Chapter Two

Raythe had spent a lot of the afternoon leaning carelessly against a solid tree with his arms crossed defensively in front of him as he watched the activity of the camp being put together. He glanced down and plucked at a couple of feathers still clinging to his shirt before tossing them into the wind. “Damn smelly things,” he grumbled under his breath. At one point in time, he had halfheartedly assisted in moving ducks and chickens. Some of the men had made friendly overtures, but he had rebuffed all of them.

Trust was a dangerous thing. The more people you trusted, even with simple friendship, the more people there were who could betray you. He had long since thought himself resigned to the fact that he would always be alone. But he found himself oddly longing to be able to accept the friendship so easily offered. Suddenly being alone didn’t seem as safe as it once had. He turned away and aimlessly sauntered back to the ocean to watch the waves rolling in.

He was distracted from his depressing thoughts by the sound of raised voices and stealthily made his way over to observe unseen as a quarrel developed between two men a little further down the beach.

Wayne had been wandering along the shoreline, trying to keep space between him and the rest of the crowd. The situation was unbearable, and he wanted badly to cry but didn’t want anyone to see him. Angrily he brushed at his eyes and almost stumbled over the lone figure sitting on the sand.

“Hey!” an indignant voice shot out. “You better damn well watch where you’re going, you clumsy oaf!” Spyke demanded.

Wayne regained his balance and glared at the young man who was hugging his knees to his chest. ‘How dare he speak to me like that!’ he thought. ‘Doesn’t he know who I am?’

“Watch yourself, you idiot!” Wayne snorted with his nose delicately turned up. Their eyes locked; both prepared for battle.

Quentin’s headache had dissipated by now and he had come down to the shore with a few of the others for a badly needed break. If only his wrist wasn’t hurting so badly.

He passively listened to the two young men for a couple of minutes and when the argument appeared to be heating up, walked over and stepped in between them. It only took a few quiet words to get things under control and each man to go back to what he’d been doing, with Wayne moving further down the beach to find the privacy he desired.

As he slowly trudged away, Wayne turned his head back a few times, resentment boiling in his chest about the way he had been so peremptorily dismissed. In a huff, he settled down some distance off, rested his back against a damp log and silently observed the few men still milling about, his eyes brooding.

Samuel had also heard the arguing, but before he could intervene, he saw the other man approach and sort out the situation. He watched as the two would-be combatants separated with one heading off in the opposite direction and throwing himself down on the sand. The young man looked so crestfallen that Samuel couldn’t help but go with the temptation to offer solace. This surprised him, as usually he would have just walked away from any other similar circumstances. Instead, within minutes he found himself standing over the forlorn young man and wondering what to do or say next.

Wayne squinted up at the stranger. Then he shrugged and dropped his chin onto his chest with lips pressed tightly and looking dangerously like a pout.

Going with the first idea to come into his mind, Samuel started to speak in as optimistic a manner as he could muster. “You know, all of us are having to make changes in our lives. Some more than others, I’d wager. But I bet if we give each other a chance, things will work out. Bet you’ve as much to offer as the rest of us.”

Wayne grinned shyly. “That’s a nice thing to say, thanks.”

Samuel reached down to help the other man to his feet. “Okay, no more feeling sorry for ourselves. Let’s go help out. We wouldn’t want to give the impression that we were unwilling to do our fair share, would we?”

Obediently, Wayne let the bigger man pull him up. They exchanged names while shaking hands; then they both turned and headed back to join the rest of the group.

Quentin had smiled sadly as he’d watched the second of the two adversaries making his way down the ocean front away from the main group while the other remained forlornly seated on the beach. Acknowledging that aside from breaking up the fight, there was nothing else he was inclined to do for them at the moment, he took a deep breath and turned away. Determining constructive activity would be more productive than self-pity; he returned to the area where he felt his help would be put to better use.

As he started to work on his list, but the sharp pain flared up again in his wrist and the pencil he’d been holding fell to the ground.

“Here, let me help you with that. I’ve been told my penmanship is very neat and legible. I’m Kelby Curtis.”

“Thank you, Kelby. I’m Quentin. It seems like I managed to sprain my wrist while disembarking earlier. I’d sure welcome the aid of an assistant.” He smiled at the young man standing in front of him.

