In the early light Theo takes the ointments the Followers prepared and covers Terreo’s mutilated scars with them. . .
Then she sits with him and holds his head while he groans in pain.
“I have to go.”
He takes her hand and lifts himself off the bed mat. When he stands, he seems confused and she reaches out to grab him but he holds her away, his arm covered in sweat. When he walks forward he groans.
“You don’t have to,” she says.
“It is the Way. It is my time.”
“But they’ve weakened you with their ointments. I know it.”
“This has to be clean,” he says. “He must be greater than me.”
Lifting the flap he walks out into the morning, covering his eyes against the sun as he goes. He leaves the hut and walks down the row of Ashirah poles, staggering as he continues on the dirt. She stands behind him as he mounts the platform to look out over the savannah.
Some Gatherers mull around at the forest edge, picking berries. A few linger behind in the long huts. They do not hide themselves from him anymore and instead openly look, but when he turns his murderous gaze they run. Only Nonna remains and moves closer. Theo waves him off. He does not obey and walks beside the platform to watch Terreo.
Terreo stares blankly over the golden grass of the savannah, unaware or uncaring of Nonna’s presence. The Terror remains in this spot for a time, then he hops down onto the ground beside Nonna and staggers again on his way to the Warriors’ hut. He is huge compared to it. A few Warriors lean in the doorway. Bandoaw praises him as he passes, happy that he is seeing Terreo out of the hut for the first time in so long. But Terreo ignores him and takes a stone headed spear from among several hanging on the wall and walks away.
When he does, Theo scolds Nonna, “Stop following him.”
“He is back!” Nonna says with a pride she finds pathetic.
“He needs rest. Go now!”
The Warriors mock the Gatherer boy: “Little Nonna. Is Terreo your daddy? Are you a Warrior? You couldn’t even watch a girl.” This angers him and he tries to follow Terreo, but she yells at him again. When she does, the Warriors laugh more and Nonna walks away in shame.
Terreo reaches his hut but does not enter, instead he stands rigid at the door and begins to sweat.
“Go in,” Terreo commands as Theo comes toward him.
“You are sick. You know you are. You have to go in,” she demands.
He grabs her wrists and pushes her through the flap and remains there holding the spear just below its jagged stone blade. If it were not for his sweating, he would show no signs of life at all. Theo brings him food from inside but he does not eat. His eyes stare forward and he ignores her. Then she returns with more of the ointment and puts it on his skin.
“You need rest,” she says, but again he does not answer. She remains there beside him, pleading, when Meckle marches up the row of Ashirah poles coming from the forest gate. He holds the pelt of a hawk in his hand. The yellow talons dangle. He does not look at Terreo. Terreo does not look at him.
But Meckle walks past the hut and enters the witchdoctor’s. Soon the Leader emerges with Meckle together and they go to the hut of the Elders. The Leader pushes Meckle inside and then turns and comes to Terreo who holds firm in his place in the sun.
“Are you ready? Someone has killed a Follower and left a raptor pelt at the forest gate. Meckle brought the corpse when he came from his time with Her. We need the Terror now. This must be decided.”
“I know,” Terreo says and stares at the Leader with dead eyes – eyes that have killed for a lifetime. “Always ready,” he adds.
In front of the hut, the Leader clutches Terreo’s side and pokes into his scar, back and front. He stares ahead. She has seen him sleep with more discomfort. Then the Leader grabs his arm. “We do not want them to know that you are still hurt.” He walks away. Terreo remains as he was. Theo begins to cry.
Meckle then takes up a spot opposite Terreo. He is holding a spear. He is painted in blood. In his other hand he grips a stone-headed club. The two men face each other without any movement until the afternoon.
Soon the Gatherers return from their day. They see Meckle. They see Terreo, and without instruction form a mass at their place along the row. The Warriors and Hunters already hold their appointed places, and the Elders come out to join them standing beside the platform.
Dahtah emerges from his hut with the virgin skull and paints Terreo. He shouts and waves the shaft. He dances and sprinkles blood on the dirt, drinking some and spitting the rest in a mist around Terreo’s body. He talks to the old spirits, speaking in runes: in the mystery language. The Followers return his words and keep rhythm. Then he goes to Meckle and does the same; dousing him with the sacred blood in addition to what he has applied himself.
