The howlies certainly loved their breakfast of roasted fish. After they followed Herio and Philpott back to the cave, they sat crowded around the entrance, staring inside as if the pair of them were about to hatch. The prospects of escaping looked more dismal than ever. And it was most difficult to fall asleep that night in the heavy closeness of the musky reek with all of those eyes watching them.
They were awakened not long before daylight by being hauled to their feet and marched to the river, where they found several of the giants already up to their waists in the water, grabbing at catfish. Blue Eye even found their water bags and followed. This time breakfast lasted into the early afternoon, since the fish were harder to catch and five more howlies had appeared.
The next morning, Herio was awakened by a busy commotion outside to find the giants on their haunches, patiently peering in at him with wriggling fish in their fists. “Philpott,” he said. “Do you see what’s out here?”
Philpott rolled off his dusty pallet onto his knees. “Say,” he said, giving his greasy head a good scratch, “we’ve got that little box of lard which we were starting to get hungry enough to nibble at. I’ve got it and my skillet.” He began finding stones to set it on over the flames of a fire as Blue Eye waddled over with a fish in each hand to look him up and down with the silvery rings of his eyes. As he set to the task of making the fire, Herio began cutting up the fish. When the first piece went into the sizzling fat, a chorus of gasps broke out and the howlies crowded in to see. This breakfast lasted until evening, with the giants traipsing back and forth to the river all day.
“Damn!” said Herio as he lay down on his pallet after dark. “What are we going to do tomorrow? Aren’t we running out of lard?”
“Yeap,” said Philpott.
Herio might have heard, but he was already snoring.
Herio jerked wide awake in the first broad light of day to the hearty medley of calls from a sunset thrasher in the gnarled twist of scrub oak, growing out of the rocks at the mouth of the cave. He was on his knees at once. “That mockingbird wouldn’t be there with a crowd of howlies,” he said, getting to his feet. “Philpott! I don’t see a single giant out here.”
“Hey!” cried Philpott as he stepped outside. “Where the ding-dong blazes is my skillet? And my lard box. Those stinkers are thieves!”
“No time,” said Herio.
“No there’s not,” said Philpott. And with that, they grabbed up their things and were out in the chilly mountain air at once, jogging as they buttoned and tied their clothes.
It was a long way down the length of the mountain ridge without the unicorns. Even so, they found themselves covering ground nearly as quickly as they had managed while mounted, following the howlie tracks uphill. By sunset, they reached the upper end of the great meadow above the dry wash where they had found signs in the sand made by the giants, the morning they set out. A mountain burrowing owl rasped and cackled from the rocks of the divide as they made their way out into the thin dry grass under the vault of deepening blue sky.
“Well we certainly had our adventure,” said Philpott, walking backward for a step or two. “And we ended up with one of the wildest tales we’ll ever have to tell, but we might not even have found out where they live, let alone doing anything to discourage them. We didn’t change a thing. They’ll just keep getting into our sheep.”
“Oh yes we did,” said Herio.
“My word, what?”
“And it’s mainly what you did.”
“I’d like to know what that was.”
“Next time they come for a sheep, they’ll bring a skillet.”
“I can see that I’ve talked to you longer than any sane fellow would’ve.”
“That’s it!” said Hero, stopping short and setting down his panniers. “We can butcher hit for them…” He squatted to stretch his back.
“I knew it was too late when you commenced to howling like one of them.”
“No, wait,” said Herio. “Look ‘ee here. Weren’t we starting to talk and trade? Really. I mean, we told them we were thirsty and they took us to water. We said we were hungry and they gave us fish. Then we cooked the fish and they let us go. Right?”
“Yea. For my bloomin’ skillet.”
“Let’s say that we want to graze this pasture for a week,” he said, standing up with his bags and starting to walk again. “We pay them a sheep first.”
“We take a wether up there…”
“You mean right back up to that stinking hole in the rocks?”
“Yea. We take a sheep up there and butcher and cook hit for them, and tell them hit’s for a week’s worth of pasture. They’d love it.”
“I’ll bet,” said Philpott with a wide-eyed nod. “And how in the ever loving blue eyed world are you going to get the notion of a week’s worth of future grazing across to those wooly bellied wizards?”
“I haven’t figured out that one yet. But you’d have to take them the sheep first, at least.”
“Well you kept wanting to draw pictures…”
“That’s it!” cried Herio, whirling about, mid stride. “What if we figured out what sort of picture, and put it on a parchment and took it with us?”
“We?” said Philpott. “Well, I reckon I can help butcher a sheep. But you’d better have one damned good picture with you, is all I can say.”
Ch. 10, Doom, The Heart of the Staff
Carol Marrs Phipps and Tom Phipps