There was only one thing to do, only one place to go, and we went there. We arrived at Dae’s Farm as accurately as I could time it between the early cheese-making and the preparations for lunch.
“My dear!” exclaimed Crear, when I’d explained. “Of course you can stay here as long as you like! You know that! Now I was just making a hot drink, so sit down there and let me finish it, and then you can tell me all that’s happened!”
So I did. But I hadn’t wasted the walk down to the farm; I’d done some hard thinking. I still had some thanks left from healing the daughter, but I was certain it wouldn’t last for ever – I wasn’t Tribe, so why should it? And even if I were, I’d seen Dae throw out his own daughter when she was being a nuisance. No, if I wanted to stay, I would have to justify my staying.
So as soon as Crear started work again, I helped. And so did Whisper (after a brief discussion on how painful a slap on the head can be). Beyond this farm I was lost and on my own – I couldn’t hope to survive in any way I could tolerate. Indeed, I was lucky to have Dae and Crear – unless it was the Spirits looking out for me, of course.
It wasn’t difficult to get right. I’d seen what happened here, I’d even helped a bit before, when I was here to cure Kahan. I knew what needed doing, I knew what Crear liked doing and what she hated, I knew how to be useful. And Whisper could help too; he could work; and he wasn’t going to let me down – not while there were nice whippy hazel sticks growing in the hedges for me to use on him. To give him credit, though, I didn’t need to. Not after I explained why he had to work hard, and, admittedly, after I’d hinted at the alternatives.
So I made myself useful enough for them to want me to stay.
All right. Let me admit it. I can’t remember a lot of what happened then. In fact, I can’t remember almost anything of what happened after we ran away from the camp. I just have four clear memories: of the tree when I woke up, and the feeling of desolation that hit me; seeing a single celandine flower – totally out of season – blooming in a hedge on the way to the farm; the sound of the dogs barking suddenly from the stable as I opened the yard gate and walked into the farm, and… The rest is, well, just not there. Not even blank; just completely missing. As if it never happened.
Whisper remembered, of course, so I can fill in most of it, and so did Crear for when I was in the farm. Funny, though, and uncomfortable. It hurts, somehow, but I don’t understand how.
I said four memories. There was one other bit I remember. It was when I was mucking out the stable, I guess a couple of days after we came to the farm – but I don’t know exactly, that’s the strange thing. Anyway, I was scooping the wet bedding out of the way when Young Dae, the eldest son, came in and leant on the open stable door – they’re sort of half size, only up to about waist height. Believe me, they need to be; when a farm horse decides you’ve outstayed your welcome you want a door you can jump over. Very very fast.
Anyway, he leant there, staring at me. Which I did not like, but I just ignored him. I couldn’t afford to cause trouble.
“Hi!” I answered. I didn’t stop working.
There was a pause. Then he came round the door and into the stable.
“Is it true you lot will have sex with anyone who asks?”
Well, no it isn’t – it’s far more complicated than that. Of course. But that wasn’t what I was thinking: and no I wasn’t thinking “Do I want sex with this boy?” or “Will I enjoy it?” or even “Will I have a baby?” Nothing so natural.
I was thinking “If I have sex with him will it make it more or less likely that I can stay here? If I have sex with him, will he treat me as useless and want me out, or will he want more and want to keep me around?” Honestly. As if his opinion was going to make the slightest difference to what his parents decided!
I was utterly locked down by what Stack and Hawk – especially Hawk – had done to me. I couldn’t think of anything else.
He was putting a – remarkably tentative – arm around my shoulders when he was suddenly on the floor covered in filthy straw and his younger brother was on top of him, pummelling him in the ribs and shouting. Exactly what he was shouting lacked crystal clarity either of enunciation or of thought process; but it clearly came from the heart.
I can’t remember exactly what happened then. I think I simply moved away and left them to it. You see? Normally I’d’ve loved having two boys fight over me. But now – nothing. Just fear and emptiness.
And I still don’t really understand.
Days went past, and I don’t suppose I was aware of just how many days. I don’t remember any of it. Not till one evening – I can calculate it: the fifth day after I arrived at the farm. Four dead days, but from now on it’s alive again.
Alive from when after dinner that evening Dae stood up.
“Tomorrow’s Big Market at Bulken,” he announced, “and Seer here probably knows it not, but we always have a family conference the evening before. So Graam, Kahan, help your mother clear the table, and then everyone sit down. Leave the washing up till after.”
Washing Up is a thing these Farm Folk are very fond of: it means cleaning all the pots, pans and table stuff that was used for cooking and eating the meal, using water carried into the house. Yes, they carry the heavy water to the light dishes. Personally, I take the common-sense, Tent Folk view that if the Spirits had meant us laboriously to scrape the old food off dishes, they wouldn’t’ve put fish in the streams to do the same job perfectly easily.
“That’s OK,” I said, taking the hint. “Whisper and I can do the washing up while you’re having the conference.”
Dae shook his head.
“Oh, it’ll be fine,” I said. “We’ll be very quiet, won’t we, Whisper!”
“No.” said Dae. “You, young lady, will sit down with the rest of us. And you, Whisper. I pay my debts and I keep my word, and that’s how it will be in this house, as long as I’m in it.”
