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So – what to do next?

A good question. And I had no answer.

Or rather, I had a purpose, but no obvious way forward. The purpose was to destroy Zugzug; that was obvious. But how?

I spent a couple of days worrying about it until I remembered I was supposed to be a shaman. Then I decided to do some meditation practice.

And two points came out. First, I needed more people on my side. Second, I needed to know more about my enemy.

Point One was easy. At worst I just needed to swallow some pride.

I was trying to make a fresh start, so I waited an extra day or two, to the New Moon.

“I salute Head-on-high-bough, Chief of the Causeway Tribe,” I said, “and I bring a friendgift.”

“The Causeway Tribe? I thought that was dead.” Hawk didn’t seem as pleased to see me as I’d hoped, but I wasn’t giving up yet. “But your friendgift is welcome to us.”

And seeing them in daylight in their own camp I wasn’t surprised. Shocked, yes, by the state they were in, but not surprised they took the pile of flatbreads off me. But tribe or no tribe, that meant they had to be polite.

Fortunately for them, politeness meant they had to eat some of the flatbread. It didn’t mean they had to wolf them down as if they hadn’t eaten for days, but I didn’t mind because they looked as if they hadn’t eaten for days. Even Stack was looking skinny.

“Hunting could be better, then?” I sipped at the cup of water which was as far as their hospitality had stretched. “Wasn’t Zuggyboy supposed to be fixing that?”

Both Hawk and Stack looked uncomfortable. “No. I mean, yes, he was. We reminded him last time. Nothing happened.” Hawk sounded even more uncomfortable than he looked.

“Shouldn’t’ve gone last time,” muttered Stack.

“Maybe this time. It’s a bit away yet.”

I looked at them. They were hungry, dirty, the camp was untidy and unlooked-after, and even the defences were falling down. This was more than just lack of game – this was a pair of lads stuck with each other, and hating it. And also – failure. They felt failures, and they both blamed Hawk.

This wouldn’t do. There was no way they were going to be any use without their pride. So where now?

“The Spirits have spoken,” l said. “They are no longer displeased with you – indeed they are pleased that you have stood your ground here when many strong men would have crawled back to the old Tribe just for lack of a few mouthfuls of meat. Yes, they were angry that you were so easily deceived by the evil wizard, but they see you are learning.”

This wasn’t going well, but I took a sip of water and persevered. “You are to go to the wizard’s next event, in accordance with your word.”

That caused more reaction than I expected.

“We will?”

“But with eyes and hearts open, seeing his deceit.” I was taking a chance here, I know, but I needed them on my side – properly on my side, not just drifting along. And I reckoned that if they had their eyes open, something was bound to show him up – I just didn’t know what. “You will understand what is truly happening there. But there is another thing.”

Another sip and pause. Was I getting through? How much pride must I swallow? More still, apparently.

“The Causeway Tribe. It’s still real. The Spirits set it up – called it into being – only the Spirits can close it. And that can not happen until its purpose is fulfilled. That purpose is unfulfilled – is barely even started. We have experienced its birthpangs, not its death throes. Or have we?”

I paused, trying to feel their mood. “And as proof, the Spirits have been protecting you – and me. We are special to them, and even though I have not been performing the necessary ceremonies here, the Spirits have still extended their arm over you as well as me, keeping us from the greater evils, that our feet may tread on holy ground. This have they done, not for our true goodness, but for their own good purposes. So I have been shown that the Causeway Tribe must live.”

“So you’re coming back?” shrugged Stack.

“No. But nor are you coming to me. The Spirits have spoken. I do not understand, but they are very clear.”

“I don’t understand either!” Hawk was looking sulky – which I didn’t like. This was not going well.

“Well, just accept for the moment, put aside old anger, old resentment. Remember we have never truly lost touch – you came to the Nightwatch feast, and Whisper has been here many times, moving between us.”

“He said you didn’t know – that we weren’t to tell you,” said Stack. He looked disappointed – and Hawk looked cross. Had he hoped to use it against me?

I smiled. “I let him keep his secrets,” I said. “He’s only a kid. And it was good that he did what he did. He is no shaman – boys can’t be shamans – but there is something of the shaman in him. He hears the Spirits and follows their words.”

It still wasn’t enough. They weren’t really buying it – I could feel a fob-off coming.

“Well, if you say so,” shrugged Hawk. Stack just shrugged.

So that was a No, then. I had just one last throw, but I was pretty sure I’d blown it. Never mind – let’s give it that last shot.

“Good,” I said, and stood. “Then I stand before the Causeway Tribe and confess before the Causeway Tribe that I, Seer-of-hidden-things, shaman of the Causeway Tribe have done wrong to the Causeway Tribe.” I paused for breath. “I confess that I took reward for doing my duty to the Causeway Tribe and to the Spirits. I took one chain and four rings for healing a brave of the Causeway Tribe, not for thankfulness but for a demand. I offer three times the reward as compensation for my wrong doing.”

I’d been afraid it’d come to that in the end; I had the rings counted out ready in a cloth. I poured them out onto the ground in front of Hawk’s feet.

At that startlingly ill-chosen moment, Whisper came into the floor, saw me, and froze. I ignored him – I’d no time for little boys just now.

Meanwhile Hawk was swallowing air, apparently hoping it would enable him to talk. It did eventually work – or at least, he managed to get some words out.

“That you confess to doing such a wrong is proof of your loyalty and worthiness to be our shaman,” he spluttered. At least he’d managed to remember the correct words. More or less.

He picked up the rings.

And that was important. By accepting my – ok, somewhat grudging – apology he’d accepted that the Causeway Tribe was still operational. At last I’d gained some ground.

