In the night she looks up at the fires through the open bramble above . . .
Dogo is tethered at the end of the path in front of the leaf wall, and Pyramie sleeps beside her on the animal skins. He breathes lightly and she stares at him. Then he wakes and looks around. He pulls the animal skins close to his chest and stands in the open space.
“We should have left,” he says.
There is strain in his voice, and she sits looking up at him. He sees the scar across her cheek flowing back to her ear where the hair begins and is tied in two short braids at the back.
“They cut you.”
“Why?” he asks, looking at her belly.
But Theo does not answer, and he walks off and unties the dog. Then he goes into the night and out among the dead where he harvests two nearly full water skins and some food. He looks at the weapons that have been left; the spears to him are not worth taking, though the red blade that the woman carried seems worthwhile and he picks that off the ground where she dropped it. Then he hears someone crying by the side of the trail. In the darkness he can see a shape behind a tree. It is a woman. He talks, but she whimpers. “The forest demon. The forest demon. Meckle said they killed you.”
He leaves her where she is and continues looking through the belongings of the dead for some scrap that could be useful. The platform itself might be of use, but it weighs more than he can carry and he does not have time to dismantle it.
The animal rug that Theo kept her feet on looks good to him and he takes that, but when he lifts it where it is draped he exposes a dead woman pinned beneath the stone wood. Her face is blue and purple. He examines the blanket for a stain but does not see any. Then he walks back to his dwelling with what he has taken. When he reaches the thicket, Theo is out in the dry mossy opening, standing by the blackened stones in the center waiting for him.
“We must gather everything and go.”
“We can be safe here,” she says.
“They will come as soon as one of the Mother’s women makes her way back to the village. It could be now. We must go farther into the forest beyond the mountain. There is a desert and an ocean.”
“The ocean?” she says. “How do you know that word?”
“You climbed the high place?”
“Yes. Now, bind the skins! How much can you carry?” But she stands there looking blankly, and he rushes inside the dwelling in the dark and seizes the tethers he keeps hanging from the branches and wraps all his animal skins together. He is frantic. Then he takes the food pouches he made and straps as many of them as he can to his waist. The spear from the woman and the stone-headed club he binds together and lays the package on his back. Outside, he finds Theo and gives her the stone-headed staff he took from the Follower and then straps the two blades to his outer thighs. He holds up the sharp club he took from the dead woman but decides he will not need it. With another tether he ties up the animal fur that came with her procession. This he wraps tightly and binds together with the others skins and weapons and tries to put the whole onto her back.
“I can’t!” she shouts.
“You have to.” He puts it on her back and she kneels beneath the weight.
“We need these,” he says.
“You carry them then.”
Sneering, he takes the weight off her and places it on his own back with the spear and club. “These are not too heavy.” Before she can respond he ties the water skins onto her waist with the food in pouches. The dry meat he dangles over her chest from a cord. She flinches and looks to pull the meat necklaces off.
“Take them,” he says.
“But . . .” She trails off and then sighs and drops her hands to her waist. He walks a few feet away and with an angry thrust, heaves the bundle off his back and throws the large obsidian spear into the nearest tree. It is buried so deep he needs his foot to pull it out.
“Are you angry with me?” She asks, startled.
“I want to see how it is to throw the spear with all this weight.”
“Good.” Then he returns and takes up the burden again.
“We cannot stop until we reach the high place. Drink now; eat what you have to!” He commands.
He hands her the water and berries and though she is not happy with how he is treating her, she eats and then drinks from the skin. When she is finished, he walks off toward the gold grass, but Theo remains where she is. “That’s it, we leave now?” she asks.
“Would you rather stay and die?”
Dogo comes up behind them, confused. When Pyramie sees the dog he tries tying some of the water skins to him but the dog will not allow it.
“Are they are all dead?” Theo asks pointing out to the trail referring to the procession.
“A woman was still alive.”
“Where? Show me.”
He takes her to the tree behind which he left the woman earlier in the night and finds her still there. Theo sees her shape in the darkness and walks to her. “It is all right,” Theo says bending down to rub her head.
But the woman comes into the relative low light of the trail and spits at Theo. “You are his! Whore!” she says, and turns and runs. Pyramie raises his spear to end her, but Theo grabs it.
