The pain within Dikar was as if someone had plunged an arrow into his vitals, was twisting it-- Dikar saw a form, crawling out on a thick bough. It was screened by the leaves at first, then Dikar saw black hair, a thick-lipped face. Tomball! Peering out of the tree with narrowed eyes. Dikar leaped erect, his bow taut-- Whang!
A feather quivered where Tomball's eye had been. Tomball, sprawling, black-shaggy, tumbled out of the tree, thudded into the brush beneath. A scream, a Girl's scream, came out of the tree and Dikar had another arrow laid across his bow, was tautening his bowstring once more. Shadowy in the treetop he could see Marilee. Marilee's voice came out from among the leaves. "Dikar!"
Marilee was out now, where Dikar could see her plain. Erect on the bough where Tomball had been, she held to an upper bough with one hand, stretched the other out to Dikar.
She was crying his name again. Her long hair was caught back among the leaves out of which she'd come, and Dikar could see her satin body, her lovely body he had held in his arms. His eyes fastened on the flowery circlet over Marilee's left breast. He would shoot her there-- "Dikar! What are you doing, Dikar? You're not going to--" Marilee's cry was checked by the arrow that was in her side, caught by its head in her flesh. She swayed, started to fall. Dikar's shot had gone wrong!
Dikar hadn't shot at all. His arrow was still across his tautened bow! Marilee fell! She caught the tree's lowermost bough with blind hands, hung from them, red streaking her side from where the arrow was caught in it. Someone else had shot her with that arrow. One of the other Boys. Marilee's left hand dropped from the bough by which she hung. The right hand let go and she fell-- Into Dikar's arms, somehow he was under the tree in time to catch her. Her weight crashed him down into the brush, but he fell sitting, with Marilee in his arms.
"Dikar." Her lips were white, her nostrils flaring. "You killed Tomball." There was pain in her brown eyes, but they were shining. "I'm glad. He was awful. I saw him shoot Jimlane and Billthomas, an' then he turned the gun on me--said he'd shoot me if I didn't go with him. He had the gun an' Jimlane's bonarrer, an' he'd found the rope long ago. First I was going to let him--kill me--but then I went with him, hoping to get a chance to take the gun away from him an' shoot him before--before--he told Them--"
Marilee's voice, strong at first, faded away. Her head rolled sidewise to Dikar's shoulder, lay there. She lay limp in Dikar's arms, as so often she'd lain asleep. But she wasn't asleep now. She was-- "Dikar!" Danhall was standing above them. "I was too far away to hear what she was saying." Dikar hadn't heard anyone come up, but Danhall and the other two were there. "I shot her. I couldn't hear what she was sayin' to you, thought you were holdin' your arrow because you couldn't get a clear aim at her. I could, so I shot her. Can you forgive me, Dikar? Can you-?"
"Forgive you, Danhall?" The words fell like stones from Dikar's lips. "You didn't know--Sure, I forgive you for killin' Marilee."
"Killin' her!" Bengreen exclaimed. "Bunk! She's not killed. Look at the way she's bleedin'. I've killed too many deer not to know bleedin' stops when one's dead. She's alive, you nuts, but she won't be alive long if you keep on sittin' there, holdin' her like a ninny an' lettin' her bleed."
"Not dead," Dikar whispered, staring down at the redness that welled out of Marilee's side and ran down over his thighs. "She's not--"
He could think again, could move again. He lifted Marilee across his arms, laid her gently down on a bed of soft moss near the foot of the tree out of which Danhall had shot her, knelt again.
"Find me some of those leaves that stop bleedin'," he threw over his shoulder. "Quick." He saw now that the arrow had gone deep in Marilee's side, but its point had hit bone and so it had not gone in far enough to kill her, not even far enough for its barbs to be held except by a little skin. Dikar pulled the arrow out, flung it away. Blood spurted and he put his hands down on the wound, pressed.
"Lift han's up, you fella!" a new voice ordered, hoarse and terrible. "Hurry befoh you get one big lot lead in you."
