After returning to the trading post and getting a good night’s rest, Tess pulled out Bokken’s map and broached the important question to the others: “Do we trust this guy?” They had plenty of meat, and a promise of food for the winter, but that did nothing for their need to shelter 50-plus people against the elements. Did they trust Bokken enough to trek another 50-miles west on his word that it would be a good place to make a home?
The discussion ensued. Rhodri pointed out that, even if they did pack up the wagon and their people, they had practically no tools, just a pair of axes, and none of the emancipated persons had any experience with winter or snow. They might know how to build huts, but not ones that would be sufficiently insulated. Nor were any of the rest of them particularly skilled or equipped to be pioneers.
Zibbler mentioned that two axes and a lot of man-power would be sufficient to construct a log cabin or three, given the plentifulness of trees in the area. But that did nothing for the trust issues. Siclare countered that Bokken, if he truly valued his privacy as much as he said, had every reason to be forthcoming with them, since they could easily tell their host where he lived.
Tess, re-reading Bokken’s hastily jotted map key, pointed out that the things he noted as reasons for building in that spot — farmland, open spaces to build, etc. — were actually not relevant to surviving the winter. They couldn’t plant this late in the season, and they needed protection from the wind and elements, not open terrain. They’d be better off in a small valley or cave than open farmland, she argued. Laying on the charm, Tess turned to their host and asked how he would feel about them building a small village in and around his fort for mutual protection.
“Vell,” Oleg said, “you’ve been a help so far. You drove off sat Mad Bear, your folk helped plant my fields, and we’re smoking more jerky zan I could sell in a year. I know you’ve got problems back in ze colony, but I came out here to get away from ze same sheeit. Sure…”
That settled, the problem of how to construct homes for fifty people before winter came back up. Tess, mad scientist that she is, queried as to whether Rhodri could simply raise and shape the stone from the ground into some kind of structure — perhaps dugouts like Bokken lived in. Rhodri explained that he could only displace a relatively small volume of rock per day, and not nearly enough to carve large living spaces.
Siclare spoke up and suggested something more like a stone tent. If Rhodri could cause the stone to life itself out of the ground to form walls, then they could create a much larger sized shelter while still displacing the same small volume of rock. Tess jumped in and suggest as A-frame design, basically stone lean-tos. Siclare suggested something domed more like the wigwams her people lived in. Zibbler pointed out that if Rhodri could force a conical shape up from the ground, it could be grown over several days, just by adding more material to the bottom of the structure. Rhodri agreed to try, and he and ZIbbler put their heads together to start working out how such a structure might best be made.
Given that it would take Rhodri days of shaping stone to construct even a prototype, the others left the gnome and the mage to it, and turned to other matters.
Tess pointed out that Bokken, isolationist though he was, had said he would make some medicine for them if they could collect certain berries that were known to grow along the route to the place he had marked out for their colony. She suggested that while the construction was going on, a small group of them might trek to where the berries grew and collect what Bokken needed, both for the medicine and also as a kind of good-will act for having barged in on his life.
Leaving Rhodri and the others to their work, Siclare, Tess, borrowing Siclare’s horse, and Thond, borrowing Vicious to keep up, set out in search of the berries. Consulting the map, Tess suggested that they should skirt north around Hawksbill Peak, then due west to either cross, or closely skirt the nest ridge they could see — that way staying well clear of the Indian encampments and giant angry boars marked on the map.
With Siclare running ahead of them picking out the trail westward they made good time. They followed the swift run down out of the mountains to where it emptied into the Shenandoah’s southern fork. The river here was wide, but shallow, barely waist deep on Tess and Siclare. They waded across, then continued due west towards the high ridge of Potato Field Mountains (or "Massanutten as Siclare called it). By nightfall they had reached the foothills of the towering syncline, where they pitched camp.
During the second watch, a tired Tess wandered out of camp to relieve herself. Stubbing her toe on a rock she tripped. Cursing exasperatedly, she looked down to see that a pair of tough leather riding gloves and one of Dr. Leibowitz’s patent-pending foldable sacks, which she had forgotten that she even had, had fallen out of her pocket.
She picked herself up and finished her business. As she was pulling up her trousers, she caught a whiff of something on the wind, like the smell of wet dog fur. She rushed back to camp and woke up Siclare, who quickly dispatched Zerda to investigate. Only moments after being sent out, the small fox came rushing back, terrifiedly yipping about hungry wolf spirits.
Still thankfully downwind, Tess woke Thond and the two of them slipped into the shadows of the undergrowth. Siclare settled herself down by the fire and waited.
Soon a tall, lean humanoid figure stepped warily into the camp. Judging by the pallor of his skin he was from one of the northern tribes, but was covered from his toes, to his tail, to his lupine head with short, gray fur, and nothing else. He looked around as if expecting to see more than just the fox-headed girl, then growled something unintelligible and began circling the fire.
Siclare offered him some bison-jerky and bade him sit with her. While he clearly did not understand her words, either in English or her southern dialect, the offer of food was clear enough. As he tore into the jerky, she, by gestures and crude drawings in the dirt, asked where he was going. He responded by quickly sketching a wolf-shape chasing a herd of elk shapes in the dirt with a stick. To which she responded by drawing a fox-like shape running alongside the wolf.
