Mike Shewfelt and his fantasy novel “The Phaireoir Legacy” returns…

A year ago, e-Veritas ran a four part series featuring the writing of 25366 Mike Shewfelt, whose fantasy novel “The Phaireoir Legacy” tells the story of College Cadet Jim Carmichael, and his journey on horseback from Kingston to Calgary and beyond. Now that Mike is back in Kingston, we’re picking up where we left off. Mike Shewfelt would like to thank Dr. Huw Osborne, RMC English Department, for his invaluable editorial assistance. A publisher for the novel is currently being sought. 

Read the first four chapters of the novel here

THE PHAIREOIR LEGACY: JIM CARMICHAEL’S STORY, VOLUME ONE

BOOK ONE: BEGINNINGS

CHAPTER 5

As Jim gathered materials for a cooking fire, he sat back with a perplexed look on his face. “I’ve never cooked rabbit before, buddy. Now what do I do…?” Killing them was easy. Just klonked them on the head with the rifle butt. But now what do I do…? Whatever I do, he thought, I better do it quick. I’ve been way too long in one place. Even a blind man could see that I’ve been here.

Digging out his knife, he set down to prepare the rabbits. Only one way about it, he thought. He slit the first rabbit open, and, after more than a little figuring, peeled the skin from the creature. Cutting into where he figured the internal organs to be, he removed everything that did not resemble meat. When he was finished, he repeated the process on the second rabbit. It took him most of the afternoon, but at the end of it he stood there staring at the pile of meat he’d gathered. Huh…not as much on there as I thought there was. Oh well…least I won’t starve.

Burying the offal in the woods, he set about building a cooking fire. His skills in this area had grown over his time on the trail, assisted more by his lack of matches than by anything else. Only half a dozen matches left…this had better catch first try. Fortunately it did, and as he fed more wood into the growing fire, he considered his options.

“I figure,” he said to Rudy, “to cook one of these and smoke the other. I’ll eat one for dinner tonight, and take the rest with me. That way we can get out of here. Question is, how to cook it…? Roast it…? Boil it…? I can’t fry it, and if I roast it I’m liable to end up with nothing but a lot of charcoal. Guess that means I’ll boil it.”

Setting aside the meet from one rabbit, Jim sliced the other into small chunks. He put water onto boil, and gathered some nearby wild onion. The one thing Marge had packed him which he still had plenty of was salt, and with that and the onion, he seasoned the meet. When the water was ready, he added the meat, more wild onion, and a little more salt to the pot. While his stew simmered, he skewered the other pieces of meat on branches and placed them around the fire.

“Marge may have not known how long I’d be gone,” he said to Rudy as he worked, “but she sure knew how important salt is out here. Good thing, too, because I’m gonna need it.” He added a little to each of his meat skewers, hoping that the salt would help to cure the meat further.

When he judged the stew to be finished, he took it off the fire. The sun had long since set, and he ate by firelight, savouring every bite. It was his first full meal in days, and despite the simple fare, one of the best he’d ever had.

“It’s a little chewy…” he said between bites, “but not bad. Tastes kinda like chicken.” Rudy snorted, and Jim laughed. How good it felt to have food again, even if only for a little while.

Jim surprised himself by only eating about half of what he’d prepared. “Hell, buddy, maybe my stomach’s shrunk or something. Wouldn’t surprise me none, what with all I’ve eaten in the last few days.”

He got up, stretching, and set about his evening chores. The strain of the last few days was catching up to him, and he longed for bed. He led Rudy to water nearby, where he could still keep an eye on the smoking meat, and, bringing him back, stoked the fire. I’ll keep the fire going through the night, and hopefully get out of here tomorrow sometime. As for the leftovers…I’ll just have those for breakfast. They should keep in the pot. “Any wild animal comes around looking for a snack, Rudy, you let me know,” he said, and then he lay down to sleep, feeling more satisfied than he had in a long time.

Click to read on. 

