Laughing and calling, we chased each other through the marshes that wereour home, winding in and out between the various structures locatedwherever land was stable. We slid in the mud, dirtying our ragged playclothes but we didn’t mind and pushed on.I felt someone shove me from behind and I crashed headlong intosomeone’s sack of carefully picked marsh fruit, sending the whole sacktumbling into the muddy water. “Jeff!” I screamed, knowing that it was him.The two twins grinned at each other and ran as I chased after them.Jeff and James were twins and they were my best friends in the world,though they sometimes drove me crazy. They were identical down to the lastbrown hair on their heads and so everyone got them mixed up all the time –even me, who have known the twins for my whole life – because they were soperfectly alike that it was hard to tell who was who.But before I could reach either of the twins, a rough hand grabbed theback of my shirt, hauling me into the air. “
!” Puton, a bear of a man,roared in my face. “
You will go get me back my fruits and you will scrub every single one of them until they were as clean as they were before
!”He dropped me on my rump in the mud and pointed a large finger at thedirection of his house, which I realized, was the one with the sack of fruit infront of it. Meekly, I obeyed. I lowered myself into the muddy water,shuddering as the water filled my boots up, soaking into my socks and mypants.
Mother’s going to have a fit when she sees me
, I thought with a sighas I reached down into the water and grabbed the first fruit and dumped itinto the sack on the shore that Puton was holding up.Eventually, when the sack could sit on the bank by itself without tippingover, he left me to my work and disappeared back into his hut. I could hearmetal banging against metal inside and knew that Puton, our village smith,had returned to work.“Layna?” a voice called curiously. I looked up to see Laurence, one of the young men trained to defend our village against any attacks, looking down atme curiously, leaning against the railing. “What are you doing?”I flushed a deep red. Of all the other young men, Laurence was the mosthandsome one. It made me embarrassed to have him see me like I was –soaked in mud and in ragged clothes. “I accidentally knocked Puton’s marshfruit into the water and he made me pick them up,” I replied, leaning down tograb another fruit. He sat down on the path next to the sack, his booted