1815 - London
A loaf of bread changed his life forever.
Jesse was starving. There was no other way to put it. The city was no stranger to distended bellies, glazed eyes and withered limbs, and he would soon join the ranks of the unfortunate souls condemned to a slow demise.
It wasn't supposed to be like this. This great city of London was supposed to change his life forever. All the stories that filtered out to the countryside were the same: too many people, too little space. But there were jobs, if you know how to find them. Jesse thought he did. A year or two living the big city life should do it; new experiences, exciting adventures, saving up a few precious shillings to send home to Mama.
But six months after his arrival in London, Jesse was starving. There was no other way to put it. He sat slumped against the icy brick wall in the alley behind the wood shop. He had hoped that his strength from years of felling trees in the woods would be his endorsement, but it was to no avail. He had not had a bite to eat in nearly three days, and this had been his last hope. There were no jobs, no adventures, no money. There was nothing in this city for him but death. As cool rain began to fall upon his head, Jesse began to accept the inevitable: he was going to die lying in this alleyway.
Thoughts of better times began to flood his mind: of home, of his family, of his beloved woods. Of all the things he would never see again. Jesse closed his eyes and conjured up an image of warm, steaming bread, a brand new loaf straight out of Mama's oven. He licked his dry, chapped lips and swore he could almost taste it. He could even smell it, so fresh and moist and pungent. It was all so real, he felt as if he could open his eyes and find it right there under his nose. He opened his aching eyes slowly and-
No. It couldn't be. It was real. Right there in the alley. Sticking out of the wicker basket attached to a rickety bicycle, no owner in sight. Was this delirium? The last visions of a dying man? Oh that smell...
Jesse slowly raised his shaking limbs off the ground and craned his neck to survey the scene. The rain continued to pour and there was not a soul in sight. This was it. This was his hope, his life, a second chance. His deprived body took control as his mind struggled to process the situation. One step, grab the bread, run. One step, grab the bread, run.
One step. His feet complied. Grab the bread. It felt warm and crisp and impossibly real under his fingertips. Run. His weak legs struggled on the slippery pavers. An enraged shout cut through the air behind him; the owner of the bicycle was back. Run. If he could just make it out of the alley, lose himself in the throng of unwashed bodies that flooded the streets. Run. The shouts continued and a new sound joined in the chorus. Bells? Police. Run. If he could just-
The baton hit his temple and his body hit the ground.
Jesse stood, shackled and bound, awaiting his sentence. In a few short moments, a man in a white wig would determine his fate. He couldn't go back to prison. He couldn't face it a moment longer. The stench, the rot, the claustrophobia. Every night he dreamed of open expanse, rolling hills and never-ending blue skies. The man in the wig opened his mouth and Jesse held his breath.
Everdeen, Jesse. He couldn't go back to prison.
Charged with the crime of theft. He couldn't go back to prison.
Found guilty. He couldn't go back to prison.
Sentenced to transportation for a term of seven years. He wasn't going back to prison.
He was going to Australia.
1816 – The Indian Ocean
An overheard song changed her life forever.
Jacinta stared at the expanse before her. The deep blue sheet seemed to never end, stretching out for miles in all directions. In the midst of this great ocean of water, she suddenly felt smaller than she had ever in her lifetime.
She had no idea what to expect. Only a few months earlier her entire existence had seemed so concrete. She would marry her dear fiancé, be a devoted wife and mother and care for their lovely estate on the edge of the county. It would be a simple life, but a fulfilling one. It was sure and it was safe and it was known. Now she had thrown all three of those things away.
She loved Brandon Mellark a great deal and had accepted his proposal with glee. She supposed her love must be great for her to follow him even here, onto this one-way course to the unknown. She had no desire to leave England, but Brandon, oh dear sweet Brandon had heard such wonderful stories about the new Great Southern Land and promptly determined to make a new life, a better life, for his family in the Terra Australis.
Passage was bought and trunks were packed and Jacinta found herself on this rickety ship with all kinds of dangers lurking about, but she plastered a smile onto her face and told both herself and Brandon that she was wonderfully okay. She tried not to think of shipwrecks or typhoons, of the deadly savages, famines and animals rumoured to inhabit her new home, of the convicted criminals that were housed under her feet.
She had no idea what this new world had to offer, no idea what awaited her in Sydney Cove. As she stared out at the infinite ocean, she tried to convince herself it would all be all right. She closed her eyes and forced deep breaths to pass through her chest. Brandon would be awaiting her, one more look and she would return to the confines of her cabin. She slowly opened her eyes, and then she heard it.