I did help the two kids clear away, but it was soon done. We sat down.
“Now,” said Dae. “Five things tonight. First, as usual, do we take anything to market tomorrow. Second, also as usual, is there anything we need to buy. Third, anybody come up with any ideas about the willows along the Cammidge Drain. Fourth, learning – how are the letters and the figures doing with the youngest of you especially. Fifth, about the Lady Seer and young Whisper. I suggest we take them in reverse order, so we begin with you two.”
“Now, you’ve been here, what, five days, is it? And very welcome you’ve been. We’ve all been struck, as well, that you’ve sat not down and mouldered – and believe me, you’d’ve been just as welcome to stay if you had; but you’ve worked as hard or harder than any.” He paused.
My stomach was tying several different knots, presumably to decide which it liked best. I must have looked a real idduck, sitting there with my mouth wide open. And me a shaman.
“But we need to know what your plans are, so that we can plan together. Do you want to go back to the camp? Do you want to try your luck somewhere else? Do you want to stay?”
I swallowed. “I’d like to stay, if it’s convenient. Er – thank you.”
“So. But you’ve been working like a servant. That ben’t right. You’re a shaman – a lady of rank and with a gradely skill. You should be using that skill. We think you should be making your potions and pills and such.”
“I don’t mind helping!” I said.
“No, and we’ll stop not you. But we want you to make time for being a shaman,” said Crear, patting my arm.
“It is profitable!” added Dae. “We know what prices you got in Bulken, with no practice and no reputation. It is silly to waste such.”
Crear nodded. “But you can make not such things in a kitchen.” She waved vaguely around. “The dairy, where I make my cheese, the room between it and the house. Could you use that as a making room for your physick?”
You bet I could! “Well, yes, if I won’t be in the way…”
“Silly! Of course you ben’t! It’s a hole in the roof, but that ben’t but a bit of thatch that Dae and a couple of the lads can fix in half a day. But what will you need inside?”
I was still off balance. I had managed to close my mouth, but I doubt if that helped my image that much. “Er… a table, a bowl for water, er, fire. Fire. Is there a fireplace?”
“Da!” Graam – my White Knight of a few days ago – called out. “There’s still stone to clear from the Breckfield. We could build a chimney like we did in the scalding room in the dairy.”
“Yes. Or gradelier yet, build it outside, against where the back door was. Doorway becomes a firestead. Then we need break not the roof, and the fire is away from the thatch.”
“That would certainly – I mean, it would be amazing!” I had managed to achieve a minimum of thought. “I could manage wonderfully!”
“And I could help, couldn’t I?” Whisper’s hand crept into mine. “I could help – and you could teach me some more about being a shaman!”
“You can certainly help, when you can be spared from the farm,” I said. Notice the careful phrasing there.
After that it got technical for ten minutes or so, but it came together. The upshot was that I was to get my own making room, with a fire, a table, a big bowl, and a drying rack.
I was as happy as a pig in muck.
It was only a couple of weeks, no, only twelve days later when I took over my new kingdom. I had fire in hand, and I bowed to her, spoke the Welcome, and set her in her new hearth. Then I shut the door, slipped off my clothes and danced till it was mine. All mine!
Then I dressed again and moved what I had into there. Admittedly, the month before Nightwatch is not a good time to gather herbs, but there were still roots, if you knew how to read the signs for where to dig. I’d already washed them, and tied them in bundles, like with like; now I hung them on my drying rack. Then there were potions, mixes, pills, all to be set up, sorted, set to ferment or soak or dry, all to be put in proper order.
Then I let Whisper in, and walked through it all with him. Then I sent him off to find some water-mint – there’s always a bit around, even in deep winter – and to hang it to dry. It’s hard to ruin mint, but it’d be a good first test for him.
Then I walked round and round, touching, stroking, prodding at the wood in the fire, just gloating.
There was a shuffling behind me. Two figures were standing at the threshold.
“No further!” I said. “No one in here without my permission except your parents!”
“Will your pa-ti-ents” – she savoured the strange word in her mouth – “come here, like with the tooth man at Crosk?”
“Will there be blood? The other figure demanded. “Can we watch?”
“I thought little girls didn’t like blood! Aren’t you supposed to faint?”
They giggled. But they’d asked a good question. I could see people here, if Dae and Crear approved. It was only like people going to the shaman’s tent for a potion, after all.
Crear thought it an excellent idea – especially as visitors were likely to buy food and drink – and spoke to Dae; Dae thought it an excellent idea too. So it was called, as they say, at Bulken Little Market, and the day after I held my first Consultation – and put eleven chains and four rings into the farm ring-pot. More than Crear got for her cheese in a month.
“It won’t last,” I said, trying not to seem smug. “Not all the cures will work, and anyway there’s a backlog of hurts and sicknesses. Once they’re fixed, it’s only new hurts and new sickness that will come to me.”
“True, that, my dear” said Crear, “but it will last a few months, hear me. And you’ll be mazed by how far folk will come – there ben’t a proper physician outside Bulken town, and few can afford his prices. No, I promise you’ll be mazed at who will come.”