Chapter 3

For its size, the farmstead boasted an impressive array of buildings, and Jamie knew the secrets of every one of them.  He’d been planning this particular campaign for the better part of a fortnight, even going so far as to rehearse his planned movements.  Yssile had thought his antics to be some strange new game he’d thought up; dashing from building to building, squeezing through holes too small for anyone but him, and climbing to clamber across rooftops.  Once he was satisfied with the plan, he had only to wait until Yssile got bossy again.  He loved the older girl fiercely, but after all, a boy could only stand so much!  Jamie’s chance had come this morning.  Yssile had followed him a few moments after he’d entered the barn to attend to an important errand.  She demanded to know what he was doing and that whatever he was doing, he’d better not be getting dirty while doing it!

That tore it.

Urlanth and Dyrsa had long ago fashioned a chute system that made it easy to move loose hay from the loft to anywhere in the huge barn.  With the morning feeding well over, the chute hung unused, but still held more than enough ammunition for his needs.  Jamie lent a quick eye to his planned escape route to ensure it was clear.  It was only the work of a moment to position the mouth of the chute over a likely spot and wait for his unsuspecting victim to spring the trap.  Yssile proved to be so innocently accommodating that he almost missed the opportunity, forced to pull the chute release a breath after getting it in place.  The falling hay made a soft shlus-s-s-s-sh as it slid down the polished wood.  Hearing nothing and fearing he might have missed his target, the boy peeked over the edge of the loft to see Yssile standing shocked, covered head to toe in fragrant alfalfa and spitting out small pieces which she’d inhaled by accident.  Jamie felt a little bad about that last part, but maybe if she hadn’t been yelling at him at the time, her mouth might have been shut for once.  He pumped a fist in celebration, a gesture he’d learned from Dyrsa.

“Yes!”

At his exclamation, Yssile’s eyes snapped up to catch his.  He realized that in that moment she had become predator … and he the prey.

Whoops.  He shouldn’t have stayed to watch.

Yssile growled.

That was all the incentive Jamie needed to get moving.  He bolted for a rope hanging from the barn’s ridge board and swung from the loft to a soft landing in a not-too-fresh pile of yesterday’s stall bedding.  Scrambling, he ducked into a side tack room, then shimmied out its small window.  Aware that he had only a heartbeat or three before the girl would extricate herself from the pile of hay, he sprinted for a back corner of the smithy, knowing from his past explorations that he couldn’t be seen if he kept to a direct path.  At speed, Jamie leaped for the top of the charcoal box, praying to catch a hand-hold on the line that lay at almost twice his height.  There!  He felt the tips of his fingers slide into the expected crack.  He pulled as hard as he could while scrabbling with his feet to walk himself up the side until he could flop on the top.  From there, a short jump allowed him to catch a low eave and haul himself onto the roof proper.  Staying low and out of sight, he slid over the peak and snuggled in by the base of the cold forge chimney.  He giggled, knowing he was safe from the sight of anyone near the barn.

Snippets of conversation drifted to him.  Unable to stifle his curiosity, the boy raised his head just high enough to peer over the roof peak.  He saw Dyrsa and Urlanth teasing Yssile, and then Mama came around the corner with a big basket on her arm.  She stopped for a moment then moved closer to Yssile and spoke too low for Jamie to hear.  Papa came out of the barn followed by the horse teams.

“That’s it, Jamie!  I’m not playing anymore!  Come out now!” yelled Yssile.

Pleased with the way his morning was going, Jamie rolled to his back. slid down into his cranny and let loose the laughter he’d been so far holding back.

“You are so dead, Jamie!”

The smithy door slammed open and he listened as Yssile rummaged beneath him, the occasional bang! or rattle accompanied by a litany of words that Mama certainly wouldn’t like.  A tremendous series of clangs! caused him to shoot up in surprise.  Wow, she must have knocked over the wagon wheel steel tires.  Papa’s not going to like that.  He waited a moment in the following silence, then scooted back up to the roof peak to take a look.  He expected Yssile to run back out of the forge and needed to keep track of where she might go next.  Instead, he saw Papa holding Mama real tight and smashing their mouths together.  Mama was crawling her leg up to Papa’s waist, which he then grabbed and held.  What in the world?

Shocked, he jerked up to his knees and called, “Papa!  W’atchoo doing to Mama?”  Mama dropped her leg, but she and Papa leaned together like they had headaches or something.

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