Fire Country (The Country Saga Book 1)

By: David Estes
A Dwellers Saga Sister Novel

Book One of the Country Saga

Chapter One

When I’m sixteen and reach the midpoint of my life, I’ll have my first child. Not ’cause I want to, or ’cause I made a silly decision with a strapping young boy after sneaking a few sips of my father’s fire juice, but ’cause I must. It’s the Law of my people, the Heaters; a Law that’s kept us alive and thriving for many years. A Law I fear.

I learned all about the ways of the world when I turned seven: the bleeding time, what I would hafta do with a man when I turned sixteen, and how the baby—my baby—would grow inside me for nine full moons. Even though it all seemed like a hundred years distant at the time, I cried for two days. Now that it’s less’n a year away, I’m too scared to cry.

Veeva told me all ’bout the pain. She’s seventeen, and her baby’s five full moons old and “uglier’n one of the hairy ol’ warts on the Medicine Man’s feet.” Or at least that’s how she describes Polk. Me, I think he’s sorta cute, in a scrunched up, fat-cheeked kind of way. Well, anyway, she said to me, “Siena, you never felt pain so burnin’ fierce. I screamed and screamed…and then screamed some more. And then this ugly tug of a baby comes out all red-faced and oozy. And now I’m stuck with it.” I didn’t remind her Polk’s a him not an it.

I already knew about her screaming. Everyone in the village knew about Veeva’s screaming. She sounded like a three ton tug stuck in a bog hole. Veeva’s always cursing, too, throwing around words like burnin’ and searin’ and blaze—words that’d draw my father’s hand across my face like lightning if I ever let them slip out of my mouth like they’re nothing more’n common language.

In any case, everything she tells me about turning sixteen just makes me wish I didn’t hafta get older, could stay fifteen for the next seventeen or so years, until the Fire takes me.

It’s not fair, really, that boys get to wait until they’re eighteen ’fore their names get put in the Call. I’d kill for an extra two years of no baby.

Veeva told me something else, too, something they didn’t teach us when I was seven. She told me the only good part of it all was when she got to lie with her Call, a guy named Grunt, who everyone thinks is a bit of a shanker. I’ve personally never seen him do a lick of work, and he’s always coming up with some excuse or another to avoid the tug hunts. Well, Veeva told me that he makes up for all of that in the tent. Most of what she told me made my stomach curl, but she swore on the sun goddess that it was the best day of her life. To her, shanky ol’ Grunt is a real stallion.

But even if there was something good about turning sixteen, there’s still no guy in the village that I’d want to be my Call. I mean, most of them are so old and crusty, well on their ways to thirty, and even the youngest eligible men—the eighteen-year-olds—include guys like Grunt, who’ll also be eligible for my Call ’cause Veeva hasta wait another two years ’fore she can get child-big again. No matter how much of a stallion Veeva claims Grunt is, I don’t wanna get close enough to him to even smell his fire-juice-reekin’ breath, much less lie with him in a tent.

“Siena!” a voice whispers in my ear.

I flinch, startled to hear my name, snapping away from my thoughts like a dung beetle scurrying from a scorpion. Laughter crowds around me and I cringe. Not again. My daydreaming’s likely cost me another day on Shovel Duty, which we like to call Blaze Craze when our parents ain’t listening.

“Youngling Siena,” Teacher Mas says, “I asked you a question. Will you please grace us with an answer?” One of the only good things about turning sixteen’ll be not getting called “Youngling” anymore.

I feel twenty sets of eyes on me, and suddenly a speck of durt on my tugskin moccasins catches my attention. “Can you please repeat the question, Teacher?” I mumble to my feet, trying to sound as respectful as possible.

“Repeating the question will result in Shovel Duty, Siena, which will bring your total to four days, I believe.”

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