Diplomacy, part 4

The five exhausted women rode into the village two days later. They had managed to get the grizzly cubs to accept a mixture of baby formula and rabbit broth after the milk they had taken from the dead grizzly ran out. They had used the baby bottle that Cierra had brought along in case of emergency. The cubs weren’t pleased with the substitute but they were hungry and needed the calories.

Carey sported a deep cut on one hand from one of the cubs when it managed to slip its pliable paw through an opening on the homemade cage.

Their friends greeted the women as they rode in. It was obvious by the travelers’ lack of energy that they were in no mood to do anything but crawl into bed. Several mothers asked their children to take the horses to the stables and care for them. Others began unloading the wagon and taking the food into the cellar. The crocks full of mushrooms and wood were placed inside Cierra’s home. She planned on talking to the glassblower later. Poles were slipped through the cage and used to carry the cubs to one of the old wigwams for the night. Jonesy promised to feed them after they were settled down.

Sammy took one look at Carey’s bandaged hand and dragged her to the doctors’ house. JP wanted to take Elu over to be checked too but wanted a warm meal first.

“Let’s get something to eat then go soak for a while,” JP suggested. Cierra yawned and agreed. A cold water bath hadn’t helped feel any cleaner after her experience with the mother bear.

The couple walked into the communal building and stood in line. Sharon rushed out to give them each a hug and told them to sit down while she brought them some dinner. There wasn’t any way she’d make them stand longer than they had to. Sharon brought them plates of cabbage leaves stuffed with barley, deer meat, and onions. She also brought them a loaf of cottage bread to share and Hillary placed cups of honey-sweetened tea in front of them.

“Mmm, I missed your cooking, Sharon,” Cierra told the older woman.

JP agreed. “Ditto. Carey just can’t replace you as trail cook.”

“Overdosed on beans and oatmeal I bet,” the cook guessed with a shake of her head.

“Yeah, you got it,” JP grumbled. “At least we had some cinnamon to add to the oatmeal on the way back. The ship’s crews stopped and picked up a couple of cinnamon saplings and gave them to the BOC since they have the mildest weather. They gave us some other plants for the greenhouse too.”

The older woman’s face perked. “Oh? I had better go take a look.” Sharon rushed off to see her newest additions and went over possible recipes in her head. The couple grinned at one another, amused at the cook’s predictability.

“I’m glad someone was happy about scientists on Mother Earth. It still scares me to have people outside our direct control here,” JP admitted.

Cierra picked at her food. “Sometimes we have to deal with necessary evils. When we first started this I was hoping we could hide our existence for a long time before the government found out about us. I knew we couldn’t be completely independent from the Old World for a while.” Cierra shook her head in bewilderment. “I was surprised that not one person asked to go back. I figured once the newness wore off and the work got harder that the women would quit and go back.”

JP grinned. “I think we lucked out. We’ve had a few grumbles but not anything major. No cat fights. No dramas between lovers, everyone gets along. If I didn’t know better I’d swear you waved a magic wand at everyone.”

“Clap my hands and said I believed in fairies,” Cierra smiled as she glanced down at the sleeping Kiona.

“Something like that.”

A quirky grin appeared on the shaman’s face. She clapped her hands, closed her eyes. “I wish for a hot bath and someone to scrub my back,” she whispered softly. She heard JP chuckled and took her hand.

“You wish is my command.”

 

Cierra woke several hours later. A glance to the tiny cabin window told her the sun would set soon. JP was curled up next to her. The lanky woman was sound asleep and dead to the world. Cierra ran her fingers through JP’s dark hair until she heard a little noise come from Kiona’s crib. Cierra stood and looked down at her daughter.

“Hey,” she spoke quietly, “Is someone hungry?” She picked up the wakening baby and held her to her breast.

Kiona didn’t hesitate to feed and liked it when her mother was warm and naked. She liked being next to skin rather than against rough clothing. The little girl closed her eyes and nursed contentedly, her little fingers curling and uncurling lazily against her mother’s sternum.

Cierra sat down on the bed and pulled the covers over her legs to keep them warm. Elu watched her from his rag rug near the fireplace and thumped the floor with his tail. The bear wound didn’t seem to be bothering him and the doctors had given it a few stitches to make sure it remained closed and bandaged it.

“You want out?” she asked the dog. He stood up eagerly.

Cierra shook her head and stood back up, padding across the small room and opened the door. Elu scurried out the door. “You’re welcome,” Cierra muttered at the dog as he disappeared around the corner.

The shaman once more returned to her bed and crawled in. JP stirred, waking gradually. Cierra stroked JP’s neck until her blue eyes opened.

JP glanced up and saw her daughter’s little feet hanging over Cierra’s arm. She shifted until she could reach the tiny toes and nibbled playfully on them. The baby kicked instinctively.

“Mean mommy, tickling her baby,” Cierra teased.

“Not my fault that’s she’s as ticklish as you are,” JP commented as she leaned up onto one elbow. She chatted with Kiona for a little bit and kissed the baby’s soft tummy and ribs.

“Ow! She’s got hold of my hair,” JP squealed.

Cierra laughed. “Serves you right.” Cierra reached down and helped get the captured strands out of Kiona’s grasp.

“I think time for another haircut. Summer is coming up and it feels cooler when it’s short.”

