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XII HOW AN OUTLIER SAW A TALL WOMAN
HOW AN OUTLIER SAW A TALL WOMAN FOLLOWING A TRAIL AND MANCHA MET THE SMITH AGAIN

I have no notion how long we lay in the neighborhood of River Ward. By this time we had lost all track of the calendar, Herman and I, and the Outliers had none except the orderly procession of the season’s bloom and fruit and mating time. Great umbrageous clouds came up behind the hills and were cut down by the wind. Clear days succeeded one another, matched so perfectly for warmth and color that the consciousness took no account of the dividing nights. Crowns of foothills lying seaward showed increasing green and then faint flecks of poppy color. These were our quietest days, for though there was fighting and following, Herman and I had no active part in it. Consider how few we were in a great land, and no 237trumpeting, no shock of guns, no daily bulletin. Ten men would set out on the mere stirring of an animal sense that beyond a certain hill or in a known hollow lurked the breeders of offense. And then no news of them except as they came or did not come again. Companies of Far-Folk and Outliers would fence all day each to come at the other unsuspected: flights and evasions and sharp encounters took place in such deeps of leafage as dulled all sound. All this was covered, swept over as carefully as the wild creature hides its ways.

Often now, walking on the tawny-colored hill that sleeps above the bay with the Mission between its paws, I look back at the warm-tinted slopes, beyond the reach of the encroaching fogs, and wonder under what peaks, between what long blue ranges we lay that season. What tumult and warfare goes on in those still spaces unregarded? But we have never, as I said in the beginning, got any nearer to it than Broken Tree.

The Outliers stuck to the track of the Far-Folk, and had so much the better of them in readiness and organization that before long they had captured the most of their women. 238Under Mancha our men had sought out their homes, abandoned so hurriedly, in the shallow, brush-grown cañons, and had burned and broken what they found. That Ravenutzi had joined the Far-Folk we knew, for once when they had come to parley over a wounded man, they saw the hostage at Oca’s back directing the Council by such knowledge of the Outliers as he had acquired by long residence. Oca blew out his long beard, laughing as he listened.

I knew too from one of the captive women, that he still concealed from his wife the place where he had hidden the Ward. The explanation Ravenutzi had given to Oca of the use he should make of Zirriloë’s person in the game that was yet to be played, set that chief chuckling in his beard like a cataract.

But to his wife Ravenutzi had denied seriousness: laughed, kissed her burned throat, blinded, bound her with an ingenuity of charm and tenderness until she grew tame under his hand. Then she would rage the more bitterly when he was away, suspecting him with the girl in hiding; flaming with jealousy until his return found her burned out, white and faint, creeping humbly to his caress.

239This, I say, I had from one of the captives, for I talked of her to the Outliers only with Trastevera. I think the woman’s story was known to them. She was seen often flitting from some post of observation when they came with prisoners, and though it was certain she had been twice inside the Ledge seeking the place where Zirriloë lay hidden, no motion was made to take her. They judged her no doubt hunted by a more remorseless enemy; the same that drove on Mancha’s trail and wasted him in the night. It was strange to me at first when I looked on the Hammerer’s passion-hollowed face, to see how it was contradicted by the youthful fuzziness of his blond hair and the round stalwartness of his frame, until I realized that he tried to make his body what his hammer was, the instrument of his satisfaction, and nursed it carefully to that end. But here the invisible enemy had him at point. Eat he could, and bathe, and exercise himself and rough the handle of his hammer to his grasp, and tighten the thongs. But in the night sleep and jealousy contended, and he turned in his bed and set his teeth upon his hands. His eyes reddened at the lids, and when he would be sitting among us, his attention 240would be forever wandering, and there would be a half inadvertent movement of those same hands as if to rend and tear. It was plain that he came but half out of some burning preoccupation to attend to whatever his men brought to his notice, and slipped back into it even between the utterance of two words, like a drowned insect in a glass. He was seldom at River Ward, seeming easier to be on the trail and in action. That there was only one trail that interested him was perfectly evident. He cared nothing whatever for the recovery of the Treasure if only he might get at Ravenutzi and find where the Ward was hidden. And as often as Outliers and Far-Folk came together in running fights, his men fell apart tacitly to afford him the craved-for opportunity. As we knew afterward, by Oca’s express direction, the Far-Folk closed round the smith to oppose him. As often as Mancha came back unslaked, his new whetted fury turned on himself. Bitter as these frustrated encounters were, they were less so than those times when they surprised their enemy and found Ravenutzi not with them. Where was he then but lingering in some shut quarter with the Ward! One would 241know that this had occurred when the Hammerer sat upon the edges of his bed the night long goading himself with recollections.

