With a yelp, I dove headfirst into a snow bank just before the Winter Orb struck. Howling, icy wind shrieked over my back, but the Orb didn’t touch me.
To my left, Levi wasn’t so lucky.
Levi did his best to catch the Orb, but it broke through his cupped hands and smacked him full in the gut. He toppled into the snow like a chopped tree, turning blue. The Orb bounced at his feet and went still.
“Out!” shouted the rule judge from the edge of the playing field. “Noah’s throw.”
I grimaced and stood up. I was Noah, and it was my turn to throw the Orb.
“Good luck,” Levi gasped before freezing completely.
The Winter Orb was a blue and white swirled ball about the size of a cantaloupe. It had caused some trouble down south recently, but here we used it to play a game. Those it struck were covered in a thin sheet of ice. They stayed that way until the end of the match.
I grunted at Levi and retrieved the Orb. My friend would be fine, but it would take a miracle for me to win. I had no business being one of the last two kids playing.
Across the field hunched Bart, the biggest, fastest, strongest boy in Neverthaw. He was also the meanest, and looked more like a bear standing on its hind legs than a ten-year-old boy.
As for me, I was the second-biggest kid in Neverthaw’s South Village, but I wasn’t very tall. My family used words like solid and big-boned to describe me. I just hoped my height would catch up with my weight soon.
My hair was shoulder-length, blond, and always in my face. Boys from Neverthaw were forbidden to grow it longer or to tie it back. Long hair was a symbol of adulthood, so everyone grew it as long as possible without breaking the rules.
I guess that made me an average kid, except for my size. But being solid and chubby had advantages. I could out-wrestle most other kids, and I could almost carry my father’s magic hammer, Stormfall.
“You gonna throw or what?” Bart barked from across the icy field. Not only did he look like a bear, he snarled like one.
Instead of answering, I reared back and threw the Orb.
My aim seemed good, and I had hopes that the throw would connect. The Orb flew fast. It flew straight. It flew right into the ground.
“Har, har!” Bart brayed, holding his ground while the Orb dribbled to a stop near his snowshoe-sized boots. “Nice throw, Naomi.”
Hearing that, I groaned. Naomi was my sister, my kid sister. Bart had suggested that I threw like a little girl.
“Oh, go cut your hair!” Naomi shouted from the crowd of spectators standing around the field. The phrase was a serious insult to anyone from Neverthaw.
“Har, har!” Bart chortled again, never taking his beady eyes off me. “She shoulda played, not you.” A murmur of chuckles swept through the crowd.
Thanks, Naomi, I growled silently, shooting her a chilly stare. She never knew when to keep her mouth shut. Now the crowd expected Bart to wallop me.
I feinted right and then sprinted left, hoping to confuse Bart. A cluster of frozen players huddled a short way off. They would make a good barricade if I could reach them in time.
Bart didn’t seem to be in a hurry. He casually bent and scooped the Orb up with a big paw.
My boots crunched as I plodded across the snow. My breath puffed out in chalky clouds.
Just make it, I begged myself. Survive for one more round. Don’t let Bart humiliate you.
When Bart cocked his arm, I jumped for all I was worth. Then he grunted and the Winter Orb was on its way.
My feet left the ground. I was flying. My arms stretched, willing me forward. I streaked like a spear toward the group of frozen players.
Big-boned me—a spear!
The Winter Orb hurtled my way. Flying snow and sleet churned in its wake.
Come on, Noah, you can—! But I never finished the thought.
It was another bull’s eye for Bart. Numbing cold exploded in my right side as the Orb struck my ribs. Teeth chattering, I groaned through blue lips and tumbled off course. Then I crashed heavily to the ground in a shower of snow.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall, I reminded myself. The saying went double for me.
“Har, har!” Bart gloated. “I win again. I always win. Too bad, Naomi.”
I wanted to stick my tongue out at him, but the Orb had frozen me stiff. All I could do was stare face first into the snow and think about how I’d lost—again.
A horn trumpeted then, signaling the end of the game. The rule judge declared Bart the winner, and the crowd cheered loudly.
Because of his skill, Bart was always the favorite. It seemed that most people wanted to root for a winner no matter who it was. They certainly weren’t cheering for Bart’s bear-like manners or personality.
Naomi didn’t cheer. She was as loyal to me as a hungry puppy looking for dinner. Sometimes that and her big mouth got her into trouble.
“Shouldn’t you be hibernating?” she accused Bart. Then to the rule judge, “Judge? Judge! Since when are mangy bears allowed to play?”
For once Bart didn’t laugh. He roared at me. “You’re gonna get it, Noah!”
Correction: Sometimes Naomi’s big mouth got me into trouble.
Water trickled into my eye, and I struggled to move. Now that the game had ended, the Orb’s ice was thawing. I wiggled my toes, flexed my calves, and then pushed myself to my knees.
Naomi was immediately at my side. She was shorter and a lot thinner than I was, but you could tell we were related. She wore her hair in twin braids on the sides of her head like pigtails.
“Hurry, Noah,” she urged. “Bart is up to something.”
As I struggled to stand, I spotted Bart and his gang packing armloads of snowballs. None of his friends were as big as he was, but they made up for that with bad attitudes. They glared and grinned threateningly from across the field.
Naomi and I didn’t wait or wonder. Their snowballs were meant for us. We started to creep through the crowd, but a strong hand gripped my shoulder and turned me around.
“You made your father and me proud,” my mother said. The strong hand belonged to her. She was a tall woman with eyes like frozen tears.
Next to her, my father still looked like a giant. He was as muscular as I was chubby. Talk about big-boned! “Soon you will be strong enough for Stormfall,” he told me, patting the massive battle hammer he wore on his hip. The hammer was a family treasure passed from father to son. I couldn’t wear it without dragging it through the snow.
“Bart won, Father,” I protested.
My mother snorted. “No one in Bartholomew’s clan can count more than the fingers on one hand. His exact age is impossible to know.”
She meant that Bart was probably older than the other players and I. That would give him a huge advantage. Why his parents would lie about his age, I couldn’t imagine. Winning wasn’t that important.
Right then, it didn’t matter much. Bart and his friends were still packing their icy arsenal. And from the look of it, they were almost done.
“We have to go,” I said rapidly, and Naomi nodded. “We’ll see you at home.”
Before our parents could respond, we dashed into the crowd. Bart and his crew followed immediately. The chase was on!
End of the preview.
Thanks for reading!
Copyright © 2007 Sigil Publishing, Inc.
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