Night was falling and Niall situated himself against the log in the lean-to. Next to him was his rifle, a couple of books and a bag of apples his mother had packed for him. Sitting on the damp ground, he thought of his mother crying when he left. There was no way he could have stayed in the house, as much as he loved his parents. When he returned from Scotland, she was elated to see him again. Now he left their home once more to wander the mountain, seeking healing from the wounds that covered his soul.
His father, David, reacted differently. The letter Niall’s parents received from his uncle explained that Niall had experienced some trouble and would be returning home. David grilled him with his grouchy manner, but Niall managed to keep his secret close to his chest. When Niall told his father he was leaving, David generously gave him a tract of land on the mountainside so Niall would always be at home. That was his father: grouchy then kind.
The freedom of the mountain forest was now his in which to live. He would roam in the day and retreat to some shelter at night.
Within a short distance, he heard the cry of a…baby? Investigating, he looked out of the shelter of his lean-to when he heard the growl of a mountain lion. Before he could reach his rifle, the cat was flying through the air to pounce on his prey – Niall. Then he heard a hissing noise and a “thwap”. The cougar hit the ground with a thump. Dead. Niall lifted his rifle aiming to shoot when he heard a familiar voice.
“Hol’ on there, Elliot.”
With his rifle raised, Niall walked around his lean-to and spotted Cramer Mitchell, a known mountain man. Niall lowered his gun and breathed a sigh of relief.
“What are ye doin’ out here?” Mitchell asked, holding a cross-bow in his hand.
“Existing,” Niall replied, catching his breath.
“Come on. Let’s us clean this creature ‘afore it attracts more.”