20 Saun 718
Dan eyed the fragrant pile of horse apples and wrinkled his nose. They had to be dried before he could use them as fuel in his fire, but they were close by and common, and didn't require him to be constantly out hunting wood in any of the forests that hated having their trees damaged. At least he had finally trained both his mares - Cloud and Smoke - to do their business outside rather than inside the tent.
He sighed and gathered a fistful of fallen twigs to him. He lined some of them up on bare dirt, and then stacked a second layer on top to make a long narrow makeshift drying rack where the full light of the suns would hit it. It was a good day for drying things. The hot Saun suns baked the back of his neck as he bent and straightened and moved around, while little dappled pools of sunlight puddled on the ground below the trees. He picked up the first of the horse apples in one hand, put the other hand over the top of it, and pressed down. It was still soft enough to squash easily into a flattened disc. He laid the dung disc on one end of the drying rack to dry out, and picked up another to repeat the process. He worked steadily through the rest of the horse apples until the rack was covered and the pile much diminished, humming tunelessly and wordlessly as he did so. He doubted the apples or disks would take long to dry, not in this heat at this time of the arc. He also wasn't going to sit around waiting for them to dry, not when he could be spending the time getting on with other things, like gathering food.
He grabbed a bag with a single long strap, slung it crosswise on his body and trotted off barefoot into the sun-bleached grass. He had set up a crude fish trap in a nearby stream and now he headed that way. He could, at the very least, drink his fill and replenish his waterskin there. At best... he froze for a moment as a pungent garlicky smell reached his nose, and lifted his feet cautiously. Under his left foot, bruised by his step and therefore sending out its scent, was a cluster of wild garlic. He grinned widely and crouched to pluck some of the leaves. He liked garlic, when he could get it, and at the same time, he ruefully acknowledged to himself that he should have been looking where he was going better. If he had, he might have spotted the plant before he trod on it. He picked some of the leaves - taking the worst bruised ones if he could, because they would probably die anyway - and left the rest to grow for another time. It seemed to him that if he always left some, then there would always be some, but if he took it all then next time he wanted garlic there wouldn't be any left. He tucked the leaves that he took into his bag and carried on more carefully, taking time to look where he was treading. He didn't want the next plant he discovered with his feet to be a thistle or a nettle.
When he arrived on the bank of the stream, he slid the bag off, dropped it beside him, and sprawled on his stomach where he could gaze into the rippling water. He brushed his fingers through the over-hanging grass, searching less than idly for the thin rope tethering his fish trap to the land. Off to his left, a backwater in the stream showed the pointed spikes of cattail and the lower bushiness of watercress stubborn enough to survive any weather.
His questing fingers snagged on the rope and he wrapped them round it and hauled it in until it lay against the bank, weighted down by the stones inside. He drew his knees up so that he was kneeling in the grass instead of lying, plunged both arms into the water, gripped the fish trap tightly and heaved it up onto the bank beside him. From there he could check it for fish, and he did so, grinning as he found not one, but two fish caught inside. Neither was particularly large, but together they would make a good meal. He killed them with quick blows to the head, and begain to clean and gut them on the spot. He pushed the knife up through the roof of the each fish's mouth, then cut away from his body down the length of the fish. When he ran out of fish, he set the knife down, hooked two fingers through the hole in the mouth, and pulled. The guts came out cleanly, attached in a single mass. They went back into the trap as bait, and the trap went back into the stream. He stored the cleaned fish in the bag with the garlic, washed the knife in the stream, climbed to his feet, and wandered down the backwater he had noticed earlier.
He grasped a handful of watercress and cut it free, shook the worst of the water off, and dropped it in his gathering bag. It and the garlic would, he rather thought, would go well together, as well as going with the fish. Fish simmered with a bit of wild garlic on a bed of greens would be a change from the plain food he had scavenged up recently, and with the cattails here too he could get some roots to make it more filling. Roasted cattail roots tasted so good...
He stripped to a ragged loincloth, piled his clothes and gear on the bank, and waded out into the backwater. Mud squished between his toes, and clung to his steps as he made his way out to the cattails. He thrust his arms down into the water beside them, digging his hands down into the oozy mud that they grew from. His fingers quested through it in search of the edge of the mat of roots, just as they had quested through the grass for the rope earlier. He splashed slowly along the edge of the cattails as he fumbled in the mud for the roots. Stems and leaves skittered across his head and bare back and he shuddered faintly at the sensation. Then at last, he grasped one of the long leathery-feeling roots. He held onto that with one hand, and traced it back to the tangled network of roots with the other. He shouldn't take too many, but he could take some. He dug his fingers into the roots at a join and heaved in an attempt to snap it free. The root resisted for a long moment and he wrenched harder. It parted from the tangle with a snap and a jolt that sent him plunging backwards into the water. He only clutched it tighter as he spluttered his way back to the surface and swept his sodden curls out of his eyes with his free hand so that he could check over his prize.
He held a knot where three roots, each over a foot long, met each other. Thread thin rootlets diverged off the larger ones, but it was the three main roots that made him smile. Three would do him a pleasant meal and have a little over to treat the horses with. He pushed off the muddy ooze with his feet and splashed his way back to the bank. He hoisted his backside out and sat there, muddy feet dangling in the water to rinse them off. He wasn't over concerned about being soaked. It was Saun, after all, and the water cooled him off. The suns would soon dry him in any case. He snapped the roots apart, stuffed them in his bag, filled his waterskin, slung his shirt and trousers through the strap of the bag and wandered back towards his camp to see how well the horse apple discs were drying.