Lyna was standing in the river waiting for fish to bite when Tamlen came through the trees at the shoreline. She heard him coming long before he appeared downriver, a brace of rabbits slung over one shoulder and a bag stuffed full of gathered mushrooms, onions, and herbs over the other. He shaded his eyes against the bright afternoon sun and whistled as she watched over her shoulder.
“So this is where you’ve been hiding from Fenarel,” Tamlen said, grinning and picking his way down to the bank.
Lyna rolled her eyes and twisted her body and attention back to the river. The cold water pushed and waved around her gathered-up trousers, the river rocks under her feet not as uncomfortable as when she first waded in. If any fish had nibbled at her toes, she wasn’t sure she would have felt it.
“Fenarel mistakes our friendship for something it’s not,” she said. There was no tugging at the line she dangled in the water through her gloved hands, and hadn’t been any for a while now. Two fish weren’t going to be enough for herself and Ashalle. She needed at least two more, and she’d been thinking of moving further upstream. Surely hungrier fish waited in the darker pools there.
“Unlike me,” Tamlen said, peering into her basket. “That’s it, lethallan? I thought you were a better hunter than this.”
“Lump,” Lyna replied, showing her teeth. “The fish have no respect for my prowess.”
Tamlen laughed and divested himself of his bag and his rabbits. “So it’s up to me to save you from Ashalle. ‘No, da’len, I’m not hungry. You should eat.’” He balanced on one foot to strip the boot from the other.
Lyna snorted. “I didn’t ask, and are you going to save me from Ashalle’s longing looks at you, too? You know she wants to see us bonded.”
He snorted back, wobbling a little as he stripped off his other boot. “I overheard Mamae and Papae discussing it last night. Be glad they are very traditional, Burr. It will be years before they approach Ashalle.”
“Enough time, I suppose, to find other people,” she said, and sighed. She didn’t want to get bonded, at least not yet. Nineteen felt too young to really consider it, but she and Tamlen had been close from a very young age and most of the clan took it as a sign. Their peers knew better, most of them now looking for their first coupling experience. Fenarel was under the impression that Lyna would be grateful for his attention if it took Ashalle’s away from Tamlen.
“You know Junar will be wolf-hunting with Ineria tonight, right?” Tamlen waded carefully into the water, hissing at the cold, and dug into a pouch for his fishing lure.
“What of it?” she said, and clucked when she felt her line ripple. “You splash too much, Lump.”
“I know how he looks at you,” Tamlen said, sending a rude gesture her way. “Pretty sure he does more than just think about you, too.”
Well, and Lyna did like Junar’s looks. Lean, graceful, deadly with his bow. No false modesty from him, either, though he did have a pleasing blush when complimented. Bonding was still far from her mind, but as a first coupling…
“You’re just saying that because you want another try at Ineria,” she teased. “I’m not sure she’s forgiven you for disappointing her the first time. You should have used your fingers on her like so,” she continued, and waggled two. She laughed at Tamlen’s offended grimace.
“Now you’ve spoiled it. I don’t want to think about you doing that, ugh,” he said.
“Then find something else to wiggle, or you’ll lose her to Chandar,” Lyna replied with a shrug. She didn’t care to think about Tamlen like that, either, but it was always fun to tweak his nose about it. Besides, the more the two of them spoke about sex, the better prepared they’d be to face Marethari and talk about it without giggling like babes. Lyna wanted her vallaslin before the next Arlathvhen, where she could have her pick of partners if she so liked.
Tamlen grunted and finally tossed in his line. “Quiet, Burr. Let’s catch the rest of your dinner so we can rest for wolf-hunting.”
“You mean cunny-hu–” Lyna said before Tamlen shoved her into the water. She shrieked and dragged him in after her, the both of them splashing water vigorously at each other until an older hunter emerged from the treeline and whistled.
“Stop scaring the game, da’len!”
“Yes, hahren,” they said, chastened and dripping. The warm afternoon sunlight helped dry Lyna’s clothes, but she was still cold enough she gritted her teeth to keep them from chattering. Only her fishing lure went back in the water, along with Tamlen’s, and she thought about Junar’s moonlit eyes and calloused fingers the rest of the way back to camp.