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Soulmate (Chapter 5)

Hana turned and hurried up the riverbank. The woman screaming was Sada, her mother's sister^ and the

girl who was stumbling beside her was Ryl, Hana's little cousin.

Ryl was a pretty girl, ten years old. But right now she looked dazed and almost unconscious. And her

neck and the front of her leather tunic were smeared with blood.

"What happened?" Hana gasped, running to put her arms around her cousin.

"She was out looking for new greens. I found her lying on the ground-I thought she was dead!" Sada's

face contorted in grief. She was speaking rapidly, almost incoherently. "And look at this-look at her

neck!"

On Ryl's pale neck, in the center of the blood, Hana could just make out two small marks. They looked

like the marks of sharp teeth-but only two teeth.

"It had to be an animal," Ket breathed from behind Hana. "But what animal only leaves the marks of two

teeth?"

Hana's heart felt tight and oddly heavy at once- like a stone falling inside her. Sada was already

speaking.

"It wasn't an animal! She says it was a man, a boy! She says he threw her down and bit her-and he

drank her blood." Sada began to sob, clutching Ryl to her. "Why would he want to do that? Oh, please,

somebody help me! My daughter's been hurt!"

Ryl just stared dazedly over her mother's arm.

Ket said faintly, "A boy…"

Hana gulped and said, "Let's take her to Old Mother …" But then she stopped and looked toward the

river.

The men were driving the stranger up the bank. He was snarling, terrified and angry-but when he saw

Ryl, his expression changed.

He stared at her, his wounded animal eyes sick and dismayed. To Hana, it seemed as if he could hardly

stand to look at her, but he couldn't look away. His gaze was fixed on the little girl's throat.

And then he turned away, his eyes shut, his head falling into his hands. Every movement showed anguish.

It was as if all the fight had gone out of him at once.

Hana looked back and forth in horror from the girl with blood on her throat to the stranger with blood

on his mouth. The connection was obvious and nobody had to make it out loud.

But why? she thought, feeling nauseated and dizzy. Why would anybody want to drink a girl's blood?

No animal and no human did that.

He must be a demon after all.

Arno stepped forward. He gripped Ryl's chin gently, turning her head toward the stranger.

"Was he the one who attacked you?"

Ryl's dazed eyes stared straight ahead-and then she suddenly seemed to focus. Her pupils got big and

she looked at the face of the stranger.

Then she started screaming.

Screaming and screaming, hands flying up to cover her eyes. Her mother began to sob, rocking her.

Some of the men began to shout at the stranger, jabbing spears at him, overcome with shock and horror.

All the sounds merged together in a terrifying cacophony in Hana's head.

Hana found herself trembling. She reached automatically for little Ryl, not knowing how to comfort her.

Ket was crying. Sada was wailing as she held her child. People were streaming out of the limestone cave,

yelling, trying to find out what all the noise was about.

And through it all, the stranger huddled, his eyes shut, his face a mask of grief.

Arno's voice rose above the others. "I think we hunters know what to do with him. This is no longer a

matter for shamans!" He was looking at Hana as he said it.

Hana looked back. She couldn't speak. There was no reason for her to care what happened to the

stranger-but she did care. He had hurt her cousin… but he was so wretched, so unhappy.

Maybe he couldn't help it, she thought suddenly. She didn't know where the idea came from, but it was

the kind of instinct that made Old Mother say she should be a shaman. Maybe … he didn't want

to do it, but something drove him to. And now he's sorry and ashamed. Maybe… oh, I don't know!

Still trembling, she found herself speaking out loud again. "You can't just kill him. You have to take him

to Old Mother."

"It's none of her business!"

"It's her business if he's a demon! You're just co-leader, Arno. You take care of the hunting. But Old

Mother is the leader in spiritual things."

Arno's face went tight and angry. "Fine, then," he said. "We take him to Old Mother."

Jabbing with their spears, the men drove the stranger into the cave. By then, most of the people of the

clan had gathered around and they were muttering angrily.

Old Mother was the oldest woman in the clan- the great grandmother of Hana and Ryl and almost

everybody. She had a face covered with wrinkles and a body like a dried stick. But her dark eyes were

full of wisdom. She was the clan's shaman. She was the one who interceded directly with the Earth

Goddess, the Bright Mother, the Giver of Life who was above all other spirits.

She listened to the story seriously, sitting on her leather pallet while the others crowded around her.

Hana edged close to her and Ryl was placed in her lap.

"They want to kill him," Hana murmured in the old woman's ear when the story was over. "But look at

his eyes. I know he's sorry, and I think maybe he didn't mean to hurt Ryl. Can you talk to him, Old

Mother?"

