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Excerpt from Thorn Changer by Christy Reed
He paused a moment to adjust the sack on his shoulder before he continued his journey across the meadow. In the distance, Xanka could see the city in the middle of the green expanse, with the brown and empty fields around it. No one was in the fields. The farmers must have finished their harvesting.
What city was this again? He tried to remember the map Yatu had shown him. Mokayi, he believed. Farther than the city where they usually brought their wares to sell or trade to buy the few things they couldn’t make at the village.
Too many people had started asking questions at the first city.
He often wondered if it wouldn’t be better to send someone like Nuekio or Taeo to trade for what they needed. Arilians, although not as common in Beolki as they were before the war started, were at least not as noticeable. And Taeo, being one of the few Beolkins of their number, wouldn’t cause a second glance. Even Jaeno wouldn’t cause as much notice as he did, even though she was Mekain, and few of those had been in Beolki since the war began.
But a Friiakan was almost unheard of. And even if he hadn’t put the raccoon paw print on his left cheek, the sign of his people, and even if he had insisted Wingnai stay at the village (which the hawk probably would refuse to do anyway), there was no mistaking Xanka for anything else.
Talons dug into his shoulder, stirring him out of his thoughts. “I could’ve flown there and back again by now, hatchling,” Wingnai’s beak clacked in his ear. “You’re slower than a crow today.”
Xanka winced, knowing how the crows would feel had they heard the red-tailed hawk’s comment. For some reason, most of the birds he’d talked to looked down on crows, ravens, rooks, pretty much all birds in that family. “I’ve not wings like you do.”
The bird clacked his beak again. “If you had, this miserable errand would be over by now.”
“You could’ve stayed home. There was no reason for you to come.” He didn’t add that people probably wouldn’t notice him as much without a bird the size of a small cauldron perched on his shoulder.
If hawks could scoff, he was sure Wingnai did. “And leave you all alone to get into trouble? Not happening, hatchling. Just move your legs faster. All the tasty little things have burrowed away already.”
Part of him was glad of this. He hated watching Wingnai eat. But if the bird had caught even a mouse, he wouldn’t have been so testy. Xanka shifted the sack again, and kept walking. The city was getting closer now.
The sun was high in the sky, but not many people were at the gate when Xanka and Wingnai reached it. A guard stood leaning against one of the gateway pillars, the woody scent of fatigue wafting off him. He yawned, and straightened a bit as Xanka approached.
“Come a distance, have you?”
Xanka nodded. He hoped he wouldn’t ask how far. “Hoping to trade my wares,” he hefted the sack off his shoulder.
The guard took it and peered in. “Bowls, herbs, and stone pestles, is it? Looks like fine stuff, though I don’t know who’ll be buying in times like these.”
Xanka kept back a sigh. It had been harder since the war had begun in earnest here. Last year, when Iezomen only plagued Searka, it had been much easier. “Medicines are needed in this time as much as any other. I think someone will be in need of these.”
The soldier nodded. “You may be right.” He sighed, eyeing the flat pouch at his waist, the woodiness mixing with the pine tar scent of regret. “Wish I’d had a draught to knock the senses into me last night. There’d still be a week’s wages in here if I had.”
“Unlucky hand at the dice?” even though he had no interest in such things, Foka had always told him it was better to pretend to be interested. Keeping the guards friendly made the questions fewer and the evasive answers more likely to be believed.
The soldier nodded. “Aye. If I’d known it was against me, I’d have never agreed to play dice with Paylor last night,” he tugged at the drawstrings. “He always wins against the lads. What made me think my luck would be any better?” He laughed with a shake of his head. “Guess it was those drinks beforehand.”
Xanka nodded. Although most of the ale and mead he’d had wouldn’t have muddled an ant’s brain, Yatu had told him soldiers often drank stronger stuff. A cold wind sprang up, and he wrapped his cloak tighter about him. “Cold as anything today, wouldn’t surprise me if we got snow before the night’s over.”
The soldier didn’t answer. He gripped his spear, jumping away from the pillar like it was hot iron at the same time Wingnai shrieked and launched himself into the air. Xanka gripped the knife at his belt, and turned.
Only a rabbit hopped along the field behind him. The hawk screeched again, as it dove for it. Xanka’s stomach lurched as he turned quickly away. Wingnai got his dinner after all.
The soldier glanced at him, trying to chuckle. “Guess I’ve been at it too long. Could’ve sworn I saw some of those Iezomen coming over the meadow. But I guess your bird was just hungry.”
“Are you watching the gate or the birds, Keo?”
Xanka and the soldier turned as another one walked up to join them. Keo smiled ruefully. “A little of both I guess, Paylor. Still feeling good after all the winnings you picked up last night?”
The other guard’s great, bulky form made its way up, the oak scent of pride flowing from him. Keo jabbed Paylor in the ribs. “Where’re you waddling back from? The mess? Or maybe Miss Cela’s house?”
Paylor chucked him on the shoulder. “You joke now, my lad. But wait till you fall in love. Then you’ll change your tune.”
Keo’s face reddened as he jabbed Paylor in the stomach with his elbow. “Be it your heart, or your stomach that fell in love, my friend?”
“Aye, I admit I don’t know myself as yet,” Paylor grinned as he moved off to stand on the other side of the gate, “I guess I’ll find out when I marry her.”
“You mean if you can get her dad to allow you.”
Paylor struck his barrel chest. “Ah, but I’m making some headway in that.”
“Or some stomach-way, rather.”
Xanka smiled. He’d seen this type of banter before, between some of those at the village. The ones who were comfortable with those from homelands other than their own. He turned his gaze back to the sky. Where was Wingnai now? Surely he’d not be gone long.
Whoosh! Xanka threw himself to the ground. Keo gasped, clutching his arm. An arrow quivered in the guard’s shoulder. Xanka scurried to his feet, his eyes sweeping the horizon. Where did that arrow come from...
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That's the end of Chapter Two Part One. I hope you enjoyed it. For right now, Thorn Changer is available exclusively on Amazon. Feel free to share this excerpt, just please include all text between the asterisks (* * *), as well as a link to Thorn Changer's Amazon page. This will give your viewers a link to where they can purchase Thorn Changer if they're interested. Thanks.
Chapter Two Part Two will be available on Wednesday.