The man’s hair is cropped close and his skins are short shorn and hang from his neck where they are cut and cinched to fit his waist . . .

 

He stands tall and carries a staff topped with a stone and an obsidian blade on his outer thigh bound with dried and oiled skin.

Pyramie watches the Follower walk past coming from the high place. He wonders what it is like there. He wonders what Ashirah is like. It is said that a man cannot look upon Her, but that he will die unless he has been summoned. She knows his future and from where he came. She has given them all birth from the beginning.

Pyramie thinks that she could stop the Astarte from killing him if She chose. She could make the Follower protect him if She wanted.

Then Dogo growls and the man stops.

Pyramie grabs Dogo’s mouth to quiet him, but the canine pulls away and begins barking as he charges to the center of the trail.

The Follower does not move. He watches the forest around him to see if more painted canines will follow. Then he walks forward with his knife outstretched. As he does so, Pyramie steps into the trail behind him.

“I want to go back,” he says.

When the Follower recognizes Pyramie, he smiles. “They will find you.”

Pyramie says again, “I want to go back. I do not want to be here. I want to be found. Please?”

“I know.”

“Will you take me? I did not mean it.”

“You have a wicked spirit.”

“I do not want it.”

“We will make your spirit right then. You have to be cleansed to return to Her. It is the only way.”

“I can return to Her then?”

“Do you believe?”

Pyramie does not answer, but thinks that he wants to believe as he clutches the spear like a staff. He looks to the wood point jutting above his thumb, and then back to the Follower. “I want to go back.”

“You will if we can take the spirit from you. It is evil.”

“No! I want to go back the way it was; without the Hunters looking for me; without everyone angry.”

“This is the way for us all, Pyramie; you can be home then, but we must cleanse you for our own future.”

Dogo circles around and walks past the Follower to stand beside Pyramie.

The man squints in the sun. “Come with me now. You cannot live where no one goes. They will find you before you make it right. If you return, you will become someone to Her.”

“If this is the Way, then I am no one.”

“You are the demon in the forest now. You have to be cleansed.”

“I am not a demon,” he says. “I am no one. I do not have a tribe. I am like the wild man.” His mouth turns bitter and he tastes his own breath. His eyes water and his breathing becomes labored. He is sniffling. “You will kill me!”

 “Pyramie,” the Follower says, and raises his stone-headed staff. He speaks in runes to the air and waves the wood this way and that. With the other hand he holds the obsidian blade low to his side. Pyramie ignores the staff and watches the blade while the Follower uses the mystery words, calling on Her in a display Pyramie has seen before in the village. Dogo backs away from the display and growls, baring his teeth, and Pyramie steps back too holding out the point of his spear, watching the staff as it waves.

“I want to go back!”

“It is the way.”

“I will not!” Pyramie says.

The Follower waves the staff closer and raises the blade. Pyramie sees its obsidian blackness reflect the sun. Then the Follower jabs the stone-headed staff into his face. Pyramie ducks. The stone grazes his cheek, drawing blood. The boy leaps back, avoiding the Follower’s on-rushing blade thrust. As he moves away, he thrusts forth the wood spear with both hands and impales the Follower’s throat, making the sucking sounds of gurgling blood.

“I will not!” Pyramie says again.

The Follower drops the staff and blade and Pyramie stabs with the spear into his chest, which leaks air. Then he stabs into the Follower’s side and groin, drooling blood. Each stab brings the sucking sounds and the Follower moans in words, coughing in his throat with the wet air as he falls to the ground.

“I will not! I will not!” Pyramie cries.

The Follower dies with his eyes open, saying “no one,” in a growl. And Pyramie strikes him one time more in the mouth, knocking out teeth and quieting the Follower’s dying sounds, nearly pinning his head to the ground. The Follower’s arms are twitching in a tangle over his chest in the air as Pyramie removes the spear with difficulty and remains over him, watching his eyes as they close.

After a time, he removes the Follower’s animal skins and pouches for food and medicine, leaving him naked but painted in his own blood. Then he takes the large sewn skin the man has for holding water. It is almost full. He drinks a long pull of water and kneels down over him.

He then lays the tip of the Follower’s obsidian blade against his belly and sinks it in, but quickly retracts it. He does not continue with the ceremony the Warriors of the tribe practice. Instead he opens the man’s closed eyes and looks into them, sorry that he killed him.

He is kneeling there, thinking about moving the dead body when he hears footfalls on the trail from the village. The sound sends him fleeing into the grass at the side with everything the Follower carried.

In the grass he watches Meckle walk to the Follower’s body, his spear out. He has a woman’s braids tied to his neck. When he comes to the dead man he looks around, stopping his eyes at a spot just above Pyramie in the grass. There, Pyramie can see where he smudged some of the Follower’s blood on the gold stalks.

“I am not here for you, Old One,” Meckle says, and continues staring. “But if I were, I should have no trouble finding you. You are getting old; you leave a mark.” There is a noise on the opposite side of the trail and Meckle turns. He is frightened. “A trap,” Meckle says. “I am not here for the Others. Let me pass. I am not hunting.”

After a time, Meckle bends down and shuts the Follower’s eyes with the tips of his long fingers and runs up the trail where it begins to climb toward Her.