Sometimes the things your story demands can break your heart. I cried so much writing this section, but Siann is a healer, she had to try to heal Ihkopi. She had to try…
Siann entered the healer’s hut, hands shaking with fear. The snakes in her heart had been whispering that this moment would come ever since D’vhan had brought Ihkopi back to the village. The healers had done everything they could to treat the boy, but nothing was working. He had travelled too far on the Road. Laban had offered his life to call the boy back, so had D’vhan and almost every warrior in Red Lodge. How did she pick someone? Who was she to say whose life was to be risked? This could kill them.
Squatting down beside D’vhan she laid a gentle hand on Ihkopi’s brow. He was burning with fever, the skin dry and brittle to her touch. “How can I make this decision?” She whispered softly to D’vhan. “I have no idea how much it will take to pull Ihkopi back and once I begin, I may not be able to stop!”
“It is our oath, Siann,” D’vhan said. His voice was solemn, deep and still as a mountain lake. “There is not one of us that will not risk the Road for this hatchling. It is our oath.” He shuffled a bit closer as Miah, one of the younger green leaders stopped at Ihkopi’s bedside. Her quiet voice and gentle manner soothing the young boy for a few moments.
“You cannot decide,” he said. “It is not fair of us to ask you.” D’vhan closed his eyes, took one deep breath to steady himself against the decision and said, “I will do this.”
“Nimiteh, No!” Dahi strode across the healer’s hut from where he had just entered. “I forbid it. You will not risk yourself this way.”
The fire that flashed in D’vhan’s eyes would have frightened a lesser man. “You do not allow, Dahi of Esquialt?” D’vhan asked quietly, pressing one weathered hand into Dahi’s chest, pushing him away. “I will not”—each word was accompanied by a strong shove that edged Dahi back towards the entrance of the lodge—”see a child of this village die because my life is too precious to risk. What would your grandmother say to you? What would she think?”
Dahi’s red face turned pale and ignoring his stubborn mate he turned to face Siann with a bow. “I apologize, shaman,” he said. “My heart outraces my mind at times and my tongue becomes unruly.”
D’vhan humphed. “Unruly?” he muttered.
“My mate is correct.” Dahi glanced at D’vhan quickly hoping that speaking of their mating publicly would soften his temper. “I offer myself, my blood, for healing Ihkopi. I am younger, stronger, and less essential to the village.” D’vhan’s eyes had turned into black spears.
“No,” Siann interrupted them both her voice slipping into that cold, alien tone that meant her power was speaking. “You are all so busy being honourable and self-sacrificing. There is no more time. Ihkopi is a child and his life is slipping away while you decide which of you will be the hero to save him.” One too-thin arm swept both warriors aside, forcing them to look back towards Ihkopi’s bed where Miah knelt patiently sponging the young boys brow, talking gently. “That life is being given for his—now—while you argue about oaths.
“Miah, Green child of Esquialt” Miah jumped, her whole focus had been on the young boy that their Green Mother had driven away.
“Siann?” she asked, shrinking back a little when she saw the white and red flashes in the normally placid eyes.
“Will you give your life to the Lifebinder to draw Ihkopi back from the Road?” Siann said. “Knowing it may take much or even all of your life?”
Miah swallowed thickly, her pale skin suddenly covered in nervous sweat. “I saw what the Lifebinder did to heal Peyt. Is that what you mean?”
Siann nodded, waiting.
Closing her eyes, taking one deep breath, Hahnee’s daughter said. “I am willing Shaman.”
“Then come child,” the not-Siann voice said almost gently. Taking her dagger and drawing a thin line of blood from Miah’s hand she pressed the Lifebinder Crystal into the pool of life that dripped down onto Ihkopi’s unresponsive form. “Blood for the life of the People,”
Miah straightened up sharply as though lightning had streaked through her, blinked several times, and then crumpled to the floor. While Siann stood unmoving, her whole body surrounded by an eerie red light flickering from where the bloody crystal sat in her hand.
Spring. The cracked voice of the matriarch whispered.
We have found her. It will be ours in the spring.
Siann opened her eyes to an ocean of colour. Lights of blue, green, and purple seemed to flicker about her. Shapes without form or substance followed the lights like fireflies drawn one way and another. Above her head, or where she assumed was her head a path of stars stretched from horizon to horizon. I’m on the Road, she thought. The crystal drew too much and I have passed onto the Road. Ahead of her a small figure seemed to be standing within the dancing lights, waiting for her.
“Maskim?” she said in a voice that sounded much younger than her twenty-one years. Focussing on the figure seemed to pull her close enough to see that it wasn’t her mother, but Ihkopi who stood ahead of her watching the flickering lights that danced between the earth and the Road.
Swallowing a sob of disappointment, Siann tried to reach out to the young boy. “Come back, Ihkopi, all is well. The People do not wish to lose your light.
The smile that Ihkopi gave her was peaceful. “Can you see the Dancers?” he said in his light, soft tone. “Look how they move between the earth and the Elder Stars, Siann, it’s so beautiful.”
“Come home,” she tried again. “Napaay misses you. Go into Red Lodge as you had planned. You have much to give our world, Ihkopi, do not Walk away.”
“My Walk is done, Siann, I am happy so.” Ihkopi’s form slowly shimmered turning from the image of a boy into a firefly flicker made of blue and green lights. “Say farewell for me.”
Siann collapsed across the boy’s unconscious form. Tears rolling down her face, sobs racking her trembling frame. “He does not want to return” she choked out. “He has chosen to Walk.” Power drained, heart broken, Siann’s slender body could not bear the burden, and she fainted.
Dahi picked Siann up in strong arms and placed her on a pile of furs beside where a sleeping Miah was resting.
“What do we tell everyone?” he said.
“That Siann tried,” D’vhan answered his eyes full of tears for both young lives so brutally damaged. “Let the healers do their job, they will anyway. Maybe they can hold Ihkopi’s body here long enough for his Spirit to turn around.”
D’vhan slept on the floor between Siann and Ihkopi’s pallet, waking every time the healer came to add more wood to the fire or pour sweet wine seasoned with honey and medicinal herbs down the boy’s unresponsive throat.
Sweat poured from Ihkopi’s body no matter how much liquid the healers made him drink. Just before dawn he started to moan, his body shaking with convulsions. D’vhan and Miah stretched themselves out across the boy’s unconscious form, trying to hold Ihkopi in the bed, to stop him from harming himself.
A heartbreaking stream of muttered phrases, words of apology, pleas for forgiveness poured from the boy’s tortured soul. They heard of his wish to become a warrior, his desire to be like D’vhan who could choose his own Road, his love for his parents and his pain when they had listened to Iamaat’s poison and disowned him.
Tears ran down D’vhan’s face, he had never felt so helpless. How had he not seen this happening? How could he have ignored the depth of Ihkopi’s pain? Siann had tried to warn them, the Lifebinder had said that Iamaat meant to harm the boy but they had trusted their Green Mother, believed that she would not harm one of her children. Now look where that blind faith had led them.