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The next day, after my morning’s work making cough soothers, I sat down with a cup of peppermint tea and listed everything that had happened since I came to the farm. It was quite a short list. I took it back to when we set up camp, and it wasn’t much longer. Then I wrote down everyone I had met at each event. Then I sat back and considered.

Who might help?

Not Dae and his family. They’d done more than enough already.

Not the ladies from my teaching session. I didn’t know where most of them lived, and I didn’t know enough about them. They might be good backup, though.

No one I’d met at the last Zigwallow was any use – except Fihel and Henev, obviously.

But Nightwatch: what about Nightwatch? In particular, what about Tappy and her friends?

“What about Tappy?” I said, aloud.

“Tappy?” asked Whisper, looking up.

“Yes, Tappy. You remember Tappy. She and her friends played at the Nightwatch party.”

Whisper giggled. “Especially Kiki.”

A new name. “Kiki?”

Whisper giggled again. “Kiki. Stack liiiikes Kiki. Stack tried to kiss her at Nightwatch and she hit him. With a hambone. But Stack still liiiiikes her!”

You can’t beat inside information. “And that was all? She hit him and he gave up?”

Whisper was still giggling. “HE says that as they were leaving, she was on the back of the cart and she blew him a kiss! But Hawk says she didn’t and it’s all Stack’s imagination. They got all cross about it, and Stack asked me to find out where she lived, and I told him I couldn’t not without you finding out, and he told me not to ‘cos you’d laugh.”

Well, he got that right.

Interesting, though.

It turned out that Tappy (no, it wasn’t her real name; but it suited her a lot better than Kennegdu did) lived just the other side of Caadaisa, the village with the dog. Kiki lived in the village, Bral was Kiki’s younger brother, and Jer was Tappy’s cousin on his father’s side and second cousin once removed of Dae on his mother’s. And Tappy’s cousin was brother-in-law to Crear’s first cousin once removed. Apparently that was a good thing. Unlike the weather. Oh well.

So a couple of days later I gave up waiting for a break in the rain and I waded off to Caadaisa to find a friendly Singer.

Presumably angry dogs don’t like heavy rain and knee deep mud either. The locals were friendlier too – they were actually visible for more than two breaths. I recognised one face from Nightwatch.

“Hello,” I said.

It achieved a half-smile.

“I’m looking for Kiki or Tappy,” I persevered.

The wave indicated one of the houses over to my right.

“Thank you.” I felt something more was expected, so I struck my shaman pose. “The Spirits’ blessing on you and yours.”

The half-smile grew briefly to a full smile before vanishing into a door.

As I headed over, a burst of drumming told me exactly which house. To be precise, it was the stable of the furthest house on the right. The one across the deepest mud.

“Hello?”

The drumming stopped.

“A customer, is it!” Tappy’s voice was unmistakeable. “Come in. We always welcome paying customers.”

“I hope you felt well paid at Nightwatch,” I answered.

“The feeding was generous enough to overlook the lack of rings, but then wizards pay no bills, do they.”

Don’t they? Perhaps there’ll be more people on my side than I thought.

“But I’m not a wizard, so I do. What do I owe you?”

“You’re paying us in rings? Wow!” exclaimed one of the lads – Jer, I reckoned.

Tappy snorted. “Well, she would’ve done till you opened your big mouth!” She looked back at me. “No, the food and the beer were good and plenty. We’ll let you have that one free.” So generous.

“Like we always do!” giggled the other girl – Kiki, was that the name?

“So why are you here, Not-wizard?” Tappy really didn’t like me. I kept my temper, though – and even managed a small laugh.

“I’m not a wizard: I’m a shaman. I’m not here to trick people and steal from them; I’m here to help people and to heal them.”

“At a price.”

“Only outside the Tribe.”

“And only if they can afford it, Tappy!”

I hadn’t advertised the latter point, and in fact it had only arisen a couple of times. I still wasn’t sure whether it made me stupid or just a proper shaman. But apparently rumour had got as far as Kiki.

“I might’ve heard that or I might not. And I might believe it or I might not.”

