“Er, it’s this cut. It’s a bit deep, and it’s not healing. Er… can you treat it?”

Hawk peeled back the bundle of leaves tied round his arm and showed me. I looked at it and prodded. It was weeping, livid and badly swollen; but I couldn’t see or feel anything buried in it.

“Oh yes, quite easily,” I said. “Whisper, fetch the third pot, second shelf, please. Good lad.” I began smoothing the salve in – and checking again for anything hidden in there. It never does harm to check twice. “That’s a nasty bruise on Stack’s face. You had a bad hunt, the pair of you?”

“No. We were at the market in Brothy a few days ago. That’s where we heard about your – your consultation, actually.”

He stopped, probably in order to pretend I wasn’t hurting him.

“And did you buy anything?”

“Er – no. No, we didn’t. They drove us out before we could.”

Hawk seemed vague, and Stack looked even sulkier. There was something they weren’t saying – perhaps they were ashamed at running away? That would be just like boys.

Hawk paused while I probed a particularly tender point. Of course, it didn’t hurt him, no of course not.

“We weren’t really going to buy,” he went on after he’d got his breath back. “But it was like last time – we were, well, doing things and someone shouted at us that we were thieves and a crowd started. We ran for it. That’s when we got these.”

I smiled, which obviously upset them rather; but served them right: they’d brought the whole thing down on themselves – and us. And that was worrying: would it bring trouble down on me and – worse – Dae and Crear?

Then I looked at Hawk and Stack again, and was almost sorry I’d smiled. Underneath all that tough guy stuff they were just two frightened kids.

But then, I wondered whether I cared any more.

I carried on cleaning out the wound, “Fine,” I said, tying up the wrap. “That’s a chain and four rings.”

“You’re charging us?” Hawk’s jaw dropped so far a mouse could’ve jumped in. “We’ve got to pay? But – but you’re Tribe! You can’t treat us like – like strangers!”

I wasn’t treating them like strangers; I’d’ve charged a stranger half that.

“Oh, am I?” I said. “Your Tribe? I’m your property, is it? Under your ownership? No, I don’t think so, not any more. One chain and four rings.”

Hawk drew himself up to his full height. And that’s quite a long way.

“I may not own you, but I am still your chief,” he declaimed, “and I have the right to voice the will of the Tribe. It was wrong, I admit, to claim you as property, and for that we shall make amends. But I, we require you to acknowledge me, Hawk-on-high-bough son of Rope-tight-woven, as your Chief, and Stack-of-strong-timber son of Lifts-rock as your Champion; and thus we shall acknowledge you, Seer-of-hidden-things, as our Shaman, free to come and to go, to speak or be silent.”

Isn’t it astonishing what difference a month can make! I could easily remember Hawk making exactly that sort of speech and me thinking how chiefly he sounded, how impressive and adult. Now, he just sounded like a precocious kid imitating his father.

And I realised – that was all he’d been doing, all along: imitating his father. And I’d been so impressed! Me, a shaman!

“Oh very grand!” I said. “When you talk like that, you sound just like your daddy, did you know? Now pay your fee, and then go away and play with your slings and clubs and leave us alone until you need healing again.”

“Oh, Seer! Don’t –”

“And don’t you. You don’t need me – remember? You don’t need a shaman because there aren’t any Spirits, and your strength is all that matters. You’ve been fine without me and without my protection.” I pulled suddenly and hard on the string tie. I think he felt it. “So why should I come back? You don’t need me.”

“Yes we do,” said Stack. Yes, I do mean Stack. “That was all Hawk – I never didn’t believe in the Spirits, and I didn’t want, I wanted a Shaman still. I didn’t believe Zirakzagus like he did. He reminded me of Rolling.”

That was almost the longest speech I’d ever heard from Stack, and it took me aback for a moment. “Rolling­knife­handle? I remember him, but…”

“Well, you were a girl, and didn’t see him like us. He was a loudmouth, always standing up and promising this and that and the other if we did what he said. It was always things that made us feel big and him feel bigger. Lot of the boys tagged on with him, but I never did. Hawk did.”

“I didn’t! Well, yes sometimes, when I was a kid, but not that often then and not now. He wasn’t a Chief’s son and I was – he should’ve treated me right, and he never did. But Zirakzagus wasn’t like that…” Hawk saw me looking at him, I think. He certainly seemed to do a doubletake. “Oh, well perhaps he was a bit. Is. Maybe.”

