The Book of Eight Sages
The shaman entered the tent and asked what I experienced. I waved him off, saying that Jutuil was drowned. The shaman quickly left the tent. I had Somay help me up and take me to Jutuil. Crossing the camp, we entered Jutuil’s tent where she still lay. The shaman was chanting over her, shaking a rattle and sprinkling sand over her body. Water was drawn out of her mouth and lungs, but she still lay as dead. The shaman slapped her face and shook her, but she still did not breathe. He shouted her name and commanded her to breathe, but to no avail.
I knelt next to her across from the shaman. “Shaman, let me try something. I learned from the Ocean Farers,” I said.
“What is this thing?” he asked.
“They call it the Breath of Life,” I answered.
“She is of the plains, Ocean Farer magic will not work on her,” he replied.
“It is not magic,” I retorted, “but a thing many learn to save drowning victims. But we cannot wait, I must do it now.”
“Southron, if you fail, I shall kill you,” he threatened, but moved aside.
I, in turn, set aside his threat as the words of a desperate and distraught man. I moved beside Jutuil’s head and thought to pray for remembrance and success. I debated a short invocation to Almatay or Madongke, but considering recent events, I thought invoking the Great Ones might be ill advised. I thus composed myself, making a silent prayer to the Tsaanpwair lesser Moon goddess Malini’iweiki that I remember the process. I then knelt at Jutuil’s head and tilted it back so her chin pointed straight up. Pinching her nose, I took a deep breath and covered her mouth with mine, exhaling into hers. I turned my head to inhale while listening for obstructions in her throat or lungs and watching to see if her breast dropped as she exhaled. All occurring as I remembered they should, I repeated all again giving her long, slow, deep breaths. I continued for what seemed over a finger and the shaman began to despair my effort. He touched my shoulder and told me the Breath of Life failed, but I continued anyway and Somay said, “Look, her skin is flushed.” I did not stop, but the shaman neared and agreed. I turned my head to inhale when Jutuil cough loudly into my ear. I backed away just in time as she sat up in a coughing fit, her body convulsing with each cough. She looked at me and said hoarsely, “You came for me. How? Why?” then closed her eyes and collapsed. The shaman came to her and felt her wrist, then listened at her mouth. He looked at me and smiled, saying, “It appears drowning and coming back to life can be exhausting, her pulse is strong and breath deep, she simply sleeps.”
I stepped out of the tent followed by the shaman. Somay pulled a light blanket over Jutuil, and followed. “You must tell me everything, but first, how do you feel?” the shaman asked.
“Tired. Hungry. Dirty,” I replied.
“Go swim. Clean yourself off. Somay will prepare some real food for you,” he told me.
It was then that I noticed we had moved, for there before me was Alakarum. “How long had I been gone?” I asked.
“Four days,” he answered.
I refreshed myself in the lake, then returned to my tent to redress. The others were already at the fire. Somay gave me a bowl of food, and the shaman had me recount all I could remember of my journey to the Spirit World. When I finished, the shaman reached into his bag and handed me a small pouch made from the pelt of a dwarf badger. I noted that it was already filled, and opened it to see the contents. Inside were an agate stone, a small kestrel and the broken canine of a steppe leopard. Jutuil emerged from her tent. She sat beside me and accepted a bowl of food from Somay. She turned and saw the pouch, “You have a spirit pouch.“
“Indeed,“ the shaman responded, “and all of the pieces were just where your visions said they would be. Somay even found the stone and felled the kestrel. She is a most capable woman.“ Jutuil looked towards Somay as I recalled my visions. The shaman turned to Jutuil, “His spirit companion is Ghobailuk, Mouth of Madongke, a most powerful companion.”
Jutuil stared at the shaman for a long while, then turned to me. “You came for me,“ she stated plainly.
“You were still alive,” I said simply.
“But nobody comes for the Taken. To do so is to question the decisions of the Great Ones.”
“Your brother seemed to disagree, and he is a shaman of Madongke.”
She looked at the shaman again then down at her bowl, “I have no brother, he was lost when Madongke took for herself a shaman.”
“Yet the shaman remained to care for all the Taken who yet lived, with special care reserved for one named Jutuil.”
“I see all my things here, too.”
“Oghutay was set to claim your belongings,” the shaman injected, “until I pointed out that you were not yet dead, and one still closer in blood did live. He attempted to argue the point, but when I moved into your tent and hissed at him, he conceded the point.”
“So what do we do now?” Jutuil mused.
“I have asked myself the same question,” Somay added.
“Dode is already at half moon, Namdan told me I must cross the Yasu River within two phases of Dode, lest the Norgul slay me,” I put in, “Will you return to the Murghei?” I asked Jutuil and the shaman.
“As a shaman, I do not stay with any particular tribe.”
