"Get your lazy butt down here, Corrin!" the man bellowed from below. Satchel Corrin grumbled and rolled over. He rolled too far and toppled off the edge of his bed, banging his head on the bedpost. Swearing, Satchel pushed himself to his feet and climbed down the ladder from his sleeping platform. "Satchel!" the man roared again. Satchel splashed cold water onto his face. He looked up into the mirror. His sparkly green eyes flashed in the early hour. "Satchel!"
"Just a minute, Farsh!" he hollered.
"You better be down here soon! Your job's on the line you lazy punk!" Satchel sighed and listened to the old farmer storm away. Peering back into the mirror, he inspected his face. His forehead was bruising where he had hit it. Not that big of a deal. His cheeks were rather hollow, but everyone's were at the moment. Their village was running out of food.
He brushed his floppy, black hair from his eyes and washed his face. Dropping, rather than climbing, down from his cleaning platform, Satchel went to the dresser in the corner. He pulled out a tunic and shorts. Scrap, his puppy, rushed over and began to chew the sock he was about to pull on.
"Hey!" Satchel yanked at the sock and it ripped. He groaned. That was his last pair of socks. Instead, he put on his sandals and laced them on his ankle. Scrap howled. Satchel looked over at the dog. "Ah, I forgot to feed you, didn't I, boy?" Scrap howled again. Satchel sighed and plopped a small chunk of meat into the pup's bowl. "See ya, Scrap," he said, walking out the front door.
The fresh summer air was heavy with dew. Satchel climbed down the ladder from the grassy cliff his house was perched on. Lani, a small girl from the village rushed over, closely followed by her brothers, Dale and Farr. She smiled up at him.
"Hi, Satchel!" She eyed the bruise on his head, but didn't ask.
"Hey, Squirt." He ruffled her dark brown hair.
"You off to Farsh's farm?"
"Ya. Why are you three up so early?"
"I have to take Dale and Farr to the water hole to wash up. They played around in Farsh's pigpen this morning."
"You guys get up so early!" Satchel said, amazed. "They already went up to the farm and got dirty?"
"Don't call me 'Sir', Lani, it makes me feel old."
"You technically are a man, Satchel, even if you don't act like one."
"Thanks, Squirt," he mumbled. True, he was seventeen, but he didn't want to be an adult quite yet. He felt a soft pull on his long shorts and looked down. Farr and Dale were looking up at him.
"Satchel, we want to come with you to the farm," Dale said in his tiny voice.
"Sorry, Dale, not today," he said, lifting the little boy into his arms. Farr whined and held his arms up. "Okay, okay." He hauled the second little boy up. Farr curled into his usual place: the crook of Satchel's left arm. He sucked his thumb and watched Satchel, his gaze unwavering. Satchel shivered. The boy's stare always gave him uneasy feelings.
"Satchel, you should probably get going to the farm. Farsh won't be happy," Lani said, taking Farr from his grip. The tiny boy still watched him with those big, grey eyes. Satchel sighed and lowered Dale back to the ground.
"See, this is what I mean by acting like a child." Lani gripped Dale's tiny hand.
"You're right," he said with a laugh. "Sometimes, I think you're more grown up than me, Squirt." Lani smiled.
"I have to be, what with Ma usually sick and Pa working." Satchel nodded, feeling sorry for the little girl. She was only ten and she was running her family.
"Well, I'll see you all later."
"Okay, bye, Satchel." Lani led her two little brothers down a path to the right, towards the watering hole.
"Don't go past the watering hole!" Satchel shouted after them. Lani waved a hand to show that she had heard and kept walking. He sighed. If they ever did go past the watering hole, they'd be in trouble. The path they were on continued into the deep woods, where mysterious creatures of shadow were said to live.
Satchel ran all the way to the farm, a fair distance. The town separated Farsh's farm from his small clearing in the shallow woods. When he reached the farm, Farsh gave him a stern lecture about being late. Satchel only half listened; his mind on Farsh's daughter, Mayla. He could see her brushing his mare, Faye.
"Are you listening to me, Corrin?" Farsh demanded.
"Yes, Sir," he answered quickly.
