Chapter I — Yarrow
Sunlight illuminates the leaves above me as I lay on the forest floor, engrossed in the peaceful landscape, and my hands grip the cold soil beneath me. The lingering taste of clover blossoms rests on my tongue; the flowers grow throughout the woods. The air is cool, but the humidity of spring has come, and the bitter feeling of winter has passed. The ground is damp from a recent rain and I can hear the occasional water drop falls from the trees. I'm tired from a lack of sleep, my eyes burn slightly, so I shut them and attempt to rest while I actually can. Wind picks up through the trees and I enjoy every bit of it. I sit up, though hesitantly, and run my fingers through my ginger hair. It's greasy and in need of a trim. My hands are grimy from being in the woods, my clothes are in desperate need of a wash, and it wouldn't hurt for me to take a bath.
The sun's position suggests that it's around 7am; I should be heading back. I push myself off the ground and begin walking through the dimly lit forest. I can hear birds in the canopy, a nearby stream, and all kinds of wildlife I could hunt. Today I'm supposed to meet with Bellamy and Annaliese, whom I've known for years; we work together on the weekends.
Bellamy and Annaliese are my closest — and only — friends. Bellamy is sixteen, a year older than me, and between the three of us, he's certainly the most outgoing. He's not outrageously tall, but taller than me without a doubt. He has a narrow face structure, but his jawline is sharp. His hair is very a dark blond and it barely falls past his ears; it's so messy, it almost resembles a mop. His eyes are somewhere between gold and brown. They're a very earth-toned amber. Not unnatural looking, but nothing like I've seen before. He's not necessarily skinny, but he's not terribly muscular, either. I guess you could say he's fit. I would say he's average, that's all.
Annaliese is my age. She has red hair, sort of like mine, but it's a little darker. She's about my height; I'm not very tall — in fact, I'm pretty short for my age. But she has long arms, so it makes up for her lack in height. She has ashy skin, and hazel eyes. More blue than brown.
I quickly stop by my dwelling to retrieve my bow and a sheath of arrows which I've hidden under my bed. I grab a piece of bread off the kitchen table before leaving the house, and lock the door on my way out. I don't have to worry about being loud in the mornings since there's nobody to wake up. My sister, Mae, is never around, and she's technically my legal guardian since our parents passed away earlier this year. She's eighteen, and yet she hardly does anything to put food on the table. If I'm being completely honest, I'm not really sure what she does throughout the day. She claims she's a seamstress, but somehow, miraculously, she manages to come home with nothing. So I've taken on most of the responsibilities myself. Every Saturday and Sunday I go hunting. I'm only fifteen, and legally, anyone under the age of eighteen is not supposed to have a job. Those who go on the weekend hunts are employed by the market, so we made a fib, and have tried not to talk to anyone else in the group. It's strange to be seen as an adult by the people we work with and the workers at the market, but it's not necessarily uncomfortable. And it's certainly worth the money.
I come to the familiar clearing where I see my group gathered and ready to depart. I take a minute to stare at the enormous, twenty metre, wall, which extends past the horizon both south and west all the way across the country. All the way across the world, really. Or so I'm told. I'm not completely sure when the wall was built, or why it came to be in the first place. No one is. But we're told it's something to do with a war. I'm not convinced that's the true reason for the wall, but either way, I'm not itching to see the other side. They send criminals to the other side, or people who break a law in general — whether it's a felony or misdemeanor put aside. Most of the time, the people who are banished to the other side are innocent. They're very strict in my province: Selum. I would be lying if I said I wasn't worried about being banished. If the city council found out I'm working underage, I would get the ax before I could protest.
My bow is situated over my shoulder as I approach the other hunters. It's a Sunday. The day of the weekly parade. Every sunday each city in our province has a parade, and the main reason we have them is for the hunts. As soon as I join the rest of the group, we depart for the hunt. Like usual, I stick with Bellamy and Annaliese. And as we step into the cover of the trees, I feel relieved to not have the sun beating down on me. I hate that feeling; I always have and I doubt it will ever change.
My eyes are (briefly) met with the loquacious Ben; a real blether, and certainly the most under qualified individual in the group. There are eight of us who go hunting on the weekends—the rest of the hunters tend to go on weekdays. The "leader" of our group, Gedeon, has a fiery personality, and he's the only one in the bunch who knows we're underage. He's nineteen — a good guy. Very modest. He's tall, with a very muscular build, and he has dark olive skin. His hair is jet black and his eyes are a deep brown.
