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  • Writer's pictureRebekah Olson

Chapter 54

Unwilling to split up, all of them went with the guide. Even Tajor. Though he continued protesting the entire way, even after all three guards told him to drop the matter. Khata directed them, jabbering most of the way. Tajor refused to translate. So the guide told them what he was picking up on. Her uncle wasn’t the only one there she wanted to see. The shamaness from her tribe was also there. An entire group of them had gathered to discuss things. Khata hadn’t known what they were talking about, but with the attack on her village she guessed. “Ask her if she knows if Sakila is there,” Jerryck said. The guide spoke a bit with the girl. Then he said, “She doesn’t know who Sakila is.” The girl definitely knew the area. Over the next several days they went through cold valleys. They struggled through a couple of passes that still had remnants of snow trying to clog them. She knew where to find water and which of the early spring shoots were edible, even though they were so young Jerryck couldn’t identify them properly. They saw the smoke from the fires before they came anywhere near the winter encampment. A scout stopped them. He eyed them. Then, using Brendish, demanded, “Who are you and why are you here?” Khata talked to him. Then the scout eyed Jerryck and said, “You asked about a shamaness?” “Sakila,” Jerryck said. “She’s from a lot farther north than here.” “What tribe is she from?” “Urgh,” Jerryck grunted, passing a hand over his eyes. “I forget the name she used. I know it means the Jagged Finger Peak.” “Chempagquin,” the guide said. The scout called out in his language. Another one popped out from hiding and ran for the village. They waited. Khata sat down at Jerryck’s feet. Senka mimicked her. After several minutes, the second man returned. He exchanged a few words with the scout who barred the way. Then the scout stepped aside, saying to them, “Follow him.” The man led them down into another small valley. The winter encampment was huddled up against a steep rock face with the buildings growing smaller the farther it stretched down the gentle slope of the valley. Every building was much sturdier than a tent, but still had the cobbled together look of a temporary shelter. Other than that the place was very much like any outlying village in Brend. People bustled about. Children played, tending warming fires, chasing domesticated animals, or reluctantly doing chores. Groups of women huddled around laundry racks or cooking pots. Old men sat in doorways watching everything. They weren’t allowed any farther than the outermost buildings from the rock face. Khata sat by Jerryck again. Her sister mimicked her again. Jerryck rested his feet and sat next to them. They both giggled like little maniacs over that. Sakila approached them from the center of the village, still wearing winter furs against the chill of the dawning spring. She spoke to Khata, who giggled through her entire response. Whatever she said it made Sakila chuckle. “They keep a hut for strangers to sleep in,” Sakila said to all of them. “You have permission to use it. Follow me.” She took them to a small structure on the far side of the village along the outer rim of the buildings. She stopped just inside and beckoned them to enter. Then a man came running up. He skidded to a halt a few feet away. Senka ran to him with squeals of delight. He caught her up and held her close, saying something to Sakila. “He asks your permission for time with the daughters of his chosen sister,” Sakila said to Jerryck. “Why is he asking?” Jerryck wrinkled his forehead with confusion. “It’s one of the reasons we brought them here.” She said something to Khata, who followed her little sister with the same squeal. Sakila led Jerryck inside saying, “The child owes you life debt. That is why he asked.” “She doesn’t owe me anything,” Jerryck said. “Khata said you saved her life.” “So?” “So she owes you life debt.” “No,” Jerryck insisted. “She was hurt. I helped. Any decent person would. She doesn’t owe me.” “I will think on this, how to explain it better to you later,” Sakila said. “For now I must ask, what are you doing here?” “That’s a long story.” Jerryck sank down onto one of several sleeping pallets in the one-room building. The others had already tossed down what little they carried. “We could ask you the same. What are you doing here? Khata said something about a gathering.” Sakila also sat. “When the attacks started on the winter encampments we shamans agreed to gather. The closest ones came over land. Those of us farther away chose a few to speak for many. We used magic to travel here.” “The last gathering of shamans I know of was when they fought with the Gathering of Seats a couple hundred years ago,” Jerryck told Tajor and the guards. “I know some people don’t believe it now, but they made the volcano of the southern tip of the mountains erupt. It nearly destroyed the city of Kemetulla. The Gathering barely survived. And it was several years before anyone knew for certain that they wouldn’t disband entirely.” “Most of the shamans who did that were killed,” Sakila said. “The apprentices took up their tasks before being fully trained. Much knowledge was lost to us. We have never again had all the shamans gather all at once. That is why those of us farthest away have only sent a speaker. This is how we have done it ever since then.” “We haven’t heard of any other gatherings,” the guide said. “We have taken no action that affects anyone outside the mountains,” Sakila told him. She drew her knees up and hugged them to her chest. “This time, I fear they will.” “They?” Tajor raised his eyebrows. “You’re not including yourself?” “The few of us from the north keep reminding our southern brothers that Brend is not attacking.” Sakila stared at the dirt floor of the hut. “We want no part in striking out against our neighbors. We want to ask King Terrence for help. But these tribes here in the south, the ones in the greatest danger, they do not want to listen. They keep demanding proof that your king means us no harm.” They spent the next few hours telling her everything. They told her about their efforts to defend their villages and placing the wards. They gave details about capturing one of the raiders. They described their attempt to turn Andreno aside from the military campaign. Tajor filled in the parts Jerryck couldn’t remember: their capture, their transport