The third time the girl saw the boy, he slipped up on her. "Stay," he warned as she started to run.
He was standing almost invisible beside a tree. Despite what he said, the girl ran.
"Stay!" he called after her, insisting that he wouldn't hurt her. Then he laughed and said he should because she'd tried to have him killed.
The girl reached a clearing before the boy caught up. He quickly crouched behind another tree, but the girl hoped the women she was with were close enough by to see him. Still, she knew she shouldn't be seen talking to the boy and only stayed because she thought that might be safer.
The boy saw her looking for the other women and asked if she really thought he'd risk talking to her if anyone was near.
"No," she admitted.
The boy laughed again and told her he'd been this close to her before. He said he'd been tracking her every day since the day she scared him near the stream. That she never knew when he was there.
The girl hadn't known, and that scared her more.
The boy grinned, saying he'd been with the girl almost every time she was in the forest. The girl didn't believe that but still asked why he would follow her.
He said because it was easy.
The girl tried to forget how smart the boy was and instead asked him questions her warriors would want to know. She asked why he was still in the forest if he was strong enough to hunt.
The boy let himself be seen a little more, and the girl noticed there was no longer anything wrapped around his leg. The boy told her he was strong enough to hunt but not strong enough to go back to his village.
"Is it far?" the girl asked.
The boy again laughed. He said he wasn't going to tell her that.
The girl didn't know where the closest villages were, but she knew that some of them didn't stay in one place all the time. She thought maybe the boy was from one of those and was waiting for his people to return. Or maybe he was waiting for them to find him.
Mostly, the girl wanted to be back with the other women, and she hoped one of them would find her soon. When none of them appeared, and the girl thought it was safe to move again, she slowly started towards her village.
The boy didn't follow, so the girl quickly started to run. When he let her go, the girl realized the boy must have known how close she was to her village.
After the girl found the other women, she told them what had happened. Once they reported to the leader's wife, she went to the men. But first she warned the girl to tell her own husband, and the girl knew why. She shouldn't have been talking to the boy.
Brown Bark mainly asked why the boy was following her. The girl insisted that she didn't know. That it seemed the boy just wanted to hunt.
Brown Bark asked if the boy was following any of the other women. The girl said she didn't know that, either. But she added that she really didn't want to talk with the boy. Still, she didn't say that very forcefully because she didn't want to cause trouble.
Her husband thought for a while and decided the boy was following her because she'd helped him. He said he still didn't understand why she'd done that.
All the girl could say was, "It was the bears. I was afraid to be alone."
Brown Bark seemed to believe that.
"You need to find the boy," the girl went on. At first, her husband said nothing, and then he asked if the girl knew what would happen when the boy was caught.
The girl nodded, and Brown Bark stared at her until he was sure she was telling the truth. Then he went to the other men.
Soon, a group of warriors left the village. But the forests were large, and there were too many caves to explore them all. Some of the men were still sure the boy was part of a trap, and they didn't want to be far from the village. But an attack never came.
After the third meeting, the girl tried never to be alone in the forests. The other women understood that, and one of them always tried to stay with her. Still, none of the other women had ever seen the boy, and after a while, they stopped thinking about him.
But the girl was sure the boy was always near. A twig would drop from a tree without any reason. A stone would skip across a stream. A bird call wouldn't sound enough like a bird. When the girl told the other women this, they laughed. And when the girl actually thought she saw the boy, he didn't try to talk. He'd smile. Or he'd wave. Then he'd be gone.
The other women laughed when the girl told them about this, too. Still, one afternoon, the boy followed her so close to the village that two warriors were able to chase after him. When they came back, they had to admit the boy had gotten away.
The warriors said the boy would go places they wouldn't. That he didn't seem to be afraid of the bears. When the girl reminded them that he was as afraid of the bears as anyone else, the warriors didn't seem to believe her. But they set a trap. They sent the girl out near the boy's cave and waited for him to appear. Only he didn't. It didn't matter if the girl went first and the warriors came after, or if the men hid first and the girl came later. And it didn't matter where she was in the forest.
After that, the girl didn't see the boy for a while, and the warriors decided they'd scared him away. The other women were glad of that because they were beginning to think the girl was haunted, and the other men teased Brown Bark about his wife. Fortunately, Brown Bark was strong.