It is getting late in the morning by the time Master Wyldfyr's hut on the outskirts of the town comes into view . I crest a small hill and pause for a moment as I always do when I return. I don't think I could ever get tired of this view. The bush-line stopped a few hundred paces behind me, so now all that is in front of me is a plain of grass covering the wide valley that Crystaltopia was settled on. Wyldfyr's hut is closest to me, and beyond that the town sits beneath a cloudless sky. I could just make out Crystal River meandering its way through the farmland beyond the town, after which mountains once again break the grassland.
There is no breeze, so the morning is only just starting to lose its crispness, but I know today is going to be a fine day. In the distance I see that the setting up of shops at the market is already getting underway, and I realise I should have been back hours ago. Quickly, I set off at a run towards Wyldfyr's hut.
When I came to within earshot, I could hear him yelling at his other apprentice, Ramayella. Ramayella was like a sister to me. We had grown up together in Wyldfyr's hut, as he found me shortly after he had taken on Rama as an appretice.
"Head out from under my feet afore I give you a hidin' too!" is his final growl.
I see her run from the house with a look of indignation. Poor Rama, Wyldfyr was always harsh on her. I think it's because he has such high expectations from me, but I was a natural at hunting. I must have learnt it in my homeland, and even though I can't remember how or when I first learnt, it still comes to me by instinct.
I open the door to find Master Wyldfyr finishing the skinning of the deer Rama shot yesterday.
"Did you have a nice run?" he asks coolly. I wonder if it's the calm before the storm.
"Yes, master, I woke up before dawn and couldn't get back to sleep, so I thought it would clear my mind."
"You took a bow and some arrows." He is trying to trap me.
"If I have to hunt with them I figure I should train with them too."
"And is that 'training' meat in your backpack too?"
"No... that's real meat."
"That's funny. I didn't know you were a journeyman hunter yet. I thought you were still an apprentice."
"I am still your apprentice."
"Then bloody well act like it! There are reasons why you shouldn't hunt without me; your incompetence will get you killed."
"It's my free time. May I not do as I please?" It wasn't till after I said it that I realised how insolent it sounded. Wlydfyr glared at me.
"As of an hour ago, it's not your free time. You should have been setting up in the market."
"Sorry, I lost track of time."
"I should beat you bloody. You have half an hour. If the stall isn't set up when I come down, then maybe I will."
"Yes, Master Wyldfyr." I say, turning to leave. I know even if it wasn't set up, he wouldn't beat me, his grouchiness is mainly an act to keep us in line.
"So what did you get?" says Wyldfyr suddenly, and I thought I could detect a little excitement in his voice.
"A boar. You should have seen the shot," I say, trying not to grin.
Wyldfyr grunts. "Leave your pack, I'll prepare it for the market. Take the pack by the door, it's everything you'll need for the stall."
Down at the market, I find Rama wandering around the various stalls.
"Rama, Wyldfyr says if you haven't set up the stall in half an hour he's going to beat you bloody," I say to her, grinning.
"Oh really," she laughs, "somehow I think it's you he's going to be giving the hiding to."
"Hmm maybe I got that bit wrong," I say, scratching my head.
"You want help?" she offers.
"Nah I'll be right."
She snorts. "Oh, of course, 'Mr Independent' as always... how come you're all wet?" she asks. It's true, my hair is sopping.
"I took a dip in a steam on the way here. It's going to be a hot day and I was already sweaty from my little expedition."
"Which leaves you how much time left?"
"About 20 minutes," I grin sheepishly.
Rama shakes her head. "Come on, let's set up."
At our stall, Rama and I set about unloading the contents of the pack Master Wyldfyr had given me, and placing the items on display. We were just finishing setting the stall up when I began to accidentally walk back too far into the pathway. To be constantly mindful of our surroundings is a lesson Wyldfyr drills into us. Evidently I still hadn't learnt that lesson. Suddenly, a girl collided into my side. Seeing that she was going to fall, my reflexes instinctively made me reach out and grab her hand, stopping her just as she fell backwards.
"Sorry, are you alright?" I say, pulling her back upright.
"Yeah, I'm fine, thanks to you," she says breathlessly, looking at my hand. I realise how cold it must still be from my swim in the river, as her hand is warm to my touch, so I quickly release it. Looking back up, I see she has a strong but beautiful face, framed playfully by short black hair that contrasts with her pale complexion.
"I don't think we've met before. I'm Deo." I want to get to know this girl.
"Xenia," she replies with a smile. "Nice to meet you."
I notice she still looks a little dazed, and is breathing heavily.
"Here, allow me to buy you a drink as an apology," I offer, walking over to a nearby stall and buying two cups of fruit juice. They cost almost all I have left; Master Wyldfyr gives us a quarter of the money gained from the animals we kill. Hopefully now that Rama has managed to get a deer, she'll be getting some money too.
"Oh, don't worry about it, it was my fault - oh... thanks." She takes the cup and gulps down its contents. I find myself strangely captivated by her. "So are you one of the hunters?" she inquires.
"Yeah, or at least training to be one. What about you?"
"I'm training to be a... ah," she pauses for a moment, and it's like her daze is suddenly broken. Her smile fades and is replaced by a dark look. "'Emmisary'. Look I've kind of got to go, see you later." And with that, she runs off into the crowd.