Hodiri summer range
Mother nodded at K’Arandi as the chant finished. “Yes, you have it. That is the proper way to ask the spirits to release the warrior’s own spirit in peace. Well done. Of course, one hopes it will be a long time before you must perform this chant in need.”
To Yin, she called attention to a minor flaw in pronunciation. “That phrase must flow like water, driven by the power of the chant. Hesitate, and the power will continue to flow — somewhere. You have never directed that much healing energy before, do you want to lose control? Perfection must be the goal every time you wield power. Now try again; that sheep is still injured.”
Yin tried to let it roll away from her, like water off a duck’s back. Some days were better than others; today had been a long day. She was close, though. The healing chant was almost second nature, and only a few small aspects of it still gave her occasional trouble. That was part of the process. She tried to look at Mother’s attitude in the same way; it was just part of the process.
Some days it was easier to feel that way than others.
Yang didn’t allow his eyes to wander around the group. He wanted to know how many warriors were listening to him, but they tried hard to be merely shapes in the shadows, out beyond the herds in the evening darkness. If he tried to identify them, they seemed to lose interest.
It did seem like a larger group than yesterday, though. That was promising. As long as he could capture their attention with well-told stories, he would continue to gain a bit more respect in their eyes. Some nights, one of them would tell a tale of how things had fared with the Qorchia since he had left. They were mostly good news, but he was noticing a pattern; the stories of bad news he heard generally involved the chieftain making a decision that didn’t turn out well. The stories of good news usually involved someone else taking action that brought honor to the tribe.
Were they expressing their displeasure with the chieftain, or shading things the way they thought he would want to hear them?
Yin joined in the shouting and merriment over dinner. She had mastered the chant, and even Mother had acknowledged it!
Yang howled at the night sky over dinner, one raised voice among many.
They had moved camp to this place only yesterday, so today was spent getting their herds used to the new ground. Others had that duty this time; he and a handful of others had hunted instead, staying out of the way of other Qorchia groups in the area. They hadn’t found any game in the morning, and instead spent the afternoon fishing with nets in the nearby stream. The results had been promising: a dozen good-sized fish, now divided among the households and adding good flavor to the pots. Other hunters managed to bring in two squirrels. One extra fish had stayed with the Chieftain’s household, and been roasted over the fire. Yin had managed to pass him a couple of small bites. It had been a good day.
Tomorrow promised to be even better, since one of his favorite hunting spots was nearby.Over the decades, the Qorchia had slowly improved a small canyon in the side of a small hill, hardly thirty paces long and a bit less wide. Each summer, starting before Yang was born, the hunters of one Qorchia group or another had come here. That first year, they piled up stones to make a pen that wild animals could not readily climb. Each time they came, they improved the wall a bit more and dug away at the canyon sides. Now, after slow work over decades, the wall was of fitted stones and the canyon sides were steep enough to be difficult to climb up – or to climb down. Predators who found the place usually yowled their frustration because they couldn’t get in; if they did get in, they couldn’t get out. The Qorchia hunters brought ladders that crossed the places on the wall where there weren’t any hand-holds.
One summer, the Qorchia had arrived to find a whole family of wolves in the pen. Somehow, they had managed to get in. They might have been able to get out, but they apparently hadn’t even tried because of all the rabbits and mice the Qorchia let live there. Of course, that also meant the wolves couldn’t escape the hunters. That week, the Qorchia ate wolf meat.
There were patches of greens and berries and herbs in the pen, growing wild and encouraged to spread. A small creek provided water and ran out through the base of the wall. It didn’t carry a lot of water, and probably ran dry during parts of the winter. Even in the spring it was only a few inches deep and an arms-span wide. But that was enough for the rabbits and mice that the hunters had tossed in there last year, before they left for their winter lands.
By now, the creatures had grown numerous – if predators hadn’t found a way in again. Taking a few mice and a rabbit or two every few days would give the Qorchia a nice amount of extra meat. Over the summer, most of the Qorchia groups would rotate through the area, just as they all continued their slow movement through the rest of the Qorchia lands. Before leaving for the winter grounds, whoever was there would hold a thorough hunt and bag all but a few, leaving those to multiply for the next year.
