Chapter Forty-two

It was the last day of another long week. The men had just finished breakfast and were filing out of the mess tent with plans to get their various chores done up as quickly as possible in anticipation of tomorrow’s day of rest.

Galen raced headlong back to the encampment. He had to find Thomas and make his friend aware of the carnage they had discovered in the meadow.

“Th-Thomas!” Galen panted, glancing over his shoulder and tugging on the older man’s sleeve. In his haste, he failed to take notice of the conversation taking place; not that it would have made any difference to him.

“Galen, I’m speaking with Aiden and Brock. It would only be polite to wait until I’m done or if urgent, say excuse me.” Thomas was trying to give a stern look as he spoke but soon noticed that Galen was out of breath and appeared pale and somewhat shaken.

“B-but Thomas, a w-wild animal got in w-with the livestock sometime during the n-night; an ewe and her lamb w-were killed. You’ve gotta come see!” The younger man continued to pull on the bigger man’s shirt in an effort to get him moving.

“Good God, this we do not need. Show us where this happened,” Thomas requested.

Hastily following in Galen’s footsteps, the three older men went to investigate. They found Raythe and Kelby standing over the bloody carcass of a sheep. It didn’t take long to determine a large wolf had made its down from the hills sometime during the early morning hours. There was extensive damage done to a small lamb and it appeared as if the predator had attempted to drag off the ewe for future meals but had been disturbed at some point during the process and had left the scene, abandoning its fallen prey.

“Chances are if we dinna track down this creature, ‘twill return and we’ll lose more livestock,” Aiden stated as he glanced over the nearby wooded area.

“That is true,” Brock muttered. He had been reading the signs, getting an idea of what had taken place here. “I believe, gentlemen, we are dealing with an injured animal which may have been ostracised by his pack. He seems to be favouring his hind leg. I’ m going to put together a small hunting party.” He turned to face those who had come to look into the carnage. “Who would like to join me?” he inquired.

Several men stepped forward. Brock nodded his selection of Aiden and Samuel, who quickly went off to collect their gear and leave last minute instructions with their partners.

“Look here, Thomas,” Galen softly requested as he bent to lift the branch covering the body of a small dog. “It’s Seth’s p-puppy,” he sadly informed the man. “I think he m-may have b-been trying to chase off the w-wolf.”

“Poor little creature. I’m sure Seth will feel very wretched about this,” Thomas sadly commented with a shake of his head.

Seth pushed his way through the small crowd and spotted his pet. With a look of horror on his face, he spun around and verbally attacked Galen.

“This is your fault,” the incensed ex-gambler screamed, coming almost nose to nose with the surprised recipient of his pain and rage. “You’re a freak. I wish you’d have died on the voyage over here. In fact, it would have been better for us had you never been born.” He jumped over the fence and fled into the woods, leaving a stunned silence in his wake.

Galen hesitantly scanned the faces of those still present before hanging his head in trepidation of further accusation. He felt a gentle hand on his shoulder and backed against the supportive warmth of Thomas’ large frame. Glancing up at the older man, he whispered in his own defence. “I-I didn’t do anything. I-I just found him like this.”

Thomas wrapped his arms around Galen. “I know, Galen. You are at no fault here,” he soothed.

“I’m very sorry for what just happened, Galen,” Preston softly offered as he stepped forward. “Seth is understandably hurt but he had no cause to say the things he did. They are entirely unfounded.” Turning to Thomas, Preston informed him he would be going after Seth with intentions of getting a few things straightened out.

“Of course, go see to him and tell him we are all sorry for the loss of the pup,” Thomas replied.

Recognising the need to get things back on track, Thomas set about assigning tasks and encouraging the men to go about their business.

“Kevin, would you please take the dead sheep and prepare them for Walker. I’m sure he’ll be able to produce a fine mutton stew, minimising our loss.”

“N-not the b-baby, Thomas, n-not the lamb; I w-wanna bury her, p-proper like,” Galen pleaded, once again pulling on his mentor’s shirt sleeve to regain his attention.

Thomas looked at the remains of the small lamb. To be honest there wasn’t a great deal left and he didn’t want to see Galen upset any further than he was. Giving his young charge a gentle smile of indulgence he replied, “very well, we’ll bury the poor thing.”

Kevin grabbed up the two front legs and got Dallas to grab up the back ones of the dead ewe. They carried it to the area behind the mess hall where Brock had set up a large butcher’s block.

“Dallas, I’m going to need your help butchering this animal.”

“No way!” Dallas grimaced at the thought.

“It was not a request, young man.” Kevin was well aware of what Dallas was doing but he wasn’t going to call him on it yet. “You’ve wriggled out of most of the more disagreeable tasks on the island. However, this I need your help with.”

“Hi, Walker,” Kevin greeted as they walked into the mess tent.