“No. They will come if she lives or not.”
He stares at her for a hard moment and she releases the obsidian, saying, “If they are not already on their way, they will be. We must go.”
And they move on in darkness.
Pyramie leads and Dogo hangs back with Theo. They continue treading up the trail as fast as Theo can. At times Pyramie runs but has to stop and wait for her to catch up. The dog will not go ahead of her. It begins to brighten, and she is closer behind him now. Then the sun lifts out of the earth. She holds her side and winces, but Pyramie does not notice. He is nearly running ahead. “Stop!” She shouts.
“What is it?”
“I have to rest.”
“The Hunters will not rest!” he yells back to her.
“But I must!”
He considers her words. Then he goes to her and hands her the water he carries. When the pain in her stomach ceases they stand and continue on up the trail to the high place.
Theo keeps a faster pace now, but he still must jog more slowly than he would like. They soon cross the river over the trail and keep traveling, now wet. They range far into the depression where it is cool. Pyramie stops when he hears the sound of rushing water. “We will stop here. Eat. Swim.”
“I thought the Hunters would not rest?” She chides.
But he fails to entertain her joke and walks into the forest. The dog and Theo follow behind.
At the pool’s edge he drops the burden, disrobes, and lunges into the water. She follows but only gradually.
“I do not know how,” she says.
Pyramie laughs and swims to her as she drops her skins past her knees and to the ground. He then helps her down the stone slope into the cool water past her thighs. She climbs onto him as he backs down slope and the water reaches their necks. “Put down your feet; you can stand.” She does and smiles, and he shows her how to move her arms so that she can lift her feet from the bottom and maintain balance.
“Here,” he says, and lunges off. She is not afraid and follows him into the middle. When she reaches him, treading the water on her own, she clings and he must sustain them both, nearly drowning in the attempt and pulls off to where it is shallow. She laughs.
“You have to do it on your own,” he says. “You will kill me the next time.”
Her smile fades and she swims out to the center and then back again and turns with happiness in her face. Showing her teeth, she smirks and lets her hair down from the braids in the back where it has grown. The hair in front she pushes away from her eyes and onto her forehead. Then she draws herself up using the ledge where the water falls and lets it pour down over her body, shouting with glee at how it feels until she is satisfied and then climbs up behind the falling water. From the pool, he watches and then trails her behind the reflective tumbling river to where she lounges. When he climbs through she laughs. He smiles.
They lay together, remaining there longer than he would like.
He is sleeping and she rises before he does in the morning. Now she dresses and straps the four full water skins to her waist along with the food and revives him on the rocks. He is sluggish at first.
“You said we have to keep moving,” she says smirking at him. And he jumps up and binds the skins and weapons to himself looking around as if they could be attacked at any time. Then they head back to the trail, but as they move she notices the wild man’s dead body lying off beyond the water.
“Who is that?” she asks.
“The wild man.”
“And did you?”
“I didn’t mean to do it.” He says and rushes onto the trail to the high place leaving her no choice but to follow.
Traveling on, the sun rises in the sky, and now Theo’s feet are bleeding. Hard, chalky skin is developing where it was soft from the village before. When Pyramie stops to empty himself he sees the blood shapes in the dirt and then her feet. She is crying but continues walking forward without word. He stops her, and they shift to the side of the trail with Dogo who licks her heel when Pyramie raises her foot on a log.
“Move,” he says to the dog as he pushes him away.
The dog skulks, and Pyramie looks down-trail toward the village. He then thrusts the animal skins to the ground and takes the one with fur that came with her procession and cuts out sections while she sits looking at the top of his head. He has her foot upon his leg. Against the soft skin he wraps the animal fur and pulls it beyond her ankle. There is no animal muscle for bindings, so he uses another skin from which he cuts lengthwise strips that he wraps around her to bind it tightly.
“It must be tight,” he tells her.
“I know,” she says.
He is finished and helps her up and watches her as she moves around awkward on her new feet. Then she looks up at him. “We should go,” she says. And they move on.