Dikar's hands were red with Marilee's blood, but the bleeding had stopped and if he lifted them it would start again. He turned his head to say so, saw a great long gun pointing from out in the light, saw the black hands that held the gun, and the man against whose shoulder the hands held the gun.
The man stood straddle-legged out in the yellow field. He was dressed in dark green, and the little round things that held the green together were yellow bright in the fading light. His black face was flat-nosed and shiny, animal like. His thick, purplish lips snarled like those of a wildcat, just before it pounces on its prey.
The brush rustled, a little way from Dikar, where Bengreen and Danhall and Henfield had been looking for the leaves Dikar needed. "Come out you fella," the black man ordered. His big eyes, that had too much white in them, moved back and forth a little and his long gun moved back and forth. "Come out fom dere."
Dikar's heart bumped his ribs. Neither eyes nor gun were moving quite to where he was. The black man hadn't seen him! The black man was out there in the light but Dikar, bent down behind the tall brush that marked off the field and the woods, was in the deep shadow of the woods and so the man with the gun hadn't seen Dikar at all.
Arms above his head, Bengreen came out in the field, and Henfield and Danhall came out beside him. "Stop dere," the man said, and the look on his black face, gaping at them, was funny. "Wat kind fella you are?" the black gasped. "W'ere your clo'es?"
"What clothes?" Bengreen asked, grinning. "This ain't winter, is it?" Dikar looked down at his hands. They were red with Marilee's blood but she wasn't bleeding any more. If he took his hands away she would start bleeding again, and she would die.
"You one fella tink you smart, huh?" Dikar heard the black man's hoarse voice, but Dikar was remembering what he had seen men like him do to white women, that dreadful day when he had been in this far land before. Better for Marilee to die than that. "But Jubal smarter," he heard. "Jubal know you 'scape from one fella jail camp an' take all clo'es off so if you get killed nobody know wat guards you pay to let you 'scape. See? No use try fool Jubal. You tell Jubal were you come from, so Jubal get rewahd, an' Jubal make fings easier foh you."
Dikar took his hands away from the wound in Marilee's side. "A good sleep to you, Marilee," he whispered. "A good night. I'll be with you soon."
"W'ere you come from?" Jubal asked again, slow and hoarse, and there was something in his voice that made Dikar shiver. A gust of wind brought the smell of Jubal to Dikar, and that was worse than his voice.
Dikar pulled an arrow from his quiver, looked around for his bow. "If we told you,"--the grin was still in Bengreen's voice--"you would know as much as we do." Dikar remembered that his bow was out there in the field, dropped there when he jumped to catch Marilee. The arrow was no good without the bow.
"W'at you gonna know after Jubal blow you to little pieces wit' dis gun? Don't fink Jubal, no do it. T'ree more dead 'Merican make no diff'rence, Jubal kill plenty already."
"Go ahead. Blow us to pieces an' see if we care. I dare you, an' double--" Dikar didn't hear the rest of what Bengreen was saying because Dikar had slithered silent as a snake, behind the great trunk of the tree. And now he was erect, was leaping high to the tree's lowermost bough, was lying motionless along that bough while all about him was the rustle of leaves, loud and terrifying.
"W'at dat," he heard Jubal's shout. "W'at dat in de tree?" All of Dikar, inside him, pulled together, waiting for the thunder of Jubal's gun, waiting for Jubal's lead to tear through him, but he managed to make a sound through his rounded mouth, the "koooo-hooo" of an owl.
"Nothin' but an owl, Jubal," Danball laughed. "Ain't you ashamed, bein' scared by an owl?"
Dikar slid along the bough, slowly, very slowly, very carefully, and now the tree's leaves made no more sound than as if the wind were blowing through them.
"Jubal no scared," the black's voice came up to him. "Jubal not scared of not'in', but you better be big fella scared of Jubal. You tell were you come from, befoh Jubal count five or Jubal shoot. One on end, with yella hair, first. All right. One--"
Dikar could see them now, through the leaves, the three Boys from the Mountain standing in a line, their arms over their beads, brown and naked except for their little aprons, Jubal, spraddle-legged, black and huge, his eyes small now, and red, his long gun butted against his green shoulder and pointing straight at Henfield.
