The Pathfinder, part 9

After a few days of doing nothing the three newest kids, out of sheer boredom, began helping around the village. They had told Sharon they were bored silly and asked what they could do. She chuckled and told them to help the younger kids, they knew the ropes.

The older boys were annoyed at first. Why should they hang with the kids? They wanted something more challenging to do. They sighed at her stern look and did as they were told. After that they shut up. They found that it wasn’t as simple as it looked.

Luke was in a sweat after attempting to milk the temperamental goats and cows. Next he was shown how to muck the stables, feeding the animals, collecting wood and how to distribute it properly.

Mark followed around Joseph, who showed him how to weed the planted fields and keep care of the small flock of sheep. They didn’t have the womanpower to spare for watching the flock so Maggie had built a flexible, rolling fence. It allowed them to shift it from place to place so the sheep got fresh grazing areas. It took several people to roll it properly to avoid tipping it. The beauty of the fence was that the sheep kept the grass trimmed low near the village. Most of the wildlife avoided those areas since it didn’t provide coverage to hide in. In turn, the sheep were kept close enough to the village to be watched and no one had to herd them.

Kim followed several young girls as they helped peel potatoes and wash vegetables for the next meal. All the children took turns learning how to prepare food. The children learned how to shuck corn, blanch green beans, grind grains for flour, open pea pods, make butter and other endless processes that change from season to season. The girls promised to show her how to make things like condiments later on.

Kim looked confused until one of the girls explained it. If you wanted ketchup, you had to peel tomatoes, crush them and remove the seeds, add some garlic, salt, honey, dried onions, and cider vinegar then cook it. 

“Good thing we have all those spices and stuff,” Kim said naïvely. The girls laughed and showed her the herb garden. “Hillary picks and dries it,” one of them explained. “We gotta make our own vinegar too. You can’t have stuff like ketchup or pickles without vinegar.”

Another girl gave her two cent’s worth, “And we have to collect oil to cook with by boiling seeds. Then in fall we make jams and put a lot of stuff in jars.”

Kim head was beginning to swim from the overload. On top of that she felt ignorant next to these little girls. They knew a lot more than she did.

Gail was having a blast. She hadn’t gotten this dirty since she was a kid and was enjoying every minute of it. She was among a group of women making bricks for the new homes. She was helping to combine the mixture while others slapped the clay/sand/straw mixture into molds. Another set carried the molds to the field where they tipped the wet bricks onto boards to dry. They carried the empty molds back to be refilled.

The new homes would be built the same way as the hospital, bricks on the bottom half and cob above. That way they could install glass for windows and even form things like shelves and cubbyholes into the walls. They had, as Cierra had teased the previous year, learned as they went, improving with each new project. The bricks would take several weeks before they dried enough to be baked then the building would begin.

The fireplace bricks and roof/floor tiles were made different than the adobe, using no straw, then fired. They first had to be left to dry for seven weeks in a shed and firing took 5 days or so. They had been made first since it took longer to produce them. It had taken several firing attempts before the colonists learned how to make them without having the clay items explode.

Carl was working with the group that was digging the sewer ditches deeper. At first he had been irked when he had learned none of the houses being built would be for his family. After learning they were intended for the pregnant women he stopped grumbling to himself. He remembered when Gail was pregnant, how hard it was to do the simplest things near the end of the pregnancies. He couldn’t imagine his wife living in the barracks during those times.

After a grueling morning of digging he was grateful when everyone one stopped for lunch and Siesta. He hadn’t done anything that strenuous in years, not working as an appliance repairman. Carl followed the women into the communal kitchen and grabbed some lunch then sat down at the table with Robbie and Tracy. A few others joined them as well.

Carl gave Robbie the once over out of habit. The woman had enough sex appeal to bring an army to its knees. Her sea-blue eyes rose and met his. He felt a flush of embarrassment as he saw the amusement in her eyes. The woman knew exactly where his thoughts had been. She shot him a wink and reached out and took Tracy’s hand. She was reminding him that she was taken and to keep his eyes to himself, thank you very much.

He dropped his gaze to his plate and began eating. Lunch consisted of a salad, bread, a chunk of cheese, and fish patties. There would be little meat until the wild animals began fattening up. Deer and other wildlife tended to be too lean in spring and not worth the effort of hunting them. Sharon spotted her son and left the kitchen to join him.

“Phew son, perhaps you ought to wash up before sitting at the table,” she scolded him. Carl shrugged. Mom always spoke her mind and it never phased him.

“Next time.”

“How do you like it so far?” The woman was curious what her son thought. He shrugged.

“It’s different here, that’s for sure. I never thought I’d see the day Gail would be covered head to toe in mud,” he grinned. His wife was always such a stickler for cleanliness.

“That girl always was the tidiest thing. So, are the kids doing okay? They just shrug like you do and avoid my questions.”

Carl shrugged out of habit then smirked. His mother smacked him lightly on the arm and glared at him. “Okay, okay, no need to get violent. I suppose they’re doing all right. The boys at least seem to like it. Kim, well, who knows what she’s thinking. She has always been a mystery to me, Mom. She was quiet even as a baby, watching everything, never getting into trouble. I always swore she was a changeling. No one else in the family is like that.”

“Some are just like that son. They march to their own drummer. Well, I gotta get back to the kitchen and feed this hungry crowd. Come see me after dinner,” she told him as she stood.

“Okay, Mom, see you then.”

Tracy smiled sweetly at Carl. “I think she’s happy you’re here.”

”I hope so. I was worried about her after Rose died. They had been together for a long time. Mom sort of withdrew then up and disappeared one day. Her house was sold and no one knew where she had gone. It wasn’t until I got a letter in the mail that I found out she came here. To tell the truth, I was hurt at first.”