They travel into the night and into morning and day, until they come to the foot of the mountain. The forest is densest here where it pushes up against the shattered rocks. Before them the ledges that ring the bottom begin where the trees stop growing on the steep upslope. He has seen them before. Dogo urinates while Theo strikes ahead and begins to ascend the trail. Pyramie calls her back.
“Do you need to rest?” she asks him.
“That is the high place,” he says, and Theo stops and looks up. “We cannot go up there now,” he explains. “They will find us.”
“Is She up there?”
“They were sending me to Her so that I could be Her virgin.”
He thinks about what this might have meant, but before he says anything, she continues: “I wish we could take Her from them.”
“She is just a woman,” he says.
“I know. That is why we should take her.”
“We cannot go up there now. We have to keep going.”
He then charges off trail and onto the ledges where the flat rocks haven fallen from the mountain in gray slabs in piles or have come down lopping off treetops and spiraling into the forest leaving scars that have since grown wet with life. Water runs from off this mountain where it still rains at the top. The vegetation grows thickest at the bottom where it collects, except for in the ring of shattered rock that has fallen from the cliffs.
Some of the stone lies in huge, flat pieces that are easy to move across. In other places, the small sharp shards make it difficult, but they continue traveling at a fast pace. Dogo finds moving across the rock most difficult and lags behind again and again and then rushes on when the rocks are bigger for his feet.
They trek across the scree between the ledge and forest, making their way in the shadow of the mountain. But then Pyramie is startled by a thought and stops and motions for Dogo to get down. Dogo falls to his belly and Theo huddles up beside a rock, watching as Pyramie scrambles up to the ledges and stares back to where the forest trail meets the trail coming off the mountain. But even at this height the path is obscured from view, and he climbs higher to get a better look. But as he pulls upward on a thin sheet of gray stone the slab breaks off and he has to leap from its path. When he lands the stone passes him and strikes the scree below, causing a white shower that smells like sky fire. He turns to Theo when he sees it.
“Sky fire,” he says pointing.
“Sky fire is the lightning in the sky,” she says. “That was a spark.”
He ignores her and climbs down beside where it fell and sniffs. “Sky fire.” Then he takes a piece of the rock that broke off and throws it against the rubble, causing the same white burst. After this he pauses for a moment thinking, but sees Dogo’s ears moving. The dog is standing now, and Pyramie climbs up a different ledge and looks onto the trail. He does not see Hunters, either at the forest edge or back on the trail, but knows they are there with their spears. They are stalking them, and he turns and picks his way down the shattered rock field to Theo and together they begin jogging.
“We must move faster,” he says.
“Then let’s move faster,” she shouts and charges off.
Now he has to run to keep pace. The dog trots beside him – his red tongue dangling from his mouth. They continue around a jutting edge of rock face. For a moment he loses sight of her. She runs. Her hand is at her side, clutching the skin. Then they come to a damp section of scree covered by water and mist falling down from above. Here they move slowly over the slippery rocks that glow where they are covered in green slime.
Pyramie bends down beneath the skins and weapons and drinks from a little puddle, while Theo stops ahead at a small pool of her own that Dogo joins her in. Beneath the surface there is a shelled creature with legs and claws. Dogo bites the creature and howls, pulling his snout from the water with it dangling from his short fur. Theo laughs as the dog falls on his back and pulls the creature off with his paws. Then he pounces with both front feet together onto it. It flops and the dog stomps the thing until it stops moving and then he bites it, growling. Theo laughs more, and Pyramie reaches them with his burden strapped to him again and the heavy spear in his hand. Theo turns to him when he arrives.
“Dogo is like you,” She says. “Do you teach him?”
Again he fails to see her joke. He says instead, “We should move.”
“Then don’t hang back.”
They trudge on again, but can only go so far before darkness comes. It is difficult to move in the scree in the dark and they walk to the forest edge where Pyramie lays out a spot for them to bed down with some of the skins and fur he brought from his den. When they are settled beneath their animal skins Dogo burrows in between them and Pyramie has to drag him off to the side.
There are things he wants to know from her, but does not ask. She is not talking, and he sits awake beside her, hoping that she will at least speak to him. When he puts his hand on her side she pulls into him. And then they sleep with the forest cover over them and the dog pressed into the small of her back.