“Hello, Kevin. What is all the commotion out there?” Walker enquired as Thad and Jordan stepped up beside him, their curiosity getting the better of them.

“The animals were attacked in the meadow this morning and I have been given the task of butchering the sheep killed by what we believe was a wolf. A hunting party is heading out to search for it. As usual it is necessary for us to make as much use of the carcass as we can.”

“Who made the discovery?” Thad wanted to know.

“Raythe, Galen and Kelby did when they went to care for the livestock,” Dallas answered.

“Shit!” Jordan muttered under his breath. “Wonder how Galen is handling it?” He was concerned for his friend, knowing how sensitive the young man was.

“Oh dear, we can ill-afford loses like that,” Walker commented and shook his head in dismay.

“True enough,” Kevin said soberly. “We lost a lamb as well but we may as well make the best of a bad situation. A stew was mentioned but I know of other things we can use it for. I know personally about blood sausage or black puddings, if you prefer one of the more refined terms.”

“The majority of the innards can be buried, with the exception of the heart, liver, and intestines. Also the stomach should be saved as I know Aiden will appreciate having haggis.” Walker smiled when he saw a couple of the younger men make a face as the Scottish delicacy was named. “I’d appreciate you cutting the hind halves into two large pieces for roasting on the spit. The ribs can also be kept separate. I’ll also see what I can do with the rest of the meat once you get it cut up. A good portion of it will go into a mutton stew but smoked sausage using the intestines will also make a nice change for breakfast.”

“Of course the hide can be used for clothing,” Kevin commented. “And I was thinking of skinning it with the wool left on. Where I come from, we make our winter coats from a pelt like that.”

“I would check with Nathan first if I were you. After all, he is the one responsible for providing our clothing,” Walker pleasantly pointed out. “Already in possession of a fair number of fur pelts, he may want the wool to try out the spinning wheel someone was thoughtful enough to include in the supplies we brought with us. That and the loom Mitchell recently put together.”

“I will do that. We better get on with it. I don’t want Galen to see me as he’s pretty upset about the whole affair.” Kevin left to go about his chore with a still sulking Dallas reluctantly trailing behind him.

Walker clapped his hands to indicate his partners were to get back to their chores. “I’ll finish up the dishes, guys, and pack some food for the hunting party. See if Brodie and Yancey are available to help you set up the spit and check out the supply of firewood for the pit.”

Levi went rushing to where Troy was sorting though some books in a small pup-tent they’d discovered among some packing debris. “Troy, I just heard they’re putting together a hunting party to go in search of a lone wolf that attack and killed a couple of sheep this morning. I’m going to offer to go; finally something has come up that I can really contribute to here.” The young man was smiling and excited, barely able to catch his breath.

“Absolutely not!” Troy responded firmly.

The look of enthusiasm on the younger man’s face quickly changed to one of shock. “Why not?”

“You are not a hunter, Levi, and it is far too dangerous.”

“I’m a crack shot, even you admitted that. You’ve never beaten me on the rifle range. I have an excellent chance of taking down that wolf.” Levi argued, sure he would win this.

Troy drew a deep breath, wanting to explain this to his husband without need for argument though it was becoming obvious to him that this was not going to be simple. “My love; being a crack shot on a rifle range does not mean you have hunting skills and going after a wolf is not the time to hone those aptitudes.”

“I don’t have to be the hunter. Aiden and Brock are good at that. I can be the marksman when they spot the thing. You know I can out-shoot them. I should be offering the talents that I have to this community. Isn’t that what the council has been asking us all to do?” Levi was sure that would persuade Troy to see his side.

“Levi, I am not prepared to argue with you over this. I will not have my husband traipsing off on some dangerous hunt without me and that is final,” the dark haired man replied sternly.

Levi grinned sure now he knew the answer. “Then you’ll come with us.”

“No, my love; the last thing a hunting party needs is too many people. All the noise and scent will scare the beast off.”

Frustrated with his partner’s inability to see things clearly, Levi’s temper flared. “Fine then, you stay but I am going!” he shouted and turned to storm from the tent.

He got less than three feet when he was stopped by the large form of his lover obstructing his path. “Do you want to rethink those words, young man?” Troy asked.

“No, I don’t!  I’m a grown man and if I want to go on a hunt, I bloody well will!” Levi attempted to move around the figure blocking him, but that was made impossible when he found himself flipped over Troy’s hard thigh. 

The older man had raised his left foot up to rest it on a rock, thus providing a lap of sorts to turn his young lover over. With his left arm wrapped tightly around the squirming body, he raised his right and brought it down heavily on the upturned bottom. 

Having been caught by surprise and thrown off balance, Levi found himself neatly trapped and his backside being thoroughly punished. As Troy rained down a series of very hard smacks, Levi’s anger and frustration came out in a litany of curses aimed at his husband’s dubious ancestry. However, the continued assault on his now tender butt had him reconsidering his language and he quickly changed to apologies and pleas for mercy. It wasn’t until he was sobbing out his sorrow that the spanking finally came to an end.

