It was still dark around the small lake at the bottom of the gorge, while the morning sun gilded the peaks of the mountain ridge that the Bredd-ström's rapids had found a way through. Tsemo rose, shook off the fatigue of the day before, and bowed three times to the east. Quietly he greeted the new morning with an ancient hymn, well aware that the thundering waters were drowned his song:
Sea nor cool waves, nor sand there were;
Earth had not been, nor heaven above,
But a yawning gap, and grass nowhere.
Then Bur's sons lifted the level land,
Mithgarth the mighty there they made;
The sun from the south warmed the stones of earth,
And green was the ground with growing leeks.
Her right hand cast over heaven's rim;
No knowledge she had where her home should be,
The moon knew not what might was his,
The stars knew not | where their stations were.
Then Tsemo went to the lake and came back with a beaker of fresh water. Three times he walked around his sleeping friends. The young shaman besprinkled them with water and asked holy beings to bless the day.
The parting was a sad one. Kester, Ver and their rescued brothers decided to walk back to the village by foot while Aegir, Buri and Tsemo shouldered the dugout to carry it down the steep trail to the bottom of the rapid.
The parting present of Cantu to Tsemo was his knife, "You will need a sharp knife, my little big brother!" he smiled sadly, "At the moment it's useless to me because of my bad shoulder. Remember me! I will miss you!" Hermo added a flint and a pouch with tinder, which was wet because of the wreckage, "Tsemo you have to dry the tinder for some days. Then it will do its job nicely. I swapped the tinder last summer on my way to the solstice for a young raven." Kester bequeathed his bow to Tsemo and Ver added some arrows. „We can do without it. I don't think we will run into hostile groups on our way back home!"
It was not easy to carry the heavy dugout down to the bottom of the cataract. The trail was slippery and Tsemo was not much of a help to Aegir and Buri because he was nearly two heads shorter than the two. Aegir and Buri carried boat with the ends on their shoulders, while Tsemo tried to support the middle section of it with his arms stretched high. They hid the boat at the foot of the waterfall among the reeds and then went back up the trail twice to get the paddles and the other supplies.
Tied to a tree stump the dugout bobbed up and down in the small lake at the foot of the rapid. The supplies were already stored away in the boxes of birch-bark in the belly of the boat and tightly covered to keep them dry.
The transport of the boat and the supplies, the endeavours of the last days and the warm rays of the spring sun made Buri feel tired. He popped down in the soft young grass, leaned back against a washed-up tree trunk and smiled at Aegir, "Aren't you tired also? Let's rest for a moment before we start the next stage of our trip!"
With a sigh of relief, Aegir put the paddles into the boat, walked over, made himself comfortable in the grass putting his head in Buri's lap! Closing his eyes, "That was a trip going down the gorge trying to get the boys!" he sighed, "I don't want to do that again!" He smiled with his eyes shut, "It's so great to relax with you! I missed being alone with you!"
When Buri ruffled Aegir's ginger hair he suddenly had the uncomfortable feeling that someone was closely watching them. Looking around his eyes met Tsemo's, stepping out of the undergrowth. Tsemo was watching them curiously with a questioning and hopeful countenance. "Come closer Tsemo! Join us!" Buri called.
Aegir, without opening his eyes, "Yes, join us Tsemo! Come closer. Make yourself comfortable in Buri's lap also! You will like it!"
Tsemo hesitated, "Do you really mean I may join you? I do not want to intrude into your friendship! I am….!" he trailed off.
"You can't stay a stranger any longer, if you want to go with us to Ta-Seti. Come closer! As you can see Aegir and I love each other! Aegir and I, we have loved each other since the day he saved my life. Don't be silly, come and rest your head in my lap also and share our love!"
Tsemo settled down and put his head into Buri's lap alongside Aegir's. Buri suddenly began to dissolve into giggles. First, he took a strand of Aegir's ginger hair and then one of Tsemo's fair hairs and began to wave a red-blond braid using both strands in turn. "Hey, now I have a boyfriend with two heads, two bodies, four arms and four legs but only one gorgeous braid!"
