Wide Mouth blamed him for their fall from grace. Their public feud had undone their ambitions. The stupidity of it galled him. Wide Mouth had come marching into the roundhouse demanding justice - well he had it now. They both did. But Dian being out here didn't make sense. He had nothing to do with their fight. Indeed, Grudnew himself had praised the youngster for standing between his two friends when both Sláine and Wide Mouth had lost their heads. That deserved a reward surely, not exile? Whispers began after another spell. Sláine knew that they were talking about him. Their words didn't carry. They didn't need to. He saw their meaning in the eyes of the speakers: pity. He wouldn't be the object of anyone's pity. He held himself taller, drew his back straighter, and kept his eyes fixed firmly on an invisible spot in the middle distance where nothing existed. They could keep their pity. He was Sláine Mac Roth. He had no need for it. Cathbad, the druid, shuffled into the square, his twisted frame bent almost double as he moved towards the boys. Sláine didn't know what to think. Life as a druid was not the life he would have chosen for himself even an hour ago, but now Cathbad's arrival offered a slim hope of salvation. He could give himself to the service of the Goddess. He even started to believe that he had always dreamed of that oneness with the earth, that that was reason for the sensation of raw power he felt surging through his body when he lost his temper. So it was doubly hard when the old druid walked up to Dian, wrapped him on the knuckles with his rowan staff, said, "Follow me, boy", and turned his back. There was to be no last minute reprieve for either him or Cullen of the Wide Mouth. As the afternoon wore on into dusk all hope left him. The last thing he wanted to do was cry but it was impossible not to. He bit down on his lips and focused on that nowhere right in front of his eyes as the tears streamed down his face. No one laughed at him. They shared his grief because they knew no one was going to come.
The crowd had thinned down to nothing as the first hour stretched into a second and then a third without anyone coming to claim the boys. Sláine had cried himself out, mastering the weakness that was emotion. He didn't sniff, didn't moan. He just stared into space. Wide Mouth was devastated and made no effort to hide it. He no longer stood. He waited out the final hour of sunlight on his knees, beseeching Danu to forgive him and find a place for him in her heart. It was pitiful to see the proud boy reduced so easily to a wreck of a man. A man. They would be men when the sun sank below the horizon - no longer boys. And as men they had no place in the tribe. Cullen looked up with red-rimmed eyes. "It's all your fault," he spat accusingly at Sláine. He kept his voice low, harsh, so that it wouldn't carry any further than it had to. Sláine didn't bite. He knew what Wide Mouth was doing. He hoped to provoke Sláine into a fight and by doing so show the few remaining watchers that Sláine was the canker that needed to be cut out of the Sessair. It was a pitiful attempt to make him look like the innocent victim in all of this, but there was no innocent victim. Both were party to their own downfall and both of them knew it. Still there was a vindictiveness about Cullen of the Wide Mouth that defied reasoning. It wasn't just spite. It went beyond that. Wide Mouth derived glee from his own malice. He revelled in it. His behaviour now was only a hint of the man he would become. It made sense that Grudnew would not want him as part of the tribe. Who wanted a vicious moron in the heart of their family? Sláine was being punished for goading Wide Mouth when he had beaten him. What was it the king had said, "a warrior needed to learn humility"? What was more humbling than exile from his people? "Look!" someone said. Sláine didn't. He didn't want to know what was happening. He wanted Danu to