Aben waited just before Mr. Dyami’s land for the sun to rise. It was the best option he had. A job would make things easier for him, and it would comfort his mother.
He must have dozed beside the large tree, because the next thing he knew, the sun was bright in his face. He rose stiffly, and determined that it must be mid-morning already.
Mr. Dyami saw him approaching as he worked in his field, picking fresh beans from the low growing plants. He stretched and walked to Aben. “Wish I could help,” he said before Aben opened his mouth. “Harmon already made me promise not to.”
“But I’d work hard. Anywhere,” Aben protested, although he knew it was useless.
“I know,” he said softly. “Harmon told me you were a good worker last month. But Raven really is frightened of you. I can only guess that the trauma of seeing his brother die has confused him.”
Aben turned to go. To his surprise, Dyami walked with him back down the lane. “I’d say my barns were always open, but I’m afraid my new field worker would cause trouble for you.”
Aben jerked his head to look at Dyami. “Cassie is here?”
Dyami gave a weak smile. “Yeah.”
“He beats her. I know….”
Dyami gripped his shoulder. “Yes, Banoli is a bit too free with his fists, but I’ve managed to keep him too busy to use them much. But if you come here, I’m going to have trouble and so is his wife and children.”
“I know that,” Dyami said firmly. “Look, I don’t like what’s happening any more than you do. I do what I can, but the law is on his side. Unless you have a safe place to take that girl, preferably where she is married or far enough away that he can’t go after her, it’s not going to do a bit of good to smuggle her away from him.”
Aben suddenly understood. “I’ll be back when I have everything in order.”
Dyami gripped his shoulder. “I hope so.” He unbuckled his belt and slid it from his waist. “Maybe this will help.” Aben noted the large hunting knife and several other pouches attached to it as Dyami handed it to him. “I wish I could do more.”
“Thank you, Sir. You’ve done more than enough. I appreciate it.”
When he was away from Dyami’s farm and back at the river, he examined the belt. Along with the hunting knife, there was a section with several fishing hooks and twine. The next held matches. The third section held a small measure of the trail rations they’d ate on the road. One meal. Aben had missed breakfast, but he only ate a few bites. He didn’t know when he’d get his next meal.
The only reason he knew what the hooks were for was because Raven and Kayne had hooks which dangled from the ends of poles. They’d talked about fishing, but he hadn’t actually seen them do it.
He wrapped the belt around his waist. The soft leather felt good, and the weight of the knife reassuring. He practiced drawing it out to use as he walked along the river and trailed one of the hooks in the water at the end of the twine. The annoying part was that he kept having to pull the hook out of the water as he passed trees and shrubs, but he wanted to keep walking. He also wondered why the fish would bite on a piece of metal. He knew he must be doing something wrong.
He walked to the far end of the city. He did not want to go to Neville’s general store where everyone probably knew he was a convict’s son and they probably already knew he’d been evicted. They may even believe Raven who thought he was out to kill him.
The river became choppier, and when he stopped for a drink, he noted that it had become salty. At the ocean, he turned to walk into the city. It was well past noon, and he wandered until he found Ligon’s General Store. This one did not have the large glass window that Neville’s store did, and inside was cramped and hot.
Aben looked over the wares, wishing he knew exactly what he needed. All he could think about was food though. The clerk greeted him, and Aben managed to buy five pounds of trail rations. He had more silver, but decided to save it for another time.
When the clerk handed him his bag of food, Aben tried to ask casually, “Know of anyone around here looking for a worker? I can do most anything.”
The clerk gave a slight smile. “No jobs here.”
As Aben left, he heard the words, “New convict. Probably stole that belt.”
Aben ran down to the seashore and the sea, which didn’t seem as angry as it had the day they arrived. Now it seemed lonely. Desolate. The dock area gave way to a rocky beach, and Aben walked along it until dusk. He knew he needed shelter, but could only curl up beside a rock and hope no dragons saw him. He kept his knife unsheathed as he fell asleep.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The next day he found another river and turned inland for fresh water. The salt water made him sick. His hunger for something other than the trail rations grew. Even their guide had heated them with something to make them more satisfying. That night he stopped in a small cave. A bleater flew out over his head as he entered. He soon realized that another was inside, afraid of him, but afraid to leave past him. He remembered how Kayne had trapped the frightened animal. He set a fire near the cave’s entrance, and then withdrew his blanket from his pack.
When he caught it, he killed it quickly, just as Harmon Archer had killed the old cow and butchered it for their meals. As he worked he remembered the process, and although it was a different animal, he thought he did reasonably well, preparing his first meal of meat over his little fire. He rolled up the hide after scraping it as clean as he could. He remembered Harmon had sold the hide to the Tole’s who in turn finished it and sold it at the store or to the tailor. Perhaps he’d take this hide to Seavan when he was back in the city.
