He walks to the place where he killed the old man . . .
But when he reaches the depression where it is cool and moist the body is gone. Footprints ring the mud at the edge of the stream and lead to the forest away from the trail.
He makes a noise in anger and rushes to the pool. He puts his toes in, but submerges no further. Black soot covers him from head to foot and sweat streaks course his face. “This is my paint.” He says. “You use the blood. I have brought the fire.” Then he goes out among the trees and takes dry branches and twigs from the forest.
He returns and makes a small stack of tinder and splashes the white fires onto it from the stone pieces he took from the woman. Heaping up sticks, he creates a fire as darkness comes. The red embers and shoots of flame dance before him.
In the firelight he sees the place where he lay with Theo behind the water and grits his teeth. Looking down to Ashirah’s head on his waist, he unties her long hair and removes the binding over her eyes and looks into them. She is peaceful. He did not hurt her; he killed her.
“It is not yours anymore,” he shouts, his voice echoing off the rocks as he dangles her head out in front of him. He rebinds her eyes and looks at the water and then back at the fire.
Soon he collects a bundle of the golden grasses growing by the trail and ties them in a knot around the stone-headed staff he took from the Follower so long ago. He makes a ball like a large bird’s nest at the tip. When he holds this to the flame the ball glows yellow-red in an instant. The flaming nest makes strange noises in the wind, and he walks to the dark forest edge and casts light with the flaming staff.
He is happy with what he has done and looks into the forest for a time, until he wants to see into the dark water. Then he plunges the flaming staff into the pool, hoping to find the fish that ate the man’s body as they swim. But the fire only hisses and dies.
Reigniting the dripping ball in the fire fails, and he has to return and take more grass to make another flaming staff. He does so and lets it burn off until the rock gleams red, and he plunges it into the water and hears it hiss. Then he takes the end of the staff and holds it up to his eyes.
It is burnt and the sinews that hold the stone are blackened, but it is still strong. He makes another flaming staff and watches the fire burn. There are noises at the forest edge.
He does not sleep.
When he sees the morning light shining above on the mountain he gathers his things together and runs down the trail again. Not bothering to eat, he reaches his old dwelling and sits in the mossy opening by the blackened rocks in the center and cries. There are memories here that are alive and they cover him.
Then he enters the bramble where his head nearly pokes out of the opening in the top. Looking to his side, he finds the flower that he made for her from the leaf all the while ago and takes it in his hand. The leaf skin has dried, but it has held the shape and the memory. He clutches it to his breast and grits his teeth.
He walks out of his dwelling carrying weapons and a goddess. On the trail he takes a bundle of gold grasses and binds them together along with the wooden spears. He hoists them onto his back with the stone-headed club that Meckle left so long ago and begins running toward the village with the obsidian spear in one hand and the fire staff in the other. Ashirah’s blind head hangs from his waist.