"You have good sponsors," she says longingly.
"Have you gotten anything yet?" I ask. She shakes her head. "You will, though. Watch. The closer we get to the end, the more people will realize how clever you are." I turn the meat over.
"You weren't joking, about wanting me for an ally?" she asks.
"No, I meant it," I say. I can almost hear Haymitch groaning as I team up with this wispy child. But I want her. Because she's a survivor, and I trust her, and why not admit it? She reminds me of Prim.
"Okay," she says, and holds out her hand. We shake. "It's a deal."
Of course, this kind of deal can only be temporary, but neither of us mentions that.
Rue contributes a big handful of some sort of starchy root to the meal. Roasted over the fire, they have the sharp sweet taste of a parsnip. She recognizes the bird, too, some wild thing they call a groosling in her district. She says sometimes a flock will wander into the orchard and they get a decent lunch that day. For a while, all conversation stops as we fill our stomachs. The groosling has delicious meal that's so fatty, the grease drips down your face when you bite into it.
"Oh," says Rue with a sigh. "I've never had a whole leg to myself before."
I'll bet she hasn't. I'll bet meat hardly ever comes her way. "Take the other," I say.
"Really?" she asks.
"Take whatever you want. Now that I've got a bow and arrows, I can get more. Plus I've got snares. I can show you how to set them," I say. Rue still looks uncertainly at the leg. "Oh, take it," I say, putting the drumstick in her hands. "It will only keep a few days anyway, and we've got the whole bird plus the rabbit." Once she's got hold of it, her appetite wins out and she takes a huge mouthful.
"I'd have thought, in District Eleven, you'd have a bit more to eat than us. You know, since you grow the food," I say.
Rue's eyes widen. "Oh, no, we're not allowed to eat the crops."
"They arrest you or something?" I ask.
"They whip you and make everyone else watch," says Rue. "The mayor's very strict about it."
I can tell by her expression that it's not that uncommon an occurrence. A public whipping's a rare thing in District 12, although occasionally one occurs. Technically, Gale and I could be whipped on a daily basis for poaching in the woods - well, technically, we could get a whole lot worse - except all the officials buy our meat. Besides, our mayor, Madge's father, doesn't seem to have much taste for such events. Maybe being the least prestigious, poorest, most ridiculed district in the country has its advantages. Such as, being largely ignored by the Capitol as long as we produce our coal quotas.
"Do you get all the coal you want?" Rue asks.
"No," I answer. "Just what we buy and whatever we track in on our boots."
"They feed us a bit extra during harvest, so that people can keep going longer," says Rue.
"Don't you have to be in school?" I ask.
"Not during harvest. Everyone works then," says Rue.
It's interesting, hearing about her life. We have so little communication with anyone outside our district. In fact, I wonder if the Gamemakers are blocking out our conversation, because even though the information seems harmless, they don't want people in different districts to know about one another.
At Rue's suggestion, we lay out all our food to plan ahead. She's seen most of mine, but I add the last couple of crackers and beef strips to the pile. She's gathered quite a collection of roots, nuts, greens, and even some berries.
I roll an unfamiliar berry in my fingers. "You sure this is safe?"
"Oh, yes, we have them back home. I've been eating them for days," she says, popping a handful in her mouth. I tentatively bite into one, and it's as good as our blackberries. Taking Rue on as an ally seems a better choice all the time. We divide up our food supplies, so in case we're separated, we'll both be set for a few days. Apart from the food, Rue has a small water skin, a homemade slingshot, and an extra pair of socks. She also has a sharp shard of rock she uses as a knife. "I know it's not much," she says as if embarrassed, "but I had to get away from the Cornucopia fast."
"You did just right," I say. When I spread out my gear, she gasps a little when she sees the sunglasses.
"How did you get those?" she asks.
"In my pack. They've been useless so far. They don't block the sun and they make it harder to see," I say with a shrug.
"These aren't for sun, they're for darkness," exclaims Rue. "Sometimes, when we harvest through the night, they'll pass out a few pairs to those of us highest in the trees. Where the torchlight doesn't reach. One time, this boy Martin, he tried to keep his pair. Hid it in his pants. They killed him on the spot."
"They killed a boy for taking these?" I say.
"Yes, and everyone knew he was no danger. Martin wasn't right in the head. I mean, he still acted like a three-year-old. He just wanted the glasses to play with," says Rue.
Hearing this makes me feel like District 12 is some sort of safe haven. Of course, people keel over from starvation all the time, but I can't imagine the Peacekeepers murdering a simpleminded child. There's a little girl, one of Greasy Sae's grandkids, who wanders around the Hob. She's not quite right, but she's treated as a sort of pet. People toss her scraps and things.
"So what do these do?" I ask Rue, taking the glasses.
"They let you see in complete darkness," says Rue. "Try them tonight when the sun goes down."
I give Rue some matches and she makes sure I have plenty of leaves in case my stings flare up again. We extinguish our fire and head upstream until it's almost nightfall.
"Where do you sleep?" I ask her. "In the trees?" She nods. "In just your jacket?"
Rue holds up her extra pair of socks. "I have these for my hands."
I think of how cold the nights have been. "You can share my sleeping bag if you want. We'll both easily fit." Her face lights up. I can tell this is more than she dared hope for.
We pick a fork high in a tree and settle in for the night just as the anthem begins to play. There were no deaths today.
"Rue, I only woke up today. How many nights did I miss?" The anthem should block out our words, but still I whisper. I even take the precaution of covering my lips with my hand. I don't want the audience to know what I'm planning to tell her about Peeta. Taking a cue from me, she does the same.
"Two," she says. "The girls from Districts One and Four are dead. There's ten of us left."