“Whew”, Shu Shuilian took a deep breath and rubbed her aching back. She had finally completed it!
She foraged a large variety of dry mushrooms, which she wrapped in a silk bundle and put into her backpack.
A few days ago, while wandering, Shu Shuilian found these mushrooms scattered on the forest floor. At first, she did not know whether or not they were poisonous and was hesitant to forage them. It was not until she saw mountain chickens eating them with no side effects that she boldly dug them out and bought them back.
After adding a few mushrooms to the meat stew, Shu Shuilian tasted it. “Ah!”, it tasted much better! It seems like a simple stew wasn’t so simple after all. To start the cooking fire, she had to gather firewood and rub two sticks together. The once tasteless tiger meat was now flavored by a sweet and sour sauce and was coated with the salivating smoky scent of the fire. To seal the deal, the addition of the mushrooms created a captivating aroma that increased the quality of the stew.
Satisfied, Shu Shuilian stored the rest of the mushrooms into a big bag. Although the bag was not heavy, it can probably nourish her for many months to come.
“Woof! Woof!” The two pups bounded from the entrance of the cave and playfully nipped Shu Shuilian’s leg, nudging her to the outside of the cave. Unable to deny their playful spirit, she had no choice but to let them guide her to the facade of the cave.
“Xiaochun, Xiaoxue, did you bring these here?”, Shu Shuilian questioned, beckoning at two bleeding mountain chickens that laid motionless at the entrance of the cave.
“Woof! Woof! Woof!” The pups seem to answer her with confirmation. Playfully, they ran in a circle around her and wagged their white tails in a thumping rhythm.
Shu Shuilian joyfully crouched down and gave the juvenile wolves a good head rub and pat down. “To think that you guys have grown up and are able to hunt now…” she pondered with wonder. “Alright! To celebrate, today we are eating roasted chicken and chicken head stew!”
“Woof! Woof! Woof!” The two pups were overjoyed by her praise and ran off, frolicking into the forest. Shu Shuilian could only gaze at them at a distance with a dumb grin plastered onto her face. She then rolled up her sleeves; it was time to work.
While plucking the feathers out of the chickens, Shu Shuilian thought about the pups. As the pups were now around one year old, it was probably safe to allow them to roam the woods. Additionally, they were able to hunt small wildlife and thus supplement the existing food supply of dried meat, mushrooms and berries. This way, they wouldn’t starve. It was a win-win situation!
However, she must take advantage of the warm, food-abundant seasons of spring and summer and leave the wilderness as early as possible. Who knew how far the woods extended to? It would be disastrous if Winter arrived with her cold and snow before she was ready.
Satisfied with her future plans, Shu Shuilian finished plucking the feathers. She then carefully washed the chicken, making sure to remove any dirt and grime before cutting open the belly to remove the internal organs. Surprisingly, aside from the five standard organs, the chicken which has been nourished all its life in the organic mountains was extremely clean and contained almost no grease. Thinking back, she recalled a vivid memory of her cousin preparing chickens — they all contained putrid oily insides.
Shu Shuilian stared at the two freshly cleaned chickens and debated for an eternity on how to prepare them. At last, she decided to marinate one in fruit juices, drenching it in a sweet tangy flavor. Next, using a grass woven rope, she hung a loose around the chicken’s feet and tied the rope to the ceiling of the cave to let it dry. As for the other chicken, she slathered it with sweet and sour sauce before attaching it with on stick in preparation for grilling it. She had cut off both of the necks and along with the internal organs, put them a large stone pot preheated with water. By adding mushrooms and seasoning, she was able to create a hearty stew.
“Woof! Woof!” The young wolves, attracted by the alluring aroma of the stew and roasted chicken, abandoned their play date and darted back into the cave. Whining, they crowded around Shu Shuilian feet, licking them. They seemed to be craving food.
Smiling, Shu Shuilian hugged Xiaoxue and asked, “Is little sister hungry? We will start eating soon.” On the ground, a laying pup excitedly thumped its tail on the floor and looked at Shu Shuilian with shining eyes. “Oh, is Xiaochun hungry too? Wait a while and go play with your little sister. We will feast on delicious chicken stew and crispy grilled chicken!”
Shu Shuilian quickly took out two stone food bowls and filled each bowl with with warm savory chicken stew. She then cut the grilled chicken into eight pieces, setting aside two chicken legs for Xiaochun. Xiaoxue had already claimed a chicken wing for herself and was chewing on it. With the finger-licking seasoning, there was no doubt that the chicken tasted much better than the tiger meat.
Looking at the two pups ravenously eating their meal, Shu Shuilian couldn’t help but smile and wonder: “So wolves like eating cooked food as well, huh?” Perhaps the reason for this is due to the fact that from the beginning, she has been feeding them cooked meat and broths. She didn’t know whether this was a good thing or a bad thing. However, since She had decided to bring them with her to escape from the wilderness, she decided it would be best if they behaved like domestic dogs, albeit being a bit large. Seeing their happy gluttonous faces eating the meal, Shu Shuilian promised to herself that she would never let them starve.
Shu Shuilian had originally planned to leave the forest as soon as possible, but after tidying and packing her luggage, a month had passed in haste. Keeping up with time, the season now was summer.
“Xiaochun, Xiaoxue, we are starting our journey now!”, Shu Shuilian declared.
