
I bought a spool of wire to fashion bird traps. I needed their flight feathers to fletch my arrows. I did not hunt with the bow alone. Whenever I did hunt I went out with a brace of pistols in case I encountered a bear or a wild pig. If something had the attitude and wherewithal to chase me up a tree I wanted to be able to offer a good counter-argument. I would much rather have them residing in my meat locker than I supply theirs.
I cleared a small well-drained patch and planted it in vegetables. I became convinced that this mechanism was not designed to return a yield of crops, but to lure in every plant-eater within miles to be taken by bow. I took deer, rabbit, porcupine, raccoon, opossum, swine and bear.
My lettuces were but a fond hope, long abandoned. The cabbage, squash, carrots, peas and beans came in well enough but it was a hard-contested battle to keep away the foraging vermin. The potatoes, beets, garlic, onions and hot peppers were conceded as mine. I traded skins to a Pennsylvania-Dutch family that brewed vinegar. They taught me how to make ColeSlaw! Bless them! It did stink up the cabin a bit but tasting the sour, crunchy glory in the middle of winter certainly made up for the disagreeable odor. I took the trading factor into my confidence and confessed my lack of letters. He obtained for me several books designed to teach children their letters, as well as a small wood-bound slate upon which to practice. This tedious occupation filled most of my winter afternoons.
I fashioned boxes which were placed beneath the shelves of my larder. I filled them first with dry sand. Then carrots, potatoes, turnips, beets and horseradish went in to store. Each batch was fairly small and kept separate from the others, lest one go off and take the others with it, much like chain-firing cannon aboard ship. The beans I dried on clean canvas in the smoke-house. The peas I ate fresh in salads and in stews. Squash was cleaned, cut into strips and threaded onto strings to dry. Onions and garlic had their stalks braided together and hung on pegs near the fire. The hot peppers I split open and dried alongside the beans in the smokehouse. When dry they were packaged up in folded wallets of waxed parchment.
Another family that lived near the fort raised chickens. I had no idea where they obtained their grain for feed. However, they traded some of my smoked, dried fish in exchange for fresh eggs and the occasional chicken carcass. I was surprised that smoked bear meat was considered such a delicacy by some. I exchanged what I had for credit at the trading post. This funded my first major purchases, that of a five-gallon and a ten-gallon iron pot as well as a chain and hooks to hold them above a tripod fashioned from three sturdy trunks. With this apparatus I rendered my lard, made my soap and boiled my clothes.
After recalling how wretched I felt the previous winter during and after my sickness I resolved to construct some sort of warm bathing tub. I eventually hit on a folding wood cradle that supported a waxed canvas tub some five feet long and three feet deep. A tunnel was sewn into the edges and sticks were run through them. The sticks were supported by crossed frames. The smaller of the two iron pots would barely fit within my fireplace for water heating duty.
One day before Thanks Giving I felt shiftless. I carefully checked my inventory then sailed the two days it took to reach the trading post to see what was new and to chat with others. Someone had brought up-river several kegs of reasonably fresh apples and pears to sell. I fell to my baser nature and purchased several of each. It was then that I noticed a windfall, so to speak. Others had consumed their fruit and cast away the cores anywhere that struck their fancy. I immediately took up a sack and gathered as many as I could find, much to the amusement of the others indolently passing a jug at the post. When taken to task for it, I replied "In five or seven years I shall have an orchard. Will you?" I found that the factor had yellow rounds of cheese for sale. I bought several as well as five pounds of beeswax. They had to be dipped in wax to keep the rind from thickening over the winter. I also needed to wax my bows, strings and boots before wet weather set in come fall. I also bought a ten gallon barrel of whale oil for my lamp and a fifty pound barrel of ground oats for gruel and oat cakes.
On my return journey I spotted a small tribe of Indians living beside the river, at the foot of the falls. They seemed desolate and emaciated. They were not in the least animated. They simply watched me as I floated by. I noticed that some were marked by the pox, just as I had been.