Bral coughed. “She treated old Fio and she’s not a ring to her, and has none since old Graam died!”

Tappy opened her mouth to speak, but I got in first. ‘‘But who’s to say whether I treated her as well as if she’d paid? By the way, did my treatment work?”

“Let’s get not sideways here!” retorted Tappy – so presumably it had worked. “You still’ve answered not – why are you here?”

“I want to destroy Zirakzagus – and I gather you do too.”

“Getting rid of the competition? Why should we swap one wizard for another?”

This was getting tiresome. “I’ve told you again and again – I’m not a wizard. What do I have to do to convince you? Do I lie to people? Do I play stupid tricks to look clever? Do I set people against each other? Do I put women down, or anyone else? Do my instructions work, or do they just make people feel failures? Can’t you see any difference?” I remembered what she’d said when we first met. “Am I truly poison, like him?”

“So when you replace him, how will you behave then?”

I gritted my teeth. “I will not replace him. I hope no one will replace him. Or will you?”

“Me? Why should I replace him?”

“Because you’re a wizard at music.”

That got her.

“So what did he do to you?” I went on.

“Said girls should be playing not music in public – it wan’t decent. After we’d played at his session! He’d promised us dinner and four rings each – then paid not – even gave us no dinner!”

“And told everyone they should let not us play!” Kiki interrupted. “We lost half a dozen sezzies at least – till people realised we are the best. And that between us we’re cousin to most outside Bulken town.”

“But even so, why should we help you? We need not your help.”

“Because Shaman and Singer should work together – it’s how it should be in a good Tribe.” So everyone kept saying, and how it never was in my time in the old Tribe – not since my Gran died.

I am not going to cry. This is most definitely not the time.

“So will you help?” I said.

“Singer.” Tappy looked round. Kiki nodded hard. The two boys looked at each other and finally nodded. “We’ll help. But not to risk more hassle,” said Tippy.

“Good enough for me,” I said, trying not to look relieved.

“So let me introduce – Kiki, Bral her brother, and my stupid cousin Jer, who can’t count up to four, apparently. At least with a drum in his hand.”

Jer grinned, and we all shook hands in the weird way they have round there.

“So who’s on the cart already?” asked Kiki

“Two ladies called Fihel and Henev...”

“They were at your Night thingy. Night...”

“Nightwatch. Yes. You really were great that night, you know. And otherwise just the other two from my Tribe: Hawk and Stack.”

Bral shifted. “Stack? Was he the one built like a henhouse? The one that tried to chat up Kiki? There, look, Kiki, another chance for you, just when you’d given up hope!”

“No she ben’t!” exclaimed Jer. “Kiki’s with me – I ben’t letting a pigsty on legs take her away. She’s mine!”

“Jer Den’s son, we may’ve gone together a couple of times, but you own me not!”

Gone together.

It’s funny, but I’d been in the farm now for so long, I really felt comfortable and accepted, and then just a single word or phrase – and I’m a foreigner again. Of course, you will say, ‘Well what did the exact relationship between Kiki and Jer matter to me? Not at all.’ And no it didn’t. It’s just – well – just that suddenly I felt like a little girl, overhearing grownup things that I didn’t really understand.

Never mind.

“It ben’t many folk for a job like this, and there’s few enough days to the next session, if that’s where you’re aiming.” Tappy looked at me – she had startling eyes, as though they had needles shooting out of them. But I am a shaman. I am not to be intimidated.

“Six days. And yes, it’s not many. But we do need to get more information about him, try and find his weaknesses, and then act as fast as possible after. We have to use what the – I mean, what is to hand.”

Tappy raised an eyebrow, but then there was a sudden fuss at the door.

“Hello? Is a lady named Seer there? Or do you chance to know where I may discover her?”

And the ladies Fihel and Henev appeared.

“We’re so sorry to be interrupting, Lady Seer, Lady – er – Tappy, is it?”

“No, I’m Kiki. That’s Tappy.”

“Oh I’m so sorry. But your son informed us where you’d gone, he’s been so helpful, and there is so little time.”

“Henva, my dear, stop rabbitting on.” Fihel turned to Tappy. “We hope you are with us?”