“Give over; give up,” cried Trastevera to him. “She never thought of you; and what do you but suck poison from the thought of her?”

“And what,” said he, “shall I think of, if I do not think of her? Do you advise me to think of him?”

“Think of your work, how you are to win back the King’s Desire for us.”

“And how shall I think to win the King’s Desire and not think of how it was lost?” And so having worked round in a circle again he did think of it; what looks and sighs and wooing touches had gone to that betrayal.

“If I could get at him,” he cried, “if I could only get at him”; and groaned and struck with his stone hammer deep into the soft earth.

It was difficult for Trastevera, who alone partook of his stormy confidences, to be patient with his consuming thought, since she was herself the happier, free of the obsession of Ravenutzi. For the Outliers remembered now how she had been against him in the beginning, and blamed themselves for overriding 242with their weighty reasons that delicate presentiment. Warmed by this support, all her power of foreseeing put forth again and promised them success. She burned with foreknowledge that kept time like a poised and constant needle with what went on afar behind wooded hills and in secret valleys. Often as we lay in the chaparral and heard the bees fumble at the flagons of the wild currant, and saw the young rabbits rising to drink delicately of dew in the shallow cup of leaves, she would start up bright and hot, sniffing battle. As she drooped and grieved, or snatches of triumphant song burst from her, we guessed what went on between our men and Oca’s a day’s journey south and west.

It was in that quarter they defended themselves for as long as enjoyment of the King’s Desire exceeded all other considerations. It was a region of high hills, set close, well covered; narrow cañons choked with chaparral; rain-fed springs, trailless steep barrancas. Here they kept like foxes, quick and slinking, and the Outliers hunted them, not often with success. The cover was too thick for slings, and the ways too steep to give free play with the hammers. The enemy showed themselves 243and ran, involving the Outliers in a maze of blind gullies, and came out unscathed and mocking on hills above them. They made elaborate false clues and set traps which at the last moment they wanted the courage to spring, but never came to any open issue because of the King’s Desire. They had the Treasure in hand at last, and could not be persuaded to leave it. Where it was they hung like flies at a honey-pot. You could never find the Far-Folk very far nor very long from one another. They would have out the jewels and gloated upon them, tracing the patterns, holding them this way and that to catch the light, tried on the collars and the armlets, pranked in the crowns, fed upon the mere sight of them as an antidote to defeat. All this was very well for a time, but the drawing of their forces together about the King’s Desire served their enemies more than it served them. Threescore men in a camp were easier hunted than two or three. By keeping in close order they left betraying traces in the forest, and brought down Mancha’s hammerers. To avoid this they made longer flights, swift, uncalculated leaps. Their women and children, unable to keep up with them, were gathered in 244by the Outliers and carried to River Ward. It began to appear that they must make temporary disposition of their trove until they had possession of their families again, and could make off with both into that wooded country south where there were no man traces and no Outliers could come.

They buried the Treasure once, and then the whole party sat upon the place like brooding quail, and betrayed it by their guarding. So they had it up again, and Ravenutzi and Oca made a plan between them. They were to send the jewels on south under convoy, then by means of the person of the Ward they were to draw Mancha off from River Ward. Then with a free field left the main body of the Far-Folk were to raid the camp at River Ward and recapture their women.

