Half Shaman, 20
|Possible image for Tayne, to be photoshopped. When I learn how ...|
With a couple of false starts, Jeb's plotting gets some action ...
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 ... 19: The Meridian
18: Walking ... 19: The Meridian
20: Girl Questions
Thyalsene woke me from the waking-dream I was in but, though I don’t look at Tayne I can feel him still staring at me. Begging. What an idiot. There were a lot of things he could've done. Too late now. I think back on the things my mother, Earth-born herself, did to live. She chose a totem.
My Old-Earth father loved my mother. I remember that he called her his loon-lover. That’s almost the same as Mongoose and me. Does it count of it is the other way around?
The direction my thoughts wander in give me an idea. I’m walking right in front of Vulture. “Could I ask you some girl questions, Vulture?”
Vulture splits her sides laughing but that’s all right. The men apart from Tayne try for straight faces. Tayne frowns, he’s furious.
“Fetch Eider?” Limber says.
“That’d be good.” I walk backwards to wait, not wanting to talk or to cross blazing sword-gazes with Tayne or ordinary embarrassed gazes with anyone else up front. Vulture ends up carrying the stretcher by herself, balancing it in its middle.
Thyalsene follows the rest of the men. Reluctantly, it seems to me.
Eider, arriving, notices that too. She calls after him. “Limber told me girl questions, Old Shaman.”
She laughs. “There go a couple of noses out of joint, Shaman Jeb.”
Now I’m nervous. I start somewhere else entirely. “I was going to try to be a girl amongst the other girls one more time.”
“Sounds like you’ve always had trouble with that, Shaman Jeb,” Eider says.
“What Eider means is that you can often foresee by looking back,” Vulture says.
“That’s right,” Eider says. “The way I knew I was always going to be some troop’s tattooist because looking back I discovered that as a child I scribbled designs and totem portraits on every surface available to me.”
“Though probably you only had that insight when someone pointed that out to you,” Vulture says.
“Not wrong. I am therefore respectfully pointing out to you, Shaman Jeb, that you may never achieve being a girl amongst the girls of your own age group. For one thing, I think you’re so good at being a girl amongst the boys of your age group that that could be the problem in this troop. Has that been so all along? For the girls, I mean?”
I think back on Wren’s claims. “I don’t know.” I ask another stupid question that I already know the answer for. “What’s it mean, being a loon? It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with the Totem?” I’m nervous. Puma should’ve made the move I am contemplating. How will he take my interference in his leadership?
“What do they teach them in Shaman Schools?” Vulture asks the world.
“Not about love,” Eider says. “It’s way of saying how a person falls in love, Shaman Jeb, not the long and slow way.”
“Like you’re struck by lightning,” Vulture agrees. “No rhyme to it.”
“Mongoose saying he’s my loon seems kind of weird to me, given what I look like.” I hate what I’m doing to these women. In reality I bask in Mongoose’s love.
“He told you. Good for him,” Eider says.
I wish Mongoose was here with me right now. “Girl talk was an excuse,” I confess. “Puma seems to be refusing to accept the danger. I couldn’t speak with Tayne here.”
Eider raises her eyebrows. “I’m listening.”
“Better be good after two false starts,” Vulture says from in front of me.
I tell them about the Earth-born disease. About my mother and my father. How to tell if an Earth-born is afflicted. “Which Tayne is. Puma knows. Why is he holding back? Because of things he still wants to learn? With whose lives will he pay?”
I’m challenging them now. “If Tayne gets too frustrated he’ll lash out. I see bits falling off him. No one near him is safe. There should be someone sweeping the path behind him.”
“Let’s hurry. Catch up with the front,” Vulture says.
“You should be carrying him,” I say. “We should tie him to the stretcher if we must keep him. Bandage my feet, I’d rather walk.”
“Village Square is coming up,” Vulture says. ”Halfway. We’ll have a rest break. I’ll talk with Red-Tail.” She raises her arm and waves. They bundle me back onto the stretcher. Jog. Red-tail and Crow join us and Eider spells out the emergency.
“We’ll end it at the Village Square,” Red-tail says. “Carry the weight, ladies.” She swings up onto the stretcher with me. She stands astride on the sticks to survey the march rear and forward. “Crow, call Mongoose from the back.”
Red-tail whistles the wild Black Cockatoo calls of her Totem toward the head of the column. Jackal howls a reply. Cold shiver up my back.
Mongoose clears his throat, letting us all know he’s there, jogging behind Crow.
“Like he was waiting for the call,” Crow says.
Mongoose laughs. “What if Tayne had been a woman?”
“I’m only saying I enjoy your style,” he says.
Even Red-tail is exasperated. “A loon still with the love talk.”
Red-tail jumps down.“I guess Shaman Jeb has the oldest crappiest cloak? Tear off a good length. We’re making a sloppy broom. I see lover-boy is carrying the sticks for the screens? Bundle your load onto the stretcher, soldier. You and your Jeb shred this cloth to the hem. Roll it round a stick. Tie it. When we’ve done the hardest thing we’re going to do, I’ll need two more like it.”
“Hardest thing. Don’t like the sound of that,” Vulture says.
Red-tail continues her instructions. “Ant and Wren are ahead. The loon and Wren will be gate keepers at the Square. Dust off everybody and keep the sand from the Square. The hardest thing is getting Shaman Jeb past the Earth-born without him noticing, with the path still as narrow as. Jostling Tayne won’t hurt you if you’re covered well. We need him at the rear where my crew will be able to prod him along gently, enabling the rest of you to organise some kind of temporary camp at the Square.”
Mongoose, Eider and Vulture make noises of disbelief about getting me past Tayne without Tayne noticing.
“Step one, everyone wrap up like a mummy. Use the screen-cloths. Rip and tear as required. Every bit of skin must be covered.” She tells us the rest of her plan. It sounds do-able. Red-tail’s final instructions place Ant as the person most able to efface himself with her group. Him sweeping scraps from among their feet. The rest of us are ahead, getting Puma into the picture. Here she laughs. “If he complains, tell him Red-tail knows the Void. Ask him, does he?”
I’ll happily let Vulture do that telling and asking. We approach the back of the group fore-and-afting Tayne. I can’t see, being wrapped like a mummy as well as spread-eagled facedown—because my right hand and foot are the stronger—between two layers of blanket.
Eider is carrying at the front. I hear her murmuring. Then I feel a couple of hurried bumps to my stomach and legs. Maybe it is Limber pulling Thyalsene back with him and them duck-walking under the stretcher still in its horizontal shoulder-high state.
Uh oh, here we go. My carriers drop the left side of the stretcher from their left shoulders. I strain to support my weight from my right hand holding on to the right-side stick, and from my right foot wedged crookedly between stick and cloth. I’m so busy concentrating that I hardly notice the little side-steps Vulture and Eider do into the meat-eating sand to get past Tayne.
Back on the straight and narrow with the stretcher horizontal again, there’s a bit more jostling while a couple more people, Jackal and Ax probably, get past us to the rear. I imagine they dance the side-skip, dip under the stretcher, and side-skip.
After I’ve counted two hundred paces I ask my carriers to turn me face-up so I can start undoing the wrappings, to breathe a bit better.