The Boys were under the tip of the tree boughs, but Jubal was farther out in the field, seven paces at least. Dikar slid further out along the swaying bough.
Dikar was almost to the end of the bough, and it was bending with his weight. If Jubal looked up now, he would see Dikar, couldn't help but see him.
Dikar, gathering his legs under him, saw cords stand out on the back of the black hand whose finger was curled around the little thing on the gun that, pulled, would shoot it off. Jubal was going to say five now, and then-- "No," Henfield screamed. "Don't shoot. Don't shoot me. I'll tell. We're from--"
Dikar leaped, the whip of the bough added to the lash of his muscles sending him out, far out over the heads of the Boys. He hurtled down, straight down on top of Jubal, pounding the black down. Thunder deafened Dikar but his hand slashed down, the arrow clenched in it, lifted and slashed down again on the heaving, screaming thing beneath him, and warm wetness spurted over Dikar's hand and that which was beneath him heaved no longer.
Dikar was on his feet, and the Boys were around him, jabbering words he could not get. Dikar saw Henfield's face, eyes still wide, mouth still agape. Dikar's hand lashed out, slapped, open-palmed, across Henfield's cheek.
"You yellow-belly," Dikar heard himself say. "You lousy yellow-belly," and then he was striding, stiff-legged, back to Marilee, was once more kneeling beside her.
Marilee lay on the green moss, terribly still and terribly white except where the blood was scarlet on her side and browning at the edges. Browning! The blood flowed no more out of Marilee's wound. She'd stopped bleeding-- But Dikar saw the pale nostrils flutter, and he breathed again. Her wound, he saw, had closed of itself. That was why she'd stopped bleeding. The wound wasn't bad, Dikar saw now. Many of the Bunch had been hurt lots worse and none had died...
"Here's your bow, Dikar," Bengreen said, bending to him, "An' Jubal's gun." Dikar looked up.
"You keep the gun," he said, "an' take the Boys back to the Mountain. Go in the tops of the trees, that way you'll leave no trail. It will be night very soon now, an' you have a good chance to get back without their bein' able to follow you."
"To follow us!" Bengreen exclaimed. "What about you? What about Marilee?"
"Marilee can't be carried through the treetops," Dikar sat back on his haunches, "without openin' her wound, an' so she will surely bleed to death on the way. If we make somethin' on which to carry her along the ground, we will make so many signs that we would lead them straight to the Mountain. So Marilee must stay here. I will stay with her, but I promise you that if they come, they will not find either of us alive. Now go, Boys. The quicker you start, the better your chances. Go."
Bengreen shook his head. "No, Dikar. We do not go without you an' Marilee. But you are right about leavin' a trail to the Mountain if we carry her, so we must stay here with you. I must stay, I should say. I have no right to speak for the others."
"You speak also for me, Bengreen," Danhall said. "I do not go back to the Bunch without you an' Dikar and Marilee."
"I speak for myself." Henfield stood straight in the forest shadows that had grown so dark that he too, seemed a shadow. "Dikar! You slapped my face. You called me a yellow-belly. Did you have a gun pointin' at you? Did you bear a voice count, 'One, two, three, four,' very slow, an' know that when it counted 'five,' you would die?"
"Then what right did you have to slap my face an' call me a yellow-belly?"
"I suppose I had no right, Henfield. I suppose I was no fair."
"You had no right, Dikar, but you were right to call me that. I was a yellow-belly, but I am not, an' never will be again. I looked death in the face, an' I did not die, an' I never again will be afraid to die. Dikar, will you let me stay with you an' Bengreen an' Danhall an' Marilee? Because I want to. I want to very much."