"Well get that shaggy hair out of yer eyes and look at me!" Satchel looked at the old man with resentment boiling inside of him. "Yer goin' to start out feedin' the animals." Satchel was again focused on Mayla. "Well, get yer scrawny butt goin', then!" Farsh bellowed and stormed away. Satchel sighed. Farsh was only upset because of the food shortage; everyone was. He gathered up a pot of grain and dumped it into the chicken coop. He also fed the sheep, the cows, and the pigs before making his way to the horses. To his delight, Mayla was still brushing Faye. He fed Delco, the massive stallion belonging to Farsh's brother. Mayla was humming softly.
"You look beautiful, Faye," Mayla whispered. He walked from behind Delco.
"Talkin' to my horse?" he asked. Mayla started and dropped a pail full of peas on the ground. They scattered. Mayla fell to her knees and began to scoop the peas back into the pail. Satchel bent to help her. She looked at him, her brown eyes were soft and sparkling with life. "I'm sorry if I frightened you," Satchel said quietly.
"No, no, it's okay," she said. "And to answer you're question, yes, I was talking to your horse." She smiled slyly. She dumped the last of the peas into the pail and sat back. Her sandy-blonde hair was in pigtails and she was smiling at him. Mayla was wearing a long white shirt and shorts just like his. Her sandals, however, were laced up her calves. He sat back. She was studying him and he was okay with it.
"I talk to her, too," he said, quietly. Mayla didn't acknowledge that he had spoken. She leaned forward and brushed his hair away from the bruise on his forehead.
"Satchel, what happened?" she gasped.
"Nothing, it's not a big deal."
"Were you fighting again?" she accused.
"Come on, Satchel! I know you. Was it Mar or Halc this time?"
"I wasn't fighting, Mayla!" he demanded. She sighed and stood.
"Then why is that lump on your head?" she said, hands on her hips. Satchel flushed and stayed silent. Mayla shook her head and began to walk away. Satchel watched her. "Oh, by the way," she said, turning back to him, "I already knew that you talk to Faye. I've heard you."
Satchel watched her go, puzzling. He felt like she knew everything about him. Faye whinnied and nipped his ear.
"Hey!" He turned to her. She bit down on his collar and yanked. "Whoa!" Satchel said as she pulled him around the barn. "Faye, stop!" She dropped him and he banged his head hard on the floor. He moaned and crawled to his feet. "What's gotten into you, Faye?" She bumped him with her nose. He looked into her large eyes. She blew a gust of air at him, blowing his hair around. Satchel laughed. "Want some water, girl?" She whinnied, tossing her head. He lifted a pail from the shelf and walked out of the barn to the well. He hooked it to the pulley and dropped it. Hauling up the water, Satchel brought it to Faye. She drank the water thankfully. Satchel brushed her golden coat while she munched on a pile of hay. He whispered softly to her. "Isn't she great, Faye? I mean, she's the best friend anyone could ever have." Faye nipped him. "Ow! Okay, you're the best, but she's number two." Faye pushed her nose into his face. He smiled, pushing her white-blonde hair from her eyes. He heard a loud bang and sighed. A string of curses wafted from outside of the barn.
"Blast it! Boy, get out here!" He grumbled and walked out of the barn, leading Faye. Mayla was standing next to her father, one hand in front of her smile. Farsh was picking himself up, a bucketful of peas scattered across the ground. Satchel sighed and began to pick up the peas for a second time. Faye lowered her head, munching on the peas. Satchel pushed her big head away. She butted him over and continued to eat. Mayla was laughing now. He stood, shoving Faye. She lowered her head and shoved him in the stomach. Satchel sprawled on the ground, the wind knocked out of him.
"Faye, stop!" he said, laughing. She stuck her nose on his chest, holding him down. He shoved at her head, but she wouldn't let him up. Mayla was watching with a grin spread across her face. He sighed and accepted his defeat. Faye stepped aside. Mayla gave him a hand up. Farsh ordered him to finish picking up the peas, and then he could have a break. Mayla helped him, so they got done quickly. When they were finished, Faye trotted over.
"I think you should ride her." He grinned.
"That I can do." He brought her to the barn and saddled her up. Mayla did the same to her horse, Leader. He pulled himself up on the saddle and went out of the barn, closely followed by Mayla. They rode next to each other, talking peacefully.