While she had intended this last to ask if he wanted help in his hunting, the werewolf (for so he was), clearly, judging by his perked ears and growing erection, took it to mean that she wanted him for her mate or her pack. He raised his tail suggestively and inched closer to her around the fire. Siclare quickly called to the others. When Tess moved in first, Siclare grabbed her and pulled her close, trying to indicate to the wolf that she already had a mate — and hoping that his was one of those tribes that consider such pairings acceptable.
Of course, the wolf merely took this for a challenge and lunged at Tess, biting her and knocking her to the ground. Tess grabbed a brand from the fire and swung it awkwardly at the wolf-man before rolling away. As Siclare tried to think of something appropriately wolfy to do to distract the thing, Thond rushed in and thumped it with his hammer, only to get bitten and knocked aside in his own right.
Moving again downwind of the wolf, Tess dropped a cloud of darkness over his head, blinding him. Thond used the darkness to stand and move away, as the wolf began pacing around the fire, looking for an enemy. When the wolf completed its circuit, Thond charged in again, hitting it squarely but not leaving so much as a bruise.
The situation soon became a standoff. The wolf could not see his prey, nor could he see anything else past the very near periphery of the flames, but neither could Thond or Tess harm the wolf. Tess, Thond, and Siclare all took turns throwing extra bits of jerky at the wolf’s feet, hoping to distract him ans assuage his hunger. Of course, hunger was no longer his motivation.
Finally, wanting to break the stalemate, Siclare rushed into the darkness, and, groping about hit him with a, gentle, touch of fatigue. She then exited the darkness upwind of him and “tried to smell sexy”, which, in wolf terms, means only one thing. She peed.
The tired, blind, and confused wolf-man’s ears immediately perked back up and he rushed in Siclare’s direction and, spinning a surprisingly graceful pirouette, smacked her in the face with his tail. Thinking she was under attack, Tess and Thond both rushed in, swinging with hammer and flaming brand alike, but both missing. Siclare, committed to her course, grabbed the wolf-man by the wrist and ran off into the woods at top speed, heedless of the fact that neither of them could see with the globe of darkness clinging to his head.
Fox and wolf ran together, full tilt into the trees. Then the wolf ran full-tilt, head-first into a tree. A silver maple in fact. While running face-first into a tree was no more effective at actually damaging the wolf than Thond’s hammer had been, the force was still enough to knock the wind out of him and knock him prone.
Leaving him, still fatigued, still blinded, and dazed from the blow, Siclare circled back. The three quickly broke camp, throwing their gear haphazardly over the backs of their steeds, and ran off into the night as fast as they could.
To be continued…
Months 1 & 2, Aug 14 to Oct 14
Meanwhile, back at the fort, Rhodri and Zibbler labored together on concocting shelters for their band. Rhodri’s first attempt at a “stone tipi” left the walls much too thin, such that it quickly collapsed in on itself. The next day he tried them much thicker, but, in doing so, barely made a bump above the landscape.
Finally, Zibbler came to him with an unusual series of drawings and explained how a triangular structure could be used to make the walls thick and strong while minimizing the actual volume of stone material used to make those walls, and also leaving air pockets to increase their insulatory value. All of this sounded like nonsense to the fairy, and much more complex and precise than anything he had ever tried to do with his powers before. Unsurprisingly, his first attempt at the triangular honeycomb style walls was an utter failure.
The next day, however, he decided to talk the stone through the process, using his stone tell ability in conjunction with his ability to shape stone to get real-time feedback from the stone on whether it felt solid enough. Sure enough, it worked, and made a roughly conical and reasonably sound, though small, dwelling, with thick, well-insulated stone walls. On the fifth day, working from below, he expanded the walls, forcing the structure even higher, until it was roughly six feet tall at the peak, and seven feet around — plenty of space for three or four people to sleep in he thought.
And, indeed, the structures were quite roomy inside. The displaced stone from the ground that had risen up and stretched to make the walls left a clean depression in the center of the space. On the outside, the sod, shoved up by the rising stone, formed a natural cover over the odd little hut, such that it could almost pass for a natural mound.
Over the next weeks he built a total of fifteen of these structures, laid out in nice strait lines on the flat of the ridge just west of the fort’s walls. Rather than bothering with doors, in typical gnomish fashion, he used the movement of the stone to create small tunnels linking the huts and leading back inside the fort’s walls. While small, Oleg, Zibbler, and the emancipated persons were able to expand these by hand to make them tall and wide enough for a young or short person to walk comfortably, and the tallest of them to walk with only a small stoop. Thus allowing the huts to be accessed without walking outside of the fort, and having easy passage even if the ground were blanketed with snow.
When the huts were finished, Rhodri turned his attention to improving the stables, reinforcing the walls with stone, and sectioning off a special stall for Vicious.
After this, Zibbler came with a crazy plan for getting water to the fort. He suggested that by using Rhodri’s powers to dig a very long, very narrow hole — only a few inches across but more than half a mile deep — they could create an artificial artesian spring, using the pressure of the mountains, and capillary action of the tube to force water up from the valley’s water-table. Agreeing it was worth a try, Rhodri asked the stone how deep he would have to dig to find water, then shaped the stone to drill down. Sure enough, it worked, and soon there was a steady stream of water bubbling up out of the mountaintop to fill the fort’s cisterns.
Because magic plus engineering is awesome…