She picked up a big, brown, rugged bag. It was packed full of materials. Some included original items she had when she first arrived into the forest — her clothing, jewelry, and silver currency. Although these items seemed materialistic, they were important as momentos and harbored sentimental feelings. Additionally, she brought essentials like her bag full of mushrooms and some dried cured chicken, tiger, and rabbit meat.
Additionally, Shu Shuilian had filled her gourd with water from the cave stalactites. She experimentally drank a few drops and although experiencing no side effects, decided to not drink the water unless she was extremely desperate.
Thankfully, the two pups still immensely enjoyed hunting as it was something that came naturally to them, ingrained into their genetics. This pastime sport gave many spoils to Shu Shuilian in the form of rabbits, ducks, and other small wildlife. Both the pups still preferred cooked food and she was more than happy to supply them with stews that were made from the game that they provided. Thinking smartly, the leftovers were made into jerkys that could be stored and eaten in a future date.
Shu Shuilian also did her part in supplementing the food. She picked up fruits from trees such as peach, plums, wild mulberry, and hawthorn. There was also a fruit that tasted similar to a sourer apple which she heavily suspected to be a variation of wild apples. Nevertheless, they all oozed of juicy deliciousness and were a great way to balance her diet and nutrition.
Looking back, Shu Shuilian was thankful to have an access to such an abundance and variety of foodstuffs. Back when she first stumbled upon this world, she had nothing to eat but dry bland tiger meat. Now, she had a big bag full of seasoned meat, dry mushrooms, and fresh tasty fruit. Speaking of the bag, it couldn’t help but be heavy due to the considerable bulk it enveloped and she often found herself switching hands to get the other hand a rest. Although she desperately wanted to put the bag onto one of the pup’s back, she would feel guilty as her maternal instincts told her to do otherwise and she knew that the pups were too small and would also find the work hard.
A person accompanied by two wolves could be seen strolling along the wilderness and resting at intervals. Every time they encountered a water source, they would have to take a break because Shu Shulian had filled her gourd with water from the cave stalactites and had no room for extra water. These breaks would be spent drinking water and cleaning herself.
The summer dragged on and it was still hot and stuffy.
Shu Shuilian took a break on a riverbank, giving both herself and the wolves a chance to relax and drink the much needed water. While the wolves played around in the surrounding grass, she sat on a trunk and ate some fruits. Thinking that the wolves might be getting a little hungry, she threw some meat pieces to them which quickly disappeared into their stomachs.
Although by doing this Shu Shuilian lost a some of her paper money due to her negligence, she still liked staying in a place that was close to a water source.
This incident happened when Shu Shuilian disrobed herself to bathe in the river. However, she had unknowingly put the currency into the waistband of her clothes. When she decided to wash her clothes in the river, it was already too late. Five pieces of paper money floated to the surface and their soaked, slimy appearance explained that they could never be used again.
After taking four or five breaks throughout the day, the azure sky had transformed to indigo before finally becoming violet. Looking at the darkening sky, Shu Shuilian decided that it was time to set up camp for the night. She searched the surrounding area near the river but could not find a suitable cave. There was still no seeable end to the forest and no guarantee of additional water sources but she had to trudge on with perseverance.
Disappointed, Shu Shuilian had to make do with what seemed like a relatively safe area behind some shrubbery. It was better than no shelter at all. She reached into her bag and pulled out the skinned tiger pelt which she flattened and laid onto the ground. Hearing some rustling, she turned her attention to the nearby bushes. Out popped tail-wagging Xiaochun and Xiaoxue with firewood in their mouths. Overjoyed, Shu Shuilian patted their heads and felt a maternalistic pride; although she did give birth to them, she did nurture and love them just like a mother.
However, a sudden thought pierced through this happy mood: Shu Shuilian did not bring any flint or fire starting tools and thus could not start a fire!
“Oh!”, Shu Shuilian said, slapping her forehead in anger. She had made some charcoal but it was still stored inside the cave as she had forgotten to bring it. How could she be so forgetful!?
It was made by Shu Shuilian experimentally rubbing sticks together. After several failures, she was finally able to produce a spark. From then on, she had a habit of leaving charcoal in the firepit to easily start a fire. Now all her hard work was for naught and she only had her sore and blistered hands to show for it.
Shu Shuilian looked at the two peaceful pup laying on the tiger fur, innocently staring at her. With a heavy heart, she said, “Xiaoxue, sorry I did not bring the charcoal so we cannot start a fire. I know both of you are used to the warm fire in the cave but I overlooked it… I should’ve been more thoughtful. It is all my fault.” The two pups rose from their positions and ran to her bosom where they settled down, whimpering, as if to comfort her.
“Alright, I’m fine now”, Shu Shuilian said with a smile. “I’m not sad, just a little bit angry at myself because I am so forgetful. Fortunately, it is early summer and sleeping at night should not be too cold”, she compromised. “Besides, we also have this warm, soft, fluffy tiger fur to sleep on!” Xiaochun replied by licking her face. “Stop it, it tickles”, she giggled.
It was time for dinner and after a day of long, hard walking, they were all famished. Shu Shuilian cut a portion of roasted wolf meat and a half of a salted chicken which she shared with the pups. They then enjoyed some fruit as a side dish. Full, they leaned back, snuggling into the soft touch of a tiger and looked up at the vast canopy that encompassed everything with its glinting diamonds.