Pellan gave no answer.
Taipai went on, “Well, of course they are. If you take me to them, I will do what I can.”
Pellan shook his head. Taipai waited. The one leather of bitter melon could not have satisfied the man, but he did not ask for another, though he could easily have taken them all. Taipai considered his stance, his obvious emaciation, and the fact that he was almost shaking with fatigue. He said, “You don’t trust me?”
“In fact, I do. But not with the lives of my wife and child.”
“They need food. I have food and you could take it. Why don’t you?”
“You gave me food when I was hungry. I cannot rob you now.”
Taipai understood. He said, “Every man has a wall he will not crawl over. It is a puzzle you cannot solve, but I can.” He held out the sack again and said, “I give you all of it. Take it to your family.”
The priest turned his back on Pellan and his spear, and began picking his way up the frozen waterway. Pellan clutched the sack to his chest and watched him out of sight.
The way back to his hartwa was short enough, and made lighter by the food in his belly. He gave a leather to his wife to chew on, took up his axe, and went out for wood. It took some time, since he had long since harvested all the nearby down wood. He returned and built up a fire. His wife held out a piece of bitter melon and he took it. Even though he wanted to give it all to his wife and child, he had to keep up his own strength for the hunt.
This bag of food would have kept the priest fed for a day. It might keep Pellan and his family alive for a week, but it would not last until snow melt.
It was a reprieve, not salvation.
Pellan dozed by the fire, warm for the first time in days. His wife chewed the melon, softening it with the juices of her mouth, and pressed the result into the mouth of her child. He was too young for solid food, but until her milk returned, it was all she had to give him.
An hour passed. Pellan woke with a start, and began to gather up his axe and spear. His wife watched him, cradling the infant to her empty breasts. He said, “I must go out again to hunt. I will return.”
She smiled. That smile was always a wonder to him, and the treasure of his heart. She said, “Of course you will. We will wait for you.” If she harbored doubt behind her eyes, she hid it so well that he could not see it. More Tuesday.