Chapter Nine

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For the first time in months, Trip was smiling while plowing the soil outside the south gate. It did not go unnoticed.

"You are in fine spirits," Bignose said, stopping to watch his fellow farmer work.

"The sun shines bright on my back," Trip said. "The breeze is cool and crisp. The work is hard, but feeds my family."

"Your family," Bignose turned back to his own task.

Trip stopped and stood straight, stretching back to crack the stiffness from his spine. "Did you not hear the news?"

"News?"

"Long Fang has been killed."

Bignose stood. "Really?"

"Can you not see why the sun smiles?" Trip's grin was wider still.

"Your son?"

"Returned to me!" Trip spun in place, arms outstretched. "My family is whole."

Smiling was not Bignose's way, but he couldn't help but grin for his friend's good fortune. "That is good news. How did it come to pass?"

Trip caught the eye of the overseer across the fields and quickly returned to his labors. "You have heard of the Hunter?"

"Which hunter?"

"THE Hunter. The tribal hunter-Champion."

"Oh yes. The one who sent Mad Words into the desert."

"The same. The Hunter saw that Long Fang had taken children, and saw fit to slay him."

"Really? Well."

"It is so." Trip said. "All of the children have returned to their families."

"I would not expect a tribal to care about the children of Jericho."

"I would not have thought anyone to care," Trip said. "But this is a world with some good people in it."

Baldy the overseer arrived, a grim look on his face. "Why is it you two keep stopping?"

"We are talking about the Hunter, the one that killed Long Fang," Bignose said.

"Oh, I heard about that," Baldy said.

"How did he withstand Long Fang's venom?"

"My brother was guarding the east gate." Baldy turned towards the desert. "He says that the Hunter went into the desert, tamed Mad Words, and returned with him."

Trip whistled. "Truly a great man, to force the insane to his whim."

"He is a Champion," Baldy said. He looked to the sky. "It's almost noon. Come, to the drinking hall, we can talk of this and drink for some time."

Trip squinted up at the sun. "Would you mind if I worked through and went home early?"

"His son was returned," Bignose explained. "But I will drink with you."

Baldy slapped Trip on the back. "Of course, of course. You can go home when Bignose and I return."

"Thank you, sir," Trip said.

Bignose shouldered his plow-stick, and departed with the overseer towards the gate.

It was with an almost unbearable glee that Trip returned to his labors. For the first time in months, he was feeling positive about life in Jericho. He had lived in the city all of his life, as had his wife, but when the monster Long Fang had taken his son, he had started to hate the place, with its small streets, with its well-meaning but nosy neighbors, with its Elders who could not protect the children. He was a farmer, his sweat fed the city, and for what? They could not even keep his boy safe.

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