Another day had passed, and Gaelin had not returned. Trista was beginning to wonder what had happened to him. And whenever she was able to ignore his absence for a while, Dion soon reminded her, one way or another. When she had to watch him and take care of him all day, she was reminded at least once an hour that her awol companion could have really been making himself useful at that time. In all, he had been gone four full days.
On the afternoon of the fifth day, Trista and Dion were coming back from playing near the river when they found Gaelin sitting at the side of the cabin, near a large pack. Dion dropped Trista’s hand and hurried to hug Gaelin, and Trista was surprised at the way Gaelin’s face had brightened when he saw the little boy.
“I missed you, Daddy! You’re gone for three days.” Dion sternly held up his hand with four fingers spread open.
“I missed you too Dion, you have no idea how much.” Gaelin actually did look a little close to tears. He glanced at Trista, then rose, lifted the pack, and brought it to her. He knelt in front of her and began opening it.
“I brought back some supplies, Trista. I would have come back two days ago, but it took me that long to get them.” The pack was tough, blue canvas with drawstrings, buckles, and a cover flap. It looked like it had been designed for outdoor work. The first thing Gaelin removed was the blanket he had taken with him. Then he showed her fresh, new flour in two gallon plastic bags, salt, pepper and sugar in a couple smaller bags, and a box of baking powder. Trista stared. Gaelin took out the knife he had taken and another. He had another box of matches, a quart bottle of vegetable oil, a small fishing net and a coil of twine. He showed her a box of nails, they already had a hammer. Finally, he brought out a couple bars of soap, toothbrushes and toothpaste, then he stood with the last two things from the bag. He handed her a hand mirror and a dollar store hairbrush.
Trista felt a lump form in her throat. She stepped over the empty bag and threw her arms around Gaelin. He hugged her back, tightly.
“It’s good to be back, you have no idea how much.” He released her. “I discovered something when I went out there.” His face tightened. “Listen, they did something to me.”
“Who? Did you get hurt out there?”
“No, the druids, my uncle…” He raised one hand and set it on her shoulder. Come on, let’s put the loot away and I’ll see if I can catch any fish in stream for dinner. I’ll tell you the whole story tonight after dinner.”
“You’re going to keep me in the dark?” Trista frowned and batted his hand off her shoulder in mock anger. Gaelin bent to retrieve the net.
“Do you want meat for dinner tonight or not, woman? Come on Dion, let’s see if there are any fish in that stream.”
Gaelin snapped the twigs off a long, dead branch and began attaching the net to it with the twine. He took a long length and wrapped it around the stick, stringing it through the net every few inches. He found the narrowest part of the stream along the stretch below the pond and set the branch across it. The net didn’t cover the width of the stream; it was only about five feet wide, stretched out. He anchored the branch ends with stones, and the corners of the net on the bottom with strings under rocks. The net billowed a little in the current.
Gaelin contemplated his work for a minute, then adjusted the net so that it billowed out further, the better to actually trap fish. It wasn’t perfect, but he already had ideas to improve the trap. Finally, he jumped into the stream a little above the pond and began wading downstream toward the net. He waded across the pond, stirring the water, then switched to swimming and diving. He criss-crossed the pond a few times, always moving a little toward the net. Finally, he swam towards the net, reached down and grabbed the two strings and pulled them from under the rocks. He pulled them up, and tossed the bottom edge of the net over the stick. He felt more than saw something wriggling in the trap. Quickly, he reached and gathered up the sides of the net and lifted the whole thing out of the water. Two fish squirmed frantically in the folds. Gaelin whooped, tossed the net up onto the bank a few feet from the water and hopped out of the stream after it.
Dion was already trying to touch the flapping fish, but would jerk away when they moved. Gaelin unwrapped the net carefully, stringing the fish one by one on another length of string, inspecting them as he did. Both were sunfish, about four inches long. Not a lot of meat on these, but a start is a start.
“Ok Dion, do you want to show these to Mommy?” He took the three-year old’s hand and walked with him back up the stream, up the hill, and to the cabin. Trista came to the door when she heard Dion coming. Gaelin could see that she had brushed her hair and braided it. It gleamed in the sun like the glossy pelt of an animal.
“Well, you caught some after all, nice! Sunnies?”
“Yeah, not surprising since I chased them out of the pond.”
“That explains…” She glanced at his dripping clothes. “I wonder if there are other fish in that stream.”
“I’ll try to set the net for a long-term trap tomorrow in another place. Maybe there will be others. Aren’t streams like these supposed to have trout?”
Trista nodded. “Can you clean these?”
Gaelin squirmed a little, “No, sorry.”
“That’s ok, I can. I’ll teach you how sometime. Good job catching them, Gaelin.”
She’s being awfully nice right now. “Ok, you want me to do anything right now?”
“Just watch Dion for a while, get dry. I’ll clean these…” she selected a knife from the table and headed off with the fish. Gaelin couldn’t help watching her in admiration again. She paused, and looked over her shoulder. Gaelin didn’t dodge the glance. She called back, “Oh yeah, gather firewood for tonight will you?”