Toby declared they have a day of rest. "Today should be Sunday," he announced, "We need the rest and we need to honor the Lord's Day. Devotions will be read tonight when we assemble for supper."
Milo took his socks to the small stream, and washed them out. As he sloshed and rubbed, he heard the tuneless whistle that Seamus often used, as the big man sat on the bank and unlaced his boots. It was abundantly clear that the man needed clean socks, from the ripe odor wafting around his feet.
"Are your feet in good enough condition to be walking?" Milo glanced at the piper, and then looked at his feet. They were in terrible shape. White puckery skin looked like it had been burned, and indeed it had, as Seamus had explained. "Me own boots took a flyer with the big wind. I found these, but whatever the leather was tanned with, tis eatin me feet."
Milo looked at the outside of the leather boot and couldn't decide what type leather it was. "Why don't you put your feet in the water and wash what ever type of tanning acid was used, off. What size boot do you wear, we'll be on the lookout for replacements. These puppies need to be aired out," and Milo found two heavy sticks and pushed them in the ground and upended the boots to rest upside down and air out.
"Me feet are a sizeable 15," Seamus eased his feet into the water, his kilt covering his knees but leaving two tree stump looking legs extended over the small pool.
Milo just nodded silently. Chances were real slim they would ever find boots and shoes to fit the man.
"I need to report the condition of your feet to Toby, he is our squad leader for this trip. I think you will be safe here Seamus, do you want a handgun just in case?" Milo offered.
"No boyo, I nae have need of one," Seamus looked relieved to have his burning feet cooled. "Squire Toby should be informed, I nae thought of it, being used to taking care of meself."
Milo nodded. "I need to hang my socks to dry, I'll tell him and be right back. We don't leave unprotected members out by themselves." Seamus nodded. He approved of the idea, but didn't want to necessarily let it be known right yet what type and kind of protection he carried.
Sorry this is so short. I have three older grandchildren tonight along with 2 babies. I'm not sure if I'm coming or going.
Milo hustled back to camp and had Toby walk over to where Gary was pretending to sleep. "Seamus's feet are in terrible condition. The boots he has were tanned with something," and Milo shrugged his shoulders, signifying he had no idea what it was. "It's acting like acid on his feet. I've got him soaking them in the creek, and the boots are rotten smelling inside. The problem is, he wears a size 15. Those don't grow on trees around here, or anywhere, probably for that matter."
"A man that big wouldn't have small feet," Toby said absently, looking out over the meadow as if the shoe store was right around the corner. "We'll have to keep our eyes open for some kind of material to craft a type of shoe with. Right now that doesn't look promising, there's nothing here but nature."
"Toby, I need you to guard Gary while he gets some sleep. I've got to go back and guard Seamus, he's out in the open and vulnerable with his feet in the water and no boots on." Milo put the multi cammo watch cap back on, his red hair attracted attention from quite a distance, and he fleetingly thought about Ted. There was a pang that went through his heart at the thought of what Ted had been when he was younger, and what the end product had been and what his reward might have been for being and doing the right thing; instead of the way he ended up.
Milo shook himself hard, rearranging his wayward brain cells, and went to guard their unusual combat companion.
Gary was shaking his head, when Toby pointed to the prone man's sleeping bag. "I'm trying to sleep, it's just not easy during the middle of the day."
Toby got a wicked grin on his face and went over to tell Gary his suggestion in a very low voice. Both men shouted with laughter and Gary rearranged himself in the sleeping bag once more and turned to face the rock, still chuckling.
Toby tidied the camp, slipped his New Testament copy into his shirt pocket and picked up his rifle and melded into the woods, stopping to tell Milo where he would be stationed to stand watch over Gary.
To men that were used to being on the move, the rest was more bothersome than restful. It made them restless and more suspicious of every little noise in the forest. Along about two in the afternoon, both Milo and Toby picked up of whisps of wood smoke carried on the breeze. They met under cover of the dense forest and conferred.
"I think it's very probable, other people have survived," they both agreed on the premise. "Now we have to decide if they will be good guys or bad ones. On the whole," Toby gestured a three-sixty circle, "It appears as if a lot of the bad ones have been removed. But we do need to keep in mind that even the good ones can become bad, given sufficient provocation. How's Seamus's feet looking ?"
"Better, not good, just better than they were. I don't think the man has washed his socks since he bought them. Poor situtation," Milo regarded Toby as they both looked through the tree clogged opening where Seamus was sitting, drying his feet in the sunshine.
Toby was about to say something when they were interrupted by an unearthly sound. Wolf howls sounded not all that far away from the camp.
"I'll get Gary," Toby spoke low, "Get Seamus back to camp, and his boots."
Seamus was already on his feet and collecting his boots by the time Milo got to the clearing by the creek. The older man tried walking barefoot and had to give up, stopping to pull his boots with no socks. They made it to camp just as Toby and Gary started three more fires on the perimeter.
With the cooking fire centered in the zone with the men standing with their backs to the coals cooking the rabbit soup, they faced outward, ready for action.
The pack came running full speed through the forest, at least 10 or 11 of the big greys with their chilling yellow eyes. The long drawn out 'whoooooooooo's' as they smelled and focused in on the cooking rabbit smell.
"Don't shoot and waste ammo," Toby called out. "Let's see what happens. If they attack, kill every last one of them."
