The hunt chief turned and walked away, leaving the old shaman spluttering. The others muttered and whispered to each other in their own language. Sakila frowned at them and said, “That is very rude.” “I don’t care if they say rude things,” Jerryck told her. “They know your language.” Sakila still glared at them. “It is rude of them to speak around you in a language you do not know.” “They’re not saying rude things,” Tajor told him. “They’re trying to figure out if you’re serious or not.” The old shaman narrowed his eyes at Tajor. “You speak our language?” Tajor smirked at him. “How else would I be able to tell him part of what you’re talking about?” The old shaman tilted his head at Jerryck. “You are a magician. You are lying when you say you would do one of our ceremonies. You’re Gathering of Seats would kill you.” “I’ve taken no oaths to the Gathering,” Jerryck said. “They have no binding spell on me. I can go through whatever ceremony I want.” All the shamans stared him again, this time in stunned silence. Some of them turned that stare to Sakila. She lifted her chin, threw back her shoulders, and returned their gaze without flinching. Jerryck had seen others who’d worn that expression, used that body posture, right before they said something like, “I told you so.” Jerryck shuffled his feet. “So what ceremony is it?” “A brother/sister binding.” Sakila put a hand on his shoulder. “It calls up magic that would change us both. You and I, we would become brother and sister as much as if born to the same parents.” “I like family,” Jerryck said with a smile. “The more, the better!” The old shaman tapped his staff on the ground. “Do not look to me to do this foolishness.” One of the few male shamans in the group behind him smiled and said, “I will.” “As will I,” a shamaness said. Both the volunteers turned and walked away. “Where are they going?” Jerryck watched them both go off into some nearby conifers on the valley floor. “To find branches to use for staffs,” Sakila said. The other shamans took out some of their weapons they wore like jewelry and scratched in the dirt with them. Sakila also took out a small knife, about the length of Jerryck’s index finger. “We will stand in circles. When the magic is right I will tell you. Then we will use this to prick each other’s finger just enough to bleed. You must let a drop of your blood fall to the ground between us. Then I will do the same. Whatever happens, do not fight the magic. Do not play with it. Do not shape it. Do nothing with it. Just let us shamans do that part.” Tajor laughed. “You don’t want a repeat of what he did to his workroom?” “No,” Sakila said, giving Tajor a baleful look. She turned back to Jerryck. “I will sleep in the visitor hut with you tonight to make sure the magic settles and holds right.” “Has that ever been a problem?” Tajor asked. “Not for many generations,” Sakila said. “It is more just tradition now.” The two volunteers returned with long branches after a few minutes. By then, the others had two circles marked in the hard, packed dirt. The old shaman of their host tribe crossed his arms, his staff crooked into one elbow. He glared at Jerryck. “Now we are ready. Now everyone will see you are a liar when you do not do it. And Sakila will stop acting so foolish.” Jerryck went over to the circles. Sakila pointed at one of them. “Stand here.” “Last chance to back away and think this over,” Tajor said. “Get far enough away that you don’t interfere with the magic,” Jerryck told him and stepped inside the circle. The old man’s jaw dropped open. Sakila stepped into the other circle. The old man started shaking his head. The rest of the shamans ignored him, stepping back as the two volunteers began waving their staffs and chanting. Jerryck’s skin prickled. “They’re calling up magic.” “For the binding,” Sakila said. Jerryck turned to make sure Tajor was moving far enough away. He already had, watching from many paces off, seemingly not even affected by the magic. The energy rose up from the earth inside the circles. Ancient. Powerful. Intoxicating. It swirled and eddied, following the movements of the staffs. The woman changed her pattern, waving differently from the man. The magic wove around Sakila. The man changed his pattern and the magic wove around Jerryck as well. It covered them. Penetrated them. Rooted them where they stood. Then the man and woman slowly brought their movements into sync, eventually waving together in the same pattern again. The magic roots under Jerryck and Sakila’s feet intertwined. “It is time,” Sakila said. She held up the little knife and took his left hand. She gave him a sharp jab in the ball of his middle finger. A tiny amount of blood welled up onto his skin. He turned his hand over and let one drop fall to the ground. The magic latched onto it, sucking it in, tuning itself to his aura, making him part of it. It sang, and he floated on the melody. “Jerryck,” Sakila said. She handed him the small knife. “You have to prick my finger for the binding to complete.” She offered up her left hand. He