Sword Called Kitten Serial

Gordon A. Long

Published by

Airborn Press


   Home      Issue #13 Snowed In
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EPISODE 13 
Snowed In



 

The snow continued to fall. Cat watched the light grow, but the sun was nowhere to be seen. Over the night, the drifts had piled higher and higher, with the wind blowing across their creekside shelter and dropping its load in uneven rows.

The trapper roused as the light strengthened.

“Hey, I can see!” He looked around. “Well, everything is sort of blurry, but I can see. I can see the campfire – which needs wood, of course – and I can see that willow clump, and…” He looked around again. “Aw, who'm I talkin' to? If the pressure's off my brain, I guess the halucin-thing is gone too.”

Sorry. Still here.

The trapper glanced at the Sword hilt sticking out of his pack nearby. “Is that really you?”

Aye. Nothing to do with your brain, I'm afraid. Actually, you have quite a decent brain: clear, well-ordered. The swelling has gone down quite a bit.

“Yeah, well I wish my leg felt the same. Gave me hell all night.”

A break is like that. Takes weeks.

“That really helps, Sword.” He leaned out and put the last few sticks on the fire. “Willow don't burn worth a darn. Flares up, no stayin' power.” He hauled himself to his feet with a groan of pain and peered through the falling flakes. “Gotta be some good spruce around here somewheres.”

How are you going to get to it?

“I bin thinkin' about that. Snow's not that deep, this early in the winter. Figure I'll build me a crutch from the willows. Then I can scout around a bit.” He picked up the Sword, sheath and all. “Ya don't mind helpin' out, do ya?”

I was created to serve.

“Thanks.” He used the Sword as a cane and hopped his way over to the willows. Selecting a sturdy green stalk with a large branch, he balanced on one leg and drew the Sword. “Ready for some cuttin'?”

Much more my style.

With quick strokes he trimmed the stalk, testing it under his arm and shortening it several times. “There. That oughta do. I'll put a pad on it and get movin'.” Returning more quickly now to camp, he rummaged in his pack and soon had a serviceable crutch. His trial forays had trampled down a good deal of the snow around the area and his movement was improving, although the uneven ends of the splints tended to catch on the drifts and things hidden in them. After falling for the third time he rose, wiped the snow off his face, and proclaimed himself ready to go.

How is your eyesight?

“Better'n it was, not as good as it used to be. I'm seein' two of everythin'.”

I guess that means both eyes are working.

“Your humour fails to impress me.”

It wasn't meant to be funny. I would think it a good thing to know that you had two functional eyes.

“Aye. Then I suppose I do. Now I got a problem. How do I carry you and my axe, use a crutch, and haul any wood I find?”

I have no idea about the rest, but my scabbard will hang on your belt. I will not get in your way. I had better come with you. I can help with your vision.

“Right.” He attached the scabbard, picked up his axe and crutch. Then he stopped, reached down and pulled a length of rope from his pack.

You seem to have everything in there.

“If I had a month's grub, I'd be happier.”

How much do you have?

“Flour, sugar, and tea for two months. No meat.”

I guess you'll get used to rabbit, then.

“What?”

There's a rabbit run just at the top of the bank. I felt several pass last night. You can set snares, and probably persuade Ruffian to share his catch as well.

“I wasn't thinkin' on that. He's never shared before.”

I asked him to.

“You did? You can talk with animals?”

Animals don't talk. I sent him a picture of him giving you the hare and you being really happy.

“Hmm. Not bad, Sword. I can see you're worth the effort.”

 What effort?

“Puttin' up with your sense of humour would be the first thing that comes to mind.”

Are we going for wood, or are we going to lean here talking until your armpit gets sore?”

“Aye…” He dove into his pack again. “Just a coupla snares…”

The scramble up the bank would not have been a pleasant experience for delicate ears, but luckily there were none nearby, and soon the trapper stood, or rather leaned, sweating profusely and muttering a stream of curses. When he finally gained his breath and peered around, his mood lightened.

“This is much better. I can't see too good, but that looks like a spruce with a big dead pine leanin' on it over there. Wood for a week.” He frowned and glanced back down the steep bank. “Ya know, I think I'd be better haulin' my pack up once, than all that up-and-down to get wood.”

Don't you need the bank for protection in case of attack?

He considered, peered, shook his head. “Naw, that bank's too low. A wolf'd just run down it and jump on my back. I'd rather cosy up to a big tree any day. Nope, we're movin' camp, Sword. This oughta be fun.”

He sat down and slid to the bottom, predictably bumping his injured leg and swearing a storm.

