Previously on Seven Stones: To make sure trepanning works, Kobb suggests trying it on a boar first. Anessa explains a pit trap is the best way to catch boars alive; but with only time to dig one hole, she will have to stand on the other side of the trap to lure the creature in.
Kobb added a scoop of dried fruit to the pot, and stirred it through. Third of a sack of oats gone. One sack in each pack, so if they didn’t have porridge for every meal they’d have plenty. He sifted another handful of oats into the pot. “I don’t suppose anyone found a stock of shovels they haven’t mentioned?”
“Reckon there’s a bigger problem,” said Haelen. “Boar bursts from the forest, sees Anessa, and charges.”
Anessa eyed the lightening sky. “That’s the plan.”
“Won’t the insect get suspicious with you sidling about?”
“He’s right,” Kobb said. “Won’t know quite where the boar’s coming from until it emerges. So, you’ll need to line yourself up.”
“Don’t see much we—”
“You stand on the north side of the trap,” said Haelen. “Soon as the boar appears, you run over the pit. Once you’re over, veer till you’re heading straight away from the beast. It’ll think you panicked.” Haelen pointed at the wreckage. “Easy enough to weaken some of these planks so they almost break under your weight.”
Anessa frowned. “Suppose. We’ll need a pit first, though. How deep you reckon?”
“I thought you’d…?”
“I hunt for food, Haelen; not a messy death.”
Kobb divided the porridge between their bowls. “Biggest one we’ve seen was a touch under two yards, and a yard-and-a-half tall. Seven feet square and as deep as we can seems good.”
“Thanks, Reverend.” Haelen blew on his breakfast. “Suppose neither of you’ve ever dug a big hole either, or built a platform?”
Kobb shook his head. If Anessa answered, it was lost beneath the draughts of oats she was inhaling.
“Right. Been a while since I put up a hut, but….” Haelen peered around. “Floorboards’ll probably make the best spades. Anyone sees a barrel or some sacks, would help with moving the soil away.”
Five hours, and several planks each, later, the hole came past Haelen’s shoulders. Throwing the broken remains of his latest improvised tool away, he patted Kobb on the shoulder. “If we want time to test the cover, that’ll have to do. And I thought laying foundations near a marsh was tiring.”
Arms aching, Kobb didn’t argue. Clambering from the hole, he staggered towards Anessa. “We’re done.”
Anessa grinned. “Good. Another stint and I might let the boar hit me.”
“Not over yet.” Haelen dragged one of the unbroken floorboards closer. “We still need to make the cover.”
Kobb rolled his shoulders and winced. “I’ll be no use there. Best if I start piling clean snow on the muck.”
Haelen snorted. “Would be a little obvious, otherwise. If you put the end on that pile, Anessa, I’ll just…”
As Kobb picked up another improvised spade, Anessa jumped onto the plank. Nothing happened.
Cold biting into his fingers, Kobb ploughed plankfuls of snow across the mess of soil and snow. Hopefully, the insects wouldn’t care about footprints. Hacking echoed across the clearing, followed by the thud of a plank being dropped.
He’d covered a small—but encouraging—patch, when a creak joined the hacking and thudding. A short while later, a jagged crack rang out.
“Bit less than that, then,” said Haelen. “You want to gather or cut, Anessa?”
Kobb knuckled the small of his back. “Or, one of you could shift snow. Wouldn’t want anyone to feel I hogged the easy bits.”
Anessa studied the expanse of dirty ground for a moment before her shoulders slumped. “Suppose I do need a rest after all that standing on planks.”
Racing the sun, they managed to get the trap covered and the worst of the mud hidden. The last of the light slipped away as they staggered into their crude shelter.
“What if it comes in the dark?” Haelen collapsed back against his pack.
Kobb fumbled his flint out. “Plan’s the same. We try to keep it in the pit overnight. Kill it if we can’t.”
“Pit was the hardest part,” said Anessa. “So, worst, we put another cover on it.”
“True enough.” Ignoring the dull ache it sparked, Kobb bent forward to puff the kindling to life. “And all that digging kept us warm.”
“I’ll give Anessa the pit,” Haelen let his head fall back. “But don’t see a blessing in the digging.”
Keeping his eyes open long enough to bank the fire, Kobb let himself doze. A distant crashing woke him. From the light creeping over the treetops, he’d slept the night through.
“Reckon that’s it.” Anessa grabbed a handful of dried fruit. Gaze resting on at the sack of oats for a long moment, she jogged towards the pit.
Kobb eased his Courser free. The joys of being young. He remembered fighting all day, sleeping on the ground, then doing it again the next day. Now, he’d be lucky if he had the energy for more than one shot. Of course, if it worked, he wouldn’t need even one. Shuffling sideways, he settled down with a good view of Anessa. A subtle shift in the air indicated Haelen had joined him.
The moments weighed on his eyelids, but the boar finally burst into sight. Steam rising from its flanks, the beast angled towards Anessa without hesitation.
Legs pumping, she staggered away. A vague thudding marked her passage across the pit.
Drumming echoed as the monster pounded onto the cover. The monster lurched as cracks rang out, but it surged on.
Anessa’s hands clawed at the air in a vain attempt to pull herself forward faster.
With a final snap, the trap gave way. The boar’s haunches sank as the ground fell away beneath its back legs. Hooves scrabbling, it slid backwards.
But didn’t fall. Eyes fixed on Anessa, it hung on the edge of the pit.
Kobb took aim; but before he could act, Anessa ran across his line of sight. Dropping her right shoulder, she slammed into the beast’s snout and stumbled back.
The boar’s scrabble became a flail as it slid over the lip.
“What were you thinking!” Haelen sprinted towards Anessa. “You could have been killed!”
Anessa blinked and gestured vaguely at the trap.
“If you ever do something like—”
“Breathe, Haelen.” Kobb forced his legs to jog after the healer. “Risk was worth taking.”
Haelen spun round. “What would you know? You’ve never… She was brave, wasn’t she?” Shoulders shaking, he gathered Anessa into a hug.
A ragged gasp came from the pit, followed by the thud of something smacking dirt. Kobb peered in.
The boar shuffled back and then jerked forward. The thump was loud, but with only a few inches of clear space, it barely scratched the packed earth. “Your patient seems energetic. Might as well have breakfast. Let it wear itself out on the earth.”
As Kobb took his first mouthful of oats, the thudding stopped. Moments later, a sharper impact sounded, followed by tearing.
Colour drained from Anessa’s face as she let a spoon of porridge trickle back into the bowl. “Just remembered, a boar got to Harlan Roblin’s field one winter when I were little. He said it rooting around broke the ground better than days with a pick.”