Fire Country (The Country Saga Book 1)(2)

By: David Estes

I stare at my feet, lips closed. I wonder if Teacher not repeating the question is an option, but I’m smart enough not to ask.

“The question I asked you was: What is the average life expectancy for a male in fire country?”

Stupid, stupid, stupid. It’s a question that any four-year-old Totter with half a brain could answer. It’s blaze that’s been shoveled into all our heads for the last eleven years. “Thirty years old,” I say, finally looking up. I keep my eyes trained forward, on Teacher Mas, ignoring the stares and the whispers from the other Younglings.

Teacher’s black hair is twisted into two braids, one on either side, hanging in front of his ears. His eyes are dark and slitted and although I can’t tell whether he’s looking at me, I know he is. “And females?” he asks.

“Thirty two,” I answer without hesitation. I take a deep breath and hold it, still feeling the stares and smirks on me, hoping Teacher’ll move on to someone else. The fierceness of the fiery noonday sun presses down on my forehead so hard it squeezes sweat out of my pores and into my eyes. It’s days like this I wish the Learning house had a roof, and not just three wobbly walls made from the logs of some tree the Greynotes, the elders of our village, bartered from the Icers, who are our closest neighbors. I blink rapidly, flinching when the perspiration burns my eyes like acid. Someone laughs, but I don’t know who.

Teacher speaks. “I ask you this not to test your knowledge, for clearly every Youngling in fire country knows this, but to ensure your understanding as to our ways, our traditions, our Laws.” Thankfully, the heads turn back to Teacher and I can let out the breath I been holding.

“Nice one, Sie,” Circ hisses from beside me.

I glance toward him, eyes narrowed. “You coulda helped me out,” I whisper back.

His deeply tanned face, darker’n-dark brown eyes, and bronzed lips are full of amusement. I hear what the other Younglings say about him: he’s the smokiest guy in the whole village. “I tried to, dreamer. It took me four tries to get your attention.”

Teacher Mas drones on. “Living in a world where each breath we take slowly kills us, where the Glass people kill us with their chariots of fire, where the Killers crave our blood, our flesh, where our neighbors, the people of ice country, are bound tenuously by a flimsy trade agreement, requires discipline, order, commitment. Each of you took a pledge when you turned twelve to uphold this order, to obey the Laws of our people. The Laws of fire country.”

Ugh—I’ve heard this all ’fore, so many times that if I hear one more mention of the Laws of fire country, I think I might scream. Nothing against them or anything, considering they were created to help us all survive, but ’tween my father and the Teachers, I’ve had enough of it.

Watching Teacher, I risk another whisper to Circ. “You coulda told me what question he asked.”

“Teacher would’ve heard—and then we’d both be on Blaze Craze.”

He’s right, not that I’ll admit it. Teacher doesn’t miss much. At least not with me. In the last full moon alone, I been caught daydreaming four times. Wait till my father finds out.

“The Wild Ones steal more and more of our precious daughters with each new season.” Teacher’s words catch my attention. The Wild Ones. I’ve never heard Teacher talk about them ’fore. In fact, I’ve never heard anyone talk about them, ’cept for us Younglings, with our rumors and gossip—not openly anyway. My head spins as I grapple with his words and my thoughts. The Wild Ones. My sister. The Wild Ones. Skye. Wild. Sis.

“It is obvious I have captured the attention of many of you Younglings,” Teacher continues. “It’s good to know I can still do that after all these years.” He laughs softly to himself. “Surely you have all heard rumors of the Wild Ones, descending on our village during the Call, snatching our new Bearers from our huts, our tents, and our campfires.” He pauses, looks around, his eyes lingering on mine. “Well, I’m here today to confirm that some of the rumors are true.”

I knew it, I think. My sister didn’t run away like everyone said. She was taken, against her will, to join the group of feral women who are wreaking havoc across fire country. The Wild Ones do exist.

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