Then there's Ben. He's twenty, though he doesn't act like it, he's as pale as snow, his hair is hazel brown, his eyes are freakishly blue, and he's skinny as a rail. He's tall, too, and he has a strangely formed nose. It's a lot smaller than it should be, given the rest of his proportions. I don't think I'll live to see the day Ben stops jabbering. He's audacious, and quite frankly, incompetent.
I honestly haven't bothered to learn the names of the others in our group. I'm never paying attention to the other hunters, so I don't really know anything about them, and don't see the point in trying if I never spend time with them in the first place. I just don't have the time or the patience to make friends. Besides, they never stay for very long anyway, so why bother?
As we trek through the forest, clouds begin to roll in from the west and judging by the wind and the deep grey hue of the clouds, I can sense it will be a strong storm. I tie my hair back, which, unlike most of the boys my age, falls to my shoulders; the wind always blows it in my face and makes it difficult to see. The trail we take for the hunts is all too familiar. I have so many memories in these woods. We pass an old willow—Bellamy found it ages ago when we were younger and we started coming out to climb it every day. The leaves drop all the way to the bed of pine needles and leaves that lay still on the floor, the bark is rough, and the branches give you plenty of room when you climb it. The highest branches just about reach the four metre range; maybe three and a half. I'm not the strongest climber. Not on trees, anyway. But Bellamy is something else. He can climb anything. Trees, boulders, buildings — you name it, he can climb it.
Trees have never really been my forte, but I've always excelled in logic-work. I'm very observant. I'm usually the first to notice little details. And it may take longer than just climbing a tree like normal, and it's a bit unorthodox (and possibly unnecessary), but if the time came that I truly had to make it to the top of a difficult tree, I could probably manage it with some kind of invention. I've always had a knack for mechanics. I remember once, when I was just a tyke, my mother was trying to fix a broken electrical cord for the mayor. My mother was an electrician. The cord had been chewed up by some kind of animal; it was for a lamp on the pergola. I rarely saw electrical cords then — I wasn't in school yet and electricity has never been a luxury most families have. I wanted to help her fix the cord, but I didn't know the first thing about electricity. So my mother taught me everything I could retain, given my age. I still remember the lessons she gave me. Once I began school, I dove farther into my science studies. Time is tight, but I try my best.
It's been about half an hour when I hear a faint rustling coming from my left, so I take a moment to listen. I see a glimpse of the animal's fur—it's a very creamy brown. I reach back for an arrow and draw my bow. The wood, which was once a hickory sapling, is carved intricately and sanded so it's smooth. I'm trying my best to hide myself behind a small tree; the leaves are thick, but the only reason the animal—which I have determined to be a young deer—doesn't notice me, is all thanks to its ignorence and deliriousness. Well... it would be more accurate to say, for lack of anything better, the deer is simply not paying attention. I give myself a minute to set my aim and release my grip of the bow string. The arrow weaves through the air before hitting the deer in the liver, quickly taking it out. I won't say I don't feel bad for killing animals, I do, but it's that or starve. I've tried my best to avoid the latter. When my parents were alive, we didn't have much money. We still don't, but now I don't have to pay as much for food. I get meat from hunts and Bellamy, Annaliese, and me have made a sort of deal. Annaliese has always been great with plants, so she gathers as much as she can when she;s in the woods. Bellamy's father works in agriculture; he always gets the fruits and vegetables that aren't "pretty enough" to sell. And I'm a hunter. Well, we all are, but I hunt on my own time, too. Every week we ration the greens, nuts, and berries that Annaliese collects; the fruits and vegetables that Bellamy's father brings home, and the meat that I hunt, skin, and cook. With this system we're better off — it's not much, but it certainly makes a difference.
I call for Bellamy to help me bring the deer back to the trail. He wraps his arms around the deer's shoulders, while I grip the legs. We're about ten metres from the trail; there's a slight slope that tops off where the trees clear for the path. When we pass through the low hanging leaves and onto the trail, the other hunters are waiting with the little wagon — if you can even call it that — we use to carry game and plants. We tend to wait until we have several smaller animals, or a large one; before we call it a day. Today we've done remarkably well. The archers have shot several squirrels and I shot the deer; while others have foraged and found lots of chard, plantain (which we'll sell to the herbalists), and berries. Usually a hunt lasts a few hours, but we decide to call it a day.
