Ignoring her sister, Sothi shouldered her pack. She eyed first her bow then her sister. “Can I trust you?”
Pebbles came flying at her from two direction.
Sothi whirled on her brother. “Why did you throw a rock at me?”
“Because H’tsi’s right,” S’toh said with a grin. “You are a big sour.”
Sothi dropped her pack and lunged for her brother, who took off down the road again like a spooked grazer.
They were, the three of them, sprawled on the dusty road and quite alone, for they had finally, with H’tsi rejoining the chase, frightened every grazer within hearing distance—and not a few predators as well. Now they were all tired and all very dirty, and excited all over again to have a day freed form the Archery Master’s service. And Sothi was no longer being a big sour.
H’tsi, youngest and thus most quickly recovered, sat up. “So are we climbing the hill? Or off the road?”
Off the road was almost completely out of the question. No predator, and only a few grazers, would dare to keep to the road. One might try to leap across and drag them into the tall grass, but such an animal was more desperate than was warranted by the season. It was very hot this year, but water was still plentiful and so life on the plains was plentiful as well. Grazers could make their way comfortably across, but they could no more linger on the road than a predator. Off the road S’toh, Sothi and H’tsi would have no more protection than what their skills at a bow and dagger could offer. Still it was tempting. Hunters went off the road. Women who trusted their skill with a dagger went off the road (though those women would not touch a bow or sword). They would take with them those who were not as skilled. Children were not allowed off the road, with or without an adult escort, except in cases of true, dire emergency. The road was almost always safer.
So leaving the road was out. Sitting up to eye their sister, S’toh and Sothi could see that H’tsi knew it wasn’t going to happen. “There’s always the crossroads,” she added with a frown
They all made faces. Going either left or right would eventually lead them back to the village center and, eventually, the Archery Master’s compound. That part of the road kept going, of course, but it only led to other small villages like their own. This main part of the road was the only one that went anywhere really interesting.
H’tsi huffed. “Well since that’s out and we’re not going off the road, over the hill I guess.”
S’toh sat up. “You have a problem with that?”
“No, I guess not.” She dragged out the last word.
“I wasn’t planning on explaining to our father how my youngest sister, his child, got torn apart by the wild dogs or hyenas or some other predator.”
Sothi got to her feet. “Oh I’m sure our father wouldn’t notice. He already has one boy and one girl, and you know he hardly ever can see H’tsi because she’s so very small.”
H’tsi jumped up and hit her sister hard on the arm. But Sothi and S’toh just laughed (though it did hurt). “Stop laughing!”
“Stop making stupid suggestions,” Sothi shot back.
“I’ll show you stupid!” H’tsi leapt for her sister.
Sothi danced away, snatching up the pack of supplies as she did. “What was that, Little One?”
“You’re not tall either!” H’tsi reached for her sister again.
Sothi once again danced away. “Taller than you. And faster, too. Slow little turtle. So cute.”
H’tsi shrieked. Sothi took off for the hill, pack banging against her back and H’tsi hot on her heels.
“Your pack!” S’toh quickly called out before H’tsi could get too far.
He was holding it out for her when she came dashing back. “You’re welcome!” he yelled at her retreating back, but couldn’t tell if she had heard him. She was tearing up the road after Sothi who had the lead.
S’toh had no intentions of running after them this time. They did plenty of running under the hot sun during lessons. Twice already today was enough for him. At least until after the watering hole.