We met with some difficulties through the caverns, to be sure. They were not as safe as the army commander had said. We were able to help some of my fellow Nezumi — treasure hunters of the Grasping Paw tribe — who were under attack.
I was pleased to lend them a hand. Aside from the obligations of tribe and station, I thought they might have information to share. To bind them to us, after the battle, we ate heartily of the creatures’ meat.
The humans kept away from the fire — all except Neiki. She, being SpiritFolk is in between the human and the non human ways. Her suggestions for spicing the meat were well made. It was tasty and filling.
As we ate, I talked with the elder of the group. He was taking his sons and nephews through the caverns on their first expedition. Like us, they had assumed that the army had cleared the caverns of all deadly creatures. “What were you doing when the creatures attacked?” Neiki bowed to the uncle. He hastily rubbed his paws over his whiskers. “Nothing, dear-dear human lady. Simply knock-knocking on the cavern walls, look for to find the hallow sounds.” She raised an eyebrow and a hint of a smile played across her face. “Indeed?”
I was feeling peevish and spoke too soon. “You have the paper history of the humans people, yes? We trade.” I spoke in English to the fellow Nezumi, in deference to Neiki. I did not want her to feel excluded. The uncle turned his bright eyes to me and one of the nephews shifted behind me. “Paper history? Oh, sure-sure. Very old, very costy.” And he went back to eating. Ah, damn. That was not smart. I thought. I will pay too much for some book I already read. But it can’t be helped. I began to calculate the price I’d pay when the gods smiled on me, or maybe it was Grandpa.
I felt the slightest breeze and made a grab. The smaller of the nephews was wriggling in my grasp. He held a silver comb in his paw. “Hah. I save and heal you, I keep you from the creature’s belly and this is the repayment of that debt? This is most ill done, young one. Do you not yet know who I am? I am Te’Ka’Mok of Third Whisker! I have not suffered all this to be lifted by a pup! Go. I will speak with your elder.”
The uncle looked at me warily. “Eh, young ones, yes? What to do?” I nodded. “Yes-yes. The young. We all out grow. If we survive the trials of the world.” After a few minutes of verbal dancing, I had my books and the uncle had thrown in the chance to copy their map. It was a good Nezumi map, filled with smells and special glyphs. Old Mir’Itus could not contain his excitement at the map.
Perhaps it was the ancestors smiling upon us. Whatever the reason, the map allowed us to arrive at the fertility temple early the next day.
It was very ornate. The walls were covered with drawings like I’d seen in some books. Men and women, humans, naked and dancing, singing, mating. I brought my paws to my face — the pictures, some of them, were very life like and appeared to be lovingly rendered. To hide my embarrassment, I focused on a frog statue up on the steps leading to the entrance.
Mir’Itus said “Where are you going? Let the Princess go first!” I shook my head. “Frog statue interesting. Great history valued, yes? I will look. You scared then you stay down. Like scared old granny.” The insults were almost automatic. The statue was very life-like and I was impressed by the craftsmanship. As I was studying it, I heard Mir’Itus footsteps beside me. Again, maybe Grandpa was guiding me because I was moving to the side before the frog belched out a huge fireball. My whiskers on my left side curled from the heat. The others gasped.
“I OK. No problem. Me and old Mir’Itus, we fine.” I waved my paws. I heard Shasuki cough slightly. “This one would speak, Princess.” The Princess turned away from the spectacle of my singed whiskers to look at her maid. “We go one at a time. Like a baby. Into the temple, proper.” She paused, seeming reluctant to continue until the Princess nodded. “That is why the Nezumi, they are burned. Two cannot go where only one must.” She bowed low.
The Princess thanked her and turned to Tatsuoh. “Honored captain, perhaps, since this is a maiden’s temple, you would care to stay with the horses? I will have Nya and the others …..” Before she could finish, he bowed low and crisply turned to move her horse off the path.
Once we had all passed through the doorway, we were greeted by a priestess in flowing white robes. I did not notice anything strange about her, but later Nya told me about the bruises and the broken necklace. Too many late nights reading, maybe, but my eyes don’t always see. Within the hour, however, I would have a chance to see the priestess’s bruises close up for myself.
The Shaman’s story…….
Do you know what it is like to wake to invisible voice? There I was sleep-sleep sleeping, curled up with book and blanket – what? You ask how big-big shaman of Third Whisker does not have sleeping partner? Not even for to keep out the chill of stone walls? Ah, that is its own story, for another time — if, as my grandma-ma would say, Tomorrow misses us and I live to tell you tales.
Invisible voice. Spirit: I had spent a good-good day in the graveyards, finding books and shiny-shiny. One such was a large codex with page-page of spells and scripts. So full-full! I wanting to read it there. But old Mir’ Id’ Tus always pull-pull to finish. I find mark for book, so to find my page again. A book-book like this, you needs must have a marker, yes? Ha! Do I pick up nice-nice leaf? Small-small stick-twig? Do I find scrap of grave cloth for to mark the page? No! I to find bone. Dead bone marker for a dead book. Good, yes?
I read a saying once – act in haste, repeat in leisure. Oh, how true-true. Bone speak to me. Invisible voice. Spirit talk. Open my eyes and there’s spirit. A grandpa Kaiu for to speak with Te’Ka’Mok! Honorable, yes. Special, yes-yes. Raise fur on neck and pull tail in close, yes. I scary-scary of the grandpa. He speak and he know my name! My true name.
