So I have my doubts about the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's book review section, in other words.
Jonnie is awoken before dawn by Angus excitedly shouting that "It flashed!" Turns out the Scot had gone to the village spring but, mindful of Jonnie's orders, tested with the breathe-gas vial as he went. So there's the local radiation source.
A sudden chill came over Jonnie, and not from the morning cold. That flash was right alongside the path where the villagers went two and three times a day for water. And more. As a little boy he had been a mutineer on a subject of what work he would do. He was a man, he had said--illogically since he had begun this soon after he could walk--and he would hunt, but he would not sweep floors or bring water. And he had never fetched water from that spring. He had even watered his horses at another spring way up the slope. The chill came from his certainty that he himself was not immune to radiation. He had simply never gone to that spring. By a fluke he had escaped contamination. All because hide buckets slopped on him.
Yes, that's how the paragraph is written. And yes, Jonnie was an obstinate, unlikable little bastard even as a child. And an idiot, too, because he somehow developed a pathological hatred of one particular spring, instead walking up a hill to another water source each time he got thirsty.
"Fluke?" Nah, just another moronic plot contrivance. Like how apparently his parents never gave him water from the tainted spring when he was too young to stubbornly refuse to drink it, or how they never used dirty water to prepare food that Jonnie ate or wash his clothes with, or how they themselves stayed away from the spring so that Jonnie could be born without radiation-related birth defects.
Jonnie and the Scots (good band name?) rope off the contaminated area, while the parson makes up some crap about "spirits" to make the place taboo. Then there's breakfast, and after that Jonnie works with the parson and Angus to map out the radioactive places around the village, while the villagers watch with dull, vague interest. And then it is time for the prodigal son to leave once more, to avoid detection by the spy drone that flies overhead at noon each day. Because a devious mastermind like Terl would set his surveillance to a predictable pattern instead of randomizing it to confuse his enemies.
Aunt Ellen is frightened that Jonnie's leaving her again, but refuses Jonnie's offer to take her with him. She makes a show of being delighted at his final gifts ("a great stainless steel kettle and three knives and a fur robe with sleeves in it!") but is crying at the end, due to the patented Horrible Feeling I'll Never See You Again.
I honestly can't remember if she does. Aunt Ellen is that unimportant to the story. But we're out of the Village of the Idiots for now. Next time, Jonnie remembers.
Back to Chapter Four