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The Lady of the Lake

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My first memory is of water.

I was only a year or two old at the time, and my father had taken me down to the sea for a few hours in the afternoon. It was a hot day and I had been fussing, driving my mother mad with my wails, until he came home from the factories. After finding us both in such a state, my father let her stay home and relax while he took me down to the cool waters of the sea, letting me play in the shallows, laughing as I splashed happily. He says that he only looked away for a moment, calling to someone he knew, and exchanging a few words, before he looked back and I was gone.

Frantic he looked around, and then he looked into water, just past the little drop off from shallows to slightly deeper water.

And there I was, sitting under the surface, completely calm, just looking up at him. The sea was calm, only softly lapping, and I seemed perfectly content, just sitting there, my hair drifting about me with the currents, blue green eyes staring up at him.

My only recollection is of cool water surrounding me, and seeing my father's feet entering the water. It is the fractured memory of someone very young but I can distinctly remember how I felt. I had no fear, no fear at all, and even though I would have drowned, the memory does not engender fear in me. I had not even considered that there was any danger to me at all.

I have never felt unsafe in water, something that many of us who live here in District 4 share.

The sea and the great lake are our livelihoods, and we have grown up swimming for as long as we can remember. All of us know that the sea is a fickle mistress, that every day things can change and something which was perfect one day can be dangerous the next.

Maybe this is why we suffer less than others when it comes to the Hunger Games.

We are not like District 1 and 2; for all that our tributes are labelled 'Careers'. We do not have an academy to train our children to fight in that pageant of blood, we do not need to. We learn to throw harpoons, spear fish, to hunt, to use our tridents and our nets. We learn patience, the calm of mind needed to wait for the perfect moment to strike, we learn about survival, about how fortunes can change in a heartbeat.

We learn that the best way to get out of a riptide is to go with the current.

Apparently because we win some of the time, rather than never, we are considered among the Careers of the Hunger Games.

When really, all we've trained for is survival.

It is Reaping Day, and the entire District seems to have gone still.

The fishing boats have not left the harbour; the trawlers along the seashore and in the shallows of the lake are not out with their nets catching the creatures close to shore. Even the factories are still and quiet.

Even the sea waits on Reaping Day.

With a sigh I move away from the window, high up in the building of the Hall of Justice and close the book in my hands. Slipping off the window seat I pad lightly down the stacks of books, my feet barely making a sound on the thick dark blue carpet, until I reach the shelf I am looking for.

Technically I do not have to be in here today, no one really works on Reaping Day and certainly no one is going to be requiring anything from the book and information archives. Few people come in here as it is; the mayor of course, and the other government officials, some peacekeepers and overseers who are curious about information about certain technologies or fish. Of course teachers come in here too, asking about texts about the history of Panem and the world that had come before. Mythology, stories from a time that I can barely imagine.

Stories that, by now, I can recite almost by heart.

My job is unusual, most young people work on the docks, or in the factories outside of schooling hours. We are a district that enjoys sunshine and the salt air on our skin. We swim almost like fishes ourselves, and being inside often feels like we're being stifled. The same is true for me to an extent, I like nothing better than racing along the beaches, and sliding through the cool waves, but there is something about the peacefulness of the archive rooms that draws me in.

I could not get work on the docks, or the boats, but they found me this, a place to call my own, something to do, a purpose. And I am grateful for that.

No one should feel useless.

Today I need the peace the books give me, the sense of belonging and comfort that I can only get by running my fingertips along the spines of the tomes that fill the shelves. The sense of small accomplishment as I slide the book I had been looking at back into the gap that was left for it.

Back where it belongs.

I glance up at the clock on the wall and my stomach jumps, nervously. My day dreaming has accomplished something at least; it is later than I thought. So I scoop up my jacket from the chair by the door and hurry out, locking the oak doors behind me and slipping the key into the cabinet nearby.

I have to hurry if I want to be ready in time.

So I race out the doors, past old Beckett who hollers at me about running and then wishes me luck, and out past Lusane who just watches me go silently.