Jutuil answered, “Right now I am free, if I return, Oghutay will go back to finding me a proper husband. Also, you would not have me walk across Sacred Balasagun alone, you would now have me travel the steppes unescorted.”
“I had assumed that your brother would travel with you. Surely no one would molest the camp of a shaman,” I responded, “though I had not considered Oghutay. The thought of him having any control over your life is repugnant.”
She smiled and leaned against me. “And you,” she said to Somay, “I am named Jutuil, daughter of Chaylim of the Murghei tribe. How are you named?”
“I am named Somay, daughter of Wudi of the Norgul,” she answered, “The Southron braved a Great One to rescue me. I guess I shall return to my tribe. I wonder how my husband shall react?”
“Will he not be pleased?” I asked.
“He never truly wanted me. My father paid much for him to take me,” she looked away, “I am … unattractive.”
“But you have returned from the Great Ones. Should that not make you more desirable?” I asked.
“He may desire my celebrity, but not me,” she said.
“I’m sure Namdan and Sallumin await my return to the Katay,” I said, “Where and how far is the Yasu River, much less the Odun Hills along the Snake River?”
“I could take you to the Yasu River, and you will need me to escort you across the Norgul lands as you will not be able to reach the Yasu before the Truce of Sacred Balasagun ends,” Somay offered.
“Your offer is most generous, especially with your reservations about how your husband will greet your return.”
“Your husband need not be an issue,” the shaman said.
We all turned to face him. “How will that be?” Somay asked.
“You were taken by the Great Ones, your marriage was dissolved with the taking. It is unusual, but not forbidden, for a shaman to take a wife, and you are now as a widow, free to chose your own mate.”
I believe all were startled by his words. Somay stared at the shaman with intensity and he returned in kind. Jutuil touched my arm and silently signaled that we should leave. I rose and helped her stand. She proved to be still weak in body from her long sleep, but with my help we were able to walk to the lake shore. The long shadows told me that the sun would be setting in a little over a hand. As we settled along the shore, Jutuil gazed at the water and said, “I am filthy, it is a wonder you let me near you.“
“The wonder,“ I replied, “is that you are here at all. That you are filthy is a small thing, and easily rectified. The shaman allowed me to bathe in the lake, surely you could too.“
Jutuil looked at me from the corners of her eyes. “You would watch me bathe?” she asked.
“Of course, I will turn me back until you allow I face you again.”
She began to unclasp her overcoat, saying, “After the Door Ceremony, I suppose respectful modesty is unnecessary between us.” Spreading her overcoat over the grass she looked at her tunic and mused aloud, “Why is this inside out?” I studiously watched a cloud drift by which bore a remarkable resemblance to a turtle. “Will you not join me?” she asked. Turning, I saw she was slipping out of her skirt.
With such an invitation, what else could I do? I quickly slipped out of my clothes and joined her in the water. She was only slowly entering the water, complaining that it was cold. I told her to quickly immerse herself, and she made a face then splashed me. I quickly closed on her. She squealed, warned me to stay away and tried to wade away from me. Her efforts, however, were futile and I grasped her, picked her up and tossed her into the water. She rose, sputtering and laughing, and splashed me more. We remained in the lake for most of the remainder of the day. Jutuil showed me a shore rush she called soap weed, as its sap lathered well. With it we were able to wash ourselves and each other. Eventually, I noticed that the sun was less than a finger above the horizon and suggested we get out of the water, as nights were beginning to be cold. We exited the water and lay side by side on our coats to dry.
Jutuil asked, “Do you think she will take him?”
“I cannot say,” I replied, “she was awake only one day before I journeyed to find you. I was away four days during which time, I know not what transpired between them.”
Jutuil gave a look almost of relief. She then smiled, “She seems a good and proper woman. I disagree, she is quite pretty except for the split lip, and it is a very small thing.”
“And what of you? Have you decided what you will do?”
“I cannot return to the Murghei. Oghutay will wish to find me a husband, demanding an even higher price since I have returned from the Great Ones. Such a thing has not happened in over five generations. And were I to return with you, he would never accept you as my husband and of the People. Your life, I fear, would be very short amongst the Murghei. It seems my only remaining choice is to go to the Katay as your wife.”
“My pardon!” I gasped.
“The journey to the Katay will be long. For us to travel so far together, all will assume we are married. It cannot be avoided.” She looked at my coyly, “I hope you are not disappointed.”
And so I found myself married for the second time. It is a paradox that among the Nu Sing, marriage is a very serious institution, yet easily entered into. For all practical purposes, amongst the Nu Sing we were married along the lake shore, and would be confirmed when we returned to our camp and announced such, as too would be Somay‘s and the shaman’s. At dusk, we decided that the shaman and Somay had been given enough time and getting dressed, I again helped Jutuil walk back to camp. As we walked, she asked with a pout, “So, my eyes and nose are not perfect?”