So dawned the Day Of Unmentionable Terror, as my mind had begun to label my teaching session.
Crear had helped a lot, just by asking questions. But there were things I already knew, just by being a shaman: and the most important was that I had to take control from the very beginning. Even though everything was stacked against me, though they were Farm Folk and I was Tent Folk – though they were civilised and I was a savage, let’s be honest here – and though I looked different with different hair colour, skin colour, eye colour, though I spoke differently and walked differently and dressed differently and smelt differently, though I had bigger breasts than them, though I was younger than them, I still had to take control from the beginning.
Mind, I was feeling a lot better about it once the day actually came. Not only because my period had started the previous evening, so I was feeling a lot less tense physically, but also because there was nothing more I could do – nothing more to get wrong. Now I was prepared.
Prepared in two ways, as well – almost a first for me. I told myself I was prepared both mentally and physically – though whether the Spirits would have agreed with me I’m not so sure.
Mentally: I think it was because I’d been meditating again, but I’d suddenly felt much more relaxed and open in myself; suddenly I was thinking instead of panicking; suddenly I was having ideas instead of beating at fog. In particular, I’d realised I needed to get the basics nailed: I needed a slogan – or slogans. It was basic shaman skill, really, but like all the rest I’d just lost sight of it.
I finished up with three statements: “I will be strong, I will be clear, I will be open.” All easy, except the very last – the word didn’t quite express what I meant, but I couldn’t think of a better – honest, respectful, listening, they none of them hit the point. But I felt that there should be a third – there always is a third in the Tales. Three is – well, it’s just right.
So I was mentally prepared. And – for me – pretty organised. I had no idea how the session would go once we started, but it’s always the beginning that matters, and I knew how I wanted the day to begin, because now I knew what I wanted to achieve. It had involved a lot of guesswork, and a lot of help from Crear, but I was as ready as I could be.
They gathered in Crear’s kitchen, where she served them with a hot drink – I should think they needed it. Only when I was sure they were all here and warmed up did I walk in, covered toe to head with my cloak and hood. Not my staff, though; I didn’t think it would work indoors.
“Good afternoon, ladies,” I said, ignoring the greetings and stares, and choosing a low register, a quiet tone – though not a quiet volume – and a slightly slowed pace. I also angled ‘ladies’ so that it sounded like a compliment, or so I hoped. “It is good of you to come. I hope we can share together in learning this afternoon. I say share together, because I am not claiming to be superior to you. I expect that I will learn more from you than you will learn from me.”
I paused for three beats. Just enough for them to feel they should reply, and just enough to get in before they did.
“Please come through to the house room and sit down, but, please, leave all your cups and plates here in the kitchen. We do not want clutter: clutter is always to be avoided if possible. Come through now please.” I strode through them into the house room and sat down in the middle of the short side of the table. They gave way to let me, which was a good sign.
I looked round. There were fourteen, including Crear, Fihel and Henev, so eleven new faces. I reckoned Henev plus four actually enthusiastic, Crear and two others were interested, Fihel and three others were vaguely interested but had come with someone else, and two had been dragged along or were hostile for other – as yet unknown – reasons.
It was too many to teach properly. This was going to have to be me talking at them. The shaman convincing the whole Tribe – I’ve done that; I can do this.
But can I do it without dancing? Can I dance with just my voice and hands?
“So, you’re going to show us how to reject our thoughts and meditate properly?” This was a hostile questioner, but evil will can evil mar. It gave me an opportunity, and a standard shaman’s opportunity. I knew how to deal with this one.
I paused before I replied, nodded slightly and slowly, and then spoke even more slowly and quietly, and with a tone of approval. “No, lady, I am not, but I understand the purpose behind the question – you ask well. Meditation is not, is never about rejection or suppression. Meditation is about the deepest of acceptance, the deepest of respect.” I paused again.
Well, I needn’t go through everything I taught them – you know it well enough. Let’s just say that I found I could dance with just my voice – I hardly used even my hands.
I believe I managed to lead all of them through the first door – all except the two hostiles, and maybe even them – and I think I got most of them through the second. We looked at the third door, and I suspect some of them did pass it, but anyway I showed them – most of them – enough to do it for themselves, if they wanted. And I also made sure they had the basic protections in place. We know that nothing is completely safe, obviously, but that is no excuse for not being sensible.
I did not mention the Spirits. I did not mention shamans. I did not mention Zirakzagus.
The hostile woman mentioned all three. On each occasion I answered, very courteously, a different question from the one she asked. It was really easy – I’ve handled far worse than her back in the old Tribe – just standard shaman skills.