Old Mother knew a lot of different languages; she'd

traveled very far when she had been young. But now, after trying several, she shook her head.

"Demons don't speak human languages," Arno said scornfully. He was standing with his spear ready .

although the stranger squatting in front of the old woman showed no signs of trying to run away.

"He's not a demon," Old Mother said, with a se–veie glance at Amo. Then she added slowly, "But he's

certainly not a man, either. I'm not sure what he is. The Goddess has never told me anything about

people like him."

"Then obviously the Goddess isn't interested," Arno said with a shrug. "Let the hunters take care of him."

Hana gripped the old woman's thin shoulder. Old Mother put a twiglike hand on Hana's. Her dark eyes

were grave and sad.

"The one thing we do know is that he's capable of great harm," she said softly. "I'm sorry, child, but I

think Arno is right." Then she turned to Arno. "It's getting dark. We'd better shut him up somewhere

tonight; then in the morning we can decide what to do with him. Maybe the Goddess will tell me

something about him as I sleep."

But Hana knew better. She saw the look on Arno's face as he and the other hunters led the stranger

away. And she heard the cold and angry muttering of others in the clan.

In the morning the stranger would die. Unpleasantly, if Arno had his way.

It was probably what he deserved. It was none of Hana's business. But that night, as she lay on her

leather pallet underneath her warm furs, she couldn't sleep.

It was as if the Goddess were poking her, telling her that something was wrong. Something had to be

done. And there was nobody else to do it.

Hana thought about the look of anguish in the stranger's eyes.

Maybe … if he went somewhere far away … he couldn't hurt other people. Out on the steppes there

were no people to hurt. Maybe that was what the Goddess wanted. Maybe he was some creature that

had wandered out of the spirit world and the Goddess would be angry if he were Jailed.

Hana didn't know; she wasn't a shaman fef. All she knew was that she felt pity for the stranger and she

couldn't keep still any longer.

A short time before dawn she got up. Very quietly, she went to the back of the cave and picked up a

spare waterskin and some hard patties of traveling food. Then she crept to the side cave where the

stranger was shut up.

The hunters had set a sort of fence in front of the cave, like the fences they used to trap animals. It was

made of branches and bones lashed together with cords. A hunter was beside the fence, one hand on his

spear. He was leaning back against the cave wall, and he was asleep with his mouth open.

Hana edged past him. Her heart was pounding so loudly she was certain it would wake him up. But the

hunter didn't move.

Slowly, carefully, Hana pulled one side of the fence outward.

From the darkness inside the cave, two eyes gleamed at her, throwing back the light of the fire.

Hana pressed fingers against her mouth in a sign to be quiet, then beckoned.

It was only then that she realized exactly how dangerous what she was doing was. She was letting him

out-what was to stop him from rushing past her and into the main cave, grabbing people and biting them?

But the stranger did no such thing. He didn't move. He sat and his two eyes glowed at Hana.

He's not going to come, she realized. He won't.

She beckoned again, more urgently.

The stranger still sat. Hana's eyes were getting used to the darkness in the side cave and now she could

see that he was shaking his head. He was determined to stay here and let the clan kill him.

Hana got mad.

Balancing the fence precariously, she jabbed a finger at the stranger, then jerked a thumb over her

shoulder. You-out! the gesture meant. She put behind it all the authority of a descendant of Old

Mother's, a woman destined to be co-leader of the clan someday.

And when the stranger didn't obey immediately, she reached for him.

That scared him. He shrank back, seeming more alarmed than he had at anything else that had happened

so far. He seemed afraid for her to touch him.

Afraid he might hurt me, Hana thought. She didn't know what put the idea into her mind. And she didn't

waste time wondering about it. She simply pressed her advantage, reaching for him again, using his fear

to make him go where she wanted him to.

She herded him into the main cave and through it. They both moved like shadows among the shelters

built along either side of the cave, Hana feeling certain that they were about to be caught any minute. But

nobody caught them.

When they got outside she guided him toward the river.

Then she pointed downstream. She put the food and the waterskin in his hands and made far-flung

gestures that meant, Go far away. Very far away. Very, very far. She was going into a pantomime

indicating what Arno would do with his spear if the stranger ever came back when she noticed the way

he was looking at her.

The moon was up and so bright that she could see every detail of the strange boy's face. And now he

was looking at her steadily, with the quiet concentration of a hunting animal, a carnivore. At the same time

there was something bleak and terribly human in his eyes.

Hana stopped her pantomime. All at once, the space around the cave seemed very large, and she felt

very small. She heard night noises, the croaking of frogs and the rushing of the river, with a peculiar

intensity.

I should never have brought him out here. I'm alone with him out here. What was I thinking?

