In the hut Theo lies still. A dim moonlight from the opening space beneath the roof lights her. . .
Nonna stands over her, watching. The Mother’s women have already cleaned her head with water.
“If you fall asleep tonight, the painted canines will eat you by the morning sun,” the Mother says to him.
Theo squints her eyes and rolls away toward the wall in the gold bedding grass. Nonna turns to address the Mother, but she walks back past the Ashirah pole to the dun-colored skin-flap door. There the Leader stands waiting for her. They both leave together in the dusk. There will be an assembly tonight with the Elders.
When he is sure they are gone, Nonna peers down the row of poles to the platform. He sees sticky blood on the stones and cringes and turns back to Theo. But she is not in her sleeping place. Instead, she is in the middle, spitting onto the Ashirah pole.
“What?” He says. And she spits again and walks toward him. “I’m going out.” The spots on her scalp glisten red and she has tears in her eyes. Beneath her right eye, he sees a single strand of long hair dangling.
“You are not,” he says.
“Will you stop me?”
He does not answer her.
“Why should I care what happens to you?” she says.
Again he does not answer.
“I spit on Ashirah because they spit on me.”
“It is the Way.”
“It is the Way they have it,” she says. “I am nothing. They will scorn me. They will mock me and treat me like a dog and then they will replace me.”
“You are the Gift. They are happy for what you have done. They cannot replace you.”
“You do not know. You are ignorant. They will make another.”
She walks to the place where the Leader keeps his things. Nonna follows her, and when she picks up a stone blade from the dark wood surface he grabs her wrists and removes the object. She immediately picks up a small spear that leans against the mud and thatch wall, but he moves to take that from her also. This time she does not relent.
She bares her teeth and struggles with him – strong in her anger. Stronger than he could imagine, and she pushes him against the wood, where the Leader’s things lie. A few of the tokens fall onto the floor. But Nonna does not release the spear. Then she strikes him hard in the face and lifts her knee to hit his groin. He blocks her and twists the spear in her hands so that she too must twist
She falls to the floor in a sob. “Terreo will kill you for touching me.”
“Terreo is my father.”
She giggles and then laughs uncontrollably from the floor. “Anyone is your father, you fool,” she says, standing up.
He becomes angry and grits his teeth.
“Don’t be silly . . . Nonna.” She says his name slowly, like it means “stupid.”
“Who is your father?” he asks.
She moves like she will strike him again but then walks off to the flap and goes out. He lets her go. He does not care what she does now that she has insulted him.
But when the flap closes he runs out after her.
She does not. He rushes into the late light and sees Theo watching as two Hunters emerge from the savannah trail. Meckle carries Kakoaw over his back. He places him onto the hard-trod dirt in line with the poles.
Meckle calls out and two Hunters come from the huts. They begin tending Kakoaw’s shattered leg. But when they touch him, he grabs at the Hunters’ chests and arms. Nonna can see that the leg is crooked.
A Hunter then grabs hold of Kakoaw’s foot at the ankle and pulls the leg straight. It makes a terrible crack when it straightens and Kakoaw cries in babbles. Just then, Meckle notices Theo standing near him. Nonna runs to catch up. When he gets closer, Meckle take up Theo’s hand in his own. She is motionless except for her tears.
“I am sorry for you,” he says. “It will grow back. You are still precious.” His smile is hard and he moves his hand to her cheek and blots the tears.
Nonna does not like it. “We have to return to the hut.” To Meckle he says, “The Leader has made me watch her.”
“You do a poor job.”
“She does not want to be watched.”
The Leader then emerges from the Elders’ hut.
“The boy did this?” He asks Meckle.
“We climbed the wall up to the forest where no one goes and the boy pushed a rock onto him. He is a demon boy. But I will kill him for you.”
“You let the child escape!”
“Kakoaw would have died.”
“You carried him?”
“Yes. I would not leave him for a boy I can catch anytime.”
Then the Leader sees Nonna and Theo. His eyes grow wide. He moves forward and grabs Nonna’s arm. “Why is she out?”
“She ran. I followed. I did not think it right to touch her.”
Meckle smirks behind the Leader and then the Leader releases Nonna. “Bring her back. If she runs again you stop her. Go!”
Following the command, Nonna takes Theo by the hand and they walk away. As they leave, Nonna hears Meckle saying, “I saw two others on the steep trail. Breyuw was carrying her hair up the mountain.”
“Why would they go that way?” the Leader asks.
“The gated trail is dangerous now. We’ve had some attacks, and they wanted to be sure to make it so they went around.”
The Leader then turns away.