Tsemo relaxed and his face brightened, "That's the time I was waiting for so long! I left the shamans' community because I wanted to choose my friends by myself. I didn't want other people to decide my future, neither the holy men nor others, by no means. I choose you at the risk of being rejected and now you made me part of your bond of friendship."
Now Aegir answered with a laugh, "I tell you Tsemo! Buri is a demanding friend!"
"Don't tell him all our secrets on the first day!" Buri warned Aegir, but just the blink of an eye later he bowed down and kissed his friend on his lips. When Tsemo shot him a bewildered glance, Buri bowed down kissed Aegir a second time but this time much longer. Then he turned to Tsemo and kissed him also, while Aegir commented, "You have to get used to Buri's kisses, he likes to kiss and" grinning, "a lot more than kissing!"
Now it was Buri's time to dissolve into giggles, "I tell you Tsemo, Aegir is the best kisser you can imagine. I bet he will prove it to you as soon as I disentangle your hair."
Aegir didn't time to prove it, as there was some rustling in the under-wood, followed by happy barking. A small dog darted straight across the beach, jumped up to him and licked his face.
"Blue-eye is it you? Hey doggy, Hermo would have been glad to see you alive! But he is gone!" When the Blue-eye bent his head and whimpered Aegir ruffled his fur, "Don't grieve doggy, you got me now and Buri and Tsemo! Look Tsemo needs someone to keep him warm on cold nights!"
Before dusk, they had passed three villages, one on the left bank and two on the right. Once in a while, they were greeted by people busy at the bank of the stream. Once they even were invited to trade in some fishes by fishermen returning from the fishing grounds. However, the three preferred to stay mid-stream because they had enough provisions for the next few days and they wanted to cover the maximum distance possible before settling down for the night. Just as the sickle moon rose above the horizon they passed a hamlet and decided to go ashore.
The villagers received the strangers full of distrust, but after a short interview with the village elders, they were given permission to stay inside the fortification surrounding the hamlet. But before they got permission to do so, they had to place their weapons in the custody of the headman.
They were closely watched by the residents while walking to the old hay shed assigned to them for the night. Especially Buri felt uneasy, because he thought his dark skin was attracting the curiosity of the villagers. But this was not the case. Tsemo caused the sensation. He still was wearing the long white coat of a shaman and a necklace made of the pierced stones. Attached to the necklace was a flute made of the wing bone of the eagle owl. The coat was stained with dirt nonetheless it showed that Tsemo belonged to the class of shamans.
They hardly had time to settle down in the old shed when the headman arrived. He turned to Tsemo "Holy man may I invite you and your well-travelled companions to a treat in my home in the name of all the villagers. Everyone awaits your coming. Forgive us the unkind welcome, but only lately evil men betrayed our trust and not only tried to rob us, but also gave our children a bad disease." When Tsemo looked to Aegir and Buri for permission, he continued in a hurry, "Please accept our invitation, you can even have your weapons back!"
"We accept your invitation, dear Sir!" Aegir bowed his head in agreement, "It's an honour to accept your invitation!"
After the meal, all the villagers gathered around the guests. Buri and Aegir attracted the eager attention of the men and of youngsters of both sexes. Tsemo, however, was monopolized by the young mothers carrying their babies and the elderly women. Only one boy, a lanky kid with a scar on his cheek, stayed with the women and kept close to Tsemo following every one of his words.
"Holy man!" a broad-hipped matron addressed Tsemo, "Please! Have a look at our little ones! Since the men from the mountains tried to rob us at midwinter our little ones are sick! The sun is shining now, and the spring flowers are blooming, but our little ones are still sick and seem to get feebler from day-to-day! They need your help Holy Man, they need your blessings!"
Tsemo was surprised to be called "holy". He never had thought of himself as a "Holy Man". A bashful smile crossed his face. He asked one of the young mothers to hand him her baby, untucked it and examined the weeping baby. Then he asked for the next baby and examined it also. After the third one, he was sure they suffered from baby colic. But he was surprised about the epidemic nature of the disease.
"What do you feed the babies?" was his first question, "Do you feed them just breast milk? Or do you supplement the breast milk with other food?" When the young mothers did swear to feed the babies with breast-milk only, he continued "And have you changed your diet?"
