That was it, really.
By the time I got to the end of the causeway, someone had lassoed the end of Zuggy’s platform and pulled it down, so that everyone could pile into the tower. The front runners were already coming out laden with hides, pots, clothes – anything they could pick up – and squabbling among themselves, of course. It was an anthill for an hour, and then everyone had gone home, the lucky or strong ones laden with plunder, the slow or weak empty-handed.
We didn’t get involved with all that. We went into the black building and tied the door together from the inside; all except Hawk, who ran back to the farm – he was the fastest of us – to get a cart. Only a couple of people tried our door, and without any real conviction, and by the time the cart arrived we were completely alone.
It was a magnificent haul. Pots, skins, tools, ropes – it took four full cartloads to empty it. Eventually we split the pottery four ways between the farm, the tribe, the musicians and the ladies. Stack took most of the hides – they were very poorly tanned, and even in our little camp we could get them much better. Dae grabbed three heavy blades made of a strange rock, a bit like silver but much heavier and duller-looking, which he said was called ‘steel’, was expensive and rare, and was perfect for breaking the earth up where something was to be sown – ‘ploughing’ it’s called, apparently. It reminded me of the rock in the centre of the Endstone – it had that same reddish stain. The musicians took most of the string and the bundles of thin flat pieces of wood, as well as a big heap of antlers – no, I have no idea what musicians use antlers for. The ladies took the pieces of cloth, and very nice too – I rather envied them, but I kept my mouth shut; I wanted the herbs. There were big bundles of dry herbs – and I mean big; too big to get two hands around. But more important, there were bags of seed, dozens of different kinds, each labelled, each with a note on its sowing and use. Say what you like about Zobber, he was really well organised. I pointed it out to Whisper as an example for all good shamans.
I didn’t believe for one moment that Ziggy was drowned. There was no sign of his body; we could see that the Governor’s men were searching all along the river – they’d’ve found it in five minutes if he were dead. And it was too convenient. He was out on a thin branch already, inciting rebellion against the Governor, and our intervention had wrecked that – not directly, but by wrecking his timing. He had to disappear.
If only we’d known all this beforehand.
Once the black building had been emptied, I took Whisper to explore the main tower, while the lads glanced around outside.
“Whisper,” I said, trying to sound casual, “how did you know to kick that particular stone?”
He didn’t look up. “I asked the Spirits if I could be a shaman and they said I could and you said to do what a shaman does and a shaman sees what can’t be seen and I saw and I saw that rock was special so I kicked it like he had and it all worked.”
We found the various traps and saw how they worked, and then made them safe – and I made a mental note to tell Henev to explore the tower; she’d be a goldfinch in a thistle patch. I saw what I was looking for quite early, but I let Whisper notice for himself.
“Hey, I – I think I’ve found something!”
“Yes, you have!” I answered. “You certainly know how to see like a shaman.”
“Ooooh! You’d seen it already!”
“Well, yes, but that’s why I’m a shaman and you’re just learning. Now. Let’s see if we can lift it.”
The trapdoor came up easily and safely – it was trusting in disguise for its protection, I presume. It had certainly worked for the ordinary, non-shaman folk! Under it was the larder – the stink of ripening meat hit you in the face.
“Wow! There’s hundreds of deer down there!”
“...twenty, thirty-five, forty, one, two, three. Forty-three animals. Not just deer – that’s a cow, that looks like a young horse, and those three are pigs, I think. Maybe wild pig – they look smaller than the farm ones.”
“What do we do with it?”
“Well, it solves the Tribe’s meat shortage, for a start. There’s enough here to feed Stack and Hawk for a quarter year if it keeps long enough, which in this weather it should. Run and fetch the boys – tell them what you’ve found.”
Obviously he hadn’t killed all the deer in the woods – apart from it obviously being impossible, the tower would’ve burst! But he’d got a good number. We still aren’t sure how he’d managed to kill so many: the boys think it was a mix of things; for example attracting them with salt, or fodder, tethering a hind to bring the stags, and then trapping them. The boys did find a deer trap, a couple of weeks later, but on the other side of the valley from our camp. One thing was certain: he couldn’t’ve caught them all by himself; there was someone else in with him. Which might explain how he vanished from the river.
But we also think that deer were scarce because everyone had been killing too many, and especially at the wrong times. The Spirits don’t like you killing does with their young, nor pregnant does – it’s disrespectful to the Spirits and to the Forest; but try telling that to a farmer who fancies some venison and doesn’t give a cag about the Spirits – he’ll go for the easy meat!
Dae and Hawk split the meat between them. It got both Tribes through what threatened to be a hungry spring; and the boys put weight back on, which was good too. I suppose. And at least the boys had a cauldron to cook it in, now.
And boys can be shamans, but neither Whisper nor I know how. Never mind. Perhaps it will be fun finding out – perhaps I’ll even find out if I’m a shaman. After all, girls can be shamans, too.