The forest is quiet down here, days away from the incessant fighting between the English and French over land that isn't either of theirs to fight over. It is for this reason that the trio of nearly-relatives have refused to join the militia with the others and opted to stay on their own land, living their own lives. Haymitch warns that at some point, the boundaries of this war will spill over and include them, but that day is not today. And until it is, they stay out of it.
A twig snapping catches Katniss' attention and she shifts her eyes toward the sound. A few meters away is her cousin, Gale Hawthorne and he motions with the slightest tilt of his head that he's spotted the creature. An eight-point buck eating the foliage not far from their hunting location. Katniss quietly pulls an arrow from her quiver and pulls her bow back until the string presses against her lips. One. Two. Three.
Her arrow pierces the beast's heart while Gale's simultaneously strikes the lungs. He's not quite as accurate of a shot as she is, but together they're able to take the buck down quickly and humanely as possible. She whistles out three notes, the calling for Haymitch to retrieve the kill. Though older and far less agile as them, Haymitch attends the hunts so as to properly perform the ritual needed to ensure future prosperity for the family.
The three approach the buck together but Gale and Katniss hold back as Haymitch kneels by its head. "Accept our humble gratitude for your sacrifice. In death, you give life. May you find wings to the Kingdom." He slices the buck's throat, letting the blood flow out onto the ground and dips his finger in the liquid to paint a small symbol on the deer's neck.
Gale hoists the buck onto his shoulders and begin our journey to the Mason cabin a few miles down the road. The Masons and Haymitch have known each other for years and their eldest daughter, Johanna, has more than proved her ability to survive in such a wilderness. Gale enjoys these visits more than Katniss does, mostly because the two girls have never been particularly close.
"Who's there?" They hear Johanna's voice call out as they come upon the frontier home. "Surely not Haymitch Abernathy and his kin because they wouldn't just appear for no reason after so many months."
Haymitch grunts in response. He's a cranky old man at times, but carries a soft spot for the formidable Johanna Mason. "Your father in?"
She's leaning against an ax when they near. She nods her head toward the house. "With the young'ns. Brainless. Hawthorne."
Katniss scowls at her nickname, which only makes the cart they've loaded our hunt and other possessions into for the trip, shake from Gale's laughter. She releases her grip on the handle, momentarily causing Gale to buckle from the extra weight he's suddenly holding.
That'll shut him up.
Jessen, Johanna's father, having heard the commotion, steps into the doorway of the house. "Haymitch. Gale. Katniss, how good to see you after so long. And what a majestic creature. Take him round back, Jo will help the butchering."
Johanna gives a truly frightening smile and leads them to the back shed.
"We thank you, Haymitch, for this food," Johanna's mother says, setting the meat on the table for the families to enjoy. "Your family always cares for us."
"You've done more for us over the years," Gale answers solemnly.
"If you'd like to truly repay me, you could go find a suitable woman and have a family," she jokes, glancing between Gale and Johanna. Finally it's Katniss' turn to snicker at their reaction to being paired up.
Haymitch also lets out a small snort. "We want similar things for him, I suppose."
Gale coughs uncomfortably. "How's the harvest been this year?"
His attempts to change the topic work, as Jessen and Haymitch discuss the crop cycle. Gale looks over at Katniss with a pained look that she returns. As soon as they became of age, Gale two years before her, Haymitch seemed intent on getting them married off. What started out as subtle hints quickly became overt statements. He's worried about the future of his line so with Gale being the last true-blood from his family, he's getting the brunt of it. Luckily, Gale actually wants his own family, while Katniss is content to live on her own.
Katniss' blood family was killed years ago and she was fortunate to be taken in by Haymitch and his nephew and her cousin, Gale. They are the only family she figures she needs anymore, the only family she wants.
"I've heard a faction of the French and Huron army is moving South," Johanna said as the adults continued their talking. "There are rumors that they're looking to form a militia to aid the British defense."
"You'd join?" Katniss asks in disbelief, unable to fathom why anyone would willingly sign up to defend either imperialist side.
Johanna shrugged, a rare moment of reality in her face. "You both know as well as I do that when the British want something, they won't stop at just asking. Father's too old, but Kristophe is young enough to be reaped into the war."
Gale's mouth twists. Kristophe is Johanna's eldest brother and the same age as Gale's brother, Rory. They moved out of their native lands years ago, with Gale staying behind with his uncle. They used to get updates from Hazelle, but lately they've only heard wisps of stories every now and then. If the English were forming militias, its likely Rory and possibly even Vick might get swept up in the mess. "You're a good sister," he says with a curt nod.
"I wish I weren't some days," she answers, glancing over her shoulder at where Kristophe and her two other brothers sit by the hearth. "But I'm afraid we'll all make sacrifices before this stupid war is over."
