Rexic ropes dangle huge slabby Severnbridge, ready to snap, slump into fekkish water. we legdeep in riverbank, trudge on, mud lessen, water more. last, Ryun Adler say far enough. Kellee Mucbryd, me stand apart, face each other.
Ryuns body shake, eyes wide. he fear, he know his say can end a life, and – yes – he want see, see glory of Pragmas sacredest act.
I new fifteenwinterer, stand Churn bank, slush soak my nikes. water flow calm, sunsetpink snow bend treebranches over water. front me two men naked stand, each ordnance other. leftun bounce on balls of feet, rightun keep feet still, sway sitosi, ordnance leftuns muscles, smooth bounces.
leftun Rob Jenkis, he jit steel tall thirtywinterer. he bald, big jawmuscles stretch tight skin on head, Robbinfolk clantat on forehead show lividred. rightun Jona Altree, he oldun, grey hair curl on mottle rexic body. he today win, he some soon winter fail ablezam, have small to lose, small to gain.
I lower arm, Bathtime begin. both men careful, circlefeach other. Rob try grab Jonas shoulders, Jona calm,ffast,fmove
shoulder away or block Robs arms. then both move together, Jonas right hand grab Robs left shoulder, his left arm, Robs right arm mate. both push, circle, both heads upandow.
Jonas foot slip. Rob twist round, kick out leg through Jonas thighs, lift him over back snapquick both spin through air, then Jona facefirst in river, Rob climb on back. Jona writhe, lift head but Rob jit snapquick grab grey hair shove head in water. oldun’s skill vapor, writhe, shake, water scatter, head upandow but mouth, nose stay in water. Jonas legs kick, trash empty air, arms fly up beat Robs sides but Rob dont move, both Robs hands vice Jonas head. I raise hand stop fight but Rob headshake at me, eyes fearwide. I headnod, lower hand.
Jonas body writhe. legs stay in water but body sitosi, try trash Rob with hammerhits, but hits jit nuk, Robs chest steel. hits more, arms viperer, viperer, then he slow, blows nukker, nukker, nukken till olduns hands tap Robs sides, then dont reach sides, then small upandow, in calm water make small ripple. Jona still, then his body viper upandow six times, Rob near fall, then Jona still again. Rob stay on back long, till cert, then rise, body full steel, breath bullbreath, prick hard. I walk to him, shake hand, say well done.
I know what I see, though before unseeable. I know, all Robbinfolk know. when old enough, littluns cue teachers ‘where food come from?’ teachers ay ‘caterers bring food.’ littluns cue ‘who caterers?’ teachers ay ‘caterers Robbinfolks pragmaest civilisest folk. they rake land for deer, rabbits, squirrels, sparrows, uncivilises, killum bringum us to eat. they find uncivilise foodstores, bringum us to eat. wintertime, if food unfindable, they gotta have Bathtime. Bathtime, two caterers go river, fight, one return, bring us others body to eat. all can hunt enemy, but caterer gotta see death in friends face unafraid’. then each boy, each girl say same, say ‘when I growup, wanna be caterer!’
all littluns say wanna be caterer, not all steel enough wolfy
enough. caterer gotta able run dawn to dark, take thirty lashes no babywail, for moon go into Deanwood alone bring back six boarsworth meat, fourteenwinterertime kill first uncivilise. I tenwinterertime givup be caterer, I happy make snares, cook food, boil water for salt, dangerless but needful.
Severn current slow forceful, legs work, nukken, Bathtime not start. Kellee ordnance me. eighteen winters ago I see her kill first boar in Deanwood, fuknormous bristly male arrow through brambles, jawspittle fly onto vlycent tusks. she quick calm stepaside swing axe down steel into skull, boars rage go limp. then she ninewinterer, and unfraid. she fraid now, and I.
I twowinterer. Medician Edy Simsun tree over me, Mum hold my shoulders, Dad legs. Simsun say ‘be wolfy, littlun’. he bend, drive a deer shinbone into my mouth, creeper it with strap round headback. then he one hand vice my hair, other hand hold redhot stone knife, knife hunt my eyes, stick my forehead.
