Trista woke with a start when she heard Gaelin yelp, followed by a higher yelp. She sat up. Gaelin was detangling himself from his blanket and already looking sheepish. Dion made a second try to climb over the incumbent Gaelin and was intercepted. In a second it was a stand-off. Gaelin’s legs were tangled in his blanket and he couldn’t get out while he held Dion by the arm. Dion tugged but couldn’t get away. They soon looked up to Trista for mediation.
“Um, is it ok for him to get outside? The fire…”
“I have to pee!”
Gaelin released the child hastily. Trista snorted with laughter but also lost no time in getting out of bed and leading Dion outside. She was still chuckling when she came back in, holding Dion by the hand.
“He just surprised me, climbing over me like that while I was asleep. I didn’t have any siblings this small.” Gaelin explained while he tossed his blanket on the bed. Trista busied herself with building the fire up again. She put some water and salt in the pot and set it on the hook over the fire. Dion wandered around, picking things up.
Trista spoke up, “Dion, how old are you?”
He held up three fingers. “I’m fwee” he said with a childish lisp. That seemed about right to Gaelin. Dion was pretty mobile, could apparently talk a little, and was at least partly toilet-trained. At least when toilets were available to him. I guess I will need to make some sort of latrine soon. Joy.
“Ok Dion, this is Gaelin, you listen to him too. If he tells you not to do something and you do it anyway, you will be spanked.” She looked firmly at the boy to back up her words. Dion looked a little nervously at Gaelin.
“Hi Dion.” Gaelin smiled and lowered himself onto one of the stools. “What do you have there?” He held out his hand and after a second, Dion handed him his current toy. It was a small hand trowel. “A shovel, and just your size too. Are you going to dig with it?” He handed the trowel back and Dion nodded, then toddled outside, probably to start digging, though Gaelin thought he would have little luck on the thick grass near the cabin.
Trista sat down at the other side of the table, within an arm’s reach of the fire and the simmering water. “He complicates this.” she said.
“Yeah. We’ll have to watch him carefully. Should we divide up the babysitting duties?”
“It’s more than that. If we are going to be here for any great length of time, and we probably will be, then it won’t just be looking after him. We’ll have to raise him, teach him.”
Gaelin felt like hitting his head on something as he began to contemplate the responsibility of the father role he would have to take. He tried to turn the topic to the more immediate and less complex question of watching Dion and keeping him safe. That kid was going to be a pain in the neck, no doubt about that.
“Well, should we start by trying to keep him close to the house and out of the fire?”
Trista added dry oatmeal to the boiling water in the pot and stirred while she spoke. “Yes, and we probably should take turns in keeping an eye on him. I never really liked babysitting, but I’m trying not to think of this like that.”
“How are you thinking of it? I don’t know much about kids, only some things about being friendly with them if you don’t know them.”
“I hope that I can think of him as a son, not as a chore. I have a sort of duty to him, and he will learn his duties to me. We can teach him, you know. We aren’t really his parents, and he will know this deep down, but I am willing to adopt him.”
Gaelin nodded, then went and looked out the door, feeling an urge to check that Dion hadn’t wandered off. He was apparently using his trowel to overturn rocks in the clearing. Trista came to the doorway and called Dion inside for breakfast. After washing his hands in the bucket, she served them all oatmeal with brown sugar, though it was really more like noon by then. Gaelin didn’t mind, and as hungry as he now was, the thick, hot cereal tasted better than it had at home. Or maybe she is a better cook than my mom.
In this way, their first day in the woods began. Gaelin offered to take the dishes to clean in the stream. After a short discussion, he let Dion come along. A winding trail down to the stream was now apparent in the daylight, so Gaelin let Dion walk behind him. The stream was shallow and not too treacherous at the place nearest the cabin, so Dion was allowed to take his shoes off and wade in the stream, collecting pebbles. Gaelin scraped the oatmeal residue from the bowls and pot with his fingers and some grit from the bottom of the stream when needed. The bowls were some sort of wood, and the pot was heavy, tough cast iron.
