Half Shaman, 33

This could be the result of the pinch test

When women's magic is mooted as the second sort, Shaman Thyalsene doesn't leave it alone. Jeb does not take Cale's offer. 

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 May. 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

30: Wedding and Honeymoon   31: Jeb is Puzzled   32: Human Magic

33: The Pinch Test
Puma suggests that a watch is kept behind him, by looking at Mongoose and me. We turn inward to each other and glance askance over each other’s shoulders while listening to his further instructions. 

“Thyal, if anyone follows me out, please engage them in conversation.” He turns to the eleven. “I need three people, two women one man—not you, Mongoose. Definitely not you, Jeb—I need a partner for each of Woodchuck’s group which for the exercise includes Bear and Dingo.” 

“Dangerous?” Quill says. 

“Possibly,” says Puma. “We’re going to run a pinch test. We do this before Jeb sings the numbers, it’ll simplify that. And make our run through the Field of Dreams safer.”

Venn steps forward. “I’ll do it if Puma gives up first access to an amulet for our shaman.” 

Puma hides his puzzlement as I hope I hide my vindication. I was right. I glance over the group to try and identify the shaman-elect. Venn’s group laugh. 

“He’ll do it without the emotional blackmail,” Jade says, stepping forward. “As I will.”

“And me,” one of the remaining younger women says. “My name is Jerryl.”

“What do they need to do?” Quill says. “You need the rest of us to come in, stand around?”

 “Standing around could help,” Puma acknowledges. “Stop any of them going for the doors. I don’t want these three involved at all.” Puma means Mongoose, Thyal and me. 

Puma continues. “Mongoose, you’ll be back-stop. A couple of you could stay here, help him in that.”
“A pinch test?” Venn says. 

“Wren’s grandmother’s way of identifying Lotor-blanks aka Sand-men who offered to be workers at their co-operative.” Puma looks around. “I will need someone to model the pinch on.”

“I can at least be that,” I say. 

“When I give the sign, which I will tell you in a minute, we all walk to our target and stand opposite them. Start a little conversation to put their mind at rest. At my next sign, you will take a pinch of flesh …” 

Puma pinches up some skin on my inner arm. “And twist it hard as you can.” Which he does. 
I manage not to cry out. 

 “If they are Lotor-blanks, you’ll be tearing their skin and they’ll burst apart. Jump away because there will be sand everywhere and I don’t know what sort. If they are human, they’ll be hurt. Drag them from the arena, apologise and comfort them the best you can.” Puma hugged me a rib-cracker and rubbed my arm where he wrenched my skin. “Any questions so far?”

“Why the different genders?” Venn says. 

“I get what you’re asking,” Puma says. “We might have had all men but that would’ve looked suspicious. It has to look like a social occasion. A getting-to-know-you game.” 

“How will the girls be strong enough to drag men?” says Quill. “I’m not saying our girls, they’ve been trained along the young men since birth.” He looks at me while he says it. 

“Jeb spent three years in a white cell and escaped through a black cell. How strong do you think she might be?” Mongoose says frostily.

Puma makes faces trying not to laugh. “I did say to comfort them. That will probably help. And the targets will not be blind as to what’s going on around them.” 

“The calls,” Mongoose says. “Since you’re running a party game. You should use words that aren’t known by anyone.”

Puma glimmers a smile. “You aren’t ahead of me for a change. The first call, to take your place in front of your partner is goose. The second, the call to pinch, is gander.” 

“How will you explain that I’m not there,” I say. “Or Mongoose, probably.”

“Or Mongoose definitely,” Mongoose says.

“Is that something you can help me with?” Puma asks. “What’s a realistic sounding excuse?”

“Both these kind young people chose to keep company with the non-dancers among the eleven.” The old man, the only greybeard, cackled. “Excuse it is, we like to dance as much as any other. My name is Cale, Shaman Jeb.” 

“Does that mean Shaman Thyalsene will attend the dance?” Venn says.

“Always things to learn, especially of Lotor’s magic,” Thyal says. “Who knows what events we will still need to negotiate?” 

But he doesn’t get up. 

I shudder inwardly because I realise that not only will we not be safe from the minute we set foot outside the gates to our embarkation on the shuttle, we aren’t safe right now, inside the tower and its yard. I hardly notice Puma leading away those of the eleven volunteering for the work. What if there are so many of the blanks in the city, that we haven’t enough people to pinch them, and they follow us into the Field of Dreams? 