I babywail. hurt soak my head, shake body. I try viper upandow, run from agghurt, biguns vice me.
Simsun pull knife away, remove shinbone, parents free me. I roll onto side and throwup, feel jit calm, then sleep.
when wake, head lift over stillwater full tin bowl. I see new mark on forehead.
Medician Simsun say ‘you win first battle, become Pragmas son. Kyle Spensa of Robbinfolk, risup!’ mother lift me, hold me near. Robbinfolk all have clantat, now I have clantat. knowless time over – I owe leej. Ryun lower arm, fight begin. Kellee run at me try grab thighs but I stand steel, turn throw her in water. I go to down her but she snapup. thickwater slide off her, shine, show steel tensemuscles and idle breastcurves, I see her beauty. arms lock round necks, both drive steel and strain, grasp for good hold.
I thirteenwinterer, Medician Ross Simsun say I unbreedable. I strong enough breed, but I leftfister, leftfister hold bow different, hold spear different, better leftfisters no breed. I nod.
I try homosex a few times. homosex for breedables unpragma, breedables gotta use their beedo make able littluns steel clan, but homosexfor unbreedables useful, we shed needless beedo dont make disabler littluns. it not less my beedo much, I limp with men, gotta go under, but nights I do it get warm.
I overanover think I leave no littlun, no littlun know my name brag my do, my life all I give Robbinfolk, so fourteenwinterertime I decide gotta be caterer, gotta make my dos unforgettable. when not skin animals, not make weppuns, not gather nettles for snares, I run, lift, steel me, make me fore fifteenth winter ready take catererzam.
my arms old arms, I feelum nukken quick, my breathe deepen, gaspyen.
I fourteenwinterer. today start moon in Deanwood, do catererzam. Mum say want see me go, but I gottenta want her. I foredawn push out cart, close eyes to tents, ears to nightbreath of folk. Kata Rosin sentree, ident me. I say my name, she say ‘hope I see you caterer soon’. I walk past, in dim light see she smile, but I not need soff. I ready.
I always think me Kellee stronger, but she now push me back. her muscles full strain, back burrow vipery upandow, rutdeers callor in her. my foot slip, almost down, replant foot, push back, push back. I not die idle.
I three nights in Deanwood catch nothing kill nothing. this four morning. I check nightsnares. all empty, but one tight, blood on wire. something escape? something take my kill? there – broken spine oak leaf, another, another, there shallow footmark, female, Robbinfolk or uncivilise.
ground soffens. deffo uncivilise, Robbinfolk not idle leave trail. I followum ruff hundredfifty feet, they snapstop by an oak.
I look up, feel it hit me. I on ground, it knock my spear away, pin my hands, strong uncivilise female. I raise head bite it chin, it pull away, in my teeth long bloody skinstrip. my legs thrash kick but it strong, it thighs crush my sides drive out my callor.
uncivilises chin bleed quick and red, rest of face in camomud. it ruff thirtywinterer, but its nose small like a littluns, a little increct prob broke. it open mouth pant, I see still have most teeth, all in crect shape. its armmuscles strongbulge, I cant shake it off. I not know its clantat, above it a circle, lividred, fresh.
uncivilise grunt, I see male uncivilise littlun climb down tree, ruff fivewinterer, have same clantat and circle. it pickup fistbig rock, look confuse at female. female make noise, littlun use rock hit my head again, again. littlun nuk but rock sharp, hits sting. I dont babywail. pain spreads, strange colourpatches appear in trees.
my steel vapor, this littlun and this uncivilise female make me limp meat. I not spect be fraid die, but now jit fraid. I now know caterers joy die in Bathtime, other Robbinfolk killum, what they respect, love killum, they die for Pragma. I brainsee smiles on drowners faces, die with such honour!
littlun hit, my breath nukken, see sun, water, dark. I feel body limp, try scream.