“Stop looking guilty, Whisper!” I added. “Come and sit down – you have the right – you’re a hunter now.”

He managed the second but not the first of those.

“Yes, come and play our shaman’s games!” Hawk didn’t sound happy about it, and that was a bit uncalled for in its bluntness, surely.

I had to ignore that. “It is the wrong time now, but tonight I will dance the camp and replace the protection – it would be presumptuous to do otherwise. But the track from here to Dae’s Farm – that must be made into a link, so that we can be in both places as one place. I ask you to come with me along that path as Chief of the Causeway Tribe, walking with me to Dae’s Farm. There we shall share food, and then return.”

“Trying to take us over? We’re not your beggars.”

Whisper hit his fist on the ground. “You went begging in Brothy, you minded not being beggars then! That’s how you got cut!” He banged his fists again. “Now you say it’s begging when you take not what’s offered in the Tribe!”

Good old Whisper. When he throws a tantrum he throws it good.

“What?” I said. Well, perhaps more exclaimed. It was justified. “You went begging? Begging? After all Whisper had told you, after all I’d explained? And that’s why you got hurt, and why you needed me to heal you? No I will not sit down! And to think how guilty I felt after treating you – made you pay? I should never’ve treated you at all! Why should I shut up? It’s you that should be apologising to me! It’s you that should be shouting about how guilty you are of bring the Tribe down into the gutter!”

Hawk leapt to his feet – typical overreaction – “Apologising? You walked out on us – left us on our own – just vanished! No goodbye, no explanation – and then you turn up, as blithe as a grig and as smug as a shaman, and start criticising us! So we tried a bit of begging, yes, so we got it wrong – well, what d’you expect when we’d no shaman to teach us how to be good little boys and dance to her tune!”

After how he’d treated me!

There’s no need to go into every detail of the argument. Let me just say that my perfectly rational and obviously correct arguments were howled down by Hawk’s irrational bellowing. Eventually we were both standing, facing each other, and shouting at the tops of our voices: he to force his stupidity forward, me to get a hearing for my impeccable logic and common sense.

Stack stepped between us.

We continued to stare at each other in silence.

“You’re both being stupid,” Stack didn’t look at either of us. “But you’re being honest. Sit down.”

We both hesitated, but in the end we sat.

“So what did you really come for?” sulked Hawk. “What was all that stuff about the Causeway Tribe really about?”

“What I said!” I answered, but then decided a small gesture of peace was in order. “The Spirits have a purpose for the Causeway Tribe, despite what we’ve done, and part of it is to go to Zuggalug’s next crawl session – but with an open mind.”

“Well, all right. We can do that. But what about Dae’s folk? Are they part of the Causeway Tribe too?” Hawk still looked very dubious.

I shook my head. “No,’’ I answered firmly. “And although they took me in and gave me food and shelter and – well, lots of things, I’m not really part of theirs. I’m not sure...” I looked at Whisper. “I’m not sure about Whisper, though.”

Whisper looked up from his game of fivestones and obviously realised everyone was looking at him. “Er,” he asserted.

“Whisper, do you feel part of the Tribe or part of Dae’s family?” asked Hawk. It was his right to ask; he was Chief.

Whisper ran up and shrank against my side, and reached out and held Stack’s hand – the nearest of the four hands available. “I’m a Hunter of the Causeway Tribe,” he announced firmly. “I mean, Dae’s nice, and his family’s nice, and – and – but it’s, I mean, I keep thinking of when I lived with, before I was Whisper, you know. It ben’t naughty, but? I mean, everyone’s very nice, but...”

I gave him a little hug. “No,” I said, “it’s not naughty. It’s fair enough, after what you’ve been through. But you see, both of you, the Causeway Tribe still exists – it has to.”

“It’s ten days to Zirakzagus’s next teach-in.” I got the impression Hawk was having trouble counting that high. “We’ve got time to decide.”

That didn’t feel right; once I’d got the extra information I needed at the next Zoggietime, I would need to act quickly. “No,” I said. “It’s shorter than you think. Hawk-on-high-bough, you are Chief of the Causeway Tribe. As Shaman of the Causeway Tribe, I can not tell you what to decide; but I can insist that you do decide. And I say to you: decide, for either way there is less time than you think!”

Though by then he had little choice.

“All right, all right. Stop coming over all official. We’ll do it.”

I tried not to let my sigh of relief show. “Very well. Then the first thing to do is to establish the link from here to Dae’s Farm. We must walk it, me first, Champion at my shoulder to guard me, then the Tribe, and the Chief last to oversee the Tribe. There we eat, and return. Come on.”

I began, obviously, by walking the Double Road through the gate, to open the existing boundary of the camp. Then as we walked, every nine and seven and three and nine paces I stopped to acknowledge the boundary of the path to my right – that is, turning with the sun – as the camp boundary. It slowed us down, but it had to be done. At the farm I walked the Double Road through the farm gate, but the way the woodstore and the long pool were set, we had to walk round outside the fence, which was a bit sticky in places. When we finally got back to the gate, we washed and had a meal – in my making room, not Crear’s room, because we weren’t joining the two tribes.

I was glad I’d asked Crear to buy me extra stuff from Bulken Market – I couldn’t use her stores though of course she offered, wrong tribe again – because the boys ate and ate and ate until I thought they’d burst.

When Whisper and I finally left them in the camp they were much better tempered, and barely awake.

So I was winning so far, but I could do with more people. But who else was there?

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About the author

Adge

Bio: Just a retired mathematician who likes writing stories about the beautiful part of the world he lives in. Checkout https://ko-fi.com/adge0304 for more stuff!

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