Monday, 15 July 2013

Shaman

by Sarah Begg

Its eyes opened and for the first time it Saw. Trees flew by far beneath as it soared, wind-bound, racing across the land in the air currents. The feeling was exhilarating, terrifying.
Muscles rippled as it beat its strong wings and higher it flew. Its eyes scanned the land below, seeking movement. There! Something darted in the fields. It gathered its wings in, and began to plummet – but then a strange force compelled its wings to open, its eyes to move away from its prey, forced it up again into the air.
The great bird shrieked its annoyance and, bunching its muscles, gave an almighty shake of its head, expelling the force that was exerting a different will over the bird.

The youth sprawled backwards on the ground as if he had been forcefully pushed, his head splitting with an almighty headache.
“Jaquin!” the old man hobbled forwards quickly and bent over the boy.
The boy's vision swum with disorientation for a moment as he stared up at the close canvas ceiling of the tent, the air strong with incense. The old Shaman bent across his vision, the bright blue tattoos on his cheeks and forehead shining in the light of the braziers.
“Did you make contact?” the Shaman's eyes shone with excitement as he gazed down at his protege.
“Yes Master,” Jaquin managed to say, finding his tongue as he regained his senses as a human again. “I was one with the eagle.”
“And how was it? What happened?” the Shaman leaned forward eagerly.
“It was... strange. Different. It was only momentary. When I tried to control the bird it shook me off almost straight away.”
The Shaman gasped. “You were able to control it on your first encounter? That is extraordinary!”
The Shaman clambered awkwardly to his feet and began pacing around the room, his excitement overcoming the arthritis that usually crippled him from moving too much.
“Do you know what this means boy?”
Jaquin sat up, the pain in his head beginning to subside. He looked up expectantly at his master, waiting for the answer.
The Shaman stopped pacing and came to stand proudly in front of Jaquin.
“It means, boy, that you have mastered the last trial of your apprenticeship. The time has come for you to step forwards and become Shaman.”

The ceremony took place at the half moon. Jaquin spent the entire day fasting and meditating at the top of Eagle rock, close to his clan's home. As the sun began its descent, Jaquin rose and walked proudly back into the village. The old Shaman, his former master, was waiting for him and together they walked to the river for the ritual bathing. When they returned to the village, now dressed in the ceremonial whites, it was to find every one of the clan turned out to welcome him with respect – he, the boy who no one had paid attention to would now be one of the most highly esteemed members of the clan.
Most of the ritual was new to Jaquin, having never seen a new Shaman initiated before. The old Shaman and the clan Chief led the ceremony and Jaquin was surprised to see the prettiest of the village girls now batting their eyelids at him flirtatiously or simply staring at him in admiration. He felt his chest swell with pride.
When the ceremony was over the girls came forward and offered Jaquin sweet wine and fruits to break his fast, smiling shyly at him all the while. Jaquin smiled back, feeling his blood begin to pulse with a strange new feeling.
The feast began soon afterward with Jaquin taking pride of place at the Chief's right hand side. There was mountains of food and the children performed a dance to entertain the adults.
Towards the end of the night, when Jaquin's head was especially swimming with sweet wine, the Chief leaned over and engaged him in conversation.
“I hear you have become one with the great eagle that flies the plain, Jaquin,” the Chief said.
“Yes, Chief,” Jaquin nodded respectfully. “I flew with the great bird and saw as he saw.”
“That is very good,” the Chief replied. “Because now we have need of your skills. The Tahina clan over the western hills have been silent for too long. I fear they have cut off communication with us because they want to attack and steal our lands, which are far superior to theirs.”
Jaquin remained silent, though he felt a knot of dread clench his stomach.
“I need you to fly as the eagle flies and bring us knowledge of what the Tahina clan does,” the Chief continued. “Can you do that?”
The dread in Jaquin's stomach turned to fear. He had only flown momentarily with the eagle, and something like this was difficult and dangerous. He glanced quickly at the old Shaman sitting nearby, who he knew would have been listening. His former master was scowling, concern and anger etched on his face at this dangerous request from the Chief. Yet now that Jaquin was himself Shaman, it was not the place for the elder Shaman to interfere in Jaquin's decisions.
Jaquin knew it would be unwise for him to attempt what the Chief was asking, and he was about to say so when he caught the gaze of the Chief's daughter sitting close by. The young woman was gazing at him with a look of admiration and awe, also waiting for his answer. Without another thought, Jaquin's mind was made up.
“Yes Chief,” he said drawing himself up proudly in his chair. “I can do this for you.”

The next morning Jaquin sat in the Shaman's closed tent, the incense curling about his senses. His old master had refused to attend, adamant Jaquin was making a mistake and attempting too much too soon. But Jaquin was confident – he could do this. This time he would not force the bird to do things, he would only give it subtle suggestions so that he would not be thrown.
It took a few hours of meditation before he managed to enter the trance, but then the connection was almost instant.

The ground dropped away far beneath as it soared over the land. The strong muscles held the wings outstretched allowing it to simply glide, suspended in the air. A feeling emerged – there was something slow and easy to catch waiting for it beyond the hills over there.
Changing directions, it flew towards the hills, feeling with its wings the signs of the air currents that could take it up and over the land with ease.
As it glided over the trees there was a sense of danger ahead – this was a bad direction. But then no, this was a good direction – there was prey over here that was easy and filling. It continued to fly over the hills.
It sailed over the land and again the danger was sensed, more strongly. It tried to bank and turn, tried to head back, but the other will was holding it steady, forcing it to keep its course. Screaming, the eagle twisted in the air, fear and confusion twisting its mind.
And then the arrow struck, piercing the bird through the neck. Its wings flapped uselessly, horribly twisting as the bird began to plummet. The air rushed past, its body went limp and a second later it struck the land.

Jaquin's eyes sprung open – he was on his back, all the air knocked out of his lungs, staring again at the smokey canvas above. And now there was a horrible, hollow feeling in his chest, as if he had been beaten profusely and then had his heart scooped out.
He hadn't been able to free himself from the bird in time. He knew, instinctively, that his power, his Shaman ability, had died along with the bird.
Horrified, a tear rolled down his cheek.
Moments later his old master entered the tent and peered down at him, knowing.
“Jaquin,” the disappointment and sadness in his voice could not be masked. “Your pride has failed you. You have tried too much too quickly.”
The Shaman limped slowly out of the tent again, his back bent with grief. At the entrance he stopped and turned back, his voice cracking with sorrow as he spoke again.
“You are Shaman no more.”
The incense rippled slightly in the air as the tent flap fell into place and the old Shaman was gone.

For a long time Jaquin lay in the smokey tent, crying and grieving at his own stupidity, at the power and esteem he had held so briefly and lost so quickly.
When he finally rose, determination had filled the hollow in his chest.
This was not the end. He would not give up. His Shaman ability may have died for now but he would resurrect it and return stronger than before.

He would be Shaman again.

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