Layke slung his bag over his shoulder. Last night he had stayed up late stuffing all the provisions needed into it, and now it was bulging and heavy.
Layke checked his bed, making sure that his pillows were arranged properly in his shape, then slowly opened the door, cringing when it creaked. He snuck past his parent’s bedroom, narrowly avoiding an upended book that was obviously a victim of one of his mother’s rages.
He was at the door, hand on the handle, when he heard footsteps behind him. Layke spun around, facing his father.
“Hello Layke,” he said. It’s going to be harder than ever to not take him along now, Layke thought, sighing mentally. I’ll just have to be tough.
“Why are you up so early?” his father asked, his face questioning. It seemed he knew nothing of Layke’s plan to run away.
“Up early? Oh, at the crack of dawn, you mean?” Layke smiled, casually leaning back on one leg. “That isn’t early for me. I’m always up at this time.”
“I’m up early too,” his father said, “and I never see you.”
Layke bit his lip. “Must’ve missed me.”
His father looked at him, eyebrows raised. “I don’t think you’re telling the truth here.”
“The truth?” Layke looked at the floor. “Sorry. I know I’m not. I’m up early to see my friend. To apologise for what I did yesterday.”
“And what exactly did you do yesterday, young man?”
“I disappeared in the middle of talking to him to go back home to mother.” Layke pretended to cringe at the very thought of his atrocious act. “It was a terrible thing to do.”
His father nodded. “It was. Just don’t do it again and I won’t tell your mother where you’re going. Now, shoo.” He glanced back. “While Mother isn’t here to see.”
Taking the opportunity, Layke ran out the door, heading towards his neighbour’s house. Once he was out of view, he changed course, and headed for the trees. He didn’t have a rendezvous point so he just went to the Lightning Tree, hoping Waiye was there to greet him.
She was, her rags replaced by worn hunting clothes and her hair a bit neater this time. She smiled at Layke.
“I knew you’d come. You didn’t seem like one to keep me here waiting.”
“I didn’t bring Father,” Layke said, feeling guilty.
“Don’t feel guilty,” Waiye said as if she could read his mind. “You weren’t only doing it for the good of us. You were doing it for the good of the revolution. And besides, it means we can have more food between us.”
Layke stared at her. How could she think so practically when it was such an emotionally-charged moment. Then he shrugged it off. She was a hunter; that was probably how they operated.
“Let’s go. There isn’t anything to wait for, is there?” Layke asked, shivering; the cold morning air was getting to him.
“No, there isn’t,” Waiye agreed, hoisting her pack further up her back. She started walking.
“Where are we going?” Layke asked, stumbling after her. It seemed as if the roots were all trying to trip him. He had never travelled this path before; he hadn’t even gone as far as the meadow.
“Just follow me and you’ll be fine. We’re finding the women that believe in our cause.”
“Our cause. What exactly is it again?”
“To overthrow the women who rule this land. We want to equalise the power in this land, so that women and men can rule together, side by side, instead of the men being cast aside like they are worthless beings.”
Layke nodded, even more convinced than ever that something had to be done. Waiye set a relentless pace, and they travelled on until midday, when Layke collapsed, exhausted. Even Waiye herself was panting.
“We’ll rest here for a while, shall we?” Waiye said, seeing how weary Layke was. “A quick lunch and then we’ll set off again.”
Layke nodded, or tried to nod. His head seemed to not want to follow his commands.
“Rest. You look exhausted.”
“I am,” he managed to murmur, before slumping down and fallling into a light doze.