“Apparently yes. No doubt someone will tell me so for certain in due course.”

Fihel laughed. “Yes, it is that way, is it not! But glad you are, Lady Tappy!”

Tappy laughed. “Just Tappy, Lady – er – Fihel. I ben’t a Shaman, only a Singer, so I’m told.”

“Not ‘only’,” I butted in, “Singers are important. But no one would say you were ‘only’ anything! But what about your own tribes? We’re not – I’m not asking you to make trouble for yourselves.”

Tappy smiled. “My father was a music maker – I’m sure he’d’ve approved. Mum’ll mind neither, as long as I tell her I can do mostly as I choose, and the man she’s got and the rest around’ll make nothing if she don’t. The others – you’ll manage, ben’t it? It’s just a sezzie, no problem. But what’s to be done in such a fret, Lady Fihel?”

I smiled; Tappy bouncing between formal, ordinary and jargon in half a breath suddenly reminded me of Hawk. Stones! That would be an exciting pairing! But it was Henev who answered. “Lady Seer needs some way of scoring off him, and we think we have a way. We think we can get the Lady Seer to rise up in front of him.”

“But,” I said.

“What, fly through the air? That’d be good.”

“It would indeed, Lady Tappy, but no, the land will rise up with her on it. We hope.”

“But,” I said.

“Tell it not – you want labourers.”

“Labourers now, and sound effects on the day. But yes, there is work to do, if the Lady Seer is to challenge him at the next meet.”

I was beginning to panic. “BUT,” I said, “I wasn’t going to challenge him this time – we were only going to learn more about him!”

“Oh nonsense, my dear!” Henva brushed me aside with a wave of her hand. “What are we going to learn that we know not already?” Practically everything, in my case. “No, it’s a marvellous opportunity to face him down and shame him! Those shelves look not very steady, Lady Tappy. May I?”

“Henva! Not now!” Fihel snorted. She turned to me. “I hope Whisper has talked your Tribe into meeting us at the ground at dark tonight, and with the days still so short that is not so long away.”

“Who’s Whisper?” asked Kiki.

“My son,” I replied.

“Your SON?”

“Adopted son. Long story.”

“That’s a relief.”

“Just a minute! Kiki ben’t going anywhere where that Stack is!” Jer’s hand thumped the bench he was sitting on.

The consequential dialogue between him and Kiki lasted a good ten minutes. The rest of us chatted among ourselves until it ran to a natural conclusion. Then we all stood up, got our things together, and went off to the Tower Ground.

We got there just as the sun would have been setting if we could have seen it through the thick raincloud. Hawk and Stack were there already, tucked into a bush, invisible as hunters should be.

“The idea is just so simple – you float on a huge bladder,” said Henev, ignoring Fihel’s snort at ‘simple’. “It really is such an easy way when there is so much water around. But we do need a pool for you to float on.”

Float. This isn’t, like, boats, is it? I’m – not keen on boats.

‘‘It is important that you fall not off.”

I tended to agree with that.

“After all, you need to feel safe.”

Perhaps even more important, I needed to BE safe. Though my opinions didn’t appear to be of any importance at all.

The plan actually involved digging seven pits: one wide one and six narrow deep ones.

We tried it out.

“Sit down here, Lady Seer, just for one moment, until you cease shaking. I promise you, you will be nothing so frightened next time. And we will have the balance more correct as well.”

We tried it again.

“You see there, Lady Seer! And I promise you, if you just become accustomed to the motion you will be able to stay on all through the rise without holding on to the ground! Indeed, just a few more tries and you will be standing upright all through!”

“Can’t I use my staff? It’d give me something to balance with.”

“And something to burst the bladders with. No no, trust me, Lady Seer, you will be fine.”

We tried seven times. I only fell off once more, and the last time I almost stayed upright, just as Henev had promised. We had to stop then; we were getting too close to dawn and we had to hide what we’d been doing.

Once we were tidy, we all walked back to Caadaisa and said our goodbyes to Tappy’s lot – with Jer doing his best to make sure Stack’s goodbyes weren’t too affectionate – and then to Henev and Fihel. Finally Hawk and Stack left Whisper and me at Dae’s.

