Half Shaman, 29

A part of Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland, similar to the Painted Tower

Jeb worries about Bear and Dingo while she and her people travel toward the tower. What is their game?

Links to Previous Chapters:

Chapters 1-5     Chapters 6-9   Chapters 10-14    Chapters 15-19 [These links send you to the archives for January to April. Read from the bottom up.]

20: Girl Questions    21: The Village Square    22: AZ, Ship to Shaman   23: The Silver Storm

24: The Leadership Challenge?   25: The Street Camp   26: The Unlooked-for Amulet

27: The Food Supply   28: Into the Warren

29: The Painted Tower

When we arrive back at the camp, there has been a re-arrangement. Bear’s group has a new leader, voted in by the rest. Wood-chuck. Bear is tied up and gagged and is being led by Ibis’s third in command. 

“Soon as we heard the upset, you people weren’t that far as the crow flies, Bear went into action,” Jackal says. 

Doing what, I wonder? No one is saying. None of his group is looking at him. They seem embarrassed by their once-leader. 

“We’ll take him,” Puma says of Dingo. “We won’t stress their group by having the supplanted leaders in their care. Lithe will second in their group, for now. Tell us the next stage, Jeb.” 

“We need to split into the groups.”

“Yes,” Puma says. Then doles out his instructions. “Woodchuck’s group, with Lithe along, as voted by the whole group. Me with half our group and with Limber chivvying Dingo and Bear. Ibis, her Man-of-the-Forest, and their group. Red-tail’s group with you, Mongoose, Eider, Ant and Wren. According to Eider, you’re going to the Painted Tower apparently to get married. Don’t expect a honeymoon. We all set to go?”

Mongoose and I walk at the front. He squeezes my hand and pinches the flesh of my thumb. “To get the sting out. That Puma just delivered,” he says dead-pan. 

Red-tail’s group jostle around us, they are in a jokey mood that I’m not yet sharing.  “We’re looking for a road entrance, the width of five people, slanting into a north-westerly direction,” I say to start us off walking. We walk north along the thoroughfare. I ruminate about Bear’s and Dingo’s ridiculous behaviour. What they hope to gain. What they think they know about the ship.  

“This is it,” Mongoose says. “Looks five people wide. Do we need to test it out?”

Jackal seconds him. “Goes into the right direction.”

“So here’s where Woodchuck’s group goes up that road,” I say. “Somewhere near the end of the road, on the left, is a little stone-built village of about eleven one-room houses with gardens on their roofs. I think there’s a wall around the whole. You need to convince the people who live there it’s time to go. Tell them the story of the last shuttle. Prove to them somehow that you are OldEarth. Help them harvest their food. Make your way back to this intersection and then continue along the thoroughfare until you see the tower on the left right beside the third intersection.”

“Could we go around the outside, since we’re nearly at the end of the road?” asks someone.

“Good question,” I say. “But I don’t know how safe that is. Whether Lotor’s meat-eating sand has made inroads into the city. Whether there are any storms about at the edge of the city. How spread-out are the suburbs and could you get lost in them?”

“Seems to me we’ll come back this way,” Lithe says. Wood-chuck nods.

The rest of us continue along the thoroughfare. Another hour, according to Thyalsene, before the next intersection with a road also off to the north-west appears. 

“Here’s where Puma and his group go off,” I say. “There’s a family tending an en-walled vegetable garden at the end of this road. I’m not sure about the left or right here. Could be straddling the end. Same story again. Make yourselves known. Convince them. Bring all the food.”

 “No argument from us about the way to join you,” Puma says. “We’ll come back to this intersection, strike left and continue until we get to the tower. I expect you’ll have got a look-out on watch for us all, and are making inroads getting the food out of the wall.”

Another similar distance according to Thyalsene with the sun-guide and we come to the third major road intersection cutting to the northwest. We’d been seeing the Painted Tower, rose coloured in this city of mud-brick tints and now stand across the road from it. Here, Ibis’s group leaves us to continue in the northwesterly direction. Somewhere about two thirds along the road, on the right hand this time, is the vineyard where the five girls live in their grape arbour. 

We wave. Ibis’s mob waves. Then the remainder of us, people from all three groups, with our two prisoners in tow, cross the road to try and gain entry into the yard encompassing the tower. “Stash the prisoners to get them out of our faces?” someone says. “There’s a roofless room here.”

