Chapter 11 -Winter

Winter

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The morning greeted Chu with cold air and a white landscape. The snow that blanketed the ground was not high and was beginning to melt in patches. Chu decided to alter his plans. With the sight of snow the village started to boil. Winter was on them.

Villagers headed en mass to the forest to stock up on firewood. The woodsmen will stop felling trees when the road becomes impassable. That meant a shortage of branches for firewood. Heading into the forest after that would be like taking a gamble on your life.

Merchants began to collect their loads of lumber, pelts and firewood to make their way out of the village. They would return in spring when the roads between the village opened back up. During winter only the garrison and mercenaries would be on the roads, and that was a rarity.

The thought of traveling out with the merchants to a bigger town had always crossed Chu’s mind. The problems however outweighed the gains. He was an illiterate twelve-year-old with hardly any money and backing. Chu had no training in fighting so he would be seeking death in a scuffle.

He wasn’t an inventor since he had no inside knowledge of building things. He didn’t really pay much attention on the principles behind tools and machinery. Only by trial an error could he accomplish what he remembered. Revolutionizing this world with his limited knowledge was going to be a pipe dream.

In all, he summed it up to being played a bad hand in this so-called incarnation.

“Ming how long do we have until the slum begins to riot for supplies?”

The boy standing at the side scratched his head.

They were all currently bunched up standing near the path to the forest. The sight of snow was like an ill omen.

“Ahhh I think it was about two weeks into winter. Yea… because a couple of times when I was gathering firewood my blankets and the firewood I stocked up was stolen. Good thing I had hidden my food supplies or I would be dead.”

Chu scratched his chin in silence. If Ming was right, then the best time of stealing to occur would be when everyone was out. Given that some people were like Ming then the cycle would continue. Unless people started to team up with some foraging while others guarded, the lone dweller would be screwed.

“Who did you team up with last year?”

“How did you know? I was with the Old man Roy. He passed away at the end of Spring.”

If they were not careful they could lose everything. In the chaos for survival even Lucy and the girls would be at risk of being stolen. They could be listed as luxury items.

“New plan. We head out to gather as much firewood in the mornings and stash it like usual. Get as much mushrooms as we can in that one trip.”

He stopped to think for a minute and continued.

“Sakura and Dyna will remain here working. In the evening we will rest and manufacture pellets and oil. Before sunset we head to our tree and hunt for the night. Until we catch something we will not leave the slums.”

He had to risk another night in the forest. They needed some funds desperately for supplies.

“But what if we can’t catch anything, all the hunters and trappers are out trying to make last-minute sales before the merchants leave. Once that happens the price of pelts will fall since only the Trading post will remain.”

Lucy frowned as she replied. She was all in favor of them leaving now to the hideout. Who knows when ruffians would start to take advantage of the situation. Stories that dealt with the fate of girls in the slums were common.

“Can’t go. I know what you want but we NEED money. When we go its with a full load. If by the end of the week we do not hunt anything then I will get you and the girls to go.”

He looked over to the bustling forest path.

“One week, we need to get some more money in one week.”

They followed the plan. In mornings they hunted for firewood and stashed it in the ruined house. Then they would collect mushrooms and head back into the slums. The bundles of firewood they carried for the fire was small to avoid envious eyes.

Ming would make the Trading post run for the waste materials and strain out as much fat as possible before returning to the shack. He wold only bring a little of the blood that was used as lure in the forest. Chu made the girls move into the shack. Their work was to finish the sewing and make the oil. In the evening the trio would sneak out and spend the night in the tree they had prepared.

Four nights passed and they didn’t see sight of any animal. The howls of the wolves were constantly heard but they were in the distance. One night a gray wolf came by but after feeding on the pellets and not having any success with them it left. By the time the wolf became weak under the influence of poison it was long gone

Chu was not brave to face a wolf who was in control of its senses. Even with the three of them it would be suicidal. It was a simple take for the beast to swap their flimsy spears and rush in for the kill.

“Looks like it would be hard to lure any beast with the amount of hunters in the forest. I swear I heard people walking around last night.”

Ming was grumbling as they started gathering firewood in the morning.

After only having the evening to rest before they had to work again he was in a grumpy mood.

“We will sleep tonight. Tomorrow we will try our luck, we all need rest.”

Since they formed a team they had been eating well. As such slowly they were beginning to fill out from their once starved bodies. As children these night excursions was already testing the limits of their bodies. After nearly slipping off the tree last night, Chu had reached his limit in endurance.

The shack was now filled with the five children. With the fire blazing and warm covers, it was easy to fall asleep. The two girls continued their work in silence.

The slums had started to already change. Groups were starting to form and the unoccupied shacks were broken down by their owners to serve as stockpiles. Ming and Lucy demolished their shacks and shared out the firewood to the other children.

Chu made a trip to the Trading post and got a bale of clothes to share out among the children. That was the best he could do for now. As it is, he was trying to survive himself. He was sure that these same people would have no problems taking advantage of him knowing what he owned.

“We have five bottles of this mushroom and oil. There is also five bottles made the same way filled with oil.”

Chu nodded his head towards Dyna who was talking. He had tested a bottle with oil alone, lighting the rag to see how it burned. Other than giving of more smoke than normal it proved to be a good substitute for an oil lamp.

“The sheets are done and we made some quilts from them already. We still have to finish more of the clothes like how you wanted.”

“Good work, with your help we should be covered from the cold.”

They were nearly ready to move out. The only thing they need the most was food. It was not going to be feasible to be wandering back and forth begging for scraps. They might freeze to death on the long trek.

“We are going to have to make a trip soon. We have too much things here that don’t belong in a slum child’s home.”

“I agree, if someone checks our shack we might be accused of stealing. Of course that would just be the excuse to confiscate our supplies.”

“We are still short of some items besides food. I don’t want us to have to be making extra runs back to the village.”

The conversations went along like that as Chu was cutting out some cloth and showing Sakura what he wanted.

“What are you making.”

“Socks.”

“Socks?”

“Yes, it will be worn on the feet and held up by a cloth strap. It keeps the feet warm and dry in the shoes.”

“Wow! is there something like that?”

Chu was sure that the towns and cities had stocking or something like it. He didn’t recall using socks. Maybe he could strike a deal with Griz over it. The problem was he had to take whatever he was offered. He had no strength to back him in a business. Copyright laws didn’t exist in this time.

Chu dropped of ten coppers home and told his mother that he was going to prepare to shack up for the winter. Although she begged him to return, they both knew the strain it would cause on their resources.

He left after promising to keep visiting in between winter to comfort her that he was still ok. He use the excuse that he had to help his friends who he borrowed some money from.

*****

“Last night it snowed so we are going to have to be very careful on the branches.”

“The ropes should be helpful in this time.”

They left in the evening to head into the forest. Only by risking his life would he be able to fly out from the slums. That was a place that luck was hard to come by. Since he arrived in this crappy world he was suffering. Thank god that he was so far beneath people eyes that nobody wanted to dirty their hands with him.

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