Princess look at me. She look at Nya Scorpion. “I haven’t made up my mind as to how we solve this problem.”
“Oh boy”, I thinking. “Here ends the life of Third Whisker shaman Te’Ka’Mok. What shame, yes? I do muchly good in the world. And I end by well, doing good. But not the way I wants to. I cannot fight Princess wish. Perhap, this what Grandpa really want from me. For to help Princess Kaiu De cleans this village of Taint. Eh, better than in beast belly.”
It Neiki who think another thought. “Perhaps Seaonus would like to right a grave wrong. He could draw the Taint onto himself.”
Nya shook her head. “It will kill him.” Neiki smile funny – “As you proposed doing just this morning. Die at your hand or die later having done something to repair the damage….? Which has more honor? ” She paused. “He will go to the tower.”
The Princess shook her head. “Won’t work. Why would he agree?” Tatsuoh spoke up: “My lady, if he takes the honorable path, we can then allow him the privilege of committing seppuku.” He paused. “It is wish of Seaonus that he be allowed the rite.” Princess smile big. “That is perfect! Thank you, Tatsuoh.”
What choice he have, Seaonus? He take bargain and I thankful that my blood stay inside for one more day.
Everyone want to join in tower for the ritual. I no want Princess there. I no trust Seaonus or tower to stay true, yes? In this Tatsuoh and me, we are united. I like a pet to her, I thinking. And Princess think it cute when I pronounce she stay here. I say “Te’Ka’Mok would speak. You can no go up the tower stairs, Princess Kaiu De. To dangerous, the tower and the ritual of cleanse. I not be able to guarantee safety of most precious granddaughter to Master Kaiu Umasa.” I bow low. I see her open mouth for to protest and Tatusoh, the Lion, he speak and support the words of Nezumi shaman of Third Whisker. Hmmm!
Old Mir’Itus, Gami-Gami and puppy all must come with poor Te’Ka. She overwhelmed in company. Tatsuoh, he come for to make sure that Tainted mage does the right thing. On way up, I telling Mir’Itus to be careful of tower and loose rock and who get hit with stone? Gods have funny with Te’Ka, yes? That I get hit on head with big stone and not Mir’Itus? While I bandage head, Seaonus prepare for ritual of cleanse. I wish to see more but miss the beginning because Gami, she “help” me with bandage and she want to put over my eyes. “Hurt side of head, Gami-omi. Not eyes!”
I see Seaonus. He kneel in front of orb and he chant the chants. I know some words from books, yes? I see Tatsuoh look with maybe fear in eye. I nod to him to say “OK. He saying right words for the cleanse. He not calling up Oni army for to battle.” Tatsuoh, he see me or not see me. I can no say. But he relax hand on sword.
Chanting, moaning, rolling on ground and the orb grow dim. Darkness shows in the tower and I feel the Taint leaving the tower, pulling in to Seaonus like a cloud of angry bees. It over in a few minutes and Seaonus lay like dead man. I check him. Hope he not dead so he can do kill self ritual. “Not dead. Passed out. We carry him down, yes?” Gami-Gami and Tatsuoh carry him down stairs and old Mir’Itus want to help me down stairs! “You old man! Not me. I not old and needing help.”
“Well, you did have that bad bump from the falling rock.”
“And I feeling fine now.”
We argue all the way down the stairs and when we come out, still arguing the humans all standing there looking at us with something, some look on faces. I not know what it mean. And then I think “We speak in the Nezumi tongue. No think about it, just do our arguing that way. They not know what we saying and they not trusting.” I smile at Princess and bow. “Ritual successful, my Princess, my lady Kaiu De. We just, just arguing about my injury.” I waved at the bandage.
She put hand to mouth. “You are hurt?! What happened?” “Just rock fall on Te’Ka’Mok. Gods joke and pull rock on me. I fine-fine.”
Nya and Tatsuoh wake Seaonus and he do ritual right there. The Taint leave with his soul. Neiki say, after a moment silence for soul passage, “We all need to drink the tea of friendship. It will help ease the Taint. And while it is expensive, we should leave some for the village. The Taint will go away, slowly but the people will need some help.”
My head hurt and I go to stable to sleep and leave them to tea drinking. Perhaps, now that I think on it, that was not smart for great shaman of Third Whisker tribe. Not smart at all.
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.