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30

F I V E D A N C E S W I T H D E A T H

31

Stars, our high priest. I recalled Stars permitting the children to go bird-hunting after consulting his books, claiming that it was a good day for bountiful killing. In that respect his books hadn’t lied. Bountiful killing, indeed. “And the guards?”

“Oh, they didn’t help. The short one stayed with us. The tall one chased the Moonwalks. He didn’t catch them.”

Screams erupted in the street below. I looked down from the roof edge. Near the steps a small crowd had formed around something or someone I couldn’t see in the deepening twilight. “What is it, Wasp?” Rainbow asked.

I didn’t answer for a while, trying to see what was in the middle of the crowd. One of my guards came out with a torch. The f lame illuminated some warriors, their faces distorted in rage and their fists raised. A man stepped from the midst of the people. He carried a heavy, tightly wrapped bundle.

“I believe they’ve brought the body,” I said.

I squatted on my mat, thinking. Whoever killed Hurricane couldn’t have been the Moonwalks, not so deep in our lands. The men may have been rogue Otomíes, the masters of the forest, or common thieves. I would send guards to search the ground for traces to assign blame and avoid war. Perhaps I should go with the guards. I had to see the place where it happened to understand what was going on. “Want to go on a real hunt?” I said. Flint was on his feet in one leap. “Yes!” “Now, right away, you and I will go hunt deer.”

The smile faded from Flint’s lips. “But there are no deer.” “We’ll bring many warriors. And we’ll see.” “But there are no deer!”

“Hasn’t he been exposed to enough danger?” Rainbow asked. She pressed Joy close to her body in a protective gesture that I found annoying. “Why don’t you go downstairs, Flint? Go to your mother.” Flint glanced at her, and I winced at the distress in his eyes. I placed my hand on his shoulder. It felt fragile, much more fragile than I was ready to accept. “He’s my son. Just as my fate is to

dimples accented a growing smile which looked genuine this time. “No, not at all.” I looked past the girl. “She’s like a precious feather.”

Light steps sounded behind me, and a small hand pushed me in the lower back. “Papa.”

I turned to the boy. His face was shaded, but the crown of his long, never-cut hair ref lected the dying sun, giving his head the appearance of a mysterious mirror. I pulled him onto the mat. “You hunted.”

He presented a hand for my scrutiny. “I hunted.”

“Shush,” Rainbow said, regarding Flint with detachment. He was Plume’s son, and he distressed her.

“I hunted.” Just like his mother, Flint slurred sounds and skipped word endings, giving his speech a trace of a foreign accent. This was a dangerous one to have—the accent of the dark forest, of the savage people, the Otomí. Everywhere in civilized lands this accent made him an outlander.

I opened the palm of his hand. A blue hummingbird lay there. “I killed it at dawn,” Flint whispered, glancing at Rainbow. “But nothing else came.”

“Why did you kill a hummingbird?” I asked. “To eat.”

I frowned at Rainbow’s laughter.

“And . . . and one boy died,” Flint added, hiding his kill. “A boy died?”

“Yes. Like this, look.” Flint grasped his stomach in mock pain. “He went crazy. Saw a deer, but there was no deer. He screamed like a stupid girl. And he died. We left him lying on his back.” “Why did he die?”

“There were men. He thought he saw a deer, but those were men. The Moonwalks.”

“Who died, Flint?” The sudden softness of Rainbow’s voice made Flint and me look at her. “Hurricane, the priest’s son.”

My heart sank at the news. Hurricane was the son of Smoking

C H A P T E R T H R E E

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