This was the plan: An old man was to have himself captured by Mancha’s men in order to convey to the women news of the rescue waiting them. The Ward, who lay still in some secret place of Ravenutzi’s contriving, was to be brought up to that quarter where it was to their advantage to have Mancha get word of her. A good plan, and worthy of the smith who planned it. It was well agreed to except 245in one point. No one of them trusted another one to take away the Treasure. So after much argument they fell upon the notion of dividing it. It was evident that as long as it remained in the common custody, no man was free to fight and run, according to his fighting humor or his chances. But give every man his own to carry about with him and he would know what he was fighting for, not with one eye over his shoulder to see how the common object fared. Good logic and sound, answering in many a better case; singularly not in this. Settling on a division of the King’s Desire proved a much easier matter than dividing it. They were two days wrangling over the manner of the division, and another trading and bargaining and matching lots among themselves. Then followed the period of inaction, planned to give the Outliers the impression that they had withdrawn from that part of the country. The next move was to have the Mancha sent seeking in the direction where it was to be made known through the captives the Ward was to be found. Ravenutzi had gone to prepare her for her part in it. Poor child, if it were willingly or not, if she consented 246at all, or even if she had any clear idea what was required of her, who can say?

In the meantime there were the Far-Folk lying separate, very quiet, every man with his treasure in his bosom to finger and fondle, with the south open before him and the spring coming on by leaps and bounds. Everywhere there were the smell of sap, the mating cry of quail and poppy fires kindling seaward; not much to put the fighting humor in a man.

But the Outliers were not quite in the same case. They were wronged, robbed, betrayed, they distrusted every move of their enemies, kept watches out. From the meeting of the river and the Ledge to the Gap, where the dip of the ranges east began, there was a line of solitary outposts, patrolling all the passages. While the Far-Folk played fox in the thorny covers south, there was in reality a stopped earth between them and their women and the places they had known.

The posts beat eastward half a day each from his own station to the next and back. One of these, going as still as a snake, saw a tall woman with long, coiling hair wrapped about her body, wasted and lovely, following a track in the woods. She followed so patiently, 247and with so much intention and such sureness, poring above it as though every footprint stabbed her and she hugged the stabbing to her breast; urged forward on it with such anguished purpose, held back from it by such torturing fears! Who else but a jealous woman follows in such fashion on the trail of the man she loves? The Outlier counted himself a poor guesser if this were not Ravenutzi’s wife following Ravenutzi. He followed, too, at a discreet distance. He might, perhaps, have come alongside her without attracting her attention, so intently was it fixed upon what lay before her, what she could not withhold herself from seeking, and was afraid to find. Now she hurried on with a kind of fury of discernment. Now she turned aside to compose her anguished bosom the better to read its traces where the trail looped and turned to baffle and bewilder. He followed. Trees gave place to scrub, and that to knee-high chaparral, and that to open hill crowns and broken stony ledges. Here he must skulk behind hills and at a considerable distance, because of the betraying openness. Presently he lost her. He had made sure that she was headed for a certain sag in the crest of a hill, 248and that by coming around the brow of another one he would have full sight of her again, that he was astounded and chagrined to discover, as it seemed, that she had sunk into the earth. There was no cover and no woman. Below him lay a slight hollow full of loose boulders. Toward this the trail, if trail there was, must have led, and he would have hurried on except for being so sure she had not had time to make it. He lay still where he was, under the jut of a bald hill, and considered.

Presently he saw a fox come out of its hole on the opposite side and begin to trot across the hollow; it started between tall boulders, but swerved, went sidewise, muzzle pointed with suspicion. Within the ring of boulders then lay something that was neither stick nor stone. From his post the watcher could not say very well what it was until the shadows had shrunk by about an hour. And then he saw the woman. She lay flat, face downward, waiting.