The young mothers adjourned to a corner of the room whispering. Then the boldest approached Tsemo, "The vile men left a big bag with seeds, they called them tic beans. I found it and since that time we have been eating them. We grind the seeds up, boil them to mash, sweeten it with honey and this keeps us full the whole day long. Everyone likes this new kind of food!"
"You stay full and you fart all day, all day and night! Am I right?" When the young women nodded their assent, he told them, "You have to abstain from this food! Your babies get sick from drinking your milk! Abstain!" When the women looked blank, "The breastfed-babies are getting sick because of drinking your milk! To keep your babies peaceful rock, them a little bit when they start crying and let them suckle your finger. Furthermore, you have to brew a strong potion of caraway and fennel seed and feed the potion to the babies till the trouble is gone. And in the evening let them suck on a tiny pouch filled with poppy-seed. This will keep them peaceful the whole night."
"And our men?" the youngest of the women asked Tsemo, "Should they abstain also?"
"Do they breastfeed the babies?" Tsemo laughed, "No, they don't, am I right?"
"But!" the young woman smiled, and her face went crimson, "Since they eat the beans they are hot like stray dogs! They want to do us night and day!" and the other women giggled in embarrassment but nodded their assent.
The lanky boy with the scar on the cheek blushed in embarrassment and his scar turned purple. He left the group immediately and didn't stay with other youngsters either, but left the place.
Aegir, Buri and Tsemo turned in very late at night. Last year's hay was dry and while Aegir and Buri made their bed in the darkest corner of the shed, Tsemo decided to take Blue-eye for a little walk. The young shaman wanted to contemplate his situation. More than ever he felt as an invader in the close relationship between Aegir and Buri. Despite their short acquaintance, he knew that somewhat kept the two together, that was more than friendship and brotherly love. He suspected they were lovers and he wanted to be the last one to interfere with their relationship.
Wandering along in the faint light of the moon he became lost between the houses and gardens. Suddenly Blue-eye began to snarl and the hoarse voice of a boy in puberty was breaking the silence of the night, "Hush doggy, hush!" he tried to appease the dog and then asked "Holy Man! Please, please let me ask you a question." and out of the shade of a shed, a lanky person approached Tsemo timidly.
"Are you, the lanky boy who was watching me so intensely while I examined the babies?" Tsemo breathed in the cool night air, "Surely, it must be you!" turning to the dog, "Blue-eye hush! Be a good dog. It's a friend of mine!" Then he turned to the strange boy, "Why did you suddenly run away? Was it my fault?" When the boy didn't answer "Go ahead and ask whatever it is you want to know. And in the meantime, please will you walk me back to the shed where we are sleeping. I lost my way in the dark."
The boy began in an almost inaudible whisper, "I, I……" then his voice trailed off, but he gathered courage again when Tsemo took his hand, "I want to become a Shaman like you! A Shaman, a healer, somebody who can foretell the future and look back into the past!" when Tsemo didn't answer immediately, he added "I do not want to become a sorcerer, someone who brings disaster upon people! Please, Master, take me as your student."
Tsemo stopped and looked up to the boy who was about a half-a-head taller, "They call you Laong! Is that your name? It's a rare name." when the boy nodded, "Laong, becoming a shaman is a long journey! I lived with a holy man for more than five years! I learned about the realm of the gods, about giants and the three Norns, about the way of the mortals, about sickness and death, but I never learned how to foretell the future or look back into the dark past! I was never taught to perform magic or to conjure people or to wake up the dead. I have not even completed my education after these five long years. Do you really want to achieve all this knowledge?"
"Yes, I want! Please, Master, let me be your student!"
Tsemo tried to warn him one time more "It's a long journey and a hard one! And…." Tsemo spoke louder, "I have no right to teach you, no, not at all! I am not an anointed Shaman. I am just a run-away novice myself!"
Laong broke down! Suddenly the tall boy looked like a lost child close to crying. Tsemo was moved, "If you are profoundly convinced that I am the right one to teach you then you may come along! I will teach you all I know, but I never will be able to anoint you as shaman!"