Besides, the meat and fish were occasional happy additions; the greens and fruit that the women gathered were the mainstay. There was always far more greens than meat in the Hodiri diet, but the meat was what they remembered and what they tried to show visitors. Like most folk, the Qorchia tried to show their best for visitors. There were lots of shrubs and brambles down on the bottom of the valley, so the critters penned in the canyon were happy and fat. There were also enough of the shrubs and brambles up on the higher slopes that the herbivores generally left them alone in favor of easier foraging. That meant the women could come by with their ladders and collect greens consistently, a bit more every few days. Sometimes they could gather fruit as well. Those were days of good eating.
It wasn’t quite farming, and it wasn’t quite ranching. It certainly wasn’t either of them the way the kingdom folk thought of farming or ranching. But it helped. Everything helped.
You had to know where to look, and how to discourage the predators while encouraging the animals you were going to want to eat later. >But if you did know what you were doing, you could nearly always eat well enough to survive. Most of the time, you could even eat well enough to thrive. And it was always easier in groups than alone.
A dozen bow-shots away, there was another canyon like this. And another a few miles away, where the tribe would be camping in a few tendays. And a few others as well throughout the territory. Yang wasn’t sure if other tribes had similar animal pens; the Qorchia didn’t talk about these in case another tribe decided raiding a Qorchia pen was easier than hunting their own food.
Yin howled at the stars as well. One of the mares would give birth within the month. Chances were excellent that she would handle it, with Mother standing back to see how she did. Mother would probably make some unwelcome comments, but it was unlikely that she would interfere unless something went very wrong.
She howled at the bright disc overhead, daring Nolomar to challenge her. Today she had proven to Mother that she understood that new chant for cleaning her tools. She still didn’t like the way Mother had presented the idea, but it did seem to be more effective.
Before Yin finished learning the healing spell, Mother had shown her two obsidian knives. Both had been used to clean a squirrel. One she boiled in the fashion Yin had known for years. The other she wiped and cleaned using this new spell. Each went into a jar and Yin covered them with stream water.
Five days later, Yin removed the lids and saw the difference. It wasn’t much, but it was visible, and that was more than she liked. She threw herself into learning the new chant. Now, her effort had paid off. Even Mother recognized that Yin had learned it faster than she had expected.
Yin howled at the clouds, and any spirits who might be riding them. X’Hal had come around today, riding from his people’s lands with a peace marker. Mother had finally given him an answer. Yin felt hemmed in, almost trapped – Mother had set a high brideprice for her, and X’Hal had not been discouraged. That was a bad sign. Three or four horses were a common brideprice for a young woman of good family. A woman from a Chieftain’s family had a higher price, of course, and a Medicine Woman often commanded a very high price. But she didn’t want to marry this Warani warrior. She didn’t want to marry anyone else, either; not now and maybe not for a few years yet. He was nice enough, but actions speak louder than words. She didn’t want to leave the Qorchia, for one thing. She had seen that there were men who wanted more from a woman than a wife; marrying a Medicine Woman meant position and power as well. There were men who could hide their desire for these things behind smiles and gifts. X‘Hal seemed interested in her, but he had known she was a Medicine Woman when they first met. She didn’t have time to wait for proof of his intentions. She had obligations.
Mother had set a high brideprice; in fact, it was an extraordinarily high price. Fifteen horses and ten oxen was a fortune; entire households of several families often didn’t have that much. Mother had probably expected X’Hal to ride off in anger at such a demand.
Instead, he had agreed. That, too, was a bad sign. Now he had to come up with the animals to pay it. And if he could, Mother was honor-bound to accept it.
He seemed to think he could raise all that wealth.
Still, there were two things in her favor. First, even if he somehow paid it, it didn’t mean she had to marry him. Brideprice was the fee to get her parent’s permission to ask her to marry him. She could still say no – and intended to. But once brideprice was paid, the family could no longer block the marriage. If she said no, Mother and the Chieftain would have to return half the price. It was the risk a suitor took; if he wasn’t confident the girl would agree, his folly cost him. The Chieftain wouldn’t like giving back such a price, but that didn’t bother her. He had cast Yang out, but he couldn’t cast her out over this.
About all he could do would be to make her life miserable.
She could handle that for a few tendays; she wasn’t going to be home much longer. Long before she learned everything she wanted to, she and brother had to go north again with K’Arandi, to see about this Jared’s plans.
