( Book 1 - Heir to the Throne )
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17. Our gray wolves; roasting my badger; and teasing Misha.
Working together, Misha and I constructed a carrier from a couple of branches and some twines.
Then, we turned my heavy badger onto its back; and pushed and dragged it onto our carrier.
Misha chuckled, when he saw me draping my fox around my badger's neck; to keep each other company...
Now, we started to drag our carrier along the steep ravine, pulling it across all the rugged boulders and indented cracks.
Soon, our transport turned out to be way too unmanageable for the two of us!
Halfway along the ravine, we slumped down; panting heavily, and waiting until our breaths returned...
We looked at each other, and shook our heads in frustration...
Our badger was way too heavy for two young boys!
Misha heaved a deep sigh, and suggested:
"What shall we do now? Shall we go back to our camp, to ask a few grown-ups for help?"
"Are you sure there are no wolves, or other predators that could steal my badger before we get back?"
"Nah, wolves don't like humans, and they always shun us. We only have to return here before dusk sets in..."
I knew that our mountains had always hosted a few packs of gray wolves.
As far as I knew, they were breeding far away from our camp, in the surrounding dense forests.
Sometimes, during the late evening and early night, we heard their howling; reverberating through our mountains from a far distance.
However, the wolves never approached our camp, and always fled immediately the moment they heard us or smelled our human scents!
Our parents always taught their young kids to grab a branch and make very loud noises, in case we ever happened to meet a hungry wolf.
However, as far as they knew, such a thing had never happened around our camp...
To play it safe, they still forbade our toddlers to enter our surrounding woods, until they were at least mature enough to push a branch into an open mouth with some force.
After they grew up, they still weren't allowed to go into our woods alone, until they were experienced trappers and strong enough to protect themselves.
Misha and I decided to leave my badger on its sledge.
However, I covered it carefully with a couple of branches and a lot of dry moss!
One could never know...
Then, we trotted home, to ask a couple of grown-ups to help us carry my heavy badger.
Misha led the way to our camp; feeling around before he disappeared into the heavy underground.
I followed his footsteps, proudly carrying my beautiful fox around my neck.
Soon, we entered our camp; and I went to our campfire, to ask a couple of grown-ups for help...
Little Dimi was the first one who saw my fox, and he raced towards me to have a better look at it.
Jumping up and down to touch it, he asked me:
"Is this a marmot? I never saw such a beautiful one! Where did you catch it?"
"No, this is not a marmot. It's a red fox; and it is very rare in our woods. Do you like it?"
"It's beautiful! Can I carry it for you, please?"
I took my fox and draped it around little Dimi's neck.
My little friend almost burst with pride!
Tenderly, he stroked its long tail...
By now, a couple of grown-ups had gathered around us; looking proud at me, and admiring my fox around Dimi's neck.
They stroked its shiny fur and felt its long tale, while praising my skills:
"Our little imp did it again! First, he caught a huge pig in his snare; and now he has a red fox! It's a very big one as well...
"Just look at its nice fur and long tail! Boy, did you have a lucky day today?"
"Just wait until you see my next animal... Ten minutes after I set up a new snare, I caught a BADGER."
"YOU caught a badger? That is impossible! You must be dreaming! You are still way too young, to catch such a dangerous animal..."
"Yet, I caught one! Please, could you help us carry it to our camp? It is way too heavy for Misha and me."
"Is this for real, Misha? Has our little imp really caught a badger in his snare? Or, is he trying to pull our leg..."
"Yes, he really caught a huge badger; but the beast is too heavy for the both of us."
"I still cannot believe he did it. Are you sure it isn't some other beast? Let's have a look at it..."
The whole camp wanted to see my badger, and everybody followed Misha and me into the dense forest!
Again, Misha led the way, while we all followed him towards our steep ravine.
On our way to my badger, the men couldn't stop talking about my unbelievable success:
"When was the last time one of our kids caught a badger, and killed it?"
"I think it was at least ten years ago. He was lucky to reach it in time, before it freed itself by gnawing his snare into little pieces."
"Yes; normally, a badger is way too strong to get caught; and it always escapes after some time."
"Harold? How have you been so lucky to find your badger in time, before it freed itself?"
