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Ch. 4.1 Hunters Yard

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Lacey told Ella to hurry up for a third time. 

“I wanna go to the river. The hunter’s yard is boring!” Ella kicked the dirt.

“Fine, if you hurry up and keep your mouth shut for five minutes, I will take you to the river. After we go see the hunters.” 

Ella’s mouth snapped shut and she ran ahead.

Lacey’s mind raced. Could Ms. Tona age someone out of school two years early? And why send him to the hunters? 

The hunter’s yard was a wide square of dirt in front of the Woodsman’s Lodge, filled with arrow targets, training dummies, racks of gear, etc. The hunting party had returned a few days ago; the yard should have been filled with hunters practicing and exercising. Today there was nothing but dirt and shadows. 

A single person, sat on the covered porch of the Lodge, bent over the task of making arrows. 

“Ho there, Lacey,” Riley said, as she approached, scratching at his salt and pepper stubble with an untipped arrow.

“Ho there, Riley.” 

Riley reached out to ruffle Ella’s hair, “Hello, little one.”

Ella squeaked and hid behind Lacey’s legs.

Riley squinted at Lacey, “Nasty bruise there. Disagreement with The Rooster?” 

“Something like that.”

“Hmph.” 

Lacey had no doubt that he knew every detail of the incident with Devan.

Lacey had met Riley when she first started coming to the Lodge to look for her father’s face among the occasional explorers who bunked there. Riley was always kind to her and even taught her a thing or two. Lacey had thought a few times of asking Riley to speak for her, in her father’s place when she turned sixteen. Now she wished she had. 

Ella got over her shyness and squatted next to the bag of fletching feathers beside Riley. “Oooh pretty.”

“Why don’t you pick one out for yourself, little one.”  

“Where is everybody?” Lacey asked. She was afraid of the answer.

“Initiation.” 

“Who?”

Riley offered her a half whittled arrow. “Why don’t you help an old man out. I have a lot of arrows to make before sundown.” 

Lacey whipped the rough-hewn shaft out of his hands. “Riley! Who?

“Ow!” he said, and examined his finger for a sliver.

Lacey knew the answer. “Why him?” she sagged onto the bench beside him. “A miners son? What does he know about hunting? He isn’t even sixteen!

“I don’t think he wants to be a hunter, if that’s any consolation, baker’s daughter,” Riley said, using his knife to dig at the splinter. 

Her cheeks burned. “I am not like him. I’ve spent time here, with you, learning hunting skills.” She slumped her chin in her palm. “Why, Riley?”

He shrugged. “We had an open spot after we lost Sunny,” he said. His words were matter-of-fact, but Lacey knew the loss of Sunny had hit everyone hard. Hunters were like family.

“He took Sunny’s spot?” She stared at the unfinished arrow in her hands, but her knife stayed on her belt. Sunny’s spot was her spot. All of Lacey’s plans and visions of her future dissolved into a muddle. “Why would Ms. Tona send him here?”

“She assumes being a hunter will teach him discipline,” Riley said, picking up a new arrow to work on. 

“You don’t think he will last?”

Riley shrugged. “Sunny had discipline when she came to us.”

Lacey considered that outcome. As much as she hated Devan, she didn’t wish a fate like Sunny’s on him. Maybe he would fail his initiation and they would reject him. But she knew they wouldn’t. To hunters there were no lost causes, especially if Ms. Tona had spoken on his behalf.  

“I can’t believe that he gets to be a hunter, and I get stuck babysitting.”

“I think being a hunter is as unpleasant to him as babysitting is to you—and making arrows is to me,” Riley chuckled.

Lacey realized tonight’s bonfire would be in honor of her worst enemy.

“Hey now!” 

She looked down at her hands; the arrow was snapped in two. “Sorry,” she said through gritted teeth.

He pried the pieces out of her hands to reclaim the fletching. 

She took a deep breath and made an effort to relax. “Maybe he will choose a different path when he turns sixteen, or maybe he will set his feet on the Explorer’s Trail…I don’t think he wants to stay in Pine Ridge,” Lacey said, hopeful.

“Maybe…sometimes people change when they grow up.”

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