Open for criticism, inspired by something I was thinking about as I fell asleep last night:
The deer paused on the edge of the thicket, her thick winter coat twitched at an itch as she carefully scanned about her. Her ears flicked forward at a sound from a bush only to relax as a small bird skittered across the leaf litter, she took another slow step. From behind a second, smaller deer emerged, a fawn almost a year old, judging by its size probably a female. The pair looked around carefully before moving slowly into the clearing and starting to crop at the vegetation around it’s edges. The bird hopped into the air and flew a few feet to perch on a fallen tree, it watched the deer for a few moments before fluttering away into the chill morning air.
* * *
The smell of leather mixed with grease and sweat lingered comfortingly in the sleepers nostrils as he lay shrouded in a blanket. His mittened hands were wrapped about the woodwork of his fusil as they had been when he fell asleep and his fingertips occasionally flexed against the familiar woodwork as he rested. Slowly sleep ebbed away and he became more aware of his surroundings, the rough wool of his blanket against his face, the woollen cap that had almost come off his head pushing his hair uncomfortably to one side, the chill in his feet. Odd. Jonathan had been sitting close to him sharing each others warmth in the cold night, he must have moved.
A faint rustle reached his ears and in an instant he was wide awake but he lay still, at first glancing up through his brows in the direction of the sound before looking around him. The morning was young but in the half light he saw Jonathan sitting propped up against a tree, his rifle levelled and resting on the top of the fallen trunk behind which they had made their beds. His left hand supported the gun whilst his right moved slowly, they made eye contact, then the hand moved palm downwards towards the floor; “stay still”. Then index and little finger raised to suggest horns, fist closed again then index and middle finger raised; “deer, two of them.” The sleeper nodded slowly, barely moving but enough to acknowledge the gesture. Jonathan’s hand moved again, pointing at himself then his hand flat to the ground, pointing at the sleeper and then palm down but higher up; “I’ll take the little one, you the big one.” Another slow nod.
Now fully awake the prostrate figure rolled slowly onto his front, his gun inching into position. He tugged the lose knots on the greased lock cover free and inched the hammer back to full ****. With infinite care he peered down the barrel and sized up the two animals standing in the clearing. The taller stood slightly to the front and he took aim just below and behind the ears, at this range a clear killing shot. Again he nodded his head to signal readiness and took up the pressure on his trigger. The report of Jonathan’s musket was followed a split second later by his own, as the smoke cleared he rolled onto his back and began to reload. His practiced hands brought the gun to half ****, filled the pan from his horn and pulled down the frizzen before pouring powder into an antler measure and from there down the barrel. He took a ball from the pouch on his waist, pushed it into the muzzle on top of a wad and rammed it home. “You missed” said Jonathan with a grin. Rising to their feet with loaded guns ready the pair moved one at a time into the clearing. The fawn was still but a trail of blood led into the trees. They dropped to one knee and Jonathan quickly thrust his knife into the artery at the fawns neck before skilfully gutting the animal. The stomach removed and thrown into a bush away from their sleeping place he carefully concealed the fawn behind the fallen tree and the pair began to follow the trail of blood into the trees. They did not have far to go, the beast had collapsed a little way in and kicked weakly as the two men approached. Jonathan approached from one side and put his full body weight onto the forelegs as his companion smoothly cut the animals throat. She quickly stilled and they gutted her together before carrying the carcass between them back to the clearing.
“Ezra? Jonathan? What was it? Micmacs? Mohegans? Whatever the hell they are?” A red faced man in a blue coat came crashing through the trees to where the pair now stood, their kill at their feet. He brandished a pistol in one hand and a ludicrously decorated sword in the other as he glanced around nervously. His eyes caught sight of the deer and his shoulders slumped as he relaxed looking from one man to the other.
“Put the cheese toaster away Mister Bailey, we saw these two and couldn’t resist.” Ezra grinned slightly as he gestured towards the fawn and the doe.
“But you were meant to be on guard, we thought…”
“Sorry Mister Bailey,” said Jonathan, “but we saw them and thought some fresh meat wouldn’t go amiss.” He looked over Bailey’s shoulder, “anyhow, if you thought we was being attacked, where are the others?”
“Guarding the wagons, I’ll go and tell them to relax.” Bailey shrugged in resignation, “next time you do something like that boys, warn me ok?”
Ezra and Jonathan looked at each other frowning quizzically as the older man stumped off towards where the rest of the party was camped a little way behind them. The two men picked up the deer and carried it over to where they had slept. Ezra rolled his blanket and lashed it to his knapsack whilst Jonathan cut a bough and lashed the two deer to it to carry to the wagons. The sun was rising now and their breath formed pale clouds in the crisp air, a gentle mist rose from the grass in the clearing. “Spring soon” Jonathan mused as they hoisted the animals onto their shoulders and walked the way Bailey had gone, “aye, and we should be in Hartford in a couple of days, I hope they are still recruiting” Ezra replied nodding to the morning sentry who stood a little distance from the wagons.
Ezra and Jonathan chatted as they first skinned and then butchered the deer. They were travelling to Connecticut where they had heard rumours that the army were recruiting rangers and, more importantly, paying a huge bounty to anyone with woodland experience. They were both young men, had served in the militia together and whilst not ‘woodsmen’ as such, not like some of the men who roamed the middle colonies in their greasy shirts and breech-clouts, they could travel quickly and quietly when needed and knew how to hunt. The militia had never paid well and in their experience seemed to have spent most of its time digging holes and marching whilst the regulars watched. Restless by nature the pair grew weary of menial chores and volunteered to help those who ranged around their small town to provide early warning against roving bands of natives. The war continued however and the colony of Pennsylvania was under more and more pressure to provide men to fight. One day some of their old militia comrades came to a tavern in town showing off their new uniforms of smart green coats with bright red facings. “We ain’t no militia no more, we’re the Pennsylvania Regiment” they announced proudly to the local girls. Jonathan and Ezra watched from a distance, later that evening they discussed whether they too should join the new regiment but neither of the young men fancied standing in a line wearing bright red whilst some Abenaki or Micmac took potshots at them, the fate of the Braddock Expedition fresh in their minds. Instead they decided to head for New England and volunteered to help provide escort for a merchant and his wagons who was also making the journey.
Mister Bailey owned the three wagons in the convoy and their cargo, he was a gruff man with a ruddy face and a round belly. He had initially seemed rather aloof dismissive of the two men but took them into his company and as the journey progressed he became more good natured, particularly when they provided meat from the pot saving him from dipping into his own stores. He sat on a log and shaved as Ezra and Jonathan worked on the two animals. They had a small brass pale hanging over the fire and whenever they found themselves with a piece of meat too small to be worth saving they flicked it into the pan with a little fat and soon it sizzled away. To this they added the kidneys and some ground up pepper from a small pouch in Ezra’s knapsack. Once the doe was properly butchered and the pieces wrapped and packed away he took a small wooden bowl of the meat and gave it to Bailey before sitting to his own breakfast. An hour or so later as the mist melted away in the winter mornings sunshine the party continued its journey towards Connecticut, Jonathan and Ezra walking twenty or so yards ahead looking carefully into the woods as they made their way east.