It is early and Theo leaves the hut. She lets the flap fall behind her and turns to find Meckle before the opening . . .
He stands in the fresh light off the promontory and watches her. When she comes near, he puts his hand on her cheek, but she doesn’t respond.
“Is this what you will be?” he says.
“I am for the Astarte. That is what I will be.”
“You do the work of a Gatherer woman.” He brushes his fingers down her arm and examines the empty pouch. “You should not fall so low.”
“Terreo is not low.”
He smiles and moves his hand to her hip. “Do your chores, then,” he says and releases her.
“He needs to be cared for by me!” she says, “It is the Way.”
“It is the Way for now.” He walks into Dahtah’s hut where the Mother and the Leader stand waiting. The Mother and the Leader are upset and Meckle does not speak. Then he emerges from the flap with her braids over his shoulder.
He walks down the row of Ashirah poles holding the braids aloft. He takes his spear from the Warriors’ quarters and marches to the Gatherers’ huts where a woman fills pouches with food. She hands these to him. He caresses her cheek and turns away.
He then returns to Theo and says, “I will bring these to Her for you. I will take away your shame. You will not have to behave like a Gatherer woman when I have finished. You will be thankful then!” he says, and walks to the forest gate where no one goes.
Some of the Gatherer women watch as he moves and whisper among themselves. They return to their work when they see Theo. She in turn goes to them. The few Gatherer women drop to their knees before her.
The ripe vegetation they wear bound around them barely covers their round bodies. They are dirty. Their hair is matted. One of the women’s hands is cracked and bleeding, and Theo takes the red ointment from the pouch.
“Here,” she says to the Gatherer. “This will heal your wound.”
The woman bows her head and Theo applies the balm, slowly rubbing it into the dirty cracks where she worked them open.
When Theo finishes, she lets the woman’s hand fall and the woman drops to the ground and kisses her feet. At that Theo pulls away and bows to her. The other Gatherer glares at her with scorn.
“I helped her.”
“You do not behave like the Gift.” The Woman says.
“Stop it, she has helped me. She is supposed to help us.”
“No, she is not. She is not supposed to do our work. She is not a common Gatherer. Why does she act like one?”
Theo raises her hand to strike the woman but then stops.
The woman walks away.
“Come back,” Theo says, but she does not mean it. The pride has left her voice. She begins to cry. She is crying when the boy Nahane comes to her.
“Why aren’t you gathering?”
“I am sorry. You are not happy.”
“You are the Gatherer boy who was staring at me. Don’t you know you are not allowed?”
He does not answer, and she becomes angry. “Leave me. I don’t need your help,” she says.
“I love you,” he says.
“How do you know that word?”
He does not respond and she runs away from him, back to Terreo’s hut.
The man rises from his mat when she enters.
“No,” she says. “Rest. I only have the red ointment for the surface wound.”
“Are you all right?” he asks.
“You sound like you have been crying.”
“I haven’t!” she nearly shouts.
He lies back, stretches out and moans in pain.
“You are hurt, please, don’t move. You must not move if I am to make you better.”
“You cannot make me better now.”