Pyramie loses his breath on the trail. He drops the vine. Around him the forest is still. . .
Some of the yellow boughs of the drought-ridden trees shake in the breeze off the savannah. He holds his chin up and sniffs the air as it comes to him. In it he smells the grasses and the faint scent of the flowers he picked earlier in the day. He breathes again and smells the sky fire.
A few tear droplets fall off his cheek and onto the dirt path. In the gravel beside his tears he sees blood from both his hands mixed with the matted leaves and the foot-tamped earth.
When he ran down trail, he moved too quickly and gouged his hands open on the vine. He stares at his bleeding palms now. The wounds are plump and irregular. Then from above come footfalls pounding hard. The Hunters smash through the dry vegetation above.
He runs off, forgetting the vine and lunges down slope. Out of control, the hard trunks blur past as he rushes down the steep. He loses balance and grazes his shoulder against a trunk that sets him standing straight. Small branches slap his naked skin and quiver from the shock, dropping leaves as they snap back and forth.
He is moving too fast.
Below him the trail makes a hard right turn and follows the ridge above the place where no one goes. It was here that he often stood to view the shattered rocks where the skeletals lay. But he cannot stop. The trail turns. He does not. He continues straight, makes his own trail. He is not in control of his own feet. They move as fast they must to keep up with the drop of the slope, but when he tries to slow he loses balance and falls on his back, sliding in the dirt and vegetable matter, clutching roots and weeds to stop.
He grabs one thick root that lays into his already open wound. The pain is horrible, but he does not cry. He grips tighter as the root slips in deep against his hand – the friction hot and wet. The pain affects his vision. Once he stops sliding, he lays still, shudders, and whimpers.
His hands throb when he stands. His eyes water, but he runs from the pain, down slope again and at an angle to his right. Above he hears the men crash through the same line of branches at the trail’s edge.
He keeps moving down to the shattered rocks. This is the sacred area. No one is allowed here. The village sits high above him where the precipice hangs overhead. On the other side steep ledges reach up to the forest. He heads for them now through the forbidden place and runs out across the rocks, exposed to the Hunters’ spears.
Near the center of the carcass strewn rock pasture he comes to a massive boulder that he cannot go over. He must go around it and down into the crevices and cracks where the plutonic rock lays. Stepping down into the open cavity, he sees the shadow of a skeleton. He slips past it, not wanting the shadow on him.
Here there are more bones and shattered pieces than anywhere else because of the rock’s central position just below the altar. Everywhere he turns, there are splintered skulls and bones and pieces of condemned jewelry. No bodies with flesh, just the parched old remains.
And then the odor hits him: the sweet smell, the person smell. It is dark here, but he must keep moving and so pushes on. A few steps ahead, he sees her. Acka lies dead in the sun some several feet above where the rocks lay open to the sky. She is covered by flies.
He climbs up to where she sits, not looking at her. The flies are everywhere. One enters his mouth. He gags and spits it out and moves away. As he does, he catches Acka gazing at him. Her eyes stare with the same look they had the moment before she died. Nothing has changed. Looking from her face to her hands, he finds her gripping two pieces of gray stone hung on twisted grasses.
Then he lunges out of the crevice and stands in the sun. Over his shoulder, he glimpses the two Hunters as they reach the bottom of the slope where the broken rocks begin. Kakoaw stops and throws his spear.
Pyramie watches it arc high in the air, where he loses it in the sun. It stabs into the log beside him. When it strikes, he looks at Kakoaw. The man beside him is Meckle, one of several Warriors. Pyramie glances at the spear – not allowed by the Way to touch it. But he grabs it, pulling it from the log with some difficulty and then ducks into the crags where they cannot hit him so easily.
He moves quick in the tight spaces between rocks, going over some and around others. Both his soft palms dribble blood, running down his fingers and off the tips. He does not allow the pain to slow him.