I had three actual periods of meditation, with explanations before each, and after each we talked about what we’d felt, what we’d achieved. It seemed to work very well, in the end, though they took quite a bit of time to open out at first. The vaguely interested opened up most of all, I felt, which was nice, but the hostiles didn’t come round. I never expected them to. The one kept on trying to ask me difficult questions at stupid moments, though the others put her down, not me, when she tried to break a meditation, but the challenges got fewer with time. The other hostile never said a word the whole session.
Anyway, at the end of an hour and a bit more, I nodded to Crear, and she brought in some hot drinks and a flatcake each, and put an empty bowl on the table without comment. They all put some rings in the bowl, even the hostiles. They started chattering, and I slipped out and stayed out till they’d all gone. Making an exit can be just as important as making an entrance, especially from enemies. I stayed in my making room, worrying about how it had gone, wondering whether I’d done enough or too much, and especially whether they’d respected me or not. I mean, here I was, ten years younger at least than the youngest of them. What right had I to teach them!
Then Crear, Fihel and Henev came round to my making room to collect me, and we went back into the house.
Crear gave me a quick hug. “My dear, that went so well! You must be proud!”
“Thank you” I exclaimed. “I hope everyone else thought that. I mean, was it what you wanted, Lady Henev?” I asked, “How do you think that went?
Henev hugged me as well. “It was wonderful, Lady Seer! Truly wonderful! Such wisdom!”
I didn’t answer this outrageous flattery, but I must’ve shown a little scepticism in my face.
“That such simple ideas can have such profundity!” she went on. “Fihel, you tell her, me she'll believe not.”
Crear smiled. “My dear, the Lady Henev believes herself quite serious, I’m sure. Anyway, you must have seen; everyone still was listening right to the end.”
“I was more impressed than I expected to be, Lady Crear, I do admit that.” Lady Fihel ignored the exclamation from Henev. “Not a plaind from anyone – not even from Jent. Indeed, Lady Seer, you handled Jent with cleverness. I hope not too-cleverness.” She paused. “But I felt there were – I felt that you were holding back from us.”
Crear nodded. “I knew you were, of course, because you had talked to me first. But I know not how many others saw it so. Most that was spoken afterwards were good things – except from Jent and Malou, obviously, and even they held silence.”
“Who are Jent and Malou?” I asked. “And why did they come?”
“Jent Carin’s daughter – her man’s Mahul Mahul’s son that farms out at Three Ditches, close north of Zirak’s Tower. They make a good handful of chains every time Zirakzagus has one of his sessions. And Malou Chawo’s daughter – she still lives with her family out at Garbanks – but she’s at every one of his sessions.”
Fihel snorted. “Just wants to get under his tunic. Got no hope, though, and if the chance did come she’d probably run a mile – she’s just a wet fish.”
“Malou was the quiet one?”
“Yes, that’s right, my dear. I think not if she spoke at all, did she, except for courtesy.” Crear glanced at Fihel.
“Hardly even that. She was talking to a couple of your children, and she had quite a long parlay with Whisper, but that was all. There ben’t imagining what she was thinking to get out of coming.”
“There’s something there that we see not – I consider if Zirakzagus put her up to coming,” said Crear. “But they matter not,” she went on, turning practical. “Let’s see whether they enjoyed it or not.” She emptied the bowl onto the table and began to count rings. “Four chains two. So since I have put nothing in yet –” “And I should think not!” I exclaimed – “that means eleven people put in an extra ring.”
“So everyone except Jent and Malou, presumably,” said Fihel.
“You should be proud, my dear!” Crear gave me another hug. “This is a great success!”
“Give thanks to the Spirits alone,” I answered automatically. “Oh sorry, that sounds very ungracious. I wasn’t thinking. We should count out your share now, while we’re organised. I couldn’t’ve done anything without you all. But you said, most were saying good things. Not all.”
“No, not all, my dear.” Crear smoothed her apron. “One or two were saying it was fun, and they were glad to be here, but they saw not how it benefited. What meditation gained them. Two chains, and one, two rings. There, that’s my share, so twenty, two, four rings back and here you are, my dear, two chains exactly, and well deserved.”
“Two whole chains? Is that right?” I said, getting my bag out. “It looks far too much! I don’t want to take what should be yours.”
“Of course it is right, Seer.”
“Were they all from farms, then?”
“No no, my dear – could you smell not the fish? No, but most were – er, three, five, yes seven of us. Then Jay, Kahlen and Deia are fishers, or Deia’s man is anyway, the other Jay’s man burns charcoal, and Tez, she and her menfolk quarry over at Kenonny - she came a good step today.”
