anger that she had not been born a boy. Braldt knew what it
cost her to admit that she had been afraid to enter the empty lands by herself, for throughout her young life Keri had competed
with Carn and Braldt and had often bested Carn even though he was older by fully eight moon turns. She had never ceased to
resent her mother’s insistence that she don long skirts when she reached the turning age and was always willing to slip away
with bow and arrow and spear when she should have been learning to cook and mend and tend to household chores. Braldt admired
her fierce nature, so like his own, and felt his heart quicken at the risk she had taken in remaining alone in this isolated
and dangerous place waiting for him to return. He doubted that even Carn would have had the courage to do so.
“What happened,” he asked as he began to pace swiftly toward the city.
“I don’t know. He fell silent when he learned of Hafnor’s and Solstead’s deaths and he had no interest in his food, even though
Mother prepared all his favorites to tempt him and the priests lay their hands upon him. Since then he has not moved but sits
in his chair and looks before him, seeing nothing.”
Keri glanced back at her sleeping bundle and her small pile of possessions and then at Braldt’s back as he drew swiftly away
from her and shook her head impatiently as she hurried to catch up with Beast darting in to snap at her heels.
“I knew it. I should never have gone,” Braldt muttered, blaming himself for Auslic’s collapse.
“How could you not go, it is your… ow! Braldt, call off your monster, it keeps biting at my ankles! Why have you brought this
thing back with you? Ow! Stop!” She turned to swat at Beast and he surged forward and snapped at her fingers.
“Beast,” Braldt said with a grunt as he swept the pupup and slipped him inside his robes. Immediately the pup’s head emerged from the confining robes and kept Ken in constant
view, growling as though to let her know that Braldt was under his protection. “He is with me, now.”
“So, it would seem,” Keri mumbled with displeasure, glaring at the upturned lip and glistening incisors, as she wiped the
smear of blood from her fingertips. “I thought the idea was to kill the tupebeasts, not tame them.”
Braldt did not reply, saving his energy for the distance yet to be covered and whatever he might find when he arrived.
The Guardian Stone stood a full day’s travel from the center of the city as did all the stones that ringed the perimeter. In all, there were two hundred and forty Guardian Stones,
as many stones as there were moonsets in a full turning, and Braldt had visited all of them during the long years of his youth
as he passed through one station and then another of his initiation into adulthood.
All boys began together in one raw lump, undistinguished from one another, having only their age, five, in common. They were
taken from their parents then and reared in communal buildings by the priests and the men who did their bidding, who would
decide their futures.
The priests were silent, never speaking, their features hidden away behind voluminous folds of dark material that swathed
them from head to toe. Even their hands were covered by gloves. A large silver plate, an image of Mother Moon, hung in the
center of their black robes, not a necklet or even woven into the heavy material, but seemingly fitted directly into their
bodies. This emblem was matched by a smaller image on the palm of their right hand.
Every boy wondered what the priests really looked like beneath the concealing folds of their robes and whether they disrobed
at night, but none dared to implement any of the plans that were brewed under the blankets in hushed whispers. There was something
mysterious and frightening about the priests, despite the fact that they were Mother Moon’s emissaries, something that could
not be defined. But as one grew
Peter Matthiessen, 1937- Hugo van Lawick