"Why did you take this job?" she asked him.
"I needed money."
"Everyone needs money. You could have worked for Scurch and been a blacksmith.
"I didn't want to be a blacksmith."
"Okay, whatever you say." There was a silence. Mayla grinned over at him.
"What?" She sped up her horse. "Mayla."
"Race ya." She set off. He charged after her, but she was ahead. The fence was coming up and Mayla rounded it.
"Come on, girl." Satchel bent low over Faye. "Let's go." Faye leapt over the fence. Mayla smiled, but there was worry in her eyes. "Ya!" Satchel punched the air. "Good going, Faye. You haven't done that in months." He rubbed her neck. Mayla slid off Leader and led him away. As Satchel was sliding off Faye, she came back out. He smiled at her, but she just shoved him aside. "Whoa." He stumbled, but caught himself. "I didn't know you were a sore loser, Mayla."
"Then why did you push me?"
"Look what you did to her!" Satchel bent down. Faye's leg was quivering, there was definitely something wrong with it. "You are so selfish! Making her jump like that! She hasn't done that in too long to start again!" She began to lead Faye towards the exit. He ran after her.
"Where are you going?"
"To go wash her off at the watering hole."
"No you aren't! She's my horse." He seized the reins.
"Well then I don't like the way you take care of your horses and you don't deserve Faye!" He lowered his head as she shouted. He half looked up at her, guiltily.
"Go back to work!" He felt shame wash over him as she walked away. Farsh came out of the barn, drying his hands with a towel.
"Hoi! Mayla! Where you goin?" he bellowed.
"She's going to the watering hole to wash up Faye."
"Go after her, but don't let her see you."
"I don't want my Mayla all by her lonesome out there. Now go!" Satchel set off at a run. He sprinted through town, but Mayla was already gone. He ran through the shallow woods to his house. Following the path, he was at the watering hole quickly. The gates were knotted together with a thick rope and Mayla was calmly washing Faye. He frowned. Mayla looked up and gave him a smile, but her eyes were cold.
"Will you let me through?"
"No. Go home Satchel." He frowned.
"Go home!" He grumbled, but then an idea struck him. He would go home. He smiled at her and she looked a little anxious. Running home, Satchel was able to get a dagger, run back, and cut open the gate in only a few minutes. Mayla scowled at him. He rushed to Faye and began to inspect her from head to foot. Mayla shoved him unexpectedly and he fell into the water with a splash. "Leave her alone and go away, Satchel!" He stood, glaring at her.
"Mayla! I wasn't trying to hurt her and I want her to get better so shut up and get away from my horse!" he shouted. She stared up at him for a while, but he could see the hardness in her eyes beginning to melt. "Please, I just want to know what I can do to help her." Mayla finally looked away.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly. There was a loud cry of excitement. Satchel whirled around. Lani, Farr, and Dale were cheering.
"The best performance I've seen in a long time!" Lani exclaimed. "It was only missing one thing." Dale smiled and ran to Satchel, grabbing his hand. "A kiss at the end would be perfect." Satchel's mouth dropped open.
"Lani!" he roared. Her eyes widened and she screamed. He chased her around the watering hole while she screeched and cackled. He caught up to her, flipped her over, and dunked her head in the water. Lani spluttered when he brought her back up. "What do you say?" he demanded.
"Good." He dropped her in a mud puddle with a splatter. She giggled and twisted to her feet.
"Give me a hug!" She grinned.
"Ah no, get away from me you mud-monster."
"Give me a hug! A nice big one!" she cried, chasing him around the watering hole. Mayla was laughing. Satchel dodged an attack from Lani. He seized her arms and twisted them behind her back. She giggled. Carrying her to the pool, Satchel dunked her several times. She threw her arms around his legs, pulling him down. Lani, Dale, and Farr all piled on top of him. Mayla's laughter filled his ears and he sighed.
He loved this village.
Suddenly a cold breeze washed over them. Satchel shivered in the chill. Lani's teeth began to chatter. Mayla looked over at him.
"I think we should go, Satchel."
"Ya," he lifted the kids to their feet, "ya, we should." He lifted Farr and Dale into Faye's saddle. "Do you mind?"
