"Store your bag below the cover, while Buri and I carry your boat up to the wood and hide it among the thorn bushes."
"Don't forget to mark the way to the hiding spot with triangles of pebbles, the tip pointing in the right direction! Use the smallest pebble at the tip. That will show the fishermen from the village where the boat is." Laong shouted to Aegir.
"Is that everything you brought with you?" Tsemo asked, "It's much more than I brought with me! I have nothing at all!"
"These are just my clothes and my collection of miraculous objects!" Then Laong showed Tsemo a little pouch on a leather string he carried around his neck, "That's a keepsake! My mother left it to me! That's the only heirloom I have!"
"What is it, a charm?"
Shrugging his shoulders defensively, "She told me never, never to open it! Otherwise, it will lose its power!"
Back on the river Aegir was at the helm steering the dugout, while Buri relaxed resting his head in his friend's lap. "Look at the two!" Aegir whispered to Buri pointing to the bow, "Look! Like lovebirds! Tsemo can't keep his hands from Laong and the boy purrs like a cat!" Then they called to the bow, "Laong, Keep your attention on the river! Don't steer in the wrong direction!"
Laong turned red and Tsemo stopped fondling his student for a moment, turned around and thumbed his nose to the two in the stern. "Don't be jealous! Laong is mine!" This remark caused Laong to blush even more.
At noon Buri, who was now at the helm, landed the boat on a sandy beach. "Let's enjoy yesterdays' leftovers and then bask in the sun, I am tired from last night!" he called to Tsemo and Laong, then whispered into Aegir's ear, "Have we ever made love in the spring sun? No! This would be the first time and I want to have you now!"
Aegir grinned, "This will give the two the chance to enjoy each other the first time in daylight. Loving one another in daylight is a great experience!"
After the meal, Tsemo and Laong walked away hand in hand and vanished in the dense vegetation, while Aegir and Buri looked for a comfortable place further down the river. When Tsemo and his student turned up after a considerable time with beaming faces and radiating eyes Buri poked Aegir in the ribs and whispered, "Look how happy they are! Look how Laong wiggles his butt. Tsemo sure has taught him all he knew!"
"Tsemo has graduated from the High Shaman's college and he certainly was the cleverest student of them all!"
The next part of the trip ended rather abruptly. "Somewhere around here should be the marketplace where my father set off to the mountain pass on his journey to Râ-Kedet" Buri asked, "Aegir do you remember my tale? In this village he met the merchant with his four thralls, the four brothers and there began the disastrous trek across the mountain range in the South."
"Didn't you tell me the village was located on a bend where the Bredd-ström turns to the North? But the river course is still to the East. We should go on some more!"
In anticipation of the village and its welcoming taverns, they paddled on till dusk. The land was shrouded in mist when the stench of scorched wood hit their noses! Then after a bend of the Bredd-ström to the North the glowing remains buildings of a village appeared along the water's edge. Occasionally flames flared up kindled by the evening breeze. The closer they came the more the stench of scorched wood mixed with the reek of burned flesh increased.
"Was this the blooming city, my father told about?" Buri asked without awaiting an answer. "Plundered, burned down, wiped off the surface of the earth and in the last day or two." He groaned in disgust.
The sun seekers crouched in the dugout afraid of becoming the object of the raiders if they were still there. Without using the paddles, they let the boat drift by silently!
Suddenly Tsemo rose! Fearless he raised his arms and put a hex on the murderers:
Curse my enemies,
Curse my fears,
Curse those who have brought me tears,
Curse those who have done me wrong,
Make their punishment long and strong,
This is my will so mote it be!
Wolf and bear, owl and snake,
Be their wake!
Then he took the flute made of bones he carried on the necklace of holy stones, looked up to the dark sky and began to play a mournful tune. When the last sound had faded away he spread his arms again and intoned the song of the dead:
To the living, I am gone,
To the sorrowful, I will never return
To the Angry, I was cheated
But to the happy, I am at peace
And to the faithful, I have never left
I cannot speak, but can listen
I cannot be seen, but I can be heard!
Laong was watching his teacher with admiration. Suddenly he knew what he had to do. He rose and presented his amulet to the sky and joined the lament of the dead:
Of the times we loved, the times we cried,
the battle we fought and the times we laughed
For you who will always think of us,
We will never be gone.
Then Tsemo and Laong collapsed at the bow. The dugout became unstable, began to sway and finally swung to the left out of the current. Buri had to scramble into the front of the boat, took Laong's paddle and balanced the dugout. Once they were back in mid-stream the frightened youngsters fled in terror from the ravaged city.
