The girl was making arrows. She dipped the bottom of a stone arrowhead into a container of glue, and then fitted the arrowhead into the split at the top of a wooden shaft. Once she was satisfied the arrowhead was snug, she secured it with a thin length of sinew and then placed the new arrow on the pile next to her. The fletching, it seemed, could wait. Or maybe she'd run out.
Jake waited until she'd finished the arrow in her hands before speaking.
“I never got the hang of that,” he said, and Tanari looked up, gave him the I-See-you hand-gesture which he returned. Next to Neytiri, Jake knew Tanari and Kim'at the most. They'd been the young hunters who claimed their Banshees with him; even if he'd been the old man compared to the two teenagers, they'd all known nothing about flying when they'd started, and were lethal by the time Tsu'tey had even partly finished with them. That always created a bond.
“Not best time to start learning,” she said, and just for that, just for the tart tone in her voice that was normal, he grinned at her.
“No, I guess not.”
Tanari smiled at him, a quick expression that soon faltered. Her tail was twisting through the air with sudden agitation, and her ears were back. That made him pause.
“I- I ran, Jhakesully.”
Jake studied her for a moment. “When?” he asked at last, moving to crouch down in front of her. She kept stirring her pot of bark-and-sap-glue, keeping it from solidifying.
“When Hometree fall. At Graceaugustine's school, when the Skypeople killed Sylwanin, Reynilor and Nintaw.”
“I saw you when the Skypeople attacked Hometree,” he said. “I saw you fire, uh, I mean shoot your arrows.”
“And,” Jake interrupted, “I saw you only left when Eytukan told you.”
Her tail still twisted and twitched, but Tanari nodded. It was a grudging nod, but he hoped it was a start. “Yes, but. He did not have to tell me two, uh, two times.” Her expression was complicated, but one he'd seen on a lot of young soldiers' faces. Shamed, scared, stubbornly taking responsibility for something that most of the time wasn't even their fault. It was an achingly young expression that made him feel old and battle-weary.
“How old are you, Tanari?”
“This my sixth Time of Nights.” Pandora only had true night once a year, for a few (Terran) months, and Pandora's years were almost double Earth's. Jake blinked as the calculations ran through his head. Tanari daughter of Ípxa'ong wasn't even twelve. Sure, for the Na'vi and the way they matured, she was more like fifteen than twelve, and she had gone through her Dreamhunt only a few days before he did. But Jake was still human where it counted, and he sure as hell was still Australian and American in his upbringing. Twelve, even if it really meant fifteen or sixteen, was no age to pick up a weapon and go to battle.
However, he'd spent enough time around the Na'vi to know that to them, Tanari was an adult and a hunter, and thus a warrior. She also had an adolescent's prickly pride, and so he tried his damned hardest not to let his sudden dismay show.
“So, you were five and a half years old,” and fuck, fuck, fuck that was a fucked up thing to say, “when the Skypeople killed Sylwanin and the others?”
“Did you have a weapon?”
“My knife. They had their guns. I was scared. I had to get Tirri'ong out before they kill her. Before kill me. So I ran-”
“You did the right thing.”
Tanari's expression was incredulous and stubborn. Jake wanted to shake her, tarnish that idealism so she'd listen to her survival instincts. “But I ran,” she said. “Warriors don't run.”
“You weren't a warrior then-” he started, but her expression quickly told him that that was an argument which wasn't going to work. “Warriors do run, when they have to,” he said instead.
“Have you?” There, that was the Tanari he knew, brave and sharp.
“Hell yeah.” Her eyes went very wide at this, but he couldn't tell if it was at the admission itself or the fact that he would admit it. “And I hated it. But sometimes, you got to. At Hometree, at the school, you did the right thing. If you hadn't retreated-”
Oh, thank god, someone interrupted me. The reverence the Omaticaya, and most of the other warriors (he wanted to say other enlisted soldiers, but they weren't enlisted, weren't soldiers) showed when they talked to him was giving him a serious case of the creeps. “Military way of saying 'run away',” Jake explained with a wry grin. “My clan's way of saying when you back off because the enemy's got too many warriors or weapons, when you don't have enough to fight them and survive. Both the times you ran, it means you're alive now to fight. If you hadn't run, you'd be dead.”
Tanari had her head canted, ears pricked. Her tail was still moving through the air, but it was a more thoughtful movement now.
“I would have died with honour.”
“Honour doesn't mean much when you've died for nothing else,” Jake said, bluntly. “You die to protect your friends, your clan. To give them a chance to live. You die when you've got no other choice.”
The girl didn't look convinced, but at least he could see that she was thinking about it. “I. Jhakesully, what if I run at battle next day?”
“But I'm scared.”
“Everyone's scared. Being brave isn't not being scared, that's just being a skxawng.” Tanari's mouth twitched into a smile at that. “Being brave is being scared, and doing what it is you have to anyway. And I think you'll be fine.”
“Why?” Tanari's voice made the question almost a challenge.
“You had your chance to run. When Hometree fell, you could have grabbed your sister Tirri'ong, jumped on your Banshee, your ikran, and flown to Mitaronway,” he said, naming the fierce leader of the Ikran Clan of the Eastern Sea. “She's your aunt, right? Your brother's sister?”
“She not have let me stay.”
“No,” he agreed, “but you get my point? You didn't run away. You retreated because you followed an order, because your Olo'eyktan told you to, and you stayed with your clan. You're sitting here, making arrowheads.”
A quick smile as she ducked her head. “Keeps hands and mind busy.”
“I know.” Like checking his gun before a mission, like cleaning his ammo so it wouldn't jam in a firefight. “You'll be fine. You're brave, Tanari Ípxa'ong'ite. At Iknimaya, you were the first to follow Tsu'tey, no hesitation.” Jake took a deep breath. “And I need you.”
Her head snapped up. “You...do?”
“Yeah. I need you. I need you to lead some of the other warriors, the ones who don't know this area like you do. And I trust you. So you're not gonna run. Warriors don't run when their friends, when their brothers and sisters in the clan, need them.” He had her, he thought. He finally had her. “Warriors,” he said, even if in his mind he was also saying 'soldiers', also saying 'marines', “don't run even when they are scared, because they know that they can't let their friends down.”
“You,” Tanari started, then she stopped. Then she straightened and looked him in the eye. “You let us down,” she said, carefully choosing her words. “Before.”
He met her gaze, but not easily. “Yes,” Jake said at last. “I did.”
“We can trust you, Toruk Makto?”
She was, Jake thought, going to be a magnificent noncom when she grew older. Loyal and fierce enough to demand her superiors' best, sharp enough to question those superiors when they needed it.
If she grew older.
“Yes. Because I'm not gonna run away, either. I let you down once. I'm never going to do that again.”
Tanari kept his gaze, nodded, and drew in a deep breath of her own. “I will not run,” she announced, and he reached over to clap her shoulder.
“I know. Be counting on you,” he added as he got to his feet. As he walked away, he could see her start to make another arrow.
We're going up against gunships with bows and arrows, Trudy had said.
Then we'd better stop them, he'd replied with blithe confidence.
Tanari was twelve. If she'd been human, she would have barely started high school. And tomorrow, he was going to lead her into a battle against bullets and missiles. Her, and hundreds of warriors like her.
“Shit,” Jake muttered, and changed direction, heading towards the actual trees in the Tree of Souls valley to try and talk Eywa into finally picking a side.