Chapter Two — Yuli
Note — The events in this chapter occur five years after the events in Chapter One.
Yuli scratched his ear. A fly buzzed nearby and he swatted at it.
“Be still and learn,” Izhur hissed. The soragan’s irritation was obvious, even to a boy who was almost five summers old.
“Watch how she breathes, look how she concentrates.” Soragan Izhur’s eyes didn’t move from the girl.
Yuli shifted his weight and tried to do what he was told. He studied the girl. Iluna. She was just four moons younger than Yuli, he’d known her all his short life. They'd shared his mother’s milk as babies because her own mother died giving birth. Yuli’s father sometimes said that Iluna had cursed her mother. He said this to Yuli’s mother and Ugot and some of the other adults when he thought Yuli wasn’t listening. No one liked the girl. No one except for Izhur. Although Yuli’s mother seemed to have a soft spot for her. Yuli didn’t like that. Neither did his father.
The girl stood about five big steps away in a small clearing, as still as a winter’s morning. Although she could have been further. Yuli could only count to five. Iluna could count to ahunred. Yuli didn’t like that either. His father said she was too clever for a girl her age.
Yuli had to squint through the branches of a small birch to watch. She was trying to summon an animal. He didn’t know which animal. He wasn’t listening when they’d discussed it earlier. He wasn’t listening when Izhur explained to them how it was done. Soragan Izhur would have to explain it all over again for Yuli.
But it didn’t look too complicated. All she did was stand in the middle of the forest and look around. He could see her wide nose and mouth. Frog-Face, they called her sometimes. And her messy hair. She always had knots because she didn’t have a mother to untangle them for her. The way she cocked her head on an angle because she was deaf in one ear always made her look like a durg. Not that Yuli had ever seen a durg. They were rare, most of them were exposed as babies or small children. But he’d heard the evenfire stories about them.
Anyway, Iluna looked silly, but he swallowed a giggle. He didn’t want to get into trouble again. Izhur would give him another long lecture and tell his mother, and then his mother would give him a punishment, like make him wash old Aunt Zelda’s under tunics. He hated doing old Aunt Zelda’s under tunics, they were stinky.
Iluna raised her arm and turned her hand so that her palm faced the sky. It all looked easy enough, and boring. Lessons with Soragan Izhur were always boring. He shifted his weight to the other foot and slouched.
“That’s it, slowly now,” Izhur whispered, his eyes still hadn’t moved from the girl.
The fly came back, its buzzing echoed through Yuli’s ear. Maybe she was trying to summon the fly. Yuli giggled.
“Shhh.” Izhur pursed his lips that way he did whenever he disapproved. His narrow eyes would squint, and he'd rub his temple. Izhur was always pursing his lips around Yuli.
Yuli sighed and turned his attention back to Iluna for the third time, and froze. Something moved. On the other side of the clearing. There was something and it was big, for the branches and vines of the forest were moving as though a breeze swayed them one way, then the other. But there was no breeze. The day remained as still as a sleeping doe.
Yuli took a small step back. The forest was dangerous. He’d seen his father’s wounds. Deep scars and gashes lined his arms and chest. His father was the greatest hunter of all the clans, but even he wouldn’t stand still in the face of a wolf or a lion, or a bear! Not without a weapon.
Yuli took another step and a twig snapped.
“Be still, Yuli. Do as you are told,” Izhur looked at him this time with eyebrows that met in a frown. His slender nose paled as he pursed his lips again.
Yuli frowned too. He wanted to run back to his mother. She would wrap him up in her arms and he would be safe. But that wouldn’t please Father. His father wanted him to be brave, like his older brother Anton. Yuli swallowed a lump and returned to watching Iluna.
She had both arms out now and her head held high. It didn’t seem right, her looking like that - like she was important. Her hair was even messier from that angle, and when she lifted her arms you could see holes in her tunic. She didn’t have a mother or a father, so she had no one to mend it for her.
The trees moved again and a deep noise came from the forest. Was it a growl? Yuli felt the corners of his mouth turn downwards and his bottom lip poke out like whenever Anton played one of his nasty jokes. He couldn’t help it. He tried to be brave and make himself still. But then he saw fur, grey, no brown. A wolf? The beast came closer; more rustling. It was too big for a wolf. Another growl sounded, louder this time, deeper, and it was too much for Yuli. He yelped and ran. His little legs pounded the path back to their tree-dwells, his arms circled crazily and he yelled for his mother as he sprinted.
“Yuli, no!” The strained calls of Izhur came from behind, but he didn’t stop, he didn’t look back.
He kept running and screaming “Ma, Ma!” Even when he saw the tree-dwells he didn’t stop. He raced under the old trees to the clan's evenfire, a large smoking pit. A few people sat in small groups preparing vegetables and seed cakes. Yuli spotted his mother and flew into her lap, ignoring the sniggers from Sita and Uncle Graig.
“Yuli? What is it?” Her voice soothed him instantly. She had been peeling pigeon peas for the coming feast, her hands smelled of comfort and love. Her arms embraced him and Yuli closed his eyes. He was safe.
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