“If you let me have a page of that note pad, I’ll write out what is in those barrels and wooden bins,” Kelby offered. Pencil and paper in hand, he merrily called out each label before writing it down. His smile widened with the growing variety of items: dried meat, sow-belly, salted fish, flour, lard, molasses, and dry beans among them.

Samuel, trailed by Wayne, took upon himself the task of seeing that the items needed for their evening meal got over to the cooking area as soon as possible. He enlisted Wayne’s help in carrying the bins of well-stored root vegetables. “You grab the handle on that side, Wayne, and I’ll take this one. Two of us toting will make the load lighter.”

“I’ll get you some kindling, Thomas, if you like,” Galen offered, knowing he was physically unable to help with heavier tasks and would only be in the way.

“That would be very helpful, Galen. However, promise me you’ll stay nearby. We haven’t scouted out the area yet and I wouldn’t want you to become lost or get hurt while gathering it.”

Galen tilted his head to one side and peered into the older man’s face. His reading of the words on Thomas’ lips and the sincerity in the other man’s eyes made it easy for him to accept the directive. The young man felt a sudden flood of warmth at the first sign of concern or caring from someone other than his family since this whole ordeal began. Even the guard who had supplied him with that putrid medicine had only done so because he was fed up with toting the slop-bucket from Galen’s small cabin. “I p-promise!” Galen’s cheeky, infectious grin momentarily erased the signs of fatigue and illness from his young face.

Galen pulled off his sweater and draped it across the end of a large, unopened crate; one of two housing more food staples and presently being used as working surfaces. “Anybody w-want to help gather firewood?” Galen called out as he turned around to face the others. He was pleased to see two men who looked to be closer his age step forward.

 “Sure thing, Galen!” Brodie called out, happy to assist with a chore that was not as physically taxing as what he had been doing.

Levi was a bit nervous around so many new people, but he did want to help. “I’ll come with you!”

“Thanks!” Galen was relieved to have two others help lighten the workload. He would not admit how tired he was getting for fear of appearing not to be pulling his own weight. “M-my name is Galen.” He held out his hand.

Levi blinked in surprise at the stutter but had an immediate understanding of the hardships Galen must have gone through and he was well-mannered enough not to remark on it. There was something fragile in those soft grey eyes. “Levi. It’s nice to meet you.” He firmly shook Galen’s hand before offering his own to the other man.

“Brodie. But Galen already knows that because we briefly crossed paths earlier.” Two pair of eyes met and silently acknowledged the fact while not verbally adding to it.

Wesley sulked as the three young men wandered off with something like envy in his eyes. He wished he had volunteered to go along. He liked making new friends and he always had a group around him at home. Suddenly, he felt so abandoned. It seemed even Wayne had made a new friend as the younger twin watched his brother traipsing behind an older man.

With a sigh, he wrapped his arms around himself as if seeking succour and protection from the blanket he’d confiscated. It was scratchy but Wesley felt comforted by its warmth. Clutching it tightly, he wandered over to where some men were getting ready to prepare a meal. He observed them for a bit while pondering if maybe helping would beat standing around feeling alone and left out.

Thomas watched as Galen went out of his sight in search of wood. He couldn’t understand why he felt so drawn to watch over the young man. The last thing he was interested in was getting involved with someone. The memory of his beloved Jacob still burned in his heart. ‘No,’ he firmly told himself. He was only being thoughtful of the lad who was obviously in need of some support; it did not mean he felt attracted to him.

It took only moments for the three men to work their way into the trees. It was immediately apparent that the forest had stood for some time and there was plenty of dead wood littering the leaf-strewn ground. It must have fallen during previous winters. They couldn’t carry more than an armful each, but between the three of them, they should be able to find enough to prepare dinner with.

“Until today, I hadn’t seen you since we were taken out of that miserable jail and marched onto the ship, Galen. Where were you throughout the voyage?” Brodie asked conversationally as they walked along.

Galen shrugged. “It was a rough voyage for m-me, so I stayed in the cabin they p-put m-me in. I’m so glad w-we’re finally here.”

“Me too, but I’m also kind of scared,” Brodie reply softly for Galen’s ears only.