“I like it short on you. It’s cute when it’s short and shaggy.”

“Want Cyd to cut it with a razor again?”

“Yeah.”

JP laughed. “Who knew that a terrible barber could stumble across a style that gets the queen all aquiver.”

Cierra blushed. She couldn’t help it. JP’s hair was thick and when shaggy…oh my, when it brushed against her skin she had trouble behaving.

“Keep that thought. Once someone is asleep I plan on wooing my wife. I’ll be back in a little while,” JP promised as she slipped on a pair of jeans and a shirt.

Cierra was about to ask where she was going when JP winked and mentioned seeing if Cyd was awake. JP blew her a kiss and hurried out the door.

Cierra looked down at Kiona. “It’s a good thing she doesn’t have the ability to give you a baby brother cuz I sure as hell can’t resist her.”

Kiona blew some milky bubbles and kicked her feet in response.

 

Carey saw the crocks of mushrooms sitting on the floor in the communal floor and figured Cierra had forgotten about them. She picked up the heavy crocks and decided to take them over to Roberta, the glass blower. She shared a house with Muriel, the potter.

The woman was still awake; working on crushing some fired seashells for lime.

She placed the crocks on the worktable and lifted one of the lids. Roberta looked inside.

“What are they? Chernobyl mushrooms? Damnedest things I ever saw.”

“They were growing on the BOC houses. Seems the mushrooms like cedar wood.”

“What are you gonna do with them?”

Carey chuckled. “You mean what are YOU gonna do with them. Cierra thought if they were put in jars with cedar chips and water they might work as nightlights.”

The woman removed a few of the glowing fungi. “Might just work. You need a bit more than just wood chips though. You need a little sterilized compost too.”

“So you know how to grow mushrooms?”

“Yeah, my dad was a amateur cook and grew his own. Nothing to it.”

“Ok, I’ve leave these with you.”

Roberta said good-bye but her creative mind was already going over several possibilities to house and maintain the mushrooms. For one, she wanted to keep a supply of the glow-in-the-dark mushrooms in a sterile environment in case the ones in jars became contaminated by other species. Then she could easily fruit them and start over in the jars. She glanced out the door and noticed the sun was nearly down.

“Muriel, grab a rifle, I need to grab some compost from the field and need someone to guard my sorry ass.”

“Fine, you grouchy coot. You couldn’t wait until morning, could you?”

“The Muse, baby, the Muse.”

“Oh God, not that evil thing.” Muriel loaded the rifle and grumbled under her breath knowing that once the Muse took over she would be forgotten until whatever Roberta wanted to create was finished.

 

The next morning Carey was eating breakfast with Tracy and Robbie when Roberta stepped up to their table. The older woman looked tired, her graying light brown hair mussed.

Carey looked up, a question on her lips, when the glass blower plopped about four glass ‘lanterns’ on the bench table. The survivalist picked one up and studied it. It was about a foot wide and weighed about five pounds. Inside was a layer of chunky moist soil, filled with bits of straw, pebbles, and whatnots. It had to be the sterilized compost Roberta had mentioned last night. On top of the compost were large cedar chips that had mushrooms attached to them from the crocks. Air holes were built into the topsides of the jar and a thick glass hook was formed to hold a bit of leather string for hanging the lantern.

“Wow, this is great. I wonder how much light this many will give off?”

“I experimented last night. I put the other mushrooms outside for a bit. One lantern gives off enough light to let you make out what’s around you. We’ll have to maintain the mushrooms from time to time so we need to find out if anyone else knows much about them. I have some kept separate in a terrarium I built last night.”

Carey lifted a brow. “Go see if Becky will give you a hand. I think she grows a few ‘shrooms for personal use.”

Roberta grunted. More than one woman grew a bit of wild stuff to get high on. So far it was kept to light usage and as long as it didn’t get excessive the council had chosen to ignore it. Personally, Roberta saw nothing wrong with a joint once in a while or a stiff drink.

The glass blower went over to get some breakfast.

Cierra and JP joined the others in the prayer circle that morning for their time for meditating. Afterwards they strolled over to the women’s barracks to look for Eva. They had wanted to sit down and flesh out the final plans for the quad units.

Eva had little Mel in a homemade swing. After greeting one another the tiny engineer asked if they wanted Kiona to join Mel in her swing.

JP teased the Eurasian. “Playing matchmaker already? They’re only a few months old.”

“Who needs to play matchmaker in this place?”

“You got a point there.” JP allowed Eva to place Kiona into the swing next to Mel. Pam volunteered to watch the babies while the others chatted about work.

During their chat about materials Eva cleared her throat. “Well, while you were gone Mary brought over something from that last crate Cierra transported.”

“What was it?” JP asked.

“Bamboo shoots. Mary tends to eavesdrop, by the way, and had one of the garden supply nurseries wrap up some shoots. None of the other council members forbid me to plant them, so I did,” Eva confessed.

Cierra could hear the worry in Eva’s voice. “Hmm, I bet we should go look at the results.”

Eva nodded and grabbed a rifle before leading the couple further downstream. They reached an area where the bank formed a shallow calm pool of water next to the strong river. Both women stared at the scene in front of them.

“Oh boy,” JP muttered.

In front of them was a bamboo forest that would do any Asian wilderness proud.

To be continued.

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