He was pulled up into Troy’s strong arms and held there as he released the last of his tears, soaking his chastiser’s shirt. “I’m sorry,” he whispered several times as the older man rubbed his back.

“I know you are, my love. It’s over now,” Troy soothed. “Though I will have you know my mother was not a…”  The rest of his words were swallowed when his husband covered his mouth with soft moist lips. 

“But I want to come with you, Brock,” Raythe insisted as he followed the tall mountaineer into their tent. “I promise to do exactly as you say.”

“You are breaking that promise as you make it, my boy. I have already said you cannot come with us. We have no idea how far we may have to travel or what we will be facing when we get there. I’ll not risk putting you in danger.”

“But, Brock….” Raythe’s on-going argument was cut off by a large hand appearing in front of his face.

“Cease! You are not coming with me and that is final. Now, you can remain here with that pout marring your handsome face or you can accept what will be and send me away with a smile.” Brock softened his rebuke by drawing the unhappy man into his arms and kissing him. “My decision has been made with your safety in mind and I expect your obedience, my love. I have a job to do and do not need the added burden of worrying about you. Be warned, boy, this will be a punishable offence should you choose to defy me.”

“Alright, I’ll stay; I’ll even try to smile but I won’t pretend to be happy,” Raythe grudgingly relented and returned the kiss. He stood back and quietly watched his partner assemble his gear.

Wes looked up from his supply of clothing as Nathan approached and his eyes widened. “Hi, Nathan,” he said warily. The other man had a ‘look’ which made Wes try to think what he could have done to upset him.

“Hello, yourself; I’d like a word with you, young man.” Nathan barely managed to maintain a stern expression on his face.

Wes put down the pants he’d fetched for mending and turned to face Nathan. “Did I do something wrong?” When Nathan used that tone and called him ‘young man’, Wes instinctively knew trouble was looming.

“Tell me what you know about some competition that seems to be going on, hmm? Rumours lead me to believe someone may have been talking out of turn?” The admonishment was mild, but Wes decided to tread carefully.


Nathan bent over until his face was inches from his lover’s. “Do you recall me requesting you not mentioning our personal activities to anyone?”

Wes cocked his head to one side. “What personal activities ... oh!”  The pit of his stomach suddenly clenched as he began to see the light.

“You know perfectly well what I am referring to, don’t you, Wesley?” Nathan’s voice was a purr in Wes’ ear, soft and menacing.

“I .. um ... no, I don’t ... um ...know what you are talking about,” Wes floundered helplessly as Nathan pulled him up.

“Quit the act, my boy! Word has gotten back to me that several of the younger men in our community have been hoodwinking their partners into participating in what they are calling ‘a stamina contest’. Are you really trying to tell me you know nothing about it?”

Wes choked and suddenly doubled over, trying hard not to laugh around the flutter in his belly. “Oh, really?”

“Just what am I going to do with you, Minx?” Nathan shook his head in feigned exasperation at his partner.

“Where did you hear this from?”

“Does it matter?” Nathan asked severely. “Fortunately for you, everyone else seems to be taking it with good humour and no one is terribly put out about the whole thing. Or else ...”

Wes grinned devilishly, seeing the lurking smile in Nathan’s eyes. “To be honest, we had great fun comparing notes!”

“Oh you did, did you?” Nathan growled and then decided to have some fun of his own.  “Did you happen to hear who was declared the winner?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” 

“Tease!” Nathan laughed. “As far as I am concerned, that contest is closed and all participants have withdrawn. But as for you, young man, for having instigated the whole thing.....” Nathan turned Wes slightly to one side and landed a none-to-gentle swat on the seat of his trousers before pulling him into his arms for a crushing hug.

“Ow!” Wes protested loudly, but more for form’s sake than anything else. The swat hardly stung and he felt a little tingle run down his spine. “You are my personal winner; always!” Wes whispered against Nathan’s neck moments before they were interrupted by the approach of their tent-mates.

“Why are you doing this?” Wayne’s voice was both pleading and plaintive as he trailed after Samuel, his hand trapped in Samuel’s big paw. 

Nathan gently pushed Wes away but left an arm around the slim shoulders. “What’s up, Samuel?” he asked as he saw the troubled look on Samuel’s face.

“Have you heard of the attack on our livestock earlier this morning?” Seeing the surprised expressions on the other men’s faces, Samuel quickly realised this came as news. “We lost two sheep and Brock has formed a small hunting party to track down and rid ourselves of the predator.”

“That is certainly not the best of news, Samuel. Is there anything Wes or I can do to help out?”

