"Laong, Laaaaonggg!" the shrill voice of an angry man broke the peaceful morning air, "Laaooong! Work dodger! Daydreamer! If you don't show up the landing in no time you have to stay hungry the next three days! The village does not feed a good-for-nothing!" and the angry voice of an old man railed, "You are a discredit to the village! Only the badger in his borrow is more rotten!"
"Why do you rail against Laong? Is he that bad?" Tsemo asked the wife of the village headman when they came to her house to bid goodbye and collected the locked-up weapons.
"Great Master! Venerable Shaman!" the fat-bellied woman bowed her head respectfully, "You don't know, but Laong is a daydreamer! He likes is to collect strange objects, rare plants and shiny stones, feathers and bones, but he does not like to work like other boys of his age. He even makes up stories and tells them to the small kids! Stories of fairies and wise men! Sometimes he even scares the little ones with his stories! But they love him." she thought for a while, "He was born here but he seems to belong to another world." Then shrugging her shoulders "He never will become a fisherman or hunter! No! Therefore, my husband calls him a good-for-nothing!"
"But he may be good for other things, like healing people and animals or foretelling the future or he may become a bard." Tsemo countered.
But she just laughed, "Venerable Master! Laong a Healer? Laong a Shaman? Don't indulge yourself in wild daydreams, stranger! He will never become the gifted healer you are!" then she turned, "Daughter, daughter, the young Shaman with his friends is here! Give thanks to him! Last night was the first for a long time she could sleep throughout without being kept awake by her crying baby son!"
She ushered the companion into the kitchen, "My daughter and the other young mothers prepared a farewell meal for you and your friends! The men are out fishing, up the Bredd-ström!"
Full of food and light-headed by the consumption of a sugary beverage the three companions staggered to the landing, accompanied by young and old, with exception of the men out fishing. Wishing the women goodbye was fun, because every single of the young mothers wanted to express their gratitude for a peaceful night with a big hug and a long kiss. The little girls who were watching their big sisters jealously and nearly piddled their legs with excitement. Embarking wasn't as easy, especially for Tsemo, who never had tasted a strong brew like this before. The staggering Shaman needed Buri's helping hand. His strong dark companion seized him and put him on his seat in the dugout. Singing and laughing the three left the villagers waving farewell.
The fresh breeze on the river soon cleared the brains of Aegir and Buri while Tsemo's head was throbbing. "Close your eyes; we will wake you as soon the Isle of the Three Trees comes in sight. The boat passed five isles and the name seemed to fit nearly every one of them because all were wooded. But at none of them there saw a sign of Laong or of his boat. They already thought the boy had foxed them, when a strung-out, barren isle appeared to the left. It looked more like a sandbank than an island. On its utmost tip, however, three old trees stretched their branches to heaven and there was Laong, waving and bouncing up and down, "Hey! Here I am! Here! Come over! Pick me up!" Laong jumped up and down and danced for joy!
Buri transferred Laong's scanty luggage into the dugout and tucked it under the cover. Then Aegir fastened Laong's boat to the big dugout. "We will leave it where we stay tonight. Your people will find it soon enough and be able to recover it!" he predicted, while Laong settled down beside Tsemo.
The presence of Laong cleared Tsemo head immediately. He beamed with joy and his cheerfulness and excitement infected the others. Chatting animatedly, they steered the boat back into the main current of the river and went off as if they were on a honeymoon.
The day was hot for a day in spring and the evening sun promised a mild night. When they passed along a wooded island Aegir decided on impulse to spend the night here. "It's uninhabited, we could stay here and enjoy a night far away from nosy contemporaries." he suggested, "Someone against it?" He didn't wait for an answer and put the dugout on land at the very tip of the island.
"Look the trees up there," Buri pointed to a group of willows growing at the highest point on the island, "that's the right place! At least a sudden flood will not wash us downstream."
When some ducks took wing, Aegir took his bow and arrows, "Who else will come with me. I am starving for meat!" looking around he commanded, "Laong come along. Here's your chance to prove your qualities as a hunter!" Aegir not only wanted to check the new recruit's hunting skill; his hidden motive was something else.
Buri and Tsemo pulled the boat ashore and immediately began to carry their belongings to the small wood. The clearing between the trees had been used for camping before. A circle of cobblestones surrounding ashes marked a fireplace and an open shed offered a dry place for the night. The shrubs along edges of the wood were dense enough to conceal the presence of visitors even if a fire was burning.
While Buri and Tsemo set up the camp and started a fire, Aegir and Laong were stealing through the undergrowth by the reeds in the shallow water. Laong was quick, but not as experienced as Aegir. Nonetheless, he was luckier than the red-head and got a male duck with his first arrow. When the ducks settled down again Aegir got another one. On their way back Laong got a third bird. Slowing down Aegir suddenly asked, "What do you know about Shamans? Have you ever wondered why Shamans are viewed as a special class of people?"
"They are healers, they know all about animals and plants, about the stars, the moon and the sun, about the living and the dead, they know all the about the realm of the gods!"
"Is that all?"
"No, they can foresee the future and are able to talk with the dead! They can do miracles!"
"All this may be true, or folks assume something like it! But that's not all. That's not the point I am thinking of at the moment!"
"What happens to the dead? Not the warriors, the great heroes, but the bad ones, those who cheated their friends, those who murdered their neighbours, robbed strangers, killed strangers, those that cuckolded their companions, molested the young ones? What happens to bad people?
"They go to a place called the underworld. The cold, murky place ruled by Halja, the daughter of Loki and the gigantic Angrboda!"
"You know a lot for a village boy! But where do the simple, the honest, the good people live after death?"
