“Say they didn’t. Say the supplies were gone. How long would they last?” I say. “I mean, it’s the Hunger Games, right?”
“But, Katniss, they’re not hungry,” says Rue.
“No, they’re not. That’s the problem,” I agree. And for the first time, I have a plan. A plan that isn’t motivated by the need for flight and evasion. An offensive plan. “I think we’re going to have to fix that, Rue.”
Rue has decided to trust me wholeheartedly. I know this because as soon as the anthem finishes she snuggles up against me and falls asleep. Nor do I have any misgivings about her, as I take no particular precautions. If she’d wanted me dead, all she would have had to do was disappear from that tree without pointing out the tracker jacker nest. Needling me, at the very back of my mind, is the obvious. Both of us can’t win these Games. But since the odds are still against either of us surviving, I manage to ignore the thought. Besides, I’m distracted by my latest idea about the Careers and their supplies. Somehow Rue and I must find a way to destroy their food. I’m pretty sure feeding themselves will be a tremendous struggle. Traditionally, the Career tributes’ strategy is to get hold of all the food early on and work from there. The years when they have not protected it well—one year a pack of hideous reptiles destroyed it, another a Gamemakers’ flood washed it away—those are usually the years that tributes from other districts have won. That the Careers have been better red growing up is actually to their disadvantage, because they don’t know how to be hungry. Not the way Rue and I do.
But I’m too exhausted to begin any detailed plan tonight. My wounds recovering, my mind still a bit foggy from the venom, and the warmth of Rue at my side, her head cradled on my shoulder, have given me a sense of security. I realize, for the first time, how very lonely I’ve been in the arena. How comforting the presence of another human being can be. I give in to my drowsiness, resolving that tomorrow the tables will turn. Tomorrow, it’s the Careers who will have to watch their backs.
The boom of the cannon jolts me awake. The sky’s streaked with light, the birds already chattering. Rue perches in a branch across from me, her hands cupping something. We wait, listening for more shots, but there aren’t any.
“Who do you think that was?” I can’t help thinking of Peeta.
“I don’t know. It could have been any of the others,” says Rue. “I guess we’ll know tonight.”
“Who’s left again?” I ask.
“The boy from District One. Both tributes from Two. The boy from Three. Thresh and me. And you and Peeta,” says Rue.
“That’s eight. Wait, and the boy from Ten, the one with the bad leg. He makes nine.”
There’s someone else, but neither of us can remember who it is.
“I wonder how that last one died,” says Rue.
“No telling. But it’s good for us. A death should hold the crowd for a bit. Maybe we’ll have time to do something before the Gamemakers decide things have been moving too slowly, I say. “What’s in your hands?”
“Breakfast,” says Rue. She holds them out revealing two big eggs.
“What kind are those?” I ask.
“Not sure. There’s a marshy area over that way. Some kind of waterbird,” she says.
It’d be nice to cook them, but neither of us wants to risk a fire. My guess is the tribute who died today was a victim of the Careers, which means they’ve recovered enough to be back in the Games. We each suck out the insides of an egg, eat a rabbit leg and some berries. It’s a good breakfast anywhere.
“Ready to do it?” I say, pulling on my pack.
“Do what?” says Rue, but by the way she bounces up, you can tell she’s up for whatever I propose.
“Today we take out the Careers’ food,” I say.
“Really? How?” You can see the glint of excitement in her eyes. In this way, she’s exactly the opposite of Prim for whom adventures are an ordeal.
“No idea. Come on, we’ll figure out a plan while we hunt,” I say.
We don’t get much hunting done though because I’m too busy getting every scrap of information I can out of Rue about the Careers’ base. She’s only been in to spy on them briefly, but she’s observant. They have set up their camp beside the lake. Their supply stash is about thirty yards away. During the day, they’ve been leaving another tribute, the boy from District 3, to watch over the supplies.
“The boy from District Three?” I ask. “He’s working with them?”
“Yes, he stays at the camp full-time. He got stung, too, when they drew the tracker jackers in by the lake,” says Rue. “I guess they agreed to let him live if he acted as their guard. But he’s not very big.”
“What weapons does he have?” I ask.
“Not much that I could see. A spear. He might be able to hold a few of us off with that, but Thresh could kill him easily,” says Rue.
“And the food’s just out in the open?” I say. She nods.
“Something’s not quite right about that whole setup.”
