Chapter Four



The Council’s first meeting scheduled for the second morning on the island never took place. There seemed to be just too many other projects that took priority.

Right after breakfast, several of the men were called upon to erect the numerous tents that had been unpacked the day before. A group of four accepted the assignment of digging the latrines. The remaining men divided up the remainder of the chores which consisted of retrieving fresh water, replenishing the constant demand for additional firework, caring for the animals and the abundance of other jobs that had to be done on a daily bases.

Six large canvas shelters were designated as sleeping quarters, two middle-size ones were set up for the storage of supplies, and a smaller one was turned into a place for Nathan to create a make-shift tailor’s shop. The last tent, which at a little more than half the size of the mess hall was somewhat larger than the others, was selected to become the infirmary.

At suppertime, each man drew lots to see who would be sharing personal space with whom. By the time the evening meal was done, everyone was tired but feeling good about all that had been accomplished. Another hard day’s work had paid off once again. Their new home was taking shape and routines were getting established.

Larry had somehow managed to get food on his plate and find a place to sit before feeling too ill to eat. He slipped out of the mess tent as the smells mixed with his hunger and stress caused his bodily functions to protest. He tried to make it to one of the latrines but was unsuccessful.

He fell behind a tree and began to retch. Since there was nothing in his stomach, all that came up was bile that burned his throat. The force of the retching also caused him to lose control of his bowels. In disgust, he pulled off his pants and made his way to the shore. As he bathed himself and then proceeded to clean his pants, a wave of exhaustion washed over him and tears of self-recrimination filled his eyes. He did his best to push them away. After all, he was a military man and military men do not show weakness. He had withstood so much in his young life, much worse than this. So why was this different? He was losing the battle with his emotions and it made him angry with himself.

“Damn it, West! Get a hold of yourself,” he growled. But it was no use; the despair was stronger than he was. How he longed to have someone pull him close and wrap their arms around him in a cocoon of security and understanding. He took a few deep breaths and when he was certain he had regained some control, he picked up the wet pants that lay at his feet and threw them over a large rock.

Larry then stretched out on the cool sand and waited for his pants to dry enough to put back on. He tried to relax and get a few minutes sleep but soon again he found himself on his knees bringing up more bile. Once finished, he wrapped his arms around himself and gave in to the tears.

‘Och, another young man with little or no appetite,’ Aiden thought when he noticed the untouched plate on the ground next to the crate Larry had been using. Looking around for the young man, Aiden spied him running towards the tree-line separating the clearing from the beach and sensing something was amiss, got up to follow. He witnessed the retching and the loss of control. As much as he would have like to offer assistance and comfort, he just as much wanted to avoid embarrassing the man, so he strolled back to camp and waited for Larry’s return.

“Hey, Galen,” Thad said, coming up behind the younger man who was feeding the ducks and chickens. “Do you know which tent you’re going to be in yet, and who’s bunking in with you?”

“Yeah, the one n-nearest the infirmary. I’m p-pretty sure it’s m-me, Thomas, Quentin, Troy, and Levi b-billeted together. Kelby is the sixth m-man in our tent. How about you?”

“I’m across the compound next to one of the storage tents. I’m not positive but I think Walker, Aiden, Larry, Spyke and maybe Jordan are in with me. I don’t know who are in the remaining four though, do you?”

“N-not really. I w-wasn’t exactly p-paying attention to the n-names being read off once Quentin called out who was in the same one as m-me. I just wanted to m-move my stuff in and get settled. B-besides a few of the guys have already traded p-places.”

“Yeah, not that I blame them. I mean I would be trading too if Walker wasn’t in with me.” Thad grinned.

“Interested?” Galen smirked. “Fine lookin’ figure of a m-man, ain’t he?”

“That’s for sure!” Thad admitted. He glanced around, noticing for the first time that the younger man was caring for the livestock on his own. “Can you use some help with these animals?” he offered.

“Sure! W-wanna give these leftovers to the m-mama sows? There’s n-not a lot left to do with the other animals. Walker has already fed his dogs; the n-nannies have been m-milked again, the goats and sheep just graze. So does Sadie.”

