Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters in the Hunger Games trilogy, nor do I own any of the places/settings. All of that belongs to Suzanne Collins.
Gale runs through the forest, the lines of his strong arms blurring into the foliage as he dashes through the trees. I'm not that far behind, but my fairly slim small legs don't compare to those of man well over six feet.
"Hey, Gale, wait for me!" I say, chasing after him, darting more branches as the forest thickens.
Gale Hawthorne is my closest friend, my only friend, unless you count Lord Undersee's daughter, Madge. When our fathers passed away, Gale and I took up the slack for the family and we took our fathers' positions in the illegal hunting trade.
Eventually, Gale and I reach our patch of the woods. At the edge of the forest there is a clearing of trees, it's near a lake that's very useful for fishing and swimming, where Gale and I spend our down time. We often find ourselves eating lunch in one of the long abandoned houses that my father always told me were made when people were free to roam the forests.
A long time ago, before the monarchy claimed their rights over the land, before the nobles owned the majority of the property, the commoners used to be free to do as they pleased in the forests that surrounded the village of Twelf. But for the past hundred years of so, in Panem, hunting in the King's forest is punishable by death, or more likely a few years in the prison's work camp. They always needed an extra hand on the work lines.
Gale rolls his knife over the stick, it's a nervous habit of his. "Catnip, they're getting stricter with the rules, with the harvest festival coming up. We should probably avoid the north east edge near the palace for a while."
I pause with the bow I'm mending, and look up from my work, "Where'd you here that from. You know Darius is a bit paranoid," Darius was perhaps one of the only friendly guards, and we often hung out with him in tho Hob, a black-market in the Seam, the poorer section of the village.
"Eh, not Darius. But he's just looking out for us, ya know. I think he has a thing for you," he says, causing me to blush at the memory of Darius making an offer for a kiss, "You know Leevy, right? Her brother got arrested for a couple of squirrels. They came to his house and arrested him, right there in front of his mother," Gale spits in disgust, "Six months down on the work lines in eleven, and that's just squirrels."
"Six months? That isn't too bad," It really isn't. My father got caught with a rabbit and he spent eight months on the work lines.
"Yeah, but that's for squirrels. Nobody even cares about the stupid squirrels, and several peacekeepers could testify to our habits. We should put away the game in our homes, hide it until we have to eat it. No need to have a bunch of evidence lying around like a couple of idiots," he places his hand on mine, "With the stuff we hunt, turkey and deer. The things they actually care about, the things they are trying to save for the harvest festival hunt. We could get a couple of years for that, and you would never last."
"Hey!" I say, scowling at him, and giving him a playful elbow to the ribs.
He rolls his eyes at me, "I'm not saying you're weak. I think we both know that you are far from weak. It's just that women don't fare well on the lines. You remember Becca, she got a knife to the chest over a jealous spat between two male prisoners."
He has a fair point. Being one of the few women in a group of angry male prisoners isn't exactly something to wish for.
"Yeah, yeah, I know," I say, resuming to the bow I was mending, my mood immediately sobering.
"We should probably head home. My mother wants me to watch Posy tonight and you should probably get home before your mother starts to worry," he says, standing up and throwing his game bag over his shoulder.
The walk home is unusually long, ever since they picked up security for the well worn path that most of us followed, navigating the woods has taken longer. My home, the seam, is somewhat decorated for the harvest festival. The straw and mud huts and the well worn older wooden houses have been decorated with ribbons on the doors, celebrating the harvest. Most years, the richer families in the seam put up some dried colored corn, but this year has been harder than most. Nobody can afford to waste food like that, even the merchant section of the village has toned down the decorations.
Gale and I take the shorter path through the meadow, avoiding most of the street traffic. Even we aren't daring enough to walk through the main streets with a bag of illegal goods.
"Catnip, want to stop at your house first? I need to pick up some mending from your mother," Gale says to me as we head towards our homes.
"Yeah, sure. I have some jams to give to you anyways," I reply as we reach the rickety steps of the house I have spent my entire life in.
I barely have the chance to open the door, before my mother flies it open, her face ghost white with terror.
"Katniss, Gale, we have some visitors," she says to me, her voice creaking as she speaks. She's not exactly a normal parent, and she's been a little off since my father died, but it's odd.
And that's when I notice the finely dressed men, one standing up, the other casually strung across my father's rocking chair, his presence defiling everything my father stood for. Gale must notice them too, because I hear the thud our foraging bag makes as it is tossed to the side.
The King's guards have come for us.
It's odd, really, usually they just send the regular village guards for things like this. I guess things have been a little slow, and maybe with the harvest festival hunt, clearing the forest is their duty. It doesn't matter. Gale and I are screwed.
I'm frozen in my place. I wouldn't run anyways, not when they know where my family lives. Neither would Gale, but the fear has taken over any ability I have to protect myself.
"Come inside, Ms. Everdeen. Although I can barely tell you're a woman with those clothes," the tall light haired guard says to me, his nose wrinkling at my breeches, "We have to talk."
I don't move, not really. Gale pushes us inside, his breath heavy with heat against my shoulder as he shoves the door closed.
"Get out of my chair," I say to the man, my voice cracking.
The man runs his hands through his hair, not bothering to stand up. Sporting a cocky grin he speaks up, "Katniss Everdeen and Gale Hawthorne, you are under arrest for seven counts of illegal hunting in the property of his majesty, King Peeta. You will also be held accountable for possession of illegal goods."
Author's Note: If you read By Your Hand I Have Loved, you can probably tell that I love King Peeta stories. If you are also a fan of King Peeta, I would recommend 'Tales of Panem'.
Other than that, this was a teaser chapter for what is to come. Feel free to leave constructive criticism! I'm looking for a beta, fyi.
Twelf is an Old English word for Twelve, which I thought would be a perfect name for District Twelve, considering the time this story is set in.