When he reaches an open spot, he sees the two Astarte as far back as they were when he left Acka’s body. The grown men have difficulty scurrying as quickly as he does over the broken ground. This makes him smile. But Kakoaw is not happy. He bears his sharpened teeth and launches a rock at Pyramie. The rock falls short, and the boy disappears between the crags again and keeps running in and around the narrow spaces like a mouse until he reaches the sheer cliff wall that juts out ahead.
There he climbs onto an exposed cliff. He digs his fingers into a crack and pulls himself up. It takes time to make it up the cliff with his wounded hands. Dirt and grime are impacted into the slots. He has the spear stuck in the twisted lash he wears on his waist to hold the leaves.
He continues climbing and reaches a second ledge. The men are below him. Their feet slap the rocks. With a single leap Meckle lands on the first ledge from the top of a boulder; Kakoaw lands behind him and shouts: “Come down now. No one goes here.” Pyramie peers over the ledge at them. Kakoaw says, “I will enjoy it when I kill you.”
“No!” Pyramie cries.
Meckle does not say a word. He is larger than Kakoaw. His eyes are full of nothing. They are focused on their quarry.
Pyramie sees his stare and turns and leaps onto a root hanging from the wall above him. Here he is concealed from their stabbing spears. He makes sure to keep his body as close to the wall as he can so that they cannot see him.
Even now he whimpers in pain and tears fall from his child eyes. He cries for Acka and hears them laughing somewhere below. Now he climbs harder. Near the top, he sees the boulder above that holds the root he is on moving. He grabs another dangling root and pulls upward, breathing heavily like Kakoaw with the Gatherer in the burnt forest. He leaves his blood marks behind on the root.
He ascends the third ledge and frantically searches for a way out. Ahead the shelf gets wider and turns the corner around the cliff face where it joins the forbidden forest on a steep slope. He traces a running route with his eyes in that direction, but it is too flat, and he knows they will run him down there. Then he looks above him where the cliff face is sheer; even if he could climb it, they would just throw their spears into his back and watch him fall.
Then the rock begins to move. The roots twist and creak. Pyramie pulls the spear from his side. The boulder rocks back and forth. When he sees this he runs in a circle. He puts his hands over his eyes. He gnashes his teeth and screams. He sits and breathes so heavily he feels dizzy. Suddenly he stops. He stares at the boulder, then at his hands, then at the butt of the spear. Leaping up onto his feet, he surges with full force into the stone. It moves.
The Hunter climbs closer now; he can hear him breathing. He then takes the spear handle and jams it as far beneath the rock as he can. He lifts up on the spear and presses a skull-sized rock under the shaft. Nonna showed him this trick with a branch in the forest.
Then he pulls down on the end of the wood of the spear. The boulder moves a bit at a time. Then it moves all of a sudden and drops off the ledge. Following fast behind comes a yelp as the rock makes sharp impact below.
It is then that the moaning begins. The first moans are long and low. Then come screams of agony.
Pyramie crawls to the edge. He smells sky fire and sweat in the air and finds Kakoaw lying with the rock covering part of his leg. White bone juts out brilliant in the sun. Kakoaw screams in sobs with wild sounds of pain.
Meckle stands over him but does not look at him. He turns to Pyramie who leans farther over the rock face. Meckle’s lips form a smile. His eyes show amusement, and he waves his finger and shakes his head. “I will not get to kill you now,” he says. “I will take him back.” Then he adds, “There will be great honor for me when I do catch you. They will say you are a demon.” Then he sets down his stone-headed club and braces to push the large stone off Kakoaw’s leg.
The Hunter wails as Meckle pushes the boulder off his leg. Meckle grabs him in the pits of his arms and hoists him over his shoulder. From there he takes another look at Pyramie and nods in a knowing, brotherly way. He then picks his way down ledge and slowly walks over the field of crags at the bottom of the precipice, leaving the stone-headed club behind.
Pyramie waits until they are gone from view and moving up trail toward the village. He climbs down to where Kakoaw fell and picks up the stone-headed club that Meckle left behind. He admires the club a moment and ascends the wall with the weapons tucked into the twist around his waist.