I tend to agree, Katniss says only to herself.
"Leftenant Finnick Odair, reporting for duty, Sir."
General Plutarch Heavensbee looks up from his parchment at the young militant who has just entered his office. "How was your journey?"
"I saw nothing of surprise on the way but I did hear of the Crown negotiating terms of service with the Americans," Finnick responds with a crooked eyebrow. "I was not under the impression they were in a position to ask of anything from us."
Plutarch sighs and rubs his finely bearded chin. "Lay of the land out here, I've discovered. The Americans do nothing without some bit of reassurance and agreements for their actions. It's absolutely exhausting."
"And of King Snow's desire to make the world…England?" Finnick asks with a biting tone unbecoming of how one speaks to his superior.
General Heavensbee sits straight in his chair and decisively clears his throat. "Have you questions on your assignment, Leftenant?"
The emphasis on his rank did not go unnoticed by Finnick, nor the others in the room. "None, Sir. Where are the transports?"
He waves his hand and out of the shadows walks a large man with scars over his muscular chest. "What is it that Crane calls you?"
"Brutus," the man answers with a deep, gravel voice.
"Right," Plutarch says, turning back to Finnick. "Crane has sent an ally for you to make the trip to Ft. William Henry with the others. The transports are at a small cottage a few miles down. Brutus will show you to them."
Finnick saluted. "Sir." Turning to Brutus, he nodded. "We leave at dawn."
Inside the cottage, Finnick finds a young mand and woman sitting at a table, playing chess. "Ahem. Master Mellark, Miss Cresta, I am Finnick Odair. I'm to guide you both to Fort William Henry in the morning."
The man looks up from the chessboard. "Please, Leftenant, call me Peeta. Out here, I'm no one." He moves a piece on the board. "This is Annie. Annie, Leftenant Odair."
Annie doesn't answer, only nods without breaking her concentration. Without saying a word, she moves her knight and trades it with Peeta's bishop.
"Did you just…Annie!" Peeta chuckles. "You're making my feel incredibly inadequate when you so easily best me."
Annie quirks and eyebrow and smirks. "Would you like some tea, Leftenant?"
"No, thank you, Miss."
"You should have some," Peeta offers with a smile. "We haven't had a single visitor here in days and Annie must be tired of my stories by now."
Finnick acquiesces but finds himself uncomfortable under the guise of the well-educated duo, evident by their chess abilities and fine clothing. They tell him this is their first trip to the Americas; their inexperience with such landscape and possible scenarios ahead of them leave Finnick unhappy with his current situation.
"You aren't pleased with this assignment, are you Leftenant?" Peeta asks, riding up next to Finnick on their journey the next morning. Annie's horse trails only slightly behind, never far from Peeta's eye.
"I am merely performing a duty, Sir, my feelings on the matter are not important."
Peeta's strikingly blue eyes say more than Finnick was prepared for, as if they were reading his true thoughts and intentions despite his best efforts. "I can assure you that Annie and I will be of little trouble. We may not be properly trained as you, but we are survivors of our kind."
"What is it that Major Crane wants with you at Fort Henry?"
"We were sent on the word of King Snow himself, according to the currier who brought us over."
"Are you engaged then?" Finnick asks.
It's not an unusual or unwarranted question, as women rarely travel without a guardian of some sort. And with people their age, it is a logical deduction that they must be betrothed. "We likely should be but Miss Cresta is a friend of mine. A sister of sorts, I suppose. Are you married, Leftenant?"
Finnick bristled in his seat, unnerved by the civilian's lack of propriety while talking to an officer of the British Army. "Absolutely not. Marriage is not allowed until I have finished my required civil service for His Majesty."
"Peeta?" Annie's voice calls to him from her horse. She is leaning forward, resting her chest against the mare's neck. "Can we rest soon?"
Peeta glances at Finnick, only to find that his eyes are already on the whispy girl. Without a word passing between them, Finnick nudges his own stead and swiftly moves to the front of the pack where Brutus is leading them. "Guide, we must pause. Miss Cresta needs water."
"No," Brutus commands, pointing forward, "two leagues."
"I am in command of the wellbeing of this brigade and I command that we stop. Is that understood?" Finnick responds with a commanding voice. Dalton mutters something under his breath which only serves to further infuriate Finnick. "I said to stop."
Once they pause at a shady glen, Peeta assists Annie off her horse and leads her to a nearby rock to rest on. "Are you already, Annie?"
"It's the sun. And this horrid dress," Annie answers, sipping down some water. "I hate traveling in it."
Peeta laughs. "I can't imagine how you must be feeling. But we must be cautious not to request too many breaks from Leftenant Odair. You should keep this water flask with you so you can drink from it whenever."
Annie laughs. "I do suppose this dress is good for one thing. No one would ever imagine all the things I could stow away in it."