"No, go ahead. I'll walk with Lani." He nodded and sat behind the two little boys. He gave Faye a squeeze and she started off at a quick trot, though he was careful not to overexert his horse. He watched Mayla and Lani disappear around the corner. Mayla was talking to Lani excitedly. Once they had cleared the thin paths and reached town, Satchel sped up a bit. Faye seemed fine. He dropped Dale and Farr off in front of their home and was back at the shallow woods before Mayla and Lani were out. Mayla looked surprised, instantly quit talking, and blushed. Lani began to giggle. He looked at the two girls, utterly bewildered.
"Do you want me to take you home, or do you want to walk?"
"I want to come with you!" Lani heaved herself up in front of Satchel. Mayla scowled at Lani and pulled herself up too. Mayla leaned around Satchel and hissed something at Lani, who smiled and shook her head.
"What's going on?"
"Nothing," they answered at the same time. He sighed and shook his head.
"Women. Okay, let's go." He started off. Lani took a deep breath and leaned back against Satchel. Before long she was asleep, her head resting on him. "I don't know why she's so tired, it's only noon," he growled, trying to shift her into a safer position. Mayla shifted behind him and Faye stumbled. "Whoa!" He straightened himself and caught Lani before she fell.
"Sorry," Mayla said, quietly.
"Mayla, I know something's bugging you, I can tell." She sighed.
"It's not very important." She looked down and he decided to drop it. "Can't we go any faster?"
"No, I don't want Lani to fall." Mayla sighed. "What? Am I that horrible?"
"No!" She blushed and hid her face. "I just... never mind."
"I need to drop her off soon, my arms hurt," he complained.
"Oh, drop the act. We both know you're going as slow as possible in case she wakes up."
"So?" He grinned and looked back at her. Mayla laughed.
"She's like your family, isn't she?" she asked, quietly. He felt suddenly defensive. He frowned and shifted a little.
"No. I don't have a family, I don't need a family, and I don't want a family."
"You may not have one and you may not need one, but you want one."
"Sometimes you scare me, Mayla."
"You know everything about me."
"If I did then…" she trailed off.
"Never mind." He turned around on Faye and looked her in the eye.
"Nothing, keep going," she said, not looking away from his eyes. There was a long silence. "I love your eyes, they're so different." She cocked her head to one side and he smiled.
"That's why Halc and Mar hate me."
"They don't hate you." He raised an eyebrow. "Okay, they might hate you."
"Satchel?" Lani was stirring in the saddle.
"Whoa, girl." He stopped Faye as Lani began to squirm. He slid down from his horse and took Lani from Mayla. She squirmed in his arms. He had to lower her to the ground as she thrashed. "Lani!" He put a hand on her forehead.
"Satchel!" she cried, writhing about.
"Lani, I'm right here!" He shook her shoulder.
"Satchel! Satchel, run!" she was screaming.
"I'm going to get some help." Mayla said, running off.
"Satchel! Get away!"
"Lani!" He shook her. "Lani wake up!" She let out an earsplitting scream. He covered her mouth and shook her. Lani's eyes sprang open and she was panting.
"I'm here, Squirt." She clung to him, sobbing. "What happened?"
"Don't go to the watering hole!"
"What?" She clamped her eyes shut and screamed again. "Lani!"
"Don't go, Satchel!" She looked up at him.
"Why?" She leapt to her feet and ran. "Lani!" He rushed after her. Dodging passersby, he chased her through the busy town. She ran all the way down the river, where she dove in. Satchel looked around for her, but Lani wasn't surfacing. "Lani!" He jumped in after her. Tiny fists beat against him. Seizing Lani, he kicked off from the murky bottom. His foot connected hard with a smooth rock and it shifted. He broke the surface and choked up a great mouthful of water. Lani came up, crying and spluttering. "Lani, what was all that about?"
"Nothing." He stared at her. Her eyes pleaded with him not to continue the subject. "Just forget about it." She took a deep breath and tried to heave her shaking body out of the water. Her arms gave way and she landed in the water with a splash. He got out and pulled her up.
"Come on, Lani," he whispered in her ear. "Let's go home." She was already asleep in his arms.