A flurry of footsteps sounded outside the shaman’s shack. Seconds later a young girl burst in, all bushy-haired, bright-eyed and brimming with tidings. Hot on her heels was a fiery halo of raging red hair. It filled the doorway flooding the room with an eerie orange glow. Backlit by the afternoon sun the flame-limmed figure paused then doused herself by stalking inside, instantly becoming the umber shape of a sulky twelve year old.
At her workbench, Ari ceased her weaving, flexing her fingers with a soft sigh - though not one of relief. What had her sister done now?
“Friz punched Alemwa,” the smaller girl announced cheerfully.
“Mika!” Nadie admonished. She finished pinning a clump of feverfew above the open range to dry then waggled her forefinger at the little girl . “No-one likes a tattletale.”
“Aww ma, it was awesome though,” Mika replied. “Alemwa bawled like a baby... What’s a tattle-tail?”
Ari growled. “Amohia Merida Granville, please tell me you did no such thing!”
“But she did?”Mika’s brow crinkled in confusion. Friz, meanwhile, stared defiantly at the floor, her freckled face burning at hearing her full name aloud.
“Bam! Broke his nose, got blood everywhere... it’s all bent and everything …”
Mika's enthusiasm tailed off. “Oh, that’s why we’re here, Akecheta wants one of you to fix it.”
Ari stood up, setting her half-finished flax bag down.
“I’ll sort it out,” she told Nadie, before turning towards her sister. “And you, little miss sulky britches, will come with me to say you’re sorry.”
“What for? We were training.” Friz whined. “And it was an accident.”
“So, you’ve apologised already then?”
“No, and I’m not saying sorry - he’s a bully, so it serves him right.”
“She shouldn’t have to,” Mika argued, grabbing her friend's elbow in support. “Alemwa said girls can’t fight... And we can! We’ve been allowed for ages now.”
Aapparently half a season was an eternity to a nine year-old. It was true though, girls – including Friz, Mika and even Ari - now fought in the inkite circles twice every seven-day. Six girls in all and several older women as well. It was also true that pudgy Alemwa was a bully, picking on those smaller and weaker than himself. Also, he often carried on after the elder had called the bout. She smiled at herself, suddenly she was an expert in a blood-sport. Jak would bust a gut.
She couldn't wait to tell him. Not long now. After forsaking the sisters and Squiz all summer, Jak and Kuruk were due back in Norwood in roughly a fortnight’s time. She’d speak to Nadie about meeting their conquering heroes halfway, at their Wolf Clan home of Haven. Kuruk’s mother and sister would surely leap at the chance. Nadie had long overdue words to say to her son. Soft words to replace hard words spoken in haste and anger. As for Alemwa...
“We’ll see what Akecheta says.” Ari tugged on her sister’s tunic. “Grab my herb bag, you can at least help me heal him.”
"How? I can't do magic like you..."
Magic. The very word was cloaked in mystery – conjuring up an air of esoteric secrets and exciting explosions. Myths mainly. Magic wasn’t airy fairy at all... Or easy as ala-kazam either...
It was not a cure-all or a shortcut... Much more about focus than hocus-pocus...
How could Ari best put it? At a brass tacks level, magic was the application of will power, energy, imagination, focus and understanding of the natural forces of the world to bend or shape reality in small ways.
Some people had an affinity for it. Like some people were naturally musical, artistic or had 'green fingers' as she had. Though magic ability was a lot rarer, mayhap one in a thousand. Also the majority of those were limited in power to small magics at the hedge-wizardry level.
Magic was more boring, repetitive and grim than she’d imagined - draining too, perspiration rather than inspiration - especially initially. Because magical ability was a muscle you made bigger by exercising it. Strangely the sort of thing Jak should shine at with his strong mind and boundless will...
He'd never had need of it though. His grandmother was the Fae Forest Witch. She'd done all the spelling for the family, supplying him with 'blessed' items such as his hunting knife, bow, cloak, arrowheads...
Objects could be charmed, imbued as it were. However, it took too much time and effort and unless the object was made from magic sympathetic materials – mithril, platinum, silver and precious jewels – or heavily ensorcelled by a master magicker - the energy within would dissipate over time. At different rates... Certain materials better suited certain charms too. Ari sighed. It was complicated. Magic was complicated, she should’ve started her description with that key fact.
Also ancient artefacts were generally more potent. A century ago, during the Age of Magic as it was known, many marvels were made. Back then the lines between worlds were blurred and the ether streamed easily between them, some creations were even touched by the god’s themselves.
One tangible link to that golden age was Jak’s gran’s grimoire. It was veritable treasure trove… Of general knowledge, not a cookbook of magic with page-after-page of spells, like recipes.
The Fae Witch had filled it with decades of arcane experiments and observations to complement the learnings – mainly elvish in origin - that had been handed down to her. Sure there were some spells, chants and rune designs but much more of herb lore, medical diagrams, healing meridians, astrology, ancient languages…
The more one knew of the ways of the world the more one could affect. The more magical lore the more effects possible. Chants, runes, spell circles… Could only help channel this force convert it to other forms of energy. The power was provided by the wielder’s personal energies.
Unless you used sorcery – although only a select few magic users could.
Sorcery drew power from the ether, the eternal life sustaining force from the realm of the gods. A life force that could power spells or be converted into other energies… Ari hadn't attempted any sorcery yet. She wasn't sure she ever would. There were risks and repercussions. There was a reason rumours of sorcerers never lasted...
Her musings were disturbed by a sniffing sound. They’d arrived at the inkite practice area and Alemwa was being led over by Akecheta. The boy was snuffling like an anteater holding his busted nose in two hands and dragging his feet for some reason. Akecheta rolled his eyes while still managing a smile in greeting. It was a far cry from the frosty reaction she'd first received from the inkite instructor. A stern clan elder, he'd only really warmed to her when she'd shown some fighting spirit. The aggression she never even knew she had... Or maybe it was her also newfound magic? A shaman was a sacred position in Ankan culture, even a trainee like herself.
There were a lot myths surrounding magical healing too. Most of it wasn’t magical at all, the majority of what they did stemmed from the studies of bodies, dead cadavers, to better understand how they worked. It was what her school had called science. It was not ladylike at all and scientific medicine was strictly the domain of men Old men. Rich old men in ivory towers. And as with most esoteric practices, the great unwashed found it disturbing and creepy.
Healers did not draw the foul humours of the sick and injured into their own bodies as was commonly believed – in fact, Ari wasn’t sure humours were actually real. The reason healers appeared haggard after the laying of hands was because a lot of actual healing used enormous amounts of energy. Over time the energy replenished. Albeit at different rates, again according to how powerful the magic ability muscle was. All a healer really did was set the body to rights according to their science then accelerate the body’s natural healing process.
“Sit down,” she ordered. Broken noses she could do with her eyes closed. She’d straightened three of Mayhap Jak’s mishaps before she'd even considered becoming a healer. Schluck! She wrenched the cartilage back into place.
"Waah!" Alemwa began howling. She stepped back in shock. What sook! He really did bawl as bad as Mika had claimed.
Maybe she should have deadened the nerves first; it seemed not everyone was as stoic as their Jak. In the end, she enlisted Akecheta to hold the squirming boy so she could lay on her hands. When his skin began to feel warm she pulled away. He’d look like a raccoon for a week but he'd be fine to fight in a few days. Somehow she doubted he would. She flicked her head at her sister to get back to training. The ungrateful little bully hadn’t bothered to offer any thanks, so no apology would be forthcoming from Wolf Clan.