The flashlight's fallen from her hand but it's lying right beside her and ironically the jolt seems to have done it some good, its beam is steady now. She picks it up. Almost afraid that if she touches it the beam will disappear again but it holds.
She locates Darleen who is in a panic, crawling around in the dirt trying to find her lost water bottle. She shines the beam across the trail "There it is," she whispers and holds the light steady on the bottle. Her sister crawls over and snatches it up and stands.
Peg needs to stand too but damn! it hurts to put any pressure on that ankle or even to move it at all.
But they've got to get out of here.
There's a sapling a few feet to her left just off the trail. She crawls to it on hands and knees and hauls herself up. Darlin's at her side trying to help. Of course she's no help at all. The beam skitters through the leaves of the trees above as she pulls herself up hand over hand and finally she's standing. Limping back onto the trail again. Every time she puts the foot down pain rockets through her leg all the way to the hip. She wonders if she's broken something. But she can't just hop. Not on this surface. She'd be down again in no time.
Suddenly Darlin' is standing stock-still in front of her.
She hears a twig break and then another and points the beam to where Darlin' seems to be looking. At the same time Darlin' raises the water bottle and holds it out in front of her as though the bottle were some sort of talisman to ward off evil.
Or an offering.
The beam falls on the woman. The dress is gone and she's naked now and covered with dried and drying blood which gleams in the light.
The woman. And scampering at her feet, her other sister.
The child has never known this kind of freedom. The child is beside herself with pleasure, shuffling at the feet of her liberator, taking in the rich scent of her and all the other countless scents she has never imagined and has no ability to name. Even the air smells wonderful and new.
But then she catches other scents and these she knows. She can even roughly calculate the distance between them and a scuffle of feet betrays their location exactly. These scents belong to her captors, two of them. They have not treated her badly. But they are one with those who do.
She growls and lunges.
The Woman slaps the child with the flat of her blade. She yelps and whimpers and backs away behind her, pacing nervously.
The Woman is curious about something.
The little girl is holding something out to her so she steps forward to see what it is. A bottle. Inside, water A bottle. Inside, water. The little girl she would spit over a fire and roast for dinner is offering her water. And unlike her sister she does not seem to be afraid.
The girl withdraws the bottle and struggles to open it and when it's open, holds it out to her again. This time she takes it and drinks deep.
She wonders what kind of girl this is. If she will understand something.
She lifts her left index finger and puts it to her mouth, sucks it and tastes the blood and when it's clean, shifts the bottle to that hand and holds out the right index finger to the little girl. The girl takes a step forward.
"Darlin'!" says her sister. From the way in which she says it the Woman suspects that is her name. Darlin'. Darlin'.
The little girl says something back to her sister and takes another step forward and touches the finger with her lips. The lips are closed and pursed. This is not sucking and it is not biting. This is just a touch.
Peg doesn't know what to think of all of this but that's her family's blood this woman is wearing, damned though they may be. Darleen's just a child, just an innocent, but what she's done repulses and confuses her. How can she possibly offer this person a kiss?
She hobbles painfully over to her sister and wraps her arms around her and then shifts her back so that Darlin's behind her and she's standing between the two of them. She's the one who let this woman free. It's her responsibility.
She knows what the woman can do. She doesn't yet know what she she can do. can do.
But something. Maybe.
Darlin' thought, the lady's hurt. She's hurt all over.
The lady needs a little kiss to make it better.
It's as simple as that.
"Please," Peg says, "Just let us go."
The Woman holds out her finger again, this time to the sister.
"For the child, mother," she says. "For the child."
"Do ha leanbh, matheir," is what Peg hears. "Do na leanbh," The woman's voice is rough but not threatening. She understands, if not what she says, what she's being asked to do. She's being asked to partake of blood.
She'll do no such thing.
The Woman's frustrated. Among her people this would be a gift, an honor. It would never be refused.
But her people are all gone.
Still, she thinks she knows what to do.
She approaches and the girl doesn't flinch at her approach. Her stance is rigid though. She's preparing to fight if necessary. The Woman could almost laugh at that but this isn't a time for laughter. A thought has occurred to her which she likes very much.
She reaches out just as she did in the cellar but slowly this time so as not to startle the girl as she would a wounded animal and rests her hand on her belly.
"Bahbai," she says.
And there it is again.
That inexplicable sense of safety safety which is also a sense of being known, of being recognized, of simple acceptance that seems to emanate from this wild woman who kills and undoubtedly will kill again. And despite that fact she's comforted, she feels a burden lifted away unmixed with shame or guilt, a terrible huge relief. which is also a sense of being known, of being recognized, of simple acceptance that seems to emanate from this wild woman who kills and undoubtedly will kill again. And despite that fact she's comforted, she feels a burden lifted away unmixed with shame or guilt, a terrible huge relief.
She feels calmed. She feels free.
The woman seems to take her measure for a moment. Then she turns and walks off the path a few feet into the woods, bends down and begins hacking away at the limb of a birch tree. A few strokes is all it takes. She's amazed at this woman's power. The long hard muscles moving along her back. She forgets the blood and sees the power. She feels a strange kind of seduction going on here - as though the woman were dancing for her and her alone.
Is this what she could be one day? This strong?
Perhaps it is. Is she wishing for this? Is she wishing for this? A part of her is, perhaps. A part of her is almost sure she is. A part of her is, perhaps. A part of her is almost sure she is.
The woman returns to the path and hands her the limb. It will make a perfect staff to ease her wounded ankle.
She takes Darlin' by the hand and begins to walk away, leaving Peg alone there, her blind sister capering at the woman's heels. The woman's hips move side to side in a rhythm wholly unknown to her.
A few moments later, she follows.
The Woman has twice lost everything. Her parents' family and then her own. Her goods, her weapons. She has been scarred by knives and guns. She is naked but she will find clothing to her own liking as she always has. She will find other goods and weapons. The earth is a dangerous place for her, but it is also open to her. She can live in sunlight or in darkness as she chooses. She can eat of the creatures of the sea or of the land. The earth has a fist but it also has an open hand.
This night sky now - it belongs to her. Its dark will mask her. Its stars will guide her to the shore. She will find a cave and perhaps build a fire. She can hear the dogs behind her barking not very far away. The dogs will like a fire.
She has twice lost everything but the earth is rich with food and family.