Mongoose and Thyal shuffle themselves around, forcing everyone else to shift until everyone in the little circle has a different direction to watch. I’m facing the gates. 

“Second kind of magic?” Cale says. “Might as well. With your people running the social, it will take time.” He chuckles. “Probably Puma figures that by the time he says the word, everyone will be so overwrought they’ll pinch fast and hard.”

With our people running the show? What’s that meant to mean? Although I am more suspicious of the eleven than Puma is of me, I look round as if for inspiration. Second kind of magic? 

“Let’s tell these men of ours about women’s magic, Shaman Jeb. My name is Shaman Arley.” There’s no smile on Shaman Arley’s face and she doesn’t have laughter lines. “I’m talking about intuition, dear,” she says.

“By intuition do you mean when I seem to know something without having to think about it?” I say. The way I know she is no shaman. Her hat is looped with fastenings for bunches of herbs. She might be a herb-woman peering out from under the brim of her hat presumably to protect her eyes from Thyalsene’s piercing investigations.  

“Shaman Arley and I have a continuing argument about intuition,” Cale says. “I’m pretty sure men are as good at it as women.”

“Intuition is about relying on unconscious perceptions,” Thyalsene says. “We take notice of about a tenth of the information our senses collect. Sometimes our minds let us access the nine-tenths that stay unconscious.”

“How is it women’s magic if men do it too?” Mongoose says. 

“Most men know intuitively where they are in a space such as our desert in relation to directions of north and south, east and west, and up and down,” Thyalsene says. “In other words, you didn’t need to think very deeply to find your way back to the troop when the four of you were lost. I recall in fact that you spent most of your time worrying about the sand and your water supply. True?”

“True,” Mongoose says. “But Wren, who was with us, cried over not having any landmarks.”

 Thyal nods. “Most women know intuitively who they are in relation to their communities and how their communities are situated in their landscapes. You’ll have noticed that when Shaman Jeb instructed us to find this tower, she did it by way of landmarks.”

“Yon one-armed Shaman doesn’t leave much for a woman herself to learn about her own magic,” Shaman Arley says. “How did women’s magic become a man’s study?”

“How when and why did a herbalist decide she might as well pass herself off as a shaman?” 

Thyalsene says. “Did she and her community think that in the confusion such a decision would go unquestioned? Did she and her community believe that being a shaman is something merely to be decided? Or that intuition is all that is needed, with no further training or education?”

 Cale rises. “Untrained and feral is all we need. Such as that girl you have there, so full of wild magic. I would follow her in a snap if she quit the training right now.” 

Mongoose rises with his hand on the handle of his long knife still in its scabbard in his belt. He puts himself between me and them.

The others in the little group rise. So do Thyalsene and I. 

“We have a good life in the block,” Cale says. “We didn’t rack-and-ruin. Why should we? We came for a look, that’s all.”

Shaman Arley punches his head. “Quiet, you,” she says. “I’ll strike you dumb. Better yet, I’ll have that little girl turn you into a crow.”  

Thyalsene glances around the yard and at the doors into the tower. “Third is shaman magic,” he says. “Less magical than is believed. More magical than is known. Not to be freely discussed.” 

All those dreams I had about falling through the well and then not falling? Were they incomplete because I was untrained? I slump. Where will I learn? When? 

Thyalsene makes a sign. 

I have no idea of its meaning. Mongoose glimmers a smile, apparently has difficulty keeping his face straight. But the vanquished shaman and her assistants turn and run for the broken-down gates. 

Mongoose reminds me of the main action. “There is a doom-filled silence in the tower,” he says.

“There must be an ordinary murmur out here,” Thyal says. “People in there can’t be suspicious of what’s going on outside.” 

Mongoose speaks as if he is replying. “Of course. We’re all waiting in breathless anticipation and we have to speak in ordinary tones. No high faluting. No crib-crabbing. And definitely no high and forced goggling.”

I have to bite on my cloak to help me with not laughing. 

Then …

A horrendous screaming, yelling, screeching, shouting and crying banshees from the tower. 

Mongoose and Thyal en-wall me front and back and all I see are sand-coloured people running from the tower even as they deflate and lose their human shapes. 


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