CHAPTER 1'Are you sure this is safe?' Adriel grasps the boat's jibsheet tightly in his pale brown fingers. His nails have been cut as short as possible, like everyone else's in the Quiver.
Mordecai laughs. 'Of course. I live in the Knot, remember? We spend half our time in the water.'
Knots live on the banks of the Wolf's Paw River, which flows quite slowly, so they're always swimming and sailing. Legend has it that it was formed when thousands of wolves fled west and uphill to escape a mighty hunter.
'Tamora, you're in the Guild, right? Do you guys know how to sail?'
'Nope. I think that's only for Knots. Reeds learn rock-climbing and stuff. But speaking of the Guild, training's in a few minutes. Maybe I can ask them about sailing then.' I stand up, with difficulty. 'Actually, I should get going now.'
Mordecai rolls his eyes and turns the boat around. I instantly feel bad. We'd only just left the dock, and now Mordecai and Adriel would have to go back again so I could get off.
I'm only in the Guild because I passed the Trials. Each year they test all the fourteen-year-olds and select a few to be in the Guild of Hutris (boys) or Lorena (girls). Because I'm fifteen now, I attend meetings every week, whereas fourteen-year-olds go bi-weekly. In each one, we learn specific techniques and strategies, and every now and then we are taken on peacekeeping patrols, helping to catch thieves and spies for the Rocks.
The towns of Wolf's Paw River have always been a target for the barbarians who camp on the tops of cliffs, or Rocks as our ancestors called them. The punishment for those caught assisting the Rocks is death, but people still do it, believing that the high pay is worth it.
I have to stop by at my house to grab my swords and leather pack. All members of both Guilds have double swords, in case one is stolen or knocked out my hand in a duel (unlikely, as I won't go on official patrols until I'm sixteen, and even then I'm not first choice for a swordfight). No one is home at the moment, because my sister Aliza is working as a dressmaker for the nobles of the Reed and my brother Efraim is helping my father at the stable. For generations, our family has bred and cared for horses around the Wolf's Paw River, and Efraim will most likely continue that tradition when he grows up.
My mother died of flu not long after my brother was born, so nearly nine years ago. Before she married she lived on the edge of the Knot, and her family's line of work was fishing.
After putting on my pack, I head straight to the Guild's headquarters. Inside is a long banquet table where the Guild leaders meet every month, and behind are two doors. One has a snake, the symbol of Hutris, and the other has Lorena's owl. I head underneath the owl and inside are the other Guild of Lorena under-sixteens. The meeting has almost begun, because everyone is getting into a line: tallest in the middle, shortest on the ends. I take my place between two girls around my height and wait for the instructor, Tali to give us our orders for this session.
A few more girls line up and Tali marches in. She's about twenty, with short hair and all-black clothing.
'Okay, you already know what to do when you lose your swords. Do you go after the criminal?'
'No,' we answer in unison.
'Do you get help from another Guild member?'
'Right. But sometimes, you don't have a choice on whether you fight armed or unarmed. Today we are going to be learning hand-to-hand combat.'
A girl next to me steps forward. 'We've learnt that already.'
'And I want to see what you know. You're going to practice fighting each other. No blood, no bruises. Fourteens will fight fourteens, fifteens will fight fifteens. Zohara and Gabi will start us off.'
The two shortest fifteen-year-olds remove their packs and walk into the centre of the room to face each other. I breathe in deeply. The more I watch them, the more I can learn.