“Awake chosen of the Nezumi tribe! Awake and hear my story! Awake Te’Ka’Mok” (except he say my full name. Which I not share with the likes of you! Ha. Use name magics on me, powerful shaman healer of the Third Whisker? Unlikely.) I wake and listen. He old dead grandpa. One mucky-muck of Kaiu family. Speak like I servant. Pffft. Like he in front of Emperor or some such. He talk for long-long. I get it right away. Granddaughter fodder for to seal the treaty with Lion’s roar. Help her journey to the marriage bed. Simple. Simple thousand mile journey through forest, over mountain and down bog….. And he still talking!
“Yes! Te’Ka’Mok understand. Yes-yes. Escort, protect, heal, defend to the death. Meet noble Scorpion warrior and brave Lion embass – “
“There is more oh, noble ratling!” The spirit held up his hand. “Seek first for the Temple of Claw. It is a day’s journey south. There you – “
“Day journey for Nezumi legs, or long-long leg samurai? Hmm? And Claw? What claw? Tattered Ear know Lion Clan but Te’Ka’Mok not to suffer their wicked ways.” I gather the blanket about me like granny shawl. Fold my arms like stout ma-ma with silly children.
The spirit’s eyes got wide. “You will heed my words, oh holy shaman, most trusted of the Third Whisker. Do not try my patience!” He wag a finger at me. “You. Will. Go. Tomorrow.”
The next morning I look at bone and bone look back at me. I know it not a dream. I have to go to temple of Claw. Not alone, though! Ha. Old grandpa not say that. I decide to ask old Mir’ Id’ Tus to go. He brave-brave and knows the roadways.
Grandpa right. Day’s journey for fast, road-hungry Nezumi feet! Thanks to smart-smart Mir’ Id’ Tus, we go good, smooth, safe way. All time I thinking what I do there? And why go there? I help maiden, no problem. Spirit ask shaman and shaman say Yes! Maybe special weapon, book, potion at temple? How can Te’Ka’Mok ask for such? Who gives to Nezumi but other Nezumi, yes? I can take-take, sure. Quiet shadow scurry. But what?
Old Mir’ Id’ Tus say that he know temple. Filled with human and half human. Why fore we go? Strong shaman? No, not that he’s heard. Big-big spell? No. Maybe. Who knows? I ask finger bone. No answer. Might as well be just a bone.
We approach the temple at dusk. Tired feet, dusty feet, hungry bellies. I open my mouth to proclaim my holy status to gate guard. I expecting a fight. Why fore a human guard care about holy Nezumi?
“Hail! Human… man (I tried to keep question from voice but humans look alike and with clothes on, I have trouble.) I am holy shaman of Third Whisker tribe. I. Am. Te’Ka’Mok!” I brought my staff down to punctuate my words. To my surprise, he bow low. “We know of you, most holy Nezumi. Enter, you and your companion, and be welcome.”
I, Te’Ka’Mok, was left speechless. Luckily Mir’ Id’ Tus have mind enough to bow and grab my arm. “We will need hot water to bathe. And then to see the abbot. On holy business.” The guard bowed low. “His holiness has requested an audience with you.” I could see old Mir’ Id’ Tus falter. “Oh. Well. Very good. But first we must wash the dust from our feet.” He talk so good. All those years of life in Tattered Ear. My four years with tribe not doing much for my Common speech. Too many old-old scrolls in other language. Te’Ka’Mok speak better in dead tongues than living.
After tea and warm-warm water bath, we go see the abbot. He knows of him, the abbot. Good man. Holy man. Smart man. We enter his rooms. I get two surprises. Surprise one: there be old grandpa. And other – big human in armor. Boy? Girl? Not sure. But why abbot have company? Worried about my weapon prowess? And grandpa? Can abbot see him? I bow low. I have manners, you know.
“Thank you, your holiness for to see us.” And that was the best I could do, yes? Why I here? I don’t know! So I stop there. Nothing to say.
He raised me up with his hands. “Arise daughter. You are most welcome here. You are (and he paused with a smile) among friends.” His eyes moved to the corner where grandpa stood at rigid attention. I relax. I not know why I here, but maybe the abbot does.
I nodded, silent. Hoping that he would talk more. “I know that you are charged with a heavy burden, daughter and I have a gift to offer.” His hand waived to the armor.
“It, um, kinda big for me. But….” I brought my hands together. “Thank you, holy father.”
He chuckled. “She is a body guard for you.”
“Oh. Oh. Thank you, holy father. Do I need….?” I looked hard at grandpa in the corner.
“One never knows what might befall one on the road. And having Gami-Gami with you will, perhaps, keep the wolves at bay.” I could see grandpa nodding all solemn in the corner.
“Good. Yes. Thank you, father. Yes. Um, do I have to feed her? I don’t know much about humans….”
He smiled. “She is Hengeyokai and she will take care of herself.” He peered at her like a stern daddy. In turn, the Hengeyokai bowed at him. I turned to look at grandpa in the corner and he was gone. “OK. Right. We beg, holy father for shelter this night. We leave first thing.”
He nodded. “Indeed. Haste is wise. Your road is long.” He clapped his hands, bowed low and turned to kneel in prayer. We three were dismissed. Yes.