Siobhan looked from the cart loaded with her kills to the orange-pink burning in the horizon. One more kill could mean the difference between spending the winter with a roof over her head, or scrounging for warmth and scraps. She played with her lower lip, scanning the fields. Earlier that day she’d seen a Smilodon prowling the high grass. The tusks alone would guarantee mead in her belly, a roof over her head, and plenty left over to barter passage to Ardorn.
“M’lady.” A grizzled voice rose behind her. “It’s getting dark. We should return to the city.”
“Don’t call me M’lady, and we’ll head back in a minute,” she said, waving one hand. She rested her bow against the wagon and bounded to the nearby tree.
“In. A. Minute.”
With a single jump, she pushed on the trunk of the tree and grabbed the closest branch. Muscles strained under her weight as she pulled herself up. Siobhan prided herself on her physical condition, but her arm muscles were sore from a day of hunting and made the climb harder than it should’ve been. Even she had her limits. She continued upward, one branch after another, until she reached the highest peak that could safely hold her weight. One hand gripped the branch as she shimmied to the edge, clearing her view from the remaining leaves.
Wind swarmed her, rocking her precarious perch. Her eyes narrowed as she returned her gaze to the distance. Smilodon were stealthy creatures, near impossible to find let alone kill. Their fur had the ability to camouflage itself to any surroundings, making it the perfect predator. When she was a child, her people believed it to be a sin to kill such a glorious creature. Anyone who dared to do so became a ghost upon the earth. As an adult, Siobhan cared more for surviving than some silly superstation. Those tusks would care for her through the entire winter when hunting was impossible.
She sighed and glanced to her annoying companion. Elias stood at the base of the tree, his colorful robes rippled with the force of the wind. Both hands tucked in his sleeves, as they usually were when he didn’t need them. Since she was barely out of her mother’s womb, Elias was by her side, watching over her as if she were his daughter, something his kind never had. They had no true familial ties and the concept of them was foreign to Elias.
“Stop calling me M’lady!” She sighed. “I’m looking for that Smilodon we saw earlier. I was a fool for not going after it first.”
“With all due respect, M’lady,” Elias said. Siobhan groaned. “While I understand your reasoning, those tusks will do no good if we don’t return to the city before the markets close. All the kills you’ve already gathered will be wasted on top of the meat from the Smilodon.”
She looked from the silver-haired annoyance back to the horizon. The sun was more than half way toward its slumber for the evening. By the time the final edge vanished into the abyss, the bells of the city would chime and all markets would close. It pained her to admit it, Elias was right. The days hunt would be for naught if she didn’t get something for the carcass’ sitting in the cart. While she no longer held value in superstitions, she still held value in waste. Trained as a competent hunter, she learned to use all of her kills or not kill at all.
With a sigh, she back flipped off the branch and landed on all fours. Elias didn’t flinch, though she knew he disliked when she abused her reflexes. As she righted herself, she flicked his folded high collar.
“Hide the gills, already.” She turned and sauntered toward the cart. “You know the lowlands have never seen an Aquantian.”
Elias flicked his collar, hiding the three slits on either side of his neck with skin shifting with every breath. “After that display, you have no room to talk. Or are you going to give me the ‘nobody was around’ answer? In which case that is why I have my gills uncovered; nobody is near. It’s hard to breathe through the collar.”
Siobhan smirked, grabbing her bow and tossing it beside the near empty quiver in the cart. She hated using a bow. It was clumsy, rough on the hands, and did little damage in close range. But for hunting, it was better than her staff or daggers. Her fingers brushed against one-half of the collapsed staff hanging around her lower back. Most days she had two daggers to the side and her crisscrossing staff parts tied on her belt behind her, today she chose to go with only the staff and a hidden dagger in her knee-high boot. Less weight made it easier to prowl through the tall grass of the fields outside Scanla.
Rough edges of wood ground against her fingertips as she dragged a hand along the cart, walking to the horses up front. Her old mare, Nyka, shifted when she grabbed the reins. Nyka had little eyesight and startled easy. Siobhan knew her life force would soon join the Goddess, but she wasn’t ready to part with the cream colored beast. They’d been companions, brethren, since long before Siobhan fled her homeland. Even before Elias found her cowering in a barn after she ran, Nyka was there giving her comfort, a reminder of home.
Elias took the reins of the second horse, a younger mare barely old enough to be called a mare. Unlike Siobhan, he refused to give her a name. He felt naming animals gave them too much purpose so Siobhan did it for him. Zelick was a near unruly beast they purchased who responded only to Elias. She hated that horse and, she thought, the feeling was mutual. Together, they guided the horses out of the overgrown brush and back onto the well-traveled dirt weaving back to Scanla.