Galen began picking up sturdy sticks almost immediately, and Brodie wholeheartedly followed his example. Although truth be told, both young men were much more interested in looking around than they were in actually searching for wood. Levi seemed to share their interest at least to some extent and was also glancing around speculatively at the large oak, willow, ash and birch trees, among others.

They each had almost full armloads of wood when Galen noticed the noise of the emerging encampment was very faint indeed. He remembered Thomas’ concerned request that he stay nearby and realised just how exhausted he was becoming.

“I think w-we b-better go b-back,” he suggested as he turned to retrace his steps.

“Probably for the best, Galen. I think we have plenty of kindling for now,” Brodie agreed. Although he was enjoying the sense of freedom that being here gave him, he couldn’t help but notice just how drained the younger man was.

“Oh, come on, guys!” Levi protested. “We really aren’t that far away yet, and I think there may be a clearing just a little further on. We could maybe rest there before heading back.”

“Not m-me!” Galen insisted. “I p-promised Thomas I w-wouldn’t w-wonder off.” He shifted the bundle in his arms to get a better grip and began trudging towards the campsite.

“I think he’s right, Levi! Let’s get what we have back to camp so the men can get supper started,” Brodie once again supported Galen even though he usually wasn’t so outspoken, especially to strangers. “Galen and I are getting tired, and you’re looking kind of weary yourself,” he mentioned before following in Galen’s footsteps.

“Honestly,” Levi said, trying to hold his irritation in check. “I am a grown man. I can take care of myself. I wasn’t planning on us being too long. After all, I know they are going to need the wood.” He was a little disappointed at giving up the opportunity to go with the sense of adventure he’d suddenly been hit with. “Oh alright,” he grumbled and reluctantly followed the others.

The three wood gatherers’ return coincided with the completion of the stove assembling and a fire was quickly started. Brodie returned to assisting with relocating unpacked items while Galen set about fetching requested ingredients needed for the meal.

Levi looked around to see if Troy had returned and was somewhat relieved to discover he hadn’t. The day was beginning to catch up on him and feeling rather worn out he decided to take a well-deserved break and rest like his partner had instructed him to do. He found a nice shady spot away from the on-going hubbub and was soon fast asleep.

Wesley felt his stomach growl and he looked longingly at the items being laid out for preparation. The man placing baking ingredients out on the makeshift table looked up and smiled. “Do you want to help?”

Wesley hesitated. What did he know about cooking? He wasn’t even sure if he could maintain a fire, but he welcomed the thought of keeping his hands occupied. “But you already have two helpers,” he pointed out, believing there would be no need for anyone else.

“I am sure we would all appreciate another pair of hands,” Walker assured him. “Are yours available?”

“Yes, please. What would you like me to do?” Wesley asked, stepping forward. Carelessly, he let the blanket fall from his shoulders onto the ground.

“Ah, ah, ah,” Walker raised one eyebrow and nodded at the blanket. “That’s no way to treat our limited stock of bedding. We have to make everything last as long as we can. It’s everyone’s responsibility to look out for one another. Do you agree? Yes? Good! Pick it up then, please.”

Awed by the authority in the man’s voice, Wesley bent and picked it up. He looked back at the man, unsure of himself.

“Fold it, neatly!” Walker said, not unkindly when he noticed Wesley looking a bit lost. “Now put it back where you found it. Good! Come on back now. Thad and Jordan here are getting carrots, turnips and onions ready for Thomas. Do you think you can help peel and cut up the potatoes?”

Suddenly, Wesley no longer felt so lost and forsaken. With a little sigh and a shadow of a smile on his lips, he picked up the knife and carefully started peeling a potato.

Meanwhile, Aiden was still at work examining the contents of the crates he’d opened. He felt the presence of someone and looked up to see a well-built man standing across from him.

“Hello, my name is Preston Chadwick.” A tall brown-haired man offered his hand to Aiden. “I was in forestry.”

“Aiden here. ’Tis pleased I am to meet ye,” the big Scot responded in an opened manner.

“Looks pretty much like all needed hands are hard at work, so I was thinking of checking out the trees and possible lumber availability for when we start the construction of new homes.”

“Aye, we’re going to be needing a fair number cut,” Aiden commented knowingly. “See ye at the evening meal!” he called out as Preston disappeared into the forest just as Troy had a short time earlier.