However, he soon had his pack filled and strung behind him, and started the laborious task of dragging it up the bank. It took considerable resources in energy and vocabulary, but finally he had the pack safely tucked on the dry needles under a spreading spruce tree. A crackling fire sent smoke tendrils up through the branches.

The trapper leaned back a moment, then shook his head. “That was pretty tough, Sword. Took a lot outa me. I gotta get some red meat or I'm not gonna make it.”

What do you usually eat?

He shrugged and indicated the short recurve bow strapped along the side of his pack. The one that had caught on so many bushes on the tough fight up the creek bank. “All I gotta do is get a deer within bowshot.” He looked over at her. “Can you call up a deer?”

How would you expect a Sword to do that? What a question!

He shrugged. “I dunno. You're the one that's Magic. If I don't ask, how do I find out? I thought maybe you could plant a picture in its mind of a salt lick over here, or somethin'.”

Since I don't know what a salt lick is, I'm not sure how to plant that picture, but it's worth thinking about. I'll keep an ear out for deer. Until then, I suggest snares. The rabbit run is over there.

The man leaned back and closed his eyes. “Not gonna be any rabbits till dusk. I think I'll just rest a bit, make me some biscuits and tea. That oughta' take a while.”

Fine. We wouldn't want you to be bored.

“Oh, I'm not gonna get bored. Lots to do.”

I gather dying of starvation is a very boring experience. Takes weeks, they say.

The trapper looked around. “No, I don't think there's gonna be any dyin' goin' on. We're pretty well set up, here. Fire over there, my back to the tree with a magic Sword. I think I can handle pretty well anythin' that shows up.”

A grizzly bear?

“The grizzlies are pretty well all denned up for the winter. Might be one around. But they don't like fire. No, we see a bear, we build up the fire and sit back and watch him stroll on by.”

I suggest you sit back then.

“What?”

There's a bear on the other side of the creek.

The trapper whirled, almost fell, and cursed silently, staring through the boughs at the drifting snow. His voice hissed out in a sharp whisper. “I don't see nothin'. You kiddin' me?”
No, he's there all right. I can't read much from him. He's not angry or anything like that. Maybe looking for a bedtime snack.

The trapper pulled a blazing stick from the fire. “Well, I don't got no plans to be the snack. You keep an eye on him.”

I will do that. He has passed, now. I think he smelled the smoke. He is leaving quite rapidly.

“That's what's supposed to happen when I meet a bear, 'specially a grizzly. He goes away in one direction, I go away in the opposite. Can't do that this time, though. Better hope he goes to sleep soon.”

How long do you think this snow will last?

He shrugged. “Could be three days, could stop in an hour. It keeps on too long, it'll be a killer. Can't use a crutch on snowshoes.”

How far is it to your trapline?

The man sat back again. “Now that's a real poser, that is. If I got to my cabin, I'd have wood and equipment, be safe from animals. Even got a cache of dried meat there. But that means goin' out on the trail. I figure I couldn't make moren' a league a day, things bein' as they are, draggin’ that heavy pack behind me. Then what if we get stuck in a place with no shelter, or get caught on the trail by a wolf pack? No, for the moment, we're stayin' here. I get to the point where I think I can make it in, say, five days, and the weather looks good, I'll give it a go. Fair enough?”

Fine with me. Whatever you say.

“I say I'm hungry.”

The man heaved himself onto his good foot and hopped to his pack, pulling out an iron pot, filling it with snow and placing it on the coals at the side of the fire. Then he went back into the pack and pulled out a bundle, unrolling it with care. “Eggs. I brought a few to save for a treat. Figure I better use 'em.” He leaned over, scooped more snow into the pot, then hauled out a large sack of flour.

How much junk did you have in that pack?

He shrugged as he untied the sack. “Dunno. 'Bout half my own weight, I s'pose. I never carry more'n that. Too dangerous.”

It seems you overdid it, at that.

“Yep, it seems I did. Ya live and learn.”

What, exactly, are you doing?

“Huh?” He looked down to where he had cracked an egg into a dip in the top of the flour. He poured the melted water from the pot in as well, reached in and stirred it around with his fingers. “I'm makin' biscuits.”

But won't that make a mess?

“Never did before. Any flour that gets wet goes into the biscuits. Any that stays dry stays in the sack. Saves on doin' dishes.”

Learn something new every day. Not that I expect to ever use it, but you never know.

“Ya never know.”

The trapper placed a frying pan on top of the fire, which had burned down to glowing coals. Then he rolled balls of the dough between his palms and flattened each one down on the pan. Soon the smell of baking spread through the camp. Cat watched the man adding snow to the can, laying out tea, turning the biscuits over when needed.

You're very good at this.

“Do it most every day.”

You like this life, don't you?

