One of the most remarkable things about living in Foresthome was the respect. It was nothing like the grudging respect given to manly warriors. These people had respect for nature, respect for fellow Forestfolk, and respect for solitude. Even though none of the cabins had anything more substantial than cloth hanging over the doorways, people always knocked and asked permission before entering your abode, or even peeking.
At first I had attributed it to people avoiding me because I was the strange new girl. But I eventually understood that they were granting me something I never had before: privacy. Here, no one would barge in whenever they felt like it. Here, I could relax.
Remi kept his promise and never told anyone about me. I continued to follow him on his hunting trips, and I got to see his gift in action, marveling over his disappearance each time. I also got better at keeping quiet during the hunt. When he noticed a target, he would place a finger on his lips, and I would freeze in my tracks.
On one such occasion, he melted into the underbrush and aimed at a wild pig. His arrow struck true, and the pig squealed violently before falling to its side, dead. I averted my head and closed my eyes, a clenching in my heart.
“Siena, you do that every time,” Remi said. “Are you squeamish about blood?”
“No, it’s not that. I . . .” I hesitated. I saw blood all the time when healing injured warriors. But this was different. “It hurts me,” I finished, placing a hand over my heart, feeling like a sentimental fool.
“Every time?” His voice conveyed that he couldn’t fathom my reasons.
I didn’t know why, but I had to make him understand. This was such an integral part of my being. I had to explain.
“Remi, my . . . gift”—I was still unused to using that word— “is healing.”
“Right, you can heal yourself.” He nodded, trying to understand my point.
“Not just myself. I can heal anyone. Even trees.”
His eyes were round with disbelief. I went to stand next to him and cupped a hand over his sinewy arm. He had a small gash there from scraping against an errant branch. When I removed my hand, the wound was gone.
He touched his arm where the scrape had been and stared at it, then looked at me. “Your gift is remarkable!” He took my hand and peered into it, as if locating the source of my power. “Why don’t you want to share this with everyone? You could help so many people!”
I jerked my hand away. “What do you know about it? It doesn’t matter if they call us Gifted or Aberrations. In the end, that’s all they ever want from you, over and over. You cease being a person and you turn into a tool. I’m not going back to that life. I finally feel like a person here. I’ll not become a slave to my gift again.”
Understanding finally dawned in his eyes, and he seemed to withdraw a little, snapping a small branch with his hands. “I was a tool too. For my captors. They forced me to scout ahead and spy on neighboring tribes. They would give me no food or water to take with me so that I had no choice but to come back and report information. If I didn’t have anything useful, I couldn’t eat.” He pulled off a leaf and stared at it. “I think I know a thing or two about not feeling like a person.”
So he did understand. I was still confused. “Do the Forestfolk know about you?”
“Of course. They know I’m such a good hunter because of it.”
“And they don’t treat you differently?”
“Not at all.”
I studied his face, trying to determine if he was being completely honest, but I couldn’t tell.
“Siena, these people are not like Plainsmen at all. If you intend the Forestfolk no harm, they accept you as you are, gift or no gift.”
I wanted to believe him, but an entire lifetime of experience to the contrary told me otherwise.
“You can trust us,” he persisted.
Remi was trying so hard, chipping away at my defenses, but my walls were thick, and fear patched the holes. “I’m sorry, Remi. You’ve had years to trust these people. I’ve only just met all of you. I need time.”
He nodded, seeming to understand. “You’re right. It took me longer than a week to trust them enough to reveal myself.”
I breathed a small sigh of relief. My secret was safe a little longer.
“Just one more thing,” Remi said. “If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to know why your gift makes you turn your head every time I make a kill. I don’t understand.”
I inhaled slowly. I’d told him this much, I might as well tell him the rest. “I give life. It flows from me. I feel it all around me. When I see life extinguished, it . . . I don’t know, there’s a hole.” I laid a hand on my heart again. “I feel the hole, and it aches.”
Remi’s eyes softened and he took a long, deep breath. “You’re a tender, life-giving, soul. I’m a life-taking brute. Why do you continue following me around?”
I broke away from his warm gaze, not sure what the real answer was. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m afraid of falling out of trees again.” I gave him a sidelong glance and a smile.
Remi’s laughter chased away the tension, as well as any other game in the area, so he hefted the pig onto his shoulder and we made our way back home.
Dinner preparations were already underway. Remi heaved the pig onto a prep table and then pulled me aside. “You see the kids around that small fire?” he whispered while pointing.