A simple melody, delivered in deep, rich tones. Words that sang of a green meadow, a safe place, a haven. The most beautiful song she had ever heard, sung by a voice that sent a shiver down her spine and a smile unto her lips.
Jacinta carefully peered over the railing to which she clung and searched the deck below her for the source of the sound. The manacles on his wrists identified him as a convict, and the dark beard that adorned his chin disguised the years in his face. He moved slowly, hunched over, sweeping a makeshift broom along the deck. The song continued. Jacinta watched in awe for what could have been a minute, or could have been an hour. There was something about this man and his song that reached up into her chest and gripped her heart without release.
He ambled out of her view, but the lightness within her chest remained. She closed her eyes and conjured up the dirty face of the man.
Maybe this Terra Australis really would be all right, after all...
1825 – Windsor, New South Wales
An overheard song changed his life forever.
Peeta looked up at the new wooden building before him. It was a small schoolhouse, really, but to him it seemed a towering palace, imposing and inviting all at the same time. His gaze dropped from the sharply-angled roof to the throng of children that congregated on the veranda. The group of older children greeted each other warmly, regaling each other with tales of the summer break: Christmas celebrations, dips in the River, for one or two exceedingly lucky boys and girls even came a trip east to Sydney. Peeta watched as his brothers bounded over to the group, joining in the conversation with ease. The few children his own age hung back, clinging to parents or siblings in fright and anxiety.
Peeta was lucky. The Mellark bakery was located in the centre of town, directly opposite the hive of activity that was the Macquarie Arms inn (God rest the poor Governor's soul). He was used to crowds and activity, visitors and new faces. The children that grew up on the outskirts of town, living and working on the farms and properties that spread out along the Hawkesbury River, might never have even seen this many people at once in all their lives.
Windsor was an old town, by New South Wales standards – it was nearly 36 years old, the third oldest settlement in the colony. The population was booming and the gleaming new schoolhouse was evidence of this fact. For the first time, all the children in the district would come together to learn: town kids and farm kids, settler and convict alike. For some reason, Peeta recalled, this had made his mother very angry.
Peeta knew the teacher would arrive soon, and he would have to drop the warm, familiar hand of his father and venture inside the scary building. But he was five whole years old now. He was a big boy, and he could be brave. He tried to remember some of the advice his brothers had peppered him with last night.
Make sure you always shine your shoes in the morning.
Never ever talk without lifting your hand first.
Don't forget your lunch.
And most important of all, Peety, stay away from the Connies. You don't one of those crims as your friend. Nuh-uh.
Peeta didn't know exactly why he wasn't supposed to be friends with everyone. But he knew that he was a Settler and Settlers were friends with Settlers, and Convicts were friends with Convicts. That's just the way things were, even if it made no sense to him. He did find some of the convicts scary, like the wild-eyed chain gangs that marched through the town occasionally as he hid in his mother's skirt. But some of them were nice, like the tall man with the big bushy beard that brought his father possums and kangaroo meat sometimes. Besides, even if the mums and dads had done bad things, who says the kids couldn't make good friends? It was just silly. There were a lot of things Peeta didn't understand about grown-ups.
Peeta felt his father give his hand a gentle squeeze. It was nearly time. He looked around for a familiar face to cling to and smiled when he came across the blonde pigtails of his friend Delly. He called her name and waved. She grinned and beckoned him over. Peeta looked up at his father questioningly, but found his jaw set firmly and his gaze set on something in the distance. Peeta felt the grip on his hand grow tighter and searched the horizon for the source of his father's discomfort.
There was nothing there. No scary animals or Aborigines or bushfires. Just a pretty blonde lady walking hand-in-hand with a little girl. As they got closer, father squeezed his hand tightly and Peeta watched the pair closely. The girl was about his age, he thought. She was wearing a pretty red dress and had two long black braids spilling over her shoulders. A wide, toothy grin filled her face as she laughed with her mother. As they approached the schoolhouse, the girl turned and gave her mother a quick hug before darting off towards the group of convicts' children gathered on the front steps. Just like that. No fuss, no fear. Peeta watched in awe.
The blonde lady turned and started slightly at the sight of Peeta and his father. She gave a polite nod and quickly began the walk around the bend towards the river. Only when she was out of sight was Peeta's small hand released. He looked up at his father in concern.
"Are you okay, daddy?"
Peeta watched as his father sighed and kneeled in front of him.
"Did you see that girl?"
Peeta nodded. A small, sad smile slowly crossed his father's face.
"I was going to marry her mother, but she ran away with a convict instead."