Jim nursed the fire into the life again when he awoke, noticing with a grimace that his meat hadn’t finished drying out yet. Gonna be here a while yet, he grumped. Spooning up the leftover stew for breakfast, he stoked the fire and settled down to wait. He spent the day thinking of Becca and dozing around the camp. His exertions of the time spent on the trail had taken more out of him than he realized, and the delay was a blessing. Becca, he knew, had expected to be posted to an airbase for on the job training in the summer, and he wondered absently where she’d ended up. By now the school year at the College is done…did she even go on training, what with everything that happened…? Does she still think of me…? He knew in his heart that she did, yet he still wondered what had happened to her after he’d left. That she still could be in danger he was certain, but he didn’t know what kind of danger. There was little he could do to help her in any case, he realized glumly. If any harm’s come to her, though, I’d know… somehow…so she’s safe, for now. But for how long…? She’s safer than you are, my friend, he thought with a grimace. That thought checked his worries, and he dozed again. He stoked the fire through another night, and was relieved to find the next morning that his meat was done. The sun had barely crested the horizon by the time he had saddle Rudy, packed his camp while trying to cover the signs of his stay, and ridden off to the northwest once more.

Four days later, having put miles of easy riding behind him and toting two more squirrels that he’d gotten on a lucky shot with the Lee Enfield, Jim drew up suddenly on the trail he was following. There in front of him, in yellow and brown, was a sign that made the hair on the back of neck stand up: “Algonquin Provincial Park: No motorized vehicles beyond this point.”

Well that makes life a whole lot more complicated. I can disappear in the north easy enough, but a park is another story. Scott was always telling me about the times he spent up here… The park’s a major tourist attraction. It’s still early in the season, but our chances of continuing unnoticed just went down the tubes. “We tread softly from here on out, buddy.”

Jim rode cautiously, senses alert. At the same time, he was doing some serious thinking. There’s no way we’re getting through here without seeing somebody, not unless we’re really lucky. I ain’t going around, neither…that would add weeks to this. If we do get seen, I’m not shooting, he thought, stowing the rifle. Killing somebody would turn me into the very thing they say I am, not to mention bring the wrath of God down upon my head. Have to talk my way out of it…and do whatever I can to avoid it in the first place.

By nightfall they’d covered barely half the distance they were used to doing in a day, and camp was spartan. Jim left Rudy’s saddle on him, and removed only what he absolutely needed. He dared not have a fire to smoke the squirrels he’d recently caught, and he rationed what he had very carefully. He ate a little of his rabbit jerky, drank from a nearby stream, and led Rudy to water. The horse, surprisingly, was complacent, accepting the necessity of keeping the saddle on. Jim let him graze just long enough to take the edge off and then tied him back up. So wary was he that he even left his slicker tied to the saddle. As he fell asleep on a bed of old leaves, he prayed their luck would hold. Maybe we can slip through undetected.

For the next two days it seemed they were lucky. They saw no one, nor any sign of human activity. Then, one afternoon, their luck ran out. Hearing voices ahead in the bush, Jim drew rein sharply. He froze, and Rudy with him. Shit, he swore, what did I just ride into…? And more importantly, how do I get passed this…? If they’ve got dogs, we’re screwed. Stay calm, he told himself.

He turned Rudy around and rode back into the bush. Satisfied they were secluded enough, he tied the horse up. “Easy, buddy,” he said when Rudy gave him a funny look. “I gotta know what we’re dealing with.” He stripped off all his loose gear, including his socks and boots, and then moved off into the bush. The heroes of Western stories wore moccasins for this sort of thing. I haven’t got any, so this’ll have to do.

Moving as quietly and as stealthily as possible, he edged up on the voices. Fortunately for Jim, he’d done this sort of thing before. His final exercise while on basic training had involved sneaking up on an enemy without being caught, and Jim had been good at it.  His reserves of patience and easy going nature had made him far more effective than his fellow cadets. He used every ounce of this experience now, angling off to his left in an attempt to get a look at who was there. He crawled up to the camp, finding a vantage point a good distance off in clump of brush.

Canoeists, he saw at once. Four canoes were beach on the edge of a wide river, and Jim counted seven people unloading the boats and setting up camp ashore. Figure on maybe one or two more that I can’t see…and if there are dogs, I can’t see ‘em. Which means I’ll have to figure on there being at least one…great. At least they’re not blocking my line of travel. I can go around them easily enough. Toughest part to all this is figuring out how to cross that river.

