In the morning, Linn milked the goats and fed the kittens, then her grandfather called her into the yard.
“Ever built a fire from scratch?” Heff asked. He stood there with his hands in his jeans pocket, looking relaxed and casual. Linn looked at him, puzzled. He was different today.
“I’ve made fires while out camping with Mom and Dad, they wanted to teach me how to take care of myself.”
“Show me.” He didn’t move.
She looked at him for a minute and then realized he wouldn’t help. She shrugged and trotted into the house. The things she wanted were easy to find. Back outside, she glanced around to pick a spot. Close by, there was really only one option. She knelt on the driveway and crumpled up paper, then grabbed some dead flower stalks from the border, and a few small pieces of kindling from the woodpile. She struck the match on the box she’d brought out, shielding it from the wind with her hand, and ignited the paper.
“Good. Do it again. House and woodpile off limits.”
Heff dumped a bucket of water over her kindling blaze, and Linn hopped back, spluttering indignantly. He took the matches from her.
“Nope. You can do it.”
“I carry a match safe in the woods.”
“How many matches in it?”
“Um, about a dozen?”
“What happens if you’re out there,” He indicated the looming mountains with a sweep of his arm. “More than a week?”
She sighed. She knew in theory how to do this. Looking grumpily back at him, she set off for the woods. This collection took a little longer. She was vaguely aware that Grampa Heff was in the woods nearby, but he was very quiet, and she didn’t really want to talk to him, and wasn’t about to ask for help.
The first thing she looked for was a paper birch. The bark was highly flammable and could be lit even wet. She had a handful of it in her survival kit, but Grampa had set the parameters, and her pack was indoors. All she had was her belt pouch and knife. This turned a difficult task into a time-consuming one. With her knife she cut dry twigs down and tied them into a neat bundle with braided grass and hung this from one of her belt loops. The birch bark went into her pocket along with a handful of dry grass. She found some dry, fallen wood. She didn’t bother to break them, long pieces could be arranged radially and pushed in as they burned down.
When she walked out of the woods with her hands full, Heff was hunkered down by the long driveway. He nodded at her.
“Come t’ house.”
Linn followed him to the yard, where the fire ring he used for barbecuing had been cleaned out. He had a platter of food on the table. Linn laughed at that, and built the fire carefully. Bark first, shredded and cocooned with the dried grass. The twigs on that, then the tree limbs, arranged to give the kernel of the fire air. Pulling out her knife and flint striker, she rested the striker on the bark, pushing down firmly and creating a stream of sparks that jetted into the tinder. A couple of tries and she could see glowing spots that she blew on to feed the fire. Flames flicked up, and she rearranged the twigs to be in better contact with the tinder. Rocking back on her heels, she smiled up at her grandfather.
“Very good. I’ll cook lunch while you check on the kittens.”
Linn could feel her cheeks warm at his praise. Grampa Heff didn’t do it much, and she knew she’d passed his first test. She wondered what the next one would be. The kittens were waiting for her at the gate, ready for their bottles. She felt guilty for having left them most of the morning, but then thought of a mother cat. The kittens would be alone while she was out hunting. Linn cuddled them and washed them after their bottles, until they were ready to fall asleep again. They slept a lot.
Her own stomach grumbled, and she sniffed. Grampa’s cooking smelled good. She sniffed again. Smelled like bacon. Linn scrambled down the ladder and Grampa Heff handed her a plate full of bacon and eggs. He’d pulled and washed a handful of sorrel and lightly wilted it in the bacon grease. It was delicious, and she had seconds.
Her stomach full, she sighed and smiled up at him.
“Did I pass?”
“Yep. Figured your Mom did ok with you. But I needed to be sure.”
“We used to go camping a lot.” Linn looked at the little fire dying into embers. Grampa had pulled it apart so it would go out. She felt happy. Her Dad would have liked what Grampa had done today. He’d taught her as much as her mother had. They had gone camping in all seasons, and she’d loved every trip.
“You miss him.”
“Yeah, but it’s ok. This… He would have liked this.”
Heff nodded. “He was a good man.”
“Did he know… about you, and Mom?”
Heff shook his head. “No, he didn’t. But then, most mortals never know. We’re safer that way, both mortal and immortal.”
She nodded. “I won’t tell.”
“I know you won’t. Now, I need to get some work done in the smithy today.”
“I’ll make dinner.”
Heff laughed. “I’ll take you up on that, as long as it’s one of your Dad’s recipes.”
Linn laughed along with him, feeling something in her heart ease a little. If she couldn’t have her father, she at least had the goodness that was her memories of him in her mind. Her mother really couldn’t cook. Everything was burned or raw, with her. Linn had been her father’s “little chef” since she could stand on a stool at his elbow, and she liked to cook. Tonight she’d have fun.
“Well, if you’re going to cook it, go out and get it.”
“Kill it, clean it, and then cook it, girl. You won’t always have a supermarket and a refrigerator at your beck and call.”
“I don’t know how.”
“You shoot pretty good with your .22, your Mom tells me.”
“I didn’t bring it.”
“Well, here.” Heff reached behind the woodpile and handed her a .22 rifle. Plain and worn, she could see immediately it was old.
“I’ve had it for a long spell. Time you got to take care of her.”
He handed her a leather pouch which had six cartridges in it. “You can’t get game with that many, we go hungry. Time will come you’ll get two… one for each of us.”
Linn nodded. She wasn’t sure they wouldn’t go hungry tonight. Her parents hadn’t taught her how to hunt.
Heff smiled. “Don’t look so stricken. Go find a couple of rabbits, bring ‘em home and I’ll teach you how to clean them.”
Linn put the pouch on her belt and picked up her day pack. She knew she needed to learn this, but this was challenging. Then she grinned. “All right, Grampa. I’ll be home soon!”
Heff chuckled as she walked away. She was feisty. She had a chance in this messy world of theirs. He stretched a hand out over the fire, feeling the warmth of it, and then closed his fingers. The fire went out, and he could feel the energy he’d just absorbed racing through his body. Time to get to work.