Three days.

And I’d only done something about Point One. Point Two – knowing my enemy – completely sabotaged by Fihel and Henev.

I didn’t know what would happen. There were pluses – the boys seemed to have come right over to my side, for example, but let’s admit that was largely because of Kiki and Stack – but there were too many minuses. I talked it over again and again with Crear, and eventually she agreed to keep her family right out of it – except for Young Dae, who could be a messenger if anything went seriously wrong.

I meditated. I meditated at the holy place by the lake – I considered a full vigil, but by then there wasn’t time – and I danced the Invocation there too. I walked and blessed the whole perimeter of the Causeway Tribe camp, and – separately – the perimeter of Dae’s Farm, because there was a sense in which I was their shaman too.

I got nothing.

Was it because there was no need, and I’d done all that was necessary for success? Was it because there was no hope of success now whatever I did, because I was a failure? Was it that it was all a waste of time, the challenge, the defiance, the Spirits themselves, and Zirakzigil was right all along?

I visualised the whole thing a hundred, a thousand times. I tried to plan how I might handle things that were going wrong – that something might go right never really occurred to me. And again and again I came back to the same issues: I had too few on my side, and I didn’t know enough. Well, I couldn’t see any way out of that now. I considered every weapon I could use; I considered every skill I thought I had. I checked all my salves, my pills, my drugs – such as they were, in midwinter far from my gardens. I did what I could; but it seemed pitifully little. And so lonely.

I tried to remember what I was supposed to do – what a shaman should do. I tried to remember all the advice I’d heard other shamans give – I even tried to remember all the way back to my Nan, to when she was alive. I even tried a few things – they didn’t do much, mostly.

I did remember my teaching session, and how choosing three basic slogans had worked: but when I tried to get it down to three – well, there was just too much. So I tried three threes instead – or, as I began to think of them, Three Threes – but to keep them as threes and not nine, I gave them a structure: three things I am, three things I won’t do, three things I will do.

Not exactly original, I know: practically every oath sworn in the Tribe has that pattern, even the common ones for someone to become a Hunter, a Brave, a Chief Wife or a Champion – not a Shaman, of course. Shamans do not swear oaths – an oath would bind them, and a Shaman must only be bound to the Spirits.

But – or maybe therefore – it instantly felt right.

That just left choosing the actual Threes. And that was hard.

Not all of them. I found quite easy to choose the first Three: I went for “I am a woman; I am a shaman; I am strong.” But the second – they gave me real trouble: I finished with “I will not giggle; I will not show fear; I will not shame the Tribe.” Not very good; I wasn’t truly happy with them. I just had to hope they’d serve. The third Three weren’t easy, but they were easier than the second: in the end I was very happy with “I will face my enemy; I will speak truth; I will stand alone.” My longest hesitation was between “I will speak truth” and “I will show trust in the Spirits.” Not, you will notice, “I will trust the Spirits” – that would’ve meant I really did believe in them. What tilted the scales was, well, I remembered Tappy’s attitude when she first met me – to many people, a shaman was the same as a wizard. If I acted like a shaman, I could lose the support of the crowd – I could lose everything.

I could lose everything anyway. This could be my death.

I wondered what it would be like to die. I’d wondered before, of course – I suppose most people have – but now I was actually facing it, it was different. I wasn’t really afraid, for one thing – no, that’s not right, I was afraid, but not panicking – no black mists or pits of horror. As I danced, I found myself offering my death – almost naturally – as if I was bargaining at Brothy Market – as a trade for Zig. Who to? To the Spirits? Did I even now believe in the Spirits? I was still stuck between believing and not believing, hoping against hope and at the same time embracing despair – just as you’d expect. And as I danced, somehow it didn’t matter. My death didn’t matter. My life didn’t matter. Maybe – maybe nothing mattered; that tomorrow nothing would matter, nothing would ever have existed, all I had been, all I was, all my self, all my world, all would be wiped away, swallowed up in the neverexistence of oblivion.

I danced. In the dance I finally found peace.

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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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