“Where’s Whisper?” asked Crear.
I was, frankly, too sleepy to pick up on trivia like a missing son. All I wanted was my bed, not more hassle and tantrums. “Whisper? Not seen him since yesterday. ‘Sn’t here?”
“Wasn’t he with you last night? I thought that was where he was going.”
A chill crept round my stomach. “He came, but we had a – a discussion, and he walked off. I thought – I assumed he just came back here.”
“He’s been never back all night. Where can he be? Surely there ben’t nothing can’ve happened to him, not in so short a step?” Crear paused. “What were you telling him off for?”
“He deserved it! He was so – so – I mean…”
“Oh my dear! I was meaning not to say different! But there must’ve been something that started it?”
I sighed and yawned simultaneously. “He was on about being a shaman, when I’ve told him over and over again – boys can’t be shamans. But he’s convinced this Ziggy is a shaman, and that – oh by the Stones! He hasn’t gone to Ziggy to get taught, has he?”
“Oh surely not!”
“He did say something – I can’t quite remember exactly, but – I’ve got to get over there and see. If he’s gone to Ziggy, who knows what that attercop is doing with him!”
“No – look!” But I was gone.
There’s plenty of time on the walk from Dae’s Farm to the Tower for thinking. And the more I thought, the more I found it hard to believe. But I just couldn’t be sure.
I was polite. I stood outside and threw a stone at the tower to say I was there, just as Zuggs had commanded.
“Well, the Lady Seer! What a delightful surprise! To what do I owe the honour of this visit? But where are my manners! Do come inside, dear Lady!”
I really wish he wouldn’t call me that. The trouble is, he obviously knows it.
“So generous as always!” I exclaimed. Possibly even convincingly. “But thank you, I don’t really have the time to give your hospitality the opportunity it so richly deserves!” Don’t I sound like Hawk! “I was just here to collect my son, who I believe is visiting you. I hope he hasn’t been an imposition?”
“Ah! But alas!!” Alas? Whoever uses a word like ‘alas’ in real life! “I fear you have been misinformed. Your son – Whisper, his name was, doesn’t it? – he has honoured not me with his presence. I would have been delighted. But why should he have come here? Is there some service I can do for him or for you?”
What’s he doing? Talking like a stupid story? What is he doing it for?
I paused, putting on my positive face. “I have no doubt both of your honesty and of your generosity in that offer.” I could think of several services he would be delighted to do for Whisper – whether Whisper would have been delighted by them is a different question altogether. “And I also do not doubt that Whisper would have found it most instructive.”
By the Stones! You idduck, Seer! What are you thinking! Certainly not how to control your tongue! My only excuse is that I needed sleep. Not good enough, girl!
“Instructive? You feel he may have sought instruction from me? I doubt that there is anything you or he could learn from me.” A neatly ambiguous phrase. Let’s pretend not to be insulted. “But no. I have had no such opportunity, not since you honoured me with your presence at my lecture – what, over a month ago! How time flies!”
He paused. Good – he’s having to think too.
“But I hear – perhaps wrongly, I am so isolated here – that you yourself are providing instruction to some of the local people on various matters.”
“Yes, indeed. Though I am sure that anything I teach will be far below your interest. But please, if you wish to come, I would be delighted.” Not, however, to the point of giving him details.
“Thank you, dear Lady, but I believe I am otherwise demanded that day. But I wish you well in your little enterprise.” Little enterprise! By the Stones, one day I’m going to…
Calm, Seer. You are a shaman, remember?
“Thank you – your support means a great deal to me. But I must not trouble you any further – I have already wasted too much of your valuable time. The blessing of the Spirits upon you!”
“And every blessing on you too, dear Lady.”
And I started the long walk back.
Did I believe him? Well, not completely, but I felt the balance of probability was – yes. Not just his words; his manner, his tone, it was all very convincing as a package.
And then I came round a bend in the path and guess who was walking towards me, not four paces away.
Whisper's fast for a nine-year-old, but I'm still faster - just.
“By the Stones! Where’ve you been all night! We’ve been worried sick!”
“Up a tree! It got dark! You’re hurting my arm!”
“I’ll hurt a lot more than your arm if you don’t stop wriggling! What were you playing at? Answer! Now! ”
“You’re hurting! I’m going to be a shaman whatever you say boys can be shamans and I’m going to be a shaman and you won’t teach me not!”
Not a very complete answer, but the best I could get out of him. I was too tired to handle him any better.
I - we - got back to the farm and I fell into my bed.
When I woke up I told Crear what had happened with Whisper. And then all about the cauldron.
Crear seemed as excited as I was exhausted. Apparently we had to try, the very next day.
I was in no state to argue.
The next day, and it did take me a good part of the day, I looked for clay. Crear said that they used a patch northward on the first hill slope, but that turned out to be coarse stuff, all gravel, good for tiles maybe, but not a cauldron. But eventually with advice from her kids I found a clay patch nearer the lake that looked good, what there was of it; there might be enough for a few cauldrons, but not much more.
It was enough for now, though. I loaded my barrow – with some help from the kids – and wheeled it back to the farm. Then I threw a wet skin on it, and went in for dinner.
Next day, bright and early, I trod clay, I built a kiln, I moulded a cauldron, I sealed the kiln. All Crear’s kids helped – even the oldest ones – but not Whisper; he was sulking, and I didn’t ask him. I’d had enough of this wanting to be a shaman; I’d pandered to it for far too long, and it was time to put a foot down.
And at every stage I said the Words, touched the Blessings, called the Measurements just as Ashkeys had done. It took ten times longer than our tries in the Hill Camp, but it looked ten times better, as well. I remember little Kahan following me around, asking what I’d said – I wondered if I should try a vigil for a cure for her deafness, but – no. Presumptuous, I decided.
The next day we lit the kiln, slowly and cautiously, until the steam changed. Then we pumped and pumped with the bellows from the house, and an old sewn-up goatskin – no idea where Young Dae and Graam got that from. It took hours and hours to get the kiln as hot as I remembered, but we got there.
The next day we took the kiln apart, and revealed a perfect cauldron.
And I still didn’t know whether I really was a shaman.
But I had five days to pretend, before I had to teach it.