The light is coming. Theo walks to Dahtah’s hut. . .
When she reaches it she takes the dressings from the several baskets against the mud wall and moves on to the ointments. The green one she comes to first and then the red, lifting them into her pouches with a carved gourd. They say the gourd is one of the first gifts Ashirah gave to their people.
Theo pushes this thought aside and returns toward Terreo’s hut. But as she quietly passes the entrance of the witchdoctor’s hut, one of the Followers emerges and puts his hand on her shoulder. She turns quickly toward him. His eyes move over her from her feet and then stop to inspect the things she carries.
“He needs more splitroot,” the Follower says.
She takes more of the mashed red substance from its place and walks away. Again the Follower stops her by the crooked fence gate.
“Wait,” he says, “don’t be so quick.”
“He needs his dressings now,” she says. “I must hurry.”
But the Follower keeps his hand on Theo’s shoulder.
“Dahtah has something else for you to give him. He was able to take it from the forest where no one goes. He has had Followers there for a season trying to find it. They only just returned.”
“Did they see him when they were there?” She asks.
“Why do you care?”
The Follower stands waiting for her to respond. She says nothing, but holds out her hand for the substance.
“What is it you want me to give to him? Just tell me,” she says.
He raises a filthy carved gourd, dotted with thick yellow hunks. Black ooze stains its walls.
When he hands it to Theo she cringes.
“What is this?”
“It is Ashirah’s Yellow: orpiment mixed with other land substances so that it may seep in him better.”
He gives it to her and she leaves, holding the strangely carved gourd away from her body. When she looks back to the Follower, he is frowning. His eyes are hard brown.
“Put it into him first and then cover it with the others in the same mixture,” he calls to her.
At the end of the village some of the Gatherer women clean their area after the morning’s eating. They laugh with one another. Two little girls scurry in front of the long hut in the dirt, naked, while a lone boy-child throws berries at them and they scream in happiness.
She watches them now more openly, but to her right and across the row, the Mother stands at her hut’s entrance watching Theo. She is not dressed to be seen. She says nothing. She only looks on with curiosity. But this angers Theo who walks back to Terreo’s hut without looking at her again.
She enters the flap and ties it back with an intestine string and a bone latch. Then she puts down her things and mumbles to herself in anger. She puts her hands to her scalp out of habit and then pulls them back in horror as she touches the soft, short hairs that grow from her wounds. She had almost forgotten. Then she strikes the wall. She does not notice Terreo across from her, alert and watching.
He sits against the wall in the back. Light enters through the slender openings beneath the roof and at the open flap. He reclines where the light falls and basks. His wounds still bleed a light red blood beneath the leaves, and in spots where the blood mingles with the dressings it is green from the vegetable pulp she packs him with.
His legs are over-large in the light and the way he sits, the bulbous muscles above his ankles protrude, lined with hard veins. He is not wearing a skin, but has some of the matting placed over his pubic region. When he slept he was exposed and she could see it from across the room.
“Accept it,” he says and breaks the silence, “accept them or you will be slaughtered too.”
“There has to be something else. Is there something else?” she says quickly, still crying.
She puts her head against the wall and weeps. He remains where he is but tilts his head back so that the sunlight covers his face. In that position, he opens his mouth, exposing his sharpened teeth, and yawns. “What do you have for ointment?” he asks her.
“I’ll do it! I’ll do it! I was going to do it!” And she looks at him with fear and anger as she walks halfway across the dirt floor.
“It can wait,” he says, “I wasn’t telling you to hurry. I saw you had a carved gourd. What is it?”
She gathers her things and comes to sit beside him. There are still tears on her cheeks and others dripping from her chin and onto her chest. “The Follower told me to put it in first. I’ll do it. I did not mean to make you wait. You are hurt.”
“But what is this new one?”
“He said Ashirah’s Yellow.”
“Is that good?”
“Yes. That will at least have an effect; not like the other rubbish they have you use for show.”
“It helps you.”
“Some of it is only meant to help them.”
He turns his full attention back to the sun. He says no more, and she wonders if he is angry with her. Parts of him are covered by thick scars so that he looks made of wood in those places. She looks at his chest and then down to his powerful thighs. He sees her, and then she begins taking the dressings out of his wounds quickly so that it hurts at first. She must clean them thoroughly down to the fresh meat before she begins adding the day’s ointments.
She peels back the leaves that stick to the holes. When those are gone, she takes a rounded stick and slowly scrapes away the hardened globules. Several times she gouges down deep into the flesh and hears him breathe louder. But he does not say a word. Then she reaches over to the pouches and takes the gourd the Follower gave her. She sees him looking at it.
“Use the stick to put it in with,” he says.
“I don’t mind it on my hands.”
“It is better that you do. Use the stick to put it on with.”
“I will then,” she says.
And she takes the stick, making sure to lift the yellow hunks and then pats them down deep into the holes in his stomach and back. He flinches, but does not say a word.
“You want this?”
Then she pats more and watches to see if he is in pain. He is, but there is more. She observes him curiously, her hands feeling strange. When she finishes, he lies back down on the sleeping mat and turns away from the sun. He stretches his body out full and becomes quiet. She remains sitting above him and watches him as he rests.
“It is a matter of time now,” he says.
“What do you mean?”
He does not answer. Then he says, “My father was not injured when he was the terror, but he grew old. He asked me to kill him, and I did so in the ceremony before you were brought forth; when the other Gift was still alive. The Warrior cannot be seen to be weak.”