Half Shaman, 17

Jeb in the Totem reality

A chief is chosen. Jeb begins to learns her trade ...

Links to Previous Chapters:

Chapters 1-5     Chapters 6-9  [These links send you to the archives for January and February. Read from the bottom up.]

 10: The Black Cell   11: Escape  12: The Creeping Desert 

13: The Love-struck Loon   14: What I Know   15: Ant's Idea

16: The Automatic Transponder



17: New Chief, Old Shaman

Puma flaps a hand. The red-tailed woman and one of the men come to fetch Tayne. With soft encouragements that I don’t hear they lead him to the edge of the platform where he sits down. “So here we are.” Puma glares round, taking back the troop’s attention. “What’s not to protect?” 

People meet Puma’s glare or they don’t. It’s a good way of discovering his, and so my supporters. The way people accept Puma’s leadership surprises me. 

Ant jumps into the opportunity both feet first. “So I was thinking back along the road a bit that Puma should be Chief?”

Uncle’s gaze narrows.

“A boy talking,” Tayne calls from his place. A lot of people bristle.

“Sez you,” Ant says. “You’ve been with us for how long? Got a loud voice when you don’t even know if we’ll keep you.”

“What is it with you doing all the talking suddenly,” Jackdaw says. “Usually it’s your mate.”

Ant takes a deep breath. “I figured my role in the Great Project could be to liaise between the Young Shaman and the group.” 

“Why bother with that when you’re set on picking me as Chief?” Puma says.

“Often Shaman Jeb won’t be able to talk with everyone separately, when separate is needed. She doesn’t know people the way Thyalsene knows everyone from birth practically. And by the time we have forty in the troop, say, even Thyal will have a problem getting round to everyone’s individual concerns. I can help with that. And we should always have a singing group on standby. It doesn’t have to be the same people all the time. I can help organise there. Jeb isn’t accustomed to the kind of life we lead, always on the move, I’m already helping with that. I’m pretty sure more things will come up.”

Then Ant repeats what he said to Mongoose and me, adding in a few encouraging words. “Much less confusion with a separate Chief. What the Ship says, not knowing the conditions on the ground, might be a lot different to what an experienced Chief will recommend. Better to have a discussion with a Chief’s final vote, than Jeb being advised by all and sundry and worrying alone.”

“Ha!” Tayne says. “There’s that worrying again, Jeb. Everybody is onto you.”

I think back. Was I worried while I was in the white cell? Only when I wasn’t in control of my life. Was I worried escaping through the black cell? Didn’t have time. Was I worried walking away from the old man in the chapel? I was walking away. So … maybe I worry when I’m not in control? 

“I see that you don’t merely choose a Chief,” Uncle Puma comments, “but that you also expect him to be open to discussion. Is this your idea, Shaman Jeb’s, or the love-struck loon’s?”

Lithe grins. Mongoose grins.

“It is the idea of all of us pack animals,” Meerkat says. “We’ve been brewing it. We need just one person giving us our instructions. Not fifty all wanting their own quirky ways. We need someone who realises we might sometimes like to think about more than our legs and our backs. And we need someone who realises that if we carry all day every day, we won’t be much good carrying nights as well.” 

Now everybody young enough to be a pack animal grins. “Meerkat for chief!” says a girl. 

Limber is the next to agree. “So when shall we start the next stage, Chief?” 

Uncle thinks. “Tonight is too soon.” He smiles a fleeting glance Ant-ward. Approval and gratitude mixed in it. A chief can’t take the position no matter what the need as he sees it. He has to be chosen. 

“Got a couple of pack animals needing a night off,” he says. “Stage is twenty-five kilometres. We’ll get some longer staves here, platform is taller. Make a stretcher we can carry on our shoulders. Pair up according to height. Nobody carries more than a thousand paces at the time.”

“Is a Chief really necessary?” Tayne says from afar. 

I hear how he makes his voice sound bored. If he thinks he’ll influence people that way, he doesn’t know us at all. And why is he even trying to keep people aware of his presence? I grin. Answered that myself just then.

Lithe leans toward him. “Earth-born, how long do you think I will tolerate you in the troop without a totem? Puma is the right man for the job. Always before, he was Puma-in-waiting as I was Lithe-in-waiting, as Limber was Limber-in-waiting. Waiting for trouble and jumping in according to need. But we two are of the Black Swan Totem which comes with its own and entirely different role. We welcome Puma’s leadership. We’ll be Black Swans and we’ll be Puma’s lieutenants. As the boy said, much less confusion.”

“So. Tayne. To stay with us, my lieutenants feel you ought to have a totem,” Uncle Puma says in the slightly ponderous way he has always had but which now suits his role. “Thyalsene and you don’t carry. You’re the wrong size. Thyal is old. He’ll teach you your totem. Twenty five kilometres, plenty of time to pick it up. You’ll backpack Thyal’s swag.”