“Sadie?” Thad choked out.

“That’s w-what I n-named the m-m-mule.”

“God, these things stinks!” Thad complained when he got near enough to dump the food through the spaces in the pigs’ enclosure.

“So w-would you if you had to eat and shit in the same p-place,” Galen laughed at the grimace on the other man’s face. “Aiden says some of the guys are gonna start b-building p-proper homes for these critters tomorrow. W-wanna help?”

“Naw! I want to go exploring with some of the others if teams get organized to do so.”

“I thought a couple of guys asked you to cut their hair?”

“Yeah, I’ll do that while the council is meeting in the morning.” Thad waited while Galen covered the feed bin and put away the pail he had been using. “Let’s go see what the rest of the gang is doing?” he suggested.

Overhearing the conversation, Wayne and Wes looked at one another and shrugged simultaneously. Even though they hardly paid any thought to it, their movements and mannerisms were very much alike, although their personal tastes, likes and dislikes varied considerably.

“Did you happen to hear which tent we’re supposed to sleep in?” Wayne wanted to know.

“No idea. But being as there’s a council, I guess we know whom to ask. Isn’t that what the council is for, to help the rest of us?”

“Among other things, I guess.” Indicating someone behind Wes, Wayne made a suggestion. “How about we go ask that man over there about the sleeping arrangements? His name is Samuel.”

“Who?” Wes looked around and saw the tall man his brother had been pointing to. “He’s not on the council, idiot!”

“So why can’t we ask him? Unlike us, maybe he was following the discussion more closely. Looks like he knows what is happening. We should have paid more attention here. Never mind, Samuel should be able to help us. He is kind of quiet but also kind!” Wayne said smugly.

“How would you know? And how do you know his name?” Wes opened his eyes wide.

“We kinda met yesterday and have been working together off and on since then. He was really nice. Come on, before he disappears!”

Samuel had watched Quentin writing out the list of sleeping arrangements for everyone. He realized the choices were not cast in stone and that the men could trade places if so desired. He happened to hear a familiar voice close to him and turned to see the twins standing beside him.

He was captivated for a moment by the lads’ good looks. He smiled when they laughed as it added to their boyish charm. He looked from one to the other and shook his head. “You are so alike! Which one of you is the young man I spoke to earlier?”

“That would be me and this here is Wes,” Wayne said by way of introduction.

“That’s right, I remember the clothing. Well, nice to meet you, Wes, and nice to see you again, Wayne!” Samuel chuckled as a thought occurred to him. “My God, you two are so very much alike! Good thing you dress different or many of us are going to have trouble telling you apart.”

“We always dress different,” Wes said.

“Aha,” the older man murmured before addressing Wayne. “Everything okay with you, Wayne? Do you two know which tent you’re sleeping in yet?”

“Well, we weren’t really paying attention,” Wayne began. “We were kinda hoping you might know which tent we’re in.”

“I saw Quentin put the names down so I’ll check with him and get back to you, okay? Give me a few minutes.” Samuel returned a moment later with the information they needed. “Well, this is how it’s supposed to be.”

The twins listened closer this time as Samuel recited who was with whom. Wayne was pleased to note that they were in the same tent to which Samuel had been assigned, along with men by the names of Nathan, Seth and Preston.

“You’re in the tent next to the mess hall and so are we!” Wayne announced excitedly, looking up at their companion.

Samuel felt a sense of delight and wonder why that would be. After all, they had only just met a day ago. “That is certainly okay with me. Let’s go get settled in.”

Sometime later, Larry entered the mess tent to find the walls had been lowered and was vacant except for one lone Scotsman. “Didn’t expect to find anyone still here,” he mumbled and turned to leave.

“Get yer wee self back here, laddie!” Aiden commanded and so accustomed was he to obeying orders that Larry immediately walked over to the older man.

“Sit ye down,” Aiden ordered in a slightly softer voice and once again Larry instantly did as he was told. “I want ye to drink this, lad. Just sip it slowly.” Aiden passed over a mug of warmed goat’s milk.