The second thing in her favor was simpler – he could not pay it while she was gone. She had to be around when he paid it, to be impressed by how much he was willing to pay for her family to give their permission. She had to be present, to have the opportunity to argue against it. If she went on a trip, she couldn’t suddenly find out that they had given their permission while she wasn’t around to argue against it.
If she studied hard and got away before X’Hal paid that ridiculous price, he’d have to wait until she came back. That was an argument in favor of never coming back, but then she wouldn’t be able to take up her post as a Qorchia Medicine Woman.
Most women among the Hodiri could easily find themselves about to be married for modest brideprices, and kept a careful eye on who wanted them. Once brideprice was paid, they could simply be scooped up even if they argued against the marriage. Once a woman and a man were off together, her wishes counted for less and less.
Of course, he could simply ride in and scoop her up without paying any brideprice at all, taking her away over his saddle. To do that with a woman as valuable as a Medicine Woman just about guaranteed that her family would be angry – and it was just stupid to anger the tribe’s Medicine Woman, and their Chieftain, and all the warriors who would be equally outraged. If she wanted to run off with him, things were different – all she had to do was not be found until her belly bulged, and her family would have to accept the marriage. If she really wanted to run off with some likely warrior, a few advance hints to her parents would allow them to satisfy honor without pursuing her too vigorously.
That wasn’t what Yin wanted, either. X’Hal was nice enough, but if he tried to do that he’d better not ever turn his back on her. Being a healer didn’t mean she couldn’t fight, and Yang would be more than happy to finish whatever she started.
K’Arandi shouted at the night sky, enjoying the display and the emotional release. It had been hard work, but she had mastered the rain dance. So long as there were clouds in the sky, chances were excellent she could make it rain enough for people to drink and horses to water. She had practiced using the old hide covering from a wagon; the area where the rain fell was only a few paces across, so she’d been able to catch most of it on the hide. With the help of two other people, they had carefully poured it into a barrel. Some of the kingdom people used a kind of cloth that held water; it had weighed less than a hide. It would be worthwhile to see how much of that she could get.
She shouted to let the spirits know that there were people here, that the spirits and the animal people were not all that walked here. Her Hodiri friends were in good spirits, and she was learning about kumis. Mostly, she was learning that it was pretty potent, and that a little went a long ways.
Over dinner, K’Arandi shouted at the sky in relief and victory. Mastering that diagnosis spell had been taxing, and there had been many moments when she had felt it was beyond her. But the totem spirits had remained with her. The wisdom of Bear had helped her to understand what the chant was trying to achieve, and how the various totem spirits made that possible. The power and keen eyesight of Eagle had brought her understanding of the matters involved, and helped her map out how to find her way to the prize. Boar’s stamina had helped her endure through the days of confusion, making sense of the Hodiri ways.
The Qorchia folk claimed they held no truck with the spirits, but K’Arandi saw the spirit ways all through the chants that their Medicine Woman taught. In their discussions, the woman had admitted over and over again that they did believe in the spirits, and that one could gain power through dealing with them.
To her, the biggest difference between Kath views and Hodiri views was simple: the Kath didn’t hide their dealings with the spirits. This Medicine Woman acted in ways that showed she understood the spirit world, but told her people that the spirits were a breed apart, with little to do with the mundane world.
The Hodiri were a pragmatic folk, always doing the practical thing for reasons that made practical sense to them. No doubt she felt confident that her reasons for acting this way were entirely practical. To K’Arandi, it was simpler and faster to accept the spirit ways publicly. It was clear that she was learning these chants faster than the old Medicine Woman had expected. That made sense; rather than viewing the power in terms of the totems that were being called upon, the Qorchia chants tried to view the power in other terms. Naturally, such confusion made them harder to understand. Brush aside such misunderstanding and the truth shone out, easily understood by anyone who recognized the source of the power.
It was working for Yin as well. Quan-Yin had some understanding of the spirit world as well, and had seen some of the same things that she had. Her mother tried to hide her delight and surprise behind stern words and high expectations, but to K’Arandi it was clear that the daughter could easily surpass her mother.