There was a long pause while they stood looking at each other silently. The stranger's eyes were very

dark, as bottomless and ageless as Old Mother's. Hana could see that his eyelashes were long and she

realized again, dimly, that he was handsome.

He lifted the packet of traveling food, looked at it, then with a sudden gesture he threw it on the ground.

He did the same with the waterskin. Then he sighed.

Hana was bristling, going from fear to annoyance and back again. What was he doing? Did he think she

was trying to poison him? She picked up the

food packet, broke a piece of traveling food off and put it in her mouth. Chewing, she extended the

packet toward him again. She made gestures from packet to mouth, saying out loud, "You need to eat,

food. Eat! Eat!"

He was watching her steadily. He took the packet from her, touched his mouth, and shook his head. He

dropped it at his feet again.

He means it isn't food to him.

Hana realized it with a shock. She stood and stared at the strange boy.

The food isn't food to him and the water isn't drink. But Ryl's blood … he drank that.

Blood is his food and drink.

There was another long pause. Hana was very frightened. Her mouth was trembling and tears had come

to her eyes. The stranger was still looking at her quietly, but she could see the fangs indenting his lower lip

now and his eyes were reflecting moonlight.

He was looking at her throat.

We're out here alone … he could have attacked me at any time, Hana thought. He could attack me right

now. He looks very strong. But he hasn't touched me. Even though he's starving, I think. And he looks so

grieved, so sad… and so hungry.

Her thoughts were tumbling like a piece of bark tossed on the river. She felt very dizzy.

It hurt Ryl… but it didn't kill Ryl. Ryl was sitting up and eating before we all went to sleep tonight. Old

Mother said she's going to get well.

If it didn't kill her, it wouldn't kill me.

Hana swallowed. She looked at the strange boy with the glowing animal eyes. She saw that he wasn't

going to move toward her even though a fine trembling had taken over his body and he couldn't seem to

look away from her neck.

What good does it do to send him off starving? There's no other clan near here. He'll just have to come

back. And I was right before; he doesn't want to do it, but he has to do it. Maybe somebody put a curse

on him, made it so he starves unless he drinks blood.

There's nobody else to help him.

Very slowly, her eyes on the stranger, Hana lifted the hair from one side of her neck. She exposed her

throat, leaning her head back slightly.

Hunger sparked in the strange boy's eyes-and then something blazed in them so quickly and so hot that it

swallowed up the hunger. Shock and anger. He was staring at her face, now, not her neck. He shook his

head vehemently, glaring.

Hana touched her neck and then her mouth, then made the far-flung gestures. Eat. Then go away.

And for the Goddess's sake, hurry up, she thought, shutting her eyes. Before I panic and change my

mind. She was crying now. She couldn't help it. She clenched her fists and her teeth and waited grimly,

trying to hang on to her resolve.

When he touched her for the first time, it was to take her hand.

Hana opened her eyes. He was looking at her with such infinite sadness. He smoothed out her fist gently,

then kissed her hand. Among any people, it was a gesture of gratitude… and reverence.

And it sent startling tingles through Hana. A feeling that was almost like shivers, but warm. A lightness in

her head and a weakness in her legs. A sense of awe and wonder that she'd only ever felt before when

Old Mother was teaching her to communicate with the Goddess.

She could see startled reaction in the stranger's eyes, too. He was feeling the same things, and they were

equally new to him. Hana knew that. But then he dropped her hand quickly and she knew that he was

also afraid. The feelings were dangerous-because they drew the two of them together.

One long moment while they stood and she saw moonlight in his eyes.

Then he turned to go.

Hana watched him, her throat aching, knowing he was going to die.

And somehow that wrenched her insides in a way she'd never experienced before. Although she kept

herself standing still, with her head high, she could feel the tears running down her cheeks. She didn't

know why she felt this way-but it hurt her terribly. It was as if she were losing something… infinitely

precious… before she'd had a chance to know it.

The future seemed gray, now. Empty. Lonely.

Cold and desolate, she stood by the rushing river and felt the wind blow through her. So alone…

"Hannah! Hannah! Wake up!"

Someone was shouting, but it wasn't a voice from her cave. It sounded-faraway-and seemed to come

from all directions, or maybe from the sky itself.

And it was saying her name wrong.

"Hannah, wake up! Please! Open your eyes!" The faraway voice was frantic.

And then there was another voice, a quiet voice that seemed to strike a chord deep inside Hana. A

voice that was even less like sound, and that spoke in Hana's mind.

Hannah, come back. You don't have to relive all this. Wake up. Come back, Hannah-now.

Hana of the Three Rivers dosed her eyes and went limp.

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