Over on our forum we've been running a writing competition based on the theme of 'The Rookie'. We have had some excellent entries and we our Writer, Sherwin, took the time to read each and every entry. We would like to congratulate forum user 'TwoBands' who won a Farmer's Guild - The Honest Land with his entry titled 'Red Skies at Dawn'...
Red Skies at Dawn
The team sat around, looking up at the stern face of their captain, his arms folded, staring into space amongst them. He took in a sharp breath, daring himself to speak, but the words stuck in his throat, hesitant. It hadn’t been easy for him, taking on this mantle, and he was doing his best to honour the memory of his predecessor. The assembled figures before him looked on in anticipation, offering their wholehearted support.
“I know this is hard, but we’ve come through worse in these few months.” Grange managed at last, steeling his nerves. “We can’t go on short-handed, and that’s a fact. The Guild has sent us a new player, all the way from Castellya, and I’ve been assured he’s capable.”
The assorted figures around him gave a variety of reactions, from nods to grunts to intakes of breath, to a stony silence that possibly showed a lack of understanding for the situation.
“First and foremost, we’re a family,” he continued, “and we look out for each other, and we get the work done.” Signs of approval began to flourish around him. “The coach says he’ll be a great asset to our mid-field, and from what I’ve seen I’m inclined to believe her.” Turning his head slightly, Grange called back over his shoulder. “Come on in, boy.”
The door opened, creaking on its old hinges, as in stepped a young lad, on the cusp on manhood, lanky and tussle-haired. He looked nervous to be presented to the room, and stooped in hesitantly, one hand reaching absentmindedly for the back of his great mop of pale brown curls to scratch his scalp, the other raised lightly in greeting.
“This here shepherd boy is dab-hand with his tool of the trade. That’s why they call him Crook. Good at chasing people down and keeping them penned in.” Grange reached up and clapped a hand on the lad’s shoulder, making the boy smile awkwardly, a mix of pride and discomfort.
It was Millstone who first stepped forwards to shake the newcomer’s hand, followed by Harrow and then Tater. Bushel led her brother Windle up to do the same, and sensing the embarrassment that Crook was obviously undergoing at being made the centre of attention, wiggled her fingers in a nervous wave, which seemed to bring a genuine smile to his face.
“Training begins again tomorrow, and Crook will be joining you. We’ll have to get him used to the animals, and Jack, in due course.” Crook noticed Grange quirk a brow as he added the last part, which didn’t do a lot to help his jitters.
There was no doubt the boy was nimble, Honour mused to herself, as she watched the practice from the sidelines. He was agile and accurate with his namesake, swinging it with great effect, keeping other players close when they tried and escape, and tripping them when it suits. What worried her was whether or not he had the guts to really lash out. She’d caught him being gentle with Bushel already, and he’d let Windle scare him off of a well-timed trip. He was raw talent, that was for sure.
She cupped her hands around her mouth and bellowed “Shepherd boy” across the dusty scrub ground, when it was safe to distract him; although she noted that was another area in which he would need to be put through his paces. As she caught his eye, and waved him in, Crook came jogging across to her, leaving the others to their jostling and passing, a little out of breath from work he had put in this morning.
“How are you enjoying your first practice?” She asked, testing him on his honesty, and his diplomacy.
“I’m...” he stuttered, taking in a new breath, “I am finding it challenging.” He was a little nervous as he spoke, and Honour reasoned this was something that would fade in time. Currently, he was like a fish out of water, or a Brewer out of cups, as the saying went. If he was to have a lingering anxiety about playing the sport, he would not have agreed to come here. There must be a passion in him that’s buried behind his natural shyness.
“That I can see.” The words were matter-of-fact, but as he looked upon her face, she softened to a smile. “What you need to help you overcome this challenge is a sense of your place in the team. It’s obvious, watching you, that you’re unsure of yourself. You’ve only ever played in the sticks, am I right?”
“Mostly with the other shepherds, and some other folks from my village.” He leant on his staff, finding a little support whilst his legs screamed at him to unburden them, stooping a little as he did so, bringing his eye line down closer to hers.
“I know what this team needs, and I know what you can give them. You’re not a beater, and we’re going to have to work on your skill with the ball,” he blushed a little as she gave her critique, “but you’re a guardian. You need to think of your teammates as your flock. If someone is coming to hurt one of your flock, you trip them. If someone raises a weapon, you hook their hand and stop them striking. If someone is trying to get away, you pull them back in. Those other teams, they’re all wolves, and they’re all after that flock out there.” She gestured to the rag-tag group of Farmers players still practicing. “You are their shepherd. So go, and watch over them.” She nodded, and the boy turned a smile at her, a sign of genuine pride painted on his face.
As Crook hobbled back onto the pitch, a pang of nerves hit him again. He swallowed it down, picking up his pace into a stride, taking the weight off of his stick. He’d never lost a sheep before, and now seemed like a bad time to begin.
If you'd like to read more of the entries they are all available here