In the meantime, Troy was glancing up to the clear sky as he walked towards the place where a buck-skinned dressed man had mentioned a freshwater tributary. He gave thanks for the good weather. This trek was tough going enough and would have been made all the more difficult had it been raining. The underbrush he was plodding his way through was thick; the path Brock had walked was barely visible.

Spring seemed to have taken firm hold of the island, as his eyes were next drawn to the colourful wildflowers that dotted the landscape. Almost immediately he heard the rush of moving water and followed the sound as he admired the beauty of his new surroundings. He assumed he must be nearing a wild-life watering hole and it briefly crossed his mind to wonder just what kind of animals they’d find here.

He came upon the stream quickly enough. Its crystal-clear water looked refreshing, as he proved when he drank a handful. Deciding the water was safe, he knelt down to fill the buckets. Having done his self-assigned task, he paused for a moment to do a little more exploring before returning to the others.

He noticed a trail, obviously used by deer and other animals, running next to the waterway and over a small hill. Deciding he had at least a few more moments to explore, he followed the path to the hill’s crest and stopped. The ground sloped gently away from him before levelling out in a veritable sea of greenery. Trees formed a natural fence around what was easily a mile wide clearing, with a few more dotting the huge field. To the right, the stream split the landscape and flowed through a small pond at the ground’s lowest point.

Troy could already envision the fine little settlement that could be made here. With a grin on his face, he returned to his abandoned water buckets and started back to the encampment. Eager to tell his partner and everyone else what he had found, he picked up his pace.

“Here’s that water I promised you. Sorry it took as long as it did,” Troy said as he placed the buckets on the table.

“Thank you. It didn’t seem you were gone long at all. I’m only happy to know we have a supply of fresh water nearby.” Thomas gestured towards the large iron stove. “I still find it hard to believe we’ve been provided with such a blessing. It will make preparing food for almost thirty men a great deal easier than cooking over an open fire.”

“Yes indeed. Not a problem at all. Glad to be of help.” Troy was slightly distracted. He had been looking for his companion since he returned to the camp, but the young man didn’t seem to be in evidence. “Thomas, you wouldn’t happen to know what my partner has been up to and where he is at the moment, would you?”

“Levi left with Galen and another lad in search of wood for the fire. I did caution them to not wander far as we have not yet scouted the area and didn’t want them to get lost or run into anything dangerous. They returned a little while ago and I think Levi wanted to rest a bit. He may be on the far side of the clearing where it is a little quieter.”

Some of Troy’s cheer faded with the man’s words. “Thanks! I’ll just go find him.”

He located Levi almost immediately and stood looking down at the slumbering man with an expression of loving exasperation for several moments before clearing his throat and awakening him.

“What did I tell you when you wanted to go with me a short time ago?” Troy asked once he had Levi’s full attention.

Levi’s eyes fell to the ground and he mumbled a reply. A strong hand gripped his arm to pull him up from the ground and hold him in place as the other firmly connected with his backside. “Owww!” Levi glanced around, hoping no one had seen or heard what had just happened.

“Care to repeat that, Levi?”

“No. I mean you told me ‘no’ that I couldn’t go with you.”

“That’s right. And where did I tell you to stay?”

“In the camp,” Levi answered with a sigh.

“If I was worried about your safety when you were with me, whatever possessed you to think I would endorse you going off without me?”

“I just wanted to be useful,” Levi softly offered his excuse, knowing it would not satisfy the older man.

“We’ll be discussing this later, my boy,” Troy assured him. “Right now, since you insist on doing your part, we’ll gather more kindling.” He bit the inside of his cheek so the younger man wouldn’t see the smile forming.

Meanwhile, Larry had approached Aiden once again to submit a progress report. “We’ve started pitching the other tents, Aiden. One, somewhat smaller than the communal tent, has been set up for medical purposes and a couple of others for storing the supplies. However, we’re unsure of how many in total need to be erected. I came to see what you thought about it.”

“Thought about what, lad?” Aiden stopped what he was doing to give the other man his undivided attention.

Larry looked around at the number of men actively engaged in doing their part to get things set up. “Well, I don’t know how many men should be allocated to each tent. Do you think we should ask who wants to sleep with whom or maybe draw straws?”

