Half Shaman, 9

Meerkat On Guard

Links to Previous Chapters:

1: Vigil     2: Wake Up Call      3: ArkShip in the Night

4: The Yellow City Dream       5: In the White Cell, Still

6: Soowei's Story     7: The Round-Up    8: The Meerkat Totem

Success at last, the ship answers. Jeb screams and cries her happiness. the prison's guards fetch her and throw her into the narrow yard. Who awaits her there? 

9: The Narrow Yard

Where I lie, crying. Nobody comes near me and I don’t don’t care. The ship the ship the ship! I laugh and laugh. I roll on the ground laughing, I’m feeling so … so … victorious! The old me. I am still the Harpy. 

A guard reads hysteria in my mind or he knows just what I need. He turns a hose on me, a mixture of Lotor and OldEarth water. Lumps in a liquid splatter over me. The lumps stick. Lotor sticks. Does it matter? The dirt I’m lying on is Lotor. I’m scraped raw from being flung out here, skidding over the hard-packed dirt, collecting a gravel rash from here to tomorrow, with grains of sand thrust far into my tissues. All of it stings. 

Except the parts where Lotor-water sticks to me. It seems Lotor is healing me. Does its central management know it’s healing me, or is it regional? As in, does Lotor’s heart know what Lotor’s elbow does? A life time study, is Lotor. Soon to be truncated, at least by me. Ha ha ha!

I’m smiling widely, I can’t stop. I sit up, I smoothe the gel over my arm. Might as well. Look around at them that didn’t rush to my aid. Catch their glances and feel slightly better that some seem uncomfortable that they can’t help me. Some look at their feet. Even the one whom I suspect to be Tayne looks away. “What is your problem?” I inquire. I can’t stop smiling. 

He’s standing over by the fence, where he was chatting with one of the OldEarth-born. He shakes his head like he can’t believe what just happened. “You little fucker,” he says. “You made me a laughing stock. I built you up out here. Made you the Harpy!” 

In the yard beyond, the OldEarth-born look at me, at Tayne, at me, at Tayne. Fleetingly at the Fauns. Four of the fauns are youths. They look to the old one. Who is made of frown lines, it seems to me. But there is no danger expected from the fauns, apparently. Which is good because they are behind me. 

“Nobody I see is laughing,” I say, looking straight at the one on the other side of the fence, conversing just now with Tayne. If anyone laughs, apart from me, it will be him. A smile sits waiting at the corners of his mouth. He’s a head shorter than Tayne, a stocky man, a bit taller than me. Older than Tayne. 

I wait for the Eagle to explain himself. He’d started to let off steam, and I suspect he won’t be able to contain the rest of his complaints. 

“Why the fuck did you sing the Meerkat Totem?” he says.

It’s so unexpected, I laugh. It shoots out of me, a long burbling glissade. He comes for me, fist raised. I try to control myself. “Hee hee hee.” 

He’s furious. “It’s not yours! Not mine! Not anybody here! How the fuck will it help to get us out of here? The salt-mines, I told you!” 

“Touch the Shaman and you are dead,” says the man by the fence. The rest have gathered behind and around him. There’s a threatening murmur. I get that the man by the fence probably sees through my disguise. Might even know me. I frown at him. This is not a good time to be unmasked. What can I do to prevent it? The Head Shaman often controlled the students with his eternal lessons. The structure pops into my mind ready-made. 

“Nevertheless, Meerkat is the totem of the day,” I say. “Lesson One. Each day we will begin with the previous Lesson’s Totem. Today that is the Eagle.” I recall the Eagle Totem’s positive attributes quite well after yesterday’s efforts, though Tayne and I did not sing them. Interestingly, he did not comment or complain. He doesn’t know there’s a difference, I think. 

For now, among all these people, and hearing the Totem he professes as his own sung again, he will be forced to attend, and sing, to keep his disguise. I may still need him and he will need to be alive. While organising my thoughts I’m organising myself. I’ve turned to face the left, where the OldEarth-born are gathered beyond their fence. Tayne is to my right. The Fauns to my new left, along with a couple of guards flanking the gate from the buildings into the yard.

I start with the first phrase of the call, “He soars with his great wings …”

The words roar back at me as everyone of the OldEarth-born sings them back at me.  
“… reaching across the world …” Tayne is still silent. I haven’t sung any of the real words yet. 
“…far-seeing over fold and forest …” Now he startles. Yesterday I gave him the words of the Fishing Eagle Totem. Now we sing the Spirit Eagle Totem. 

“… He brings solutions to relieve a soul …” 

“You dare!” Tayne shouts. “Now you dare. I’m onto you now. I’ll …”

He doesn’t say because the man at the fence pushes his hand through the wire faster than lightning, wire with slots too small to take a child’s wrist let alone a man’s arm, and grabs hold of Tayne. He pulls him close to the wire to talk. Tayne, after he’s released, wears a diamond pattern in white on that side of his red face. And he wears a confused expression. I don’t see how the man gets his hand back but sing the next phrase: “… a spirit and a heart …” 

Later I must think this through. The fence. The man. My scholars sing the last phrase. The poor young fauns stare open-mouthed. I gather to my lips the line that the Head Shaman added in. “… The wind of his flight blows through our minds. …” 

I suspect it gave the Head Shaman a few more words for a shaman-to-ship message. I don’t recall whether we dragged out any of the words to denote the dashes. I just remember the words, for what they meant to me. Will they speak to anyone here? Tayne snorts. The younger fauns sing it starry eyed. The old one glowers. 

Well, on we go. “Next in the lesson is usually a story containing a homily,” I say. “I’m in difficulty here today. Knowing that many of you may be marched away at any time, I have two stories that I want to tell you, both equally important to your survival.”

 “With respect, Shaman Zjeb,” says the man by the fence. “Guards are getting toe-y. Tell us both as one-liners, if you please.”

The man by the fence knows half my name! What else does he know? To hide my trepidation I look to where the guards are getting restless. They rock from their heels to toes, heels to toes. Ready to run for me? They’re mumbling. Deciding something. Looking at me. At my audience. The old Faun, he no doubt being within hearing distance, looks even more forbidding. 

“Make for the city by the mountains,” I sing. The guards stop their fidgeting. Singing is all right with them? “A salt mine is no more than a maw. Waiting in the landscape to slake. The planet’s greatest hunger.” I manage not to mention the name, but one of the guards gets my meaning, and springs for me. 


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