"No," he said.
No hesitation. He's already begun to lay plans, she thought, and allowed herself a thin gleam of hope. Surely there was nothing Tian could do against the Wolves -- nothing any of them could do -- but he was far from stupid. In a farming village where most men could think no further than planting the next row (or planting their stiffies on Saturday night), Tian was something of an anomaly. He could write his name; he could write words that said I LOVE YOU ZALLIE (and had won her by so doing, even though she couldn't read them there in the dirt); he could add the numbers and also call them back from big to small, which he said was even more difficult. Was it possible...?
Part of her didn't want to complete that thought. And yet, when she turned her mother's heart and mind to Hedda and Heddon, Lia and Lyman, part of her wanted to hope. "What, then?"
"I'm going to call a Town Gathering. I'll send the feather."
"Will they come?"
"When they hear this news, every man in the Calla will turn up. We'll talk it over. Mayhap they'll want to fight this time. Mayhap they'll want to fight for their babbies."
From behind them, a cracked old voice said, "Ye foolish killin."
Tian and Zalia turned, hand in hand, to look at the old man. Killin was a harsh word, but Tian judged the old man was looking at them -- at him -- kindly enough.
"Why d'ye say so, Gran-pere?" he asked.
"Men'd go forrad from such a meetin as ye plan on and burn down half the countryside, were dey in drink," the old man said. "Men sober -- " He shook his head. "Ye'll never move such."
"I think this time you might be wrong, Grand-pere," Tian said, and Zalia felt cold terror squeeze her heart. And yet buried in it, warm, was that hope.
There would have been less grumbling if he'd given them at least one night's notice, but Tian wouldn't do that. They didn't have the luxury of even a single fallow night. And when he sent Heddon and Hedda with the feather, they did come. He'd known they would.
The Calla's Gathering Hall stood at the end of the village high street, beyond Took's General Store and cater-corner from the town Pavilion, which was now dusty and dark with the end of summer. Soon enough the ladies of the town would begin decorating it for Reap, but they'd never made a lot of Reaping Night in the Calla. The children always enjoyed seeing the stuffy-guys thrown on the fire, of course, and the bolder fellows would steal their share of kisses as the night itself approached, but that was about it. Your fripperies and festivals might do for Mid-World and In-World, but this was neither. Out here they had more serious things to worry about than Reaping Day Fairs.
Things like the Wolves.
Some of the men -- from the well-to-do farms to the west and the three ranches to the south -- came on horses. Eisenhart of the Rocking B even brought his rifle and wore crisscrossed ammunition bandoliers. (Tian Jaffords doubted if the bullets were any good, or that the ancient rifle would fire even if some of them were.) A delegation of the Manni-folk came crammed into a bucka drawn by a pair of mutie geldings -- one with three eyes, the other with a pylon of raw pink flesh poking out of its back. Most of the Calla men came on donks and burros, dressed in their white pants and long, colorful shirts. They knocked their dusty sombreros back on the tugstrings with callused thumbs as they stepped into the Gathering Hall, looking uneasily at each other. The benches were of plain pine. With no womenfolk and none of the roont ones, the men filled fewer than thirty of the ninety benches. There was some talk, but no laughter at all.
Copyright © 2003 by Stephen King.
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