Authors: Cassandra Webb
A Part Of The A Magical Saga Series
Hunter doesn’t dream of much. I mean a good meal and a days rest from his uncles hard labor would be nice, but not essential. Hunter is a survivor.
Then he see’s a girl on a white horse take a risk, and Hunter wonders if he could do the same. Everything happens rather quickly after that, he makes friends, discovers compassion and warmth, has a bucket of mud thrown over his head, not to mention ambushing the bandits. And earning respect. This is the beginning of a new life for Hunter.
But will taking a risk be enough?
Dedicated to Bhavni, a woman with immense spirit; and because we all need more people with a can-do attitude, compassion and heart in our lives.
Copyright © 2015 Cassandra Webb.
All Rights Reserved.
First Published in Australia as an online serial at www.lifefamilymagic.wordpress.com. Later: www.amagicalsaga.com
The right of Cassandra Webb to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her under the copyright amendment (moral rights) act 2009.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the authors imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced, recorded or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photographic, recording, or otherwise, without the written permission of the publisher.
Cover Art by Cassandra Webb
The Boy At The Corner By http://enlothien.deviantart.com/
Chapter header - music - by http://the-one-and-only.deviantart.com/
Caracature by Alexandra Himura-Mechniza
Map by Cassandra Webb
for a full list of map contributers see www.cassandrawebb.com
Proofing by Amanda G.
Hunter’s parents died a long time ago, but he works as hard as he can to stay in his grandfather’s good graces.
Meanwhile, Kemla has been dragged by slave traders all of the way into Trand Realm. With the unexpected aid of a bandit attack she found her freedom, and equally as by accident, on her first day of freedom she will separate the unappreciated teenage boy from his money-driven grandfather.
A simple shout will change Hunter’s life forever.
“Hey!” some girl shouts from atop a white horse, scaring the crap out of me.
I run, stumbling and tripping, but refusing to let go of the boot that I just found.
A few trees safely between the girl and me I stop and wait. A girl. What’s a ruddy girl doing out here on her own, yelling at me and me uncle and me Pa? This is a dangerous, secluded, section of road, not somewhere I was expecting to be bothered.
There’s a lot more valuables on the ground – what with some battle just happening between slave traders and bandits just yesterday – even ripped up bandit shirts can fetch me some coin.
The girl leaves my score alone. I dig a hole and bury the boot and other things that I already have – there’s no way I can carry everything, not since the two guys who consider themselves family have kept on running; all of the way to the city, I’ll bet. They really are my family, my Pa and uncle, but they look and act nothing like me.
The girl rides to the other side of the road.
Damn. She found something good, and it was hanging from a tree. How come I didn’t see it?
I wonder if I could take it from her. Probably not, she looks rough and scarred; plus she has a sword.
I could tackle her to the ground. But I don’t.
When she finally rides off, I slip back down into the roadside ditch and salvage as much as I can, reburying what I can’t carry and fashioning the shirts and coats, odds and ends, that I can carry into a bundle before loading it up onto my back. I feel like a packhorse. My first few steps are staggered, as I try to get into the groove of hauling all this stuff.
A pumpkin soup colour paints the skyline, blurring the distant road with sunset. I just know I’m going to be pack-horsing this stuff all night. If my Pa thinks that he’s getting a single coin out of me, he has another thing coming.
If you don’t haul it, you haven’t earned it.
Eventually, my legs are burning so fiercely that I can’t take another step so I stagger up the side of the road and into the bushes. I sit my style, which is like squatting so my bum doesn’t get covered in dirt. I don’t care about a bit of dirt, but I do care about getting a cold bum.
What I wouldn’t give for some water; but hey, I did find a flask.
I pull the cork and sniff; spirits. It wasn’t on one of the bandits, I found it in the middle of the battle – where the slave traders were – must have been a good year for them. It’s a really nice flask. Might have to keep this one for myself.
Slave traders and bandits, they’re all rotten. If word of their battle hadn’t reached my Pa in the city, we wouldn’t have practically run out here to take what they’d dropped. Battles are messy things, and even without them travellers along these roads always lose stuff.
I swig, cough, hold my breath, and force the cork back into the flask.
Yep, it’s Baren all right. Foul Baren alcoholic spirits, they’re the worst on the market. It could have been clean water with a bit of honey in it. I’m not thirsty enough to drink spirits.
Pulling one of my many concealed blades out I absently toss it at a tree. I can’t do this distance at home, the walls are all stone and if I keep hitting the support beams the tavern’s likely to fall in on the cellar; but I love the feeling of letting a blade fly, of hitting my mark, of being good at something. I repeat the process, lodging the blade into the same hole I just made… and again. This isn’t really relaxing, but it’s better than walking with all that crap.