After the snow flew yet before Christmas I set up my net to trap geese. Several handfuls of grain near a tree-line served well to lure them in. First one came, who called to its brothers, and soon a small flock fought for the bits of grain on the ground. I pulled the net down over them and commenced in with a club to end their raucous noise. I saved the feathers for my arrows, cast out their offal on the field then salted and smoked the birds. I had the carcasses propped open with twigs and hung directly above a row of small fires within the smoke house. I expanded my larder by twenty-eight nice birds.
The deer were not used to watching for danger from the river. I took advantage of that fact by quietly poling down the river until I spotted a likely place for animals to come down to the water to drink. There I set out the anchor and waited. By moving down the river after each kill I took six does and three bucks all unawares. My windfall appalled me at the work involved in curing all that meat. Instead I set sail back upstream for the native village. There I left off all but one of the deer along with a steel knife as I did not know if they possessed such. I had hopes that they would at least benefit from a good meal out of my good fortune. I returned to my cabin to butcher and cure the one doe that I had held out. I had a stew made out of organ meat and deer's tongue with potatoes and peppers for dinner the next several days.
It was early that spring that I fretted over the well-being of the tribe which I had spotted. I had no idea why I adopted them but there it was. I suppose that after looking out at the woods behind my cabin I realized that they must have a horrible time finding dry firewood that time of the year as they took only dead falls and downed wood. I loaded up my boat with three large baskets of smoked fish that would have gone bad by summer, the remains of my barrel of ground oats and a ten pound barrel of salt, two axes, two wedges and a hammer. After gifting them with the oats and salt I proceeded to chop down two trees and cut one into lengths as tall as my knee. After splitting a big one five ways yet leaving the segments gently joined I placed it on their fire. In this way the sections not only feed off of each other but cause a draft up the center, quickly providing heat and coals. I was offered a small bowl of the oat meal by a tribeswoman but no spoon. I took up an axe and quickly split off a slip of wood, which took but a moment to fashion into a rude spoon. With that I happily ate my lunch. I witnessed a tribesman with little skill attempt to duplicate my feat with an axe. I took up a wedge and hammer to show him an easier and safer way to accomplish the same task. I quickly pounded out half a dozen blanks to show him. He smiled and nodded. I left the wedge and hammer in his hands, then waved and left.
A month later I returned to the village with two more large baskets of dried fish, three baskets of dried squash and three baskets of dried beans. These I simply dropped off early one morning and left. Within the next month the rabbits and other small game would come back, and greens such as fiddlehead ferns would be up. I knew because I had harvested some myself for a fresh meal of greens.
I was tilling my garden in preparation for seeding when I noticed some eighteen Indians watching me from the edge of the woods. I lay down my hand harrow, wiped my brow and waved to them. They waved back and approached. Most of them had a red paint covering their faces from their noses up to their hairlines which had been shaved to the top of their heads. Their eyes were ringed in black. One of them spoke English.
"You helped a tribe when no aid was asked or expected. Why?"
I sat down on a rock to try to put my feelings into words. "As you can see I am not a well-figured man. I have been beaten and mistreated as a slave since I was a child. I kept my strength of will and persevered. I saw others that had been beaten down until they had no more to give. I felt for them and did what I could while it did me no ill. I expect nothing in return but friendship."
They withdrew to argue amongst themselves. I sat resting, relishing the warm sun. Soon I was approached once again.
There are women in the village that have no husbands, and so have none to hunt for them. Three barely survived the winter on the gifts you laid down for the village. It would be a good thing if you would take them in. All three know how to tend a garden, cook, tend a household, gather greens and deal with fresh killed game."
My ire rose. "I will never deal in slavery! I have been a slave and refuse to pander in it!"
He raised his hands as if to hold me back. "No, no. we ask that you take them as wives, not slaves."