He watched for a while longer, transfixed by the first human contact he’d had in what seemed like forever. He turned away and began to crawl back the way he had come when something caught his eye. There, on one of the bags by the lakeshore, was a compass and a map. What I wouldn’t give for one of those, he thought dejectedly. And the grub they’re carrying would keep me in business for a month. No more rabbit stew…or squirrel stew, if I ever get the chance to cook those.

A thought came to him then, one which had he had it a month ago he never would have considered. What if…they wouldn’t miss them…naa, it’s too dangerous. He stayed where he was, observing the camp while the thought gnawed at the back of his mind. It wouldn’t even be possible…not unless they left it sitting out…I’m not going much farther without them, though. I’ve been lucky so far. It’s theft, though…not if I pay for them, he thought with a start. When he’d left Kingston in April, he’d had his wallet with him. He still had it now, full of the money he was to have paid Marge, and this strengthened his resolve. He stayed where he was as dusk fell, fishing out a twenty from his wallet while he waited, praying that the compass and the map would be left where he could get to them and, just as important, that there would be no dogs.

Luck, for once, was with him, and in the last rays of daylight Jim saw that both items had been placed in an outside pocket of a pack left next to an overturned canoe. That’s a relief, he thought. Earlier he had seen one of the men hang several fish in the water off the stern of a canoe, barely five yards from the pack. If he was careful, he’d get both the compass and the map and the fish, too. Fixing both locations in his mind, he settled down to wait in the darkness. He was patient because he had to be, because he dared not get cornered. From his snaring of the rabbits he had learned that nature has its own time, that one has to be patient to survive out there, and that patience served him well. He waited until long after the stars had come out and the crickets had stopped singing, while the campers, nine in all, talked and sang around their campfire. Finally the last of them disappeared into their tents, and, giving them ample time to fall asleep, Jim moved in.

He moved slowly, every sound amplified in the darkness. The sound of his pulse filled his ears, and Jim was certain the noise would betray his presence. Sweating profusely in the cool night air, certain that a dog would bark at any moment to send him running for his horse, he moved on. One foot in front of the other, avoiding the twigs and leaves that his bare feet came into contact with, praying that no one would get up to answer nature’s call. So lost in concentration was he that he stubbed his toe on the canoe before he realized it was there, and let out a small cry before he knew what he was doing. He froze, praying nobody would hear, and he was just about to start breathing again when a low growl came from the closest tent. Shit, a dog… And then, even worse, voices and movement.

His heart pounding in his ears, he squatted down, untied the fish from the bow of the canoe, grabbed what he hoped was the right pack, and ran. The twenty he flung into the boat.

Wild shouts sounded from behind him as the campers tumbled from their tents, and he ran on, splashing through the shallows of the river, praying they would think he was a bear. He ran maybe a hundred yards, and then ducked into the woods. He ducked behind a clump of low lying brush and waited. His heart continued to pound as he heard the shouts coming closer, and saw the beams of flashlights through the trees. They searched for so long that Jim began to wonder if they would ever leave, but they never came close to his hiding spot, and the dog, though it barked furiously, never found him. When darkness enveloped him once more, he moved, making a beeline for Rudy. Here’s hoping I can remember where I parked, he thought with a wry smile. Despite the terror of his escape, he had what he needed, he hoped, and his spirits were high.

He found Rudy by the sound of his restless movements. Sensing trouble, the horse was trying to untie his lead rope, and Jim approached quietly, speaking softly to soothe his friend. “Easy, buddy, it’s just me. Got us some stuff, too.” He tickled Rudy’s chin, collected the gear he’d left behind, and tied the fish to the saddle. He took a quick look through the bag he’d grabbed, saw the map and compass and a stash of food, and then slung it over his back. Mounting up, he moved off at a good clip. High his spirits may have been, but he was no fool. Time to get the hell out of here. Only in the early hours of the morning, when he figured he’d put at least a couple of miles behind him, did he dare make a rough camp for the night.

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