The next day Chu and Ming traveled back to the barn on a horse pulled sleigh. Simon personally served as escort. Chu’s willingness to travel across the grasslands only served to reinforce his tale to Griz.
It looks like it is actually safe to travel.
Griz had met them up in the morning before they left the lodge. He had voiced his concern for Chu and his friends living alone. According to him, they would not be able to protect themselves in such a lonely place. Who knows what dangers would befall a group of kids.
He expressed his anxiety over their welfare and was willing to shelter them for the rest of the winter.
Chu in reply had expressed his disdain over Griz’s fake worry performance.
“You think I am so stupid as not to know what you real intentions are? I know you are just trying to hold us like hostages until the caravan comes. Only a fool would take advice from a near stranger to spend his money without some sort of guarantee. Your real aim is just to prevent us from running away in case something happens. Pshh! You taking me for some kid?”
“Brat, if you know what I’m doing, why the hell did you show that caring face and played me along? You better not think about running. I don’t care too much about the others, but I am not letting you out of my sight! And for your information you are a stinking kid!”
Ming and Simon stood at the side silently in a respectable manner as the two continued bickering like old men around a rum bottle. In the end they agreed that Chu and Ming would be staying at the lodge.
Chu did get Griz to offer a free ride to the barn to inform the others about his decision. He left Ming at the lodge stating he would return after some business in the village for the morning. To this Griz reluctantly agreed.
It was now in the afternoon that they were riding on the sled across the snowy plains. Griz personally saw them off heading into the distance. He gritted his teeth and cursed them on their way.
The brat had not only wrangled this free ride from him. He was adamant in staying for free in the lodge quarters for the entire winter. Griz knew the boy was fully aware that the prices of those rooms were going to be jacked up in the coming days. He simply took advantage of his hollow promise.
If that wasn’t enough he returned with a man pulling a sled and demanded Griz honor his deal of selling at pre-winter prices. The excuse being that they had to stock up on food for his friends.
Griz nearly coughed up blood at such shameful behavior.
“Didn’t you recently buy up enough food to last until spring?”
“Have to move now, all that will spoil.” came the nonchalant reply
“But most of what you bought were dry rations and preserved goods.”
“Because of you I have to be bunking in the village, you want me parading in here with all my stuff?” was the vexed voice of a seemingly frustrated individual
Griz could only grit his teeth at this boldface boy. If he continued the brat would just keep denying and skirting around the truth.
When the sleigh reached the barn, Clod was already outside at the door waiting. The lookout had long since spotted and ascertained it was them.
Chu casually turned to Simon
“It won’t take us long to pack. I want to let the girls get their stuff. I will take some of them back with us, while the others will remain to clean up and secure our supplies. Don’t worry, I won’t be begging for a free ride for them.”
“Go ahead, but hurry up. Unlike you I am still wary of that demon.”
Simon patted the horse on the side as he looked around. The barn stood alone on the small hill overlooking the barren snow-covered landscape. He had to say these kids had balls. Never would anyone expect a bunch of kids out in the wild like this.
“Ming you know what you have to do right?”
“Yes I remember it in the order counting from one like you said.”
“Good, when we leave share it with Lucy and Clod. Make sure you do it as I said. I am counting on you guys to secure this place.”
Ming, Lucy and Clod would remain to secure their belongings and then return to the village once they finished. Only Chu and the girls were leaving on the sleigh with some supplies packed in bags.
In under an hour they were ready to leave. Simon was surprised at their ability to move so efficiently. If he didn’t know better he might swear they had already packed and were waiting on this ride. He did not know that they always had some supplies stored in the event a quick escape was needed.
He watched as even the smallest girl carried a large canvas sack onto the sleigh. The boy called her Dyna as she sat down on the sleigh silently. As expected of young children she clutched her large sack preciously. The others placed their belongings around her partially blocking her from his view. Each of them had large sacks containing possibly clothing and food.
It really was hard for children in the slums to survive.
