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The deer cautiously picked its way to the little pond. Her eyes were glazed and unfocused as she used her peripherals to watch both the ground and the surrounding woods simultaneously. The doe paused, inches from the water, clearly deliberating between the need to watch the trees and the draws of fresh water. It succumbed to its thirst and hastily dipped its mouth in the cool spring. Its eyes closed briefly in euphoria, rejoicing in the spoils of the clear drink.
I let my arrow fly and find the softest part of its neck. Its eyes had barely opened in alarm when another arrow joined the first. By the time the deer had lifted its head wildly, a third arrow had found its heart; and as it faltered lamely, the fourth arrow had slipped in its dark brown eye, killing it instantly. The doe had rarely enough time to register any pain.
“Damn it, Evergard,” I cussed, “don’t aim for the heart!”
The boy next to me frowned. “I didn’t mean to hit it there,” he explained heatedly. “I’m not you, Irish, I miss sometimes!”
“Sorry,” I said calmly, diffusing the tension between us.
“S’okay,” he said quietly. “I’ll clean it.” He walked over to the doe’s body and slipped a knife from his belt. As he carefully cut along a predetermined line with the knife, he said, “You shot three arrows in the same time it took me to shoot one.” I shrugged. “You never shoot the throat,” he added. “It’s almost like you- hey! You did that on purpose! You were just waiting for me to get a shot!” I grimaced. He was right, though. I was just playing fair; I could have easily taken the doe down with a single shot to the eye. “Don’t do that, Irish. Think of the doe, at least,” he scolded.
“I didn’t let it live long enough to hurt,” I said. “Besides, you need practice, Ev.”
He made a losing face. He knew I was right, he was a good shot, but he needed to get better. I was right about the deer, too. I walked over to the other side of the doe, stooped to retrieve the arrows, and sat down opposite him. I pulled out my own knife and began to assist him with skinning the deer.
Evergard was my lifelong friend. We grew up together in the Elde. I sighed deeply. He looked up at me quickly and went back to his work. He had dark, black hair and bright gray eyes. His skin was the same color as mine, light, but easily tanned. He was a year older than me at eighteen. He was taller than me by a foot and he never hesitated to remind me. He was lithe and graceful, the perfect amount of stealth I needed in a hunting partner.
“What are you thinking about?” asked Evergard, breaking into my reverie. I hadn’t noticed him watching me.
“Nothing,” I said with a funny shake of my head. He rolled his eyes.
“Nothing,” he repeated incredulously. “Fat chance.” I took the opportunity to stick my tongue out at him, and he flicked some of the blood on his fingers at me.
“Ugh!” I yelled. “What was that for?!” I was spattered with deer blood. “I just washed these!” I gestured towards my clothes.
“Awh, come on, Irish, I was only joking!”
I stalked into the spring-fed pond. I began to scrub meticulously at the flecks of blood on my skin and tunic.
“You’re such a girl,” he mocked. That was it; he’d struck a nerve. He and I both knew that I was probably one of the least feminine girls around. Angrily, I leapt at him from the water and tackled him. He laughed and rolled us both over, easily pinning me to the ground. But we’d both forgotten the knife in his hand.
One look at the look in her eyes was all it took to make the laughter catch in my throat. Her face was pale and contorted, an image I rarely saw.
“Irish?” I said uncertainly. “Irish!” I shook her. Her mouth opened and began to gasp like a fish out of water. That’s when I felt something hot and sticky slip down my arm. What was in my hand? I looked, and saw my knife plunged halfway into her side. “Oh, no,” I groaned. I closed my hands around the handle and gave a quick tug. The sharp weapon slid easily from her body and blood began to pour from the wound. I reached over to the doe’s remains and grabbed a wide strip of deerskin. I folded it and placed it carefully on the cut. I removed her belt and refastened it to hold the skin in place.
“I’m so sorry!” I whispered to her. She closed her eyes and nodded, speechless. Her red-brown hair shimmered in the sunlight that slipped through the trees. I heard a twig snap to my left, and looked around curiously. Nothing. I looked back at her and she seemed to be mouthing something. Home. “I know, home.” I said, and she nodded. “Is Calypso near?” I asked. Her horse, Calypso, was just about the most intelligent animal I’d ever met. She shook her head. Meadow, she mouthed. The Meadow was a good three hours walk. And if I had to carry Irish it’d take twice that long. My only real options were to hike the two hours into the village and hope that someone had a mule or horse to spare, or go to the Meadow and come back as fast as I could on Calypso. The first option might be faster, but I didn’t know if anyone would even let me borrow an animal, let alone have one. No one in our little village like either of us much, and that made the first option seem hopeless. No, I’d have to go fetch Calypso.
I looked Irish in the eyes. “Irish, I’ve got to go get Calypso,” I told her, “but I can’t take you with me. I’m going to have to leave you here.” She frowned, but nodded. “Please, stay here,” I ordered. She nodded again. I brushed the hair out of her pained face and turned away before I could change my mind.