I leaned against the cave wall and watched the rain fall, glad I’d found the hiding place when I was hunting last week. When the downpour came in a rush, I had a place to wait it out. I hoped it would let up soon though. I’d been in the woods all morning, and still hadn’t seen a thing. Coming back to the camp without a kill wouldn’t mean I’d starve—in the four weeks I’d been with the Foxes, none of us went to sleep hungry—but they depended on me to bring in a good portion of the meat since, besides Faiza and Ethan, I was the best shot.
I leaned my bow against the wall and slid down to a crouching position, thinking how nice it would be if deer were hunted with a sword instead of a bow. Then I would bring in more game than any of them. An image of my father’s sword came to my mind—a broadsword with a wolf’s face carved at the top of the pommel. If only it hadn’t been sold with everything else to pay the orphanage fee.
I picked up a stone and tossed it in the air, catching it when it fell back down.
It was strange to have nothing to do. Since coming to the little group of orphans in the woods, there hadn’t been a moment to rest. All of us had our set jobs, the things we did every day, and the jobs we rotated on. I had my own bow and was a good shot, so I went into the woods everyday to hunt. The other jobs, like picking berries, fishing, gathering firewood, and washing dishes we all took turns doing.
I stopped tossing the stone and ran a finger over my dirty palm. My skin was thicker and the blisters I earned when I first came here were gone. I smiled. I wasn’t such a “greentwig” anymore.
I tossed the stone into the blackness of the cave and listened to it clatter to the floor. I had no idea how deep the cave went. I grabbed another stone and launched it into the darkness. It too sounded as if it bounced along the floor, not as if it hit a wall. I stood, ready to throw harder, but the next thing I picked up wasn’t a stone.
It was too perfectly round and it was flat on one side while the other side was like a dome covered in smoothed ridges. In the shadows of the cave, I could see a small chain dangling from one side. It was some sort of jewelry.
I brought it to the mouth of the cave for better light, not noticing the fat raindrops that bounced onto the cave floor and splashed my pant legs.
Attached to the golden chain was a large ruby encased in a circle of gold. The dull, rainy-day light glinted off its many delicately cut faces. I didn’t move for what felt like an entire minute, thinking there was no way I could be seeing what I was seeing. It was the biggest jewel stone I’d seen, filling most of my palm. I had no idea what such a thing would cost.
A grin slowly formed on my face, then a laugh escaped. Who cares if it rains all day and I don’t see any game? This could feed us for months. Maybe years!
I scooped up my bow ready to face the torrent. News like this couldn’t wait. I had to show this to Faiza and Ethan.
I stopped just before stepping on the soggy ground.
Slow down Dalan. Think this through. I’d never have something like this in my possession again. Was giving it all away really the wisest thing to do?
True, I didn’t need so much money now, but what about when I turned eighteen and didn’t have to worry about King Radon’s soldiers taking me? It would be nice to know I had some extra money hidden away for when I set off by myself. I didn’t want to be stuck in the woods with no supplies and dependent on squirrels for my next meal.
I could stay with the Foxes. They wouldn’t make me leave just because I was eighteen. But I wanted to do something more than hide in a makeshift village in the middle of nowhere for the rest of my life.
I turned the glittering ruby in my hand. With the money from such a gemstone, I could travel all over Minaria. I could even leave Minaria.
There was something I’d never thought of. I could live in another country until I was old enough for the king’s soldiers not to bother.
I thought of myself in a faraway land, eating food I hadn’t hunted, skinned, and cooked. Wearing a different shirt than the one I’d had on for over a month. Sleeping in a real room with a real bed, not just a hovel with a pile of rags and animal skins on the floor. I would even have money to buy a sword—one like my father had.
I shook my head. What would I do with a sword? I didn’t want to join King Radon’s army. He hadn’t been the same since his twin brother died. Father lost respect for him after he made the law that let soldiers capture orphans and take them to work in the castle.
The drumming of the rain lessened. I slid the chain over my head, tucked the ruby under my shirt, and I stepped out of the cave while I had the chance. I only took a few steps before stopping.
Perhaps I didn’t need a sword, but life in a new land might be just what I need. I could set off on my own right now. I had my bow and canteen, and anything I needed I could buy.
I turned around and headed to a game trail that led to a main road.
What would Ethan and Faiza think when I didn’t show up tonight? Would they look for me, concerned something bad had happened? Or would they guess I’d set out on my own and be angry?
Faiza said I could leave when I wanted the day I came here, right after I took that silly pledge.
I jolted to a stop. The pledge! I’d promised to share anything that I found with the Foxes.
Well when I said that, I didn’t think I’d come across a fortune in the middle of the woods. It was unfair to have to give up my only chance at a better life because of something I promised when I thought the only thing I’d find out here were twigs and animal poo. Besides, that part of the pledge was referring to berries and nuts and things not a piece of jewelry. No one was expecting that I’d find a treasure.
Besides, if I gave it to Faiza she would split the money between all the camp, which would leave me with too small of an amount to leave Minaria.
But then, it was unfair for me to be so ungrateful to Faiza and Ethan. They’d taken me in and shown me how to survive out here, and I was going to thank them by disappearing without a word.
I bet they wanted to live in a place where the solders couldn’t take them away like slaves.
I could take them with me. No, they wouldn’t leave the rest of the kids by themselves, and there wouldn’t be enough money for all of them to go. Not to mention there’s no way we could get so many kids across the border without causing suspicion.
Still, I couldn’t just leave them all and do nothing for them.
I pulled the gemstone from under my shirt and held it in my palm, drops of rain splashing against its surface. I wondered how much it would be worth.
An idea came to me. What if I didn’t have to choose between helping the others and starting a new life? A stone as big as this one would have to get me enough money so I could leave Minaria and still be able to give some to Ethan and Faiza.
I could sell it without telling them about it, then take what I needed to get out of here and give them the rest. Then Faiza couldn’t be mad about the money not being split evenly and I could still leave Minaria.
I bet you were wondering if that red gemstone in the picture was ever going to make its way into the story. 😉
Oh, and I forgot to tell you at the end of the last chapter that I’m adding a character list to the Hashna Stone page, so it will be easier to keep track of characters once you meet them.
Can’t wait to see what Dalan decides to do with the gemstone!