We reckoned the oldest trees were about ten years old, so that was when it had been abandoned. Having seen Geivin’s parental home we could work out what everything was: here was the byre for the animals; here was the yard in front of the buildings, a lake of nettles; here was the pool, much smaller than at Geivin’s though, and made from soft clay punctured by tree roots; and here was the house, its roof-beams still in place but open sky between them, and the house itself crammed with bramble and nettle and weedwoods.
“We can fix this,” said Hawk. “This will do – if it’s defensible?” He looked at Stack.
“We weave the bushes to make a temporary fence,” said Stack, “Then stake it. Shouldn’t be difficult.”
“I will ask the Spirits,” I said.
It was just possible to get into the farm house and sit in the corner without being too badly stung or scratched, though not without getting filthy. I sat there in Approach for a minute or so, then I moved into Attunement, and then to the Respect position. When I had calmed and my mind had opened I cast the Stones. They fell heavy and dull on the crushed fireweed. It was a weak yes, in fact, but a shaman understands that the fall of the Stones is what matters, not their answer. Here, it was as if there were no one to hear; as if the Spirits had abandoned this place. I moved again into Approach, spoke the Words, and stood up.
Only then did I realise Geivin was watching from the doorway.
“How long have you been there?”
“All the time!” he said. “I’m going to be a shaman so I need to see how you do it.”
“But you can’t be a shaman!” I exclaimed. “Boys can’t be shamans! There’s never been a boy shaman!”
I thought for one moment he was going to cry – but then he lifted his head and looked me straight in the eye. “Then I’m going to be the first one! I’m going to be a shaman.” And he ran away.
He’ll grow out of it, I thought.
But it meant I couldn’t put off another issue. It had to be done; I didn’t like doing it, but it had to be done and done thoroughly. I waited until I was sure Geivin was well away, and sat down again to meditate.
And to try to remember. There had only ever been one adoption into a Tribe that I'd ever heard of, and that had used a ceremony which was - well, truthfully, it frightened me. But I couldn't remember any other way, and I didn't dare invent when there was a clear precedent, however unpleasant. If I were a real shaman I might have tried, but...
Oh, by the Stones!
I pulled myself together. Yes, there was a clear precedent. No, there was no alternative. Yes, I had the means and the opportunity, now we had our new camp. I had no more excuses.
But I was still afraid.
I went to find Hawk and Stack; they didn’t ask what I’d been doing; you don’t ask questions of a shaman, in case you get an answer; but this time I told them.
“It’s the proper way,” I added. “It’s not been done in my lifetime, but it is the proper way.”
“I suppose, if it must be…” Hawk bit his lip. “But it will hurt.”
Stack looked at me, and laid a hand on my arm – yes, I do mean Stack!
“It’s hurting you,” he said.
“I’m a shaman,” I answered. “Everything hurts me.”
We wandered away a little, but almost at once Hawk called us together – Geivin too.
“There’s nowhere to camp,” said Hawk. “We don’t want to waste effort, though, so we want to clear inside the house.”
“How?” asked Stack.
So we all got to work gathering dry brushwood and heaping it inside the shell of the house. Even Geivin did his bit towards collecting dry sticks and throwing them in, but it still took a couple of hours to find and fetch enough properly dry stuff that would burn hot and fast. We wanted to burn the weeds, not the roof-beams.
Finally we were ready. This was our first fire in our new camp, so we did it properly: Stack as Champion stood guard, I as Shaman kindled fire, Hawk as Chief lit a torch and set it to the brushwood. Geivin stood there, open-mouthed, as the fire barely took, then hung back, and suddenly blazed out and filled the whole building with flame. Then it was over, and the house was empty of everything but ashes, charcoals, smoke and heat. We let the heat fade and the smoke blow away, then we sprinkled water on the ashes and cinders and swept the house clean.
Then we set up camp in our own house. It felt so different from the travelling camps, or even from the Mistwater campsite; it was our camp, our home. I could even imagine our Tribal Spirits were there with us, if there were any Spirits. And to be truthful, I wasn’t even sure about that anymore. I wasn’t sure of anything.
After dinner I caught Hawk and Stack’s eyes, and nodded. Geivin was put early and firmly to bed under a cloak by the wall. Then I and the boys sat round our campfire, in earshot of his sleeping place. I began mixing the potion.
“It’s time we faced the truth,” I said, “The Spirits have spoken. Geivin will never be part of our Tribe.”
Hawk nodded. “No. Geivin is not one of us. Geivin must die.”