A shriek causes Annie to spill most of the water down the front of her dress. Peeta jumps up to see what has caused the commotion only fall back down as Finnick rides by, shouting out formation orders to the rest of the brigade. The air quickly fills with the sounds of muskets and the smell of gunpowder and blood. Shots ring out from the surrounding countryside and English soldiers collapse on the ground. Across the way, Brutus stands with a bloodied tomahawk at his side, slashing through whoever crosses his path. Annie and Peeta stay frozen where they are, unable to look away from the massacre before them.
Like locusts, the remaining war party comes crashing down from the hillside, attacking the remaining Red Coats with clubs and guns and tomahawks, destroying everyone in their path. Finnick quickly fashions a crude net of sorts from the greenery around him, trapping a handful of the enemy and then using his musket like a trident, spearing them one by one until their blood ran down the barrel of his gun, staining his hands.
He spins, locating his two transports, and runs quickly to them. "Hide," he instructs. "No telling what they may do with the likes of you."
Annie nods, crouching down behind the large rock, eyes constantly scanning the environment. "Peeta!" She hisses, pulling at his jacket. "To your left, just beyond the tree."
Peeta nods and dashes toward the space Annie described, to where a British soldier lies bleeding to death in the grass. "I am sorry," he whispers, pulling the soldier's musket from his fingers. The man begins to moan in pain, blood spilling from his mouth. "I'm so sorry," he repeats. Aiming the musket at the soldier, he puts the man out of his pain, quieting the agonizing cries for one brief moment.
He reloads the musket as quickly as possible, his fingers fumbling as he places the patch over the end of the barrel between the powder and lead bullet. He can hear his blood rushing through his head, his eyes constantly scan the field. He is crouched down, the grass giving him some camouflage from the attackers.
But not enough. Someone spots him, starts whooping and running toward him, tomahawk raised and ready to strike. Annie remains hidden and Finnick is too far. Peeta aims his musket, trying to remain calm and stop shaking from the adrenaline and fear pulsing through him. He knows his gun skills aren't spectacular, so even with his target in close range, he worries he'll miss.
He focuses his eyes, and feels the pressure of the trigger under his finger.
The man lets out a cry and falls forward, an arrow piercing his back. From the hillside, he can make out the silhouette of a figure, holding the bow that fired the kill shot. She stands for only a moment, then breaks into a full sprint toward the fight, joined by another, larger figure. From a different angle, a third comes out. With precision unlike anything Peeta's seen before, the trio work to take out more of the enemy natives than the entirety of the British brigade had before them. One with a bow, one with a gun, and one with a series of knives that he throws with near perfect accuracy.
Brutus senses his own danger, locking eyes with the female huntress. Rather than striking a final blow on the soldier at his feet, Brutus lets out a cry and begins a retreat into the shaded woods. The trio scan the woods, weapons at the ready, but hold their own fire.
With assurance from Finnick and Peeta that the coast is clear, Annie comes out from hiding and clutches to Peeta's side. "Are they gone?"
"I think so. But…who were they?"
"War party." The young man in the trio speaks up. "And it wasn't the last of them. We need to leave."
"Your injured should return to wherever you came from," the woman says, pulling an arrow from the back of a fallen. She wipes the blood off with a piece of cloth and slides it into her quiver. "They'll never survive the trek north. And release your horses."
"Why would we do that?" Finnick asks harshly. "We'll make better time on them."
"And you're likely to get tracked," the woman answers. She had nerves of steel, with no distress in her voice over what just occurred. "Where are you headed?"
"Fort William Henry. Only a day and a half from here," Finnick answers, reluctantly releasing his stead and slapping it on the rump to send it galloping off.
The trio look at each other, speaking a language the others don't understand. The old man steps up. "We'll take you as far as the fort. We'll leave as soon as we've replenished."
The young man stares at Finnick. "Not that your soldiers will be needing any of their supplies anymore."
"Gale!" The woman snaps, but he only shrugs and begins collecting powder pipes and bullets from the fallen soldiers' packs. The woman shakes her head and walks around, collecting her used arrows, inspecting them, and either tossing or putting them with her others.
Finnick sighs. "We don't know these people. How are we to trust them?" He runs his hand through his hair, scratching at the crown of his head. He trusted the last native he was sent, who's to say these are any different. They are clearly natives, judging by their darker complexion, but during this time of war, it was never sure who was on whose side.
"We don't have a choice," Annie says quietly. "Or would you want us to retreat with the wounded?"
Finnick shakes his head. "No. I am to lead you to Fort William Henry and that I will do." He glances over at Peeta. "Make sure you have something to defend yourself with, should the need arise."
As Finnick walks out of earshot, Peeta gives Annie's hand a squeeze. "No one would ever imagine all the things you could stow away in that dress of yours."