Half Shaman, 13
|Ant Totem Image|
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
9: The Narrow Yard 10: The Black Cell 11: Escape
12: The Creeping Desert
In which Jeb meets a Mongoose, an Ant and her uncle. But it is the Loon that catches her attention ...
13: The Love-struck Loon
One of the young men rolls it up. I don’t feel like a girl after everything I’ve done, and he’s about the same age I am. He’s taller than me by about a hand. Smooth honey skin. I follow him underneath the mushroom’s cap. As he reaches up and bundles the ladder into a hollow carved into the underside of the cap, he moistens his lips. It’s a catching move. I lick mine. It’s difficult in the dry desert air to keep lips feeling smooth. The mushroom stem is fibrous. “The planet itself carved the cavity, Shaman. With sand and wind. I’m ….”
His voice shakes. His gaze slides away, but not before I see his eyes. Shining with emotion? I frown. How am I supposed to react? How can I ignore such a devoted expression? For me? It can’t be.
“Sorry,” he says. “I’m … Mongoose.”
He pinches moisture from his eyes and holds out his hand in one speedy move.
If he’s ignoring I must too. Hesitantly I shake his hand. Despite the wet patch under his thumb, his hand slips round mine oh so comfortably. It feels like I’ve known him forever, that we are …. I get hot in the face, like I’m blushing. I try to swallow but fail. The formality I had ready shreds in the breeze. Jeb is the name I prefer to be known by. Idiot. “I’m … I’m … Jeb!” Stumbling through it, like him. Two easy words. What’s wrong with me?
He grins as if commiserating. Handsome white teeth. He fingertip-touches my elbow bone. Rests his thumb on the inner pulse, a microsecond only.
I’m gaping slack-jawed. Still stuttering. “What’s … what’s that about?” How can this be happening to me?
“I’m a loon for you, Jeb. Since I first saw you. Lithe held me back so I wasn’t killed. I wanted you to know so that you don’t misunderstand me. Because of what everyone will say. Teasing and such.” Such hope in his eyes in a fiery blush.
“I’m …” Astounded, I want to say. I start again. “A loon?” I lift my cloak to show him my lumpy shins. Push up my barren chest at him.
Mongoose smiles lopsidedly. “Eye of the beholder, Jeb.”
He slides his palm around my elbow. “All of us young people are counted as pack animals. Let’s get you harnessed up?” Bright sparkling teasing smile?
By the time he fits me into the smallest backpack in history, I know he made it up specially for me, and that he loves a joke. At the same time I’m certain that he totally means what he said about being a loon for me.
At my entry to my third year of study, the Head Shaman asked, “Will you do, or will you have your life done to you, Jeb?”
The most important thing anyone has ever asked me. At the time I swore to the former. How will that work now with a loon called Mongoose in the picture? My feelings swoop here and there, like fireworks.
What is not a wonderful feeling, is the revolting way that my uncle strokes me with my name.
At my birth my parents naturally wished beauty on me, I believe all parents want that for their children, though in my case they knew that my genetic inheritance might go against me. But they went ahead and gave me the name anyway, so I would know they thought me beautiful.
My uncle thinks me ugly. I was in the next room hearing him say it. My father said he could leave, never to return, if he ever said it again. I hate my uncle using my beautiful name as if he plans to trick me into being his creature. The Head Shaman sent him away. Perhaps I can too, eventually.
But … I have to think what use Uncle will be to the Great Project. What is his role in this group? It will influence the way I must behave now. And this without me knowing my role or even whether I can achieve it.
Uncle is in the lead, a medium-sized pack on his back. Mongoose set me walking ahead of him at the end. I use my boy-voice. “Call me Jeb, Uncle. I escaped by way of the black cell. Your Eagle, when he discovers it, will probably come the same way. I don’t trust him. He either slept through his Totem learning or did not come anywhere near a school.”
“Will you have a sip of water, Shaman Jeb?” Mongoose wedges a skin of water in the crook of my arm. “Ant will have one after you. Uncle maybe too.”
Oh he is a smart one, this Mongoose. I enjoy his little joke tremendously and since no one is watching my face, I smile broadly. First, Mongoose named me Shaman Jeb, signalling that Mongoose accepts that name for me. Second, he intro’d me to Ant and Ant to me. Third, by teasingly calling Puma by the Uncle appellation, he let Uncle know that Mongoose will be watching Puma’s interpretation of his relationship to me and fourth, he signalled all that to Ant.
Uncle’s tension is plain. His back is straight and rigid. A joke. I can’t think of a joke to relax him. Will a compliment do it? “Thank you, Uncle, for the way you stopped Tayne from punching me back in the prison. He is quite impulsive.” I see a slight loosening of tension in Uncle’s back. “I’m still wondering how you worked the fence?”
Here they all three laugh. A joke, unintended by me. “Ant? Take the front?” Uncle says. He comes to walk beside me. “That fencing is made to a settler-invented recipe. We use it for doors and panels. Remember it?”
“Hemp fibres covered with sand and heated to make a kind of leathery paneling?”
“The fencing is made of long zig zag strips mounted horizontally, zigs matched to zags. Sometimes a visual barrier is all it needs to keep people in place.”
“The Lotor-born? The fauns? You all? Kept there by a visual fence?” Seems all wrong to me.
“The Lotor-born are programmed to gather in such a place when they tire of life on Lotor’s outside. The poor fauns could not be saved. The old one refused it on all their behalf.”
I feel slightly better about the fauns.
Mongoose, carrying a tall load, walks toward the front of our little cavalcade. “Remember that they kept the really dangerous prisoners in the cells,” he says in the passing. He grins. Ant, as laden as Mongoose, slows enough that Uncle and I pass him. Ant is busy organising rice balls, each in its own cloth.
“But you all?” I say. “On your way to the salt-mines?”
Uncle sets his jaws in that way he had when I was a child. Looks to me like I am still a little girl to him. He doesn’t explain, or say anything.
Ant comes alongside me. “We came to fetch you, Shaman Jeb,” he says, giving me a rice ball. “We slipped away from the guards in bunches. We two, Mongoose and I, stayed to help Uncle rescue you. But you rescued yourself and I am over the moon with admiration.” Walking beside me, he unfolds the cloth in my hand until it resembles a flower. “These rice balls have a centre with ginger and soy.”
Yum. My stomach rumbles. I accept the change of topic though I desperately want to know why they would rescue a half-trained Shaman, when eighteen or more fully trained Shamans reside in freedom in the various schools around the country?
After I pick out and eat every last grain, I fold the cloth and store it in my pocket. Mongoose walks backward, pointing a gadget at the sun and reading something from the other end of it.