Tawney had trouble getting to sleep that night, and she woke around three in the morning. She knew she should still be tired, but she couldn’t sleep. She slipped out of bed and started preparing a bath. It was still at least three hours until anyone else woke up, and she had to make herself busy somehow.
After she’d bathed, she put on her old winter suit and then pulled her brother’s on over it. It was loose, but she knew it would probably be warmer than hers.
After that, Tawney started working on her brother’s new suit. She needed something to do with her hands, and she was at least as good with cloth and wool as her mother. Soon she was in a rhythm — she was almost able to do this in her sleep once she got going. By the time the rest of her family stirred, she was half done with it.
“Tawney. . . Maybe you should leave for the meeting-house before your mother wakes up,” Tawney’s father said, surprising Tawney a bit.
Tawney nodded and put away the knitting. She sighed. It was possible that after seven-thirty, when she was to set off into the woods, she would never see her family again. Her father gave her a small smile, “Just survive for as long as you can. Who knows, you may be more like your brother than you think. Now hurry, I’d hate to think what’ll happen if your Mother tries talking to you now.”
Tawny nodded and then left. She wasn’t the first one up. She saw some of the other candidates moving through the streets as well. She didn’t stop to talk to anyone, but hurried on. The morning air was cold, and by the time she got to the meeting-house, she was slightly shivery. It was looking to be a cold day, not a good sign for her.
She reached the meeting building third. The only other people there were Erik, the visitor, and the boy for age fourteen. Eric smiled and put his arm on her shoulder. “So. This is all very exciting. When I heard about a fabled forest village. . . I thought it would interesting, but nothing like this! So, how do you feel about it all?”
Tawney felt for a second like telling him she wished he’d never been born. However, she bit her tongue and said, “Well, I’m not quite sure. I really think my twin brother would have been a much better choice. However, I think I’ll do well enough. Say, how long are you planning on staying?” The part about doing well enough was a bit of a lie. But she would do well enough for her village to know she’d done her best.
Eric grinned, “I don’t know. This place is so pleasant, I might stay for a month, or for a year. See, I’d much like to learn about the forest, learn all the precious things that live in it. See, I’m not much of a merchant, and I figure my best bet is to come out with something new, fresh and exciting!”
Tawney swallowed. “Well, how are we supposed to know what the day before you leave is, if we’re not allowed to return to even the outskirts of the village for three seconds, just to check?”
Eric smiled. “Well, I’m sure you’ll figure something out. I have faith you’ll come back in time to see me off.”
Tawney thought, but dared not say, Easy for you to say.
Soon the others had arrived, and Eric questioned each on their feelings. Tawney sat in a corner, not wanting to talk to others. When Arnold arrived, he laid out the choices of equipment.
Tawney got to choose first. She took the backpack that had the fish and bread. After they all made their choices, they went out onto the small stage which they’d used at the choosing. Arnold announced each one of them, and Tawney waited impatiently for her turn.
Soon she was the last on the stage. “Hem, and for age thirteen Tawney,” Arnold continued after the boy from age fourteen had left. “Accompanied by bread and fish. Though the youngest, should never be called the weakest.”
Tawney half wanted to laugh at those words. She was by far the weakest, but no one could change the words of the ceremony. So instead she smiled at the town, then walked off the stage, and started into the woods.