The old man laughs old-man-style. “Huh huh huh. He’s a Grey Wolf if I ever saw one. Got some of the character already. Can grow into the rest the way we all do.” 

Tayne perks up. 

I lean against Mongoose and laugh. Everybody wants to be a Wolf some time in their lives. Usually when they are kids. 

“Clever!” Mongoose says. “I guess the Earth-born contains information that hasn’t yet been extracted. Learning the Totem will be enough of a distraction, maybe, that they can pick his brains while he doesn’t realise.” He ends doubtful. “Maybe. He could be smarter than people realise.”

****

Night. 

I don’t sleep. Not enough exercise, I expect. The dome of the sky overhead is studded with stars. The ship regularly passes overhead. The stars along the edge of the platform become red pin pricks. Eyes. Wild hungry little eyes above hungry little mouths waiting to eat me alive …

“Come to me, Young Shaman.” A voice like a soft paw pummels aside the little things with eyes and mouths and nattering teeth. “We will practice a vigil together. Many are the nights that a vigil is all that I achieve.”

The paw speaks to me? I see a flash of sandy brown fur. A long back, striped with black. 

“Old Thyalsene, seated to your north.”

I see him now. A shadowed triangle breaks the pin-pricked rim. Everywhere else lie the troop, restless or still according to their nature. All their heads near the dangerous rim, feet toward the middle. Either side of me sleep Ant and Mongoose. 

“Take the inner road, Young Shaman. The Earth-born’s gadget will not bother you again.”

I can’t sleep anyway. Trust him about the gadget? Why am I so scared about everything? Been dallying on the low road, I answer myself. Despite that I already worked out what happens when I do. 

But, is it because I don’t know how to love and live at the same time? How will I learn that? I slip from between Ant and Mongoose, both near, but courteously far. As in not touching. Though Mongoose manages to keep a big toe so near to my shin he might as well be. Lithe called him a love-struck loon? 

I tip-toe through the central depression, expecting at any moment to feel pain shirring up my feet. 
But … not a wink of a signal. I breathe out in relief and take a great gulp of air before sitting myself cross-legged in front of the Old Shaman. His eyes catch starlight until they are themselves twinkling stars. 

“There now,” he says. “There now. You get no peace from your vigils, I think.” 

He waits, it seems. 

“I’ve always used them for deep thinking, to try to solve problems. The Head Shaman …”

“I remember him. He had bonded with the Tarsier Totem when I knew him.”

I’m shocked. This old Shaman knew my mentor, and calls him mischievous? 

“There now, my pretty.” He takes my left hand. His left arm is missing to above his biceps.

I don’t pull away. He’s old, half-blind, and pretty is just a word. 

“Your eyes are very beautiful,” he says. “Your loon fell in a heartbeat, did he not? Unfold and flower, my pretty. Look on him with love and he will never leave you.”

I feel my heart jump. I hear its glad thudding high in my chest. I wish I wish I wish. How will I be independent as well? 

The old man rubs my palm with his thumb. “Come back, my pretty.”

“Now,” he says. “The planet progresses along her path. Do you see the ArkShip?” 

I locate the ship. “A point of light in the northeast quadrant.”

“I trust you. My old eyesight doesn’t reach that far. Two hundred and fifty kilometres above us …” he shakes his head. “Do you know what our ArkShip looks like?”

“No.”

“Neither do I,” he says. “A point of light for now. Reaching it is the Great Project of our hearts … Track its journey down through Lotor’s sky orb … has it gone from sight yet?” 

“It went behind the planet,” I say. 

“Think now about the ArkShip’s interior,” Thyalsene says. “What will it look like inside? I hope there will be a Totem Reality where we may harness ourselves into our Totem animal’s skins, and live their lives for a time to learn their wild ways. Learn to see ourselves through their reality for the sake of understanding our Totems the better … What will you imagine?”

His voice fades while he still instructs. “… Don’t tell me … think it … dream it … practice your Shamanic arts.”

But I am lost in his vision, the Totem Reality … Can I still be the Harpy when I need her strength? Can I heal myself, integrate the two people I am becoming? I spread my wings. 

Time stops as I soar up the thermals. A grass and stone mountain-scape unfolds under me, where goats and smaller prey animals live and breed and are eaten. I hunt, and give thanks to the cycle of life for my existence.

“There now, there now.” The old one strokes my hand. “Come back. Go back to your loon. We’ll practise our arts again another night.”  

I am mesmerised. I don’t even feel the glassy platform under my feet, maybe I’m still soaring. I subside between Mongoose and Ant. 

“Took you long enough,” Mongoose mumbles. 


I almost laugh but I don’t want even a breath of my lightness-of-being to escape me. 

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