Yang howled at the twilight as he ate, out in the shadows beyond the circle of the firelight. It was working! He could feel that others were beginning to question the Chieftain’s version of how his father had died. No one had yet spoken up to say so, but he felt their resistance weakening.
In a moon, they would move the camp to the site closest to where Father had died. He had an idea. Sister and the Kath would have to be part of it. He would have to convince both of them to leave their studies – this was far more important. He might never have another opportunity to find the truth of how Father had died.
But first he had to learn as much as he could, from those who had been part of the search for the body. He needed to know where Father’s body was; what they could tell him was where Father’s body hadn’t been.
Time to start going on hunts with just one or two other warriors, and having long talks where the Chieftain couldn’t be listening.
Yin slurped down the juice from the stew and shouted her happiness to the dark clouds overhead. Even in this cold, rainy weather, she was glad to be home. No one but Mother could make so tasty a stew of greens and sheep’s eyes! No matter how many days she traveled or what other places she went, there was nothing like the good cooking you grew up with.
A stew so fancy was fare for a celebration. Mother didn’t seem to believe that her progress in learning new chants wasn’t enough of an occasion, but you celebrated what you could when you could. When the sheep had died three days before, the owners had presented the Medicine Woman with the eyes. Mother had started the stew this morning. A few hours ago, Yin had proven that she had mastered the chant to stop bleeding.
Mother’s answer was that the stew wasn’t to celebrate learning that chant, it was to celebrate that both she and K’Arandi were about to learn a whole new subject of power, starting in the morning.
Even having X’Hal around today had not been enough to dampen her spirits. She had again told him that she was not interested. How many ways could there be to say “no”?
Yang shouted at the sky over dinner, but without his usual energy. He was exhausted; the day had been spent moving the herds to new grass, and repositioning the gurs so that the warriors could easily guard the herds. Most of the families hadn’t moved very far, and the hidden canyon pens were still close at hand.
It was the kind of thing that most warriors could handle easily, and by days’ end still be able to ride to battle if needed. However, he had been busy trying to be everywhere at once, looking at the ground before the herds arrived. Father had crossed these lands on his last hunting trip. Even after years, Yang hoped to find clues.
It was very encouraging that he found he wasn’t the only warrior quietly studying the landscape.
Yin howled at the sky, as loud as any and louder than many. The stakes and constructions around camp, as old as her memory and clearly much older, were starting to make sense. For as far back as she could remember, the Medicine Woman had always marked out areas for camps. There had been stakes and signs, feathered bits of wood here and there, and she had been told they were “for protection”. Until she started her training, she was told it was one of the mysteries held by the Medicine Woman. After she started her training, she was told she needed to understand more before she could ask about them.
And now she did know more, and she could ask, and she had asked. And the reasons made sense. Suddenly the world was a stranger place, and a brighter one, and a place with more mysteries yet to find. There was so much more to learn, but now she was beginning to understand the language of feathers and knots that the elders used; they signified areas of power, areas where the Hodiri asked the spirits for favors or protection.
Most of the warriors seemed to understand some of the basics; they knew enough to leave alone any markers they found, and certain arrangements of feathers and sticks were basic warnings that they understood. Even though the warriors could not understand the power embedded in the markers, they could recognize the markers as totems of power and they could recognize the basic designs. Some were merely warnings, others were outright threats. There was a big difference between “stay out” and “we will hurt you if you enter this place”.
K’Arandi drank the meat juice and enjoyed the greens, quietly gave the stewed eyes to her friend. A creature’s soul looked out from within its’ eyes; she wasn’t sure if the soul ever fully left the eyes when the body died.
Yin howled in triumph over dinner. The marker was correct, and it held the power it was supposed to! All the markings were right, and even Mother had approved. Yin had felt the power slowly move inside the marker, as the spirits accepted the bargain. The spirit world was a place of things that might happen, and terrain that could be. The power of a spirit mattered, and shaped the spirit world as it wanted.
The markers held her power, and impressed it upon the spirit world in ways that the spirits recognized. She no longer had to remain there for her will to be done; the markers made the spirit world react as if she was still there.
All the creatures of the spirit world needed energy; she had that. They could make things happen that she could not without their aid; a bargain was easy enough once each side had something the other wanted and could agree to terms.