“I-I can’t, sir. I’ve never been able to keep down milk.” Larry pushed the mug aside.

“Would that be cow’s milk ye’re referring to?” Getting a nod in reply, Aiden set the mug back in front of Larry and spoke in quiet, gentle tones. “Aye, well the only bairn able to stomach cow’s milk is a calf, whereas any bairn can digest goat’s milk; ‘tis why goat’s milk is considered universal by some.”

Larry was so mesmerized by the soft, hypnotic burr of Aiden’s voice; he was unaware of draining the entire mug. He glanced down and then wide, blue eyes stared up in surprise into the twinkling eyes of the other man. Next he shyly, but hungrily polished off the plate of warmed-over stew and a couple of biscuits the big man placed before him.

“’Tis still a wee bit of daylight left so do ye feel up to joining the others, lad?” Aiden invited when the dishes had been cleared away.

“Yes, sir, as soon as I change my clothes.” Larry and Aiden left the tent together. “Thank you, sir!” Larry whispered before heading over to where he had left his footlocker.

Before the men had a chance to move away from each other, Walker and Thad approached them with several more young men trailing along.

“Larry,” Thad called excitedly. “We’ve decided to build a bonfire to sit around and swap stories. Want to help gather extra wood while it’s still light enough to see?”

“Sure thing! Why don’t you guys go ahead and I’ll catch up to you in a few minutes?” Larry waited until the group had moved on before making his way towards his tent.

“Seeing as you and I are taking the first shift on guard-duty tonight;” Walker commented once the young men were no longer within hearing distance, “there is something I’d like to show you. It’s in my tent and we’re going to need your crowbar.”

“Well, what do you think of them,” Walker asked several minutes later as he watch the big Scotsman look through the sights of a Winchester.

“Aye, ’tis a verra nice array of firearms ye have here,” Aiden murmured. He appreciated the quality of the rifle in his hands and the few still lying in the crate with several Colt 45’s and a good supply of ammunition.

“I want you to have that one, Aiden. As a guardian of these men we’ve been exiled with, you are going to need it,” Walker stated. “I personally prefer to carry a handgun in a holster. The rest will be used as needed for hunting or for protection while exploring our new homeland.”

“I thank ye verra much,” Aiden smiled, understanding the privilege he had been granted. “Ye knew several of us managed to bring a variety of knives but nae any guns. However, I dinnae believe I am the only one to have a bow ‘n quiver of arrows.”

“Then supplying fresh game for me to cook shouldn’t present a problem.” Walker chuckled along with the other man as they headed out to join the others by the fire.

Unaware of the plans for a fireside, Galen set about making plans of his own. He dumped out his satchel and picked up the items he needed. Leaving the rest scattered about on his pallet, he left the tent, walked across the clearing and entered the forest. Meandering along a barely discernible path trampled earlier, he slowly made his way towards the river Troy had talked about. Even though it was still light out, Galen believed he had slipped away unseen.

Thomas saw Galen leaving the tent and walking into the forest. “Galen!” he called but clearly the lad hadn’t heard him as he continued on his way.

Galen was completely oblivious to being followed as he breathed in the fresh country air and relished a heady sense of freedom. He had never been allowed to wander off like this at home without letting his parents know, but Troy and Brock had checked out this area, so he felt safe. He stopped and crouched to watch some little toads swimming in a puddle.

Thomas jogged after the younger man and fortunately it took little time for him to catch up to the lad. “Galen, did you not hear me calling to you?”

Galen jumped up in surprise. “N-n-no!” He held up the towel and bar of his mother’s homemade soap, along with the change of clothing draped over his arm. “I’m going to the river b-because I n-need a b-bath, Thomas.” Galen explained.

Thomas was shocked. “Off to the river by yourself?  Lad, it will be dark soon enough, to say nothing of the fact that it is early spring and that river will be running mighty cold. You could catch your death."

“W-well, if you don’t w-want m-me going alone, w-why don’t you just come with m-me?” Galen asked, his eyes lighting up and a cheeky grin spreading across his face.