Later on, they passed a big raft at full speed. The slowly drifting raft was overloaded with mothers holding babies in their arms, with crying toddlers, with small girls and boys and with old women. There seemed to be only one man aboard, an aged and haggard grey-beard at the helm.
"Are you in need? Can we help? We can help you!" Buri called across to the fleeing.
The answer was unexpected, "Keep clear of us! Away you go! Let us in peace!" the old man shouted back, and the women began to yell "Murderer! Looters! Fire-raiser!" while the small-ones cried wild with fear!
The people on the raft seemed to be the only people to escape from the disaster, because the sun seekers didn't see another boat on this starless night. After dawn, they went ashore on a tongue of land nearly inaccessible from the riverside because of a thick reed-belt. Still shaking from the dreadful sight of the burned down village, the reek of burnt flesh hovering over the place and the horrified escapees all four huddled together and tried to forget the horrifying picture holding each other. They must have drifted into sleep finally, because the sun was already high in the sky when they woke up.
At the next mooring, they ran into fishermen bringing the night's catch ashore. Aegir steered the boat to the landing stage, "What happened up-stream? Do you know? What happened at the marketplace? Who burned the village down? Who killed the people? Who drove off the children and women? Who killed the animals?" When the fishermen looked blank, he repeated, "The entire marketplace has been burned down and its people killed! The village does not exist anymore! Do you know what happened?"
The only answer was a shrug of the shoulders of the chief fisherman, "We don't know! We don't want to know! It's not our business!" Another one added, "The marketplace? It's on the other side of the big stream! We do not meddle in other people's affairs. It's their business, not ours!"
The sun seekers were disillusioned by the indifference and hostile attitude of the fishermen. "Let's leave! These people show neither empathy nor compassion for their neighbours. We shouldn't spend a moment more with these people, they have hearts of stone!"
The Bredd-ström turned north-east, became wider and more sluggish, while the weather became warmer and also more humid. The burning sun and the high humidity made paddling strenuous around noontime. Therefore, the four companions decided to rest about noon and use the early morning and late afternoon hours for travelling.
During these noon-breaks, they decided not to be idle but to teach each other all their skills and knowledge. Tsemo, for example, scraped up all his knowledge about healing plants, of preparing potions and salves and passed it on the others especially to Laong, his novice. Aegir paid attention to Tsemo's lessons also and took much profit from them. Buri, however, was not much interested in the art of healing. While others stayed together to find plants or to mix ointments, Buri searched the surroundings for feathers, bones and stones which could be of use for tools or weapons. When he found an item of interest he returned to the group and demonstrated its use to his friends.
One early afternoon luck was with Buri. While the others mixed a potion at the edge of an abandoned hamlet Buri roamed through the ruins. Taking a leak at a former fireside his piss washed away the sand over a heap of flint nodules already tempered in the fire!" First, he just sighed thinking of the former owner, "What a pity, he had to run off without his precious stones! Maybe he was killed and couldn't recover them!" However, then his face began to beam, "His misfortune is my good fortune!" he thought and hollered to his friends. "Hey! Hey! Come quick! Guess what I washed out of the sand with my pee! A fortune! A real fortune!" When the others came running he picked up Tsemo, the smallest of them and danced a jig. "Now I can teach you too! I can teach you how to make fine tools from rough stones!" and he beamed.
They had to stay there for three days to give Buri time to introduce them to the art of tool-making. First, he showed how to prepare rough-outs from tempered flint nodules by chipping. Aegir was the most talented of the other three in doing rough-outs, probably because of his strength. He did the finest rough-outs. Then Buri taught them how to polish the rough-outs and shape them into fine weapons. When it came to polishing the rough tools, to smooth their surface and give the new weapon a fine finish, Tsemo and Laong outdid the red-head and even Buri himself.
So far Tsemo and Buri had proven their special skill to the others and had passed these skills on to them. Aegir had promised to teach the others how to handle a boat in the wild sea and use the stars for navigation! "All I can do on land is to show you the constellations of the stars, but I can teach you to navigate according to the stars only on the wide sea. I learned this skill from my father and I will teach you as he taught me!" And at the memory of his father, tears ran down his cheeks.
So far only Laong hadn't shown his skills to the others, he did not even know what skill to teach them. They seemed to be perfect in all the skills he knew. He was in a desperate state, "The three are so perfect" he said to himself, "I just cannot teach them even a single skill! They will not take me along to Ta-Seti!" Comparing his talents with the others he felt so useless. He went around with a gloomy face and his spirits were low.
