It is early in the morning and dark. . .
Pyramie collects essentials for his trip. Part of him thinks he only needs weapons. Their spears will miss him. He will not miss them. But he collects food from his den: berries in the pouch, dried meat strips and the water skin. The obsidian blade from the Follower he ties to his thigh with straps the way Warriors do. Then he takes his other possessions and hides them inside the bramble opening and covers the bone pile with cut branches throwing any other garbage there as well.
“Are you coming?” he says when he finishes. Dogo sniffs the air and walks ahead with his tail up. Pyramie follows.
On the trail they remain close to the grass so as to be near cover. When the trailside opens into forest, Pyramie walks among the trees at the edge, while the canine stays in the path sniffing the ground. Above them, birds call out their presence. They screech in the branches, and Pyramie points his spear but does not throw. Other animals jump and hang in the dry canopy, squealing and chattering to one another.
The sun burns down through openings and Pyramie sweats, but then the canopy thickens and hides them from the sun’s heat.
They continue this way until Dogo stops walking. He looks around as if someone might be coming up the trail. Pyramie calls to him and the dog returns and they sit hidden in the trees. Dogo starts whining.
“Quiet!” Pyramie says. “Are they out there?”
He holds Dogo in silence until the sun changes its position. “Nothing.” He lets him go. They walk again, the dog on the trail and Pyramie at the edge holding his spear up. When Dogo moves too far, Pyramie whistles and the dog waits.
Ahead Pyramie sees a large raptor bird sitting on a branch at eye level. It has large yellow talons. Whistling for the dog he hoists the spear above his head. The bird lunges from the branch and glides. He throws, impaling it with the point. It drops, soundless as it dies on the ground. Dogo begins to run to it but Pyramie stops him. “No, Dogo. It is a beautiful hunter bird. It is mine.”
When Pyramie reaches the bird, he peels back the skin and brown feathers of the breast with a tear between his thumbs. There is little blood. He releases the breast meat with the obsidian blade and eats, giving pieces to Dogo, who lies gnawing away with the sides of his large teeth holding the meat with his paws.
When they finish, Pyramie cleans out the skin, keeping it intact with its brown feathers and yellow talons and dangles it from his waist. He continues down trail, Dogo leading the way.
As the sun falls at the edge of the forest random beams of light tumble across the path in mangled branch patterns. Pyramie pulls Dogo with him into the trees and they bed for the night. They sleep in the forest beside the trail.
In the morning, they continue. The dog runs off and Pyramie scolds him. “Slow, Dogo, slow. They’re out there.”
Evening comes. Dogo stops short, ears twitching. Ahead, voices echo over the trail and he motions the canine to sit. Staring in that direction he sees branchless trees and pointed mounds. Just beyond the twisted forest gate he spots the backs of the huts.
“Quiet,” Pyramie calls.
When he says this the dog begins to run off. He catches him by the back leg and Dogo whimpers and falls to his side, legs in the air. Pyramie drags him back. “Stay!” The dog cocks his orange-black head to the side as if considering the boy’s words. “Listen!” Pyramie points into Dogo’s face.
When he is satisfied with the dog’s behavior, he slides closer to the edge of the village. Hidden by the silver green leaves of the overhanging bush, he crawls to the gate and peers down the row of undulating Ashirah poles. At the end the Gatherers move about beside their long huts, eating in the twilight. He wants to be with them now, but knows they would not have him: they do not think he is a person like them.
He remains in this position, often looking back at Dogo who stays on his back with one all-white leg in the air, until the sun’s last rays have gone.
Full dark covers the village. The moon is a shard but the stars glow bright. Pyramie waits unmoving in the leaves with the clinging bugs until all the people sounds have ended. Then he crawls out of the bush to the Leader’s hut by the crack and stands with his eye pressed to the mud and brambles. He cannot see if she is inside. He listens and then taps, and then taps again, but he is unwilling to whisper.
She is not in the hut, he decides, and he walks around it in the darkness by the Ashirah poles, huddling behind one of them. He crouches across from the Warriors’ huts and relieves himself against the pole. Soon he hears footfalls coming down the row. Theo walks back from the promontory alone. He whispers to her and she stops in the darkness. She wears red feathers on her chest and hips.