A long silence followed. Only Blue-eye's rummaging in the shrubs broke the silence, "I come with you, Holy Man! I come with you! I have to!"
Tsemo warned him for the last time, "We will be travelling a long way to a place far away. We are searching for the sun. We are searching for the house where the sun lives! Nobody knows where that is!"
Back at the hay shed, Tsemo said to Laong "Good night! Tomorrow morning, I have to ask Aegir and Buri, if you can join us on the sun quest and you have to ask your parent for permission to join us!"
"I am on my own! I don't need a permission to join you!"
"Then you have to say Good Bye to your friends!"
"I do not have friends! All the boys hate me like poison! I am an outcast!" he expressed his disappointment with his peers and a moment later he asked, "Can I stay with you and your friends tonight as well?"
"The air is crisp, and I have only this coat as a cover. You had better go and sleep at home!"
"Master, wait for me, please! I am back soon."
Unwillingly Aegir left his bed in the hay. He had to take a morning leak. Stealing out of the shed he got a sneak peek at an unfamiliar fur cover at the further end of the dim shed. Subconsciously he registered two shocks of hair, a blond one and a maroon one. The fair, nearly white hair belonged to Tsemo, he knew instantly. But who was the one with the maroon hair? Did Tsemo score with a girl? Back in the shed, he tried a closer look! The figure spooning Tsemo was a boy, a boy with a scar on his cheek! Not a girl! Now he remembered "Scar-face", the lanky boy showing more interest in Tsemo's art of healing than in their tales. Back under the cover, he dug Buri in the ribs. "Hey, sleepy-head! Great news! Yesterday Tsemo has won the heart of somebody! Guess whose heart!"
Rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, Buri rose to his feet, "It's that boy Laong, the freak! Who took a liking to whom? Tsemo to Laong or Laong to Tsemo?" Then a thought crossed his mind. "Do you think Laong will come along with us?" he grinned from ear to ear, "Aegir, my dear! This would fix our problem! Buri and Aegir and Tsemo and Laong! Tsemo would have no reason to be jealous of our love and what's even more important: he would understand that love is the greatest of all feelings."
Buri seemed to possess telepathic powers. Tsemo woke up with a start and realized how things could be sorted to everyone's satisfaction in just a moment, "That's Laong!" pointing at the maroon shock of hair, "He wishes to become a Shaman. He told me that this is his heart's desire. He asked me to be his teacher. I declined three times, but when he asked again, I agreed to become his guide but not his teacher, because I am still a novice." Becoming aware of the implication of his proposal, his heart missed a beat and nervously he added, "It's for you to decide if Laong can come along! I know you can overrule my silly word, but please let Laong become a sun seeker too!" then smiling hesitantly, "We would be two pairs of friends, Aegir and Buri and Laong and Tsemo! Wouldn't we make an invincible team?"
Meanwhile, Laong was wide awake. He dodged behind Tsemo and his scar was burning with embarrassment.
"And?" Aegir challenged Laong. "What can you contribute to our ambitious venture?"
Laong went pale, his heartbeat dropped, his courage dropped, and he was about to run, when Tsemo pulled him to his side. "Tell Aegir and Buri that you are bright, that you are strong, a bold fighter and last not least that you are used to look after yourself. Tell them that you will try to achieve the knowledge of a rightful shaman and you will never use your power to hurt people."
Buri eyed the two very carefully, "I was hoping you yourself would tell us about your qualities for this ambitious project, Laong! But you are shy, I understand. You can prove all these qualities before we arrive in the country where my father met my mother. If you can't, our ways will part, and you have to find your way back on your own."
Laong turned beet red and dropped his gaze, "I…., I…..!"
"It's alright!" Aegir interfered politely, "I bet you will prove your qualities soon enough. But have you asked your parents for permission? They may not like your decision!"
"I do not need to ask anybody! The village people will be happy to get rid of me! Back there I am treated as just a piece of shit."
While the three still tried to assimilate the information, Laong turned to leave, but stopped in the door, "Don't wait for me at the landing. I will run ahead of you and wait for you at the Isle of the Three Trees.
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.