On Secast, the first day of the weekend, Finch honoured his promise and met with Artus. He came to Finch’s house a few sixths after sunrise, and they headed south, to one of the public squares that was near the Conflict temple.
He found himself enjoying their game of territory fight a lot more than he expected, running through the town chasing people and searching for the flag. He had finally met kids that weren’t Artus or Alice.
There were a lot of people, Finch counted seventeen kids including himself. He only managed to catch a few names. There was Jutt, Hallin, Halith, Alm, Ahriss, Millich, Roah, and of course Artus. It seemed that only Finch, Hallin and one of the girls, Jutt, were Riley. Finch noticed that everyone else was Solune, not that it mattered to him.
Even though Finch made the group an odd, prime number, Artus still managed to divide them into what he believed to be two fair groups, and most matches ended up very close as a result.
Finch quickly learned the rules. There were two flags. For one team it was a shirt, for the other it was a sandal, and each group was to hide theirs. If someone buried it, or hid it particularly well, they had to make sure that at least one fist-sized area of it was visible. Artus had said that a match often became very boring without this rule.
Territory fight is a game that starts slow, both teams playing a much harder version of hide and seek, almost ignoring each other. If you tagged someone from the other team then they had to go back to their base for twenty-five seconds. While searching for the flags no one much bothered with tagging. Either one team would find the other’s flag, or the other would become suspicious of a specific area because they kept getting tagged if they got near it. Then it all went to chaos, as the defending team tried as hard as they could to search while still defending. The most enjoyable games of territory fight were those in which both teams found out who had the flag. That’s when things got interesting.
Finch had a lot of fun playing, but he was a little more interested in what the kids did while waiting between games. Jutt or Artus usually gave new rules to fix issues, or yelled at some kid about breaking one. Artus also liked to shift people around in the name of balance.
But Finch wasn’t really paying attention to them either, he was watching the crowds of children as they divided themselves. They seemed to be from three or four different groups, like they wouldn’t usually play together if it weren’t for need of extra people in territory fight. Finch had the suspicion that the whole reason a lot of them still gathered was because of Alice. It was something of a legacy.
After a couple of games, Finch said, “Have you guys tried playing out in the fields outside the castle?”
Jutt turned on him, her usually low voice becoming oddly normal-pitched, “What? We can’t do that!”
Finch turned to her, confused, “Why not?”
“Well, I don’t know how your father takes care of you, but most of us aren’t allowed out of the city.” She replied quickly, as though this was to be the end of the discussion. Despite her tone, Finch made sure it wasn’t.
“It doesn’t seem that bad out there, and there’s this great area with short grass, it’s perfect really. We can hide the flags in the brush” He continued.
“I can’t believe you!” Jutt said.
“Well, now, hang on,” Finch shouted loud enough that everyone could hear, “Hey! Who out of you hung out with the dangerous beast Alice before she was exiled?”
All but a couple of them lifted their hands, including the reluctant Jutt.
“And,” he went on, “How many of you were told to avoid her by your parents?”
Everyone except Artus, whose parents Finch remembered had always been very understanding, kept their hands up.
“Well, there you go. This seems far less dangerous than hanging out with a monster,” Finch said, mocking the word, “It’s not like this lot isn’t used to breaking a few little rules.”
While Finch was having a lot of fun, both he and his friends were getting tired, and it seemed Jutt was getting more nervous as the hours passed. She kept looking at the gates, and down the north and westbound paths, and also becoming worse and worse as a player, and forcing Artus to shift people around more than usual. He didn’t complain though, he really enjoyed the process.
At a certain point, a long time before dusk, Jutt decided to end the games during a break.
“Okay,” She said after the final match, “That’s it for today.”
The rest of the group, especially Finch, were very tired by now. Most of them were sitting on the grass at a trampled area. It had become a sort of unofficial meeting place for them between matches. Most nodded to agree with Jutt, the rest lay back, looking at the sky.
“Yeah, I’m late for lunch.” Artus said, “Coming back home Finch? We live near each other, we can walk together.”
“No, uh, I’m going to go to the castle actually.” Finch stammered.
“What for?” Asked Artus.
Finch was almost ready to convince Artus that he had been exploring the place, but he doubted that would sound convincing.
Instead he said, “I’ve made a friend and I want to see if she’s there today.”
That wasn’t a lie.
Artus shrugged, “Okay, see you later. Should I tell you when we’re going to play next? Have you ever played with more than two teams? It gets weird!”
“Yeah, tell me next time.” Finch nodded.
The children began making their way back toward the gate and into town. Artus was running. He and Finch generally liked to run to places. In fact, the only place that Finch didn’t run to was the library. He liked to think of what he was going to get as he walked there, and didn’t like to run with books on his way back.
Jutt had stopped near Finch, taking her hair out of a ponytail.
“It’s nice, this place. I just feel nervous out here in the open.” She said.
“Yeah,” Finch agreed, “I see what you mean now. In the city there’s all the walls and buildings.”
“And the guard,” Jutt continued.
Jutt stood there for a while, watching the crowd that was quite a ways away now, before saying, “Well, bye.”
“Yeah, see you next time,” Finch said as she walked away.
He found it nice to see that there were other Riley people in the city.
Finch watched Artus disappear into town, and then looked at Jutt for a moment before standing up and heading to the castle to find Chloe.