Half Shaman, 15

Tayne's forearm skin, what plague does he carry into the camp?

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   13: The Love-struck Loon   14: What I Know

Jeb discovers her uncle's status as chief-in-waiting. She dares to hope for a measure of freedom ...

15: Ant's Idea

I can’t make a mistake on this. Tayne, when he passed us, threw his arm up as he jumped out of Mongoose’s path. Tayne’s forearm skin is a mosaic of skin flaps. Tayne is a DNA pattern from Earth and was reconstituted by Lotor when his pattern arrived here. Only Lotor’s progeny, commonly known as Earth-born, get the skin-sloughing disease. And he seems to be following us. Why? 

“He’s in a hurry to catch up with Uncle,” Ant says while he and Mongoose reorganise my seating. 

“Alliances … change,” Mongoose says between paces when we get going again. “How come … he doesn’t know …. that yet?”

“Ha!” Ant explodes a little. “Haven’t they just? Good … that tonight … we are … with eight.”

Does he mean four more people waiting? The group doubles. 

“Let’s walk a bit, Ant,” Mongoose says. 

“Suits me, brother.”

When his breathing is back to normal, Mongoose jiggles his end of the front of my seat. “A lot to think about, Jeb.”

“Yes,” I say. More than anything I want to be me for a minute. Uncle and Tayne are way ahead. “If you could’ve heard the times at the school someone told me to mind my tongue, you would be laughing now to hear me so silent. What I mean to say …” 

I collect my thoughts. “It’s hard being around friendly people while trying to be someone else.” I hurry on. “When I haven’t had any kind of practise being a shaman.”

“When I heard you trying out the different voices up in the white cell,” Ant says. “I thought there’s a girl my age still learning her place in the Great Project, the same as I am still learning my place. That’s when I decided to stick around in the group around you, Shaman Jeb, to help you. Like, be part of your support group. If you’ll have me?”

I don’t know what to say. Again. “Umm. Thanks. That’ll be good. Because I …”

Mongoose interrupts. He’s blushing again. “When the damned Lotor-born threw you out and you lay there crying and laughing, I would’ve jumped through the fence and picked you up if Lithe hadn’t held me back.” 

I blush because he blushes.  

Ant laughs. “Look at the pair of you. Tsk. Tsk. Good thing Lithe was right there, Mongoose my friend. You would’ve been slaughtered and where would Jeb be then?”

I shudder. I care about them so much already. How can that be good?  

“That danger is past,” Mongoose says. “Let’s sing. We’ll need teach you some words too, Jeb. You probably having had a fairly sheltered upbringing.”

They laugh. I laugh. Probably about different things. 

“This song is a rhythm for running, Shaman Jeb,” Ant said. “Pick up your left foot, right foot … is always the first part of a line. Here we go, running.

Pick up your left foot, right foot and step high through the sands of Lotor’s hell …
“Pick up your left foot, right foot and step low over stone and mountain … 
“Pick up your left foot, right foot and step wide through gelid waters … 
“Pick up your left foot, right foot and step narrow along the Great Meridian …” 

“What’s the Great Meridian?” I say, jouncing in time to their beat. 

 Mongoose passes the question. “Ant?”

“Mm-mm. I just sing it,” Ant says. “I’m nearly always carrying a load. Pardon me, Shaman.”

“Only if you’ll pardon me for being what I am.” 

“Has you there, brother,” Mongoose says. “I hereby decree, no more pardoning amongst us three. Jeb, your uncle is a Puma.”

A Puma? My feelings speed faster than light into an idea. I tremble. “He is a Puma-in-waiting?” 

“I think you nailed it,” Mongoose says. 

“A Puma will be a better chief than a shaman who is also the ArkShip’s Mouth,” I hear myself say. 

“I see that,” Ant says.

“What …?” Mongoose’s voice is schor. He clears his throat. “I mean, why?” 

“Much less confusion,” Ant says. “What the Ship says, not knowing the conditions on the ground, might be a lot different to what a Chief would recommend.” 

Neither Mongoose nor I comment. I because I don’t trust my feelings not to overflow. What I know about a certain Shaman who also was a Chief was that he had a lot of advisers. What I know about these advisers is that they thought they were right about everything to do with his life. The advisers had no kind of patience for the Chief to have a private life and so he hadn’t. 

I don’t want to live like that. I stroke Mongoose’s side with the back of my knuckles where I’m holding onto his shirt. He grins with the corner of his mouth. 

Ant continues. “Better to have the compromise made by way of discussion and a Chief’s final vote than by Jeb alone, worrying.”

“I see what you see,” Mongoose says with unsteady breathing.

Ant chuckles. “Thought you would.” 

Ahead of us, the platform is now near enough that we can see a rag-and-rope ladder hurtling down the sloped cap of the mushroom-shaped formation. 

“They lower the ladder to inspire us to speed,” Mongoose says. 

“Such a way with words your Mongoose has, oh Shaman,” Ant says, laughing. “The Mongoose goes chittering … oops … goes glittering to his … to his …”

Mongoose thumps Ant before he has a chance to finish. Probably good if I ignore all that. Don’t know what to do with it. Hints of … innuendo? If I go there, I’ll blush again.

Instantly business-like, Mongoose says, “Ant, you go first. I’d love it if you could break the mirror of expectation and old habits. I’ll be up as soon as I’ve picked up after the damned eagle and the uncle, both still in the noble patrician mode.”

 Ant surveys the spread of packs and swags around the base of the ladder. “Yeah, we’ve got to train them out of that. I’ll talk with a couple more of the pack animals.”

They set my feet on the first rung, my hands on the sides. Mongoose puts his hand over mine to hold me back. “Only one at the time climbing the ladder, Jeb.” 

Mmmm, I think. Can’t call that accidental. 

But, realistically, who am I to hope? I saw five beautiful girls in the Yellow City dream.


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