The gang of boys swarmed upon Tootsa and swirled around him as they yelled and whistled and whooped. Some prodded him with sticks, while one boy climbed onto a rock in the shade of the canyon wall and sprawled there, watching. Tootsa recognized him.
“All hail Lightfoot!” Tootsa called. “Black wind in the night, ghost in the moonlight, shadow in the light, master of pointed teeth.”
Lightfoot sat up and slid off his rock. The other boys stopped running. At arm’s length from Tootsa, Lightfoot broke into a grin. “All hail Tootsa,” he said. “Twisted grass in the wind, stone in the path, dust in the water, pebble in the shoe of the dog warriors.”
With a whoop followed by a laugh he pushed Tootsa, who pushed him back, and they scuffled until they were both out of breath.
“What brings you back?” asked Lightfoot.
“Wealth beyond belief,” Tootsa said, grabbing a pouch tied to his loincloth.
“What kind of wealth could the son of a stonemason from the land of dried buffalo turds possibly have?” Boys hooted with laughter.
“The kind that will make the enemies of Maasaw dance with joy.” Tootsa found a flat stone and shoved smaller stones beneath the edges to level it. He placed his pouch in the middle. Lightfoot sat opposite him and the boys crowded close.
Tootsa loosened the pouch and shook until one human tooth fell out, filed to a point. The boys murmured with approval. Lightfoot looked at Tootsa with a grin. Then with a flourish, Tootsa emptied the contents of the pouch.
“Fifty-seven teeth from the mouths of twenty-three Maasaw Warriors.” Tootsa ran his fingers through the pile of pointed teeth, black stains of blood and shreds of flesh still clinging to the roots. He separated four and arranged them to the side. “These are from the mouth of Ihu.”
The boys gasped and Lightfoot leaned back as if he’d been shoved.
“Ihu is dead?”
“His heart cut out and thrown into a buffalo-dung fire.”
The boys erupted into shouts until Lightfoot held his hand for silence.
“How did this happen?”
Tootsa told the story of the great battle between the village fighters and the warriors, the deception of his uncle Raana, and how Tootsa had knocked and cut and pulled the pointed and filed teeth out of the dead warriors’ heads.
“That is a big story,” said Lightfoot.
“It’s a true story. These are proof.”
“That’s why it’s a big story,” said Lightfoot. “This will stir the underbelly of the canyon for weeks. What do you want for these?”
“I have thirteen friends in the side canyon to the south. They want help hiding from the Maasaw Warriors. They want to get as close to the High Priest as possible.”
“Because the time has come to cut off the head of the snake.”
Lightfoot narrowed his eyes and the boys looked at him with their eyes wide.
“Who are these thirteen?
“People made orphans by the sacrifices to the new star six years ago. I barely remember. But I remember two months ago when Ihu killed my father. For that, I will keep his four pointed teeth.”
Lightfoot stared across the canyon, where the west-facing facets blazed orange in the light of the setting sun.
“I didn’t know about your father. But I remember the new star,” he said. “That’s when I, too, became an orphan. Tell your thirteen friends that we will help. The belly of the snake will protect them while they dream of cutting off its poisonous head.”
Tootsa scraped the four teeth of Ihu back into his pouch and stood. “Wait here. I’ll be back.” He turned and raced up the side canyon to find the orphans.