What a good laugh you gave me. Seamus's feet just might do the trick. In my experience, the Alpha male will not be in the center of the pack, but more usually off to the side. The Alpha female will lead the attack. I've not been in a wolf attack, but we have watched them bring down deer. And whoever says wolves don't kill for fun, is full of hooey. They can and do, as teaching kills for the pups.
It was a top of the food chain, predator stand-off. Man vs. wolf. The huge grays walked the circle around the camp, staying well away from the fires. Intense yellow eyes and shiny white teeth gleamed from saliva dripping mouth's.
"Look at the intelligence in those eyes," Toby watched the beasts carefully calculate their next move, "I don't like them any better now than I did when we were kids. Remember at the Lodge?" He asked Milo, never taking his eyes off the circling animals.
"Yeah some, mostly I remember Helga going so berserk at the mention of them. Dad said not to look them straight in the eye, they consider that aggression, and respond. These wolves look to be about the same size. What do you think the Alpha over there weighs? 180 maybe?"
"Yeah, I'd guess that's about right," Gary spoke up. "I wonder if the wind reverted them back to their wilder ways, or if we fired a shot, they would associate with being hunted. I don't much fancy being lunch for them."
"If we shoot, I think we need to kill one of them to reinforce their fright of man." Milo had the gun ready. "If we shoot the Alpha dog, that will throw the pack into confusion for a while, long enough for us to move on. What say you Seamus?"
"They are grand beasties for sure, but I nea fancy providing a meal for them. I think we should consider shooting the Alpha female. She is the one leading the hunting pack, and she's almost too ya boyo."
"Everyone in agreement?" Milo called out. Four voices sounded and Milo took his shot. The large female crumpled to the ground. The rest of the pack dissolved into the night, like they had had never been there. Milo walked over to investigate the wolf. "I was going to skin her, but even in the weak fire light, I can see she is crawling with fleas. That's a no go for me, any of the rest of ya interested?"
Nobody was. Seamus was further surprised when the men bowed their heads and thanked God for the life of the wolf. "She may have wanted to eat us, but she was still one of God's creatures." Gary explained to Seamus, when the big man stood watching the bowed head circle.
"Is that stew done? I'm starving," Gary complained and the rest laughed. They had just dipped their cups in the pot, and were taking cautious sips of the boiling hot liquid, when there was a wolf howl just inside the dark tree line. Close enough to send shivers down strong men.
"He's mourning his mate, I would too under those circumstances," Milo had his rifle in hand, but not aimed.
Toby looked at Seamus; "we're all married and have children at home. How about it, you fancy a wife?"
Seamus looked up sharply, " no woman would have me," he said simply. "Begging yer pardon boys, but I'm nae interested in mixing me colors."
"You wouldn't be," Toby told him and dropped the subject. He figured if Seamus was interested, he'd get around to asking the particulars.
Seamus thought about Squire Toby's words all night long. A world traveler, he had never found a woman of color that was interested in a Scottish, bagpipe playing, Black man. If he wanted a companion, or more; he was being gifted with an opportunity. The new normal might change his way of thinking. There was naught to do but pray on the matter and see what the Good Lord wanted him to do.
Off and on during the night, Seamus prayed when he woke from his light sleep. The Linderman men never asked him to stand watch and he understood why. Whoever had trained the men had done an excellent job. They even thought alike, but with subtle differences. Seamlessly they traded watch, no words were needed.
He was the unknown, untested man. They had accepted him at face value, but he was not in their confidence, yet. He had listened and understood the Da had sent the two oldest out as co-leaders, but that it worked better for the marksman to concentrate on his craft, and the older of the three seemed like a natural leader. The young one a bit brash, here and there, but a good man to stand beside ya in a fight.
It was Seamus's instructions to keep them safe, but they were doing an excellent job on their own. So their must be something major in the future. Seamus knew all about the family and the individual members, but he hadn't known there was a woman of color there. A surprise for him? His sardonic eyebrow lifted as he contemplated the situtation. Then he smiled. It would be, as it would be.
Toby had already said they would be on the move tomorrow, so Seamus stirred enough to turn his boots that were slowly drying near the coals of the cooking fire.
All my life I was told that a Man's feet were his "life" so far as being able to do. Learned to take very good care of mine, so I always worry about someone with feet troubles. Maybe that wolf hide coulda become a pair of moccasin-boots.
Even when I was working for Uncle Sugar I always made sure I had my own stuff to take care of my feet. Our "Doc" carried a wire brush thing and would sand your feet raw if you didn't take care of them yourselves. He seemed to get a kick out of that for some perverse reason. Did make ya watch out for your own feet though as his way hurt like blue blazes.
It was Milo that was on watch, when Seamus stirred and re arranged his boots by the fire. The big man sat hunched over close to the fire and it looked like he was praying. Milo didn't disturb the piper, he had a problem of his own. Several times already, he had felt the presence of the wolf, the animal was stalking him; seeking revenge for the killing of his mate.
To Milo, it was what he would have done, if he were the wolf; so he supposed generic man wasn't all that removed from the wild-ness of animals, especially now.
Milo actually welcomed the intentions of the wolf. It had been a long time since he had matched wits with a worthy man or beast, and it would help pass the time. Milo let Gary sleep, instead of waking him up for the next watch. He figured Gary was their weakest link. The man acted like he had been without sleep for a long time, and that was never good.
With Honey's confirmation, Milo had ventured the opinion to her that there was still something wrong between Gary and Jainey. Honey had nodded, she had felt it also. Honey had said Jainey hadn't confided in her, so she didn't know what was wrong.
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