Cannar made their yearly migration from the southern swamps to the grasslands in the north, passing through the Binq desert on the way. The villagers in Talx depended on the animals’ meat and hide for much of their existence, and practiced all year to prepare for their arrival. Most of this practice took place in the training circle, an area just outside the village near the Wavering Cliffs. Anaxis reluctantly followed his mother to the circle, his head down and his mind elsewhere.
“Heads up!” his brother, Caraxis, called when the two reached the circle.
Before Anaxis could lift his head, he was hit with a leather satchel full of small rocks.
“Caraxis!” his mother scolded. “What’s the matter with you?”
“Sorry,” Caraxis said, trying not to laugh.
Illox ran behind Anaxis and picked the bag up, then tossed it back to Caraxis.
“You gotta look up when someone calls heads up, Anax,” Caraxis said.
“You didn’t give me any time,” Anaxis said.
“Sorry, little brother,” Caraxis said. “Here, I’m giving you plenty of warning. Catch!”
Caraxis threw the little leather sack and Anaxis flailed to catch it, but missed. It hit him in the chest and fell in the dust.
“Come on, Anaxis,” his mother said with a sigh. “At least try.”
“I can’t hardly see it,” Anaxis said. “My vision is terrible from far away.”
His mother shook her head and tossed the sack over to Illox.
“Then go over and practice spearing,” she said.
Anaxis looked over to where a number of decoy cannar were being stabbed at and saw Balta and the other bullies from school.
“Great,” Anaxis muttered to himself as he started toward them.
“Hey, look who it is,” Balta said. “What’re you doing here, runt?”
“How am I a runt?” Anaxis asked. “I’m taller than all of you.”
“You can be tall and still be a runt,” Balta said. “Your arms are the width of my fingers.” He held up his arms and flexed.
“We’re all impressed, Balta,” Anaxis said, rolling his eyes.
“You really think you’re going to contribute to the Hunt?” Balta asked, leaning on his spear.
“He’s going to get trampled,” another of the bullies snickered.
“Maybe I’ll contribute more than you’ve ever considered,” Anaxis said.
“Oh yeah?” Balta huffed. “Go ahead. I want to see.”
“What? What do you mean?” Anaxis asked.
“Toss your spear,” Balta said. “I want to see how you do with it.”
“I don’t mean like that,” Anaxis said.
“No, no, tall guy, I want to see what you’ve got. Go ahead. Impress us,” said Balta.
Anaxis lowered his head, then took in a deep breath and let it out. “I’m telling you, I’m not any good at this.”
“Go on, Anax!” Caraxis called from across the circle. “Give it a throw!”
Anaxis lifted his spear up over his shoulder, aimed it as best he could, and then hurled it. It struck the ground far in front of the cannar decoy, then bounced and rolled.
Balta roared, along with the group behind him.
“Wonderful!” he crowed. “Wow, you’re really going to help the village with a throw like that!”
“He missed it by so far!” another of the bullies said.
“Come on, Anaxis, give it another go,” urged his mother.
“Yeah, Anax, don’t let them laugh at you,” called his sister.
“I can’t do it, okay?” Anaxis called back. “There’s no use.”
“That’s right, he’s useless,” Balta laughed. “Sorry you have such a disappointing son!”
“Oh shut up, you clod,” Jora scolded Balta. “Come on, Anax, you can do better than that, I’ve seen you.”
“Mom, I can’t,” Anaxis protested.
“Give it another try, Anaxis,” his mother insisted. “Come on.”
Anaxis stomped over to his fallen spear, took it back to the throwing line, aimed, and hurled it again. He came nearer the decoy now, but not nearly enough. His spear hit the ground and bounced up and over it, where it hit another villager in the leg.
“You’re not supposed to hit me, kid,” the man shouted. He picked up the spear and tossed it back to Anaxis, who tried to grab it and missed.
Balta was crying he was laughing so hard. “Oh, please, please do it again! I haven’t laughed this hard in weeks!”
“Why don’t you have a look in a reflecting plate, you’ll laugh your head off,” Caraxis said, crossing to his brother. He picked up the fallen spear and aimed. “Watch, Anaxis. Follow through with your hand, watch how I do it.”
The spear flew evenly over the sand and stuck firmly into the side of the decoy.
“I’ve watched, Caraxis. I try. I really do,” Anaxis said. “I completely understand how it’s supposed to work, it’s just, my arms won’t do what I tell them to do. I’m just not made for this sort of thing.”
“You don’t practice as much as you should,” Caraxis said.
“It’s hard when everyone laughs at you all the time,” Anaxis said.
“I know,” said Caraxis. “We’ll give it some practice at home, how’s that?”
“Mom insists I come down here.”
“Only because she cares about you.”
“If she cared about me, she wouldn’t humiliate me like this.”
“Sorry, Anax. Come on, let’s give it another try.”
“I promise you, it’ll do nothing.”
“No, practicing works. Trust me. It’s proven. Practicing at something makes you better. But you have to want to get better. Don’t count yourself out, okay?”
“I guess I really just don’t care if I’m good at hunting,” Anaxis said. “If you want the truth.”
“Well, you gotta eat,” Caraxis said. “So, come on. Let’s give it another try.”