Ch 22.1 - No good can come of it

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What is wrong with him! Lacey swung the cleaver she was holding at the red-stained cutting board. It sank into the wood with a satisfying thunk. She was helping Tissy, the coyote-girl, in the butcher’s shed.

It wasn’t Devan’s leg that was keeping him in the Wish Wood. It was the well. It was always about the well with him. The teasing and calling her a monster had all started when she refused to show him the way to the well. What could he want to wish for so badly?

The threat of attack from savage animals couldn’t scare him away--or the sight of Lacey’s recent changes. She couldn’t imagine what wish was so important that he would ignore common sense. Maybe his common sense was muddled—from the fever or the shock or a bump on his head, or something.

Lacey reached for another rabbit but the bucket was empty. The job was done. She had been so lost in her thoughts about Devan and the well, she had hardly noticed dressing and butchering a dozen rabbits. It was a much different job from kneading dough, but it was also the same in some ways, like the way you could lose yourself in the repetition of the same actions over and over.

A lot of things about the camp reminded her of the village. Everyone contributed and everyone had what they needed—no matter who they were or how well liked. At mealtime Cooper scooped out the same portion of stew for Goeden as for everyone else. Even Ezerelle, the leader of the Wished spent time among her people doing odd jobs. Today, Lacey had seen her in the small garden on the Herd side, picking seeds from dead flower heads for planting next year.

Things were also different here. In the village once you had your profession that was what you did. Here almost everyone had more than one job, some, like Ezerelle, rotated around in different jobs as needed. Tissy had asked Lacey if she wanted to try her hand at butchering, without any commitment, and fully expecting her to try a few other jobs before deciding which was right for her. It had nothing to do with what Lacey’s family professions were, or even what she was good at. The whole idea, and the dizzying array of choices that now lay before her, made Lacey feel both a marvelous sense of freedom and panic at the same time.

If she didn’t already have a plan to become an explorer, she might have felt trapped by this kind of freedom, and the indecision of infinite possibility.

She was startled by Goeden’s voice behind her. “I don’t understand how you lot call yourselves hunters.”

It was late, or maybe it was early—long past midnight at least. The Night Mother sank low toward the still dark eastern horizon. For Lacey and the other hunters who had returned with their catch to sit around the fire, it was late. For Goeden it was early, far earlier than he was usually about camp. Golden Eyes stood behind his master, like an ever-present bodyguard.

Lacey’s lips curled back from her fangs, and she considered how quickly she could yank the cleaver back out of its wooden resting spot. But the thought of sinking the blade between his little rodent eyes sunk like a heavy stone into her gut. She remembered the sickening feeling of her hand on the hilt of the knife, connected to the living flesh of Devan’s leg. It wasn’t right. She forced the thoughts out of her head and stepped away from the cleaver, instead picking up the bucket of offal, which needed to be disposed before she and Tissy could call their work done.

Tissy patted Lacey’s arm with her furry hand. “Day-hunters need to mind their place,” she muttered.

Goeden didn’t respond, he just sneered, spat in the dirt, and then shuffled away with Golden Eyes in tow.

Lacey realized her fists were clenched and forced herself to relax. “What is he doing up at this hour?”

“Feh. He is always up to no good. Day or night. You watch your back with him. He is one of the old one’s. Him and Ezerelle. He’s had schemes cooking since before it even occurred to you to Wish.”

“But what is his problem with me? He wanted another hunter and I am hunting.”

Tissy shrugged. “Come on, I will take that bucket. Forget the rat and go join the others. Tell Emmet I will be there soon.”

Lacey stripped off her apron as Tissy disappeared into the dark outside the butcher shed.

She couldn’t forget though, and she couldn’t let it go, despite Tissy’s warning. Goeden was up to something. He left in the direction of the Herd side. He had about as much business over there as he had at the campfire this time of night. Lacey snuffed out the lanterns in the shed. Instead of heading for the circle of light and her night-hunting friends, she made her way through to dark avenues between huts and tents, toward the Herd side.

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