“Tez – oh yes, Tez Caamy’s daughter, yes. I hope it was worth it for her.”
“Of course it was, Seer, didn’t she say so. Didn’t they all – except Jent and Malou. My, it has been quite a day. But what next – that is the big question, surely?”
Yes, it was.
“So let us have another cup, and consider. Unless, good ladies, you need to leave?”
“Not at all, Lady Crear.” Fihel pushed her cup across for the refill.
“If there is a next time,” I was thinking out loud here, “I need to answer their question: what use is meditation.”
“Of course there must be a next time!” Crear sounded almost shocked. “And as for the use – there’s the cauldron that your meditation made. It would be gradely to show that to them next time.”
“The cauldron? How has meditation made a cauldron? That sounds fascinating!” Henev leaned right forward, like a mattress rolling out. “Lady Seer! Tell me, please!”
I explained – very briefly – what I’d done and about making the cauldron afterwards. I made no assertions at all about how or why.
“But that is exactly what I was hoping for – what Zirak promised when he first started battring on about meditation. From the very commencement he was saying it could reveal such things!”
“And it did, a little, for you, didn’t it dear,” said Fihel.
“Well, yes, it did. But I could get so nowhere with the way he taught! Yet Seer – oh I’m so sorry, the Lady Seer has taught me more in one lesson than that man ever taught in all his lessons. I am so anxious to try again, now, especially after this tale of a cauldron!”
“Maybe it will show you how to destroy Zig!” observed Fihel, rather sardonically, I thought.
“Well, yes, dear, it very well might!” Henev put her cup down. “But you are right. If we are to get back in the light, we must leave. Thank you, Lady Crear, for all your hospitality. You are most generous!”
I’d been studying how to be polite. “I’ll walk with you to the gate,” I said. Correctly. Even savages can learn manners. Though according to certain savages, shamans never learn anything.
After the remaining politenesses, we strolled out into the bitterly cold evening sun.
“Is she very like your real mother?” asked Fihel.
Now that was utterly unexpected, like finding birdshit in my mead. It got me completely off guard.
“Lady Crear? No, she is nothing like my real mother. Nothing at all.”
I may have overemphasised my words, just a trifle. Fihel only raised one eyebrow, but she managed to make it seem like three or four. “In the good direction?”
“Yes.” I said, getting a little better control. “Look, what’s this about?”
Henev giggled. “Fih thinks she’s exploiting you!”
“Oh Henva! I never said that! That is so unfair!” exclaimed Fihel. “And it ben’t funny!”
Henev was still giggling. ‘You see, Fih thinks the Lady Crear is exploiting you and that you, Lady Seer, are exploiting the Lady Crear.”
“This is so unfair, Henva! You might as well say we are exploiting them both!”
Henev began to giggle. Again.
“Poor Lady Seer!” Her mimicry of Fihel was screamingly accurate. “Treated like a servant, expected to do the chores around the house while Lady Crear’s daughters laze about; given a workshop, but still expected to work for her, producing potions and pills for her to sell for her benefit.”
“Oh, Henev!” exclaimed the real Fihel. “I might have said something like that at first, but that’s so unfair!”
I was just too taken aback to comment intelligently. I may have inadvertently commented unintelligently.
“See! Seer thinks it’s unfair too!” That was a remarkable interpretation of a squark, I thought.
“You’re forgetting I just arrived here, assuming she would take me in, feed me, clothe me, shelter me, build me a making room, let me have classes! I’m exploiting her!”
“And we are exploiting you both, obviously! My dear Henev, you are being so unfair! What more the Lady Seer is thinking that she is too kind to say aloud fears me to the bone!”
But I wasn’t thinking – at least, not that way. I was thinking – my shaman senses are twitching. This is a game, or a trap. They’re trying to do something to me. Twist me – or straighten me – or – now this suddenly made sense – or test me.
I laughed. “Nice, good game, good game. But exploiting is what you do to a slave. Do I look like a slave? And by the Stones, I’m sure Lady Crear doesn’t!” I paused, as if I’d finished.
“I’m not her property,” I continued, the instant before Fihel spoke – my shaman skills had not left me. “I am not her servant. I am not her cow – and she is not my cow. And I am not her daughter.”
“But you wish you were, my dear” said Henev.
I hesitated. “Yes, in some ways. Yes, a lot. But if I had been, I wouldn’t be a shaman. And I am, and that matters more.”
I am a shaman. I keep saying so. I keep using shaman skills, and I do it well. So I am a shaman.