“It’s what comes after that I don’t know,” I went on, noting that there was complete silence from Geivin’s bed. “Whether once Geivin is dead someone else joins our Tribe.”
“I hope so,” said Hawk. “I do hope so. But we can’t be sure.”
“No,” I said, “it’s up to the Spirits. But first we must kill Geivin. It’s time,” I said, pouring the potion into a little bowl. “Bring him out.”
Geivin scuttled out from under the cloak like a pink weasel, and tried to make a run for it; but Hawk and Stack were too fast. They brought him before me, where I was sitting at the fire. I did not look at him.
“Drink this,” I said, and held out the bowl.
He tried to twist away, but Stack had him firm. Hawk forced his lips open and poured the potion into his mouth, holding his nose till he had to swallow. We then watched as the first touches of hallucination began to kick in, and then darkness swallowed terror as Geivin met his death. Eventually Stack laid his body back under the cloak. We stayed up talking and doing odds and ends around the place for an hour or so, and then went to bed.
Next day the boys went hunting while I cleared more of the weeds from around the house. It was nearly all nettle or bramble; there were very few herbs worth gathering – though boiled nettle’s good enough in the spring, these were far too ancient and tough to be edible however long they were boiled for. I also made a start at clearing the pool, and checked the stream that fed it for dead animals.
We ate a solemn meal that night: the first fruits of our new camp, but also solemn because of Geivin. All day we did not look at the still shape under the cloak by the wall.
After the meal was over we watched the sun set, and then we waited almost in silence until the last traces of light had died in the night.
“OK,” I said, “it’s time.” I walked over to the silent shape, and turned back the cloak. I sighed with relief, looked up at Hawk, and nodded. I felt myself smile wetly.
“The Spirits have blessed us with a gift,” I declared, the relief almost choking me.
Hawk smiled, and then suddenly frowned. “I do the shaman’s words, you said?” Hawk’s whisper seemed nervous – surely not stage fright?
“Yes at first, because it’s the shaman’s baby. But I do the shaman’s words once you’ve declared me.” I struck a pose, decided I didn’t need to and tried to stand naturally, found I couldn't, and struck a pose again. Then I spoke aloud. “Stack-of-strong-timber, Champion of the Causeway Tribe, will you bring the Spirits’ gift before the Tribe?”
Hawk and I stood side by side facing across the fire, while Stack walked over to the cloak and picked up the new member of our Tribe. He faced us, cradling the child in his arms, the flames high between us and them. The child had half woken; his eyes stared out, lost, unfocused, confused.
Hawk raised his right hand. “Who is the mother of this child?”
“I, Seer-of-hidden-things, am the mother of this child.”
“Do you claim this child before the whole Tribe?”
“Yes, I claim this child before the whole Tribe.”
“Do you claim this child before the Spirits?”
“Yes, I claim this child before the Spirits.”
“Then what name did the Spirits give you for this child?”
“The Spirits gave me the name Whisper-in-the-night for this child.”
“Does any stand up against this woman’s claim for this child?” He paused - very briefly. “Then, Seer-of-hidden-things, take your child, Whisper-in-the-night, before the whole Tribe and before the Spirits.”
Stack passed him through the flames to me, and I cradled him in my arms – my first-born son. His face stared up at me, terror widening his eyes.
Now it was my turn.
“Who is the father of this child?”
No one answered – obviously. A shaman’s child never has an acknowledged father, because the child would then tie the father to the shaman, and a shaman must never have ties, except to the Spirits and to the Tribe.
“Hawk-on-high-bough, great Chief of the Causeway Tribe, none has spoken to claim this child as father. Will you speak for this child?”
“Yes, I, Hawk-on-high-bough, Chief of the Causeway Tribe, claim that the Causeway Tribe is father to this child, and accept the name that the Spirits have given for him. Now let each man of the Causeway Tribe take this child, Whisper-in-the-night, and acknowledge him as a son of the Tribe.”
I duly passed my new baby to Stack, who, lacking more Tribesmen, passed him immediately to the Chief. This was a lot harder with an eight-year-old baby than with the usual day-old ones, but we managed with reasonable dignity. My son would obviously still be fuddled from the drugs, so at least he didn’t wriggle.
“Welcome, Whisper-in-the-night son of Seer-of-hidden-things, to the Causeway Tribe.” Hawk tapped the boy’s upper lip with a knife so that blood oozed out, tapped his own the same way, and then kissed the boy on the mouth so that the blood mixed. Then he gave me the knife. I bled my lip with it, and kissed my son for the very first time.