Chu broke him out from his thoughts.
“Old man Simon, we are ready. Hopefully we can reach the village before nightfall.”
“Don’t worry, we will be there long before that.”
The horse trotted across the snow making its way back.
“Holy crap, that was close.”
Ming finally released his breath.
He was in the lookout along with Lucy watching the sleigh disappear from view. Clod was below at the front. He was removing the planks and wood pieces he had used to cover the canvas containing the wolf demon.
If Simon had entered the barn all he would have found was a relatively clean place with a herbal smell. In the corner of the barn was a fenced off stockpile that stored various pieces of lumber. Dyna and her wolf pack had long vanished into the cellar.
Ming called him up to the platform so he could hear the plan. It was up to the three of them to secure everything they had earned at this point.
This morning Chu had gone to visit his parents. In a warm kitchen he told them about his selfish request. If it wasn’t for the low spirits and fear about the wolf demon, this might have been the best winter the family ever experienced in their lives.
His mother readily consented to his pleads of allowing the others to stay. Even if they had to eat watered down porridge their food was sufficient to last the winter. Not to mention there was still a large portion of deer leg hanging in the kitchen pantry.
Chu didn’t stay any longer once his goal was achieved. He still felt kind of bad for having to lie to this person’s mother. Every-time he came here he was reminded of the stubborn attitude of his body’s previous owner. That young boy had been willing to throw his life away to protect his family from falling into debt and burden.
Chu was comforted by the fact that he had certainly done better than that person in providing for the family. Still he always felt guilty in front of his family. Sometimes he wondered if it was because he appeared the boy had passed away.
Is someone taking good care of my family now that I am no longer there?
He made a quick stop at the inn before returning to the Trading post with his father in tow. He made sure they brought a sled with them. At the Trading post he haggled and argued with Griz for some more provisions. This time his old man just sat on the counter and gazed at them with faded eyes.
Satisfied with his purchases, Chu sent his old man who was still dazed back home. It was then that they finally left for the barn.
The journey back was uneventful. Simon was surprised that the girls could talk so much. They sat at the back huddled up in cloaks talking and sometimes being noisy throughout the trip. If he didn’t know better he might think they were out on a tour.
Chu sat beside him near the driver’s seat holding him in conversation distracting his attention from them.
They talked about Simon’s life as an adventurer and the places he visited. Chu learned about how the nobility and large clans operated in the towns and cities. He got information about the ancient city of Frost since Simon once lived there for many years.
Simon wanted to use this opportunity to study this group but he soon understood that this boy just didn’t have any story. With a few words his life from leaving the village to living the slums was done. He didn’t even know why, how or where this boy actually lived in the village.
Only long after did it register in his mind that the boy always manage to cleverly steer their conversations away from himself.
On reaching the village gate, the guards allowed them entry. Simon and the Trading post emblem at the side of the sleigh ensured they went in without being searched. The guards were so respectful that Simon didn’t even slow down, they just waved him inside.
If this was a farmer or even a new merchant, those guards would have been the first to demand some compensation. With all those bags, they would have most certainly have been frisked and robbed.
Chu directed Simon towards his parents house in a side street away from the village center. They unloaded the sleigh and after a brief talk with his parents he left with Simon. Chu was adamant that he had to honor his deal. This rush to uphold his promise only served to garnish the man’s respect for him.
Chu’s parents quickly hustled the girls inside the house. Dyna has been the first to scurry inside, not even worrying about formalities. Even though they were cloaked it did not hurt to be cautious.
His mother was well aware what would happen if it became known the house was home to lots of girls. Not including the new residents that would soon flood the village, those soldiers had a habit of calling on villagers that had young daughters.
Only when inside and the door bolted and windows covered did the woman relax. It was then she got another scare of her life and nearly fainted in fright.
‘Was this going to be a habitual thing every-time she had dealings with her son?’
In the small hall
Materializing from the large canvas bag that the smallest girl had carried, staggered out three small but very notorious wolf cubs.