Tracy’s green eyes looked sympathetic so when she asked why he felt okay to keep talking.

“Well, because she didn’t come to me. I was her son but she decided to go join a bunch of strangers on an adventure. I read the letter again and finally understood what she was looking for. She needed to be needed. Mom was always a caretaker. I loved her but I didn’t need her, I had my own family. Now mom has a whole village of women and kids to fuss over and take care of.”

“She does at that.”

“Yup, and once I understood that I wasn’t as hurt. When I saw that article I finally had a clue how to start looking for her. I found Jim about a week before Cierra met him and begged him to let me see her.”

Robbie looked at him. He didn’t seem the type to be tangled in apron strings. She was curious why he hunted for Sharon and was determined to join them. “Why did you need to come here? You could have just passed on a letter.”

Carl looked at the blonde, his eyes unwavering. “Because Mom showed me that life was too short and uncertain to take family for granted. In spite of her age she took a chance and joined up with the biggest gamble since the Mayflower. That took guts. I don’t know what my family will want to do this fall but by golly I’m going to savor every moment I’m here in case we all go back.”

The former bodyguard locked eyes with him for long seconds then stuck out her hand. He took the offered hand, knowing it was acceptance and respect being given. They shook hands, not noticing Kim standing a few yards away. She had heard the conversation between them. She turned around and found a table in the far corner, her mind churning.

·        * * *

Several of the council members made a point of digging near Carl that afternoon. They wanted to ask a few questions and perhaps make the choice of staying easier for his family.

Carey filled a bucket with soil and passed it to a waiting crewmember whom emptied it into a wheelbarrow. She turned and dug in another spot, bringing herself closer the middle-aged man.

“How’s the back?” she asked casually.

“Oh, pretty tired. I’ll feel it in the morning.” His answer had been friendly and uncomplaining in tone.

“I’m sure. How are you at building? Some of us were thinking about making a second long house across the stream, where your tents are. We had planned on that section being for the mixed families that might join us in the future and for guest housing.”

The man chuckled tiredly while he dug, “So it’s for the straight people over there? I was wondering why we were kept kind of separated.”

Carey looked sheepish. “Yeah, we had the idea of keeping this side strictly for the women. We didn’t want to change our behaviors and habits by having men move into the long house or take over our bathhouse. We always figured on building the other field into a separate village.”

Carl hummed, not making a committed reply but acknowledging her words.

“Anyway, we wondered if you wanted to help out building it and give us any suggestions. We built our long house with the intention of it being for just adult women but you might think of ideas for families. Part of it can be set aside for visitors if we get them.”

“Will it have toilets like yours?”

“Yup. We’ll have enough pipes left over for one long house or another six individual houses after we build this group. We always knew we’d never have a way to make more or enough for everyone once we began growing. After this batch of pipes is gone we’ll have to make sewage pipes out of homemade cement.”

“When would we start?”

“After these houses are done. I figure it will take about 2 months to finish them but if we decide to build the long house we need to collect the bark now. It’s just too hard to peel it off the trees after spring. It’s harder on the trees to recover as well.”

“Okay, just tell me when and where and me and the boys will help out. It would be nice to sleep somewhere other than a tent.”

“Probably in a few days. I’ll let you know later.” With that Carey moved on to another section and let the others know his answer.

·        * * *

The bark was collected a week later and stored under a tarp and heavy rocks so the bark wouldn’t dry curled up. Carl’s family never mentioned the future, either to one another or the women of the village. It was though none of them wanted to stir the waters.

Jenny was looking for Kim, wanting to talk to the girl. The fourteen-year-old was always quiet and the mother wanted to see if she wanted someone to talk to. Jenny went to the girl’s tent and peeked inside. Kim was on her bed, artist pad in hand.

“Knock knock.”

Kim jumped as she saw the flap being pushed aside and Jenny peeping in. “Mind if I come in?”

“Um, sure.” Kim hurriedly closed her art pad, hiding her work.

Jenny smiled kindly. “Shy about showing off your art?”

Kim nodded and gathered her pencils to make room for Jenny to sit.

“I was wondering how you were doing, Kim. I know there isn’t anyone your own age around to spend time with.”

The girl shrugged. There wasn’t anything anyone could do about it.

“I was curious. In a few months your family is going to decide whether or not to stay. How do you feel about it so far?”

The girl gave another shrug. Jenny sighed.

The girl saw the disappointed look and spoke. “I know Daddy wants to stay. I don’t know about Mom.”

“Do you like it here or do you want to go back?” Jenny asked bluntly.

The girl looked uncomfortable. She looked away then answered. “I want to stay but there’s no one my age here.”

Jenny already knew that and she believed the girl was lonely.

“Once the other kids get older it won’t be as bad,” the woman told her.

“I know but it’ll be years before any are old enough to date.”

“Aww, that’s the hitch. Well, maybe you’ll meet a guy your age at the trading event.”

The girl gave Jenny an odd look then handed her the artist pad. The blonde flipped it open and scanned one picture after another until she reached the last one. Each picture was well drawn and rich in details. And all of the pictures were of the women from the village. Some of them were drawn in the nude and there was even one of Jenny breast feeding Rissy. Jenny wondered why she never spotted the potential.

“I see. Lots of older women but none your own age. I see the dilemma. You’d have a better chance at finding a girlfriend in the Old World.”

“Yeah, but we lived in a small town.”

“Where anyone gay would be considered a sicko or ridiculed.”

“Yeah. I hate big towns though. They scare me.”

“Sounds like you’re between a rock and a hard place. I wish I could give you an easy answer but I can’t. All you can do is think about it. You still have a few months to consider it.” Jenny patted the girl’s shoulder and left the tent.

Continued in Part 10

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