"Misha and I saw it, while it scrambled into a shrub towards my snare. Then, all hell broke loose..."
"You bet! I've heard of a badger that gnawed a whole tree into little chunks, to free itself. How did you kill it?"
"Misha killed it for me. He took a branch, and sharpened its end. He pricked the badger, until it became too tired and stopped fighting.
"Then, Misha thrust his sharp branch straight into the animal's eye. It was dead almost immediately."
"That is the only way to kill it immediately, getting straight into its brains. Misha, how did you know what you had to do?"
"I didn't really know what to do... But, I just thought that would be the best solution."
Finally, we reached my still covered badger; and gathered around it.
Misha and I removed the dry moss and the branches, so that everybody could see the heavy beast.
Again, I looked in awe at my beautiful badger, with its white stripe along its darker fur.
I hoped my Mom would be able to make me a nice fur coat out of its skin...
Today, I felt like the luckiest boy on earth!
Now, everybody congratulated me, for having caught such a dangerous animal:
"Sorry we didn't believe you, but it sounded too incredible to be true. We thought you were pulling a prank on us...
"It is a real beauty! Just look at its enormous claws... Feel its razor sharp teeth... No wonder it's such a dangerous creature."
A couple of helpful grown-ups tied my heavy badger to a thick branch.
They lifted the branch onto their shoulders; and, in procession, we returned to our camp.
Immediately, all our kids crowded around us; congratulating me, and commenting on its beautiful fur!
They slapped my shoulders, and told me they were jealous of their 'little cookie'...
At first, I tried to look angry, because I had won my staring contest over a real police officer...
Since that time, they had to address me properly, according to my well-earned new status!
Then, I started to laugh; because, of course, they were right.
Ultimately, I WAS only a little cookie...
Michail helped me skin my beautiful badger; showing me how to do it without damaging its valuable fur.
He removed its sharp claws; and told me that some gadjo's used them for protection, as valuable mascots...
Then, we removed all its internal organs, and prepared its meaty carcass to be roasted.
I went into our surrounding bushes, and gathered lots of nicely smelling herbs to spice its meat.
A few grown-ups put it onto a stake, put the stake over our campfire, and started to turn it around.
At the same time, I started to smear it with lots of lard from my pig, while adding my fresh herbs mixture.
In the meantime, Misha had skinned my fox, enthusiastically helped by little Dimi.
Now, he handed me its nice looking red fur and its very long tail, with a big smile and a deep bow.
From now on, I was the proud owner of two beautiful furs, many valuable badger claws, and a red foxtail...
Again, I felt like the luckiest boy on earth!
Feeling very grateful, I handed my foxtail and one of the valuable badger claws to my friend Misha.
Misha got tears in his eyes, grabbed my waist, and almost crushed me in his strong arms.
Obviously, he liked my presents very much...
With a hoarse voice, he told me:
"I will always cherish your beautiful presents, for the remainder of my life!"
"I hope the badger claw will bring you lots of good luck; and you can use it for protection too, as a mascot."
"Yes; and I think I will use your foxtail for the same purpose, by hanging it over my bed."
Still feeling very grateful, I handed another badger claw to my Dad, and a third one to Michail.
They both could surely use lots of extra luck; because they were our King and vice King...
The remaining badger claws I carried to my own den, where I put them onto my nightstand next to my bed.
That way, I would always see them when I woke up, first thing in the morning!
Michail promised me to clean and tan my two furs as soon as possible.
My Mom promised me to sew something nice and usable out of them, once they were tanned.
She was sure she could make me a pair of warm fox boots, to wear them in the snow during the winter.
If possible, she would try to make a nice fur coat out of my beautiful badger skin...
Then, the roasted badger meat was ready, and all our people gathered around our campfire.
Michail divided my badger into a lot of steaming chunks, sliced the chunks, and everybody got a huge slice of badger meat.
The meat tasted a bit strange, but it had a very nice aftertaste.
Everybody liked it, took second helpings, and finally licked their fingers clean.
Even Michail's little sons wanted to have second helpings!
And, our beaming little Dimi almost swallowed his own fingers, in his eating frenzy...
The next morning, I woke up in an excellent mood.
During the night, I had dreamed of my beautiful badger skin, sewn into a warm coat!