“I know. But I couldn’t tell what exactly,” says Rue. “Katniss, even if you could get to the food, how would you get rid of it?”
“Burn it. Dump it in the lake. Soak it in fuel.” I poke Rue in the belly, just like I would Prim. “Eat it!” She giggles. “Don’t worry, I’ll think of something. Destroying things is much easier than making them.”
For a while, we dig roots, we gather berries and greens, we devise a strategy in hushed voices. And I come to know Rue, the oldest of six kids, fiercely protective of her siblings, who gives her rations to the younger ones, who forages in the meadows in a district where the Peacekeepers are far less obliging than ours. Rue, who when you ask her what she loves most in the world, replies, of all things, “Music.”
“We sing at home. At work, too. That’s why I love your pin,” she says, pointing to the mockingjay that I’ve again forgotten about.
“You have mockingjays?” I ask.
“Oh, yes. I have a few that are my special friends. We can sing back and forth for hours. They carry messages for me,” she says.
“What do you mean?” I say.
“I’m usually up highest, so I’m the first to see the flag that signals quitting time. There’s a special little song I do,” says Rue. She opens her mouth and sings a little four-note run in a sweet, clear voice. “And the mockingjays spread it around the orchard. That’s how everyone knows to knock off,” she continues. “They can be dangerous though, if you get too near their nests. But you can’t blame them for that.”
I unclasp the pin and hold it out to her. “Here, you take it. It has more meaning for you than me.”
“Oh, no,” says Rue, closing my fingers back over the pin. “I like to see it on you. That’s how I decided I could trust you. Besides, I have this.” She pulls a necklace woven out of some kind of grass from her shirt. On it, hangs a roughly carved wooden star. Or maybe it’s a flower. “It’s a good luck charm.”
“Well, it’s worked so far,” I say, pinning the mockingjay back on my shirt. “Maybe you should just stick with that.”
By lunch, we have a plan. By early afternoon, we are poised to carry it out. I help Rue collect and place the wood for the first two campfires, the third she’ll have time for on her own. We decide to meet afterward at the site where we ate our first meal together. The stream should help guide me back to it. Before I leave, I make sure Rue’s well stocked with food and matches. I even insist she take my sleeping bag, in case it’s not possible to rendezvous by nightfall.
“What about you? Won’t you be cold?” she asks.
“Not if I pick up another bag down by the lake,” I say. “You know, stealing isn’t illegal here,” I say with a grin. At the last minute, Rue decides to teach me her mockingjay signal, the one she gives to indicate the day’s work is done. “It might not work. But if you hear the mockingjays singing it, you’ll know I’m okay, only I can’t get back right away.”
“Are there many mockingjays here?” I ask.
“Haven’t you seen them? They’ve got nests everywhere,” she says. I have to admit I haven’t noticed.
“Okay, then. If all goes according to plan, I’ll see you for dinner,” I say.
Unexpectedly, Rue throws her arms around me. I only hesitate a moment before I hug her back.
“You be careful,” she says to me.
“You, too,” I say. I turn and head back to the stream, feeling somehow worried. About Rue being killed, about Rue not being killed and the two of us being left for last, about leaving Rue alone, about leaving Prim alone back home. No, Prim has my mother and Gale and a baker who has promised she won’t go hungry. Rue has only me.
Once I reach the stream, I have only to follow it downhill to the place I initially picked it up after the tracker jacker attack. I have to be cautious as I move along the water though, because I find my thoughts preoccupied with unanswered questions, most of which concern Peeta. The cannon that fired early this morning, did that signify his death? If so, how did he die? At the hand of a Career? And was that in revenge for letting me live? I struggle again to remember that moment over Glimmer’s body, when he burst through the trees. But just the fact that he was sparkling leads me to doubt everything that happened.
I must have been moving very slowly yesterday because I reach the shallow stretch where I took my bath in just a few hours. I stop to replenish my water and add a layer of mud to my backpack. It seems bent on reverting to orange no matter how many times I cover it.