“Wouldn't have it any other way.”

Even when it could kill you?

The man shrugged. “Yesterday afternoon, I wasn't so sure. But now,” he looked around his cozy camp, “things are lookin' up. Especially if that's another rabbit Ruffie's packin'. Ruffie my old Ruffian. Is that for me? Have you brought dinner to Daddy?”

The dog trotted into camp, snow blanketing his shoulders but his head and tail high, another large hare hanging down from the left side of his mouth, its hind legs trailing in the snow beside him. With little prodding from the Sword, he dropped it at his master's feet and sat back, waiting for the forthcoming praise. The man did not disappoint, fondling his pet's ears, making a huge fuss over him, which the dog lapped up with enthusiasm.

“Oh, he's such a good doggie, isn't he? Isn't he a good doggie, bringing rabbits to Daddy?”

The dog wiggled closer to the man, almost upsetting him and causing him to grab for his crutch. His curses carried no weight, though, and the dog knew it.

You know, I've just been counting up. Since I met you, that dog has done nothing but cause you trouble. He chased a squirrel when there was a battle going on. He pushed you over the bank.

“He just fed me a second rabbit.”

Only because I persuaded him. What's the point?

“What's the point in what?”

In having him around at all.

The man reached down and rubbed the dog's ears. “The nasty Sword is saying mean things about my Ruffie. Don't you listen, now, my old Ruffian. That Sword don't matter. We know who our friends are, don't we?”

Phfft!

“You don't like dogs much, do you?”

Oh, dogs are all right. Very basic minds. There are only two types of things in the world: it smells good, it doesn't smell good. If it smells good, you eat it. If it doesn't smell good, you bark at it until it runs, then you chase it down and eat it anyway.

“That's pretty much it. You forgot the love part, though.”

Oh, yes, I forgot the love part. If it's your owner, you love him totally and blindly, no matter what he does to you. He can beat you, starve you, ignore you or put you into mortal danger, and you still come cringing up to him, hoping for just one little pat on the head. Disgusting I call it.

“I call it loyalty.”

You would. You're on the receiving end.

With a hot biscuit in one hand, a cup of tea in the other, and his dinner secured, the trapper leaned back against the trunk of the tree, his mind relaxing.

I have a question.

“Ask away.”

Do you have a name?

“Of course I have a name. Everybody has a name.”

I know that. Usually a person’s name is the first thing I learn about them. But with you, all I get is ‘trapper.’ That’s not a name. That’s an occupation.

“Nevertheless, that’s my name.”

Trapper? It really is your name? That’s ridiculous.

“Well, thanks a lot, Sword. And I suppose you, being a magic Weapon and all, have a name as long as your blade with all sorts of curlicues and fancy capital letters.”

As it happens, it doesn’t work that way. A Sword’s Name must be earned. Through honour and deeds of glory.

So what names have you earned?”

In actual fact, I haven’t earned any yet. I have had only one proper Hand, and he was killed in our first battle.

“Not a very good start.”

Not an auspicious start, I admit.

“Then what do I call you? ‘Sword?’ That doesn’t sound like much.”

I gather I’m supposed to call you ‘Trapper.’

The trapper shrugged and took another mouthful of biscuit, chewing until he could talk again. “Suits me. Sword.”

Suits me, Trapper.

There was a long, rather pleasant pause. The fire glowed and crackled, the snow drifted down, and the dog cuddled in mawkish pleasure under Trapper’s left arm, licking up the crumbs that fell.

I hate to break this lovely moment, but what is our plan?

Trapper set down his mug, popped the last morsel of biscuit in his mouth and brushed his hands together. “First we clean up. Nothin’ worse than an untidy camp.”

I didn’t mean your day-to-day activities. I mean once we head out on the trail.

“I already said. Once my leg heals enough that we can move, we’re headin’ up the trail. We go as fast as we can. We get to my main cabin or we don’t.”

Not much of a plan. What if we don’t make it?

The man shrugged. “The only reason I don’t get there is because I’m dead.”

Oh.

“And if I’m dead, it doesn’t matter anymore, does it? Ruffie goes wild, and he survives or not.”

And I’m stuck in the mountains where nobody comes for centuries.

Trapper laughed. “You won’t have to wait that long. This is a good trapline. I don’t show up for a coupla years, somebody will be along to check. See if it’s available.”

Oh. A year or two isn’t bad.

“Do we have to continue this morbid conversation?”

Of course not. I just like to have my future mapped out. As well as possible.

Predicting the future is a depressing exercise, given my luck lately.”

You found me, didn’t you?

“My point exactly.”

There didn’t seem to be an answer for that. They sat and stared into the fire.

And the snow continued to fall.
 
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