held his breath, took her middle finger, and jabbed into it. She turned her hand. As soon as her blood touched where his had the melody of her aura meshed and melded with his, creating several eddies of harmonies. This was better than any orchestra performance he had ever attended at the palace. Never before had he equated magic with music. He stood as still as he could, letting it play out, letting it sing for him as long as possible. Eventually it faded. The song quieted. The flow ebbed. The ripples and eddies played themselves out. He breathed in the last remaining wisps. The shamans stopped chanting. The sounds and smells of cooking took the place of the magic. The sun had dropped low. Dusk was settling in. Everyone stared at him again. The old shaman bared his teeth in a snarl. “What has happened to you?” he demanded of Sakila. “I asked for you to represent your area because I was sure you would understand our needs. A year ago you swore all magicians should die, that if you ever met the one who brought that summoner involved with the death of your last chosen brother—” “He knows nothing of that,” Sakila interrupted. “Just because the summoner was seeking him doesn’t mean he brought it about. And nothing is as I thought it was. I was wrong. That summoner was right. I should have listened. And so should you.” He thumped his staff on the ground and stalked away. Sakila looked smug watching him go. She stepped out of the circle to the other shamans and thanked them. Jerryck scrutinized the ground. One circle. They had started with two. Hadn’t they? He looked up at Sakila. “One circle?” “The magic,” she said. “You followed it. You did not know it did this?” Jerryck looked down again. “I wasn’t watching the ground.” “You followed the magic,” one of the shamans said. “Not what you saw with your eyes. You should have trained in the mountains. As a magician, your talent is wasted.” He headed into the encampment, the same direction the old shaman and the hunt chief had gone. The others slowly followed him one by one. “Go inside,” Sakila said. “The sun will go down soon. I will get something for everyone to eat.” Jerryck passed Tajor on his way inside and told him, “Don’t touch me.” “Don’t worry,” Tajor said. “The magic is gone. Only the change remains.” Inside, the quiet guard sat by the entrance watching outside. The guide took some kindling by a primitive hearth and worked on starting a fire. The hitter took off his belt and used the leather to strop his stolen Shontese dagger. Before long, Sakila and the little girl both came. They brought a loaf of hot bread, a steaming pot of stew, bowls and wooden scoops for everyone, and a skin of cold water to wash it down. The girl served Jerryck and sat by his feet without getting anything for herself. He gave her the bowl, served himself, and sat beside her. She flushed and smiled. After he took a bite, she dug in, eating voraciously. “She sits at your feet to show that she is your servant.” Sakila broke off a chunk of bread for herself. “When you give her your food and sit beside her, you show favor.” “Her name is Khata, by the way,” Tajor said. Jerryck shot him a dirty look. “You already told me that.” “And did you remember?” Tajor asked. “Of course!” “For how long?” Tajor asked. “I’m not answering that,” Jerryck said, and shoveled in more stew. “That’s what I thought.” Tajor went over and sat by the quiet guard at the door. “I’ll watch a bit. You eat.” “You should eat too,” the guard said. “Why?” Tajor asked. Then he laughed at the guard’s expression. “Later, maybe. Go eat.” The quiet guard slipped over to the food and helped himself. He looked over at the hitter, ignoring the food, still stropping the dagger. He squinted at the weapon and moved closer. “That’s Dalren’s.” The hitter paused, his hand frozen with the dagger halfway down the leather. He lifted it, turning it in the light of the fire. “You sure?” The quiet one nodded. The hitter said, “But I got it off that foreign interpreter. Wouldn’t it go to Nolrien? Inheritance after death and all?” The quiet one sat back and scooped into his bowl. “Shontese tradition.” “What is?” The hitter lowered the blade back down to the leather belt. “When a weapon is used to attack someone,” the quiet one spoke with his mouth full. “If the attacker dies in the fight, the weapon is inherited by the person he attacked.” “You think Dalren attacked that interpreter? That’s how he died?” “Nolrien wouldn’t tell us how he died,” the quiet one said. “Tajor,” the hitter said. “Are you sure that was the same man you scared off in the Shontese palace?” Tajor didn’t even turn around to face them. “How much detail do you want in your answer?” “Forget it,” the hitter grumbled. He set the weapon aside. He ate with the others then went back to stropping the dagger. The hut fell into sullen quiet. Khata took all the dishes and left. When she came back, she brought her little sister. The two of them lay down on a pallet and cuddled themselves to sleep. “Now that’s a good idea,” Jerryck said, and picked a pallet for himself.