Half Shaman, 2
|Eagle ... Bald Eagle?|
2: Wake Up Call
“Hear that?” the chained man said. “Guards tramping up the stairs, echoing in the stairwell. Do something!”
I hear them too now. Or rather, I finally realise what that sound means. There’s nothing gentle about the sound of guards tramping. I wake into the moment finally. “We will sing the Eagle’s Totem. Repeat each phrase exactly as you hear it.” I don’t tell him which Eagle Totem we’ll sing.
“A sing-and-response chant,” the prisoner says.
“He soars with his great wings reaching across the …”
“his yellow feet clench the fish that is his …”
We both aspirate the final word of each phrase, needing that little silence to keep track of the guards along the stone corridor. They stop midway and make a lot of work unlocking and opening a fibre-glass door. An awkward squawk sounds when they thrust someone into the cell.
The guards tramp away and down the stone stairs while the prisoner and I sing the rest of the Fishing Eagle’s lines: “he grasps a problem as if it is prey,”
“tears it apart and consumes it.”
As the guards come tramping up again, we begin to sing the Harpy Eagle’s difficult qualities.
“Lest the soul in a harpy eagle’s care founders …”
“the harpy tears through the self-imposed …”
This time, I hear a light hard-edged pattering in the echoing stair-well. Maybe a trotting.
“They’re bring up the fauns,” the prisoner chants. “They’re throwing them into the cells.”
No sound from the guards for a minute. By my calculations they have just closed a door on a young faun, a man with hooves said to have descended from genetically engineered stock from the ArkShip. I don’t believe it. Were the guards listening to the prisoner alone or to both of us? Was he singing to them, telling them what he is telling me at the same time that he is telling me? Is he telling them he has my trust? As if.
The prisoner continues to rephrase the traditional replies.“They’re just kids. Except for the fucking head-man. He’ll probably double-cross you.”
The guards laugh as if they know exactly what is going on. They have one up on me there, for I have no idea what the prisoner intends with his information. Though the totem-learning was never a secret, I worry that the Lotor-born might begin to listen more carefully. Just when I’d decided I should ask for help from the Vulture Totem.
The guards stopped nearer to my door. Apparently there is a cell between the one they stopped at previously and mine. “We’ll repeat the qualities of the Sea Eagle,” I said. This time prisoner sings them proud and strong. The cell door to my right squeals open, then squeals shut. Click clack go the feet of a faun into the cell without any help of the Lotor-born. The guards tramp away, chatting and laughing amongst themselves.
“You are a Sea Eagle,” I sing.
“And you were a Harpy Eagle.” He laughs. “Is that why you went to be a shaman? Because to be a shaman you get to drop your totem for the chance to study them all?”
With every word he spoke, and sang, I learned more about him. He was strong and fit and tall. He continues his teasing. “He must have hated you, who gave you that totem.”
“She,” I said. I wanted to hear everything he would say. The lengths he would go to to discomfort me. “A woman shaman gave me that totem.” I didn’t tell him what she added. ‘With the Harpy Eagle’s qualities to live up to, you may turn into a decent person.” Which at the time I thought of a kind of curse.
The inner walls are a double ten-cube thick. I heard no sound all night from the cells to the right (this is with me facing the cell door) not even via the door or rather the gap under the door. Only when the porridge is brought next morning, I think I hear a whisper, like a rustling of leaves. The head-faun’s voice? I could distinguish no words among the dry shifting.
I eat my porridge. The Sea Eagle spooning his up echos me scraping porridge up from my bowl. The exact moment I put my spoon down after the last mouthful, he says, “I’m Tayne. What can I call you? I’m thinking, now that I know you better, we should keep your half-title a secret.” He laughs.
What am I to think of him?
Only when I am dreaming might I still be Jeb. The river of memories unleashed in me by the totem-singing became a side-stream of unfamiliar moments. Things that haven’t happened yet, I realise. In one of the scenes I imagine being called by a strange name and not answering. That mustn’t be allowed to happen. “My name is Jeb.”
“So. Jeb,” Tayne says. “When you look at the gap above the wall between our cells, what do you see? What colour is the light from over my side?”
It had seems to me that Tayne speaks ideas as they come to him. And this is meant to be just such an artless comment. Though it sounds calculated. “Um. I see the colour of unpainted stone,” I say.
“The walls in here are unpainted stone. I see a glaring white stripe up there. Why?”
I wonder if it is safe telling him. “Because everything in here is painted white,” I say. “Floor, walls, ceiling. I need to use a blindfold half the day.”
“Why wouldn’t you sketch the totems? They teach you that in Shaman School, don’t they?” Tayne says. “Cover the whole wall with their glory? The Sea Eagle at the top, his wings outstretched over the whole caboodle.”
How does he know I haven’t? He must have contact with the guards. He is not an ordinary prisoner. “What would I use for a writing stick?” I say. I think the guards, or whoever is in charge, hope I’ll unburden myself to him. The only writing stick I need is a fingernail. All I need is to inscribe a universe of dots to mark out constellations as they appear from OldEarth. My half-training has readied me to think the roads between, to imagine the lines.
I shiver. Lotor wishes to learn the map of OldEarth’s skies? One of the secrets taught at the Shaman School is that Lotor is an inimical construct, made, and self-learning.