Preparing for the Winter
The next day Chu loitered around the Trading post until it was empty. He then went in with the others to meet Griz. This time he had Dyna and Sakura join them.
“Haven’t seen you around lately, why is it every-time I see you that crowd around you becomes larger.”
Griz eyed the children looking around the shelves in a dazed manner.
‘This is how children who grow up in poverty act’ he thought. They were like a man discovering a new world. Compare them to one standing in front of him, spouting the airs of a grown up. It was like heaven and hell. He was shaken of his drifting mind by a voice.
“Don’t worry, pretty soon you will be glad you dealt with me.”
was the dry reply.
“I need to get these items before a crowd comes. Living in the slums is a rough and dangerous life you know.”
Griz understood the meaning behind his words. They quickly got down to business arguing and negotiating. Griz was surprised that the boy was actually able to read the prices of the items and even recognized the names on some medicines. Like that Chu purchased three large canvas bags full of food, medicine and other supplies.
“Hey Mr Griz these two kids have now joined my little merchant party. If you spare some more rags in the back, next time I will give you a good deal.”
Griz eyes the young girls and gave a grunt. This boy was over demanding.
“What is this funny looking seed pods here?”
Ming was on the end of the counter eying some round seed pods small like marbles.
“Those are senim pods. We got those from a merchant who trades in the north. The seeds were supposed to be sold as a laxative but were too strong. Right now we have no use for them.”
Chu ignored their conversation and cut in.
“Forget that for a minute, Mr Griz these two girls will be coming over everyday to get the waste fat from the pelts. Please help them out, I will surely repay you for that kindness.”
Griz didn’t know why Chu wanted that waste from scraping the animals hide. If it was for luring animals, the hunters went with drained blood and pieces of meat. It was even worse for cooking as it contained hairs and dirt that were very hard to clean.
“I don’t know why you want that waste, I can sell you the fat that is cut out directly you know. You can buy oil or candles if you want.”
“Its ok, that alone is sufficient.”
With the trade complete, Griz led them to a shed at the back for the girls to get some of the rags. To his surprise, the two little girls each grabbed a load that was even hard for a village woman to carry. Nodding their small heads half hidden under the rags they left.
Griz stared at them and turned to their leader.
“You sure you from the slums?”
“EH? Why are you asking me that for?”
‘Every-time those kids come here they look healthier than even those in the village. Who would expect such small girls starving in the slums to be so strong.’ He shrugged his shoulders and went to work.
Leaving the Trading post the group separated with the three older ones heading across the grasslands while the other two carried the rags back to the slums.
It was fortunate that most of the slum residents were either out looking for work or sick and lying in their own shacks. The girls were very careful not to be seen and quickly shut themselves up in the shack to work.
The others made haste to the barn. With the three of them it was easy to keep a lookout of their surroundings as they walked. The south of the village close to the forest was mostly deserted with the only activities coming from farms far from the forest.
The trek was uneventful and they reached the barn safely.
At the barn they got to work. Chu had Lucy stand watch as he and Ming cleaned out the cellar. Their homemade torches worked very well and gave out a nice light with a crackling sound. It was quick work as the cellar was barren in the first place.
Ming started to dig open the passageway as Chu left to cleaning the top platform. After lunch they switched guard and continued. When the passageway was opened Chu inspected the well with a torch. The water was clear and about three feet deep with the bottom of sand and stone.
They used the machete to dismantle some wood from the broken house for firewood. Chu partially covered the well and cut some fresh grass to scatter around the barn floor. When dried it would be better than the moldy hay.
He got some stone slabs and made a some rough platform and steps under the trapdoor entrance so they wouldn’t have to use a rope to climb out. Last thing he did was to knock out the ladder so it could be pulled up after ascending the platform.
Done with the ladder he returned to the cellar.
“Hey! what the heck do you think you’re doing?”
“What do you mean? Didn’t you make me take a bath everyday?”
“So, take a bucket of water and get up outside.”
“Why? We don’t need to go through all that trouble Chu, we can just take a dip right here. Didn’t you say it’s not deep?”
An echoing sound drifted out from underground.
“Take a bucket of water and get out to bathe on the outside.”
“Don’t you ever let me catch you pulling that stunt again.”
Slap slap slap!
“Nobody here wants to drink water flavored with your nasty stinky sweat.”
slap slap slap slap
“What was that for now!”
“That’s for just dousing yourself with water. Get some grass and scrub yourself down properly.”