“I’ve an idea. How about we collect some fresh water and bring it back to camp. There is still a lot of heat on the stove with which we could warm it. Then we might both get a good wash. I’m sure we could find a less public place behind the kitchen tent. Would that not be a wiser idea?”  Thomas suggested.

“I’d rather w-wash in the river but I guess w-we can b-bring back w-water if you w-want.”

“Galen, I really would prefer we do that for both of us. You had a sweater on earlier so why don’t you come back and put that on to keep warm during our walk? Then we can gather the water and bring it back and get a wash in comfort.”

“Okay! W-we have to go back for the b-buckets anyway.” Galen tripped merrily along, talking almost non-stop. “And I think w-we did a great job electing the council last night, don’t you?” he asked, not bothering to wait for an answer. “I m-mean I know it was only our first time b-but I’m sure w-we’ll do b-better n-next time.” He glanced up at the other man to see how Thomas had taken his teasing.

Thomas smiled. “Scamp, next time perhaps I shall nominate you.”

“You could, b-but n-no one would vote for m-me,” Galen half-seriously teased back.

After retrieving the returned-for items, the two men retraced their steps along the forest path with Thomas patiently listening to Galen’s continual prattle.

“Look at all the different kinds of fruit trees! There’s apple, p-pear, p-plum, and cherry. W-what do you suppose those are? I wonder if they could be p-peaches or apricots.” Galen kept up his one-sided conversation, asking and answering his own questions. “Ya know, Thomas, we could m-make w-wine from some of this fruit.”

“I am impressed by your knowledge, Galen, but I think you’re going to wear yourself out if you don’t slow down a bit. I believe I can hear the sound of the river. We must be almost there,” Thomas interjected.

Arriving at the river, Galen peeled off his sweater, toed off his shoes, rolled up his pant legs, and slid down the bank and into the water. “Aaaah, you were right, Thomas; it is freezing!” he hollered before sucking in a deep breath and moving a little further into the slowly swirling waters. “If you p-pass me the b-buckets, I’ll fill them for you.” 

“For heaven’s sake, lad, come out of there at once. We can fill the buckets without you wading out so far.” Thomas commanded.

“W-why? The w-water’s getting fine!” His lips turning blue gave lie to his words.

“If it is so fine, why are you shivering like that? Now climb out of there before you end up falling right in.”

Half an hour later, Thomas tested the water on the stove and found it warm enough for their use. They carried the warm water in two large buckets to a spot behind the kitchen tent. One of the empty crates was sitting there and they set it up as a wash stand with a couple of basins, Galen’s special soap and some linen.

Galen pulled off his sweater, undid his homespun overalls and let them drop to the ground. The shirt soon followed, landing on top of the small pile of dirty clothing. Galen had no way of knowing the picture he presented. He was shockingly underweight and unusually pale.

Thomas too stripped down to his skivvies, thinking how pleasant it would be to feel truly clean again. He froze when he saw the young man naked before him. Galen was almost rail thin, each rib easily discernible. ‘Lord in heaven!’ he thought. ‘When was the last time this lad had a meal he could keep down?’ He had noticed how sparingly the younger man had eaten at each meal since arriving on the island.

Galen picked up his soap and offered it to the older man. “Do you w-want to w-wash first?”

“Galen, have you no underclothes? You’re freezing! Get yourself soaped up quickly. I’ll wash in a minute,” Thomas replied.

“I got some; they’re in m-my satchel.” Galen wet the soap, lathered up a facecloth and began to vigorously rub it over his chest.

Thomas was glad he’d thought to bring a blanket along. As soon as Galen was in his nightshirt, he’d ensure the half-frozen young man was wrapped up. “I would suggest you try wearing them in future.”

