“We thought it must be you,” said the woman in the red cloak.

Her companion nodded. “We heard about your consultations, and that you were – er–”

“So we came to consult.”

“Well, Lady Fihel?” I’d had trouble remembering her name, but I hoped it didn’t show. The other name I couldn’t remember at all.

“Well, Lady Seer, we –”

“We desired to talk about meditation, and also to attempt to talk to you about our group. You see–”

“Henva!” hissed Fihel under her breath – to my relief. “Yes. Could we commence with our group, and our campaign against Zirak?”

“Certainly Lady Fihel, Lady Henva. But I don’t–”

“Excuse me, Lady Seer!” Brown-cloak rattled in. “But I know I’m in no position to make a plaind, but it’s actually Henev. Henva’s a sort of, well, a pet name, a name in family. I’m sorry, but I thought I’d better say.”

I smiled politely. “Oh I’m sorry, Lady Henev. I am so glad you spoke. Of course, I should have guessed – you two being giftgivers,” which stood out a mile, of course, “– I should have realised you might have special names for each other.”

“Giftgivers? I’m sorry I know not the word.”

So what word do they know? “I mean, you are close, that you share each other’s bodies, and no other woman’s.”

Henev laughed, and the brown of her cloak glimmered in the winter sun – it had tiny glittery points in it that I’d never seen before. “We are married, if that’s what you mean. Giftgiver – nice word.”

Married? I thought that just meant handfast. Does that mean you can’t be both handfast and giftgiving? Strange.

“Anyway,” I hurried on, “about Ziggy.”

She spat in the fire – I assumed to show disrespect to the name. Which showed how different she was from Tent Folk – none of us would’ve insulted the Hearth Lady like that. “We need to destroy him,” she said. “He’s poison.”

Which was true, but it stood out like a blazed tree that there was more to it for her – something a lot more personal.

“We can get women never to see it, either!” Fihel’s anger flamed in her voice. “They seem to like being owned by a man, many of them. They seem to like being slaves! Henva, dear, please concentrate.”

Henev was pottering around my room. “I am, dear, I hear every word you say. Is this a drying rack?” She fiddled with the hoisting thong. “That ben’t a good way to suspend it.” She was untying and tying the thongs faster than she was speaking.

“Henva! This is this lady’s room! You must interfere not with other people’s things!”

“I’m just putting the ties to rights, Fi!” She pulled on the hoisting thong, and it did rise straight and smoothly – which it had never done before – but even so.

“Henva!” Fihel was actually blushing. “I’m so sorry, Lady Seer! Henva just can never take seeing things made ill. She has a gift for such, but she will fiddle.”

“Not at all,” I said, watching Henev drift towards my shelves. “But perhaps we could wander outside where it’s cooler.”

“Excellent idea.” Fihel almost dragged Henev out after her.

It was late, almost dark, and there were no more patients. I brushed the dust off the baling bench, and we sat down. “I don’t quite know how to destroy him, though. He’s always too far away for a slingshot – though I suppose Hawk – well, anyway, we have no one who can handle a bow. Could we fire his tower?”

“What, kill him?” Fihel looked shocked – I had no idea why. Of course you kill an enemy – how else can you destroy them?

“No, no, Seer my dear, him we must kill not!” Henev shook her head – it was like shaking a dandelion clock, except nothing drifted away. “He will become sacred, dying for his ideas, remembered with awe. We must kill not him, but we must destroy his ideas, discredit him, make everyone laugh at him.”

“You usually kill your enemies?” asked Fihel.

“Well, yes, of course I do.”

“What with?”

I shrugged. “Usually with a man.”

Henev giggled. “You just tell a man you want someone dead? And they just do it?”

“Of course. Well, for most women it’s only their own man, and he may well want to discuss it. But a shaman can tell any man what she wants and he does it. Or spends the rest of his short life believing he’s a caterpillar and trying to hide under leaves whenever a finch flies overhead.” I mean, what did she think a shaman was? “My grandmother once told a man to kill himself, and he had the blade at his own throat before she told him to live. In fact, I believe he’d already drawn blood.”

Fihel was staring at me as if she were seeing me for the first time and didn’t believe it.

She shook herself. “But anyway, killing that hoopoe ben’t the way. Shame him, shame him publicly.”

I was having trouble getting hold of this rather new idea: of destroying someone by shame, not death. I kept a prudent silence.

Henev didn’t. “We need to do more than that, ben’t it so, because we need to have him not just shamed, but shamed by a woman. We need to reveal to everyone that women are stronger than him, and can shame him. Did you know this bench is not level quite? But how we shame him – that I ben’t in seeing yet.”

We talked on and around it, but we got no further, not that day.

“But meditation,” said Henev suddenly, packing a sliver of wood into the leg joint of the bench, “we have talked not about meditation maintent, and that I do want to do. You say he is lying, and that he is deliberately lying, though I suppose lying must be deliberate, when you think about it, because lying not deliberately would be no more than being wrong, and we can all be wrong.” She tested the bench to make sure it didn’t wobble any more and that it was exactly level. “So he is tricking people into feeling inferior, being failures, that is what you said, ben’t it?”

“Yes,” I said. Partly by guess. Following Henev’s words was like chasing thistledown as far as I was concerned. “He is not teaching meditation properly – he’s starting at the wrong door, and you must not reject – meditation is all about accepting.” I paused, trying to think. “Look, the days are short and still getting shorter. This is the wrong time of year. Why don’t we wait till after Nightwatch, and then we could have a teaching time for you and anyone else who might be interested.”

“Good, yes.” Fihel nodded. “Of course, we would need to offer a thanksgift. Would – what – three rings each be enough? For each visit, of course?”

I gulped.

“Oh, Fihel, my dear!” exclaimed Henev. “Six, at least, surely? Or even nine?”

Over a chain? Just for talking? “No no! I was thinking one ring – two at the most!” It’s what a shaman does – she shouldn’t expect to be paid for it, surely? “But I’m not thinking. We’d be causing fuss to Crear and Dae. We need to ask them, and perhaps we should say one ring for me from each, and two rings to them from each. Would that be fair? Of course, people could buy bread or beer from them as well, if they wanted.”

“When is Nightwatch?”

“Eleven days’ time.”

Fihel was counting on her fingers, but Henev got in first. “Not Brothy Little Market – they correct with it, this month, and we know not how it will fit. So let us go by Bulken Big Market? Say three days after? That would be five days after what you call Nightwatch. Yes?”

Actually I did know how Brothy would correct its dates – I’m a shaman. But I let it pass, and just checked the counting.

“Six days after Nightwatch, surely?” I tried not to sound smug. “Bulken will be correcting too. So two days after Brothy, three days after Bulken Big Market which means three days after the Full Moon. No, not for beginners. It would be better later, on a decrescent moon.”

“Really? Interesting – he never mentioned anything about that. What does decrescent mean?”

“Between the morning half moon and the new moon. Crescent is between the new moon and the evening half moon.”

“Oh, so. All these complicated words!” This from a lady who used more complicated words in one sentence than I use in a day. “How about a week later – say, three days after Bulken Little Market?”

And two days after Brothy’s, as any good shaman would know. “Yes, why not. Say an hour after noon. If Crear and Dae don’t mind.”

They didn’t. Quite the opposite.

So that was my second day of consultation. The very next day also brought some surprising clients.


About the author


Bio: Just a retired mathematician who likes writing stories about the beautiful part of the world he lives in. Checkout for more stuff!

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