“If you wait, my girl,” said he to himself, “it is because he you follow is at the end of his trail and returns upon it soon.”

The Outlier saw the tortured woman writhing 249with impatience, saw the shadows shorten toward noon, and crows flying over, and then he saw Ravenutzi. The smith came over the sag of the hills, walking steadily, with apparently nothing on his mind but to get on to the place where he was going. He passed the woman lying among the boulders. The Outlier saw her crowding her face in the dust as he went by, as if she feared she must have cried out and run to him if she had looked. He passed the hill where the watcher lay, and struck into his former trail, deeply cogitating, looking neither down nor about to discover if he had been followed. When the smith was quite out of the hollow the woman rose and ran the way he had come, and the watcher considered. He thought most likely the Ward was at the end of that trail, but he had no particular interest in her, it was Ravenutzi who bred mischief and must be looked after. Accordingly he kept the smith in sight. As they passed the neighborhood of River Ward going back, the Outlier whistled one of his fellows out of the wood and sent word to Mancha.

That was how it happened when the Far-Folk came together to have their last direction 250from the smith, that there was an Outlier tracked him quite to that place. Behind him, following a slot of bent twigs and broken leaves, were Prassade and Persilope with the slingsmen and Mancha with the hammerers.

It was late of the afternoon and the light low enough to dazzle in the eyes. The place was rather level and open, with thin-branched pines and scant fern; behind it a sharp hill breaking abruptly. Oca sat below the hill where a glade opened, and the thick locks of his beard, heavy and waved like sculptor’s work, were gathered in his hand. He had on his head the circlet of fire-stones that gleamed as he turned, red, blue and green like some strange insect’s eyes. His body was half bare and his arms from the elbow up were banded with circles of beaten gold. The smith whispered behind him, and as the chief nodded, the eyes of his circlet changed from blue to green and red again as though they took their color from his thought.

Around stood the Far-Folk, eager, pleased with themselves, more interested in the cunning of their scheme than anxious over its success, making the necklets and armlets to shine on their dark skins. They laughed, 251boasting together like boys, then crowding one another to stillness to hear what went on among the leaders debating round Oca with some show of order. Half girt they stood, pluming themselves upon the morrow, the ring of unguarded backs turned outward. And in the midst of this came a sharp winging like the flight of birds—but no birds so swift—and a heavy pelting as of hail—but no hail tapped so loudly on the trees or thudded so sickeningly on human flesh. The outer ring of the Far-Folk surged toward the middle and there was a rush of those within outward, and then the pleasant wood was full of racing figures and hurtling noises.

It had come so quickly and from so many quarters, the light shining so low took the Far-Folk so squarely in the eyes, that the best men of them must have known from the beginning what the end was to be. After the first scattering rush they formed a ring about Oca and Ravenutzi, and then the curse of the King’s Desire began to work. Standing so in close order they made a better mark for the pelting of the slings. Such punishment as they had from the slingsmen was not to be endured. Had they had any reason for keeping 252their close order, they might by sheer weight have broken through the ranks of the Outliers, thinned to enclose them. But they had broken up the Treasure and had no other motive for holding together; they broke scattering, and Mancha’s men dealt with them singly as they came. There was heard the rapping of the slings, like the snapping of coals in the fire, and after the slings left off the hammers began.

Always as the ring about Oca melted into the scuffle and disorder of the fight, the Outliers followed the shine of Mancha’s hair as he ate like flame through the ranks toward Ravenutzi.

I suppose the smith saw him come and saved himself for what was before him; at least no man saw him strike a blow until his time came. The Far-Folk had edged the old king forward through the press, keeping toward a clear cañon down which they hoped to get away. But at the last Oca saw a son of his lifted high in Noche’s arms, one hand cast up like a crest, squealing with anguish. Back the old chief leaped, avoiding the whirling hammers, leaving the smith uncovered. Oca’s men rushed to defend him, and Mancha’s, 253wheeling to prevent it, carried the fight to another quarter. The sound of the struggle receded from Mancha’s ears, filled with the rushing of his own blood as he came face to face with Ravenutzi.