“Have them escaping while they are unwatched?” Red-tail says. “I don’t think so. Mongoose, you take them.”  

Mongoose picks up the end of the leads. 

The wall surrounding the tower reaches approximately a one and a half man’s height. Half a dozen of the group runs all around to find the entrance. One by one they return with their no-news. No gate. 
“We’ll climb our way in,” Red-tail says. “Bring me a few bricks. We’ll stack them and see what we can see.”

Here’s where the stone-working hammers came out of various bags and satchels, to break chunks of mud-bricks from the broken walls surrounding the still largely whole tower enclosure. Red-tail stays by the wall, Mongoose and I with her to help stack the material as it is brought. The prisoners lounge nearby. They are laughing. 

“Do you remember anything to help, Jeb?” Mongoose says. 

“In the dream the entrance was in the northwest.” I speak as low as I can, I’m uncomfortable with the prisoners so near. “Two wide doors that slid open along the inside of the walls.” I wander around the corner with Mongoose following and towing the prisoners. 

“But seeing everything so abandoned I don’t see how such doors would’ve survived.” I study the wall narrowly. I can’t help listening at the men walking behind me. Mongoose nearby. The two prisoners scuffing behind. I see a dozen vertical grooves where bricks might have been added in. I poke at the outermost groove, and yes, my blade goes right through. “There’s a gap here. Probably we can throw this part of the wall down. But I think Red-tail’s idea is better. Easier to guard?”

“Guard from what?” Mongoose says. He lifts his arm to denote the abandoned spread of the city.  

I can’t believe his careless attitude. I glance by him toward the prisoners. My inner crow flaps its wings in the narrow spaces of its habitat because the two men resemble unassigned Lotor-born, blanks that still need their identity imprinted on them. 

Catching my gaze on them they change by almost imperceptible degrees back into the men we know. Blatantly, as if I am not staring at them. When he is Dingo again, the Lotor-born winks and I know we should all be very afraid. 

They are not who we thought. At least not who I thought. Everyone else still as ignorant. Will anyone believe me? Worse, if there are two, there will be more. Suddenly every shadowy broken-down house seems dangerous. 

“You promised you’d tell me whatever frightens you,” Mongoose says.

I shift so that my face lines up with his head from the point of view of the prisoners. “Don’t look behind you,” I mouthe. “It’s where the danger is.” I am afraid. Bear is near enough that he can jump Mongoose. The rope between them is that short.

Mongoose turns briefly. He see the prisoners lounging against a house near the wall. “What danger?”  
If he doesn’t believe me, and obviously he does not, no one will. 

Bear doesn’t jump Mongoose. I realise it’s me they are waiting to grab. How can I keep far enough away from Mongoose? How can I keep away from Mongoose? How can I be away from Mongoose?

“There you are,” Red-tail says. She’s standing at her ease on top of the wall. Perhaps she sees me worrying. Perhaps her experience tells her something about the way the prisoners are looking at me. The way Mongoose is looking at me. She calls Jackal. “Cooee!” 

He trots around the corner. Sees what she sees and takes the loop from Mongoose’s hand. Jerks the prisoners out of their stand-down mode. 

“The entry is here,” Red-tail says. “We’ll go at it with hammers and chisels, and be in before dark. It is only mud, after all.” She indicates the groove and the infill. 

When the others have come and are hammering at the wall, Red-tail takes Mongoose and me around the corner to debrief us. “You first, Shaman Jeb.” 

I tell them what I saw. What I fear. 

Mongoose shrugs. “I didn’t see any of that. Could you have seen them through one of your dreams?"

With only a few words, and his choice of them, I’m left floundering. He doesn’t believe in anything of what I’ve said? If he thinks all my visions are fantasies, it’s no wonder he thinks he can cure my problems by fighting and by plain speaking. A wave of sadness overwhelms me. 

Red-tail frowns. “We can do nothing about the prisoners while they keep their disguise. You’ll just have to keep away from them. What danger can there be inside the tower complex?”

Red-tail seems to believe but does not see the danger. Her attitude requires me to pretend until it is almost too late. Can I do that, with my crow already witless with fear?  


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