What spirit drove X’Hal? He had been around again. Still acting the perfect suitor, not forcing his presence upon her, offering to assist where he could. He had brought a young lamb this time, so there was meat hanging. In two or three days when it stopped being stiff, there would be a bite or two of meat in all the pots. But he seemed oddly deaf when she told him no.
K’Arandi shouted at the fog overhead, happy to have finished learning this latest chant. Markers warning of a camp’s perimeter were clearly useful, and she was not concerned that it took several days to make one marker. She had time, and they didn’t seem to wear out.
Yang stretched one limb at a time as he headed for dinner. It had been a long day, riding the perimeter of the herds as they moved to fresh grass. The gurs hadn’t moved all that much, as the herds had been concentrated on one side of the encampment. In a few days, when the herds had eaten down the rest of the grass in the area, they would have to move on. In a tenday or so, another group of the Qorchia would come along to find all the new growth.
He expected that both Sister and K’Arandi would be in high spirits. People all around them were working their butts off, and those two spent most of their time working on chants. Their needing to learn was the reason they were here, and neither of them would be expected to help out. The Medicine Women didn’t participate in most of the heavy work around camp. If someone needed their help, the Medicine Woman had to be available. He’d heard of a few minor injuries and a couple of disputes that had needed attention, but nothing major.
Yin shouted happily at the moon as dinner wound to a close. She had been hungry, and the stream had yielded fish. No matter how much she had been concentrating on her studies, the smell of herbed trout roasting over the fire while basted with fresh butter would have told her it was time to stop and eat.
The first camp marker chant had been difficult, but it appeared that the second would be little more than an expansion. More power to control, more range, but no fundamentally new ideas. The process of learning it would be a chance to show her strength.
K’Arandi ate greens hungrily, saving her portion of fish until she was nearly full. She wanted the flavors and the smell to linger on her mouth. The curse marker chant was a curious mixture of drawing upon Eagle’s long sight and Boar’s refusal to let a slight pass. Once someone violated a curse marker, Boar would be watching him, taking every chance to remind him of his transgression. There seemed to be a bit of the Trickster in the bargain as well, but she was too smart to directly call upon the power of the Trickster.
Yang watched the night sky as the clouds slid across the stars. The last fading reds of sunset still colored the tops of some of the clouds. He had finished his dinner even more quickly than normal, impatient to head for the herds to tell another story. He hadn’t even shouted at the moon while he ate, he hurried so.
The pieces had come together. All the bits he’d heard and the careful maps he had been drawing of the area matched. There were no more than the usual number of mistakes, times when the warriors remembered things as they could not have been.
There had not been many times when three or four warriors remembered matters wrong and only one person remembered correctly. By and large he had deferred to numbers; when several warriors remembered things the same way, they were probably right.
He was fairly sure that there was only one area left to search. Hannar had led the search, helpfully showing all the places where others had searched and coordinating the effort. There was one small part of a valley that had only been searched by one group, and Hannar had been part of that group.
There was no ravine in there. Had Hannar said anything about how Father had died that was true?
Time to check with the other warriors one last time, then find a way to get out there; it was nearly a day’s hard ride, and it wasn’t on the route back to Chybisa. He and K’Arandi had to find where Father had died, and they might not have another chance. Once they found it, he was confident that Father’s spirit would be somewhere nearby.
Yin shouted at the sky, more out of emotional relief than to show the world she had survived another day. Finally, she had mastered the second camp marker spell. It had been a hard job, working through the nuances so quickly. It was clear that Brother was excited, and there would be only one reason for that. Which meant it was time to finish this project and move on.
Except that X’Hal was here again. Brother had suggested that perhaps they should bring him along when they rode north. Having two warriors to protect two Medicine Women could only help in hazardous territory, and both were known in the Hodiri gathering places outside of Burzyn. It was a practical answer, but she still didn’t like it. They still had a few days to discuss what to do, perhaps they could find an answer more to her liking.
And after dinner, it was likely that they would be able to talk about whatever was on Brother’s mind.
K’Arandi shouted at the sky, pleased to have finished her own project. The next chant was hers, and even faster than she had expected. Quan-Yin had already mentioned that it was time to finish, that there was something else that needed to be done before they headed back to Chybisa for this trip that the knight Jared had wanted her to take.
But that was for tomorrow. Morning would bring whatever the morning brought.
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