Dikar lifted to his feet, put his arm around Henfield's shoulder, and smiled. "You are no yellow-belly," he said, very quietly. "But I will not let you stay, an' I will not let Bengreen or Danhall stay. The Bunch needs you three, an' you can do nothin' by stayin' here. I am still your Boss, Boys, an' I order you to go, an' it is for the good of the Bunch that I order you--" Dikar whirled to a rustle in the brush, saw that a formless shape blotched the fading yellow of the field beyond, saw that Bengreen and Danhall had their bows lifted, arrows across them.
"Don't shoot them things off at me," the shape said, its voice thin as a Girl's but higher-pitched and very tired sounding. "Not that I got much to live for, but I'm a friend, and I came to help you."
"Don't shoot, Boys," Dikar said, and moved nearer, peering. He made out that it was a woman who stood waiting for him, her dress gray and shapeless about her thin, bent frame, the skin of her face stretched tight over the bones beneath, her hands like birds' claws, her hair brown as Marilee's, but drab and lifeless. "You are white," he said. "You are not one of them." In one of her hands was something Dikar could not make out.
"No," the woman laughed, and the sound of her laugh sent a chill through Dikar. "No. I'm not one of them. My name's Martha Dawson and I was born in that house on the hill, and my father was born there, and his father before him. But who and what I am doesn't matter, and it's better for me not to know who you are. I can see that you must have escaped from one of their concentration camps, and I came down to warn you to get away quick, before the patrol comes along to change the guard here, and finds you."
"I can't go away," Dikar said. "My Marilee is hurt too bad to be taken away."
"Your who?" Martha Dawson looked in the direction Dikar had motioned. "Oh. The Girl who fell out of the tree. I heard her scream and I looked out of the window and saw you catch her." She was bending over Marilee. "She is hurt bad, isn't she? She must have been cut by a stone when she fell. Oh, the poor thing."
The woman went down on her knees, putting what she carried down on the ground. "So pretty too, and her hair's long. I never seen--Why, she has no clothes on, only this queer grass skirt. You all must have been hiding in the woods a long time. Yes, I can see that you were. You look too well fed to have been living on the scraps they give us. Your wife has lost an awful lot of blood. She is your wife, isn't she?"
"My--" Dikar checked himself. He'd remembered what "wife" meant. It was the same as mate. "Yes. She is my wife."
"I thought so when you called her 'my Marilee.' Well, don't you worry about her. I saw the way you fought the soldier and I thought one of you might be hurt, so I brought some stuff along. I'll just put a plaster on this cut to hold it together, and then you can carry her up to the house and I'll fix her up right."
"Carry her-!" The way Martha Dawson's hands were working at Marilee's side, Dikar knew that she could heal her, but--"But won't They find her there? Won't that get you into trouble with Them?"
"I've had trouble enough. A little more won't hurt. Besides, I don't think They'll find her, or you neither, unless they search a lot harder than they have already--Oh!" She rocked back on her heels, her eyes widening. "But they will. They'll find that soldier dead in the field and they'll know I couldn't have killed him but they'll be sure I know who did it."
"We can hide Jubal in the woods."
She shook her head.
"No. That won't do. They'll see the blood all around here, and they'll find him, never fear, them blacks is like Indians. Oh goodness. I don't know what to do."
"I do," Dikar exclaimed. "Look, Martha Dawson. One of us wanted to give us away to them an' we had to kill him." By the calm way the woman had acted when she saw how bad hurt Marilee was he knew he could tell her that without her getting excited. "We'll fix things so it will look like he shot Jubal with an arrow, an' that Jubal killed him with his gun before he died."
"Good!" The woman nodded. "That will do it. But you better carry your wife up the hill while your friends are fixing things. We'll go up by the road, the way come down, so as not to leave more tracks than can be helped."
Dikar told the others what to do and then be picked Marilee up in his arms, and went to the road, Martha Dawson beside him, went up the road toward where the house was a pale glimmer in the deep dusk that now had come down over the hill and the fields. just as they reached the house, Dikar heard a shot, and he knew that Tomball had no face any longer, knew that Bengreen was laying the long gun back in Jubal's dead hands, and that Danhall and Henfield were wiping out as much as they could of the marks that would show there had been more there than just Jubal and Tomball.