“Actually, there is. I need a favour, Nathan. I’m going to join Brock and Aiden on the hunt for the wolf and I need,,,”

“No, you don’t!” Wayne interrupted. “I can look after my...” His protest was cut off with a stern look from Samuel.

Nathan nodded. “It’ll be okay. I’ll keep an eye on him, Samuel. How long do you think you’ll be gone?”

“I hope it will not be overly long,” Samuel replied calmly, looking down at his fretting partner. “Probably less than a day I would think if we get lucky. Might be a good opportunity for us to gauge exactly how big this island is.”

Wayne pulled his hand away. “And you think I might disintegrate in just one day without you?”

“It might be longer if the animal senses it is being hunted,” Samuel explained tolerantly, hoping not to upset Wayne any more than was necessary. “We have to stop it getting any more livestock, but you know that.”

“I also know I don’t need a damned baby-sitter!” Wayne muttered bitterly.

Samuel inhaled and counted to three slowly. They had unconsciously developed into something of a family unit, so Samuel had no hesitation in saying openly and firmly, “You can go to Nathan like a well-behaved young man or you can go to him with a sore bottom. Choose carefully.”

Samuel kept his eyes on his partner for a couple of seconds.  When Wayne remained silent, he gave a brief nod and turned to Nathan. “Appreciate it, Nathan. I really don’t think we will be gone long but I don’t want to have to worry.” He saw the understanding in Nathan’s eyes and was grateful for it. They both knew how unpredictable their situation was and how fast it could change. “Wayne, I expect you to mind Nathan and do as you are told with good grace!”

“Yes, Samuel.” This was said softly and very reluctantly.

On impulse, Samuel reached out and pulled Wayne to him and  into a crushing bear hug. The action both surprised and pleased Wayne who wasn’t used to Samuel displaying his affections so openly. It went a long way in mollifying him to the situation at hand.

“Wes, just what is troubling you?” Nathan enquired after watching the other two men walk off and turning to find his partner frowning fiercely.

Wes’ eyes blazed with unexpected jealousy. “Why did you offer that?” he spat.

“Because, Minx, if it was me going off for an uncertain amount of time, my mind would be at peace knowing you had someone watching out for you,” Nathan patiently explained, hoping to pacify the angry man in front of him.

“He’s twenty-two fucking years old; he does not need someone watching over him!”

“True, but his partner prefers to leave confident that someone is available to help Wayne should the need arise.”

“And I don’t have a say in it, right?” Wes turned his shoulder, saying in a cold hard voice. “So it seems even my brother is more important than me!”

“Why would you even think something like that, Wesley?” It was Nathan’s turn to frown, but his was in confusion. He couldn’t for the life of him understand what had his partner so riled up. Reaching for Wes’ arm, he soothingly suggested, “although we’ve already talked before about a situation like this possibly arising, let’s go sit down and go over it again, shall we?”

“What’s there to say? It’s already decided!” Wes shook Nathan’s hand off and stalked away.

Nathan stood open-mouthed, totally baffled by the younger man’s uncalled-for and unreasonable behaviour. At first unsure of what his next move should be, he finally decided to wait it out. ‘He just needs time and space to work this out,’ he thought, sadly wishing Wes had shown enough faith in him to have talked things through.

“What would you have me do today, Aiden, while you are away?” Larry asked as he hastened to keep up with the big Scot.

“I feel ‘twould be best were ye to assist Mitchell and Hendrik in clearing up the construction site. Ye’ll be short-handed this day and ‘twill be yer responsibility to ensure all tools are stored away afore the day is o’er. Ye can ask Preston for help if need be.” Aiden flipped back the canvass door  flap and entered their tent just as his youngest partner came running up to them.

“Is it true, Aiden?” Spyke asked breathlessly. “Was the livestock attacked like they say and are you really going after a wolf?” The young man came to a sudden stop, barely managing to avoid crashing into either of the older men.

“Aye, ‘tis true. And before ye ask, the answer ‘tis nay; ye’ll no be coming with me.”

“Aw, Aiden, that’s not fair. There are no classes today and I don’t have many chores to do, so I …..” Spyke’s complaint was nipped in the bud when Aiden bent slightly and loudly whispered.

“I’ve a need for ye to keep an eye on our other partner here.” Aiden straightened as he exchanged glances with the man in question and an unspoken message was shared.

“Yeah right!” Spyke spat in disbelief. “We all know exactly who you expect to watch over whom.” He glared up at his partners, hand on hips and lip stuck out in a pout. He dropped the attitude as his voice changed to one of uncertainty. “You’ll be safe out there, eh big guy?”

Larry’s eyes glistened with the unexpected emotional twinge brought on by the younger man’s heartfelt appeal for assurance. He looked up at Aiden and saw the big man’s expressive face softening.

Gathering both his lovers into his arms, Aiden spent the next several minutes assuring them all would be well. Next he enlisted their help in getting ready for the upcoming trek.


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