It only took a few minutes for Galen to lather, rinse and dry off, the entire time shivering while his teeth chattered. “I n-never thought about how good b-being clean can feel," he sighed, slipping his nightshirt over his head. He glanced over at Thomas. ‘What’s wrong? Why does he look angry?’ Galen wondered. Following the older man’s line of vision, he looked down at his overly slim body and realized that, once again, he had been found wanting. Hanging his head in embarrassment, Galen bit his lip and turned to hide the hurt as his eyes filled. Accustomed as he was to being pushed aside by all but his immediate family, he knew this was one man whose acceptance was important to him.

Thomas hesitated for a moment before speaking. “I would like to talk to you about how you took off for the river on your own this evening.”

Galen blinked and turned overly bright eyes towards the other man. “Okay!” he murmured and waited for Thomas to continue. He was pleasantly surprised and comforted by what the man did next.

Thomas opened the blanket and wrapped it round Galen’s thin shoulders. “Galen, one of the things I will be discussing at the first meeting of the council if we ever get to hold one, will be rules for us all to live by. And one of the most important in my mind is safety. What you did tonight was very unsafe. I don’t want to see you, or anyone for that matter, going off on your own into an area we have not yet fully scouted out. It could be dangerous.” He stopped to breathe and tried to give Galen a stern look. “Do you not see that you could have gotten into serious trouble out there on your own?” Thomas quickly began his own wash as he waited for Galen’s response

“No, I thought I was safe b-because Troy had already b-been to the river and n-nothing b-bad happened to him.” Galen muttered and huddled into the blanket. He tilted his head and reflected on what Thomas had said. Thomas wasn’t rejecting him because of his small stature. Thomas was concerned. “Would it be b-better then, if from n-now on when I w-want to go somewhere I ask first?” he asked in a small voice.

Thomas took a deep breath. How could he explain that it was acceptable for Troy to have gone on his own and not for Galen? “Galen, I’d like it very much if you would come and talk to me before you decide to go off to any place outside of our campsite. Most especially if you are alone. Am I correct when I guess that you have not much experience being on your own. You said you lived with all your family until you were sent here.” Thomas quickly finished his wash and pulled on the fresh clothes he’d brought from his case.

Galen watched Thomas’ moving lips and nodded. “Yes, I have always had someone looking out for m-me; m-my p-parents, grandparents, older brother and sister, but n-now I have to learn to take care of m-myself. I’m old enough you know.”

“You are old enough, Galen, but not yet experienced. It is true that Troy has been to the river on his own but I believe him to be a much more experienced man. I think you should allow some of the older men such as myself to deal with these things. Would you allow me to help you learn?”

Galen took a few moments to think over the offer, but was unsure of exactly what that was. “Help m-me learn w-what?”

Thomas dumped out the dirty water from their washing then turned and guided Galen over to a log and sat down beside him. “To learn how to safely survive this wilderness we find ourselves in. To learn what you will need to know to take care of yourself. Would that be too much to ask?”

“How w-will you find the time to teach m-me and w-why? It sounds like a lot of w-work and seems to m-me you are going to be b-busy enough w-with your council duties.”

Thomas smiled and gave a small laugh. “Did you always question your family this way?”

“Yes, I w-was allowed,” Galen’s cheeky grin reappeared.

“The council will not take that much of my time. Frankly, the biggest part of my time will be spent working, as all of us will need to, in order to build a community here. If you would like to work with me, I will teach you as we go.”

“It’s cause w-we’re friends, right?”

“Galen, I would be very honored to be your friend.” Thomas gave him a genuine smile.

Galen’s grin spread across his young face and his eyes lit up at the thought of this man being his friend. Few had wanted to be his friend in the past and definitely none had been honored by it. “Okay, as long as I get to take care of the animals and help with b-building their p-pens.”

“That is perfectly fine. Helping with that task will also be a learning experience for you. So you’ll promise me, no more going off on your own?” Thomas asked seriously.

“I’ll try to do as you say, Thomas.” Galen didn’t think making a promise was the way to go, as he’d never done what could be deemed a stellar job of keeping them in the past.

“Thank you, Galen.” Thomas studied the young man for a moment. He was still shivering despite the heavy blanket wrapped around him. “I’d like to ask one more thing of you, my friend.”