I sat once more on my rock. Am I not disfigured? and what of our languages? I know not the languages of the tribes. One at least must know English to form a bridge between us. I can think of nothing more horrible than to live in a household where I could not even ask for aid or food."
Their speaker came forward to lay a hand on my shoulder. "One among those we have spoken with was taken as a child from a village of the whites, and so knows English from an early age. We have seen the scarring disease come and deform many of our people. It is not unknown to us and not so strange."
"Bring these women forth so that they might see how I live. They may yet not wish to so sever themselves from the tribe."
In little over a week they were back, bringing with them two younger and one older woman. They carried enormous packs of bedding and wore deerskin dresses. I chided myself for not offering the services of my boat to arrange for an easier passage for them. They had gone to great effort to come to me. I knew then that I would not turn them away.
One of the younger two came forward. She was red-headed. " My birth name is Sally. My tribal name is ember, or glowing coals." She smiled and tossed her flaming curly locks with one hand. "We three have come in hopes that you will take us under your roof."
I opened my arms to offer all three a hug. "I am Alfred. I would not turn you away under any reason save plague. I was only hindered from offering more to the village by our differences in language. Let us go inside to set down your possessions. Then I shall show you my food supplies. I can see nothing but good coming from this." I looked from one to another of them. They all seemed alert and inquisitive, not at all fearful. "What are the names of your sisters?"
Ember touched her younger partner on the shoulder. "This is Morning Mist." She touched the other woman. "This is Sweet Cry." I kissed each one on the forehead. "Ember, Misty, Sweetie. Welcome."
While the women chattered back and forth in a language totally incomprehensible to me they lifted their burdens and followed me into the cabin. The Cherokee tribesmen that had guided them smiled, waved and silently disappeared into the brush once more. They were much better woodsmen than I ever hoped to be. I sighed to myself. My life had suddenly become much more complicated.
I sat in the corner atop a storage box, watching them carefully examine everything in sight. They cooed over the bearskins and held a grand debate over the contents of my larder. When they seemed to slow down I stood, then motioned them to follow me. I then introduced them to my smoke-house. I heard many joyful noises come from the door. I stood stifling a smile while I pinched my nose. One would think that they were invited to live within a castle by the way they acted. I did my best not to make them feel badly. Next I introduced them to the necessary. I knew that they would appreciate it much more during the next sleet storm or when the winter winds blew the rain and snow sideways.
They seemed quite happy to find my working kettle and tripod behind the cabin. This, they knew the whys and wherefores. Next I showed them my garden. There was utter silence, then more gabbling. I left them to their discussion as I did what few things I could to make life easier for four people rather than one living in the cabin.
The last time I cut good wood I saved out what I could and stored it at the rear of the cabin. I went to retrieve it. With a measuring stick I recorded the proportions of my sleeping bench. I gently tapped free the top boards to inspect the frame below as I had forgotten exactly how I had built it. I found it of no great difficulty to double its width. I tied the two benches together with cross-members and pegs, then pegged riven planks to the extended surface. I had to use a hand plane to make the surface less objectionable to one's bottom, then tacked a strip of leather over the outer edge for safety.
Next came chairs. I recalled the lessons that I had learned fashioning the one I used daily. It was the third generation of attempts. The first two were reduced to kindling after biting me in a personal place. I had learned to tack leather over the seat of my chair in self defense.
The women returned to the cabin from their explorations to arrange their bedding, find space for their various possessions and to make a start at dinner. I noticed them observe what I was doing from time to time. When I finally forced the vertical pins making up the back supports into the holes which I had bored into the bow and the seat, then the ends of the bow through the outer holes in the seat I saw the light of recognition strike. I had to carefully drill out holes in the ends of the bow that extended through the seat so that I could force pins through them, thus holding the thing into one rigid piece. I wound some wire around the pierced bottoms of the bow and the feet so that they would not split. A bit of knife and plane work reduced the chance of splinters, then I tacked a tanned deerskin cover over the bottom. I set it upright and checked it for true. It rocked a bit which I cured by planing off the end of one leg. I stopped for the moment as my hands, arms and back were tired. "There. One done, two to go."