“I would suggest ye wait until morn to erect the remaining tents. ’Twill be plenty of time to decide who wants to share a tent with whom,” Aiden patiently suggested, unsure of why the younger man expected him to have all the answers.

“That sounds like a plan, sir,” Larry answered. “I’ll go tell the others. Thanks! Hmm, would you like me to organise a group of men to scout out the surrounding area?”

“I think we’re all verra busy at the moment, laddie, so ’tis best to put it off for a few days. However, the digging of a good size fire pit is badly needed.” Aiden couldn’t help but smile when the young man’s face lit up at that suggestion.

“I’ll get that project underway right away, Aiden.”

The big Scot shook his head as the ex-marine turned to walk away. ‘Aye, we’re soon going to have to decide on a method of establishing some leadership here,’ he mused and went back to what he’d been doing.

While he worked, Thomas couldn’t help but watch over Galen as he moved about. ‘That lad needs to slow down,’ he thought.

“Seeing as w-we have enough firewood for the time b-being, Thomas, I’m going to fetch the m-milk. Aside from the b-bit W-walker needed for the b-biscuits, the rest has b-been standing in w-water for a w-while now, so it should be nice and cool.”

“I’ve got to stir this stew, lad. If you wait a few minutes, I can help you with that.”

“It’s okay. I can do it!” Galen chuckled in a carefree manner and ran off on his self-appointed errand. Half way across the compound he tripped, fell down and slowly got back up. Then taking his time, he walked along the well-trodden path through the small stand of trees.

Thomas dropped the spoon into the large pot when he saw Galen fall. He was about the go after the boy when he got himself back up and headed towards the ocean once again

Arriving at the beach, Galen waded into the water and grasped the handles of the two buckets. He drew in a deep breath and flexed his fingers. The buckets are heavier than he remembered. Tightening his grip, he struggled to get them back to the cooking area.

Thomas sighed as Galen made his way back. ‘I’ve got to get that lad to sit down and take a rest. His legs are shaking as he walks, and he is awfully pale.’

“Here, Thomas,” Galen barely managed to mumble. He was completely out of breath. His arms and legs were sore, and he felt like curling up in a ball to just asleep somewhere.

“Let me take those, Galen. Sit yourself down on that log before you fall down. You’ve done enough to help; you need to take a rest.”

“B-but there is still so m-much to do, Thomas!”

Thomas took the heavy buckets over to the makeshift table. “Lad, you’re exhausted from being ill throughout the voyage. There is no shame in resting after all the hard work you’ve done,” he said as he guided Galen to a log that had been dragged near the stove. He felt the warmth would do the boy good. “Besides, I think most of today’s heavier work has been accomplished. There’s just supper to get over with.”

Galen glanced around at the others, most of whom were still busy. He turned pleading grey eyes up to Thomas; eyes that clearly showed his fatigue. He needed, wanted someone to stop him, to convince him he had done his fair share.

Thomas gently but firmly, pushed Galen down. “You sit yourself here and don’t you move until your supper is ready. Is that clear, young man?”

“B-but, Thomas...” Galen protested even though his eyes were bright with unshed tears of exhaustion.

“No buts. You’ve worked as hard, or harder, than any man has since we sent foot on this beach. It is time now to rest.” 

Galen sat where Thomas had left him, enjoying the aroma of bubbling stew and baking biscuits until sleep overtook him and he slid off the log. It was here Thomas found him when it was time to eat.

A short while later, Troy and Levi returned to camp and made their way directly towards the big canvas shelter with its sides rolled up. Both were impressed with how quickly things had been put together as the smell of food cooking assailed their nostrils. In short order, the two arm loads of wood they carried were placed on the pile next to the stove where Thomas was stirring a cauldron-size pot of wonderful smelling stew.

Thomas looked gratefully at the addition to his woodpile. “Thank you, gentlemen. We’re burning up a lot of the smaller pieces, so every bit helps.”

“Not a problem at all,” Troy answered. “Is there anything else we could do to help here?”

“No, thank you. We’ve got things well in hand and this meal should be ready shortly,” Thomas replied.

“Alright then, since you gentlemen have everything under control here and I notice a fire pit well underway with additional firewood being chopped and piled nearby it. We’ll go see if more hands can be of use with that chore.”