Only my head, hands, and feet were sticking out of the animal's thick fur, with a white stripe along my back.
Outside, I had played a game of 'badger' in my new coat, and the other kids couldn't catch me in their snares.
They told me I was the best; and they no longer called me 'little cookie', but 'little badger'...
In my dream, I liked my new nickname very much!
I jumped out of bed, and went to our small lavatory to relieve my bladder.
Next, I stepped into our shower stall all by myself, this time without my parents throwing a tantrum first.
My Mom looked a bit surprised; but she didn't dare make any remarks...
She only smiled at me when I left the shower; and she started to dry my soapy smelling skin.
Today, I even let her comb my unruly hair without fussing too much!
That earned me a big kiss, straight onto my nose.
Next, I helped my Mom prepare our breakfast; spicing it with a few nicely smelling herbs.
It was fun working together, while she cooked the eggs and I buttered a loaf of gadjo bread.
Then, I tried to get my Dad out of bed, by jumping onto his stomach and tickling his ribs.
He turned his back towards me and tried to disappear under the blankets, grunting:
"What time is it? Can't you have some pity for a tired old man like me?"
"Are you our beloved King? I think you look more like some lazy slacker!"
"Well, I think you look more like some way too early bird..."
I grinned, tickled his ribs, and decided to tease him a bit more:
"Is that all you have to say? I am disappointed in you, and I'm sure you can do better..."
"Not everybody is as bright and sensible as you are, this early in the morning."
"I think you are jealous of my bright brain! Next time, you better breed a duffer."
"Yes; I think I will do that, and thanks for your valuable advice. Or, I could exchange you for a more polite son?"
"Do that, and you will be disappointed. On the other hand, then I might get another Dad who's less lazy?"
My tortured Dad jumped out of his bed, and tickled my ribs until I shrieked with laughter.
Of course, I tried to tickle him back, but he was too strong for me and didn't let me win!
At last, I gave up, after teasing him some more:
"Is that all our King can do, torture innocent little boys?"
Now, my chuckling Mom intervened, by telling us to stop immediately with our childish behavior...
Well... I WAS a child, so what else could she expect from me?
However, I decided not to comment on her words, to avoid the next tickle torture.
I followed my Dad towards our living room, where we sat around our table and had a tasty and healthy breakfast.
I waited patiently until everybody was ready; and then I helped my Mom clear the table and do the dishes.
Finally, I put on some warm clothes; reluctantly, because the air outside started to be really cold!
You could feel that winter was approaching rapidly, trying to freeze everything within its reach...
Shivering, I left our caravan, to join our slowly growing group of still yawning kids.
Today, we would spread out immediately, and go into the dense forest in absolute silence.
Maybe, we would still be able to catch one or two stray animals, before winter set in...
Misha approached me a bit hesitantly, followed by Jonno, and whispered:
"Hi, Har! Do you still want us to go together?"
"Hi, Mis and Jon. Nah... I'm not sure... Maybe, another guide will be more fun? I will think it over..."
Suddenly, Misha looked VERY disappointed, and I even thought I saw tears welling in his eyes...
Was my trapper friend really this devoted to me?
I decided not to go too far with my teasing; at least not for now...
Throwing my arms around his waist, I snickered apologetically:
"I am only teasing you, silly. Of course, I want us to go together again! We are best friends, remember?"
Then, Jonno told us, involuntarily shivering at the mere thought:
"I am NOT going into your creepy forest any more! I am not a trapper, but I want to be a champion swimmer once I'm old enough...
"From now on, I'm going to swim laps in our lake, instead of feeling awful in some thick shrub."
Misha and I looked at each other; and we started to smile at the same time.
We could clearly see the relief in each other's eyes!
We told Jonno he had a marvelous idea; and wished him all the best with his future championship!
Jonno left us, took the winding path to the left, and disappeared towards our waterfall.
Misha and I waited patiently, until everybody else had reached our huge clearing.
Most kids had formed the same couples again, but a few were looking for another companion.
After a moment, everybody had paired up; and we were ready to go on.
Again, the more experienced kids told us to be very careful not to get lost in the dense forest!
They didn't want to organize a rescue search at the end of the day...
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