Chapter Ten

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It wasn't the blood and viscera that disturbed Clay. He was a hunter. He'd seen that terrible battle where his clansmen had been slaughtered to the last. He'd killed a man himself, the Snake Champion Long Fang. Accidents happen, and death was always waiting to take the careless.

This scene was more gruesome than any he'd ever seen. Little was left of the farmer that had been taken, most of the chest and the head, his lower body torn free and dragged away somewhere. Rich vital fluids, strong in his nose, had been splashed in a wide arc, and a few of the dead man's internal organs had been strewn about.

It was the crowd that unnerved the hunter. Farmers and craftsfolk from Jericho, gathering to watch, silently observing him while he looked for signs of whatever had done this.

Mad Words crouched next to him. "What do you think, hunter?"

"All I can think of are the eyes watching me."

Mad glanced over his shoulder, then turned back with a grin. "They are curious. Maybe he was a friend of theirs."

"I don't like it."

"Of course not," Mad said. "You are a hunter, not a Champion. But you know that's what they call you?"

"What?"

"Hunter. They call you the Hunter."

Clay stood and stared at the gathered crowd. "Why?"

"They don't know your name, so they have to make one up to talk about you."

Clay crouched again, his face burning, feeling their stares more acutely. "They don't have to talk about me."

Mad laughed. "Of course they do. You are more interesting than the weather or the harvest."

"I am just a man."

"Not anymore. Now you are the Hunter."

Clay didn't respond. This wasn't like it was within the Bear Clan. Father had been the clan Champion, but the Bear Clan had accepted him, loved him, pulled him close. Somehow the attention from the people of Jericho made him feel more alone, more isolated. He debated turning towards them and roaring, scaring them away.

He heard someone approaching, knowing it was Dawn by the tread.

"Do you know what killed Trip?" she asked.

"Was that his name?" Clay asked.

"Yes. He was a farmer. The others came back from their noon break to find him like this."

"You have spoken to them?"

Mad stood. "Of course she has. You are the Hunter, she is the Shepherd. They are her flock, and she has been attending them."

"It's not like that," Dawn said.

"Of course not. I am just Mad Words. Pay me no heed."

"Sometimes I do not like you."

"Sometimes I do not like myself."

Clay stood. "Nobody likes you."

"At least the rest of you can walk away."

Dawn stepped closer to Clay. "Trip's wife and child are here, too."

Clay stared at the crowd. "Here? Why?"

"To grieve," Mad said. "To say goodbye."

"They want to speak to you," Dawn said. "May I bring them?"

Clay looked down at the slaughtered remains of the farmer. "Not here. I will join them."

Mad remained behind while Dawn led Clay over to a distraught woman and her young son. They looked up at the Hunter with more pain in their eyes than Clay could easily bear, and he shifted his gaze past them.

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