Chu lit a torch near the well to see how the smoke flowed. With the trap door closed the smoke drifted up the well. Only when he move to around halfway in the passage did the smoke start accumulating in the cellar.
He figured that they would light the fire near the well to cook and see if it would gradually heat up the cellar in time.
“Lucy scatter some fine sand near the barn entrance. Ming do the same around the well and the stone entrance near the broken house.”
Chu grabbed some fine sand they scrapped up and climbed to the top floor to sprinkle it there. When they completed, they entered and closed the trapdoor wedging it to keep a small crack open. Standing on the platform they could view through it and see the open barn entrance.
The cellar was dark with the only light coming from the passageway where the fire was burning. They ate rock bread and covered in some sheets. At first it was cold but then it gradually grew warm during the night. The person on watch was supposed to keep the fire going. They switched when the wood needed to be changed.
“Ahhh man I’m tired!”
Waking up Ming saw light streaming out from the trapdoor. The others had already gone outside and closed it back partially to keep out the cold. He stretched and got out. Chu and Lucy were checking the scattered sand for any signs of footprints.
During the course of the night it was quiet without any unfamiliar noises. From the sand that was scattered it showed no animals or humans had investigated or come near the barn. All around the sand remained untouched with no prints or disturbance.
Satisfied with this progress, they organized the supplies to be secured in the cellar. Afterwards they made simple traps like the sprinkling of sand or tying of a vine between small shrubs around the hillside of the barn. This would help in indicating the presence of trespassers.
When they were done they headed back to the village.
The day passed quickly. On reaching the village they went out to gather the firewood. This load was carried across the grassland to hide in an old house as planned. Chu decided to spend the night in the slums.
Ming was sent out to complete some errands. Lucy had left to visit a friend. Chu sat down in the shack and got Sakura to cut some rags into strips to make more torches.
The young girls seemed to have worked all night. While doing their stitching they had the fire going processing the oil from the waste liquid.
That process was simple, heat the liquid over a slow and low heat then scoop the oily liquid from the top. This was placed in a small bowl to cool. The fatty oil turned solid and was scooped out. This was kept under a low heat to remove remaining water.
Rinse and repeat, human distillation at work.
Chu could only imagine the amount of work they did to achieve so much animal fat from that waste liquid.
“Sakura, Dyna you guys did well.”
Chu praised them. They had even completed a batch of quilts large enough to cover one of them comfortably. Under near five layers of cloth stitched together it was warm and served its function. With the issue of freezing not being an issue the next main one was food supply.
Chu had already purchased medicine for treating small injuries and pills to boost health. That cost him a whopping five silvers. Those bottles of salves were one silver each. The lone pill cost two silvers.
The only reason he bought it was because Griz was adamant he have one. The effects were supposed to be good seeing lots of adventurer’s purchased them.
The high cost of the medicine was the reason Chu decided to remain in the slums for the night. His money had been sucked down to just over a few hundred copper coins. For people of the slums that was enough to buy flour to rally out the entire winter.
Turning that flour into a watery gruel could ensure survival for the coming four months. It was not ideal but it warded of death by starvation. For Chu that was a far cry for what he needed. He was definitely not going back on a liquid diet.
“Chu I’m back!”
Ming handed a bag to Chu before closing the makeshift door behind him. Chu emptied the bag by taking several empty wine bottles out.
“I had to beg the servant boy at the garrison for those you know. He even extorted ten coppers from me for those. Hmph! I have no idea why you you wanted those.”
Ming pouted on the side. He took parting with the ten coppers very hard indeed.
Chu diced the mushrooms in large enough pieces to fit through the bottle. When it was filled up he carefully poured the oil the girls had made to fill up the bottle. He then stoppered the mouth tightly with a cloth rag.
“Did you see what I did?”
“Yea, what is it for?”
“Sometime I will show you how to use it.”
Chu let Ming continue the work he was doing. They had foraged for mushrooms in the forest. These were dried near the fireside until they were crinkled. Chu sat and scribbled some calculations on the hard ground with a piece of coal.
The results made him frown. They had no option but to hunt in the forest before moving. If he didn’t have to spend his money on simple items like buckets, knives and the machetes etc. all the money could have been sunk into stockpiling food.
Although the Trading post was open in winter, prices of food would near double when the roads became impassable. Hunting would be the only option to barter for food. Without that income they would have to resort to begging for scraps. He had no choice but to risk another night in the forest.
He was about to break the news to Ming when the ‘door’ opened and Lucy entered. Fear mingled with anticipation were reflected in their eyes.
The words were simple but her voice betrayed the feelings contained.