Half Shaman, 19
|Totemic Image for Vulture|
It's a long walk. Jeb at first resists the Earth-born's entreaties. Then, feeling sorry for him, she ...
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
18: Walking ...
18: Walking ...
19: The Meridian
When we set off this morning the red star was at its apogee and the sky was wine-red. The sky now is cobalt blue and the sun is high. A woman called Vulture is at the front of the stretcher, Puma is at the rear, the eighth pair today. The Old Shaman and Tayne walk behind us.
“You’ve said nothing about the north-south Meridian yet, Grey Wolf,” the chief says.
“Never in all my journeying had I a reading for it, and now I walk along its path?” the Tayne Wolf says. “I’m wondering what else you haven’t told me.”
Puma laughs. “We’ve travelled it for years, pushing further north every visit.”
“Have you been to the Yellow City, Grey Wolf?” Vulture says.
I understand that the Yellow City is a topic introduced to distract the Earth-born. Vulture is part of the group managing him.
“The mythical Yellow City?” he says.
“Mythical? Did you hear anyone wondering where we’re going?” Vulture says.
Tayne placates her at the same time as he tries to increase the facts. “Are there any other fixed points along this Meridian?” There’s hunger in his voice.
“We’ve seen as far as the mountains,” Puma says.
Tayne snorts. I understand his frustration. Puma nearly always answers Tayne without giving any concrete information. If that’s what Tayne is here for, he’s getting a wafty picture.
Vulture laughs. “Mountains are hard to shift around even by Lotor.”
A dream image swings by me. I swing my head gazing after it, trying to see it as long as possible. A titanium carapace lies in the path of one of the lava-like flows that are the planet’s waste extrusions. I think it must be an original ship-to-surface shuttle, the particular vehicle by which we are meant to travel to the ArkShip.
I can’t stop the tremble in my voice. “The shuttle is over-rimed with stone.” It’s the least number of words I can say with which I can tell the people who need to know about the shuttle and about me having that vision right then. Can it be Lotor is sending me that? How?
“What is she saying?” Tayne says. He sounds frustrated but what if he is a good liar? I release my breath anyway. A girl has to breathe.
“Don’t you worry, Young Shaman,” Vulture says. “We carry our stone-working tools wherever we go.” She skips a little step, shaking me on the stretcher on her shoulders. The tools in her pack clink together. She understands me fine.
“I don’t believe how you indulge her!” the would-be Grey Wolf says. “Why am I still with this damned group? Walking with you to your end?” He makes it a frustrated question but I wonder right away whether that’s what he is doing. Trying to steer us toward a hidden Field of Dreams. Or a maw over the next slope.
When nobody says anything, he tries again. “I came along to help you. Point you in the right direction.”
There’s a silence again that’s finally broken by Thyalsene changing the subject. “It’s a solid rim we walk on, Young Shaman. Once a division between two countries, forest and field.”
“Wasn’t that in the time that Lotor romanced the flying horses?” Vulture says lightly. “I have always wondered where in the universe those poor creatures came from.”
“Don’t be taken in by these romantics, Jeb,” Tayne says. “Lotor’s captive Moerans bred the flying horses.”
Another dream-flash. I see winged horses with impossible skin-patterning, black spots on bands of white, white spots on bands of black. White lightning crossing alternating red and green patches. They are flying from one domed peak to another in a jumble of stone domes and rounded heights. “They live in the Bone Mountains now.” If it is Lotor sending these flashes, it might be that Tayne, Earth-born, is helping Lotor locate me.
“It is said that the Moerans never achieved the wings,” Puma says. “The Moerans came from a planet orbiting the red star, Shaman Jeb, and had to flee when their world became uninhabitable. Is that not so, Grey Wolf?”
“I am floored by your unexpected knowledge,” Grey Wolf says. He grinds his teeth.
Vulture chuckles. “That has always been an Earth-born resentment. That we of OldEarth know as much as they. And why not in this case? Telescopes were invented hundreds of years before the ArkShip left Earth, early enough to see the the star’s transformation.”
What’s Vulture trying to elicit with her story about telescopes? Then I realise. Vulture is using the ‘before the ArkShip left Earth’ phrase to find out something. What? Keep your ears flapping, girl.
Vulture adds my seeing into her story. “When Lotor set one of her diminishments into motion, the pegasee resisted and retreated, living now only in a few mountain fastnesses.”
“And scattered their genes to avenge their tribulations,” Tayne says. “Genes such as formed the feet of the fauns we met, Jeb. It’s a terrible thing to do to your descendants. Why be sympathetic to them?”
Vulture hardens her voice. “The horse genes are remnants from a time when Lotor’s landscapes held many incompletely formed creatures. How well did you say you know Lotor?”
I want to know that too, how well Tayne knows Lotor. At the Shaman School, the teachers said that Earth’s Nature always evolved toward diversity. That Lotor’s Nature went the opposite way. She developed all her inventions toward similarity before forcing them to meld again with her. After a time she would start over elsewhere on her crust.
Lithe and Limber arrive for their turn at bearing the stretcher. The change-over is made with some muttering. Instructions? News? Questions to ask? Lithe puts his load onto the end of the stretcher and changes with Puma, who takes up Lithe’s pack. Limber and Vulture do the same.
Instead of dropping back, or speeding up to join the front, Puma and Vulture keep their positions. Puma walks in front of Lithe behind the old Shaman, who walks behind the Wolf. Vulture walks behind Limber. I understand then that there’s an urgency to finding out what the Wolf knows, that would be good for us to know.
“The Earth-born idea that the OldEarth-born are against them has always bothered me,” Puma says.
I’m astounded at Puma’s confrontational strategy.
“I’d rather be sitting down with a skin of wine making the rounds, you people are so stubborn about this. That there must be a difference between us,” Tayne said. “I call that prejudice, by the way. On your part.”
“Prejudice?” I say, surprised.
Puma laughs. “Every single one of you Earth-born are Lotor’s children. Earth worked out a new way, we don’t know how or what, to send people to another planet. You arrived as patterns and Lotor reconstituted you.”
Tayne turns and walks backward looking at us all. “I still call it prejudice. The ArkShip may have sustained you through your journey on recycled matter from Earth, but since your arrival two hundred years ago, you’ve been growing crops in the Lotor ground. Eating Lotor. How are we different?”
He looks at me, at the meat-eating sand alongside, at me again. I see him calculating distances. He stops walking. Not realising his strategy, people step around him. “Jeb, your mother was Earth-born, a scientist.”
Only two between him and me.
“I just don’t believe that you prefer to stay with these primitives,” he says. He eyes Vulture, I see him deciding how he’ll set her aside, out of his way, and she will die if he touches her. I swing down from the stretcher and gripping onto their clothes, I step by both Limber and Puma. Four between us.
Tayne hesitates. He’s not able to force his leading foot to the ground. His expression of craft becomes consternation. He only now realises the nature of his discomfort? I’m so so sorry for him for what is to come.
The rear half of the line stops higgledy piggledy.
Lithe drops his end of the stretcher, pulls Vulture back and steps by her.
“Jeb,” Tayne says. “I beg you. You’re my last hope. Save me from Lotor. Let me come home with you.”
I feel sick. Icy and hot in short order. If I give in to the nausea roiling at the bottom of my gullet, the meat-eating sand will jump up my vomitus and I too will be lost.
“You want that we all die?” the Old Shaman says, sharply for him.
I’m shocked out of my fugue. If I fall, they all fall too.