Passing aside the noise, she walks away and he whispers again. She stops. “Who is that?”
He steps out from behind the pole and goes to her.
He comes forward to kiss her, but she says, “No. Quiet. Come,” and takes him to a trail above the Warrior’s hut that leads to the garden where he first saw her up close.
“That is Terreo’s hut,” she says as they pass it.
Pyramie does not speak, he only follows her into the forest until they can no longer see the light spot where the village stands beneath the sky.
“I wanted to see you,” he says.
“They have shamed me,” she pulls his hand onto her head where the hair is short. He pulls the hand away.
“Because of me?”
“No, because of me. Meckle took the braids to Ashirah.”
“I saw him, but there were other Warriors before him. One of them never returned from the forest and the other was sacrificed.”
“Breyuw,” she says. “He and Mikka were to go to the high place and give the braids to Ashirah. When Breyuw returned he said they found you hiding in among the ferns in the forest above the broken rocks. They were sure they found your trail moving up the steep, and they began cutting down the ferns to find you hiding there when the wild man clubbed Mikka to death from behind. Breyuw raised his spear but the wild man broke it and clubbed him. When Breyuw awoke, Mikka was gone and so was the wild man, but he still had the braids tied to him and so he returned. They sacrificed him because he failed to make the high place, and had brought shame to the offering. Meckle changed that; he has brought honor back to me.”
“But you don’t need his honor. Come with me. They cannot shame you again. I cut a dwelling in the brambles. You can live with me. I have berries. I can hunt. Water runs. We are safe. Come with me.” He pulls her wrist but she does not move. She stands firm and stares at him.
“Come with me,” he begs her. “We will be safe. We will be away from the shame.”
“I cannot go, Pyramie,” she says cutting him off. “They will find what bush we are hiding in and kill us. They will not spare me. They will banish me as a virgin for Ashirah because they cannot kill me. They will have Meckle take you to slaughter.”
“But we can go far.”
“You are a boy. These are the thoughts of boys. They have not found you yet because they have not been looking, they were worried about the offering to Ashirah, but when they do begin looking, they will get you wherever you go. Do you know that? They say you brought the drought. You are the demon in the forest and Hunters will come for you. They just found the corpse of a Follower and they blame you.
Pyramie, I cannot go. This is all there is.”
“But this is not. I am there. There is safety. We will…”
“This is all there is. They will hunt us forever.”
“But I will kill them. I have. They cannot kill me.”
“Pyramie! You can’t kill them, you are a Gatherer boy, they are Warriors and they will kill you.”
He pulls away from her now, crying and gritting his teeth. She does not believe him. He moves to speak but shakes with anger and then says nothing in embarrassment and turns and walks down the trail. She follows him. He is enraged and feels shame. He sees Terreo’s hut at the end and thinks of entering and killing the man while he sleeps. He will do it, and waits at the skin flap, holding his spear tight in his hands. But he cannot move.
“I am a coward,” he says.
Theo comes behind him. He sees her as her fingertips touch his back. She is soft. He lets her touch him and then pulls away with violence and walks across the rows back to the Leader’s hut and the gate. Beneath the gate he turns and looks over the village. At the end stands the promontory with the rostrum over the savannah. He remembers it. How it was then ago. He remains there, but she does not come. Then he unbinds the raptor and leaves it hanging with its talons from the gate.
He wants them to know he has been here.
He whistles for Dogo and they walk up the trail. The village is gone. The forest thickens and he begins to run on the open path. His eyes water from the air rushing in. He continues this way without stopping. It rains lightly, and he laughs.
Dogo runs beside him with his tongue out and a dog grin. After a time still running past the morning, they reach the place where the trees give way to a long stretch of grass, where the body lay for all that time. He can smell the spot as he approaches. They walk onto the animal paths. In the moss opening, Pyramie leans against the tree. “They will come now, Dogo. We will fight them.” The raptor feather is a sign of war for them. He builds a blind with tree limbs and grasses beside the trail. Inside, he sleeps sitting up with the spear in his hand.