The Leader and Mother emerge from their hut surrounded by women in brilliant bird feathers. The Leader then charges forward and stands between the two Warriors and speaks.
“Ashirah allowed Terreo’s wound.” He shouts. “He is shamed. We will allow him to fight for himself. Meckle brought the Gift’s braids to Ashirah. He lived with her. He is the Warrior now. He returned with the rain. He will impose Ashirah’s will.”
With these words, the Leader takes a raptor feather from his head and drops it into the middle of the row and returns to the gaggle. There are no sounds. Both Warriors are like stone.
Then Terreo moves forward from his doorway. Theo reaches out to him, but he goes into the row, away from her. She sees sweat beading in his lower back above his skins and onto his thighs. He stumbles slightly and regains himself, carrying only the spear.
Meckle still does not move and stands as if he is sleeping. Terreo moves closer still and lifts his spear but Meckle slaps it to the side with his stone-headed club. Hoisting his spear, Terreo backs away. As he does so, Meckle returns to the position he started in, with the weapons at his sides. He is calm.
As he exerts himself, Terreo sweats more and looks sick. Theo walks farther into the row from the hut opening but cannot get any closer. As Terreo stalks to his right with his spear, Meckle turns and follows him, smirking. Then without any warning, he launches his club overhand in a violent arc.
Terreo ducks but is slow and the club clatters off his skull. He stumbles backward, blood flowing down his baldhead onto his back and down his legs. A white piece shows on his head surrounded by torn skin. He is stumbling. Terreo then lifts the spear with his right arm and, with his left, aims. Theo wants him to be true but knows otherwise. He throws his spear. Meckle does not move, and keeps his eyes closed inviting Terreo to impale him. The spear passes him and strikes a Gatherer woman who tumbles down with a scream. Some of the Gatherers tend her. Nonna shouts beside her.
Meckle now opens his eyes. He drops his spear and in a leap covers the distance between them, catching Terreo by the throat. Some Gatherers gasp. Nonna continues shouting while Meckle squeezes.
Terreo raises his arms to pull Meckle’s hands away, but he cannot. Meckle is strong. Terreo is weak, sweating, choking. His eyes are huge: bloodshot with rage and sickness.
Meckle forces Terreo onto the ground on his knees. Then he takes up his neck in his arm and draws back the head. Terreo shouts. His eyes are wild. Nonna runs up and Meckle smashes him with the back of his hand. His nose and mouth bleed in the dirt. He is crying when Meckle breaks the fighting man’s neck like a child’s with a loud snap. Meckle then stands Terreo up for all to see. His tongue is out and purple. His eyes roll back in his head and blood escapes his nose and ears. Then Meckle drags him and stands him on the platform while Theo weeps at the door to his hut.
Meckle lets Terreo go, and his body falls into the dirt before the Gatherers at the platform edge. They converge around the dead man. Some of them touch him. Meckle walks over and retrieves the raptor feather from the center of the poles as the Followers take Terreo’s body to dress it for its ignominy.
Meckle notices Nonna crying in the dirt and turns to him. “Are you brave?” he says to the boy.
“You killed him.”
“Will you kill me?” Meckle asks, but Nonna does not answer. “Be a Warrior then.” Meckle shouts and yanks Nonna off the ground. “Take a spear and go kill the demon and be a Warrior, if that is what you are.”
“No,” Nonna says.
“The painted canines will eat you if you do not obey
Nonna is afraid.
“Go and take a spear and rations. I will give you a Warrior. Go and kill the demon in the forest and you will be one. That is what you want. Then have it. He is on the trail; I found the body he killed. Go to the spot where the grasses begin in the forest. You will find him there! Kill him and you will be a Warrior.”
He pushes Nonna toward where the Warriors stand. They heard what he said.
“The boy wants to be a Warrior. Let him be.”
The Leader nods at this suggestion. Then Meckle points to Bandoaw, and this Warrior steps forward. “Go with him!” he says, and then turns and walks past Theo into Terreo’s hut.
After she watches the Gatherer women return to their long huts, she too goes inside what used to be Terreo’s hut. After a time she comes out with the old bed mats and throws them over the promontory. Her face is streaked. Then she goes to the Gatherers’ quarters. There she takes the grasses from the women and returns to the Leader’s hut to stitch a new set for Meckle’s bed.