Ch. 23 - Origins

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Lacey had looked back only once. It might have been her imagination, but she thought she saw glowing eyes in the dark. She kept going anyway; nobody came after her.

Nobody came after her, and nobody said anything to her. A whole day had passed. She had barely slept. The light seeping in through the cracks of Cooper’s hut was too bright. When it finally dimmed the wind picked up and the groaning of the ramshackle walls was too loud. She arose bleary-eyed. 

When Lacey left the hut, she almost fell over someone standing right outside the door. She cursed, a habit she had picked up in the camp, which Mama would not approve of. She recovered her balance and realized whom she had almost stepped on. Goeden--looking fresh and rested. Lacey sputtered an apology and her face went red as she looked everywhere but at the rat she had been spying on last night. Did he know? 

“Don’t worry, Village Girl. I am not your mother. Curse all you want.” 

Lacey was spooked by the way he picked the thoughts of Mama and cursing right out of her head. Some of the Hunters whispered about him dabbling in sorcery. Was mind reading sorcerous thing? If he could read her mind, he must know about last night. She took a few breaths in an effort to stay calm. He wouldn’t do anything to her in front of the rest of the Hunters. And Ms. Tona’s teachings at school did not include sorcery, except to say it was nothing but ridiculous superstition. But the teachings also didn’t include anything about wishing wells transforming animals into humans either. 

Lacey tried to swallow the lump in her throat so she could speak. She just had to find a gracious way to get out of the conversation without making him suspicious—just in case he couldn’t read minds.

“Speaking of your family, didn’t you say you had a sister?”

“Yes, why?” Her eyes sharpened on his twitching face. She forgot about sorcery, conspiracies and being caught for spying. Her heart hammered in her chest at the thought of Goeden taking an interest in her little sister. 

“I was just curious. Was she also Wished?”

“She isn’t like us, if that is what you mean.” She wasn’t about to tell Goeden her suspicions about where her sister came from.  

“Ah. And what about your father? I assume your mother wished for you because they were having trouble conceiving, and your father must be the one who was unable to produce children, since she obviously can.”

“My father left after Ella was born,” she snapped. 

“What man wouldn’t, if his wife was suddenly pregnant when he knew he could not be a father. Do you remember his name?”

“None of your business!” He had no right to say things about her mother. Last night he had called her a cow and now he was accusing her of being unfaithful to her father. Lacey almost told him that it wasn’t true because Ella had come nine months after Mama had wished at the well for a daughter. That was obviously what he wanted. She clamped her mouth shut before she said any more.

She was angry with Goeden, but she was also furious at herself, and her mother, and the well, and everyone. She didn’t know her father’s name. It was lost to her like the finer details of his features. 

Goeden smiled. 

Was that his game? Ask her questions until he found a nice raw wound to poke at? No he wasn’t just doing it to be cruel like Devan and other kids in Pine Ridge, he had a more specific purpose and Lacey was certain that Ella’s safety was at risk. She had to keep control of herself.

“Lacey, dear.” Cooper edged up to them on tiptoes. 

Lacey sighed in relief and turned her attention to the raccoon-woman. 

Cooper held a hodgepodge of rope in her small arms. “There is a storm coming. Can you help me?”

She nodded and started helping to disentangle the various ropes. The next time she surreptitiously looked over her shoulder, Goeden was gone. 

Thunder rumbled distantly, and black clouds were piling up against the mountains to the north. Several others joined the preparations for the coming storm. Cooper ran around wringing her hands and giving directions. Shutters were lashed; windows without shutters were boarded up. Loose bits of roof were nailed down, until they ran out of nails. A similar commotion was happening on the Herd side of the camp. 

Everyone was busy with some task, nobody gave Lacey a second look, unless they needed her help with something. She was one of the taller Wished; her extra reach was called upon several times. The discussion between Ezerelle and Goeden seemed to be confined to the two of them. 

The rope ran out, and after that there wasn’t much else they could do. Fat drops of rain were already falling from the sky. Lacey passed a skeptical eye over the somewhat secured structures; they were only a little less haphazard and flimsy than they had been before. Fall storms could really blow hard. There might not be anything left in the morning. 

She pulled up her hood and went to sit by the fire with the others. A Herd girl with snow-white hair and goat horns had brought an extra cartload of firewood. Lacey helped her weigh down an oiled hide tarp over the woodpile before sitting down. 

It occurred to Lacey, as she stared into the flames, that goats were not wild beasts. The nearest place with goats was Old Joe’s dairy. Lacey might very well have met the girl before she was Wished, when she was a goat. She might have petted her head, or been butted playfully by her little horns. Maybe she had held a handful of grass out for her to sniff at with a tender pink nose. It was an odd feeling to possibly have met a person before they were a person. Every creature in this camp had come from somewhere. And Lacey remembered Goeden’s words from last night—every one of them might have a human lineage in some fashion. Mama had been at the well when Lacey was Wished. The well had taken from Mama to create Lacey. That meant Mama really was her mother, not just by adoption. And everyone in this camp might have family out there somewhere, probably in Pine Ridge. 

They shouldn’t have to live like this. If they had proper supplies they would not have to face the destruction of their camp from a simple storm. Day-hunters stealing, scaring, and hurting was keeping the Wished isolated, giving them a reason to fear discovery. 

Did Goeden want to keep them isolated? If he knew how to discover the lineage of the Wished, he could use that knowledge to create a bond with the human village, and maybe even open trade between them. Instead he did his best to remove all hope of relations between human and Wished—with Ezerelle sitting back letting him do it. It made no sense. Why didn’t Goeden and Ezerelle want contact with humans?

Lacey hoped the storm would not stop the night-hunters from running the traplines. She should check on Devan, and since he wasn’t going anywhere until he found the well, maybe she could use that to her advantage—to everybody’s advantage.

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