I run all the way home, enjoying the feeling of my body working, the wind rustling through my hair, the sharp tang of the salty sea air on my lips and tongue. I run past timber houses, painted with the soft pastels of the seashore, past small garden plots, my feet sinking into the sandy road. No one tries to brush the sand off the roads any longer, it's impossible, a part of our District.

The streets are empty, families are getting ready for the Reaping and I am running late, for all that I am enjoying the freedom that running brings.

All too soon I am home and tumbling through the front door.

"You're late," Mother is in the kitchen as I barrel through, "Why are you always late Schulyer?" She follows me up the stairs, and even though her voice is scolding, her hands are gentle as she helps me shed my loose dress and pull on the good one on the bed.

"I don't mean to be," I reply, wriggling to get the dress to sit right, "Truly I don't, it always just kind of…happens?"

"You'd lose your head if it wasn't screwed on," she replies tartly and without asking her hand reaches out and snags the comb from beside my bed. Gently she runs it through my long dark blonde hair, teasing out the tangles from the curls, tossed about by the breeze.

It's tradition by this point, her combing out my long hair, something we have just between us on Reaping Day. This is the sixth year she has done it, and after this there will only be one more before I am too old for my name to be entered. So far the odds have been in my favour; my name is only entered in the 6 times that my age demands and chances are I won't be chosen.

There is always a chance though and both of us are trying to forget it.

We sit in silence, both of us comforted by the soft familiarity of it, the gentle tug, tug, tug of the comb through my hair, and the warmth of her hand brushing behind it, smoothing it down my back.

Slowly she twists the sides of my hair, from my temples back and secures it all at the nape of my neck to make a long elegant ponytail down my back. Then slowly her hands drop.

"You're ready." She says softly into the silence.

We don't say anything else; everything has been said between us for years now. We're not a family who hides how we feel about one another, or keeps secrets. We are all intensely a part of each others lives, and we say we love each other often. There is nothing more that needs to be said; to speak now would only hurt us both, so we head back downstairs where my father folds me in his arms, stroking my head.

"Time to go." His voice is gravelly.

Together we head back the way I just ran, joining other families like ours, walking slowly and largely silently through the sunshine.

I separate from my parents at the massive courtyard in the centre of the town, walking over to the table for registration of the seventeen year old girls, as they walk to join the adults who ring the courtyard. It doesn't look like the scene of so much pain and fear, there is grass, flowers and we can see the sea, watching everything we do.

Reaping Days came around every year, but the sea was always there…timeless.

"Hello, hello, hello!" a twittering voice booms out suddenly across the crowd, and I tear my gaze away from the sea to see Flora Lullabelle, our District's escort, teetering on the stage before the Hall of Justice. As always she is dressed in a manner that befits The Capitol, bright neon colours, wigs and extreme amounts of makeup and cosmetic enhancements.

This year she is kitted out in a bright pink ensemble that almost makes my eyes hurt, with a flamboyantly bouffant wig of an almost royal purple. She looks ridiculous, especially around the muted blues, greens and sandy colours of our District.

I tune out as the traditional ceremony begins, speeches, propaganda from the Capitol, until finally Flora gushes, "Let's begin shall we? First our lady Tribute."

My entire side of the large sandy courtyard seems to hold its breath as she makes much ceremony of swirling the pieces of paper around in the bowl. She is playing to the television audiences, heightening the anticipation before plucking out a small slip of white paper with two words printed upon it.

"Schuyler Cavendish!"

It's my name.

I'm going to die.

For a moment the world seems to narrow around me, blood pounding in my ears and my eyesight, always so temperamental, blurs. All I can see is the blurred bright pink shape of the woman who just called my name. Who just reaped me for the Hunger Games.

I'm going to die.

Slowly I move forward, and with each step the mist clears a little from my eyes. I don't know how I look, and right at this moment I cannot bring myself to care, because inside my heart is flailing with panic and my stomach is trying to strangle itself.

I'm going to die.