I’m ready to pull my makeshift tied-up-in-knots goods, up onto my shoulders, when horse girl comes riding out of the bush opposite me.
Frozen, I watch her wander down the road. She looks odd, riding with no saddle, just rope for a bridle and moving in perfect unison with her horse. They look like one creature and if I were any dumber – maybe dumb like my Pa – I’d think they were connected in some way.
Unless they’re using magic.
A shiver runs through me. All the more reason to give them some space. When they’re out of sight, I load up and labour on down the road. Hauling loads like this is one of the reasons I look like an eight-year-old, even though I’m fourteen. Always carrying heavy stuff; and Pa’s strict one meal a day policy. I stopped wondering a long time ago what life would have been like if my ma and da had survived. Since Pa is my mother’s father, maybe she would have been a hard-ass too. Not sure about my father, though – don’t even know who he was. I have one treasure from them, hidden away in my little cellar space, under Pa’s tavern. All my memories began with them already gone and Pa ruling my world.
Good thing I’ve always been smarter than him.
I have to pick up the pace or I’ll be out here all night, and I begin doing a shuffle-run move as the evening chill settles in my bones.
The middle of bandit country is marked by the Meadowsblade homestead. It’s not the safest place to live, but there is a healthy brood of males there, a lot of sons, and I guess their enough to keep the place safe.
I notice the girl’s white horse in their yard. She’s not one of theirs; you get to know the look of folk around here. Not just their clothes, but also their walk, their tone of voice, the glint in their eyes. I’d pick her for being seventeen, maybe eighteen. Not that much older than me really, and I just can’t imagine her being of interest to one of the Meadowsblade sons. What the hell is she doing there?
I keep running; the sun in my eyes as it nears the tops of the trees.
What? Did she just wander in and ask to spend the night?
Why not? I want to try it.
How many times have I run back from bandit country to Argeish with more than I can carry, only to arrive after mealtime and too late to even bother sleeping?
I near the next gate, the Rathernfen homestead. My memory aches with effort, but I can’t seem to think of a single fact about them. Loads of kids, as everyone around here seems to have, farming family, still in bandit country. That’s all I know.
Can I go and ask for a place to sleep? Why the sheep-pellets not?
I almost lose my load trying to untie the rope-latch and let myself in. Then I get two steps towards the house before a big scary dog comes bounding towards me. I back up, just one step before he tackles me to the ground. My load forgotten about, shirts and boots going everywhere, the mutt growls, teeth brush against my nose, then dives for a shirt and starts tearing it to shreds.
“Hey, stop that!” I jump to my feet and am about to pounce on the things back.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” some girl says.
“He’s eating my money, stop him,” I shout.
“It’s just a shirt.”
I turn to face her, just a girl. Yep, a fluffy, pig-tailed-girl. Sure, she looks to be about my age but that means nothing when it comes to how smart a person is.
“Girl, stop him.”
Four horses amble into the yard. All ridden by boys, the one with the beard and scars on his arms must be their dad.
He lets out a long, low, whistle and the dog runs towards him.
“We don’t want no trouble around here,” the man calls out. “So you’d best be going.”
I straighten from trying to bundle my hoard back into some carry-able pile.
“Not till you pay me for that shirt,” I say, tossing the ruined item at him.
One of the son’s, all ginger hair and a big frown, rides towards me. “Didn’t you hear my da, vultures aren’t welcome around here. Jenny get inside,” he orders his sister.
She folds her arms but obeys. Of course she obeys, spineless.
“Coin for the shirt,” I say. “Either that, or let me sleep in your barn for the night.”
I look the father in the eye, even though they are on horses bigger than me, and the two sons are bigger than me, all trying to intimidate me and make me move towards the gate.
The father looks towards the setting sun. “Just you?”
“Course, just me. Do I look like I enjoy company?”
“Fine, you can stay in a horse stall until sunrise,” he says.
“And you’d better sleep with one eye open,” the nearest son says, before riding off.
Even with his threat, I feel a mini explosion of success. Yes, it worked. Who’d have thought?
I begin to gather up my hoard, and the girl is still watching me. She didn’t go inside after all.
“Aren’t you going to help me?”
“No way I’m touching those filthy things,” she says, chuckling at me as if the answer was obvious.
For the first time I look at the shirt in my hands, it has a mendable tear through the front, and along with the usual travel grime, there’s a little red spot on it.
The girl steps closer to me. “Yes, blood is gross,” she says. “Now hurry up and I’ll show you where to shove those things. If mother sees them, she’ll have them burnt. I’m Jenny by the way.”
I stop frowning long enough to say, “Hunter.” Then grab the last of my things. “And no one’s touching my things.”
She chuckled. “You haven’t met my mother.”