up to the foreigners’ camp, their escape. He mentioned that he thought the foreigners’ leader might be looking for an excuse to abandon the campaign. Last, they told her about the volashes feeding on the dead. “That is bad news.” Sakila said. She hadn’t moved during the entire recounting. Now she let her knees drop back down to the floor and hung her head. “Bad news?” The guide screwed up his face in fear. “What do we need to pay?” Sakila shook her head. “I will accept no payment from you. Not after Terrence treated us so well when we brought him such bad news last spring. I will have to think on how to pass this information on to the others.” “Do you need help paying them?” Jerryck asked. “As a shamaness, I can give the information to my fellow shamans. The problem is, they will reject it. Even the good news you brought.” “What good news?” “Other than your king trying to stop Andreno,” Sakila said. “The attackers’ leader wants to leave.” “Why would they overlook that?” “The tribes in this area are very angry,” Sakila said. “They want to make the attackers pay.” “Getting retribution will likely lead to their own deaths,” Tajor said. “You all need to get out of this area. This village is next over from the one they just slaughtered. It could be the next target.” “Couldn’t Khata pass it along through the family tie?” the guide asked. Sakila drew her knees up again. “It will not do any good. Her mother’s chosen brother is very low in this tribe. No one will listen to him.” “Chosen?” Jerryck frowned in confusion. “How did Khata’s mother choose a brother? Either you’re born that way or you’re not.” “We Chemwanee choose a sibling of the opposite sex who is a member of a different tribe,” Sakila said. “Why can’t you give this information to your chosen brother?” the guide asked. “Couldn’t he pass it along?” Sakila hesitated. She looked at Jerryck, then looked down the floor again. “That will not work.” “Because he’s not here?” Tajor asked. “He is here,” she said. “This is complicated. The first brother I had chosen died several years ago. I have chosen another since. But we have not gone through the ceremony. I have not even spoken to him about it.” “Why not?” Jerryck asked. “Because you are not a Chemwanee.” She looked at him again. “I did not understand. So I did not think you would. I thought I would try it your way.” “What do I have to do with it?” Jerryck asked. “When did you choose Jerryck for your brother?” Tajor asked Sakila. “What?” Jerryck sat up straight. “Me?” “Was it last spring?” Tajor asked. “I chose when I last visited the palace a few months ago,” Sakila said. “When he still treated me like family even with no blood ties or bond. I still do not understand how that works.” “And you decided it anyway?” Tajor cocked his head, face screwed up with confused curiosity. “How? Why?” “It seems to work for him,” Sakila said with a shrug. “What if you talk to him and he doesn’t agree?” Tajor asked. He turned to Jerryck. “Would you agree to something like that?” “Sure I would,” Jerryck said. Sakila grinned. Tajor looked more confused. “You just threw out an answer without even thinking it over. You can’t possibly have considered what all it would require, what kind of consequences it could have. How do you make such important decisions so quickly like that?” “What’s to decide?” Jerryck said. “I like family. If she wants to think of it this way, that means more family. More is better.” “No, Tajor is right,” Sakila said. “You should know more about this. For others of my people to recognize it officially it requires a magic ceremony. If your Gathering found out you took part in a shaman ceremony they would kill you.” “They don’t have to know,” Jerryck said. “You really think you could keep something like this from them?” Tajor asked. “And have you considered what this would mean for your job at home?” “Terrence would support it,” Jerryck said. “He likes the Chemwanee a lot more than the Gathering.” Someone called from outside. “Visitors! Come out. We will speak now.” “The shaman of this tribe,” Sakila explained as she rose to her feet. Jerryck got up too. “He speaks Brendish.” “Most shamans do,” Sakila said. “So do most hunt chiefs, though they do not let it be known much.” She led them all outside. Both the hunt chief and the shaman stood there, with many other shamans ringed behind them. The hunt chief wore an intricate collar of beads. The shaman carried a staff. He stood straight and tall without leaning on it, despite his age lined face. His hair might once have been blond. Now it was so gray and wispy, it was difficult to tell. And he had nothing but contempt in his eyes when he pointed a bony finger at Jerryck. “Why do you come to us?” Tajor stepped between them. “King Terrence sent us to Andreno to try and tell him not to attack you. He attacked us instead. We escaped to here.” “Why should we believe you?” The shaman sneered. “You have a filthy magician with you.” “He is a good man.” Sakila threw her shoulders back. “I told you, my tribe now has strong ties with him and his king. For good reason.” “I do not believe you.” The shaman turned his head and spat on the ground. “Filthy magician. Sakila, I would never have thought you, of all people, would stoop to this. You have no ties, no blood between his people and yours. You keep claiming you have turned around completely from the person I used to know, as if you think he would be fine with any of our magic or ceremonies. I tell you, he would never be part of a single one of them.” “Yes I would!” Jerryck shouted. Every shaman stared at him, boring holes with their eyes. Some curious. Most blatantly hostile. He swallowed. What had he gotten himself into? He added a caveat, “If I knew how.” “You do not need to know how,” the old shaman said. “You say that now to try and take back your words. You would not do one.” “Yes I would,” Jerryck repeated. “Prove it.” The old shaman tipped up his nose and stuck out his chin. “Sakila, you have no brother. You claim ties. Make it real. Or do you not believe him?” “I believe he would,” she said loud and clear, glaring at him and the shamans behind him. “I do not believe any of you would treat him right. Even if we did go through the ceremony, you still would not listen to me or to his message.” “Go through the ceremony,” the hunt chief said. His words were more fluid and less accented than even Sakila’s. “You can present his message to us in the morning.”

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