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"It's not fair," Kativa groused. "I have three times as many names to memorize as you do!"Author's Notes
Kether, who had only a handful of half-sisters and barely a dozen complicated-cousins looked embarrassed, and Tolnam shrugged without sympathy. "If you'd started memorizing them this winter when the rest of us were working on them, instead of following Fala around like a snowy foal trying to get her to teach you hunting skills, you wouldn't be in this position now."
Kether inwardly agreed, but would never have said so out loud. "You'll pass," he encouraged, instead. "You remember things really well."
"Or you won't," Tolnam said without mercy. "And everyone will laugh at you until you have gray hair."
Kativa shoved him in the arm. "Go stand under a snowy," she said sharply, and she left her piles of birchbark name-notes to storm away from them down to the beach.
"Moody as a yiirk," Tolnam said, rolling his eyes. "I'm glad I'm not a girl."
There was probably a joke to be made there, at Tolnam's expense. Kether searched for it, but could only come up with the idea that they were all glad Tolnam wasn't a girl, which didn't seem particularly funny, and besides, the moment for a witty comment had passed. He let it go.
Kativa, youngest of their age-set, was the last of the girls to get her courses, and her close friends Kether and Tolnam weren't entirely sure how to deal with the emotional tinder pile that she was now. It was nearly high summer, and they were all facing their age-set tests with some nervousness.
"Aren't you scared about the tests?" he asked Tolnam.
Tolnam shrugged. "Nah," he said.
Kether suspected it was somewhat bluster, and felt comfortable admitting, "I am."
"We're going to do fine," Tolnam insisted. "We're doing great on all the ranger skills, and if that idiot Griilor can pass his domestic skills, I can darn a sock and stitch on a button. It can't be that complex. Everyone in the group except Kativa has their complicated-cousins memorized, and we can all find our way by the sun and recite the moon cycle equations."
A breeze threatened to blow one of Kativa's birchbarks away, so Kether scooped them all up. He desperately wanted to follow Kativa down the beach, but he also knew that he wasn't who she wanted following her. "You want to take these after her?" he offered Tolnam.
"In that mood? Not a chance." Tolnam was squinting down the beach in the opposite direction. "I've got another girl in mind, and the sooner we get our tests done and passed, the better." He jumped up from his seat on the beachwood, and waved as he took off towards a knot of people further up the coast. "Good luck with that!"
Kativa's cheeks were red when she looked around at Kether. She was hunched miserably on one of the large rocks along the gravel beach, knees clutched to her chest. Kether could tell that he wasn't the one she'd been hoping would follow her. "I brought you your study sheets," he said gently, offering them. They ruffled in his hands, and Kativa made no move to take them from him.
"I'll quiz you, if you want," he tried again.
Kativa only snorted, and put her head back down upon her knees. "I don't know why I should bother," she sniffled. "No one's going to care if I'm an adult, anyway."
She meant that Tolnam wouldn't care, and Kether wasn't sure if he could deny that. He also knew it wouldn't matter if he told her that he cared. A year ago, he would have crawled up on the rock next to her and put an arm around her whether she wanted it or not. Now... it was too awkward. He'd grown three inches since the winter, and he wasn't even sure where his arms ended.
There was another one of those moments where Kether knew that anyone else would have said something conversational, but he didn't have anything clever to fill the space with. So, he only put Kativa's notes on the rock next to her, and anchored them with a loose stone.
"We're going to do fine," he assured her. "All of us will."
He was wrong.
"I failed?!" Kativa got shrill when she was upset, and this was the upper range of her voice, in pitch and volume.
Marda, her tiny form sitting neatly in front of the group, shushed Kativa and continued with her formal statement, welcoming the group to adulthood and congratulating them on their work.
Kativa sat numbly in place while the village exchanged hugs and congratulations and the background drumming gradually increased to a celebratory pitch. Kether edged over closer to her. "It doesn't really matter," he reassured her. "We all pass because the group does."
Kativa shot him a look of loathing and humiliation. "It matters," she insisted. "It matters." Then, she burst into tears and fled.
Marda stood almost as tall standing as Kether did sitting. "Let her go, ranger," she advised. It was the first time Kether had been called a ranger, and he caught himself blushing at the unexpected title.
"She's the youngest," Kether felt he had to justify, though Marda knew their ages as well as anyone. "It's hardest for her."
"You don't have to explain to me," Marda laughed. She sat down cross-legged next to Kether and put one short arm most of the way around him. "You don't have to explain a thing."
Kether dropped a kiss on the top of her silvered head. Marda always knew what to say, and seemed adept at making others feel better with the tiniest effort. He wondered if that was something he could learn to do. Lately, it seemed like he only made things worse, trying to comfort.
"She's going to feel awful," he said mournfully.
"Not forever," Marda insisted. "She'll sulk for a while, then she'll do better. It's good for her not to have things always go easy. Now, you, young man. Have you got a bead in your pocket today? Maybe two?"
If being called a ranger had caused crimson to rise in Kether's cheeks before, it was nothing to the color now. "Mmm..." he agreed, embarrassed.
"Because I see several interested young women eyeing you, and tying on their drumming shoes. I think you'd better be prepared to take advantage of your adulthood tonight."
Kether did not look in the direction she indicated, preferring to stare at a spot on the floor. His ears felt ready to melt off. Marda's laugh was kind, and she pinched him. "Go drum and dance," she scolded him. "Kativa will keep until morning."
The reminder of Kativa sobered Kether somewhat. "It's not fair..."
"It's not," Marda agreed unexpectedly. "Nothing in this world is fair. But neither is it fair to take all of her troubles on your own shoulders. That's part of being an adult."
Kether had no argument for that, and made no further protest as he was dragged into the celebration.
This was inspired by the Feb 9, 2010 Muse Fusion, from a prompt by lj user chibicharibdys.