Raythe was bored. He didn’t know how to be part of a group and wasn’t even sure he wanted to be. The entertainment value he had temporarily discovered in trying to whittle soon disintegrated and he found himself at loose ends. So he strolled along the sandy beach for a short while before dropping down on the ground with his back against a tree.
He glanced around when he heard a noise that sounded vaguely familiar. When it didn’t repeat itself immediately, he shrugged and tried to put it out of his mind.

But the odd noise came again and Raythe looked behind the tree where it seemed to be coming from. He saw a covered basket that he hadn’t noticed before. It had been pushed underneath a large bush and had somehow been missed during the removal of the crates. The high-pitched sound was repeated, and he could have sworn he saw the basket move. Maybe some kind of animal had crawled into it. He moved closer to investigate. Kneeling in the dirt, he pulled the container to him. It was a bit heavier than he had expected and he was right, it did move. Just a quiver, but it was there.

Carefully, he examined it and found that the basket, large enough to hold a small child, had latches that would allow the entire top half to be lifted off when they were released. There was also a much smaller opening in the very top, with its own latch.

He decided, for reasons he was never sure of, to share his discovery with the others. Exercising care, he lifted and carried it along the path to the area where some men were working. He placed it back on the ground and impudently queried, “anyone interested in seeing what’s in this?” Then he set about investigating further.

His question had drawn the attention of those nearby, but it never occurred to him to ask anyone for assistance. He had always been on his own and fatalistically thought that he always would be. With a shrug he made a quick decision. Flipping the catch on the topmost hatch, he opened it and pushed his hand inside.

Warmth, softness, movement, and a surprising wetness were followed almost immediately by a small but sharp pain. He jerked his arm back with a yelp and closely examined his hand. A single drop of blood welled up from a tiny mark on one finger. His startled yell attracted even more attention. Several men came over to see what had happened. For one of the few times in his life, he was thankful for the darker skin of his heritage, as it kept his blush from showing.

“What happened?” asked Samuel.

“I saw him put a hand in the basket there, and it seems that something bit him,” answered Gille.

Ignoring the murmuring around him, Raythe dabbed the blood off on his dirty shirt and glared at the basket.

Mitchell made a comment about being careful, but dark eyes never moved from their target.

“It’s alright,” Raythe said aloud, feeling the corners of his mouth turning up. “I think I know exactly what is in there.” Without a moment’s hesitation, he plunged his hand through the top of the basket and felt a smile stretch across his face. Carefully manoeuvring back through the opening, he pulled out a small black and tan object. It was moving vigorously.

As he brought it protectively into his arms, the puppy scrambled up his chest to lick enthusiastically at the face of its rescuer. For just a moment, Raythe tried to stop the little animal, but four paws moved a lot faster than he could keep up with and a tail whipped back and forth so fast it was a blur. The puppy’s entire body was wriggling with excitement and affection. For the first time in well over two months, the young man opened his mouth and allowed laughter to escape. Not cynically or sarcastically, but with pure joy. ‘Maybe,’ it finally occurred to him, ‘I need not be so alone after all.’

The men gathering about couldn’t help but smile at the enthusiasm the little bundle exhibited at being free of the basket which was now rocking as several smaller yips and whimpers were herd.

Hendrik stepped forward to undo the remaining latches and as soon as the lid was removed, the barking increased. Another puppy tumbled out and waddled into the crowd while still more waited in what must have been their home for several days.

No one wondered aloud why the dogs’ past owner had taken them off the ship and so callously abandoned them

Jordan got down on his hands and knees to get a closer look. “I’d like to have one?” he softly intoned as he reached in to pet what appeared to be the runt of the litter.

“Help yourself,” Raythe encouraged.

“Oh, the poor things,” Seth said, suddenly appearing from out of nowhere. No one thought to ask where he’d been all afternoon and he made no effort to introduce himself. “Looks like they’re deformed,” he mockingly declared. “You might have to drown them.” He deliberately ignored Jordan and noted that the younger man also appeared to be keeping his distance.

Raythe looked up in horror and held the pup possessively closer.

Levi gave a derisive snort. “They are not deformed,” he informed Seth scornfully. “Haven’t you ever seen a dachshund before?”

“Levi!” Troy was standing right next to his partner and reacted immediately to the disrespectful tone. Without even thinking about it he laid a fairly discreet and light swat on the young man’s backside.