I do not reach the stage before I crumple, a Peacekeeper holding me up slightly as I retch.

I'm going to die.

I throw up right there, in front of Panem, out of sheer terror.

And when I get up onto the stage, for once I am grateful that I can barely see. So I don't have to see the scorn or the pity on everyone's faces.

Of course there are no volunteers for me.

I stand there in shock, numb, stomach cramping shock, as Flora walks over to the other bowl, whisking out another name.

"Darrien Macmarra!"

The eighteen year old boy walks up onto the stage, lip wobbling, but looking determined and focused. Compared to me, who is trembling like a leaf, he looks calm and collected. I probably look like a wreck, despite my mother's tender care a mere half hour ago.

Everything seems distant around me; I don't hear the words being spoken before I'm being nudged to shake Darrien's hand. His blue eyes are on me, and his hand slowly lifts, as does my own.

We shake hands and then Flora hurries us into the Hall, and the doors swing shut behind us, with a final sort of boom.

As the train races away from District 4, away from the sweet smell of the sea and the only world I have ever known, my thumb rubs against the old metal coin my father gave me.

The farewells had been hard, my parents trying not to cry and succeeding for a while, until I started to weep. Then we cried together, before the Peacekeeper told them their time was up. Mother left me with a kiss, and a reminder to not run so late, and my father gave me this coin, looped on a leather string.

I find the soft rubbing of my fingers against the rough relief on the coin…soothing.

Darrien sits nearby, restless and fidgety, but I don't look at him. I just keep looking out of the window, rubbing the coin again and again. I need this, I tell myself, as I rub over and over again, as long as I think on the coin, I am not thinking about the fact that I am on this ridiculously luxurious train bound for the Capitol.

I don't know how long, or how many rubs I give the coin before my concentration is shattered by the door to the carriage swinging open and in strolls our mentor with a charming smile.

Finnick Odair.

I know about him, everyone in District 4 knows about him, he is our most famous Victor ever. He won the Games wielding a gifted trident, and a net he'd crafted himself, a trident that had been able to afford because he is gorgeous. I was just a small girl when I watched his Games, they are the first ones I remember, and I'd been so glad that he'd won, the boy from my home.

Bronze hair, green eyes, dazzling smile, it was hard not to find him attractive now that I was grown up, and so I glance awkwardly away. I have no experience with this sort of man, the charming, handsome variety. Such men, and such boys for that matter, do not usually go for the quiet girl in the corner, poring over a book. Most of the males I deal with are elderly, and while charming, are far from attractive.

I know, in theory, that I should just ignore his beauty and treat him as anyone else. But he is a stranger to me, a handsome stranger, and so the floor draws my eyes fixedly to it.

"There you are!" he says with a smile in his voice, walking over to us. I can hear him shaking Darrien's hand, checking his name easily as Darrien stumbles over his words and then his polished shoes stop in front of me, and his hand gently takes mine in his, lifting it up.

My eyes are helpless but to follow as he kisses the back of my hand, a small charming smile on his lips.

"Schuyler, wasn't it?"

I nod mutely, completely thrown.

"Well Schuyler, I'm Finnick." And he lets go of my hand, sitting down opposite us, with a casual grace I envied him for, "And I am your Mentor for these games."

"So…" Darrien glances at me, "How do we start?"

"Well first," Finnick smiles, "We need to attract you Sponsors, before you even enter the Arena you need sponsors. We need to make you as appealing as possible, which means playing to their expectations. Sponsors like good investments, the brutal Tributes, the attractive ones, the ones that capture their attention…these are the Tributes that will get the outside aid."

"So…what should we do?" Darrien looks nervous, glancing at me again.

"I need to know your skills," Finnick leans forward, "What do you do in 4, Darrien?"

"I work in the factories?" Darrien rubs his hair, "I uh, gut and clean fish."

"So some blade skills, just act confident, like you've got an ace in your pocket," Finnick nods, and then turns to me.

