Ming was the eldest youth in the slum area. At fifteen he had already experienced a slum winter. He entered the slum late last year and missed the forced recruitment drive of the bandits. If lucky he might be able to gain a spot with them or survive till seventeen to enter the garrison.
In a small village, nearly everyone knew through gossip some history of others. Ming was the only child of his parents. In a fit of rage after seeing his father abuse his mother he attacked and crippled one of his arms. That incident earned him a place in the slums.
“What the heck did you say?”
He was looking at me as if I was popping pills.
“I asked if you wanted to make some money, are you interested.”
My reply came with a calm and serious face.
“You… you serious?”
He gave Chu a stare for a minute and then invited him in. The previous Chu’s reputation and self-sacrifice for his family, possibly sparked a kindred spirit. Or maybe it was just the lure of money for a pauper of the same.
The shack was the same as Chu, just more warmer. He would chalk it up to the owner having survived a winter. Chu sat down with him in the center and wasted no time.
“I want to get out of here.”
“We all do.”
Was his reply. Through the flickering light of the fire, his poker face looked back.
For a person whose job had him negotiating I was far from intimidated. I was not the little boy here.
“I choose you. One is that you survived the winter and proved you are tough. Two is that I feel I can trust you and Three is that I cannot do this plan on my own.”
In that little statement along with my sincere voice and looks Chu gave him the wall breakers. You are tough, that means I admire your strength. You are trustworthy, I am trusting you with my plan and possibly my life. I cannot do this on my own, I need you and depend on you.
“I don’t get what your saying but can we really make money?”
Chu nearly smacked his dumb face. He finally realized he was dealing with a child and not some shrewed businessman. The poker face from before was just his usual dumb look. A change of presentation seems to be needed.
“We can make money. Will you be willing to risk your life with me?”
Chu waited for his reply. If no he would just need to try another person.
“Hummm….well you seem like somebody who wouldn’t stab a guy in the back. Hmmm..ok I am in.”
Chu knew he had the marking of a guy who would listen. It was easier to trust a child than some of these old adults in the slums.
“We are going to hunt some animals in the forest.”
He shook in surprise.
“No, no, no….. not a plan! Winter is nearly here, you probably dont know but now is dangerous, and it will get even more frightening. No, no last year the slums had nearly one hundred people living. after winter there were less than fifty. More than half of those were carried away at night by wild animals in the night. No, no it is gonna be scary not knowing if you will be killed at night, much less for hunting.”
He shaked his head and gave me a frightened look. I raised a palm to stop him talking to prevent him from backing out.
“Hold up. Right now the main problems will be the grey wolves. Until the height of winter comes, they will continue to act in isolation. Only then will they move as a pack. All I need is a friend to help lay a trap and spend the night in the forest.”
“Whaaaaa? Are you crazy! Not even the seasoned hunters would dare to spend the night in the forest.”
Chu raised his palm up as he started scooting away. He was right, unless it was a large group of hunters the forest at night was taboo. Even then, hunters would tire themselves out to avoid the forest at night.
“Hear me out. Right now the wolves are the main problems. As you said they would rarely move in packs until middle winter. Tomorrow I just need you to help me makeup a firewood bundle while I collect some items in the forest. For the second load, I need you to help me find about ten stout branches to make into wooden spears.”
Ming gave him a puzzled look. It was not to different from the usual dumb look.
“That…that is all?”
“Yep. That is all for the first day. The next day is when it get exciting. I will be counting on you.”
“You mean staying in the forest?”
“Yes. I can only count on you. You look like someone who will be willing to risk it all, just to leave this place.”
Chu gave him a glance.
“Remember, I will not ask you again. Decide for yourself”
Chu left him with that and got up. He stumbled my way back home under the light of the moon. Under the dim light he relighted the hot coals by blowing on them and got a fire going. He then shut the door to the hut. With a little help he should be able to start my plan tomorrow.
The shout and banging on the shack was loud. Fortunately Chu was already dressed and ready. Having downed the last of the health food, He had to spend some extra time to gather some roots for cooking. He got out and walked out with the rest of the crew to the forest.
Ming was relatively silent. Chu was thinking that this big idiot was going to back out from just this simple task. When we entered the tree cutting area and everyone started scattering, he held back with me.
“I will be waiting here with the bundles for you. I am trusting you on this you know.”
Chu gave him a genuine smile. If a person experiences life in a gutter, only they would understand how important that first helping hand is in their life.
It should be noted at this point in time that Chu has NO %$#@ experience in what to do. Watching TV shows in the middle of a big city is definately different from real life.
The hunters in the village trap and snare small game like hares. Groups usually hunt wild boars and deer. Rarely do they hunt the dangerous ones like wolves.
According to his memories, the dangerous animals around were the grey wolves. Large like a calf, they were built for speed and endurance. The best thing about wolves were that they couldn’t climb.
Chu searched around until he found a suitable place for his plan. He then foraged for the best looking mushrooms he could find. Once he had collected enough, he made his way back. Ming was already waiting for him. Together they made their way to the Trading post with their loads.
The Trading post had two buildings. One was inside the village and sold finished items from axes to flour. The other was located on the outside of the village not far from the south entrance. This one served as the collection and rough processing point for furs and firewood.
The clerk in charge at the collection post was a large bear like man. Despite his fierce demenour, he was not a total beast. This could be seen from how he allowed the slum residents access to the well for drawing water. Older folks were paid in pieces of firewood for tending the horses and other odd jobs.
Ming waited for a while until Chu finally came out holding a bowl at arms length. From the owner’s contorted face he realized it was something disgusting even before the stentch hit him.
“What are you doing with that?”
“Heh, part of the plan.”
Chu returned to his shack to start his work. Ming was ordered to head back into the forest and gather about ten branches that could be used as rough spears. He was to return as quickly as possible.
In a small pot on the fire, Chu stirred in the pieces of fat he strained out from the bowl. Under the slow heat he melted it until the water had boiled off and it looked consistent. He then poured it into a small cup to cool and solidify. The next thing he boiled down were the mushrooms. These were the best he found all bright red and yellow that even a blind man would avoid eating.
Finished he placed it to cool on the side. Taking the fat that had begun to solidify he moulded it into a pellet. Making a hole he stuffed the mushroom gruel inside and sealed it. During this time Ming returned dragging branches that were around six feet. Chu set him to work showing him how to burn and scrape the ends with the small knife to make it pointed.
Just before sunset they were completed and ready with seven pellets and ten sharpened rough spears. The remaining posion was smeared onto the spear points. Chu looked at Ming who was still in doubt.
“Hey, go get ready! Don’t even think of backing out now.”