Levi turned bright red since he was sure someone must have seen it. “I’m sorry,” he apologised without being told to. “I shouldn’t have spoken that way since it really isn’t that common a breed of dog in some areas. They are sometimes bred to hunt badgers and can be very tenacious.” He spoke quickly in an effort to cover his embarrassment. “My father used to breed them,” he added as an afterthought.

Looking back at the basket, they saw that not all of its contents were little puppies. Cowering in middle of her brood was a larger and longer haired version of them. The dog, who was obviously the mother, whimpered steadily and seemed fearful of being harmed in some way. She must have been trapped with her numerous offspring for quite some time. Small bones around her paws showed that she had been fed, but the pups had mostly been feeding on her. Her cowering behaviour showed that she had in all likelihood been abused.

Levi knelt down and held out a cautious hand towards the dog. He felt a presence close to his side and looked up questioningly at Troy.

Looking into those pleading eyes, Troy could only sigh. “I’m not even going to try and deny you the dog,” he said with a chuckle. The grin that lit up his partner’s face was reward enough.

Both men knew once she was cleaned up and had some proper nourishment, she would be a bright copper colour with long hair that would almost brush the ground. “So, what are you going to call her,” Troy inquired.

Levi considered this for a few moments. “Cherry,” he finally declared. “It was the name of all the best hunting dogs we ever owned. I may not like my family right now, maybe never, but that is one tradition I don’t mind carrying on.”

With the commotion over, the majority of the men left, but there were fewer dogs too. Mitchell, Preston, and Kelby stepped forward, each man adopting one of the cuddly little creatures. Jordan had already grabbed up his puppy and run off to show the men working in their makeshift kitchen. It was only moments before the basket was empty, five pups and their mother having been carried off in loving arms.

Wayne observed the group sullenly. All the puppies were gone, and he desperately wanted one too. Back home at their country estate, they’d had many dogs and he missed them running around his legs and lapping at his hands. All of a sudden, he felt sick with longing. Perhaps it was the thought of home or possibly just the need to have something to call his own, but it hit him so hard in the stomach, he thought he was going to throw up.

He watched as the basket was carried away by Samuel. It was filthy beyond saving and would have to be burned. As he dejectedly followed the others, he made up his mind then and there to bide his time so that as soon as an opportunity presented itself, he’d just take one of the puppies for himself and hide it.

“Aiden, the medical crate has been moved to the tent that has been designated as our future infirmary,” Larry announced as he approached to deliver yet another progress report. “Gille, Nathan, Hendrik and Kelby who’ve been helping you and Quentin unpack, have piled up the blankets and pillows needed for tonight and moved all containers of food supplies to the mess hall. Nathan also organised the relocation of all the empty crates to the end of the clearing ready to use in the construction of pens for the livestock. Yancey, Samuel, Brodie and Wayne have re-positioned a lot of unopened containers but many still remain here. Every sleeping tent, once they are set up of course, will have six pallets with two blankets and a pillow for each man. Likewise, there are cots with necessary bedding for the Infirmary when needed. And the fire pit is almost ready.”

“Och, we’ve certainly accomplished a fair day’s work then.” Aiden was astonished at the young man’s ability to remember so many of the men’s names. “That grand aroma coming from the mess hall is making me insides growl.” He laughed as his stomach bore witness to the truthfulness of his words. 

“By the way, we’re going to need a man or two willing to form a latrine detail first thing in the morning, and sooner or later we’re going to need a well dug.”

“Well, I can certainly see where yer military training is coming in handy, lad.”

“Just now, I say we call it a day and go have something to eat,” Quentin suggested, even though a quick glance around showed a good number of crates and barrels untouched.

“Aye, I’ll just go fetch that young lad I saw sitting on the sand by his wee self a while earlier,” Aiden offered as he waved the two men on their way. He frowned when he noticed a man dressed in what could only be a fancy gambler’s attire, walking towards the mess hall and wondered where he’d been hiding out.

The sun was barely beginning to show signs of its descent when Thomas looked down at the small figure curled up in the sand, sleeping soundly. He momentarily thought to let the lad continue to sleep but knew as important as rest was, Galen needed some good warm nourishment to restore his health. He gently put a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Galen, supper’s ready. It’s time to wake up.”


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