“I think that the old Potterson Farm will be perfect. There’s a little cart path right off the road that goes to the barn and cottage, and then it runs on back to the Argus Farm, which is also abandoned.” Corey was pointing south from Bitter Springs. “There’s a old collier living on the Potterson Farm. My dad buys charcoal from him for the forge at the blacksmith shop.”

“Well, let’s have a look.” Eliz followed along behind Corey with Monica, Kaden, Kolton, and Bonscott behind them.

The town was still in sight, not quite a half mile behind them when Corey pointed to a cart path running off the road to Mansta to the northeast. Monica could see the edge of a forest in the distance, but along the path toward the barn, only scattered trees and undergrowth grew along the way. She could see the barn standing to the left side of the little path, and there were other buildings coming into view as well. By the time the reached the barn, they had walked a perhaps two hundred paces from the road.


“Cral!” Corey shouted. “You here?”


He turned to Eliz and the others. “I can smell smoke, but he might not be close by. The charcoal cooks for a long time, and once it gets going, he can do other things.”


“But I’m close enough to hear ya, today. Who’s calling me?”


Monica turned to see Cral coming around the barn. He was a big man, nearly forty, she guessed. He had dark hair and a dark scraggly beard. His left arm had been cut off at the elbow and he had cut the sleeve of his shirt off just above the end of his stump.


“Hey there Cral. I’m Harold’s son, Corey.”


“Morning to you. I’m making a deliver to him tomorrow, same as always, if that’s what this is about.”


“No, we’ve come to talk about the Potterson Farm.” Corey had gotten close enough to extend a hand, and the two men shook.


“Yeah, this is the place. Come on over to the corncrib and let’s have a seat. I think it's about to start to drizzle.” Cral led them around the barn toward another building, the corncrib, that he was using in his production of charcoal


Between the barn and the corncrib was a roof salvaged from some other building held up on sturdy, rough poles over smoldering mounds. Monica decided the roof had been make-shifted into place to keep rain off the mounds, which she took to be a part of the process of making charcoal.


Inside the corncrib, Cral had set up saws to cut long logs into short lengths that he would split, and stack. He had a hefty mule tied in one area, and there were harnesses hanging around that looked like they had something to do with moving logs. Monica had seen similar rigs at the mill where her father worked.


Cral had a couple of chairs, but it was clear he did not entertain many guests. “Help me with this plank and we’ll put it on these logs and make a place to sit.”


When Cral was satisfied that his guests were settled, he looked at Corey. “So what’s Potterson’s family have to say about the farm?”

“Well, this is Eliz. She’s a priest from Llur, and she’s got an idea to make a place where young boys and girls can gather and be safe from being made slaves by the Legionnaires.”


Corey and Eliz took turns describing the situation and their plan. Cral seemed to understand, and Monica thought he seemed pleased with the idea.


“So how does this affect me?” Cral finally asked.


“Well, we were thinking the Potterson Farm would be a good place to start. The barn is solid, and had a good roof. A little work and, and the haylofts could become barracks for the boys and girls who’d come live here.”


“So you want me to move?”

“No, there’s no call for that.” Corey shook his head.


“Of course not.” Eliz waved her hand to negate the idea. “No, you being here would add a little sensibility to the community.


You could weigh in when you see things getting out of sorts.”


“And the ones who live here could help you with your work.” Corey nodded.


“Oh, now you’re talking!” Cral raised up his arms up from his side. “There’s a lot of work to do, and I could always use another hand around here.”


Monica laughed, a deep snicker that seemed to well up from her toes. When she realized she was the only one laughing and that everyone was looking at her, she was horrified, and covered her mouth. She looked at Cral who was waving his stump at her and there was a twinkle in his eye. She burst out laughing again and tears streamed from her eyes as she tried to contain her laughter. She was only a little relieved that the others were nervously laughing lightly as she tried to control herself. She dared a look at Cral again and he made a silly look with his eyebrow and smiled at her.


“Now, I like this girl!” Cral stood up and walked to Monica. “Smart enough to know a joke when she hears it, and brave enough to laugh, even when no one else does!”

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Copyright 2018, 2019, 2020  —  Bill Snodgrass