Ember asked, "Al-fred, why is everything so high from the ground in your home?"
I took my time, thinking my way through European custom and the utility behind it. "during the fall, winter and spring the bottom foot of air is colder. I sit and sleep above that to stay warmer. Since I sit higher, I also made the fireplace hearth higher so that I could cook without bending so low. The fireplace had a smoke box hidden above the fire box, that makes it draw up the smoke inside it, so the smoke does not hang within the cabin like it does in a long-house."
Ember turned to relay to her sisters what I had said. They looked about the cabin in a new light. While sitting there among them I saw them in a new light as well. They had years of ground-in dirt on them. "Do you ever bathe in the river? How do you keep your clothing clean? Do you know of soap?"
"But it is so cold in the water now."
"What if I could warm that water?" I went to the larder to fetch my canvas washing tub. I set it up near the fire then brought out my smaller iron pot. "I heat the water over the fire, then use a smaller bucket to fill the tub." I located some soap on the shelves. I placed a chunk of my hard, brown soap in her hand. "This is soap. I have seen better and I have seen worse. It breaks up grease and fat while it frees up dirt. Never, ever wash iron pots or pans with it. The soap will make the next several meals taste very bad."
Soon dinner was ready. Sweetie brought me a bowl, then stood back with the others. I shook my head. This would not do at all. I brought the one other chair that I had made to the table as well as two sturdy boxes to use as chairs. I dug through my chests to find three more bowls, then found some spoons. I had a loaf and a half of bread remaining from my last baking. I brought forth the half loaf and cut four pieces. I sat everyone down and served them. I then sat down and picked up my spoon. "We eat together and we sleep together. We are a family, yes?"
Ember chattered to the others, then we all dug in. Hmm. It either needed more meat, which had been salted, or I had to show them where the salt was. I would ask Ember. Perhaps they were used to consuming less salt than I.
I left the women to clean up after dinner while I went out to the garden to continue spading up the soil for spring planting. There was no reason for me to baby-sit them other than to perhaps start a fire, as I did not believe that they had ever used or even seen a flint and steel before. After my back began complaining enough to make me take note of what it was saying I put aside the spade, rinsed my hands in the bucket at the door and walked inside. It was as I feared. They were all sitting about the fireplace, scowling at it. I shook my head. "Shaming it will not bring forth a fire. You should have called me." I drew forth my fire kit from the mantle and laid a small fire from the kindling chest that was set a safe distance from the hearth. I bashed a few twigs to splinters and laid a spall among them. Then I struck off a good spark into a bit of char and teased a flame out of the sulfur-covered spall. This quickly grew to bring the kindling alight. I left them to feed the fire with some of the dry wood that I had stored against the wall. I gave each of them a quick hug then proceeded outside where I sat against the cabin wall to relax my back for a bit. Soon I felt better. I rose, stretched and returned to my efforts. I estimated that one more full day should finish the task. Then I would rake the ground level, mark the rows and seed the garden. Then the watering would begin. Within two weeks I would have to start my early morning pest vigil as the sweet young shoots would begin to come up.
I took a frigid rinse in the river and gave my clothes the business. I shivered my way back to the cabin where I jumped up and down in front of the fire while the women giggled and pointed at my little cold-shocked pecker. I felt more than a bit insulted. "Go swim in that river. Then we shall see how much YOU wish to make a baby!" Once I warmed up a bit I hung my clothes over pegs set into a window frame while I dressed once again in a spare set of clothes. While I dressed I asked Ember, "Do you have any more clothing other than what you wear?"
She shook her head. "We have had to forage for our food. It takes much time which better could have been spent doing other things if we had mates."
