They are taking Theo into Dahtah’s hut to be prepared for Meckle . . .
It has been over one full cycle of seasons since the Mother told her she would be his. They say that her gift will be to bring forth her further people. She must lay with him. But he must wait the full cycle before they consummate. The Gatherers know this.
She has already prepared the bedding that they will make their own. Now she must undergo the final preparations for the ceremony. All the Gatherers will be present for her in the morning.
The Mother and the Leader bring her inside the hut. They sit on mats. The Followers paint her with flower pollen and egg yolk so that she may be clean. They pull the pollen from pale buds with heavy petals and crisp stems. The eggs are from the yellow birds that nest on the savannah island. They smear the dust with an eyelash brush and the yolk with one made of animal tail.
Dahtah speaks to her now. She is not clothed. There are yellow lines and swirls on her skin. The virgins look on. Then a Follower presses her belly and stops. It is full. He calls for Dahtah, who was preparing flowers with herbs for her to ingest to be clean. Dahtah comes close to her under the light from the sun in the wall. She trembles and tries covering herself with her hands but they hold her. She cries.
Dahtah sniffs her. He is holding her belly and pushing. She can feel it. There is movement. The Mother stands now, watching. She too trembles. Dahtah then shouts and raises his hands off her womb. When he does, the Followers release her and she rolls onto her side and begins sobbing. The virgins bring her the skins and the feathers she will wear when she leaves. She puts these on.
Now she has her feet on the floor where the fallen petals lie. There is dirt between her toes. She hears them talking, but she shakes too badly to listen fully.
She rocks her head to the side and then wipes her cheeks and nose. When she looks up, the Leader is livid. The Mother cries out. “A child?”
Dahtah jumps beside her and flicks her with ointments that smell. The Mother goes silent, but stands quietly watching Theo. Then the Mother takes her hand and drags her out into the row of Ashirah poles.
Meckle is standing there, waiting for her in the light of day. He rubs his foot in the dirt when he sees them. Theo watches him. He whispers at her. But the Mother does not stop beside him. She moves past with Theo and her preferred woman and continues on into their hut without saying a word. Meckle moves to follow her but stops. Then the Leader exits Dahtah’s hut and walks over to the Warrior. He is yelling, and Meckle begins to yell also.
The woman closes the flap behind them and the Mother strikes Theo with the back of her hand. She falls to the floor.
“Meckle?” the Mother says.
Theo shakes her head and the Mother flushes with rage and begins to gasp. “Who, then?”
Theo cries in the dirt. “No! No!”
“You are shameful. Your hair was taken; what else do you need?” She is twisting Theo’s cheek. Then she lifts her and seats her against the Ashirah pole in the center of the hut. She does not say a word for a time and walks off. Then the Leader enters. He keeps his hands folded before him and he walks over to the girl who shivers in the center of the room.
“Tell him,” the Mother says, “tell him!”
“I don’t . . . I don’t,” she sobs.
“You don’t what? Say.”
“Meckle,” she says. “I do not love him.”
“Love. Who tells you this? Who?” The Mother crosses the room and strikes Theo again. Her face is streaked.
“I do not want to say.”
Her words are hardly understandable among her cries and whines. The Mother strikes her again while the Leader looks on. And Theo becomes nearly incoherent as she talks again. “I do not love him, I don’t. They taught me about it. They told me what it is. He killed Terreo; I cannot have him. I cannot have it. I can’t.”
“He killed Terreo? And did you love him?”
“I do not love Meckle.” She hesitates and says, “I want to be like them; they are happy. They are the ones happy. He would stare at me. I hated him, but he wanted me to be happy, he didn’t want me to cry. I put flowers on the savannah and made him follow me. He loved me. I want to be like them. To be happy.”
“You are a curse!” The Mother shouts, holding a knife she has taken from the Leader’s place. She moves toward Theo and slashes. The blade cuts her cheek. Theo falls over screaming and the Leader grabs the hand that holds the blade. “No!”
“I will slaughter her myself.”
“No. They will believe it is an omen.”
“It is an omen. What does it matter? She thinks she is one of them.” Then she turns back to Theo. “Who?”
“He was a Gatherer boy. He would stare at me. He wanted me to be happy. I knew him. I showed him and then he knew, but I had to teach him because he was afraid. He does not know.”
“Who?” But Theo does not say.
“It is not for me.” The girl cries.
“You put flowers! And a Gatherer? How would a Gatherer boy know the flowers?”
“I had to teach him. I took him from the berries after the morning food was served.”
“The way you took Pyramie from the Gatherers when he touched the sky fire?”
“I love Pyramie.”
“Who is this other one?”
“You killed Pyramie but you won’t. . .”
“You will not know!”
The Mother trembles and drops the obsidian onto the dirt. The Leader then takes the Mother and walks her over to the bedding so that she can rest. And Theo remains where she is.
From where she lies the Mother shouts, “You are them then! Go with them. Have your baby like they do in the dirt. Work like they do in the dirt.” She stands and is inconsolable. The Leader holds her and calls for one of the Elders, and the preferred woman runs out to retrieve one.
“You put flowers? Ashirah! You are a curse. They cannot know. You must go away.”
“Stop it,” the Leader says.
Then the preferred woman enters with the Elder behind her. The man is bald. He comes into the hut on his knees.
“She has told me,” the Elder says.
“She cannot live,” the Mother says to him. “She must be slaughtered at once.”
“No, no. They will know. Meckle will not have her, and he cannot. She must go to Her in the high place. She will perform rites and use the herbs. She will take the baby. She will be a virgin for Her there. They cannot know. This will be to credit us. We cannot make a sacrifice of her. It would not be proper.”
“Why would it not be after what she has done?”
“They cannot know what she has done. She will give her life in service instead for Ashirah.”
“But she will sleep in their quarters like them before we take her, if she is going to put flowers like they do.”
“A virgin would not sleep in their quarters. It cannot be done. She must go as she is.”
“And why is it that you have taught her love?” the Mother says.
The old man stutters. “We taught her the old way so that she knew. She was supposed to know the old way.”
“She is the Gift. She was to know only how to be for her people, now she thinks she does not love Meckle, and now she thinks she is one of them.”
“We have done only as we were told.”
“I would have you slaughtered . . . you . . . teacher . . . if I did not think the Gatherers would see an omen in your death.” She points her long painted finger at him.
“I am sorry, Mother.”