When did they want to send us back to anyway?1600? Earlier? From what he had seen of the stuff in the cabin, it looked a lot like that. There was rope and cord, plenty of both, but none of it of synthetic fiber or otherwise modern make. A mallet, but no nails. There was some flints, but no matches. Gaelin realized that they had been lucky to have a fire last night. He didn’t think he would have been able to light a fire with flint and steel in the dark. Not yet at least. He was determined to remedy that handicap. There were three knives of different sizes and weights; sharp, for the moment, and all with a leather sheath. Gaelin considered that whoever left the cabin should carry the six-inch blade that looked like a hunting knife. The knives were plain steel with wood handles and cord grips. There were some simple tools including a spade, Dion’s trowel, a hatchet, an ax, and the aforementioned mallet, all solid but not modern. There was a sack of wheat berries and another of corn, and a third of rolled oats. There was some brown sugar and a sack of salt. Trista had seemed moderately pleased with the cooking utensils but she tsked over the lack of meat, oil, and fruit.
I wonder how much food there is to be found around here. There must be some animals, though I haven’t seen any yet today. And I wonder what sort of things are in the stream.
His question was to be partly answered a second later when Dion cried out, shook his arm wildly and hastily scrambled out of the stream. He sat hiccupping on the bank and Gaelin investigated at once.
Dion just showed him his hand, it was red with the cold of the water, but Gaelin could see a brighter red mark on a couple of the fingers. Out of the corner of his eye, Gaelin saw something crawling a few feet away. He turned, and then pounced, almost without thinking, on a decent sized crawfish. He actually wasn’t sure he could catch it with being pinched, but he batted it further away from the stream to give him more time to plan his capture. The miniature lobster raised his pincers and headed for the stream again, until Gaelin turned one of the bowls over on it. He found a nearby stick and set it on top, he wouldn’t put it past the crawfish to still go crawling into the stream, bowl and all.
Dion pointed at the trapped crawdad. “Ouch”
“Yeah, I bet that hurt, but you might have found something pretty important.” Gaelin knelt next to the boy and pointed into the stream. “Where was it?”
Dion pointed to some disturbed rocks a couple feet from the shore. Gaelin waded in, and began picking up the rocks quickly, then setting them down in a different spot carefully, trying not to disturb too much debris and keeping his eyes strained for movement. He was rewarded after a few moments with a second crawfish, which darted for a new hiding place when he lifted its rock. He tossed the rock aside and pursued it. He found it hidden partly under a stone, and after a couple tries, caught it by the tail. It curled up and tried to nip him but he tossed it onto the bank with the other one. Dion cheered. Gaelin grabbed a second cleaned bowl from the bank and trapped his second catch. His back ached a little from bending over and his hands were painfully numb. That thing might have even pinched him without his knowing it.
“Well Dion, I don’t know if we can catch enough to eat this way, but do you want to take these home to…Mommy?”
Dion nodded exuberantly, as Gaelin was expecting him to. He was already moving to get the pot. He got both crawdads in the bottom of the small pot and upended one of the bowls inside to keep them from escaping. He handed it to Dion who carried it with both hands but tried to hurry ahead. Gaelin let him, feeling rather pleased with the results of the time at the stream.
When they got to the cabin, they found Trista peeling a sapling with one of the knives. She raised one eyebrow at Gaelin when Dion toddled up to her, calling “Mommy.” Gaelin didn’t think he was in trouble, but other than that, he wasn’t at all sure what that meant. He noted the color of her hair suddenly, it was brown, neither dark nor light, but the sun made it shine red-gold on the top of her head. She smiled at Dion as he showed her his “lobsters.”
“Yes, I can cook them for you, little squirrel. I’ll start them now to make sure they are well-cooked for dinner. You and daddy can have them.”
Gaelin felt his ears turn red. He felt like she was making fun of him. Touché Trista, but I wasn’t making fun of you when I told Dion to call you that. You can be his mother, but I’m not so sure I would make a good dad. But maybe I can fake it for a while.