96 Chapter Ninety Five - Lacking condiments and spice

    The remaining six family members were allowed to settle in the second property with the soldiers, who's temporary stay was coming to a close anyway.  With them, they only brought the clothes upon their backs.  However, Patrick and Cole did bring back a few tins of pineapple and peaches, a packet of rice and a box of teabags from their scavenging as well as some balls of wool that the former wanted to practice his 'skills' with.  The rest had been claimed by the base.  Dexter and the others had nothing to say about that considering the base also took on many more mouths to feed in addition.

    When Autumn came to see how 'skinny' the children were, she ushered them all into the kitchen and proceeded to scramble eggs for the little ones as well as dish up bowls of  braised pork soup that had been intended for everyone's dinner anyway.  They'd all have to have a mouthful or two less this evening was all.  To have meat and eggs after so long, the adults eyes filmed with water and they watched contentedly as the children wolfed down their eggs, quickly as if worried they would disappear.  They were not so keen on the sheep's milk, but were eventually encouraged to drink it.

    Lucy clung to Autumn as the woman served the food, so she worriedly asked the child what was wrong.  Dexter explained with a calm he did not feel, grasping his lover's shoulder as he notice her tremble with anger.  "It's okay now," he reassured her.  "Lucy's our daughter and she always will be, just as we discussed.  She's not going anywhere with anyone else."

    The woman bit her lip, noticing the concerned, nervous looks from the people very loosely related to the child who'd stolen her heart and simply made sure to dish up eggs for the little girl, before making her sit at the table.  She then scooped out a bowl of soup for Dexter and herself, not settling until the bowls were emptied.  She then scooped Lucy to her generous chest, before leaving the kitchen with the child; someone else could serve the meal and clean up tonight!

    As they'd already mentioned and as Ren Zexian confirmed, the nephew, Kairo, who was a teenaged boy a couple of years younger than Nan Li Liang, could produce water.  His root was a lone one and though he could not produce the quantities of water that Tyler nor Nathan could, it really wasn't bad.  He was also of a good age to cultivate, so it likely would not take long for him to catch up.  Rohan, the brother of the dragon and phoenix twins, had dual roots; lightning and fire.  Combined, they were powerful and not weaker than Dexter prior to him breaking through to Secondary stage.  As it happened, his daughter, Sienna, had latent roots, but there was still time for them to awaken; she was only seven years of age now.  The toddler, Jaiden and the uncle, Logan did not have any roots and would not be able to cultivate in the future.  Phoebe, the sister-twin, was a unique case.

    The scholar within Ren Zexian was naturally excited and intrigued by the revelation.  Although mutated roots had not been common, they were not unknown, but even in all of his 100 centuries of life, he had never discovered nor heard of a mutated Thunder root.

    An ordinary thunder root was not much.  It was a body root and as with other tertiary/body roots it gave some specific enhancements to the owner's body.  Just as Luke's feather root enhanced his speed of movement, the thunder root enhanced the owner's hearing and audio perception.  This meant that they could not only hear sounds from a great distance, but they could receive a greater range of sounds that the human body could not normally perceive.  Phoebe's root had mutated, in a beneficial direction.

    Not all mutations were great, but fortunately, the majority were.  And in the woman's case, it increased her sensitivity to distinguish better between the sounds that others with the same root or had completed the Body Tempering, could hear.  Also...

    The sacrificed glass bottle smashed into fragments before the eyes of many witnesses.  Phoebe stepped back and glanced back at the crowd that were her new neighbours.  It was probably not surprising that Jimmy broke the awed silence first.  "Impressive... I'd heard that opera singers could shatter glass with their voices, but I'd never actually seen it.  This... was much cooler!"

    The woman's cheeks flushed red slightly, not sure how to take his response.  The oriental man who had questioned her intensely about her abilities nodded with soothing black eyes and said; "It's been hard on you."  Her chest tightened and eyes stung with a fresh assault of tears as she nodded in agreement.  It had been hard.  Her extraordinary auditory functions were powerful and an ordinary person having suddenly been exposed to a new world of sound would naturally suffer side effects.  The migraines that tore apart her brain from time to time when little or no medication was available, they were torture.  Thankfully, Logan, her boyfriend was always there for her during the episodes.  Even now, he reached for her hands.

    It was decided that the twins, Rohan and Phoebe, could take a daylight shift on the wall and skip taking the night shifts in order to care more for the small children with them.  Kairo would help with their family water and a certain amount of small fruit plants and fresh lettuces were sent over to them to nurture and help provide extra sustenance.  Logan had been a teacher of primary school children before the end, so once a day, he would teach the two little girls to read and write and other things, but he would also help with the farming.  He also offered to cook.