He cut up the rest of the meat as Harmon had cut up the parts that he wanted to dry, and then he attempted to dry them, although he didn’t have the screens and ovens Harmon did. As he rested that night with his stomach full of meat, he felt a sense of victory. He was surviving. And he finally had the chance to turn his thoughts to what he would do with the rest of his life. Maybe he’d live out his days as a trapper, selling his skins to Seavan Tole. What if Seavan wouldn’t speak to him? What if Harmon or Raven had lied about him or made him promise not to help — to not even buy his hides.
Aben pushed the thoughts away, and touched his new bleater hide. It was so soft that he laid his head against it as a pillow before he finally slept.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Aben stayed three nights in the little cave, and hoped his meat was dry enough not to spoil. He wasn’t sure when he’d get lucky enough to find another. He had whittled the end of a sturdy stick and practiced thrusting it ahead of him. He also tried tying the kitchen knife to it. When he thrust that, he managed to land a bright orange hopper. But finding new shelter for the night was not easy, and he ended up staying close to the bank of the river.
When he awoke, the sun was just up, and something was touching him, nudging him, licking — tasting! — his arm. Aben slowly opened his eyes, trying to keep his breathing even. If it was food, he wanted to get it and have as many hides as he could to take to Seavan. If it was dangerous, he didn’t want to encourage it to attack.
Water splashed near him. The creature beside him jumped, but Aben grabbed out and caught a long chocolate brown leg in his hand. He pulled and managed to grab a wing with the other. It was something with wings, and he wanted it! He wrestled it to the ground and withdrew his knife.
The whooshing of air above him warned him of the attack. He dunked against the brown beast, and then looked up to see that instead of avoiding teeth and claws, he’d avoided the hooves of an angry mother wingdeer.
It was coming back, but Aben knew he’d never release the baby now. This was his big chance for flight. He would not give it up. He had no hopes of taming the raging adult, but the baby was his.
The bleating in his ear was pitiful as the poor baby wingdeer struggled to get away from him. It got to its feet and pulled him up also. It was bigger than he thought. He didn’t know how he’d wrestled the fellow before, but he had to do something to restrain, but not injure it. All he could think to do was hold its wings down with the weight of his body so that it could not fly. And soon his weight made it stumble back to the river bank. He silently prayed it wasn’t injured.
The mother made two more attempts at her calf, and then gave up and flew away. When the mother left, the baby quit struggling. Aben spoke softly to it. “It’s okay fellow. It’s okay. I’m going to take care of you now. Come on, little fellow. I’m your friend.” He slowly lifted himself from the calf’s wings and rubbed the delicate leather membranes, so soft and beautiful. “Oh, precious, I hope I didn’t hurt you.” He rubbed the calf’s head until it pressed against him.
Aben wanted a halter like the cows and horses wore, but he didn’t have one. His leather wasn’t processed, but maybe the soft bleater fur would make one. Tentatively he stood, keeping a hand on the calf’s neck. The calf stood also and walked with him to his pack. Aben was relieved he hadn’t injured its legs.
He opened the pack and brought out some of the trail ration to see if the calf would eat. It did, finishing everything he brought out. Aben briefly wondered if you could overfeed a calf or if anything was dangerous for it. Aben finally let go of the calf. It nosed his pack and then stretched his wings. It was in the air before Aben could grab it. Aben closed his eyes and beat the back of his head against the tree. So close. But now it was gone.
After a few more minutes, Aben finally stretched and ate. He wondered if he should continue along the river or try to make his way back to the city. He figured he could carry at least one more bleater hide, or maybe two or three more hoppers. But he decided to head back toward the little cave.
A rush of wings caused him to roll and dunk behind a tree. But the expected dragon was the little wingdeer. Aben laughed in relief. “You got me that time, little girl.” And he could see now that his new friend was a female.
The calf tottered over and licked his nose. Then it tried to get into his pack. “You’re hungry again?” Maybe he would need to go back to the city sooner to buy the calf some real food. But it needed some kind of identifying mark to prove she was his. He opened his pack and gave her some more of the trail rations. He hadn’t eaten much after he caught the bleater, supplementing his meat with berries and fruit he found that was similar to what their guide had given them during the trip to New Haven.
Aben cut his bleater fur into strips, knowing that he wouldn’t be able to sell it to Seavan now. Then he tied the strips into a crude halter. The calf tried to remove it, rubbing her face against him and bringing a small wing to rub it also.
Aben laughed at her antics and caressed her until she calmed down. A little later in the day she took off again, but he tried not to worry. Instead he concentrated on hunting and was rewarded to see the bleaters returning to his old cave for the night. He let two of them enter, and then killed the third with his kitchen knife spear, trapping the other two inside. He quickly sliced the beast’s throat and had his spear ready when one of his two captives tried to escape. When he got the last one he whooped in victory.
Then he heard his little wingdeer’s pitiful bleating. It was dusk, and the dead animals frightened her. With little words of encouragement, Aben led her inside the cave and then lit a fire. He worked a long time on his new hides and meat. When he curled up to sleep, his little wingdeer nestled against him.
He rubbed her head behind her ears. “We don’t need them, little girl, do we? We’re making it just fine without them.”
Go to Chapter 9
© 2013, 2000 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.