Ultima quickly assumes the family's routine, helping with the chores and listening to Gabriel's frustrated dream of moving to California with his sons and working in the vineyards. Sometimes Gabriel cries when he thinks of how the war and the town have ruined his ambitions. Antonio walks through the llano with Ultima and learns about the beauty of the earth, and the names of herbs and animals, and to no longer fear the presence of river.
Ultima's natural role as Antonio's guide begins. She teaches him to no longer fear the river, which shows that he is already breaking away from his parents' protection – but the river also divides town from llano, and so perhaps this is also a symbolic move beyond fearing the separation between town and llano. Gabriel seems to already know that his dreams have failed, but still he clings to them.
One night the owl cries a warning and Chávez, Jasón's father, enters the family's house. He rambles wildly, and then finally calms down enough to say that his brother, the sheriff, has been killed. The murderer is a man named Lupito who was driven crazy by his experiences during the war. The sheriff was sitting and drinking coffee when Lupito walked up and shot him in the head. Chávez wants Gabriel to help him kill Lupito, as Chávez must avenge his brother. Gabriel tries to calm him down but Chávez insists, and they get their rifles and leave. María tries to lock the children in but Antonio slips out and follows the men.
The ever-looming specter of World War II comes to symbolize the harsh modern world imposing itself upon the secluded rural societies of the novel. The theme of punishment and revenge is also introduced here, as Chávez is driven to act by his culture's masculine emphasis on vengeance – he is almost forced to hunt down Lupito and avenge his brother. Antonio secretly following the men here begins both his ordeals and a more active role in his own life.
Men are gathered on the bridge and Antonio hides in some brush. He sees Lupito crouching at the edge of the river with a pistol, and Lupito glances at him briefly with wild eyes. The men spot Lupito and he starts to scream and yell about Japanese soldiers, and then runs towards Antonio and disappears in the dark reeds.
Lupito's post-traumatic hallucinations here prove that he cannot be held responsible for his actions. This fact makes the vigilante manhunt seem more unjust, and also presents a complex and ambiguous moral issue that Antonio must process.
Vigil the policeman shows up and the men say they have to kill Lupito. Vigil argues that he has to deputize them first, but they shout him down. Gabriel argues against them as well, and his friend Narciso agrees – Lupito is not an animal to be hunted, but a man driven mad by war. The men call Narciso a drunk and shoot into the water.
Gabriel and Narciso appear as voices of reason among the townspeople. Despite both of their flaws (mostly alcohol-related) they show themselves to be men of character who are willing to deal subtly with matters of humanity, punishment, and revenge.
Narciso tries to yell down to Lupito with comforting words and encourage him to give himself up without more bloodshed. Lupito shakes sadly and fires his pistol into the air. The men on the bridge think he is shooting at them, and they shoot together and kill him. Lupito looks at Antonio as he dies, and cries out for his blessing.
Antonio sees his first death, which is a pivotal point in his childhood. The fact that Lupito asks for Antonio's blessing also thrusts the role of "priest" upon his shoulders in a much more sudden and even desperate way than María's fervent dreams for his future do.
Antonio runs away through sharp branches that cut him, repeating the Acts of Contrition – the prayers of a priest for Lupito's soul. He starts to cry, but is soon comforted when he hears the song of Ultima's owl. He thinks about his family, and the town, and river now stained with blood. This is the first time Antonio has seen someone die. He thinks about Lupito's war madness and prays for his brothers, who are still away fighting.
Lupito's death sets off Antonio's conflict over sin, the fate of the soul after death, and the punishments decreed by religion. Antonio acts as a symbolic priest for the first time here, though he does not yet understand the significance of his prayers. The owl also appears as a symbol of Ultima's comforting presence.
Antonio enters the house and Ultima greets him gives him some medicine to drink. She tries to soothe his questions about Lupito's soul, and says he will learn the strange ways of men someday. She washes his cuts with a potion, and Antonio falls asleep.
Ultima is there as mentor and healer immediately after the traumatic event, but again she passes no judgments, only saying that Antonio will learn the strange ways of adulthood eventually, but leaving him to discover these for himself.
He dreams of his brothers, and they speak about the llano and the Márez blood which is restless like the sea. They want to gather around Gabriel and go west to build a castle in the hills. Antonio wants to go too, but they mock him for being too young and submitting to his mother's dreams of priesthood. La Llorona ("The Wailing Woman") appears, seeking Antonio's blood and soul, but then changes into Lupito seeking Antonio's blessing, and finally becomes the presence of the river itself. Antonio calms the river so his brothers can cross and go to build their castle. María weeps because Antonio is growing older.
The dream again highlights the conflict between Luna and Márez and how they mirror the conflicting indigenous and Spanish cultures in New Mexico. The figure of La Llorona shows that this novel is part of a whole new genre, a Chicano literature with different allusions and a different mythology. La Llorona is a folktale figure of a woman who killed her children. Sometimes the story goes that she went mad, and often it is told to frighten children into obedience. The aspect of an insane (but sympathetic) murderer relates to Lupito, and La Llorona's appearance shows that witnessing death is linked to this traditional childhood terror in Antonio's mind.