She found it in the forest. She’d been picking mushrooms for dinner after she caught a rabbit and a pheasant. Her basket was still almost half empty as she took her time; she always enjoyed her trips to the wood. Hunting was what she excelled at and she loved the solitary moments when she didn’t have to cover her hair for propriety and no one would say anything. Today though she wasn’t hunting for the money but rather for a special occasion. She hadn’t been in this particular part of the forest in a long time. She was picking the edible plants from the poisonous one when her eyes caught sight of a shining light in the moss. Curious, something her father said would get her in trouble someday, she moved to grasp the object. Maybe it was something that she could sell at the village market and get some good money for.
Only the bright item proved to be just a simple piece of quartz mounted on some sort of iron star. Not worth much but it looked somewhat familiar. She had seen something similar before though she couldn’t remember where. Maybe before the accident. So she pocketed it and continued to gather the precious mushrooms.
That night they celebrated her brother’s tenth birthday and they had more food than ever before. He received beautiful presents, expensive ones too for their little income. Their mother sold the stove that she might purchase some new shoes for him. Only they couldn’t afford not having the stove. For now though the money brought joy and her brother was so happy it was almost worth it. She pretended it was just like her father but both knew the price to pay would be high. Neither of them made enough money to buy a new stove for the winter that would come soon. They exchanged a glance and she knew some of what would come in the sorrowful way he looked at her.
Her father left for the mines two months later after offering a perfunctory hug to his wife who cried as if she would not see her husband again. He met her gaze once more and she bit her cheeks that she might not cry. She knew it was the only work that paid enough to hope for another stove before snow blanketed the land. In truth there was another way but her father would not allow her to do it.
“I’d rather risk my life in the mines than have you bound in slavery child. You’re meant to be more than that.” She argued in vain; his mind was made.
Unfortunately the mines were a dangerous place. A few weeks later their father was back; he was among the lucky ones. Or not. A hundred and fifty men died in the collapse of the mountain. He was among the dozen who were saved: only he lost a leg and could no longer work. He had become a burden on society and the fines would soon force all of them out of the house. The quartz was worth nothing according to the pawnshop owner. Out of kindness – because her father helped him once – he gave her a chain that she might wear it. And so there was no choice.
Her mother cried and her father… well he didn’t say much. But she couldn’t let them be out in the snow. Her mother could earn little money by sewing and cooking. But her siblings were too young to survive a winter without a stove or food let alone without a home. So she signed the papers: five years to start. It could be enough: maybe. By then Khiran would be fifteen and capable of working and making some money. She had started teaching him to hunt but he would have to develop his skills on his own. Kira was only eight… hopefully she would be able to come once in a while to ensure that she too knew how to hunt. But Kira had never been attracted to hunting. And the twins… well they were barely five so who knew?
She could hunt and cook; maybe that would be all she did. She hoped. But even if it wasn’t at least it would give her brothers and sisters would have a better chance at a life. She would send everything she earned to them.
Their goodbyes were heartbreaking though she tried not to cry that Killian and Kendra would not know how sad she was. Scared as she was she tried to hide it though her mother did not. Her father held a sorrow so deep she could barely face him. Still she hugged him and he gingerly gathered her in his arms; it wasn’t easy with a crutch.
“I’ll be safe father.”
“I know you’ll be careful. Try and write.”
“ALL ABOARD!” The station guard called.
She boarded the bullet train that would bring her from the outer district to the capital city where most of those who were indentured went. Scratching her wrists where the slave bracelets chaffed at her skin she sat in the first empty compartment she found. She dropped her bag on the bench and pulled out a book that Angie gave her. It was a precious gift. She was the only one of the village to have signed this month but she expected more people in other divisions. In that she wasn’t wrong. By the time they reached Capital the train was full. Most people were her parents’ age, adults signing or forced into slavery that their children wouldn’t be. There were a few boys who had signed up probably in place of their wounded father – as she had – but no girls except for her. And if a few of them might have thought that this made her an easy target they were quickly discouraged. She knew how to hunt and to defend herself: her father had seen to that from the moment she could walk. She broke two men’s noses and one man’s arm before the guards intervened and subdued her. They surrounded her when they arrived at the station while guards and nurses escorted the man with the broken arm to the infirmary. He gazed at her a threat in his eyes; he should be grateful she hadn’t broken one of his knees. A slave who couldn’t walk was useless; at least he would be able to pay his debt.