"They walk on green pastures in paradise! They are happy all the time and they lack nothing!"
"Right again! But what is special about the great heroes, the ones who died for their friends, for their people?"
"They go to Valhöll! The place ruled by Wuitan and his spouse Frija! They live in clover! During the day the heroes duel each other and in the evening, they get drunk on mead!"
"Right again! You know much more than I did at your age! But what happens to the Shamans after they die? Has anybody told you?"
"Do they also walk the green pastures? Do they go to Valhöll?" Laong asked, "I never thought about will happen to a Shaman after he died!"
Aegir put his arm around Laong, "Have you ever heard about reincarnation? Has anybody told you that shamans are reborn after they have died? They obtain a new body. Their old body decays but their spirit drifts through space and time till it finds a new body! The spirit settles down in the new body and a new shaman is born!"
"Is this really the case? I can't believe what you just told me! Is it a secret of the shamans never told to outsiders? Is Tsemo the incarnation of a Shaman whose body has decayed? Who was he before?"
"Tsemo is a reincarnated Shaman! I am positive! But I do not know the name of his former body!"
Then Aegir shrugged conspiratorially, "Don't tell Tsemo, it's a secret Buri is destined to reveal it to our young shaman by himself." He bent down to the youngster and whispered into his year, "Buri is also reborn! I even know the identity of his former body!" His tone of voice showed his pride, "You will never guess: Buri is the reincarnation of the mighty Geb, the god of the fertile earth and barren desert! It's a God people worship in the land Buri was born, a land far in the South, the land of our destination"
Laong kept silent for a long time. When Aegir asked, "Don't you believe me?" Laong shook his head, "No, no I believe you! But I was puzzling over another question! Do you think I could be reborn too? Do you think that the spirit of a deceased Shaman invaded my body when I was in my mother's womb?" and after a while, he added scarcely audibly, "Do you think that it was the spirit of a female Shaman?"
"If your destiny is to become a shaman and not just the whim of a vain boy, then you are one of the reborn too!" then Aegir paused. He didn't know how to continue without offending Laong, who definitely was a boy. But the then he decided to take the direct approach and asked: "Laong, tell me why do you think you were a woman in your former life?"
Darkness had fallen and Laong felt relieved that clouds covered the moon, because his face turned crimson and his scar beet-red! The darkness made it easier to disclose his secret. "Ever since…." then he paused and started again, "I never was interested in girls. I like girls. As a small kid I liked to play with girls, but now I only play with boys. On the beach I never did spy on girls like the other boys did, I never did spy on girls when they went for a pee. I like to look at boys. When I dream, I dream of boys and I imagine being with a boy when I fiddle with my wood. The other boys laugh at me because I do not have a girlfriend. When I asked Gru, the chieftain's son, to be my boyfriend he hit me in the face." Suddenly he started to sob uncontrollably, "That's why I have a scar on my face!"
Being hit by this confession Aegir kept silent at first, but when the sobbing youngster tried to run away into the dark, he held him back, "Don't run away, silly boy! Don't you know that Shamans are neither male nor female? They belong to a different class of beings. They possess the qualities of both, of a man and a woman." He hugged Laong, "I also have to tell you a secret, our secret! Buri is my dream-boy! The first time I dreamed of Buri I was just six. And I had to wait for Buri, my Curly-head, till I was a man. Since that time, we are one heart and one soul!"
On the way back to the camp by the small wood on the hill, he advised the troubled boy. "Wipe off your tears, Laong! Tsemo is waiting! I bet you don't want to meet your teacher with eyes red from crying!"
The ducks had been plucked, eviscerated, generously seasoned and now they were broiling over a low fire. On his return, Laong remained silent. Even the approval for his hunting skill didn't bring him out of his shell. While Aegir took his place beside Buri, Laong had to sit down by the side of Tsemo. The small shaman did his best to cheer him up by telling stories of his time as a novice. Meanwhile, Laong agonized over the question if he should open up to Tsemo and Buri too, but he was too anxious after his bad experience with Gru, the village boy.
Tsemo, on the other hand, was not sure either what to do. Spooning with Laong the night before had made him so happy and all he hoped for was that this was the beginning of a close relationship maybe even love.
Aegir guessing the conflict of Tsemo and Laong didn't want to interfere by saying anything. After the fire had nearly died down he decided to set a good example. He turned to Buri, took his head with both hands and kissed him. Then he announced, "That was a great day, a successful day! This morning I thought we got a nosy inexperienced boy to complete our crew. Tonight, however, I am sure that Laong is the fourth man of our crew, the crew of the sun seekers."
He took Buri's hand and together they walked over to Tsemo and Laong and hugged them. "Buri and I will walk down to the sandy bank and enjoy our friendship. You should do the same! Listen to the song of the Bredd-ström, the noise of the wind in the trees, the rustling of animals in the last year's leaves, to the song of the nightingale and breathe the sweet smell the first violets. Good night boys!"
Tsemo and Laong made their bed in the hay of the shelter. Crawling under the furs the Laong suddenly withdrew to the very end of the cover, away from the young shaman. "It's your fur Laong! Please come closer. Let's huddle up like we did last night! I need a friend, someone to warm me on cold nights, someone to make me forget the past!" A little later Tsemo felt Laong's warm arms around his body and a breaking voice asked, "Do you really, really want me as a friend?"
Next morning when Aegir found the two still in a tight embrace the scar on Laong's cheek was just a faint scratch. When he asked, "What happened to the deep scar?" Laong laughed happily, "It's gone. Tsemo, the Healer did it!" and his voice sounded soft and sonorously like a young man and no longer that of a boy.
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.