Peeta was shocked. Why would anybody want to marry a convict when they could have his loving father instead? He asked, and furrowed his eyebrows in confusion at the response.
"Because when he sang, even the waves calmed themselves to listen."
Five hours later, he finally understood. The girl opened her mouth and the world stood still. Even the kookaburra perched on the veranda seemed to quiet his laughter. In that moment, Peeta knew.
Maybe school wouldn't be so bad, after all...
A loaf of bread changed her life forever.
Katniss was starving. There was no other way to put it.
Her father was gone. The river that watered their crops, fed their livestock and prolonged their existence had taken his life. For seven years, he had served his sentence with dignity and diligence, earning himself a small parcel of land on his release. For the next seven years, he had poured his blood and sweat into the earth, coaxing forth just enough life to sustain the family he doted upon.
Summer had come with a vengeance. As the land pushed on into the latest month of drought, the fields had transformed into a wasteland. But sun-burnt earth or not, Jesse always ensured there was food on the table for his girls – his three beautiful flowers, he called them. Even as famine threatened the young colony, the Everdeen family lacked not.
And then came the deluge. The drought broke with a lightning strike and the withered banks could not contain the river's torrent. It took three days for the people of Windsor to repair the damage caused by the flood; the Everdeen family would never succeed.
So many weeks later, Katniss still felt the loss of her father as a gaping, raw wound in her soul. She put on a brave face for her beloved little Primrose, but late at night she wept in secret for the loss of both her parents. Jacinta had sunk into catatonia at the news of her husband's demise and at only eleven years old Katniss had become the head of the household.
She had tried, tried so very hard, but it was not enough. The rains were here, the ground was fertile again, but there was nobody to till the earth. Katniss had attempted to copy what she remembered of her father's actions, but the fields remained empty and her hands were rubbed raw. The small stores in the pantry dwindled quickly until every cupboard was bare. The last of the porridge went straight to Prim's mouth as Katniss pretended she was satisfied with a cup of steaming hot water steeped with eucalyptus leaves. She smiled, hugged her worryingly thin sister with shaky arms and promised to be back soon.
This was her last hope. A vague memory filtered down of the Sunday markets in Thompson Square. She packed up a few threadbare baby clothes and started the walk into town, entirely unsure if her trembling body would even make it. She hadn't had a bite to eat in nearly three days.
Rain came with a clap of thunder. In shock, Katniss stumbled and dropped the bundle in a puddle of not-yet-dried mud from the last storm. As she leant over to retrieve it, she was caught off guard by a sudden rush of blood to the head and found herself tumbling down the sloped, muddy street. She slammed into the trunk of a small tree and slowly pulled herself up to sit. She slumped against the tree and surveyed her location with blurry eyes.
In horror, she realised she was in the back yard of the bakery. The baker's wife was a source of terror for Katniss. A few days prior she had been caught rummaging through the bakery's rubbish in hope of some mouldy bread to fill Prim's stomach. She managed to escape without physical assault, receiving only a barrage of choice words about convict scum. Katniss feared if she was found again, she would not be so lucky. She desperately tried to rouse her aching limbs and force herself off the ground, but her starving body refused to respond.
Her father had worked so hard to provide for his girls, but now he was gone. And soon so would she. As the rain continued to pelt down upon her head, Katniss began to accept the inevitable: she was going to die lying under this apple tree. In some ways, she preferred the thought to returning home empty-handed to tiny Prim.
A black fog began to cloud her vision, her frail body finally succumbing to exhaustion. As she drifted in and out of consciousness, she was vaguely aware of a commotion nearby. There were shouts, curses, the clashing of metal pans. Her eyes forced themselves open as the sickening sound of metal upon flesh rang out from inside the warm bakery, followed by a pause and then a soft whimper. The door flung upon and a young boy stepped out slowly.
Katniss recognised this boy from school. She knew his name and parents' occupation, but not much else. She weakly lifted her head and allowed her gaze to fall upon him fully. She had seen his unruly head of blonde curls and stunningly bright blue eyes many times before, but the angry red welt that adorned his cheek was new. She noticed the two burnt loaves of bread in his hands, but Katniss could not manage to process what was going on until she found them landing squarely in her lap. A door slammed and by the time she looked up, he was gone.
But the bread remained. Could this possibly be real? Was it simply a dying girl's last fantasy? But, no. It was real. As the warmth from the loaves seeped through her soaked dress and began to thaw her frozen limbs, a spark was ignited inside her heart.
She could not die.
She would not die.
She would live.
All thanks to the boy with the bread.