    "I'm not a Michelin star chef, but I used to cook for my family as my parents worked long hours," he said, sheepishly.  "I know enough to be able to follow recipes at least."

    After being warned about various things such as being wary of the mutated plants around the area, but letting them alone and not going in the cottage on the eastern side of the first property, they were left to settle in their new home.

    The peak of the summer days brought with it the first large harvest and anyone who was not already upon the wall needed to roll up their sleeves and work hard.  The wheat was mostly healthy and golden with just a minor amount of mutation; these stalks were set aside for the time being.  They all agreed, half of the grain would be ground into flour and half set aside for an expanded field the following year.  It did mean that winter might be a lean one, but they would find a way to cope.

    Plush, red tomatoes were picked from their branches, some turned into soup or sauce, some dried out in the heat of the summer sun with chillies and sweet potatoes.  Cucumbers not to be eaten that day, were pickled with vinegar and salt, along with the first of the summer cabbages.  Some vegetables could be partially cooked and frozen, but not all would last well that way.  For instance, cauliflowers would yellow not long after being harvested, so they had not grown too many of these and they became a staple food for a while, allowing them to hoard more of the first harvest for winter months, while the last harvests could hopefully sustain them through spring instead.  Ordinarily, having to eat a particular vegetable over and over could be repetitive, but Autumn naturally knew many ways to cook this versatile vegetable.  Over the weeks people came to taste more than boiled cauliflower as a side dish, but also tasted it roasted, grated as an alternative to rice, as part of a vegetable gratin and curried with spinach and potatoes.

    The amount of condiments and seasonings to do all of these things greatly reduced their stocks; salt and spices (with the exception of chillies) were naturally going to be difficult to replace.  Autumn mentioned her concerns aloud one morning.

    "We'll have to check to see if we can get any in base," Dexter soothed her, but wasn't overly optimistic.  The soldiers had mentioned that spices were not really used in their canteen's food, more worried about getting bellies filled and nutrients distributed than considering taste.  The three men really weren't looking forward to going back to such a diet and had vowed secretly to join Rhodes team so they could come back and bum a meal every so often.

    "What would we have to trade?" Tyler questioned, thinking over what they had in storage.  They certainly didn't want to give up the last of the meat, not that there was much left in the freezer.  They'd already decided to hoard it now that there was plenty of produce coming from the gardens and the wild produce left to grow in certain areas.

    Dexter thought about it for a moment, his eyes wandering around the gardens to notice in the distance that Nathan had stopped below a particular tree to gently pat its trunk before he and Ren Zexian continued their walk side by side towards the kitchens.  "Apples!" He finally responded with a bright grin.  There were both mutant and ordinary apples in the gardens, as well as a crabapple tree next door.  Nathan also had a plum tree, but it was just one, the sapling's they'd managed to grow from it would take some time to develop, and the lime and olive trees, although recovered from their brush with death in the garden section of the hardware store last year, had not flowered this year.  Apples were currently their best option; the base did not grow much fruit themselves.

    Tyler nodded in understanding.  "Melons too," he suggested.  They hadn't planted much, but if they were sliced or quartered, the survivors on base might want to purchase smaller pieces for a handful of points.

    "What are we discussing?" Ren Zexian asked as he entered the kitchens.  The produce of the garden was Nathan's pride and joy, therefore his in connection.  So upon hearing fruits being mentioned, he naturally had to voice the question.  His beloved fidgeted upon his feet uncomfortably over the discussion, a frown upon his brow, hidden beneath his long bangs.  Ren Zexian gently squeezed his hand, comfortingly.

    Dexter allowed Autumn to explain; Nathan seemed to like her voice, which was mid-tone and warm, rather than his own, raspy from many years of smoking prior to the end.  He never seemed to mind Tyler's either, despite the sharpness of the words that often spilled from his mouth causing misunderstandings, but then, the man did put more effort into being polite and eloquent with his speech when Nathan was around.

    Nathan visibly relaxed.  Understanding that the fruit was to be exchanged to others to eat and enjoy soothed him.  He preferred to share the produce of the gardens than allow it to rot and waste.  The plants wished to spread their seeds so made their fruit tasty to attract herbivores and birds in order to do this, having too much rot into the soil and the seeds forced to compete for space was not the most efficient way to produce descendants.  Thus he nodded softly in agreement, before taking a seat at the table.  Autumn served him breakfast with a gentle smile.  The russet potatoes, fried tomatoes and mushroom omelette smelled heavenly.  Though the portions were not large, they were satisfying and the freshly brewed tea helped fill the stomach full.

    Ren Zexian also sat down, his mind wandering over what Dexter had to say, when a sudden memory came to mind.  "You might not need to trade for salt, actually..."
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