“Am I going to like it?” Galen asked dubiously.

“Have you met Lakota yet? He’s the tall man with the long black braid.”

“I just heard him when he introduced himself and I voted for him to be a member of the council. He’s a doctor, isn’t he?” Galen didn’t think he liked where this was heading.

“Yes, he is a doctor and I’d like him to take a look at you. You’re very thin and pale, from the voyage no doubt and the shock of being torn away from your family.”

Galen was shaking his head before Thomas finished speaking. “N-nooo, I don’t like doctors, Thomas.”

“I think it would be wise for him to examine you, Galen. You don’t want to get sick, do you?” Thomas asked kindly.

“M-my m-mother was always taking m-me to one doctor after another and n-none of them helped me. I don’t w-want to see another.” Galen shuddered at the memory of all those men in white coats, poking and prodding as if he was a freak to be experimented on.

“Galen, Doctor Evans is a very good doctor. He would never harm you. Would you please do this for me?”

“I’ll think about it.” As much as he wanted to please this man, ‘thinking about it’ was the best Galen could offer.

Thomas nodded slowly. “Alright, how about we see how you’re feeling come morning, okay?”

“I guess. Can we go join the others n-now?” Galen breathed out a sigh of relief at what he considered a reprieve. By tomorrow morning, he would be gone!

“That sounds like a wonderful idea. We can both warm up by the fire,” Thomas replied with a smile.

As they made their way towards the fire, Thomas was once again taken aback by his concern for this young man. ‘What is it about this lad? I’ve really no business telling him these things, but he’s so young and lost here. Maybe this is my new path in life; to guide the young and less experienced men with us. Yet why this one? He’s so beautiful it scares me. No! I’ll not think of this more. Let us just enjoy a fire.’

Galen walked a short distance behind Thomas. He was saddened by his fear of medical people and procedures because he saw it now as something that would prevent him from being with his new friend. He didn’t understand why or how Thomas had become the pivotal person in this frightening place that his world had shrunk to. He desperately missed his family and tried hard not to dwell on the painful memories of home. He filed all the negative thoughts away and concentrated on making the brief amount of time he had left with Thomas as special as possible. The momentary lightening of his heart showed in his footsteps as he lengthened his stride to catch up to the bigger man.

Wayne got up and threw another handful of twigs into the fire, letting the flames warm his face. For the first time since landing on this island, he felt a small measure of hope. They had been fed a few hot decent meals, now had their own beds and had even been able to clean up properly and get a change of clothes. Samuel had been very helpful indeed with the sleeping arrangements by finding out that he and Wes were put together into the same tent. Wayne had been very grateful for the help and he smiled to himself as he thought about the quiet way the older man went about accomplishing things.

Without realizing it, he began to hum a small tune as he poked the bonfire with a stick. Wes subconsciously picked it up immediately. It was a popular, catchy tune and soon a few others had joined in. The twins smiled at the small gathering of men, encouraged by their participation. This was what they did best, engaging with the audience, making people forget their troubles and worries as they filled their senses with their beautiful voices.

Jordan felt his back pocket. It was still there; his most prized possession, the only thing he owned of any value. He would have liked to take the harmonica out and play along with the music, but was just too shy to do so.

Brodie asked for and received permission from Galen to borrow his guitar. When the younger man had admitted to being too tired to play it, Brodie, whose own had been stolen during the voyage, volunteered to accompany the singers.

Aiden was quiet as he watched how the twins singing began to boost everyone’s moral and he actually found himself joining in along with many others. When the tunes turned more sombre, Aiden, like many of the men here, felt his throat tighten. He swallowed a bit and tried to think of something other than home.

Wayne led the singing, easily slipping from one melody to another and making up a cheerful medley. Finally, he slipped into a soft haunting lullaby filled with dreams of home and loved ones. Galen yawned and rubbed at his eyes, Levi turned his face into the broad chest of his husband, and Mitchell heaved a despondent sigh. The mood shifted as the song ended. Then only silence filled the air until one by one the men began to turn in for the night.

TBC……

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