My heart sinks, I have nothing. No skills, nothing violent anyway. I can remember and replicate heard tunes, I can tell stories, I can read and file and I can organise books. None of that could kill another Tribute, I don't want to think about killing another human being.

My stomach churns uneasily again and I shake my head silently.

"Come now, you must have some skills. Where do you work?" he's being kind, those green eyes on my face, giving me his full attention.

I look at him helplessly before whispering.

"The archives?"

"We have archives?" Finnick looks surprised, "Why did no one tell me we had archives?"

"They're small…" I say it quietly.

"Archives…they're full of…" and his voice trails off.


"So…any weapons skills?" he asks hopefully and I shake my head.

"Just the basic spear and trident fishing." And I am crap at those, something he seems to realise by looking at my face.

"Well…we'll find something. There is always something." He reassures me quickly, "Darrien just try and look confident okay? Like you aren't someone to be discounted."

He looks at me again and my eyes seek out the floor once more.

If it was ever in any doubt…I don't think I'm going to survive this.

That night we watch the Reapings replayed on the television in a compartment nearby.

I have washed myself and shed my dress for something from the Capitol, a light dress that I tug a dressing robe over for decency. Along with Darrien, Flora and Finnick I curl up on the couch to watch the Reapings.

First is District 1, with a willowy blonde girl with green eyes. Beautiful, and confident, walking up onto the stage with her lovely flaxen head held high.

The boy is quieter, less obvious but he's still confident, smiling at the crowd and giving them a jaunty wave.

How can he be so…calm? I wonder, tucking my knees up to my chest. And she is just as calm. They look ready, and like they had been expecting to be called to this.

Glimmer and Marvel, they are full of confidence, and belief they can win.

Next is District 2 and my heart seems to stutter.

The girl, Clove, is intense, like a little dark cloud of energy. She's alight with it, this eager fervency. She moves with intent, and she scares me, even through a television she scares me.

But nowhere near as much as her partner.

The boy whose name is actually called is sixteen, but he doesn't even have to move a pace before another boy almost seems to bound forward.

"I volunteer!"

He's so eager, so sure of himself. And with good reason. He's huge, tall and strong, muscled, with a handsome face and fair hair. He's confident, striding up to the stage like it is his birthright, and states his name.


His eyes look into the camera for a moment, and it's like being doused in icy water. Those blue eyes are cold, determined, and pitiless and I feel my heartrate pick up.

This is a Career, trained to kill. Lethal.

I have no hope.

Especially when my own Reaping comes on and I see my pathetic performance, throwing up, trembling.

I am a joke, and my cheeks burn with shame.

No one else throws up, a few cry, but most are stoic as they take to the stage, glassy eyed. In shock.

The only exception is in District 12 where a girl lunges forward to volunteer for her sister, and she just looks like she's ready to take the world on. She stares down the cameras and keeps her head high, and I feel a pang of longing in my chest.

Why couldn't I be brave like that?

Lying in my cabin afterwards, tucked into a bed that is silky and softer than anything I could have imagined, I let the tears come.

I cry because I have no hope of going home, of seeing my mother again, my father. I've seen them for the last time, and while they'll see me, on the screens for the Hunger Games, they will also have to watch me die.

I cry because I wish I was home, and I can imagine our little kitchen right now so clearly. If I hadn't been Reaped my mother would have cooked a fish tonight, brought in by my father. There would have been laughter and the special bottle of wine my mother keeps safe. She buys it every year the day after Reaping Day, and saves it until I'm safe for another year.

I cry because that bottle won't be drunk this year.

I cry because I'm frightened. I don't want to die, the idea terrifies me, sinking into nothingness, life just snuffed out, nothing after that. It's not fair…I've read so much about living…I want to at least try it.

I cry because I'm ashamed. I'm the coward of the 74th Hunger Games. The girl who puked on her way up onto the stage. The girl who was so weak she couldn't even make it to the Capitol without letting everyone know she was easy prey.

I cry because I'm never going to swim in the sea again, and I wish with all my heart I could hear the ocean now.

Because then, I might not feel so horribly doomed…and alone.