Martha Dawson opened a door for Dikar, and he went into darkness that smelled a little like the eating place on the Mountain. The door closed behind him, and he felt a hand on his arm.
"Bring her upstairs," the woman said. "This way."
Dikar didn't know what she meant, but he went the way her hand guided him. His toes struck wood, and he half stumbled. "Come on," the woman said, tugging at his arm.
"But there's somethin' in the way here. I can't go any further."
"Something? Oh dear Lord! Don't you know what stairs are?"
"Wait. I'll strike a match." Dikar stood stock-still, listening to the sound of her going away from him. He didn't like this place. He was afraid of it. It was too closed in. He could hardly breathe. The woman was coming back, and there was a strange, scratching sound and then there was a little flame growing on the end of a tiny piece of wood in her hand, and her other hand was cupped over it, and she was looking at Dikar as if she'd never seen a Boy before.
"Don't know what stairs are," she said again. "Well, I never-! Look. There they are in front of you." Dikar looked and he saw a kind of hill built out of wood. "Hurry and take her up, before someone comes."
Dikar climbed up what Martha Dawson called stairs, and came to a level place, and they went along the level place, and came to more stairs that he climbed. At the top of these stairs they came into a big room whose roof was high in the middle but slanted down low towards the sides, so that there were hardly any walls at all except in one place where the wall was made higher to make space for a little window.
Dikar stood still, Marilee nestled in his arms, and looked around him. By the light of another match Martha Dawson held he saw that the room was full of tables and little benches, and boxes, and a lot of things Dikar had never seen before, all old-looking and dirty and piled every which way on top of one another, right up to the roof. So full was the room that Dikar couldn't see where he was to put Marilee.
"Wait," the woman said and went past Dikar to a box that stood on end in the middle of the pile's front, a black box almost as big as she was. She knocked on this in a funny way.
The box moved--not the box but the side that was all Dikar could see of it. The side swung out on one up-and-down edge, like a door, and inside the box was a tall man with a thin white face and gray hair. The man was stooped over, and his eyes, deep-sunk in his face, glittered in the matchlight like the eyes of animals glitter in the night-blackened woods.
The man saw Dikar. His lips pulled away from his teeth and his hand came up, and in his hand was a little gun that aimed right at Dikar.
"It's all right, John," Martha Dawson said. "They're all right. They escaped from a concentration camp, and this young man's wife is bad hurt and I've promised to hide her here with you."
The man John peered past Martha Dawson, looking more closely at Dikar. "From a camp?" His voice was deep, much deeper than Dikar thought could come from so thin a chest, and it was a very tired voice. The woman moved so that the match light from inside her cupped hand fell on Dikar. "Aye, I see now. I could only see a black shape in the dark, and I thought that I had been betrayed, and that they had forced you to show them where I was."
"Never!" Martha Dawson cried out, and then. "Who would betray you, John? Who would tell them you are here?"
John looked at her, and Dikar saw that there were deep lines in his face, lines of pain, and that his lips were gray. "I've just had bad news, Martha. They raided zee-seven this morning, so suddenly there was no chance to blow it up, and they took Ed Stone alive. But we're keeping our friends standing. Bring her in here, my friend," he said to Dikar, moving back into his box. "Bring her in."
John's voice came out of blackness inside the box, but something in that voice told Dikar he need not be afraid of him, nor of anything in the blackness, and he went into the box carrying Marilee. Martha Dawson's match went out, and Dikar stopped short, the blackness thumbing his eyes.
Martha Dawson pushed against Dikar's back, and he got moving again, and the other side of the box wasn't there, as he'd expected, but he went right on into a feel of bigger space. He heard sound of door-closing behind him, felt a hand on his arm stopping him, and then there was light.
The light came from a shining thing that hung by a wire over Dikar's head, and Dikar saw that he'd gone right through the box into a room hidden behind the pile.
"Lay her there," John said, pointing to a bed that stood against one side of the room. "It's clean and comfortable, I assure you."