More and more I was seeing Hawk as just another kid. And I’d been so taken up with him, thought about him, wanted him, needed him – what a gowk I’d been!

“And about the chain and four rings?”

Hawk scrabbled around in his bag and finally came up with the gold. I took them, checked them on my balance – as if I didn’t trust them, when I knew they didn’t have the brains to cheat me – and finally nodded.

“So if you’re finished, would you boys like a bowl of beer?” Crear was behind the corner from me, so I didn’t see her come, but now I could hear the rattle of jug and bowls. “And a bite of bread? You’re both looking a bit skinny – you need a good woman to look after you and feed you up!”

“Thank you! Yes please!” said Hawk. Then, whispered to me, “What’s beer?”

“Mead,” I whispered back. “Only they make it with grain. You’ll like it.”

They did, especially as Crear makes it stronger than our normal mead. And after her last comment I wondered how long she’d been listening. I didn’t ask, of course. But then, I saw no need to enter into conversation with them, either; there were other patients to occupy my attention. I turned back into my domain. Whisper was there, giggling.

“What’s so funny?”

“Hawk’s face when you were horrid to him! It was funny!”

“Was I horrid?”

“Yes, but it was only fair, ben’t it? They’d been horrid to you.”

I smiled. But one thing did bother me a bit: they didn’t look as though they’d been eating well. Their problem, I supposed, not mine any more.

When they’d gone, and the last of my customers had been duly treated – which wasn’t that much after; it was getting late, after all – Crear came out again with another full jug of beer. We drifted into my making room to drink it.

“I know you explained about being a shaman last time you came,” she said. “There’s more to it than just healing people, ben’t there.”

“Yes,” I said, wondering what was coming. “In the Tribe, the healing is just a – a result of being a shaman.”

“A side-effect?”

That was yet another new word, but it was exactly what I meant. “It’s the link to the Spirits that’s the heart of it.”

“So we thought.” She rocked the beer in her bowl from side to side, cradling the bowl in her two palms and staring into it. “You see, when you came here, this time, we thought you’d be – well, be more of a shaman. We thought you’d want to perform ceremonies, you know. Are you embarrassed – I mean, have we…”

“No, it’s not your fault.”

“You see, I know Dae has truck with no such things at all, though he would say so never in front of you, but I know not so surely. And I did wonder – please be upset not, but I wondered if you… are quite as confident as you were, and that that is why…”

Perhaps the beer was stronger than I allowed for, perhaps it was because I was drinking it before dinner so my stomach was empty; either way, I answered almost truthfully. “I’m not. I… It’s true I don’t know how to be a shaman here – this is so different from the Tribe – but I suppose I could learn… But…”

She didn’t say anything, just let the silence drag out.

“But there were things… things the boys said that night, that I couldn’t answer. Things that in the old Tribe no one would ever have asked.”

“So you had never to answer them.”

“No.” I needed to change the subject. “May I ask you something?”

“Of course, my dear. What is it?”

“Is it because Dae doesn’t have truck with such things that you don’t celebrate days? I mean, we in the Tribe would’ve been preparing for Nightwatch already – it’s less than ten days away. And I asked the children when their namedays are and they didn’t seem to understand.”

She smiled. “They probably understood not the word. We say ‘birthday’, and yes we celebrate them. But the winter turning, and days like that, no. How did you celebrate them in your old Tribe?”

I explained.

“You know, my dear, that sounds like something we could do. We might be too few ourselves, but we could bring in our neighbours. They have not a lot to do at this time of year – well, it ben’t the time to do much, dark as it is. And I’m sure the children would simply love it. Suppose we did, what would you be needing, then?”

“Me? Er – yes, I mean – well…” This was really calling my bluff. So I was a shaman, was I, and I couldn’t even celebrate Nightwatch? “Well, the fire is the main thing, of course. We need it to be close, but not dangerous and with space around it. Er – the pig yard?”

Crear shook her head. “Yes, perhaps, but you know not, perhaps, the fence along between the main yard and the caith can just lift and be stacked out of the way. That would be a good place, then. Close to the house but away from the house.”

“Well, yes, I suppose so,” I nodded. And one thing led on to another, and in the end the jug was empty.

And it was agreed: if Crear could get Dae to agree, and I had already noticed that Dae tended to agree with Crear, Nightwatch would be celebrated here on the farm. Actually, I would celebrate Nightwatch. Even though I didn’t know how.


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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