When the fighting mass cleared away and left them so confronting one another, the advantage seems to have been all to the smith. He was unwinded and wary. Mancha was hot and driven, hate rocked him where he stood like drunkenness.

They looked each upon the other for two or three short breaths, and Ravenutzi took a slight step backward. It was in reality to bring him in a better position with the light, but Mancha mistook it for flinching. With a cry he rushed upon him, whirling his stone hammer. The smith parried and thrust.

The hammer struck glancing, the smith reeled from it and dropped his pike. Mancha threw away his weapon and took the swaying body in his arms. He was head and shoulders shorter, but the lift of his back was tremendous, and Ravenutzi was dizzy from the blow. Mancha had him down. The long legs and arms of the smith clung and bound him; they were down together and up again and down, 254rolling and writhing, as they turned in a heap. Mancha was aware of one of the Far-Folk running toward them frothed with rage, weapon lifted, but he would not loosen his hold nor look away from Ravenutzi. He expected a blow from behind, and then he heard the shock of men coming together that told him how the blow was intercepted. He had the smith down now and under him, and struggled to loose the binding arms. He heard a voice calling: “Mancha! Mancha!” and thought it was the voice of Lianth. Too young to come to battle, the boy had been allowed by Mancha’s friendship to run between the creek and the fighting men to bring stones, as they might be needed, to the slingsmen. Once he had heard the whistling of the slings, the lad had come bounding like an unbroke hound to bay around the skirts of the fight.

“Mancha! Mancha!” said the voice, “I have him. He shall not get you.”

“Good lad!” said Mancha, but he would not look away from the smith’s eyes lest he should lose the hint of motion in them.

“Mancha, Mancha, I am hurt.” He heard the sounds of mortal agony in the fern, but 255they were not louder to him than the coming and going of his own breath.

“Hold him,” he said to the voice behind him. He had his knee on the pit of the smith’s stomach and the arms were loosening.

“Mancha!”—the voice was nearer—“he is dragging me. I cannot——”

Mancha had one of Ravenutzi’s arms twisted under the smith’s own body and his own hand at the smith’s throat.

“Mancha! Manc——” The voice broke with a bubbling sound.

He had the smith’s windpipe under his thumb, he was shaking him and grinding his head into the earth. A hand from behind clutched upon his heel. He kicked out and heard a wet cough, followed by a groan, but he could not turn to see what came of it. He shook and wried the smith’s head as it blackened under his hand.

“Where is she? Tell me where she is,” he cried, short and gaspingly. With every repetition of the word he lifted the smith’s head and ground it into the earth. He saw surrender in the bitten tongue and the protruding eyes. He rested a little, but as yet he would 256not spare the time to look behind him. Ravenutzi came slowly back to consciousness.

“Tell me where she is.” The answer came thickly.

“Far from here.”

“Where, where——” There was a motion of the choking and grinding to begin again.

“How can I tell you?... in a place known only to me.”

“If I let you up will you take me to it?”

“Breath,” said Ravenutzi, “give me breath.”

Mancha let his throat be while he bound the man’s arms.

“Do you promise, smith?”

“What is that across my feet?”

“A dead man, I think.” Mancha glanced slightingly over his shoulder.

“Where is my king?”

“Prassade has taken him.”

“And my friends?”

“One of them is across your feet; a lad of mine killed him. I do not know where the others are, it is some moments since I heard fighting.”

“It is all to you, then?”

“All to us ... you dog ... if I let you up 257she is?”

“I will take you.”

But it was not until Mancha had bound and rebound him that he left the smith to go and turn over the stiffening body of Lianth and wipe the bloody froth from his lips.


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