My proximity to the Careers’ camp sharpens my senses, and the closer I get to them, the more guarded I am, pausing frequently to listen for unnatural sounds, an arrow already fitted into the string of my bow. I don’t see any other tributes, but I do notice some of the things Rue has mentioned. Patches of the sweet berries. A bush with the leaves that healed my stings. Clusters of tracker jacker nests in the vicinity of the tree I was trapped in. And here and there, the black-and-white flash of a mockingjay wing in the branches high over my head. When I reach the tree with the abandoned nest at the foot, I pause a moment, to gather my courage. Rue has given specific instructions on how to reach the best spying place near the lake from this point. Remember, I tell myself. You’re the hunter now, not them. I get a firmer grasp on my bow and go on. I make it to the copse Rue has told me about and again have to admire her cleverness. It’s right at the edge of the wood, but the bushy foliage is so thick down low I can easily observe the Career camp without being spotted. Between us lies the flat expanse where the Games began.
There are four tributes. The boy from District 1, Cato and the girl from District 2, and a scrawny, ashen-skinned boy who must be from District 3. He made almost no impression on me at all during our time in the Capitol. I can remember almost nothing about him, not his costume, not his training score, not his interview. Even now, as he sits there fiddling with some kind of plastic box, he’s easily ignored in the presence of his large and domineering companions. But he must be of some value or they wouldn’t have bothered to let him live. Still, seeing him only adds to my sense of unease over why the Careers would possibly leave him as a guard, why they have allowed him to live at all.
All four tributes seem to still be recovering from the tracker jacker attack. Even from here, I can see the large swollen lumps on their bodies. They must not have had the sense to remove the stingers, or if they did, not known about the leaves that healed them. Apparently, whatever medicines they found in the Cornucopia have been ineffective.
The Cornucopia sits in its original position, but its insides have been picked clean. Most of the supplies, held in crates, burlap sacks, and plastic bins, are piled neatly in a pyramid in what seems a questionable distance from the camp. Others are sprinkled around the perimeter of the pyramid, almost mimicking the layout of supplies around the Cornucopia at the onset of the Games. A canopy of netting that, aside from discouraging birds, seems to be useless shelters the pyramid itself. The whole setup is completely perplexing. The distance, the netting, and the presence of the boy from District 3. One thing’s for sure, destroying those supplies is not going to be as simple as it looks. Some other factor is at play here, and I’d better stay put until I figure out what it is. My guess is the pyramid is booby-trapped in some manner. I think of concealed pits, descending nets, a thread that when broken sends a poisonous dart into your heart. Really, the possibilities are endless. While I am mulling over my options, I hear Cato shout out. He’s pointing up to the woods, far beyond me, and without turning I know that Rue must have set the first campfire. We’d made sure to gather enough green wood to make the smoke noticeable. The Careers begin to arm themselves at once. An argument breaks out. It’s loud enough for me to hear that it concerns whether or not the boy from District 3 should stay or accompany them.
“He’s coming. We need him in the woods, and his job’s done here anyway. No one can touch those supplies,” says Cato.
“What about Lover Boy?” says the boy from District 1.
“I keep telling you, forget about him. I know where I cut him. It’s a miracle he hasn’t bled to death yet. At any rate, he’s in no shape to raid us,” says Cato.
So Peeta is out there in the woods, wounded badly. But I am still in the dark on what motivated him to betray the Careers. “Come on,” says Cato. He thrusts a spear into the hands of the boy from District 3, and they head off in the direction of the fire. The last thing I hear as they enter the woods is Cato saying, “When we find her, I kill her in my own way, and no one interferes.”
Somehow I don’t think he’s talking about Rue. She didn’t drop a nest of tracker jackers on him.
I stay put for a half an hour or so, trying to figure out what to do about the supplies. The one advantage I have with the bow and arrow is distance. I could send a flaming arrow into the pyramid easily enough—I’m a good enough shot to get it through those openings in the net—but there’s no guarantee it would catch. More likely it’d just burn itself out and then what? I’d have achieved nothing and given them far too much information about myself. That I was here, that I have an accomplice, that I can use the bow and arrow with accuracy. There’s no alternative. I’m going to have to get in closer and see if I can’t discover what exactly protects the supplies. In fact, I’m just about to reveal myself when a movement catches my eye. Several hundred yards to my right, I see someone emerge from the woods. For a second, I think it’s Rue, but then I recognize Foxface—she’s the one we couldn’t remember this morning—creeping out onto the plain. When she decides it’s safe, she runs for the pyramid, with quick, small steps. Just before she reaches the circle of supplies that have been littered around the pyramid, she stops, searches the ground, and carefully places her feet on a spot.