"I shall help with that. We have much preserved meat now, and we shall soon have more. Once the garden begins to sprout the animals will come looking for easy pickings. I will take much game with my bow which the three of you will have to clean, skin and break down. I will help with the salting and hanging. The older, preserved meat must be kept separate from the fresh. We shall have to eat much meat and potatoes for a while to empty out part of the smoke-house and to build your strength back up. No matter how you have tried, all three of you are slender to the point of being unhealthy. We shall have to feed you up!"
Little Ember threw herself at me to give me a hug. Slender or no, she had some strength. I waved the others to join us, which they slowly did. "Tell them what I said." The hugs soon became much more enthusiastic. A bit later I sat at the table with them, my slate and chalk in hand. "This is what I had planned for the garden." I drew out my hills of potatoes, rows of lettuce, peas, beans and cabbage. There were places for the carrots, onions, garlic and peppers. The squash, beets, radishes and celery root were to be planted almost as an afterthought. Finally I had some space that I wished to try to plant some melons. I had paid good money for some of those seeds.
I conveyed to them the need to go fishing. I wished to net enough so that I could bury a few beneath each fruit tree as they were due to be planted soon. Sweety, our oldest, wanted an herb garden planted as soon as we could arrange for it. I smiled and nodded my acquiescence. She seemed so happy from such a small thing. It made me wonder at how she had lived before her mate died.
I turned over a small patch, perhaps three feet across, and as long as the cabin. It was positioned just before the front so as to catch the best light and to be available to the cooks, yet not so close as to be flooded by rain coming off of the roof.
The first morning that I heard the fish break the surface I went out with my net and three big baskets. The river ran so thick with fish during the run that very little time was spent bringing them in. Much more effort was put into preparing them for the smoke house. The offal was spaded deep into the herb garden so that it would not stink quite as badly as it could have. We had perhaps twenty apple and pear cores. I wished to bury a double-handful of fish offal beneath each one. I had no idea how deeply to bury the seeds. The garden plants were planted perhaps two fingers deep. However, they were not trees, so I decided bury the apple and pear seeds perhaps four fingers deep. All the trees were planted ten paces apart on a slightly sloped hillside, thus insuring good drainage. I had hopes to live long enough to see them bear fruit one day. We would see if I had to shelf the hillside to control the runoff come the heavy rains.
The garden was sprouting. I knew that we would soon need all the space we could get in the smoke house. I asked Sweetie, through Ember, if the village would need more preserved fish. Oh, yes, I was told. They would be hungry for perhaps two more months. I asked them if we should ask anything in return for all the fish in the smokehouse. I suggested herb seeds, flower seeds and anything else the village could spare with their many more hands, yet would not take food away from anyone's mouth. She suggested baskets and soft-tanned hides.
I loaded the boat with our largest baskets packed full of salted and smoked fish. There were perhaps half a dozen big baskets which, if carefully hoarded, would easily feed the village of twenty for two months. Misty came with me to bargain. We arrived to much commotion as the tribe was quite happy to have our food. I was named 'Fast Hand' in the village for my hunting prowess.
While Misty harangued the women I looked around the village. I saw the axe that I had brought, sitting discarded at the side of a long house. I wondered at why it was not in use, so I slowly walked up to it, so as not to cause any alarm. When I picked it up I discovered the why. It must not have been sharpened since I left! I sighed, both at their ignorance and my poor teaching. I took the axe down to the river, followed by several curious young men. I started using a rough granite stone in my attempts to re-form the severely rounded edge. Once I had it in the proper shape I began dressing the edge. After filling the grit of one stone I fetched another. I kept working at it until I had a good basic tool once again. Then I used a finer stone to buff away most of the scratches so that the blade would stick less and strike deeper into fresh, moist wood. After I had finished I passed the axe around. One young man took it in hand and ran off into the woods. We soon heard the sounds of him felling a tree. He returned with a big smile, holding his prize over his head. I then took out my belt knife and stropped it against a fine stone, then shaved the hair off my arm. This caused such a commotion that I became alarmed.