In the evening, when Tsemo waited for Laong to join him under the cover, he didn't show up. First Tsemo looked for his novice on the sandy beach and even checked under the overturned dugout. Then he searched through the ruins of the derelict hamlet. He even inspected the shaft of the dried up well in case Laong had fallen into it. Then he looked in every place that could be used as a hideout. But Laong was nowhere. He scouted for Laong at all the places they had been in the last three days. But he did not find a single trace of his love. Now Tsemo got seriously worried! He alarmed Aegir and Buri. Calling Laong's name over and over the three checked the hamlet again, in vain, no trace of Laong! They searched the adjoining forest, but while their shouting scared animals and birds out of their cover Laong didn't answer their calls. They searched around the old moorage again but just scared the sleeping waterfowl.
By now the sky was pitch-black. Heavy clouds covered the sky and thunderbolts flashed at the horizon. Tsemo, Aegir and Buri were distraught! What had happened to Laong! Had a beast preyed on him, had bad people taken him, prisoner, had a demon abducted him? What should they do? They were uncertain about it! Aegir tried to pierce the darkness and fixed his gaze on Tsemo, "You are his friend Tsemo, you are his hero and you are a shaman! Shamans can do miracles!"
"Yes, shamans can do miracles!" Buri pressed Tsemo, "I was told by my father shamans can communicate with others by thought-transfer! Try to get in touch with him! He must be somewhere! Find him!"
Aegir pleaded again looking up in the dark sky, "Tsemo, please try to get in contact with Laong's mind! Try to reach him! Do you see the sheet lightning, do you hear the thunderclaps! A heavy thunderstorm is getting close, the first thunderstorm of the spring!"
Tsemo turned his head to the East, closed his eyes and tried to concentrate his thoughts on the point at the horizon where he thought the sun would rise in the morning. His mind went haywire. He was unable to concentrate. In terror he screamed "Sun, Sun, Sun!" With a deafening clap of thunder, the gates of heaven opened. Water poured down and cold rain soaked them from head to toe.
The first thunderstorm of the spring was over in no time, leaving the three cold and with chattering teeth. A sudden gust of wind cleared the sky as well as their brains.
"I will look for Laong downstream along the beach and you two check the beach upstream!" Tsemo decided, "Let's stay in contact by calls!"
The spring rain had washed away all tracks in the sand. So Tsemo didn't look for Laong's footprints. He ran downstream along the riverside, checking for Laong behind every tree and every bush. He hurried along without keeping track of the time till he suddenly became aware that he couldn't hear the shouts of Aegir and Buri anymore. Worried to death he kept on walking till the light of the moon waned and the rising sun coloured the clouds in the east pinkish.
Aegir and Buri hunted for Laong upstream. They were neither able to detect footprints in the sand nor trodden down tufts of grass in the grassland nor broken twigs in the shrubbery. In the dead of the night, they came upon a swampland barring the way. There was neither a way around the swamp nor a path across it. "Laong surely has not crossed the swamp! For certain! And now?" Aegir reasoned in a low voice. Buri took up the implied suggestion, "Let's return to our camp! We had better look down-stream!"
Just after midnight, they were back at the camp by the derelict village. Searching the place they found neither a trace of Tsemo nor of Laong. They called their names! No answer. The place looked exactly as they had left it. "Let's stay here and wait for Tsemo. It does not make sense to look for the both now! It's pitch-dark. Let's wait till daylight." "You are right Aegir! Anyway, I am too tired to go another step!" Buri lamented, going down on his haunches. Aegir squatted down beside his friend, stretched himself out and whined, "I hardly can keep my eyes open!" Looking for another reason to justify the break, he moaned, "Aside from that, I sprained my right ankle and can't walk anymore!"
Only a moment later he revised his decision. "We have to look for them! They are our friends and companions. Maybe Tsemo has had an accident too and can't walk or he has found Laong, but he is wounded and Tsemo is too weak to carry him! Laong is certainly heavier than Tsemo!" Buri did not answer for a moment. He was snoring already, but had not passed out completely. While his body was asleep his mind was working. Suddenly he jumped up, "Let's go, I mean, let's take the boat. We let the dugout drift close to the beach downstream and look out for the two. Once in a while, one of us can go ashore and check for tracks."
I would like to express my special thanks to my friend Anthony for improving my writing.
Comments, reviews, questions, and complaints are welcomed. Please send them to Ruwen Rouhs
Last, but not least I would like to add thanks for reading.