It begins to rain on our way back and it seems to add full stones of weight to my shoulder — where my bow rests — as we approach the clearing. The humidity is through the roof and it's hot. Perfect combination, if you ask me. For people who like swimming in mud, that is. So, in other words, no one particularly likes this kind of weather; especially the hunters. At least town workers have some kind of shelter during storms. For the hunters, not only do we work in the rain, but the wildlife tends to lay low when the weather's like this. And when a weeks' worth of meals is on the line, that's a surprisingly heavy weight to carry. But on another note, at least we're not in the middle of a drought. The last drought we had was two years ago; not a drop of rain for two months.
As we approach the market gate, my attention falls on the counselor office — a large stone building which is connected to the wall; it overlooks our city, Durslo. The office is sort of curved, like a castle, and is made of cobblestone — like the rest of the wall. The building's grey tones catch eyes, since it's one of the only stone structures in Durslo. All the dwellings and shops are built with wood and tin; the only other stone buildings I can think of is the mayor's home and the Chancellor's Arches We just call them The Arches — sometimes The East Arch and The West Arch. There's two of them, one on the west and east side of Durslo, they're built on the outskirts of town, right on the border — where Durslo meets the neighbouring city. There's a wire fence that separates each city. I've never been outside of it. No one has; there's nowhere to go. The Arches are made of cobblestone, like the Counselor Office, and it's sort of like a gate between Durslo and the city next door. I'm not sure what the cities' names are — there's two different cities, the one past the fence on the east side, and one on the west side — we aren't given any information about other towns or villages.
The Chancellor's Arch is a suitable name for the structure. It's heavily guarded 24 hours a day, and it's only purpose is for governmental officials — usually the Chancellor — to travel from city to city. Although, the last time I remember the Chancellor coming to Durslo was a few years ago. Chancellor Cunning; a pretentious, and dare I say manipulative, man. He made an appearance about three years ago when a woman and her child were sent over the wall. Not literally, no one has ever been forced to jump off the wall — the Mayor has every "criminal" escorted through the main gate to the other side. Each city in Selum borders the wall, and each city has a main gait. That much I know, but I'm not sure if other cities are as strict as Durslo. Well the woman and her child were sent to the other side; the Chancellor is required to appear at these events. That's the last time I saw him, and from what I remember, he has long white hair, very pale, practically white, wrinkle skin, and violet eyes — but they're bloodshot. He's been Chancellor for years. The country doesn't have any regulations on how long someone can be in power. But Cunning has not held up very well. My best guess would be that the responsibilities are too much for him. It's clear that he's in need of a new coping mechanism, though.
It's not until we're entering the market that I hear the nostalgic, yet familiar, sound of the mayor's bell. There's a small bell tower in the town square, near the market, where most of the official events are held. The bell isn't very large, but it's astonishing loud when rung. It's been a while since it's been rung, though. The only citizens who are permitted to sound the bell are the Mayor, council managers, and 1st and 2nd Officers. Bending the rules risks high consequences in Durslo, but even so, the bell is a rare occurrence. Then I realise that it's a Sunday; not too long before the parade, too. What could be so important that the city went to the lengths to cancel a parade? I turn to Bellamy and Annaliese and see that they're just as surprised as I am. The cancellation of a parade is nearly unheard of in Durslo.
The market is busy. People push their way through to the square, but even through all the comotion, I catch a glimpse of Gedeon. He's leading the rest of the hunters through the chaos of it all, and for a moment we hold eye contact — he seems worried, but I'm not sure why. It could be the crowd, or the upcoming announcement; it could be a number of things. He approaches me, anxiety radiating from him, and cups his hands and speaks quietly, "I think you're 'gonna want to see this."
A million thoughts rush through my head. With how worried he looked, the ever-growing crowd in the square, and the fact that I was the first hunter for Gedeon to consult, things don't seem to be in my favour. This crowd is for me. For whatever reason, this crowd is for me.
I push through the sea of people spreading throughout the market and the square, following closely behind Gedeon. As we near the center of the square, I'm finally able to see a glimpse of the mayor; he's standing on the platform in the center of the square. I can't see much though — I can't quite make out what he's doing, but I see that he's holding a piece of paper. No... multiple pieces of paper held together with what I can only assume is a paper clip. Some sort of files. The mayor's hazel brown hair is damp and it reflects the dim light. The scene doesn't make sense until I notice there's a man standing there, behind the mayor. A man I couldn't forget. Chancellor Cunning.
He steps forward ever so slightly — his bloodshot eyes meet with mine. Now I know what this crowd is for. They've figured me out. All I can think about is Bellamy and Annaliese. I just hope they're safe.
AN/ Heyo! So I'm ngl, I don't know exactly where I’m going w this story XD
I have an idea, but it's a work in progress, without a doubt. But I hope the first chapter was good!